Category Archives: Sabbats
Last week my post was dedicated to the beginner and the start of building an altar. As I said building an altar can seem very overwhelming to a beginner. The same problem can be seen to occur with people have have been on their path for a while or have finally chosen their specific paths after a lot of exploration. This post here is going to address how a more advanced pagan can develop altars specifically dedicated to their paths.
Path specific altars and specificity
Last week I mentioned that some paths have very specific altars and there are some times reasons why you may need to change your altar for a specific sabbat, spell, rituals or activity. The more you read and research the more ideas and concepts you may want to try. For this reason it’s important to understand the rituals and the magical practices you are exploring . You may need to have different supplies from those supplies that you started with.
This post will cover a few specific points on the topic of seasonal, magical, and path specific points. Each one of these points will illustrated why there really is no wrong way to set up your altar unless you are on a very specific path. Like I said in my previous post exploration, trial and error are going to be all you need.
The topics covered here will be:
- Eclectic witchcraft altars
- Brittish Traditional Wicca altars
- Traditional witchcraft altars
- 8 sabbat altars (Wicca and witchcraft)
- Ceremonial magic
- Asatru altars and items used
- Hellenic (Greek worship)
- Religio Romano (Roman worship)
Each of these paths have very specific altars and ritual tools. Each of these paths have specific ritual forums for which their altars are designed. Each of these altars has a different use and different specific ways to be used in the altars. I’ll start with what I practice myself. That way I can ease into the paths I have explored but have little to no personal experience with. I am always studying and I am always willing to try something new, but lets start with that which I know.
Eclectic Witchcraft Altars:
As an eclectic witch there are really no real limits and style for the altar. However there are some common themes in the altar set up. Ultimately each witch has to choose how to make their own altar based on what works for them and how they worship the God and Goddess or the spirits they work with. This is where the comments of my last post and directions of my last post come into play. I will however list a few of the common traits and guidelines I have come across for more dynamic and specific worship set up.
One of the most confusing things about an altar can be what direction it’s supposed to face in ritual. Some authors say the altar should face north. Other say it should face east or west. Very few authors I have encountered over my studies have suggested that the altar should face south for fire. When a seeker or an advanced practitioner may set out to set up their altar for ritual they still may ask themselves where they should place the altar in the circle and if they want to have the altar face a certain direction.
I have found for myself that ideally my altar would be placed in the center of the circle facing no specific direction. While yes the altar will ultimately be facing a direction I find no reason for me to be worrying about if my altar faces the wrong way. For me the altar is the center of my worship structure. It is there where I place my offerings and where I place my tools during the altar. Which is why I would prefer to have it in the center of my circle. Unfortunately that doesn’t always work when you have limited space for ritual and moving all the furniture is not a reasonable option.
One of the other reasons I like having the altar in the center of my circle is that during ritual if I am going to use ecstatic practices such as dance, scourging, movement, or even the basic circle dance it becomes much easier to move around. It also makes it easier for me to define a very specific ritual area and I’m able to work ritual with in that area thus creating such a special sacred space. For many reason this makes it easier for worship and magical practices.
Elemental symbols on the altar
Most of the books out there mention that as part of ritual and practice there should be some basic symbols of the elements on the altar. Much of the modern witchcraft philosophy plays into the thought that each of the elements is involved in every part of magic and worship. Many witches believe in the Gods and elemental spirits that rule the winds and the powers of those elemental. This practice was firs seen in the Golden Dawn. Since modern witchcraft as we know it has its origins with the OTO and other forms of ceremonial magic as well as the local natural magic and folk practices of the Isle of man I can understand how Gardner (father of the witchcraft renaissance) formed the practices together. I appreciate this practice and have come to my own understanding of the elemental spirits and guides.
As a witch or magician there are many ways to work with the elements in magic and ritual. For many people there is a red candle for fire, a bowl of salt for earth, a bowl of water for water, and some form of incense for the representation of air. In my early days on my path this was something I had chosen to do on my own. It was simple and it was a very effective mode for my early years and some of my time when my living arrangements were less than grand for my religious and spiritual practices.
Aside from symbols that are literal representation of the elements there have often been tools used in ritual to invoke and call in the elements during the practice of circle casting. Sometimes the water and salt mentioned above are used in the invocation, but more often than not there are other tools involved within the rituals. Typically these are the athame (ritual dulled dagger), the wand, a bell, and occasionally the drums. There will be more talk of the elements and the common elemental tools when I make my post on the elements. For now I’ll post an altar that has the elements mentioned and get on to the next type of altar, a traditional Wiccan altar.
British Traditional Wicca Altars
There are only a small collections of BTW traditions. The traditions that are identified as BTW are:
- *Central Valley (a collective term for the traditions named below)
- -Silver Crescent
- -Daoine Coire
- -Assembly of Wicca
there are some very specific structures to the altar and it has to be set up this way. One of the reasons for that is that Wicca is a tradition defined as:
It is the orthopraxic nature of Wicca which is addressed in this post. The set up a BTW altar is going to be very specific. While they may change with various rituals in general the set up of BTW altars is set up a specific way. This plays largely into how they work rituals and how it’s vastly different than how eclectic practice rituals and use their altars. BTW is a coven based religion as such there would only be the coven’s set of tools on the altar and personal tools would be on your person.
There are different set ups for initiation and different sabbats. The Farrar’s in their book A witches Bible they had diagrams for the various altars that they were using. While it’s true that there are oathbound practices and lore, the Farrars gave enough information to get the concepts needed behind the placement and purposes of the items that a seeker would be able to have some concepts behind what they were exploring.
