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I’ve been asked numerous times to help new seekers in their learning of Christian Witchcraft. There is nothing that fulfills me more (aside from my home angels, of course) than to share that which I have learned over the years. I have started to post exercises on this blog (under the tag study group) to share what I consider to be the basics of the practice. Here I come again with a renewed offer. I list here what I consider to be my level 1 course. You will find here a list of readings and homework that I consider to be essential for all of those of you who are starting out (and maybe the others who want a little more structure in their learning). I suggest a deadline of Easter for completing all the coursework. All homework should be kept in a notebook. All exercises should have an entry in a book of shadows with comments and descriptions of the experiences. Each reading should also have a summary of the book with comments of what you found interesting or puzzling in the material. This is how I was taught and I hope that you will find it both challenging and inspiring. You may send me your course work once it is all completed. I will not take in partial homework. I also offer no guarantee that I will read all of it. But I figure that it gives an added incentive if you know that you may receive feedback in the process. As I have posted on Facebook, I am still keeping my day job, so I hope you will all understand that I am offering as much time as I can.

 

Coursework for Level 1 – Course in Christian Witchcraft

 

Mandatory Readings:

Crafting: Arin Murphy-Hiscock, Solitary Wicca for Life

Magic: Scott Cunningham, Wicca: A guide for the solitary practitioner

Magic and Mythology: Berg & Harris, Polarity Magic

Pagan history: Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon

Anthropology: Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman

Christian Mysticism: Kyriacos Markides, Riding the Lion

Christian Studies: Pagels, Elaine, The Gnostic Gospels

Energy and healing: Selene Vega and Anodea Judith, The Sevenfold Journey

One work of fiction that relates to Christianity, Paganism or a combination of both. Highlight the elements that stir a new understanding of these spiritual paths.

Some suggestions of works of fiction:

Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt by Anne Rice

The Gospel According to Pilate by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt

A Love Divine by Alexandra Ripley

Bless the Child by Cathy Cash Spellman

Any of the Chronicles of Narnia

 

Homework:

– Define Magic and Energy. What do these concepts mean to you? Why do you want to study magic and what events in your life have brought you to want to undertake such studies?

– Define Paganism, Witchcraft and Christianity. What are these practices/religions to you? What are the differences and the similarities? What calls to you in each one?

– Do the Elemental explorations (study guide)

– Practice Centering and Grounding (study guide)

– Practice energy work: energy fields, shrinking and expanding, seeing your energy field and others’ (study guide)

– Practice visualization exercises (study guide)

– Watch the DVD ‘What the Bleep Do We Know’ and comment it

– Build an altar (take a picture)

– Perform a ritual from start to finish (either a Sabbat or an Esbat or a ritual spell)

– Research the concept of deity. What is deity for you and how do you express it?

– Each lunar month, do the exercises for one chakra in The Sevenfold Journey

 

Some of you may finish quickly and others may extend beyond Easter. I wish you an exciting journey with this. God and Goddess bless you on your journey!

I digressed a bit. Let’s get back to our study group and ritual design.

 

Now that you did all your preliminary introduction (quarter calls, circle casting and deity invocation), you are ready to get to what you really set up for: your main rite. There are two main types of events: 1) ritual celebration and 2) magical working.

For a ritual celebration, you are commemorating an event usually associated with the passing of the seasons or a rite of passage. This doesn’t mean that you cannot do magic, but the main goal is not to materialize an intent. It is to bear witness, to sit in sacred space, to celebrate, to worship, give thanks and to receive wisdom. This is usually done on a Sabbat, where we celebrate the passing of the seasons and remember different tales of wisdom from our Traditions. Esbat rituals can also be seen as such, although magical workings are more common because the energy of the moon, either in its full or dark, lends itself to this kind of work. Many public rituals would fall into the category of ritual celebrations. A ritual celebration usually figuratively relates the event that is commemorated. There is a symbolic participation in the re-enactment of this event, either through drama and chanting or through a semi-magical working. One example is to write the things we have harvested over the last year and place it in a cauldron. While we are not necessarily raising energy, we are making a personal offering to the gods as a sign of gratitude. On Samhain, we often draw Tarot cards as a sign of things to come over the year. These are symbolic acts that draw power to ourselves without actively raising and sending out energy.

