Category Archives: Sacred Symbols
The book The Spiral Dance is considered a classic in modern witchcraft literature. The author Starhawk put this book out at a time when there was little to no information published publicly on Witchcraft and people were starving for information. In the 35 years since the original release of The Spiral Dance many more books have been put on the market, but the Spiral Dance remains on the top of many recommended reading lists.
The one down side to this book is that it does focus heavily on the feminist movement and feminism. At the time the book was written the author was heavily involved in the feminist movement and feminist spirituality, so it makes sense that this book would reflect those interests and activities. This book is one of the reasons that religious witchcraft is considered to be “women’s religion”. The theme and focus throughout the book is the use of witchcraft and Goddess spirituality to reclaim women’s rights and women’s power.
The subtext to the title “The Spiral Dance” reads :”A rebirth of the ancient religion of the Great Goddess”. The text is a very apt description for the information that you find within the book. When you combine the focus on the Great Goddess with the feminist movement at the time you have a book that covers feminist witchcraft and feminist spirituality and why its important for the world we live in.
Now Starhawk does talk about why feminist spirituality like the Goddess movement is important to men and what Men can get out of the practice of witchcraft. So while the book is geared towards women and feminist spirituality, there are benefits described for Men and practices of Male witches discussed. The overall tone though is geared towards women and women’s mysteries.
This book is 13 chapters long. Each chapter has a specific lesson that expands on the information in the previous chapter. Within several of the chapters are easy to do exercises and meditations. These meditations and exercises are provided so that a solitary witch or someone seeking witchcraft can learn practices that will allow them to become witches in their own right.
Each chapter starts out with a ritual or a description of the practices found within the chapter to illustrate the lessons and information found within the chapter. Some of these stories are fictional and some of them are from experiences within the authors own coven settings. These personal experience illustrations form some of the most powerful aspects of the book allowing the reader to see what sort of experiences they may have in their own work while not telling them explicitly that these will be your experiences as well.
The first chapter completely discusses witchcraft as a Goddess focused religion. Here is where we first learn the concept of a Great Goddess and of feminist spirituality. The author also goes into the history of witchcraft and what exactly witchcraft is as a religion and a practice. Its a basic starting point illustrating the misconceptions and issues many people have with witchcraft.
The second chapter goes into the worldview of witchcraft. Every religion has a way of viewing the world. Here we re provided with a creation myth for the birth of the God and Goddess within this version of witchcraft as well as the essence of the Great Goddess. Here we are given the concept of the soul/spirit as well as the concepts of energy working and the view on the cosmos.
The third chapter talks about covens. Here we learn about the common structure of religious witchcraft and the way that this structure functions. The author illustrates both same sex covens as well as mixed gender covens and why coven structures work. The comparisson between covens and traditional religious structures provide ways for seekers and students to understand the functional differences between a church and a coven.
The fourth chapter discusses sacred space. One key component in witchcraft rituals is the creation of sacred space. This chapter provides several different ways of working this ritual as well as reasons behind the creation of sacred space.
The fifth chapter is all about the Goddess. This religious witchcraft tradition is Duotheistic meaning it focuses on the worship of a Goddess and a God. In this chapter we are introduced to the Goddess and her roles within the religion. We learn how to call her and how both men and women can relate to her.
The sixth chapter is all about the God. While the Goddess is the focus in the feminist version of witchcraft that the Spiral Dance teaches, the God is still important. This chapter illustrates the relationship between the Goddess and God and how they need each other and work together to be one.
The seventh chapter is all about the use of symbols within magic. Magic works through the use of symbols and directing energy related to those symbols. This chapter in the book has several different spells to try as well as exercises to develop your own understanding of symbols and your own association with symbols.
The eighth chapter is all about the Cone of power. This particular chapter focuses on Coven based workings, but the concepts of raising and directing energy in the shape of a cone is applicable to the solitary student. Here we understand what it means in witchcraft when the concept of energy direction and manipulation is discussed.
