Blessings to all!

This post comes as a response to an absolutely wonderful conversation on my blog following the Ash Wednesday post. It addresses the validity of scripture in the context of the Crucifixion. Imagine this: two people who disagree about the ‘validity’ of scripture and who don’t tear each other’s hearts out! There is reason to be hopeful!

Basically the question that poses itself is: Is the Bible central to the Christian faith? It certainly is for certain denomination. The argument that was presented in a comment by one reader (please read his comment on the post entitled ‘Ash Wednesday’. It is very well presented and extremely respectful – Thank you!) is that the Patriarchs of our Tradition agreed on the Canon and that is what we can consider to be our Holy Scripture. All theological implications that form the basis of our Tradition stem from it.
I always tread cautiously when I speak of theology or Church history. I am a simple person, and although I read a lot, it is so easy to misinterpret or misquote events or scripture. My understanding is that it is still debated whether the council of Nicea (and I believe there were more than one) resulted in the acceptance of the Biblical Canon.  Let’s face it: We have been disagreeing on the interpretation of what Jesus said as far back as the Baptism in the Jordan. We have to go on Faith more than anything else. It’s the only thing I feel any certainty about (I acknowledge the paradox!) But I digress.
We needed a written record of our beliefs and our Story. No doubt. That is why we are still here learning and debating about it. In the context of the times, it was great foresight of the Church fathers to compile such a text. It was also largely a Roman requirement to bring the Church into the New Age of Romanità. We have to remember the context of the first Councils. Christianity was finding its place within Rome and it had to make sense to that new ‘audience’. That is why we witnessed a certain ‘philosophizing’ of Christian theology around that time. To be accepted into the Roman elite, the people of Rome had to understand it. Christianity had to speak its language. The first council of Nicea was summoned by Constantine to quell the division within the Church on various heresies. Constantine could not afford dissension within the ranks of the Church and he basically made the Church fathers sit down and agree. There is a solid Roman influence in the compilation of the Church theology and scripture.
Another problem that I have with accepting the Bible as the only source of authenticated scripture is the fact that the gnostic current and the Judeo-Christian currents were completely absent from the discussion. When you read the gnostic gospels, it is evident to me that these beliefs were also present at the time when Jesus walked the earth. To disregard them is like erasing a part of our history and a part of the teaching we received. I don’t believe that they are any less valid than the Canon gospels.
It’s difficult to study Christianity. You would have to dedicate your life to it. And still, you could only base yourself on ‘what is written’. As an author, I can tell you that it is not because I wrote it that it becomes truth. I am not comparing myself to Paul or any of the evangelists (please don’t misunderstand me!), but we can only write our experience and perspective of the moment. That changes and grows as we become wiser and more compassionate. To freeze something in time and consider it non-negotiable is dangerous. The Bible is our historical document, our best record of the path we have been taking. It is impossible to go into the debate of whether it is accurate or divinely inspired. Like I said before, it all goes back to Faith. The one thing that I think is mandatory if you call yourself a Christian is to love and support your brothers and sisters. If anyone uses the Bible to go against our only commandment, then they shouldn’t call themselves Christians.
This discussion began around the topic of the Crucifixion, the explanation of the Divine sacrifice in the scriptures and the topic of Salvation. Basically, the question posed was “If you don’t believe what Christ and His followers said about Himself (in the Bible) then why do you even care what His teachings were?” I want to expand briefly on this.
First of all, I do care about His teachings. Very much. A fact remains: Christ did not write anything down. He did not come to start a religion. Unless you want to argue the concept of Divine inspiration of the scripture (which I think is un-debatable), I believe that biblical accounts (Canon or gnostic) are a point of view of the authors on the events that took place. The Crucifixion is a central Mystery of the Christian faith. I will never deny that. I have already expanded on what I understand (if ‘understand’ is the right word) of the Mystery.
That being said, the letters of the first Christians were written in a context that we must not forget.  The first communities were under persecution and many died for their beliefs. It is therefore not surprising that Christ’s sacrifice has such a prominent place in the letters of the early Christian communities. There was, at the time, a glorification of martyrdom that inspired the communities to keep their beliefs alive. This can be read in a number of early Christian texts, one of the oldest being ‘The Martyrdom of St-Felicity and Perpetua’. I don’t belittle their sacrifice, for without it, the Christian story might have died in the womb. It is just important to consider that the scriptures may have put more emphasis on the sacrifice of the crucifixion to sustain the communities suffering from persecution.
One last point: the concept of salvation through the Crucifixion as described through the letters of (probably) Paul, is a foundational text of the Apostolic movement. The gnostics did not hold the same understanding of the meaning of the sacrifice and most did not believe in martyrdom. Different point of view, but still Christian.
It is difficult for me to write this post. It shakes the very core of our beliefs and requires very important questions to be asked. The most important of which is: What does it mean to be Christian? As I wrote in my book, that question is infinitely more difficult to answer than what it means to be Pagan. These questions bring up so much animosity, deep-rooted in thousands of years of disagreement. I don’t want to fuel that. It’s not our way. I feel it is important to have open discussions to ensure that we all feel safe in seeking that which makes us more like Our Lord, whatever that may be. I hope that in this, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