 

Magical workings are essentially done in solitary or within a familiar group. This implies some form of energy raising and sending to achieve a desired effect. Doing this is difficult in a large group with people of different backgrounds because it requires a common understanding of the energy raising method. That is why it tends to be kept in closed working groups or alone. The important thing is to have a clear intent of what you want to achieve and to symbolically represent it through your personal correspondences. If you are doing a ritual for mental peace, you want to set your altar with items that bring that in. Don’t put all your faith in books of spells. If the color for mental peace is purple for you, don’t go and put a white candle on your altar. This is what makes magic specific. You represent yourself and your intent with your own images. If red roses have a bad connotation for you, don’t include them in a spell for love. Use another herb or flower that triggers that feeling. There are many ways to do this. I recommend starting with a simple ritual and add elements as you go along. And keep records of everything so you can see what works for you and what does not.

 

A simple ritual

Here are a few suggestions of where to start.

1)      After having done your introduction, simply sit and open yourself up to receiving whatever wisdom comes. It may be words, images, feelings.

2)      Pick an intent. Choose a color that matches this intent. Place a candle of this color on your altar. You may choose to anoint it with oil that matches this intent or inscribe symbols or words on the candle. Let it burn down either in one shot or in sections over the next few days.

3)      For a ritual celebration, with Samhain just behind us, divination is a traditional activity. If you have a Tarot deck, pick a card that represents what awaits over the coming year. If you don’t have a Tarot deck, you may let a few drops of ink in a bowl of water or some tea leaves and see what images you pick up.

Enjoy!

Another topic I wanted to come back to was the topic of the altar. I realized part way through my teaching of ritual that I had forgotten to talk about how to set it up.

First off, I would like to make a distinction between an altar and a shrine. Many people use the term altar to relate to both, but I like to make that distinction. An altar is a place, usually a table top, where you perform a rite (magical or otherwise). A shrine is a place that is usually set up on a permanent basis to honor a deity or a tradition. I have a shrine in my living room that honors my tradition, where I put representations of my Lord and Lady, some devotional objects and objects that remind me of my path. When I do a ritual, I will set up a different space, usually the living table or the floor in my office and will use that as an altar. If I use the floor, I usually set up an altar cloth. For the living table, I don’t. Suffice to say that an altar or shrine is very personal and is meant to represent you in the higher spheres. So, it is really your own to build and create.

Now for standard practice: An altar (for ritual), usually has a representation of each element, two candles for your deities and all the tools you will use during your main rite. Everything else is up to you. You may choose a certain color for your altar cloth (or none at all). You may choose certain tools, like an athame (which is a ritual blade) or a wand or a chalice. In Wiccan rituals, the athame and the chalice are standard tools. The blade represents the male element (as a phallic symbol) and the chalice represents the female womb. When both are combined, you get a symbolic Great Rite, a mating of the God and Goddess to produce all there is. It is not a custom that I have gotten used to, but if it feels right, then it is for you. My altars have the simple elements and the candles and whatever I need for my main event. I usually bring the elemental representation with me when I call the Quarters and I leave it in each corner. So essentially all that is left are the candles and the tools for my main event.

Another common practice is the cakes and ale. You may have a chalice of wine (or juice or tea) and a plate of cakes (or bread) to share after your rite is done. This is standard Wiccan practice and it fits quite well in a Christian Pagan practice as well, for obvious reasons.

The important thing is that you feel comfortable and that you have all you need to do your ritual. Witchcraft is a very practical spirituality. So a little hint before you go into it: Don’t forget the matches!

Magic Circle

Image by Rebecca-Lee via Flickr

Casting a circle is a pretty standard way to structure a ritual or a spell. There are many ways to do it and I vary it as inspiration strikes me. There are many reasons for casting a circle: 1) for protection, 2) for delineating sacred space, 3) for moving us from this world into a state of ‘in-between-ness’ with the other world, 4) to contain the energy that we raise so that it is able to build up and be sent to our intended target.

