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Karma for Witches

Dear Witchful Thinking,

I heard somewhere something weird, and wanted to ask you about it. I heard that during the Burning Times, if a Witch broke her oaths to the coven then part of the punishment was that she would be reincarnated away from people she knows. She would be amongst strangers and not with other Witches. Is that true?

Sincerely,

Young Padawan Learner

Dear Young,

This falls into the realm of coven oral teaching, which I have not been able to verify in a book, and had to ask an elder. While we historically know that the Burning Times did not happen as we thought they did, the mythology surrounding medieval covens has stuck with us and been reinterpreted for modern times.

Wiccans believe in reincarnation. Since everything else in nature goes in cycles, it makes sense that so do we. That’s why people have past-life memories sometimes. Many subscribe to the idea that our souls are here to learn lessons, and that we have decided before our incarnation what lessons we need to learn. People come into our lives because they have a lesson to teach us–especially people we don’t get along with. If you  have it in you, try thanking someone who makes you angry, hurts you, or that you find deeply unpleasant–thank them for the lesson they are teaching you.

I think we are reincarnated with people we know, especially family. In one way or another, we all must come to terms with our family and balance out the relationships as we grow and change and when there is a lot of stress. The elder I talked to calls this your “soul group”. When you meet somebody who reminds you of somebody else, or you feel like you’ve known them forever, then you’ve been with them in a past life. Additionally, if you instantly dislike someone, you’ve met with them in a past life too.

The elder I spoke to told me about the term “Warlocking” (yes, I realize it is a World of Warcraft word for newbies gone wrong). As you know, “warlock” means “oath-breaker”. She explained it as a karmic law (rather than the effect of the coven actions) of the Fates that goes into effect when one does something unspeakably horrible to get in the way of things. This includes murder, so ratting out your coven would have been something that would qualify one for Warlocking. Basically, it reincarnates them out of the way of the work that magical people are doing and puts them out of harms way. It gives them a chance to fix their mistake rather than repeating it in another life, and keeps those doing the magical work safe from their bad influence. It is a self-regulating mechanism that is not controlled by the Gods, but to which they too are a part.

Because magical people like Witches are working to become familiar with the laws of Karma and in working with energy, deity and other sacred tasks, they are held to a higher standard than non-magical folk. Remember that everything you do comes back to you, and if not this time, then it’ll catch you the next!

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[God Oracle] Ares

July 9, 2010 2 comments

Ares –Anger

[Card Description: Flying through battle in his war chariot, Ares is a young nude man wearing only his battle helmet, a sword, and the blood of his enemies. His face contorted in rage as he takes the life of his adversaries. Behind him, a village burns as families rush to collect save their livelihood from ruin and wonton destruction. ]

Charge:

Would you ask me

For self-knowledge?

Why would you?

Would you ask

mortal-destroying king,

defiled with gore,

pleased with war’s dreadful

and tumultuous roar?

In human blood,

in swords, and spears delight,

and the dire ruin of mad savage fight.

I hurt, maim and utterly destroy.

Intensely focused on one thing:

The Fight.

Knock me down again

And again

I stand up

Prepared to fight

To die.

So bring it.

Ask again.

I break through cowardice

By destroying reason

Ready or not.

Statistics: Culture of Origin: Greece Location: Greco-Roman empire. Age: Mature or Young Beardless Warrior. Element: Fire

