Spirituality

Opiate of the masses.

Beltane

By Psyche | May 1, 2006 | Leave a comment

A celebration of spring, the third and culminating fertility festival, and one of the eight major festivals in the Wheel of the Year.

The third fertility festival, after Imbolg and Ostara, Beltane is one of the four Greater Sabbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. It’s opposite on the Wheel is Samhain, the third harvest. In the northern hemisphere we observe this day on April 30th through May 1st, and in the southern hemisphere, on October 31st through November 1st. As at Samhain, at Beltane the veils between the worlds are said to be thin. Though where Samhain is a celebration of Death, at Beltane we celebrate Life renewed.

There are a variety of spellings for this holiday, depending on which regional variation of Galic is used. It is also known as Beltain, Bealtaine, Bealtainn, among others. Beltane roughly translates to ‘bright fire’, ‘shining fire’, or ‘Bel’s fire’.

Fire plays an important part in Beltane celebrations as it is symbolic of the Sun God’s growing strength and warmth of the season. Fire is a sacred representation of purity and healing, and Wiccans traditionally jump through the fire, or dance around it.

Beltane marks the true end of winter: summer has now begun in earnest. Trees and bushes sprout new leaves, flowers and fruit blossoms bloom, crops are new and the pleasures of the Earth seem bountiful again. Life has again returned to the Earth.

The Young God has grown into manhood, and the Goddess is fertile, to be ripe with his fruit. Handfastings are popular at Beltane, in sympathy of the union of the Goddess and God as queen and consort.

Of course, one of the more well known traditions is the Maypole dance. The Maypole is representative of the phallus and the sacred union between Earth and Sky, the pole standing between the worlds. As the sexual union of the Goddess and God are played out at this time, so do couples fertilize the fields with their sacred unions at this time, ensuring the fecundity of the Earth, and bountiful harvests to come.

The altar is often decorated with local blossoms and flowers from asked plants.

It is a time to celebrate the fruitfulness of the Earth, and productivity in your life.

First published on Suite101.com on 1 May 2006. (Unfortunately.)


Initiations and Degrees

By Psyche | April 3, 2006 | Leave a comment

To initiate means ‘to begin’, coming from the Latin initium. In the context of Pagan or Wiccan initiations, it can mean acceptance into a particular coven or tradition, or it can imply the Goddess or God has called or acknowledged a particular person.

The March poll asked if one required a coven initiation to become a ‘real witch’. It is gratifying to see that the vast majority of you have voted sensibly, acknowledging that ‘no’, it is not a requirement. Ten years ago this may not have been the case.

Occasionally, online or at festivals, someone will introduce themselves as Lady or Lord So-and-so, third degree Grand Witch of X-Tradition, High Priest/ess, etc. One can only assume that this is intended to impress, however, truthfully, these people tend to come across more foolish than anything else.

Coven initiations and coven degrees only hold significance within that particular coven. Outside the circle they ought never be considered as concrete proof of knowledge, ability or skill, even if the coven is of the same or similar tradition to one you practice or are familiar with. Each coven has its own rules and requirements for its degree system and, even within the same tradition, these conditions are not mutually exclusive.

There seem to be a number of dodgy groups and companies out there who profess to train witches via the Internet and attempt to extract money for the dubious honour of receiving one of their ‘astral initiations’.

The skyclad truth of the matter is, the only creatures with any authority to initiate anyone are the Goddess and God. The Mysteries of divine initiation are conferred through experience. Coven or self-initiations are merely intended to recognize when a rite of passage has been met, a physical acknowledgement of what has already been spiritually earned.

There is a saying among the more sensible neo-pagans that goes: ‘a witch is a witch is a witch’. Meaning that whatever tradition, degree, or school of witchcraft one subscribes to, a witch is identifiable by certain, independently arrived, standards of legitimacy.

Certainly, there are different stages of knowledge and ability, but this does not confer or condone any power of one person over another. Paganism has no formal hierarchy, it has no bishops or decans, no mullahs or rabbis. Priest/esshood and degrees are defined within each individual coven. Respect should be earned, not forced, or expected based solely on the titles one uses.

As Pagans, we recognize that we are on a level playing field, each person may be on a different stage of their journey, but that does not lessons or increase their significance in the Pagan community.

Be comfortable with who you are, respect your Elders, and they in turn will respect you.


First published on Suite101.com on 03 April 2006. (Unfortunately.)


Ostara

By Psyche | March 20, 2006 | Leave a comment

Ostara is one of the eight major sabbats or holy days of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year or calendar and is one of the four Lesser Feasts. It is celebrated on the vernal equinox, which is around March 20-21st in the northern hemisphere, and around September 21-22 in the southern hemisphere. This year it falls on the 20th where I live in the northern hemisphere.

The word for this festival come from the name of the Teutonic goddess of spring and the dawn. It is more traditionally spelled ‘Oestre’, or ‘Oestare’, though neo-pagans today usually use the ‘Ostara’ spelling found here. It is from this root that Christianity later derived its word for ‘Easter’, and many of the customs we associate with that holiday today.