Is a circle always necessary? Not really. A very simple candle spell may not need to have a circle cast if you do not feel that it needs protection or special representation ‘in between’. If the energy is meant to simple spill out from that burning candle, maybe there is no need to contain it. One thing that can be done, on the other hand, is put a circle just around the candle, so that you are free to walk around without disturbing your magic. But I would always cast a circle for a ritual and certainly for any kind of journeying or spell that requires extra security measures.

Casting a circle is a bit of a misnomer. What you are really trying to cast is a sphere or a big energy bubble that surrounds your magical working. It is like the protection spell that the aurors put around Hogwarts in the last installment of Harry Potter.  Again, there are many ways to do this, but in essence it requires two things: 1) ability to visualize (we’ve done this already, right?) and 2) ability to project energy.

 

Exercise in energy projection

Usually, people have one hand that is better at projecting energy (i.e. pushing energy out) and one hand better at receiving energy (i.e. energy coming in). The latter is also known as sensing.  We’ve worked a little bit with energy when we watched our energy field move from one hand to the other.  You should have felt energy vibrate in your hands then, either as warmth, tingling, numbness, etc…

Center and ground, drawing up energy through your roots. Now reach out your hands with palms facing forward. Which hand feels like it wants to shoot out the energy? Which hand feels like it wants to take in energy? You may see your hands move automatically with one pushing forward and the other cupping as if holding something. Test it out and see which one is your receptive hand and which one is your projective hand.

 

Back to casting circles.

Draw up energy and direct it around your space. The most basic circle is to walk around the space with hand outstretched (projective hand) and to leave a trail of energy as you walk. I am giving the example with the hand because it is often the most natural, but you may do it any way you want as long as you direct energy and you are able to feel its presence there. Some people use a specific ritual tool (like a wand or staff). I usually have my hand outstretched towards the floor and also leave a trail through my feet as I walk. At the end of my walk, I lift my hand up and then down, to ensure that the sphere is complete on top and on bottom. Some traditions will have an incantation. You can use sound, Tarot cards, elements, specific visualizations… As long as you direct energy and that that energy stays there. For rituals that need extra protection, I will walk the circle three times around. I have been taught to start my circle casting in the North. I know that some traditions start in the East. As I’ve written before, it is a matter of internal coherence.

Another issue is where to cast the circle. Walking through the circle weakens the energy so you want to avoid unwanted circulation. As I’ve said before, you can cast it only around your candle, which leaves you free to walk around the house as you wish. For a solitary rite, you can walk around your altar leaving enough room to sit in front. For a group ritual, you have options. You can simply surround the group. I feel the smaller the circle is, the more condensed the energy becomes and it is easier to raise energy. So I would not cast an unnecessary large circle. For a public ritual with people of various levels of understanding of ritual etiquette and with lots of ins and outs, I would probably cast to the walls of the room, which leaves enough room for people to circulate while still offering protection and a space between the worlds. For group rituals, there is often a warden who stands outside the circle to monitor the proceedings and to offer assistance in case of emergency. It is also his/her responsibility to test the circle and ensure that it is airtight. He/she would also be in charge of letting people in or out of the circle if needed.

Quarters are called, circle is cast. We are now between the worlds.

Calling quarters refers to the act of inviting entities to supply the ritual with specific life forces. They act as pillars in the four corners and help protect and structure the rite at hand. I use elemental representations to call quarters, as I have been taught:  Earth for north, Air for east, Fire for south and Water for east. I also call the archangels to aid me in my rites: Raphael in the north, Gabriel in the east, Michael in the south and Uriel in the west. I have already discussed at length my choice for assigning these archangels to these positions on a past post called Angels.

Element symbols used by the ancient philosophe...