I have never been initiated into a Wiccan coven. So I have nothing more than the understanding of a seeker. I have a few friends that are initiates and I have been seeking more and more. While I am not specifically seeking Wicca at this point I am seeking truth and wisdom found in witchults and witchcraft traditions.
Traditional witchcraft is yet another form of witchcraft. The basic difference between those who identify as Wiccan and those who are practice the common form of Eclectic witchcraft is that Traditional witchcraft is more focused on the practices of witches that occurred pre-Gardner. Traditional witchcraft focuses on folklore from various cultures and the central theme is ancestral worship (which is discussed in my other blog). In many ways the tools and the actual worship is more land based and more nature oriented than the typical eccelctic path as it explores in depth all aspects of life and creation as well as death and destruction and the relationships between them.
This is reflected often in their altars. There are two ways traditional witches can set up their altars. The first is:
The second type of altar is the prefered style of many traditional witches. Traditional witches in many ways prefer to have their worship outside as the conection the the land is much more powerful. Even a few of their sacred space techniques would be much more powerful outside than inside. It’s the nature of their practice:
The third image is what the second image often starts out with during the initial prep. Instead of a table the Stang (the forked staff) when planted into the earth is used to hold ritual tools and items as well as be the center of the worship. The stand is often associated with the world tree and thus is a central part of the worship in traditional witchcraft.
I have a stang and a staff. One day I will use them in ritual together. For now I have other influences from traditional witchcraft in my path which I will get into little by little in these posts or in my other blog. My main influence from traditional witchcraft now aside from my underworld views, is having an ancestral altar:
Now I am on the last topic that is directed specifically towards the nature of witchcraft religions and practices. This last practice is tied directly into the lore of each of the sabbats and how each witch practices those sabbats. So here we go,
Altars for the 8 sabbats
The 8 sabbats in the various forms of religious witchcraft are one of the primary ways they connect with and worship their deities. Each sabbat leads into a key point or mystery of the nature of the universe and the cycle of life from birth to death to rebirth. The sabbats also go over the nature of the dynamic relationship of the God and Goddess they worship.
Each sabbat will there for have a unique altar setting. In many witchcraft traditions the winter solstice or Yule is considered to be the start of the cycle. I however feel that the cycle actually begins with the midwinter holiday of Imbolc.
Imbolc has always been associated with the birth of new animals. There is the symbolsim of milk being the first food for mammals and it’s prcesseses. Here we are able to really plan for the start of the year and the growing season to come. Its where in ancient times Farmers would finally start to have a source of income from the milk and cheese which would provide needed nutrition and additions to the diet that has been upon them since the last harvest.
I see this as where the God is born of the Goddess. That is why I believe the wheel of the year starts here at Imbolc. The altars at this time of year are decorated with signs of the light really returning and plans for the future.
Ostara: Spring Equinox
The next sabbat in the cycle is the sppring equinox. The sun has really returned. The day and night will be of equal length. The light has been increasing slowly since Imbolc but now it has returned. Here is really the symbol of rebirth. The trees have spread their leaves and there are more buds coming from the ground. Planting is in progress and the animals born at the time of Imbolc are starting to be more independent (baby chicks and bunnies for example).
Here at Ostara the Goddess is as a maiden young and innocent and the God is a boy of around the same age (I typically picture between 4 and 7). They are just starting to explore and understand the world. This sabbat is essentially about the freedom of inspiration and imagination that is often lost after childhood. Its about growth and development hopefulness and a zest for life.
This is one of the highest holy days in many of these traditions. Here sex and sensuality are explored and celebrated. In the cycle of the year the God has reached sexual maturity and is going to be taking the maiden he met at Ostara and enjoying the nature of sexuality and sexual contact. This is also known as May day. Here the God will give the Goddess his seed and she will be carrying his child (to be born at Imbolc).
Litha: Summer solstice
Litha is the height of summer. Its the summer solstice. The light is in full swing. Crops are starting to be grown and some are being harvested already. The Goddess is pregnant with growth and glowing with maternal pride. The sun gives her fertility for growth every day. As the sun heats so do the crops grow and develop.
Lammas or loaf mass:
This is the first of the three harvest festivals. The summer is reaching it’s end. The grains of the summer are ready to be harvest at this time. This will be ground and separated into feed for the animals and flour for bread and biscuits and the like. Some fruits are enjoyed and loved at this time. The rituals here are typically around harvesting the first hard work of the spring and enjoying the fruits of that labor. There are a lot of rituals involving the sacrifice of grain and the blood of the “sacrificed king”. It is believed that the God is sacrificed here so that the land will remain fertile between now and the end of the growing season.
The lord of the grain has been given up so that the lord of the animals and winter could take over the land slowly. The blood spilled will nourish the land. This can also be seen in how the sun seems to be dying at this time of the year. The difference in light has started to be more noticeable with more night starting to be more in control.
This summer I experienced that change and power during the camping trip that I mentioned in my welcome back post. I was able to forget everything and just revel in the power of nature and the dying of the sun enjoying the last of his life before the darkness takes control and his real underworld journey to be reborn begins.
The wheel continues to turn and we turn to where the light and the dark are equal.