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I must have said this before, but I love Lent. I know that it sounds strange, since it is supposed to be a time of penance and sobriety. But there is such power in this time of the year. Every year, without exception I get a big revelation. I set out with a need, an intention for something I want in my life or something I want to change. Just by putting out that intention, I usually end up with something that hits me in full force. This year was not different. I just sat at my altar, quietly listening, and it became clear what would be my quest this year. Sorry for the suspense, but I am not sharing. This is my lesson for the year. I don’t want to influence anyone in what they need to invite in their lives. Try it just once, to sit and listen to the voice within and you will be amazed at what comes up.

Here is how Lent manifests in my life:
First I listen for that lesson I need to learn. Then I make a commitment to work on it for the duration of Lent. Then that lesson becomes a guide for my actions over the next weeks. Holy Week usually offers a final insight on my life, something that really stays with me. For as long as I have done this, I can recall every lesson that has been given me this way.

Since hearing my lenten lesson, I have been putting the lesson into action and pushing my limits. Just being in the mindset creates opportunities for the lesson to manifest. One thing leads to another and the world just opens up into a dialogue between me and the Divine. It is precious beyond words.

May your Lent be filled with Grace.

English: Leaving traces on soft sand dunes in ...

I just saw something that shook me up. I crossed into New York state for a training this morning. I passed by a church that had a billboard in the front. The billboard said: ‘God wrote the first Valentine with two boards and three nails.’

Am I the only one that finds that offensive? I don’t see how an act of violence like the crucifixion can be construed as an act of Divine Love. I understand the rhetoric of redemption through Christ’s sacrifice. To me, the act of crucifying someone isn’t the ‘act of God’, but the ‘act of Man’ and I don’t understand why the act has to be glorified. I have sat in contemplation on the mystery of the cross and it has brought me many teachings on a symbolic level: the surrender to divine will, the acceptance of my humanity, the concept of karma and the payment of a karmic debt. The glory of the crucifixion was that our humanity and divinity were combined in one last act and that the Innocent took on the karmic debt of the many. It links many mystery traditions through the depiction of the slain god, pierced and hung from a tree. It is a beautiful symbol. But my tradition is one of love and inner power, and it is a travesty of that mystery to elevate violence and confuse it with love. God’s love has nothing to do with two boards and three nails.

In any case, today is Ash Wednesday. I love Lent. It is a period to reflect about the kind of person I want to be and the lessons I want to learn. We strive to be like Jesus: a perfect combination of humanity and divinity. I get frustrated with myself very often for not being able to move on to that place of Spirit, for getting bogged down with the nitty gritty of human existence. It feels like an invisible wall that I just can’t cross.

The truth of the matter is that no one knows what happened on the road to Cana. No one wrote how Jesus felt before he came into his power. No one knows how frustrating it might have been for him to deal with humanity or how he came know that he could transcend it all. No one knows the road to Cana. No one knows what happened in the desert to transform him. So maybe all this doubt and frustration we are feeling is just our road to Cana, our journey through the desert. Maybe the awakening is coming.

