I attended a 2-day workshop on Shamanic Dreamwork. I don’t know how much I wrote about Shamanism on this blog, but I think it is the tribe that I feel most comfortable in right now. The people that compose it are varied, very down to earth and very conscious of being in a state of personal power.

I am lucky that Montreal has a thriving shamanic community offering the courses of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. I sign up for the workshops whenever they are offered. This weekend was a workshop on Shamanic Dreamwork.

At the beginning of the workshop, we were taught about the concept of ‘Big Dreams’. Big Dreams are dreams that are particularly vivid. You feel them on different sensory levels and you usually wake up with a very strong feeling. I looked back and I realized what a great part dreams have played in my spiritual journey. I can go back at least to the age of 10 and remember some of these great dreams. Whenever I would go to sleep with a pressing need for assistance, I would always be graced with a dream that would give me an answer to my query, or comfort, or guidance. They are stuck in my memory, as if I had actually been there.

Shamanic dreamwork goes much further than simply ‘interpreting’ dreams. It is truly about journeying to understand what the dream is telling us, what the spirits are telling us through the dreams. We also worked with dance and singing and tribal dreams. We journeyed for others. We journeyed to recall universal dreams.

The Foundation for Shamanic Studies offers workshops throughout the world. You can find a workshop near you at http://www.shamanism.org

If the drum beat calls you, go and have a look.

I have a confession to make: I always shrugged off the concept of ‘being in the moment’. What does that mean, anyway? You have to plan ahead and dream and make things better, right? How can you do that if you are sitting in your own presence.

Here is one of the lessons I have learned lately: being in the now takes discipline and is probably the most  active way to live your life. I always pictured people who abide by this concept as being passive and just going where the wind takes them. But as I take time to understand myself and reconnect, I see ‘Now’ as a living entity.

Living in the ‘Now’ means that you have to do what is in front of you. You have to look at life honestly and see what needs to be done right now. And that calls for choices at every instant. For example, the most important thing right now for me, is to make sure that my family is safe and that they have all they need to grow. What that means concretely, is that for me to be able to do that, I have to be rested and have all the energy at my disposal. So I have decided to go to sleep early, sometimes at the same time as the kids if that’s what I need. That’s what needs to be done Now. It is my sacred duty. I choose to put other things aside because that is what ‘Now’ requires of me. So ‘living life in the moment’ calls us to make choices, to live actively and to not get lost in a hypothetical future.

Going back to being a ‘student’ has been a great exercise in humility. Why humility? Well, having written a book and having people consult with me and blogging etc… There is always the presumption that that is a great thing that I have to continue doing. What author does not want to keep publishing? I certainly do. I love writing more than anything else I have done in my work. But I had to also acknowledge the ego part of that and the fact that this moment was for reconnecting myself and reading the signs of what this moment is telling me. ‘Now’ requires something else of me and that there is no greater honor than to honor that commitment.
I am sure that you all have things that you feel you should do. The truth is that right now, there is only one thing you must do. You know what it is.

As mentioned previously, I am in a Student Cycle. I am taking this time to recenter on me and what I want to learn, where I want to go and so forth.

My starting point is peace and stillness, and although that sounds pretty straight forward, it takes so much discipline to just sit yourself down and breathe. I am not even talking about meditation. I am just sitting myself down and aligning back my energy within my physical body. Those of you who are sensitive to your own energy, you will notice that your energy body is often slightly peripheral to your physical body (Well, mine is, anyway) My energy center is always slightly in front and to the right of my physical. So I am making a point right now, as much as I can, to sit a few minutes to bring the two together. You wouldn’t believe how relaxing it is to ‘come back home’.

So, I am centering back on me. In this day and age, this sounds selfish. But I am the greatest instrument God/dess has given me. It needs to be in good working order.

In the process, I have learned a valuable lesson:

If you are happy, everyone is happy.

Think about it….

My children’s birthdays have become a rite of passage as much for them as for myself. After all, the years roll for all of us whether we wish it or not. But the day where I became a mother is without question the biggest rite of passage of my life. It will probably have no equal other than the Great Passage that will occur when my earthly days end.

My dearest boy, my first born, turned 6 years old today. It is always emotional for me, not only because he is getting older, but because of how this symbolizes my own birthing into motherhood. For someone like me who was always deeply involved in thought and meditation, motherhood opened me up to the new realm of deep and overwhelming emotion. By becoming a mother, I learned to feel. It taught me compassion and fear and love and amazement.

Yesterday, we did the socially required ritual of the ‘children’s birthday party’: a first for us, I am still just barely recovering. I don’t think I was that stressed on my wedding day!

Tonight, we spent a quiet evening together. After the kids were in bed, I retreated to my room and made an offering to the Almighty for the blessing that is my son. I offered the only present I felt appropriate for the birth a firstborn son: frankincense and myrrh. I thanked my Lord for granting me such a precious ward and the Great Mother for keeping us in her care.

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.

Cris de Chisasibi, à la Baie James, au Québec ...

Image via Wikipedia

I spent two days this week on a committee to address special needs in the Cree communities of James Bay. On this committee sat an Elder who said some things that I wanted to share.

“I can’t say that I understand what is happening today. Our young ones spend all night playing computer games and watching programs on television. They don’t sleep anymore. Yet, the Great Spirit made day so that we could work and night so that we could sleep. He made for us four programs and called them spring, summer, fall and winter. That is medicine, better than any other.