Mabon: The Fall Equinox
Mabon is the second harvest. The majority of the harvest is being harvested and enjoyed. There is plenty of food to go around. In many ways this harvest has been described as the witches thanksgiving and I wold have to agree that that is true. The god’s essence is being given to the people through the food they eat. The Goddess is mourning the loss of her love and is nurturing his son growing with in her womb. Here the focus starts to be more on the animals. This is the time of year when hunting and gathering would truly begin. This is why we have hunting seasons to this day.
This is the most famous holiday of witches. Many of the traditions associated with the Halloween stories and decorations have roots in various witch lore and history. The green skin, the crooked teeth, the hat, and many more come from witch trails and lore as well as other folk lore. The dressing up as goblins or other “scary” spirits was done when traveling from place to place at this time to scare away malevolent spirits crossing over. The essence of the “haunted season” is in that spirits of all sorts are more active on this week.
This is also the last harvest festival. It also the night where the ancestors can cross over and visit their living loved ones. This is why there are so many traditions relating to crossing over at this time of year. The veil between the underworld and the world of the living and life as we understand it is at its thinest.
As you can see the altar both represents that which is alive and that which is dead. The seeds of the harvested plants can be gathered and prepared as the stalks and leaves fade and dye. The seasonal leaved trees have almost all lost their leaves while the evergrees are still vibrant. Life and death are equal here and now.
The God has descended into the Underworld and is ready to start his journey to be reborn. Part of his essence remains in the land and in the forest as the Lord of the wilderness and in the Goddess as the Lord of the sun and grain yet to be born).
Yule: Winter solstice
This is the final sabbat in the wheel of the year, This sabbat is the day when the night overcomes the day. Here we are now in a time of the underworld. Nothing can really grow at this time of year and we are dependent on the food that was stored during the harvests. The animals have been slain so that now only the strongest and best remain. It is the time to reflect on everything that was done that year and to start thinking about how the new year will bring new opportunities and will be a time for changes of what will be needed.
In essence the spirit of the God is reborn with in the people. They feel the sun and inspiration and hope for the future growing with in them. They also start to understand that even though some real tough times are ahead until planting begins they can get through it. It will be the last time they can really celebrate and renew themselves for the next year.
The sun is reborn on the morning after the solstice as it is from that that we know the sun will overcome the darkness. This is how we know the God lives and will exist again. His shadow is still slightly in power as the symbols of this time are reindeer and evergreen forests. These are symbols of the God as the Lord of the Hunt and the Lord of the animals and how they live together.
The first altar will be one of my own Yule altars and the next altar will be one for a generic concept of the season
Now the wheel turns and brings us back to Imbolc which was the first seasonal altar I posted. I hope this gives you and understanding of how different altars can be made and created for specific holidays and celebrations, Now I will get into the last real magic and directly Occult type of altar I planed to discuss.
Ceremonial magic is one where the altar has direct symbols for the elements and is focused on a connection with the God head. In many ways it is often connected with Christianity and Christian mysticism. The truth is the early forms of ceremonial magic were based on Christian Occult and mystery practices. Here was where you could find the practices of “Christian Magic”.
Many of the rituals are based on calling in the arch angles and the invocation of their power into the magical space and to help empower the magical actions being taken. This rite can be traced back to the Ritual in short hand known as the LGBRP which means the Lesser Greater Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. I am trained in this ritual and have used it many times. This is a complex ritual which I will go over in length when I have my post on ceremonial magic. In essence you call in the four arch angles to protect the space while vibrating the various names of Yaweh to sanctify the space and prepare it for magical ritual and practice.
I have said before that I practice a form of dragonic witchcraft and magic. This is very true. That practice is very ceremonial. The opening ritual is very much designed after the LGRBP. I call upon the dragon guardians and guides that I have a relationship with rather than angels. The symbolsim is in the structure of the ritual, the tools used, and the altar.
The tools mentioned in the eclectic witchcraft altars can trace their origin to the LGRBP and many other rituals performed by the OTO. Gardner who was the one who crafted the new form of religious witchcraft as we know and see it to day was a member of the OTO and other occult practices. This played into how he crafted the religion of Wicca.
The altars I have shown above may very much resemble this altar:
It is what I would use more often than not in the presence of a Christian friend who wished to attend my ritual. This is also where the heremetic philosophies of the Kyballion allow for there to be witchy changes and views. All of them are essentially the same practice, but the rituals are designed to be related to be specific to that path and that practice.
Finally I can start getting into some of the more path specific altars regarding more culture specific altars. This next section is directed more towards those who have found the deities and the paths they follow. Some of these are more recon style (recreating in modern day to the best of their ability the ancient religions of various cultures) and some are still semi inspired by previous eclectic practices.
Asatru & Other Germanic faiths
Asatru is the recon of the Norse beliefs and religion. The focus is typically on the Aesir. The primary sources of their lore is the poetry and the sagas of the Norse and Germanic people. These inclde the Poetic and Prose Eddas, the Sagas of the Icelanders, The Vinland Saga, and many more. The altars and worship style is very simple and elegent. Their rituals are known as a Sumbel or a Blot depending on the content and the like. Both of those are other topics I will bring up over the course of this year.
I have two sample altars to show you:
This is an altar that some one shared online. The tools are simple and the ritual is still rather joyous and intimate. The next altar shows what each item is called and as I said I’ll be going over this in more depth when I discuss Blots.
The next two religions are often discussed together as they are very much associated. The first is Greek reconstruction often known as Hellenismos and the second is Religio Romano which is the reconstruction of the Roman paths. There are some very substantial differences between the two paths. To be honest I haven’t explored either of these paths as indepth as I would like. While I do have an interest in both of those as they were the first deities I met and worked and worshiped as a teen my path and practices have lead me in other directions.