The ninth chapter is about trance work. The basic definition of magic given early in the book is the idea and the ability to change ones concious state at will. This chapter explores the use of trance and the reason why trance work is part of witchcraft. Basic meditation and trance concepts are addressed here and there are several different exercises within the chapter for trance work and meditation work.
The tenth chapter of the book focuses on initiation. Solitary witches who read this book will not get as much out of this chapter as a witch who is working for initiation within a coven or specific tradition. This chapter describes what it means to be initiated and provides a coven based initiation ritual as a sample.
The eleventh chapter in the book focuses on esbats or moon based rituals. Within witchcraft the moon is sacred and is revered as a symbol of the Goddess. Moon rituals are typically in many cases working rituals while sabbat rituals are more worship based. Moon rituals can be based on the full or new moons or other moon phases, though full and new are the most common.
The twelfth chapter in the book focuses on the wheel of the year or the sabbats and holiday celebrations of this tradition of witchcraft. Here the author provides sample rituals for ideas as to how to honor the sabbats as well as providing information on the lore and meanings behind the sabbats.
The final chapter of this book is focused on developing religion. Here the author explains the issues that can arrive when religions become based on dogma and established practices and don’t change. The author explains what exactly witchcraft as a religion is and how it has to continue to change and evolve in this modern world. Here we learn the dangers of thinking in strict absolute terms as well as in dualistic terms.
Despite the age, this book is useful. Its a good book for establishing witchcraft as a religion and explaining why religious witchcraft is so different than traditional religions. The book covers the basics and provides enough information that a solitary seeker man or women can start their own practice and create their own relationship with the God, Goddess, and the Great Goddess.
Many people talk about mythology and folklore and how they study them to gain ideas and insights about their religious paths and practices. Today witches actually have a plethora of lore that we have access to. For many people this is a problem as there is so much lore out there they don’t know where to go looking for lore and they don’t know what to do with it once they have found the lore. This blog entry is going to cover a few of those concepts.
The goal of this blog is to help witches and pagans know just how much lore there is for them to sort through. Part of that process is going to be giving examples of lore and how I have started to study and interpret folklore. The following concepts will be outlined and discussed in this blog entry:
- What defines Lore
- Where to find Lore
- How to decide what lore to use
- Interpreting Lore
- Why we use lore
- Applying lore to practice
- Writing your own Lore
What defines Lore
There are many different ways that people define lore. For myself I define lore as sets of oral and written stories and practices that inspire the practices of various witches and pagans. Many people often forget that family recipes and traditions are also different types of lore that can be included into their practices. For myself there are family traditions that I have started to incorporate into my practices. For example every year for Christmas my mother makes Meat Pie which is a throw back to her family’s French Canadian roots. As a pagan and witch I have added this to my Winter Solstice as well as my Yule celebrations. Freyr was worshiped by the Franks (French and Yule is his holiday) and meat pie as made by my family mixes beef and pork. So for me baking a pie for the Solstice and for Yule are perfectly acceptable lore additions to my practice.
Where to find Lore
One of the things when I first started to practice witchcraft I found was that there were no specific myths for my practice. While many neo-pagan witchcraft books contain a basic mythos for the sabbats and the wheel of the year I often found that concept to be rather incomplete. There were no specific myths written out that I could find that described the events in the wheel of the year. For a time I went with what was told and figured that was all there was to the concept. Then when I started to actually do more in depth research I found a few authors who actually gave a few of the fairy tales and myths associated with various spirits and analyzed them. Then I started to really look.
So where can you find lore? The answer is every where. There is lore in poetry, songs, plays, little sayings, old traditions that no one seems to remember where they come from, history, and anything far and in between. Fairy tales are rich sources of lore. Myths from various cultures can be fascinating pieces of lore as well. Old stories and tales often considered “legends” often have deep traces of lore in them. Believe it or not the book “Hammer of the witches” along with the accounts of the witch trials are actually full of lore. Some of it can be pure hate based, but there are aspects of gold in there.
yes I did just say that you can use the witch trials as sources of lore. Now why would I as a modern witch even think of using hate based lore? The simple fact of the matter is that the stuff about witches shape shifting is true, but not in the literal sense. The same thing goes about the witches sabbats. Often times there were and still are sexual themes and uses of substances to enhance the ritual trances and achieve unions with the divine. You just need to know how to read and look through the lore.
