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.

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!

Cover of "Drawing Down the Moon: Witches,...

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Someone emailed me a question that I thought may be of benefit to many. I was asked the difference between the terms Witchcraft and Wicca, and between Pagan and Neo-Pagan.

Witchcraft vs Wicca: Wicca is an official religion and is usually regimented in covens, with the passing of a book of shadows between initiates. Witchcraft is an umbrella term which may refer to Wicca, but also to other forms of folk magic or traditional witches that are not necessarily structured into an organized system with initiates and a high priest/priestess. So Witchcraft encompasses everything from the cottage witch, family traditionals (passed from one generation to the next) to Wiccans of diverse traditions (there are MANY!) 
 
Pagan vs Neo-Pagan: The ‘Neo’ distinction comes from the fact that the Pagan revival is a relatively recent thing. It is a 19th century phenomenon brought about after the lift of the laws against witchcraft in England. Many Pagans claim primitive roots, as if they are resurrecting old prehistoric Goddess worship systems. The term Pagan is, again, an umbrella term to describe all practices that stem from earth-based, Goddess worship. ‘Neo-Paganism’ reminds people that this refers to the new organization of Pagan beliefs into a modern system. Its use is to distinguish between what is generally called a Pagan practice and the new way of expressing these practices in organized religions, such as Wicca. In short, Neo-Paganism has as much connection to ancient Goddess rites as we do to the chimp. People coined the term the term Neo-Paganism to really remind people that this type of Paganism is a modern expression of ancient ideas. But it is a modern practice nonetheless.

I hope that’s clear. One thing that became apparent when I attended Gaia gathering this year is that Paganism is starting to have its own history, and it is quite a complex one. There are a number of books of shadows that have been circulated, lineages and traditions branching out in various directions. It is fascinating to hear the oldest members of the Pagan communities talk about all that history. One excellent source on this topic is ‘Drawing Down the Moon’ by Margot Adler. A must read for anyone who tries to understand where Paganism came from.

When writing the book, I had numerous debates about terminology. What do I call this practice of mine? Is it Christian Witchcraft? Christian Wicca? Christian Paganism? Mystical Christianity?

You will find that at times I oscillate between Christian Witchcraft and Christian Paganism. Most often, it tends to be Christian Witchraft. I felt that this was the term that offered the most freedom, being two umbrella terms. Witchcraft, rather than Paganism, refers to an actual practice rather than a set of beliefs. That is what I was looking for: a practice to regiment my life. Also, the term Witchcraft gave me a sense of reclaiming that which the Church had robbed from me: the essence of my femininity. It was a way of saying that I would not be an accomplice to the crimes of my Church against women throughout its history. When I talk of Christian Paganism, it is in the hope that more people feel included by this even wider term. Here I refer to a common belief in the sanctity of nature, in the many faces of the Divine and in the existence of the unseen, while upholding the teachings of Jesus. The terms Christian Paganism and Christian Witchcraft are not mutually exclusive as far as I am concerned. They simply talk of different things and will suit different people on the pursuit of their own Truth.