Both altars are dedicated to the Olympic or Cthonic Gods. There are very interesting cleanliness restrictions of these rituals and in their worship that in some ways to me is ridiculous. However they also had the most sophisticated sanitation and irrigation systems than any other cultures of their time.
Religio Romano: Roman Reconstruction
The altar in the traditions of ancient Rome was called the larium, There are specific designations for what goes on the larium and in the practices of their religion. They also have very strict cleanliness requirements. They also hold that if there is any mistake in the performance of a ritual they must cleanse themselves and the larium and start the ritual over from the begining. It is a orthopraxic religion much like Wicca though they focus on any and all of the Roman Gods.
As you can see there are some very different altar structures and set ups for the different paths one may encounter as they seek. You may find yourself attracted to one culture and want to learn more about how they were worshiped in ancient times and then find that you may find it’s to strict for you so you do something inspired by them. That is why the first post was about seeking and basic introductions and the second post was mostly directed at specific paths and how they are different.
Samhain and Hallowmas:
The Holy Week:
Death and Rebirth in the cycle becomes complete
Part 1: The Spiritual Aspects and implications
I write this as Samhain and Hallowmas come to a close. The festivals of the dead and the transition from the lords of the land to the lords of the underworld completes the transition. I figured that as part of my job to help seekers on their search for questions I should provide some insight as to exactly what this sabbat is about and why people celebrate the sabbat in the ways that they do. Like everything else there are many ways to explain and experience the mysteries of these sabbats and not every ones view will agree with yours or even make sense to you. All I can do is provide my own insight based on my personal experiences and sources.
As I have started to develop my own personal theology this sabbat has come have a different meaning to me than other people might have. That is why in my own practice I call the holiday I celebrate Mortedon. However since most people are familiar with the names Samhain, Halloween, All Hallows Eve, and All Saints Day that is what I will use here.
According to many sources this time of year could easily be considered the witches new year. The God is officially dead and in the underworld. He wont be born again until the Winter solstice and as such he is dead and in the underworld. This is the time to transit between one working season and the other. It is a time of completion and reflection that may bring about the planning ad start of the new planting season for the next harvest.
In many ways the major difference between those who call themselves Traditional witches and those who consider themselves Wiccan is that the majority of the rituals in traditional witchcraft deal with ancestral veneration and ancestors as divine while the rituals found within Wicca focus on the God and Goddess or Lord and Lady rather than the ancestors. This is alright. Not every one is meant to worship and venerate the ancestors. Anthropologically it has been said that ancestral worship was the first form of worship, which is why for me it has become a source of my foundation.
I actually appreciate these different theological styles. There is one holiday in which they both meet and they both share the same view. It is viewed by both paradigms (Wicca and Traditional Witchcraft) as a day to honor both the dead and the ancestors as well as the God and Goddess. It is also an acknowledgement by both sides that the season of reflection is upon us. It is now that we must spend our time upon reflection and preparation for the new year and seasons.
Samhain, All souls Day, All Saints Day, Ancestor Night…all of these are names for essentially the same festival. This festival is an acknowledgment of every one who has gone before us. It is also an acknowledgement that there is life after death. It is here we can really see how even though the people we love and cherish may have passed on from this life, they really are still near by and watching us.
In many ways this is the time of year where the festivals a person honors and celebrates explains at least in part what their view of the afterlife is. For some people who believe in reincarnation this is also a time to connect with any of their past lives so that lessons they have to impart may be gives. This is the second festival where the veil between the worlds of the living and dead as well as spirit worlds is lowest. That is why contact with spiritual allies at this time of year.
Part Two: The Theology and Mythology of the Sabbat
Folkore and myth united
This is according to many sources the last sabbat of the year. For many witches the year starts at Yule and ends at Samhain and begins at Yule. In reality there is no real start or finish to a cycle. Cycles are circles and will always come back to a point and start again. This is how the world and the universe exist. Everything in the universe will be used again in the universe at some point in time. Every thing physical you see on this planet is made of of a star that existed eons before we were born:
Theologically, spiritually, and mentally it makes sense that the world as we know it would work in cycles. The physics at work in the universe simply provide a non-disputed example of how reincarnation exists. Here at Hallowmass and Samhaintide we are really able to see and understand how death and destruction/decay are essential to the growth and development of future lives and crops.
According to the Cycle of the Year and the 8 sabbats within Wicca and Eclectic witchcraft Samhain is when the God is dead. He was sacrificed at Mabon to ensure the fertile grounds of the next harvest. At one point in history it was believed that the king was sacrificed to bring life to the land for the next year. This was symbolic of the God’s death for the fertility of the land. Latter corn dollies were sacrificed instead of a human.
Blood was and still is the essential life force. If a creature is alive it bleeds. By the God sacrificing himself his blood (his life force) goes into the land giving life to the land. He knows that he will be reborn in his son in the end of winter and he will from the underworld guide and symbolize his son’s birth and his return by the return of the sun’s light starting at the Winter solstice (Yule).
It was believed that once a person died their body became the land. The blood of the sacrificed victim nourished the spirits of the land for the winter and would gain their favor for the spring.At Samhain the ancestors and other spirits from the land of the dead returned to give their blessings for the following year to their descendants.