I haven’t decided what I will work on this Lent. But I will reflect on what I need to do in that desert to come out the other side a better person. 

Easter Vigil - the fire

Easter Vigil - the fire (Photo credit: Dean Ayres)

My dear friends,

How great to be sitting here and getting back on-line!

Sometimes when you take time away from yourself to give it to others, you end up on a journey of spiritual discovery unlike any other. It has been such for me over the last few months of winter. I gained spirit lessons the like of which I have not had in a long time. When I decided to put my writing on hold to give more time to my family, I was suddenly given time to find sacred space for my own soul. I read a book for fun. I did more shamanic journeys. I dreamed more. I made encounters that taught me great things. I took up yoga again. And somehow, I still had plenty of time to take care of the ones I loved.

This time somehow brought me back to the place I aught to be. I am a Witch. I bless my house. I ask the Spirits to guard us. I counsel others when they need me. I listen, I live, I learn, I become. And all these lessons that I learned, they belong to me and nobody else. I live a blessed life, even in the midst of hardship, this I cannot deny.

For those of you who are curious, I am happy to report that my son has done incredibly well since I have made the decision to put my ‘other activities’ on hold. We have gotten one very good evaluation result a couple of weeks ago which has given us much hope. We are scheduled for more tests next week which will give us a clearer idea of the situation. I don’t want to scream ‘Victory’ yet. I will keep you posted.

But for now, we are ready to enter our most holy time of the year. Every single year, without fail, a revelation is given to me, whether I seek it or not. It just enters my mind, like a Presence, and my vision is forever changed. This year was no exception. This is my own revelation, one that I must live with and grow with. I pray Our Lord to give each and every one of you such a blessed visit this week. This is the week to sit in silence, to slow down the pace, to move more slowly and to talk in measured tones. It is the time to listen to the story of our Lord’s passing and to ask ourselves: “What did it all mean? What does it still me to us now? What does it mean to me?”

 

May the blessings of the Paschal season be with you all

Books

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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!

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!

The Goddess

Image by LilithSativa via Flickr

I promised to come back on the concept of deity. It is a topic that comes back regularly on the Christian Pagan Fellowship and that evokes the most controversy. I’ve addressed this in my book ‘The Path of Christian Witch”, but surely one small book cannot cover such a wide topic. An entire library could not cover the question we are really asking: ‘What is God?’

I do not claim to have the answer to that question and will not attempt to answer it. The question that is often asked is how do we view God from the point of view of a Christian Witch. How do we deal with polytheism and how do we include biblical figures and mythological figures into our practice? Do we view God as an almighty energy or do we give It faces? Are these two views mutually exclusive? Are these faces really Gods and Goddesses?

I don’t have THE answer. But I have my answer. I see God as a multitude of things and somehow, I feel that all of these can coexist without contradiction. I see God as an action rather than a being. The ein sof, the breath, described in Kabbalah. This is the breath of life that brings things forth all there is from the great Void. But even though I believe in that Essence, I also believe that it does manifest itself to us in very real terms. I feel all representations of gods and goddesses in mythology, our biblical figures and saints and other holy people hold a parcel of that Essence. I think we all come here with lessons to learn and these figures are different ways for God to talk to us in a personal manner. S/He gives us different lessons through these Holy people. Are they gods and goddesses? They are expressions of God, so to me they are divine. Do I worship them? I do in the same measure that I also worship the divine within myself.

 

From a practical point of view, what should a Christian Witch/Pagan do about worship? She can choose to worship the essence of God, the Almighty, the Great Spirit. She may decide that she needs a representation of that Essence either in one figure or in a deity couple that represents our human polarity. She may decide to worship God the Father as we have been taught. She may also worship the Goddess uniquely or in combination with the Father. She may decide to choose one or two expressions of the Divine from any pantheon and walk her path with them to learn the lessons that she has to learn to fulfill her calling. Any combination of this is all right. We will only really know the full expression of God when we cross over, so for now, the best we can do is have a taste of Its many manifestations.