Mythology: In all of mythology, it seems that nobody has cause to by angry like Ares does. The only legitimate child of Zeus and Hera, he is despised by both parents, as well as the other Gods. Although usually considered the God of War, he is really the din, chaos and fury of war and the people who fight and die in them. It is his sister, Athena, who plans the strategy of War, and Zeus or Eris (the Goddess of Chaos) to induce it. But Ares is the one who does the dirty work, and he wins as often as he loses. He is, literally, the war drums, the sword and weapons of death, manslaughter, the battle cry, and the banishing of cowardliness. His energy is quite raw and pure, and he was never the one to engage in politics, though he was often a pawn by others. He was also the lover of Aphrodite, and became her partner in adultery after he lost a contest with Hephaestus to win the hand of the Goddess. When The God of the Forge, Hephaestus, found out, he created chains that none could break, and his invention captured the lovers mid-tryst. Hephaestus called in all the Gods to witness their shame. Ares struggled and fought, but no matter how much he wanted to save his lover from humiliation, the chains would not budge. Indeed, it was only at Poseidon offering to pay the Adulterers Tax (a law whereby the Adulterer must pay the offended husband) that Ares was set free. Ares is the father of Nike, the winged Goddess of Victory, and the Romans associate him with Mars.

Meaning in Reading: Although our society is changing slowly, men have traditionally been socialized to be aggressive go-getters, and honoring your emotions is seen as weak. Men often hide their real feelings because in an aggressive world, it could be seen as something to exploit. Often a man’s real emotions are hidden from the people he cares about most, like his own partner, or worse, hidden from himself. One of the few emotions men are allowed to show is anger. Consequently, a man might manifest fear, jealousy, excitement, even happiness and sadness, into anger. When that energy is used constructively, and with an eye for honesty, Ares can help you to address these feelings directly. Your anger doesn’t have to stay there. You can do something with it. It may be time to take up arms and fight for a cause, to fight against something that makes you angry.

Reversed: Failing to get beyond the anger means the real problem lies underneath the surface, festering like an unhealed wound. The angry fire of Ares pushes you to fight…but what are you fighting against? Are you wasting your emotional energy on battles that cannot be won? Are you standing against people who are actually on your side, like your friends, sweethearts and family? Of course you have the right to feel angry, but you still don’t have the right to hurt other people.

Connecting Ritual: There is nothing so raw as the power of a gun. With the smallest finger movement, you can kill someone, destroy lives shattered in violence, protect yourself, or feed your family in the depth of winter. Life and death become manifest and real in that object. Many people fear the power of guns, but Ares challenges you to master it. Go down to a shooting range and take a class on gun safety, then fire off a variety of guns on the range. Feel the power, the kick back, and the weight of that power in your hands. What would happen if you shot out of anger or jealousy? What would happen if you fired out of self-protection? If you can, bring something to shoot such as a fruit that will explode, like melons or apples. It will show you the destruction of that power. Know that the power of Ares is in that gun, and treat it with that same respect.

Advanced Working: Believe it or not, according to some sources, Ares was the God of Dance before he was the God of War. Indeed, the primitive pounding of drums gets directly to the heart of what Ares represents: raw power, pulsing rhythms, chaos, din, fighting for your life. Few of us in today’s culture, except for soldiers and police, have the opportunity to experience Ares energy. Gather some drumming friends around a bonfire, drink something that makes you angry and winds you up, like whiskey, and go nuts. Drum, dance around the fire, pound the ground with your feet and hands, and hurl an intense battle cry to Ares!

Interesting Fact: Gary Sanders, a prominent scholar on sexual health and on Gay couples in particular, invented the Angry Feeling Wheel. He helps men to identify what kind of anger they are really feeling. In couples who are experiencing anger in their relationship, he uses the wheel to have them identify what is behind their anger. The then asks them how they would react if their partner was feeling fearful, excited, sad, etc. This new perspective moves behavior out of the realm of aggression and anger and begins to deal with the problem more constructively.

Sacred Images?

July 8, 2010 2 comments

I’m always looking for creative ways to celebrate the Gods. In particular, I have altars around my home to invite that energy in, so there is an altar to Demeter, Hestia is in the kitchen, and Aphrodite at the door so naught but love shall enter in. Athena, of course, is next to me at the computer. You get the idea. But the other day, I ran across these: Aphrodite Barbie and Athena Barbie.

And I thought to myself…are these sacred images? Or are these images profaned by becoming so commercialized? I mean, BARBIE of all toys!

