Yule

Yule (Photo credit: Jupiter Firelyte)

Blessed Yule everyone!

I’ve been away for the last couple months. Work has kept me busy, really busy. I’ve also needed time to regroup and focus on what is important so as not to get scattered. My rituals have been simple and my meditations brief. I could probably use a lot more time to just sit and breathe. I’m looking forward to the holidays to get my balance back and to reconnect. Actually, just the act of writing this blog right now is having a surprisingly calming effect.

I did a journey not long ago and asked how do I get my balance back. I saw myself aboard a ship in the middle of a storm. There was one message: Get off the ship. So that’s what I am trying to do. Life sometimes feels like it is setting the agenda and it takes a lot of energy to get the control back. The hardest part is usually to recognize the madness as out of control. And then to stare the beast down and rise above it. So that’s what I am trying to do. I’m also trying to reconnect with what brings me joy. You know, the feeling deep in your being that takes over and makes you laugh uncontrollably, or create wonders, or sigh in deep contentment. I wish you many of these moments.

The moral of the last few months is that there is a time to focus entirely on you. The world is usually all the better for it.

Tonight, the whole family lit a candle to help the sun come up. We made wishes for our happiness and for there to be light in our world. It was simple.  The candles are still burning bright behind me. As we enter the time of celebration of this light, whatever we may call it, I make a wish to reconnect with Joy. May the light shed our fears and bring out the authentic self we were born to be.

Blessed Yule!

Darkness, darkness, I feel thee. I see thee. You surround me now, as if it were all to end. I see you in the eyes of others like me. I feel your grasp around my heart as you squeeze the air from my lungs. I know you and I know your names.

And yet, I do not fear thee. For I am not alone in front of you. All around I see my brothers and sisters holding up their light to your face. They shine their light and raise their hearts way up high so that it feels as bright as day.

This light is ours. This light is mine. This light has been since the abyss before the beginning. Blessed be thou, darkness, for bringing it forth tonight.Image

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!

Two Candles

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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**

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.

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.