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.

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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.

Professor Tariq Ramadan holds MA in Philosophy and French literature and PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva. In Cairo, Egypt he received one-on-one intensive training in classic Islamic scholarship from Al-Azhar University scholars. 
Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University (Oriental Institute, St Antony’s College ). He is also teaching at the Faculty of Theology at Oxford. He is at the same time a Visiting Professor in Qatar (Faculty of Islamic Studies) and in Morocco (Mundiapolis) and a Senior Research Fellow at Doshisha University(Kyoto, Japan). http://www.tariqramadan.com/spip.php?lang=en

I was surprised to see that, in the day following the conference, more mention was made of Professor Ramadan than of the Dalaï-Lama. Apparently he is a quite controversial speaker of the Muslim faith. He was indeed a fascinating speaker, but I did not identify anything remarkably shocking or controversial in his speech, other than being passionate about Islam, which may be sufficient in today’s world to be viewed as controversial. He was an absolutely fascinating speaker and here are a few of the things he shared with us.
Our lives and our faith have to be grounded in a positive discipline. To speak of peace, we have to be able to speak of violence. We have to go back to our traditions and scriptures to see what they say about violence. Conferences on world peace have been going on for decades. The truth is that those who attend are all rather privileged and already sold to the idea of world peace. So the questions we have to ask ourselves is How do we deal with violence? How do we deal with poverty? How do we deal with injustice? Only then do we know how to work for peace.
There are four things we need to pass on to our children to achieve peace:

1)      History. We need to know where we came from, what mistakes we made and what great things we accomplished.

2)      Philosophy: Children need to know how to answer the great questions of our existence.

3)      Religion: To continue a practice that connects us to a greater source

4)      Art: To continue to develop imagination, esthetics and to take time to create

There are some fundamental rights that are common to all religions. Each person should have the right to set up a sacred site from where to practice their religion, no matter where they live in the world.
As a religious person, each one of us has the duty to take position against the injustice and corruption within their own religion. Islamic scriptures do not support the degradation of women. If, as a Muslim, you hear someone use Islam to support the oppression of women, it is your duty to take a stand against it. Same thing goes for all other religions. If as a Jew killing your neighbor is against the Law, then you have to speak up against the conflict in Palestine. Or as a Christian, you must denounce hatred towards minorities and those who are marginalized. This is a sacred duty.

I was priviledged to hear an exceptional speech by Dr. Robert Thurman at the conference on Wednesday. My few words really don’t do justic to his passion and humor. He is the embodiment of the ultimate professor. You know, the one you really want to have. For more on Dr. Thurman, please visit his site: http://www.bobthurman.com/

 Robert A.F. Thurman is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, and co-founder and President of Tibet House US. He writes and lectures frequently on Buddhism, Asian history, and critical philosophy. A personal friend of the Dalai Lama for over 40 years, his latest book is Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet and the World.

 Words from Dr. Robert Thurman

Religion has long been identified as a cause of conflict and war. It is important to understand that it is not religion itself that causes war, but the misuse of it. All religions are united by what Dr. Thurman calls ‘The religious experience’. This religious experience is composed of three things:

1)     An experience of the transcendent

2)     Tangible fruit of this experience, known as love, compassion, truth and so forth

3)     A belief in the immortality of the soul

It is the purpose of all humans (including atheists and agnostics) to find that religious experience and spread the feeling to others. We become citizens of the universe by sharing this religious experience that transcends our own culture and tradition.

 On the subject of interfaith dialogue, the Dalaï-Lama considers two things. First, he aknowledges his own personal excludism in that he has chosen his own personal religion at the exclusion of all others. He believes in the wisdom teachings of his religion and ascribes to its practices. Secondly, he promotes social pluralism. While each person walks within the beliefs of his own chosen religion, there should be a common understanding that each religion upholds the same truth and should be respected and honored. This leads to many traditions walking side by side, instead of having one universal, non-denominational human spirituality devoid of inner complexity and challenge. Our religious tradition is the one best suited to our disposition and the most likely to lead us to that religious experience which unites us all.

An awe-inspiring, soul building day yesterday. I attended the 2nd annual conference on peace through world religions, held in my home town of Montreal.  (http://gcwr2011.org/) Imagine. In one room, a multitude of religions and cultures coming together for one purpose: making the world better.

The guest of honor was his holiness the Dalaï-Lama who graced us with a morning filled with wisdom and laughter. The afternoon was reserved to a talk by well-known author Deepak Chopra and a panel discussion by fantastic speakers from different religious backgrounds. I’d like to share a bit of the wisdom that I received yesterday. Please pass it on! 