I can imagine myself, as a little girl, absolutely LOVING these toys. I wasn’t big on dolls to begin with (I think I had one Skipper doll and a New Kid on the Block as the entirety of my personal collection). But I loved stories, and Greek mythology, and would have enjoyed playing with these dolls. It is only as an adult that I came to believe in the sacredness and truth that the Gods bring to our lives. As a kid, I would have kept my dolls in my toy box, amongst the lost marbles (ha!), Jurassic Park toys and stuffed animals. Only as an adult would I consider putting a toy on a shelf and never playing with it.

And these aren’t exactly toys. You see, they cost upwards of $300, as highly desired collectibles.

Here is the artistic conundrum, then: if pop art is profane, then putting sacred images into pop art should thus profane the sacredness, right?

I dunno. I’m sort of intrigued by this idea of using a toy on the altar. Maybe we’ve gotten too serious about this whole sacred image idea anyway. Who better to loosen it up but Barbie, the fun-loving spoiled perfect beauty. When it comes down to it, isn’t Barbie really Aphrodite anyway? Isn’t the act of playing with a beautiful woman, dressing and undressing her, doing her hair and picking out her shoes just worship of Aphrodite?

And then we have Athena. Isn’t Athena what Barbie isn’t? Athena, like all Goddesses, is beautiful, but she doesn’t use it, even as a tactical advantage. Athena is what Barbie wishes she could be, but can’t. I mean, Barbie can be a Vet or a Pediatrician, but she’s not President, or a Tenured Professor. But the act of playing with Athena Barbie to solve problems and outwit your opponents (that Ken! Always wanting a date! Whatever will I do?!) could potentially be a worship of Athena. I dunno. I’m troubled by it.

Still, I want it for my altar, or for when I have children (let them be girls!) I would let them play with these sacred images instead of the pop culture perfection that is Barbie. They’re a little out of my price range, so I might have to settle for this instead:

From "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Theif" Toy Zeus

What Would Zeus Do, indeed. I bet he’d have a go at Barbie Aphrodite. And I guess I don’t have a hard time believing that a hot Goddess Athena would pop out of his head…

What do you think? Does having the Gods as action figures intrigue or disgust you? Is it sacred or profane? Can you mix the pop culture with sacred culture? Would you put toys on your altars or use them in magical work?

Questions from Christians

A few questions I occasionally get from interested Christians. It is my hope that by posting these, it will give you some way of formulating your answers if you are asked similar questions. Having an answer ready makes you look well-educated, prepared, and trustworthy. It will add a lot of credibility to what you are saying, which helps out the cause of equal respect. If you have tough questions that people ask you, send ’em my way! Even if you don’t agree, it might give you a perspective to work with. Here goes!

Learning about the Wiccan culture and practice is interesting.  Do you find it difficult to transition from your past practices and beliefs hindering to your practice?  If not, how have you overcome this obstacle.  If so, what are you doing to correct this hindrance?

Great question!

I was raised secular, so adding on religious ideas wasn’t particularly difficult because the religious ideas didn’t change my mind–they confirmed what I’d already believed, and gave me an avenue of expression. Many of my friends are not as lucky. We have a joke in the community that someone is a “recovering” Catholic, for example, because they come into Wicca with a lot of shame and ideas about how the world works which differ from Wicca. Although they are sincere, it takes a lot of work to change those ideas–they go very deep. And sometimes the ideas can’t be shaken off (or they don’t want to, which is entirely their choice) and they end up with some kind of hybrid.

I always wondered if when you have situational ethics they are dependant upon the decision making of the individual. If so what about boundries not accepted by others and if not what does set the ethical standard?