As there are three harvests, the first beginning at Lughnassadh after Midsummer, continuing through Mabon and culminating at Samhain, there are also three fertility festivals on the Wheel. Ostara is the second, with Imbolg being the first, and Beltane being the grande finale of the saga.

The vernal equinox physically demonstrates a balance of light and dark in the day, and this theme of balance returning is evident in our celebration, along with the knowledge that the pendulum is about to swing in the other direction, bringing more light and growth in the months to come.

The young God, who was reborn at Yule and grew to a budding youth at Imbolg, is now a young man. The Goddess and God are both youthful and vibrant with Their potential, and budding fertility.

Symbols of fertility abound on this day, eggs being one of the most potent symbols. Eggs are painted in vibrant colours, or inscribed with messages to manifest in the coming months. The hare or rabbit are other obvious symbols of fertility, representing Oestare’s more well-known familiars.

The altar is often decorated with budding flowers, eggs, seasonal fruits and other symbols of renewal. Seeds for planting may be blessed on this day and formal Ostara rituals and pageantry are practised by many covens and solitaries.

It is a time of growth and expectation.

Happy Ostara!

First published on Suite101.com on 20 March 2006. (Unfortunately.)


What is Wicca?

By Psyche | March 13, 2006 | Leave a comment

The simplest explanation of what Wicca is, is that it is a contemporary neo-pagan religion with spiritual roots in neo-shamanism, which stresses the need for reverence of nature. Though, to get more detailed, it becomes a little more difficult, as there is no central text in Wicca, the exact nature of beliefs vary from tradition to tradition, and even from individual to individual. There is a saying in Wicca that there are at least two beliefs on any subject for each Wiccan. For this reason, the purpose of this article is to explore traits that are commonplace among a wide variety of traditions (Wiccan denominations). Where they differ will be the subject for future articles regarding specific traditions.

In most forms of Wicca, the Goddess and God are revered. Though not all traditions recognize a God, they all venerate a Goddess figure. Wiccans also have a belief in reincarnation. This is one of the more commonly held beliefs, although, precisely how, when and why one incarnates several times is open to mystical speculation, and explanations can vary remarkably.

Wiccans accept both the practice of magick and its effectiveness. There is also a strong belief in the Threefold Law; which states that whatever you to will return to you three-fold (this includes both positive and negative actions). Precisely how this energy is returned has been a matter of great speculation and there is not one definite answer.

A reverence and celebration of Nature is central, the Earth as seen as representing the Goddess. The Earth is seen as a gift, not a tool that one can ruthlessly abuse. Ecological concerns are rather new in Wicca, but now pay an important role.

Wiccans aren’t evangelical. They do not believe they have the need to go out and ‘spread the word’. Some Wiccans believe that all the Gods are but one God and that all the Goddesses are but one Goddess; and that together, they form the (Mighty) One. Others allow that specific Gods and Goddesses are definitively different entities, but that there is room enough in the cosmos for every pantheon- and more. Therefore there is no need to go forcing one’s beliefs on people, and most hold that all paths are equally valid.

Wicca accepts members from both sexes, from every race, national origin and, usually, of every sexual preference. However, there are some traditions and covens which are exclusively gay or lesbian, as well as those that are adamant about male/female pairing in ritual observance.

Wiccan covens don’t usually charge for private lessons or for initiation. Physical objects and services can and should be paid for, and occasionally private instruction on a non-theological subject, but never for dedication or initiations. Donations may be requested for group circles or activities, but this is generally to maintain the cost of such events.

Wiccans do not cause harm to others. It goes against the Wiccan Rede: “An ye harm none, do what ye will”. This creed is generally accepted by most Wiccans.

First published on Suite101.com on 13 March 2006. (Unfortunately.)


Definition of Paganism

By Psyche | March 11, 2006 | Leave a comment

Depending on your background, the word ‘pagan’ can mean a variety of things. It may mean one who is not Christian, Muslim or Jewish, or one who has o religion. It could simply mean one who isn’t Christian, or conjure fantastic hedonistic images of orgiastic rites. These definitions have had their place n the past, but definitions have a way of changing with time depending on usage and culture.

Our modern word ‘pagan’ comes from the Latin paganus, meaning ‘country-dweller’. Similarly, the word ‘heathen’, which has come to mean one who does not acknowledge the Christian, Muslim, or Jewish god, literally means ‘heath-dweller’. Both these words refer to someone from the country or rural district, as opposed to more urban folk.

The initial spread of Christianity took place in major urban areas, leaving the countryside continuing to practice folk magick and adhere to the local customs. It wasn’t long before the word became synonymous with the idea of rustic folk tradition and those who were not followers of the Christian god, thus giving rise to many of the more modern meanings we understand today.

More recently, however, the definition of Paganism has evolved yet again to become a general term for the followers of magickal, shamanistic, and polytheistic religions which hold a reverence for nature as a central characteristic of their belief system. It’s also given rise to the term neo-pagan (literally ‘new pagan’), which refers to a follower or sympathizer of one of the newly formed pagan religions now spreading throughout the world. It is with this latter modern definition that this section will be predominantly concerned.

First published on Suite101.com on 11 March 2006. (Unfortunately.)


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