Words of wisdom by His Holiness the Dalaï-Lama

The Dalai Lama - Sa Sainteté Le Dalaï-Lama

Religion is supposed to be a source of moral ethic. There are only 2 ways that it can become a source of conflict:

1)      When religion is mixed with the quest for power and economic interest.

2)      When you espouse the belief that there is only one truth expressed through one religion.

The first example is pretty self-explanatory and we have multiple examples of this occurring throughout history.

In today’s world, it is simply impossible to continue to espouse the attitude that there is only one truth expressed by one religion. Back in the day when people lived in isolation, this was possible. We cannot dispute the fact is that there are multiple religions. The Dalaï-Lama gave the example of India and its rather peaceful co-existence of most of the world’s religions. What we need is to come together and express ourselves on our own religions and to learn the value of other religions as well. We have to start talking to each other to discover that we are pretty much all aspiring to the same things.

Rather than thinking in terms of one truth-one religion, we have to come to the understanding of a same truth being expressed by all religions. All religions have the same message and potential. All religion teach truth, honesty, compassion, love. Being religious is living a practice of love and compassion, meditating on selflessness and having faith in God the Creator.  There are people of all religions who do this.

Why did God create so many teachers? You cannot call God ignorant for doing that. Students of Buddha would criticize him for giving contradictory teachings. They would ask him: ‘How can you say this when you just said that?’ To this Buddha would answer that even among followers of one teacher, there are many dispositions. Contradictions can suit people of different dispositions and bring them to enlightenment. It is the same with different religions.

We all need 2 levels of spirituality: we need a general humanism to reach out to others and fight inequity. We also need a religious faith that guides our practice. All religions have good things. Practice includes the reduction of self-centered arrogance and the upholding of moral ethics. If you believe and pray to God, you cannot support corruption, lying, cheating. If you pray, you have to be serious in your belief. When you practice love, honesty and compassion, you pass it on to your family, and they pass it on to theirs and love keeps growing.  To grow in peace, we have to reach out to others and understand what they believe.

A young boy asked the Dalaï-Lama: ‘What do you have to do to save the world?’

You have to work on the individual. You have to make your mind peaceful and keep negative feelings fleeting. You have to train yourself in compassion and selflessness and find opportunities for altruism. There are always troublemakers. We ourselves can be troublemakers sometimes. We have to remember that these troublemakers are also created by God. We have to create inner peace and share with others.

Hello everyone!

Our town holds an annual traditional craft fair every labor day weekend. We took the kids on Sunday and had a blast. This was hosted by a local school of traditional crafts that we are lucky to have here on the south shore of Montreal. There were booths everywhere of people showcasing their handy work: book binding, barrel making, lace and embroidery, quilting, soap making, smithing, wood and copper carving… It was beautiful to see ordinary people continue to make things with their hands and to keep the tradition and knowledge alive.  The first time that I was forced to make something with my hands was through my magic classes. I had painted for many years, but crafting was new to me and I felt like I was all thumbs! We did some magical crafts, like the corn dolly, besom (magical broom), binding a book of shadows, decorating a wand and staff… We also had a section of cultural crafts, like adinkra, pysanka eggs, egyptian plaquettes… We had to learn calligraphy (and not smudge the ink!) At the time, I thought it was all nice, but what is the point of this again? Later, when I arrived up north, I took up native traditional crafts. It was the easiest way to get in touch with the culture, so I made moose-hide mittens, moccasins for my kids, sealskin mittens for my husband. I learned to embroider the hide, which was really hard at first. And I got really into it. As my first pregnancy progressed, I took up quilting. I felt it was a nice way to honor my maternal lineage and my grandmother who was an expert quilter. The more I got involved in making things, the more I understood ‘the point’ of it all. Making things puts you in a sort of trance state. It allows the conscious, logical brain to hush up for a little while and lets that intuitive part take over. It is also a great way to experience the aspect of ‘creation’ which is part of our divine heritage. And as a witch, it grounded me in the real world, linking above and below, which is one of the main reasons I am walking this path.

My son and daughter posing in a vintage fire engine

The country fair was a fun filled afternoon. It was, in fact, the most fun we’ve had at a summer event this year. Unlike the other events we went to, it did not cost us $100 for a few hours, and we didn’t have to wait hours in the blistering sun to bounce three and a half minutes on a bouncy thingy. The kids had a tremendous time in the game sections.

The most fun you can have with a board and two elastics!

Hitting a bunch of cans with a baseball is loads of fun for a

four-year-old! A carousel ride and a cotton candy later, we went home quite content.