The ethical standard is simple, “An it harm none, do what thou will.” We support a strong sense of individulism, which means not treading on someone elses rights. Actions are judged on how much harm is generated, or whether someone elses rights were taken away. But that means that some actions the mainstream considers inappropriate, would fall under our situational ethics as being OK. Somethings are OK to a certain point, like the use of drugs or alcohol in excess. The ethics reach far beyond person-to-person contact, so we would consider how actions affect the environment, our animal companions, and Karma, because what you send out comes back to you (different from how Indian cultures define Karma–we need a new word!). It is then expected that you will accept the consequences of your actions. Everything is a choice–it’s a lot of work!

Keep those questions coming!

Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtowers!

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Witchful Thinking,

I keep reading in rituals about the Watchtowers. I’m wondering where they come from and why they are important and what they actually do.

Thanks!

Mama C

Dear Mama C,

Good question! They are all over, aren’t they? Did anyone else first encounter them in The Craft (1996)? Well, they’ve been around for a long time, so I had to do some research about where they came from.

From what I can tell, there seem to be several possible origins which sort of coallesqued with Gardner in his magical studies to the point where they seemed almost required to be included in a magical system. Possible origins include:

  • Ancient Rome: small “watchtowers” were built at crossroads with little altars in them for the Lares, or local spirits. These small stone structure dotted the landscape, and would have been associated with ancient pagan ways.
  • Elizabethan England: Dr. John Dee, the official occultist of Queen Elizabeth, worked with Edward Kelly to reveal the Enochian system of magic. They came up with different symbols for each of the directions, which they associated with different stars, colors, elements and angels. The angels were envisioned as guardians of these watchtowers.
  • Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn: Because they were well-educated in existing magics, the HOGD adopted the watchtowers for a ritual used to cleanse the space.
  • Kibbo Kift: This off-branch of Woodcraft and the Boy Scouts involved boys in the English countryside holding elaborate rituals in what they believed was the “Indian way”. It was well known that they did ritual in circle and called different elements representing the four directions. While we’ve never heard of it these days, this was a huge movement during Gardner’s time, and Woodcraft was set to out-pace the Boy Scouts if it weren’t for their internal politics conflicting with the two World Wars. These fake Native American ceremonies were popular, but probably not based on any actual particular Native religious ritual.
  • Uncle Gerald: As you probably know, Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca, was also well-versed in the magical systems of the day, including the magical formulas used by the Golden Dawn.

Now-a-days, mostly traditional Wiccan groups like Garnerian and Alexandrian covens call upon the Watchtowers. However, you can still find them included in a lot of books, like Silver Ravenwolf’s “Teen Witch”, the Farrar’s “The Witches Way”, and Lady Sheba’s “Book of Shadows” to name a few. As a general rule, I suspect, Wiccans have moved away from the formal magical systems based upon older traditions, and have moved towards a more informal and intuitive practice of ritual.

The purpose of the Watchtowers is whatever you tell them to do. Typically, they might cleanse the circle, witness the rite, maintain the integrity of the magical boundary, and bring their elemental energy into the circle. Remember when you cast a circle, you are creating a miniature universe, so be clear about your purpose. Many traditions say something like:

Hail to the Gaurdian of the Watchtower of (direction), ye lords of (element), I do summon, stir and call thee forth to guard and protect this magic circle. (draw the correct pentagram) So Mote it Be!

The Watchtowers are important precisely because they connect us to this long history of magical ritual. When something is used the same way for a long time, it builds up power. The advantage of this for the beginner is that it requires less experience on their part to get the Watchtowers to do their jobs.

Be sure, however, to send them away when you are done with the Circle–if you take it out, you put it away! I occasionally hear ritualists dismiss the directions by saying “Go if you must, stay if you like”. This is a pet peeve of mine. Would you leave a candle burning unattended? No. It might burn the house down. Elementals, and the Watchtowers that house them, are not human minded, but Elemental minded. They seek to be their element, which is not necessarily what we want from them. Out of control water means flooding.