The God at this time was in the Underworld understanding and being reborn. At Beltaine he had impregnated the Lady, his lover and wife, who would bear the child of promise who would carry and light the way for the Lord to be reborn at Yule (the light returning slowly) with his actual birth at Imbolc. The rest of the sabbats continue along this line. So in some ways Samhain is both the start and the finish.
The knowledge that there is life after death and life in death is symbolized no better than with ever greens (one of the reasons why those trees are decorated at Christmas). It’s also one of the reasons I feel that the hope to get through the winter for the spring exists. To see something that is alive and producing chlorophyll in the winter while the rest of the trees are inherently dead proves that there is life in death. It is one of the reasons I can see that death allows for the continuation of life.
With these thoughts in mind it is time to get to:
Part 3: A sample ritual
Ways that honoring the ancestors can be done
Now that it has been established why honoring the ancestors is so important I can start to give you some ideas as to how you as a seeker or as an active Pagan could honor your ancestors and the Gods and celebrate this sabbat and simply begin or further expand your understanding of this sabbat. For myself I gained even deeper insight into the mysteries this Samhain. As I post this the gates start to begin closing and the path seems to close, yet the creepy and spooky nature that is Samhaintide and Hallowsmass remains, the time to honor the ancestors comes to a close.
I have had a week to reflect on what I wanted to write for this entry and I have finally come to the last part of the entry where I can really start to explain how one can go about celebrating this sabbat. For many years as a seeker I was honestly unsure of what to do with my offerings for any sabbat. Samhain was another one that left me confused, so now I feel it it is time to give some sort of explanation as to how you can give your offerings to the Gods and the ancestors.
So here is a very simple ritual:
Ancestral Ritual For Samhain:
Apple or Pomegranete Juice/alcohol
Red Apples or Pomegranete fruit & Seeds
As you pour your drink concentrate and think of your ancestors and the Gods and the land. Focus intently and place this light into the food and drink blessing it in the names of the spirits, the ancestors, and the Gods. You then pour two drinks one for the Spirits, ancestors and Gods and one for your self.
As you take your drink say a prayer for what you are thankful and towards any ancestors you wish to contact and communicate with. Take a moment and think of them. Then get into your trance position. For this it may be best of you lie facing down with your hands working as a head rest head in a comfortable position. After you get into position think and state to your self:
“I Vibrate in harmony with the Underworld and the Gods of the Underworld”.
Repeat this statement over and over until you reach a state where you see and become one with the God or Goddess of the Underworld. Continue the trance until you have gained all the insight you will receive. Slowly reduce your vibration into yourself. Once you are back into yourself take another drink in honor of the Gods and the lesson you learned.
Eat the red apple or the pomegranate seeds. If you eat the apple place the seeds aside till the morning. If you eat the pomegranate seeds place a few aside till the morning.
Go to bed expecting dreams based on the rite you performed. The following morning write down any dreams you may have had. When done and dressed for the day take the seeds and the same drink you had the night before and place them in a whole at the trees base.
Reasoning behind the ritual:
By taking in that blessed drink you understand that the drink is the fruits of the Gods who you worship as well as the ancestors who literally are the land. This drink is their blood after the sacrificial blood of the god had been spilled, this is their response. When you eat the fruits of the land or drink of the liquids you are taking in the essence of the land and your ancestors.
When you let a drink in a cup evaporate overnight that drink is consumed by the air and the essence of life. The ancestors who have returned to visit partake of this liquid. In the morning the seeds and the remaining liquid are returned to the ground. This nourishes the ancestors and the spirits as well as the gods. This is how we can honor and nourish them.
Part four: My conclusion:
For me this really explains a lot. Through the ritual expressed above I was able to understand the roles of the Gods and the Goddesses that I worship. I was also able to understand exactly what the underworld does to work with rebirth and reincarnation. Finally When I look at astrophysics and how the creation of new universes begin and what black-holes really are I can see how my theology and philosophy line up with science.
I really recommended that any seeker of the wisdom of the cycle of destruction, reformation, creation, growth, and development take a basic physics course. This course will explain how the various galaxies came into being, how stars and suns are born, and how new universes are created. In some ways it may also lead a seeker to see how magic could be seen to be the force that keeps all of these things working in balance. That is what Samhaintide and Hallowmas is all about.
What is it
One of the things that has often come up in any of my posts that deal with Wicca has been a mention of fertility as a focus of the religion. In many ways you could day that all forms of religious witchcraft have an emphasis on fertility. Yes. I said witchcraft in a religious sense has to deal with fertility. For many the very mention of fertility rites brings up images of mass orgies and ritual sex parties, and to be blunt yes sexuality is an important aspect of fertility. This is also a common image associated with witches and their rites due to the idea that they have sex with the devil in their rites.
Many of the books out there geared towards new witches and new pagans tell their readers to avoid covens which require sexual acts and symbolism as a part of their membership rites. Unfortunately if the seeker is truly looking for Wicca and they find out about the sexual symbolism and nature of true Wiccan rites they may decide that based on the advice of authors such as Silver Raven Wolf, D.J.Conway and Edain McCoy in their intro books that for that reason they should not inquire any further even if it feels right.
Here is the thing. With the exception of the Second and Third degree in traditional Wicca (Alexandriean, Gardenariean, Mohsian, Central Valley [a collective term for the following traditions-Silver Crescent-Kingstone-Daoine Coire-Assembly of Wicca-Majestic .] ) no imitation of elevation ritual should require sex as part of it. Sexual symbolism is another thing. Sex for a requirement simply as a requirement without any symbolism is simply not something you should do for initiation unless you are of age and you choose to. If you are not of age than any sexual rite should not be required.