When I go out on the land, everything is free. Only here do I need this thing they call money. Out on the land I am free. I have everything I need. I have food and shelter and Spirit. I don’t even need to farm. The Great Spirit has everything there for me.

Now you ask what we need to help our young ones with special needs and their families. We need the Great Spirit. As long as we have that, we don’t need anything else.”

I love my job!

 

Two Candles

Image via Wikipedia

Once your circle is cast, you invite your deity figures to come in and bless your rite. The concept of deity is complex in a Christian Pagan setting and I would like to give that topic full attention soon. So bear with me on this for now. Suffice to say that you want to invite that which blesses you in your rite and in your life. You may already have a name and a face for this essence, or it might be just that, an essence. Nothing comes into being without the Great Source. This is why I always invite it to bring life to my rituals. You can do spells without invoking deity. Then you draw solely from the elements at hand in your spell (like the energy of the earth, of herbs, of a flame, etc…) I walked into Witchcraft with the intent to live a practice that honors the Divine. That is why I call on that Divine source to assist me in my rites.

Traditionally, there are two white candles on the altar: one for the god and one for the goddess. I realize just now that I did not talk about the altar at all. I’ll save that for later as well. (Please somebody remind me if I forget…) As you light your deity candles, much as you invited the quarters, you invite and honor your God and Goddess. You may wish to welcome them with any words you might see fit and that inspire you (or you may do it silently or chanting or in tongues, or any other way, for that matter) My invocations have changed over the years as my religious practice and the definition of myself changed with regards to that other realm. It is nice to keep track of these in your grimoire/book of shadows to see how you have changed over the years.

Lately, I welcome my Lord and Lady in the following way:

‘Blessed art thou, Lord of all Creation for giving us the Mysteries,

That we are made in your image, co-creators of all that is and divine in essence;

And blessed art thou, Holy Mother, Gardian of Heaven and Earth,

from whose womb all blessings flow so that we may know Life;

All glory to you Lord Jesus for giving us the teachings of the most High,

Guide me with your wisdom.

Hail Mary of Magdala, Holy Priestess of Our Lord,

Bless your servant who humbly presents herself to you.

All glory to you for thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory forever and ever.’

**Amen**

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

Cover via Amazon

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.

This blog is coming out of a heated discussion on the Christian Pagan Fellowship on Facebook. It is a question that I have been pondering for a while and for which the community has to come together: Is it viable (or even desirable) to organize the Christian Pagan path into an organized Church?

Several issues arise from this topic. First and foremost is the definition of Christian Paganism. Some describe themselves as Christian Witches, Christian Wiccans, Mystics, Druids, Gnostics, Catholic Witches, Spiritualists, non-traditional Christians…. the list goes on. Is there enough common ground to even rally all these traditions together? I will tentatively say ‘yes’, that there is enough common ground to rally people together. After all, a growing number of us are getting together in various ways. However, I do not know if there is enough common agreement in practice at this point to make it possible to structure a liturgy around this. Nor do I think that it would add to the practice. Don’t forget, much of the Pagan community is facing the same challenge. The central topic at this year’s Gaia gathering was the topic of a common liturgy. Pagans in general are very attached to the freedom and flexibility that their practice offers. Many like and need to be eclectic in their practices. But obviously, the call of the group is also a strong one and there has to be some concessions made to achieve a balance between the two. I think that a Pagan practice, whether Christian or traditional, will always have a strong blend of solitary practice and community involvement. The question remains as to how much structure we really want in our community life.

I like my solitary practice. I am probably going to be a solitary all my life. But I wouldn’t have written a book if I didn’t feel the need to reach out to others who shared the same beliefs. What I do not want is a structure that sets my beliefs down in stone and that gives someone the authority to lead my worship. All I want is a place to go to, a place that is sacred and where I can offer my prayers in the manner that is most holy to me. A place where I can be surrounded by my symbols, where I can offer worship to my Mother and my Father and where I can receive and share wisdom and blessings with others of like faith. This may be possible within a structure that is fluid enough to offer freedom to contemplate and to share. Such a structure could be as simple as preparing the sanctuary, making an offering, making time for contemplation, passing on wisdom and blessings and sharing a meal. I could see that work. Much of this can be achieved in a solitary practice. Remains to see whether there are enough others who want to gather in a common place to make group services possible.

If I stop and think about what a Christian Pagan Church would look like, I see something along the lines of what the early Church looked like. I see a network of houses identified with the ichtus where patrons welcomed prophets, priests, disciples and fellow Christians whenever they passed through their town.

I see a house where people gather and perform a simple devotion and share stories and teachings. I also see the organization of the Church to be similar to what the Gnostics did. Members would rotate between the different functions of the service, which was assigned by a draw. This way, it was not always the same person who presided worship. You could be the one to set up the house, or take care of the meal, or do the readings or make the offering. This allowed everyone to be involved and prevented power to be assigned to only one person. That’s the way I think a Church aught to operate.

When the topic of organizing Churches came up, my first reaction was that I would much prefer to have an international gathering of Christian Pagans. This way, we can all start to get to know one another, share what we believe and offer a common prayer. That is my dream for now. I leave the rest in God’s hands.