I have been to places in which the Guardians of the Circle had not been dismissed properly, and had the eerie sensation of being watched. Some people on Circle felt threatened by this energy that was just trying to do its job. The only way to get rid of it is to dismiss it. At the end of ritual, everyone needs to safely come back down to Earth, in our human place of existence in the now. It is the ethical responsibility of the ritualists to make sure this happens, and releasing the Watchtowers, Elementals and any other Circle Guardians (including the Gods) is important. It is polite to make sure everyone knows when to leave.

Always plan any magical act, including ritual, ahead of time. Think about the possible consequences of each action, and remember things get amplified in Circle. Whether or not you include the Watchtowers is up to you, but it can be an easy way to access a stored energy of power to lend to your Circle.

Do you have a question for Witchful Thinking? Whether it is a personal ethical question, or just something you’ve been wondering about the craft, or something you’d like to read about, you can have your question answered on the Internet! Yay! Simply send your question to JamieFreemanTarot@gmail.com, and in a few days, you’ll get a response from me.

This is YOUR place to get answers from a real person–answers you can’t always find in a book. So go on, give it a try! If you enjoy the Dear Witchful Thinking posts, click “advice” in the categories cloud to see them all.

Fear the Witch?

March 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Witchful Thinking,

Do you cast spells for free ? This is just until I get over my fear of becoming a witch.

Sincerely,

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

There is so much here that makes me sad. In response to sentence 1: No. In response to sentence 2: …um…really?

I don’t cast spells for other people for free. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that nothing in this world is free. I’ll cast a spell for you, but you’re gonna have to work for it. I’m not going to tie myself to a stranger’s Karma. Studies show that people don’t value things they get for free, and if you do any spell, you should be very tied to the outcome.  When you expect things for free, you get what you pay for. The Rule of Three applies, and 3×0 is still nuthin’.

With my tarot readings, spells, and even my writing, I expect to get paid in some way–or else, why would I do them? The client is paying for my time and attention, as well as my many years of education and experience. When you pay for something, you get better results, pay more attention to the outcome, and are more likely to use it. However, you don’t always have to pay with money. Many readers are happy to take a trade of equal value. Remember, EQUAL value. I once did a trade tarot reading. I wrote four pages for her…she wrote me two sentences. There was nothing fair and equitable about it and I felt robbed.

Many Craft coven laws explicitly state that you cannot sell the Craft for money. And I completely agree with them. That is why I write articles explaining how to do things–they aren’t secrets. With tarot, I can show you a dozen books on how to do it. Heck, every deck has a little booklet that tells you what it all means. What you pay for is the skills of the reader.

So…no. For everyone’s benefit, I don’t do spells for free.

As to the second part, I guess I don’t really understand it. What are you afraid of? Sure. There are some hard things about being a Witch, like deciding to come out of the broom closet, personal responsibility, and regularly facing your inner demons.

If you’re not already Pagan, and are coming from the mainstream culture, I can imagine that you are afraid of the dark occult forces, of losing your salvation through Jesus, and of conjuring up devils and demons. I suppose the attraction to you is this Faustian desire for power in this life. But if that’s what you want…seriously, Wicca doesn’t want you.

Wicca and Paganism are serious religious life paths. People are attracted to them because they already feel like they are Pagan, and just haven’t put a name to their beliefs yet. That’s why we don’t convert–practitioners recognize the religion as something they’ve been looking and longing for. They may be afraid to jump in the deep end without doing some more research, but most of the time, they already are Witches in one sense or another.

So, anonymous, if you are afraid of being a Witch because you aren’t sure what it means or entails or if it is right for you, then I encourage you to do some more research. Witchful Thinking is happy to answer any question you might have. However, if you are afraid of going to Hell and demons and so forth…well, then I encourage you to do some more research, if only to educate yourself about the multicultural world we live in. Try some non-Christian derived sources, yes? Don’t worry. You won’t go to Hell for reading about Witches.

Additionally, anonymous, I encourage you to learn to cast your own spells. Not only will they be  tailored to your situation, but you will be more invested in their outcome. The process of learning to do your own magic can be very empowering and healing.