Ok. So by now you must be sick of me mentioning that fertility is something to important. You may be thinking that yes I have mentioned that it was important but you (as in me) have yet to explain why fertility is so central to Pagan religions or as you have mentioned many times religious forms of witchcraft? So you are asking What the hell is so important about fertility. The answer is simple and will be explained with in the next paragraph. I was just waiting for you the reader to be asking the question.
The first thing I have to do is explain exactly what fertility is to me. Fertility to me is the ability to create or produce as well maintain or support life in some form. I leave it produce or create and maintain and support and life in some form for many reasons. The first of which unfortunately is related ultimately to the effect the popular form of feminism has had on the idea of woman required to be mothers and subordinates.
Before I continue I must say that I am a woman and I am proud to be an embodiment of feminine energy in this world. I am also a feminist and I do believe in woman’s rights. I for example firmly believe that all woman should have the same equal opportunity in the world of construction as men. If a woman can handle the work than she should be able to have as much respect and right to hold the job as a man. However she should also be held to the same performance level as men. That would go with the job. For me equality in the work place means equal pay and equal expectations.
Now that I have gotten that out of the way I can continue with my post on fertility and the first reason why I see fertility as an important part of witchcraft religions. One of the major complaints that I have seen among women when the idea of fertility rites and religions has come up is that not all women are interested in creating life and being a mother (ie giving birth). The same argument goes for the reason why the MMC is not an accurate form any longer for the roles and parts of a woman’s life. This goes into the heart of why I believe fertility comes in many forms and is important in many ways
So if I define fertility as the ability to create and maintain life of some sort how does that not relate to being a mother and having a baby and raising children?
Let’s start with the first way that I see fertility as working in my life. This is the form it takes for me. It is important for me to be fertile in this way if I am to have a successful future to be able to help provide income for my fiance and myself. That fact there is the central theme in my view about fertility, producing (productive/successful) and providing for a life of some sort (myself and my fiance).
I am not ready or in a position t have children. That doesn’t mean I can’t perform or be involved in any fertility rites. As a college student my education success is a type of fertility. This is the way that fertility in my rites for myself has primarily taken form. The idea here is that my brain and thus my mind be open to all the new information that will come my way. That I have the determination and discipline to put the time and effort into my study and education to be successful and that I be willing to ask and be open to help when I need it.
My rites have also had to deal with financial and economic fertility. This gets into the second way that I view fertility as important to pagan and witchcraft religions. Here my rites have an effect not only on my self and my family but also on the local economy and eventually the national economy which in turn will have an effect on the global economy and thus everyone in the world will have some benefit.
In my life this has involved asking that the company my fiance belongs to continues to grow and he continues to be able to expand his training and thus general availability and interest to the computer field at large. It also involves when I am looking for work me being able to find a job which will work out with me any my disabilities.
In both cases by insuring that we both have jobs, we are both able to spend more money on things that we enjoy such as videos, games, clothes, vacations, nights out, ect. In this way us having employment insures that there will be money to go to local businesses. That will encourage job growth and thus stimulate the local economy further.
With more income taxes the government has more money. They can put this money towards technological developments and other areas of interest. This again creates more jobs. The success of those developments will create more jobs which will then increase tax flow and ultimately will increase local, national and global economies.
Woman and men who are professionals that have no desire to have any children that perform fertility rites often have their rites directed in this way. For people who wonder if the seasonal sabbats performed by witches and pagans have any effect on the world at large I have just given an example that is important for the future of the world economy and thus every one in general.
The third way that I see fertility as essential is literally related to ancestral practices and the ancestral rites. Many people think that there is no reason to perform rites to ensure the fertility of the land as so much of our food these days is processed or handed to us pre-made on a plate. In that way of thinking those people are right. However it negates one important thing. The one thing that with out which we could not survive.
So what is that one thing you ask?
That one essential thing is food. With out food we can not live. I will agree that most of our food is processed. I will agree that in general in the majority of the world as individuals we do not have to work the land for food, hunt or gather food or the like. In general we do not have to kill the animals we eat (unless we hunt or fish for fun). We can go to the supermarket or local store and buy our food all gathered and killed for us and all we need to do is cook it.
Taking all of that in to consideration it is so easy to see why people in general would not understand the need for the rites of the land to be honored. For many there is no consideration as to where the food comes from. It’s just there and always has been. Why think about it? It’ll be there for me all my life right? I just need to keep buying my food items and they will always be there. This is a way of thinking I was guilty of for many years, but as a witch and as a pagan seeking to understand the ancestral ways it is a wrong way of thinking. Why I shall explain.
If the lands are not fertile than the fruits and vegetables we eat along with the grains will not prosper. If the lands are not fertile than the animals that we eat and hunt will not be able to eat so they will die and there will be no meat. That is why I see the nature fertility rites to be as important today if not more so than they were in the past.
The fourth way I see fertility rites as found in the typical 8 sabbats of the wheel of the year as important in the lives of Pagans and witches (and this is one area I have been neglectful) is spiritual fertility. That’s right spiritual fertility. If a person is not open to the presence of the Gods and the mysteries experienced through performing the rites of their path and actually communicating with deity than they will get nothing out of the rites. That is spiritual fertility.