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Each tradition and working coven will have a standard way of calling quarters. Some witches even start their quarter calls in the East, following the sun axis. My calls may change for specific occasions. What is important in calling quarters is to really invite the element to stand in that specific spot. We have already done the elemental exploration so they should feel familiar. So when you stand in the north, you should feel the musty smell of earth, and the breeze of air and the scorching fire a

nd the spray of the ocean. At times, I did my elemental dances in each corner to summon the essence of

each element. But a standard call for me would be something like this:

 

Hail and welcome, element of Earth, guardian of the gates of the North and hail Raphael, archangel of healing. Pray bring strength and growth to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.

 

Hail and welcome, element of Air, guardian of the gates of the East and hail Archangel Gabriel, holy messenger. Pray bring inspiration and wisdom to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.

 

Hail and welcome, element of Fire, guardian of the gates of the South and hail Archangel Michael, holy warrior. Pray bring passion and courage to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.

 

Hail and welcome, element of Water, guardian of the gates of the West and hail Archangel Uriel, angel of peace. Pray bring love and compassion to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.

 

 

By popular demand, I am now switching from energy work to magic. A lot of my magical work is still very much ingrained into basic witchcraft. But I do incorporate my Christian symbols here and there.
Just a note on the distinction between spell casting and ritual. A spell is a series of steps that symbolically represents your request and sends out your intent. It can also be called folk magic. A ritual incorporates a religious dimension. You usually call spirit protectors/quarters and invoke your deities to assist you in the magic that you are about to do. Both are OK. Depends on your need of the moment.
I’ve listed this before, but here is a little reminder of the steps of a basic ritual.
1)      Cleanse the space and yourself;
2)      Call quarters;
3)      Cast a circle;
4)      Invoke deity;
5)      Perform your rite (spell, celebration, main event…) This usually involves the raising of energy.
6)      Thank your deities;
7)      Thank your quarters;
8)      Take down your circle;
9)      Feast.
Step one: Cleansing
There is a multitude of ways to cleanse space. This was usually left to the level 2 students before public rituals. First and foremost, you have to physically clean the space. For a major ritual, I usually add birch leaves to the water to purify and protect the space, blow on the water in the sign of a cross and then a circle and proceed to washing the floors. For a simpler ritual, I just sweep the floor with a broom. I usually draw up energy from the earth let it flow into the broom, so that a nice wave of energy also removes discordant vibrations at the same time as the dust. Once that is done, I stand in the middle of the room, draw up energy from the earth and let it explode through the room to remove all debris of floating energy. I also like to call up a wave of each of the elements, as each one has a cleansing property.
I then proceed to cleanse myself. I find this to be an important step and often it is not emphasized in books on magic. If energy is to flow through me to achieve something, I have to make sure that I am not carrying anything that will tag on to that energy and distort it somehow. I think it is also one of the meanings of doing ritual skyclad. I have never done this myself, but I see how performing a rite in the nude might have that feeling of leaving everything behind. My way of doing that is through ritual washing. There can be many ways to do this. Depending on the ritual, it might be more or less extensive. Most of the time, like when I am about to read Tarot, I just wash my hands and wrists whispering: “Bless these hands and the work they do.” You can wash with an infusion of herbs that you have chosen, strain the herbs and wash with the water. Remember to let the water cool down before doing this (personal experience…) You can also add these herbs to your bath water and let your body and your mind release all negativity. I have used chamomile, birch, lavender, thyme, and mint. It is truly a glorious experience!
When I am about to do a serious ritual, I perform a more formal preparation. I do my ritual cleansing in the shower. I wash my body, consecrating it to my rite:

Bless these feet that walk your path;
Bless this womb, which springs forth life;
Bless this heart from which love flows;
Bless this voice that sings your praise;
Bless this mind that seeks your truth;
Bless these hands that do your work;
Bless this soul that yearns for you.

After I am dried and dressed, I anoint my feet, my heart, my third eye and my wrists with scented oil, usually myrrh in commemoration of my Lord and Lady. I am then ready to enter sacred space.