Choosing a Ritual Robe

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Wicca was originally conceived as a nude religion. Why Gardner, who lived in England, thought nudity in the out-of-doors was a good idea, we’ll never know. There in the Pacific Northwest, the idea is both impractical and pneumonia-inducing. Luckily, we can always choose to wear ritual robes.

Clothing expresses something special to ourselves and others observing us. Clothes can indicate socio-economic class, convey certain values, and come to symbolize your personhood to the public. When you think about the different kinds of people that wear robes, you can come up with quite a list, from medieval re-enactors to monks to occultists in films. Although it sounds an easy and simple task to choose a ritual robe, the thoughtful Pagan will find that there are many things to consider:

  • Color- as a magical practitioner, we know that color is important. It speaks to our playful unconsicous in a lot of ways. Some say that black is a good color because it absorbs every color energy, making you sensitive, but other groups associate the color with evil. White may convey purity and virginity to some, while in countries like Japan it is the color of death. Like anything else, choose your robe color purposefully.
  • Cut- long sleeves or short? Shapely or form hiding? Pointy hood or round or no hood at all? These are the miniscule questions that a talented tailor or seamstress would ask. The cut also suggests certain things to outsiders. Long bell sleeves would suggest a fantasy princess, while a particularly pointy hood might make you look more like a KKK clansman than a serious religious practitioner. You’ll also have to think practically. Will your floor-length bell sleeves allow you to, say, light a candle? Or are you just begging to have your robe get a little too close to the ecstasy of combustion?
  • Length- How long will your robe be? I’ve seen some wonderful tabards that slip over your shirt and just covers the bottom–great if you have a lot of people of different sizes and shapes who need to use a robe for, say, the quarters. If the length is too short, a man will look like he’s wearing a dress. Too long and you’re more likely to trip than look graceful in circle. I find a few inches above the ankle to be ideal in my work.
  • Fabric- Most Wiccans I know have at least two robes–a lighter weight one for the warmer months and a heavy, waterproof one for the rest of the year. If your robe is big enough, you can always layer under it, but some groups require nudity under the robe. The quality of the fabric will likely display wealth, with courser fabrics being those that belong to a lower socio-economic status.
  • Accessories- Sometimes what you put over the robe is more important than the robe itself. Many who wear robes wear a cloak on top. Not only does it keep the rain out, but you can often individualize the clasps and sew on unique trims. Many robe-wearers have cords tied around the waist that indicate rank, or a belt that holds a pouch and an athame. The best robe I ever had included a pocket on one side, and a slit on the other that allowed me to reach my pants pockets without lifting up my robe.

The hole is for the head to go through. Simply fold and sew!

Basically, a robe should be practical and meet the needs of the wearer, while expressing the individuals beliefs and identifying them as part of a group. It should be considered a magical item, with the aspects of it chosen to fulfill a purpose and make a statement. Putting on a robe is a reminder to your brain that you are going into a ritual state of mind. The robe can express what kind of ritual you are performing. For example, choosing a Greek-style robe for honoring the Greek Gods is a good way to get yourself in that particular frame of mind.

I think finding a robe is difficult. Like cloaks, they are often expensive because they can be time consuming for the maker. Some good shops will have a few robes on hand, and keep a seamstress on file for custom orders. A good robe might cost you upwards of $100.

Some people enjoy making ritual clothes, and robes are an easy project to start out on. My first robe was made of a sheet I bought at the second hand store, and I laid on the floor and traced my body so I would know how long each part should be. I sewed it on a child’s machine that I paid around $20 for, and ended up sewing my finger into the hem. It was a disaster and never fit right. My second robe wasn’t that much better, but at least it was blood-free. I finally opted to buy one while my friends could pop them out in a few hours at a sewing party. We all have different talents…

This Greek Peplos is very easy to make in a pinch.

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