Spiritual fertility is being open to the experiences given to us by the Gods. Spiritual fertility is practicing and experiencing the mysteries. In many ways it is continuing to practice and do the work even if you don’t feel or seem to have any deep experiences at the moment. It means working to remove the rocks in the path and working hard to keep at your path. It’s not easy to be a Pagan.
When I say I have been neglectful in this area I mean it. Every post I have written comes from what my thoughts have gathered based on what makes sense to me after reading and finding my intuition. I have not been doing the prayers and rituals that I would like to. As such I have not opened myself to the mysteries and the Gods as much as I would like. My relationship with deities is not as strong as I would like.
This means I need to work on it. I am. I am working on it. I am going to be more mindful of the esbats and the sabbats. I am going to do more meditation again. I need to get back to my schedule where I did meditate and worship on regular basis. When I did that on a daily basis I was plowing my spiritual fields and the flowers and plants blossomed better than I ever imagined that they actually would. So that is why I can say from personal experience that plowing the spiritual fields with in us is full of work, but it is worth it.
Finally we get into the fifth and last reason why I see fertility as a central and important theme for seekers to consider. I wanted to save the sexual aspect for last as in many ways this is the most important. I didn’t want to start with it as I feel the other areas of fertility are as important to consider as this one. This one is actually why all the other areas are possible to be fertile,
The Great Rite is the most important rite found within witch and pagan rituals. This rite is where the Priest and Priestess are the embodiment the God and Goddess either physically or symbolically act out sexual intercourse or the ultimate act of creation. Through the act of sex a new being is created. That is why sexuality is sacred. That is why life is sacred.
With out the male and female parts of a species (plants are asexual, but do have a male and female component) there can be no reproduction. There can be no continuation of a species. The Great Rites acts out the cosmic sexual act of the God and Goddess which ultimately lead to the creation of the universe as we know it. Sex is sacred as it is the act of creation.
I mentioned that the second and third degrees of Wicca contain the actual act of sex. This is what I have been told by elders of Wicca. These are the initiation/elevation rites that make the initiates High Priests or Priestesses. The third degree is what allows an initiate to hive off and form their own coven. Second degree I have been told can allow the new high priest and or priestess to start teaching. Because it is at the level if being a High priestess where they actually become the God or Goddess in ritual this is why the Great Rite is fully enacted.
There you have it. I have explained what fertility is in my view. I have explained why it’s important and I have gone into the roles fertility has in our life. In many ways you could say that any nature religion should have an aspect of fertility in it, but fertility cults are not nature based. They may go hand in hand but they are not the same thing.
This week one of the possible prompts for the Pagan Blog Project for the letter E was eclectic paganism and eclectic witchcraft in the form of “neo-Wicca”. Over the last few days I have read several different blogs from the Pagan blog project on this topic. While there have been many valid insights there are some things I feel that I should say about myself.
Here is the first part of the prompt:
Eclectic practice is something that can be a big debate in different part s of the Pagan community. Some feel that being eclectic opens you up to a whole world of ideas and tools that with the more narrow view of a specific tradition just isn’t available. Yet others feel that being eclectic equates to a practice that is lacking in structure and commitment to anything. Are you eclectic? -Rowan Pendragon
Yes. I am eclectic. I am both an eclectic witch and an eclectic pagan. I find that the two are very different practices. While I do use my witchcraft to help me connect to deity and as a part of my worship to deity, it is primarily a non religious practice a craft. The deities I worship with my craft are responsible for the core mysteries of the witchcraft tradition I am developing and sharing through these pages and writings. That being said I do accept that witchcraft is essentially a craft and a philosophy that while spiritual in nature can be adapted to any philosophy or religion.
I however say that I am an eclectic pagan because I am not limited to one ritual set or technique. I am not limited to any one pantheon or cultural way. I do not have to worship or follow the typical 8 sabbbats found in most witchcraft traditions (which I do honor as well). I can worship any deity I want with any holiday I choose.
I have used Hellenic rituals to honor Zeus and other Hellenic Gods. I have had an ecstatic ritual invoking Pan and have been in states of ecstasy and panic created from the worship of Pan that forced me to face my sexual fears and my deepest personal fears. I have also felt the caress of Dionysus while drunk on booze and enjoying liquor. While I have only celebrated one Hellenic festival and it was years ago, I still have that deep connection to Pan.
I have held Blots and Symbels in honor of the Aesir, Vanir, some of the frost Giants. I use the Nine Nobel virtues as the corner stone of my philosophy when it comes to my world view and ethical views. I have experimented with runes and the Seax worship of Odin and Freya (it didn’t work for me). I have started to explore a few Germanic holidays that might not be followed by people other than the Asatru and Heathen recons.
I have done a full moon esbat to Diana according to The Gospel of Aradia and Strega traditions. I still have a lot to learn about Strega and the other deities. However I feel strong in my connection to Diana through the Gospel of Aradia. The most recent connection I have felt to any deity was during that ritual this past summer.
While I am interested in Celtic and Native American traditions I have not pursued them. I know that in many cases those cultures are closed to outsiders. While my own teacher (Chris Penczak) has a connection to some of the Celtic deities, I am not comfortable making that connection as I am not of that blood. From what knowledge I have been able to research even with my adoption I have no connection to Scotland or Ireland. The only possible Celtic connection to me would be in England if there are any to be found with in Anglo-saxon English culture.
I was raised in the United Church of Christ. To this day I have never accepted the core trinitarian philosophy of the UCC that God, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit were one person. I do believe in Jesus and I do believe in the Holy Spirit and God. I just think that they are all separate entities. I think that they are all connected that Jesus is a Demi-God and the son of God as well as a prophet, teacher, and wise man. I believe in God. I just don’t worship Jehova/Yaweh/Allah (the God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) as my exclusive god. I worship any God I chose when I chose.