Deciding What Lore to use
This is a very personal thing that only you can really decide. There have been bits of lore that I have accepted and there are bits of lore I have not accepted for my practice. In the end while I can give you some advice it is a personal choice what you use for the lore that make up your unique practice. No matter what any one else says there will always be something unique about your practice. So now on to how we pick out which lore you will use.
The first thing you need to do is read any and all lore that you can get your hand into. Once you start reading the lore you need to pick up a notebook to write down any and all thoughts that you have after you read the lore. After you read the lore look at your thoughts and your emotional reactions to the lore. If the symbolism in the myths and lore relates to how you view and understand the world than you should add it to your personal collection of lore. If the symbols and the theme of the tale doesn’t relate to your views than you can simply not work with that lore.
Like everything else you need to work with that which makes sense and works for you. One of the first things you will need to do before you can work with lore is have some sort of understanding of your own beliefs and views of the world. If you dont know what you believe you wont be able to gain insight from lore. our beliefs are what form the basis of our practices and the understandings we have about the world around us.
Over the last few years I have spent several semesters studying various stories and myths. One of the things literature classes teach their students is how to analyze the literature that they read. A key thing in analyzing and interpreting lore is being able to back up what you get from the tale. For example I did a paper on Poe’s story “The Fall of the House of Usher” and I compared the story to Poe’s real life and I used it as an example of sickness. Through out the paper I used quotes from the story and his own life to support the views.
When a person starts to interpret lore there are many things that need to be taken into consideration. The first thing is cultural research and historical information. By looking into the history and culture of an area you can gain a better insight as to what they symbols may have meant to the people who originally read or told the stories. By looking at the culture context becomes clear and the meanings of stories become more obvious.
Context is key in interpreting lore. Once you have context you can start to apply personal meaning to the deeper messages and thus start to gain a deeper practice. Personal meaning comes from the reflections and thoughts that a person has after they read or hear the lore. Interpreting Lore is something that takes a bit of meditation and work, but the rewards are worth it.
Why we use Lore
There are many reasons why witches and pagans use and study lore. The most basic reason is that lore provides insight as to why things are done the way they are. Lore can also provide keys for the deeper mysteries that provide the gateway to ascension and higher spiritual evolution. Lore provides understanding to the personalities and the interests of the various spirits. It gives ideas as to what we can use for offerings and what is sacred to these beings.
Applying Lore to practice
In the previous sections I mentioned that one of the uses of lore is to gain an understanding as to what the various deities and spirits may enjoy for offerings and sacrifices. One of the things that is essential to have a successful practice that is very fulfilling you need to have a connection to the deities and spirits. The best way to establish these relationships is through sacrifices, offerings, prayer, meditation, and contact. The best way to learn these things is through reading and researching lore.
Once you start reading the lore you will find some practices and myths that relate to your practice. You take your information gained from reading and your own thoughts and combine the two together. Once combined you are then well on your way to having a nice and well rounded practice that will be supported with references and research.
Writing your own Lore
One of the things I have started to do is write my own lore based on my experiences in my trances. I use these experiences to create the myths that work for myself. I use these myths to round out my practice. It takes a long time of piecing together experiences and rituals to have a setup where you can write lore that works for you.
What counts as writing your own lore? writing poems, stories, and anything that is done in honor of the spirits and deities that you work with. Once you start writing your own lore you’ll be able to really piece together your own practice based wholly on your own personal experiences and nothing more or less. The first and most important step here is for you to write down all your thoughts, experiences and the like.
Additional reading and sources:
Hedge Rider by Eric De Vres
Witching Way of the Hollow Hill By Robin Artisson