This topic has come up a lot this week on the Christian Pagan Fellowship and it follows our progression of study exercises. I made a small hiatus in the world of magic and visualization and we will now combine the energy exercises of the last few weeks.
A few weeks ago, we worked on manipulating our energy fields. You practiced sensing it, knowing its boundary and how to expand and contract it. Shielding will combine the ability to sense your energy field and the visualization that we have just been working on with your apple.

There are a million different ways to shield. The way you put up a shield is extremely personal and it will only work if you do it in a way that makes sense to YOU. It will only work if it is built in a way that it can stay present in your mind. You must will it to be there, in the same way that you walked around with a word in your head while you were preparing the evening supper. It should feel the same way.

What makes shielding personal, is that you have to design the way it will look and feel. That is the only way that you will be able to keep it in your mind without effort. Here is an example: If I tell you to imagine yourself surrounded by a medieval armor (you know, like the ones standing in the hallways of mansions in movies), you may need to keep your attention very focused in the details of what such an armor looks like. If it is not a familiar shield, your mind will want to keep going back to adjust this or that detail that is slipping your mind, like the way the face looks, or how the hands are placed. It might even feel stiff and you movements will feel awkward. Anything that doesn’t feel right will break your concentration and decrease the effectiveness of your shield.

Also, the kind of shield you choose will highly depend on the situation you are facing. If you are going into a battlefield, you want battle gear. If you just want to walk around the office and want to be impervious to negative energy, a nice pink bubble might do the trick. There is such a thing as offensive and defensive magic or warrior magic. I suggest Wiccan Warrior by Kerr Cuhulain (who will be at In-Fest next weekend, somewhere in the Ottawa region, by the way…) if you want to know more about this path. I have studied martial arts for many years, so this a path that makes sense to me. It is not for everyone, so don’t feel pressure to try it out. But no matter what, everyone needs to know how to shield.

Take a moment to assess the situation. What kind of shield do you need and want. Right now, you are just practicing, so you can try out different shields. But in general, what will you need this shield for. Imagine the kind of protection you want. It should feel comfortable, easy to focus on, strong and it should make you feel safe. It can really be anything. It can be an extra layer of light, guardians that surround you, a tornado, a brick wall, a viking’s shield, a blanket… It all depends on you and on the situation. Obviously, summoning the 4 archangels to stand by you will require more focused attention than an extra layer of light. But it will also be no match if you are walking towards danger. Probably a little bit of an overkill for office politics, though! Imagine a few possibilities that you may want to keep in your ‘shield closet’. It will be easier to conjure them quickly if you have imagined them already. For the sake of this exercise, let’s try something light. We’ll just try thickening the border of your shield. You can choose to just make it more dense or add a layer of light around your field.
1. Center and ground. Grounding is especially important. That is your best line of defense, even without a shield. In karate, it is all about stance. If an opponent can make you fall over, the battle is lost, even before you cast your punch.
2. Test your energy field. Where does it reach. Do a quick scan of its margin.
3. At the boundary of your energy field, imagine your shield being formed. Visualize a layer coming in and surrounding your energy field. Draw up energy from your roots and direct it to the outermost layer of your energy field. See this energy transform itself to offer you protection. It may seem to harden, like the bark of a tree, or glow more brightly like a flame. Command this energy to do your bidding and protect your personal space. You should ultimately get a feeling of: ‘This is in here and that is out there.’? That which is outside should not come within.
4. Once you’ve visualized your shield, draw back into yourself, but without letting your shield collapse. Your focus is no longer on upholding the shield. It should uphold itself, the same way the word lingered in your mind during the visualization exercise. Will it to be there, and that’s it! The minute you question whether it is holding, you are casting doubt into it and weakening its presence. Conjure it, know it’s there and go on your business. This is not easy and it takes a lot of practice. Be forgiving of yourself and have fun with this.

Once you’ve practiced this, you can go on to trying different types of shields. Your creativity is the only limit. I’ve had elemental shields, music shields, mirror shields… The more complex your shield is, the more mental focus and attention will be needed. Try the basic shield above first so you have an easy option for ‘everyday wear’.

Feel free to post your comments and the different shields you have tried out. It’s always fun to discover what others have come up with.

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