As an eclectic pagan like I said I am not limited to exploring and experiencing the rituals and celebrations of just one cultural practice. That being said if I worship a deity from the Roman pantheon I try to worship them with those rituals. In that respect I have started to answer the second question asked by Rowan which was:
What are your thoughts on eclectic vs. traditional practice ?
When it comes to my religious witchcraft experiences I can’t really explain. I have a deep interest in Wicca and those traditional rites and rituals. However there are practical issues and other things that prevent that from happening. I wish I could be a part of a traditional group of some sort. I long for the commitment of repeated rituals with mass power behind them, a community, and a set of core rituals and practices that have already been developed. I long for that sort of setting.
When it comes to the exploration of the other paths I have tried to practice in the traditional way. It can be difficult. I find that the traditional practice makes the connection with the deities a lot easier as the rites are typically found with in the lore in some way.
I find security in tradition. It helps me cement my practice and create foundations that are strong. The foundations built on tradition are stronger. I believe strongly in the power of tradition, habit, and practice. To me these help develop sign posts on the path, and tradition gives validation to personal experience.
This is why I am an odd eclectic. I have explored many paths and taken several things. When I explore I use recon methodology. I read the lore and I read academic sources if they are available. I read and research the history. I have discussions with other recons. I pray and make introduction based offerings to the Gods. I use tradition.
I find that I am going to eventually find one recon path to stick to. However for now I feel that I need to explore all paths open to me at this point in time. I will always keep the worship of the various deities separate. I do not believe that they are all the same. I do not believe that all Gods are one God and all Goddesses one Goddess. I believe that all Gods are individual entities. That is why I keep the worship of the various deities separate. I find that honors and respects them.
I find that eclectic practice where you take different deities in worship them in context that they were never worshiped in before (Hindu deities in a Neo-Pagan witch) is not acceptable. While there have been some deities that have been worshiped in the context of other traditions (The Hellenic, Roman, and Kemetic deities were all interacting via the cross-cultural worship and interaction at the time) I find that in the end, the comparisons are usually fairly off and done with little deep research into the myths and lore as well as traditions of those people.
That is why I as an eclectic keep the worship of every different pantheon separate. I find that it helps me bond with them and the culture better this way. It also helps me gain a deeper understanding of the culture through the exploration of the rituals. Plus I gain a modern understanding through anthropological research.
Now I must begin the topic of “Eclectic neo-Wicca” and my feelings about that. I do not accept people who practice an eclectic form of religious witchcraft based loosely on the teachings of proper Wiccan rites as Wiccan. I do accept them as witches. In fact I firmly believe as an eclectic religious witch there is an established traditions for us.
Wait eclectic tradition?
Yes. Eclectic tradition. My personal library contains several books on “Eclectic witchcraft”, as well as Wicca and traditional witchcraft (not even mentioning my recon sources as well). I have found that essentially if you look at the books that label themselves as “eclectic Wicca” there are essentially core rites and rituals practiced. While the individual practitioner may be a soft polytheist who uses other deities aside from the MMC and horned God (which I was when I started and I will have a post on this later at some point) in their rituals the actual content of the rituals is the same. The words may be different, but the intent and the format are the same.
That is why I see eclectic neo-pagan witchcraft to be a cohesive tradition. The various deities found in the tradition are different but the ritual format and content are the same. I have found that even when looking at the various witch traditions out there: (Cabot, Temple, Blackforest, Standing Stone, and many others) they have the same core rituals and sabbats. While the individual interpretations were different and may use different deities the overall mythology is the same.
My religious witchcraft is eclectic. I have taken from traditional witchcraft (Through Robin Artisson and a few other authors), The “Wiccan literature” out there (Gardner, Frosts, Sanders), I have taken from Hermetic literature (The Kybalion), Shamanic literature, and Eclectic Witchcraft as well as some Thelemic literature (The LBRP). My practice melds all of these together into one whole unit that works. How this is developing I am still not fully aware. Its just developing.
However none of that makes my practice in any way Wiccan. Nor does it make me Wiccan. I have not been initiated into Wicca. I have not learned the rites of Wicca, nor have I experienced the mysteries of Wicca, nor do I know the names of the deities in Wicca. I am not Wiccan. I may never be Wiccan. I am a witch as the religious and magical practice that primarily drives me is derived from various forms of Witchcraft.
In discussions I have had with other people in regards to the nature of the magical craft called witchcraft one constant comment has been that witchcraft as a craft is eclectic in nature. It is something that is going to be developed individually by each witch.
As a magical practice I primarily define witchcraft as dealing with the folk lore and folk traditions of European countries both continental (German, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden) or Island (England, Ireland, Scotland, Iceland,). This magical practice contains lore from all of these sources and have adapted to include some Christian influenced charms over the years.
It is this adaptability that has allowed Witchcraft to survive. It’s no wonder that witches are often considered to be ‘cunning”. Witchcraft has many forms from protection from witches (witch bottles and many protection charms during the puritan era in America fit into this category). Some of the practices can be traced to fairy tales, and others more to local legends and traditions. The fact of the mater is that as a magical practice witchcraft has always adapted and will always be adaptable due to its eclectic nature.
As I mentioned before essentially witchcraft as a magical practice is going to be created by each individual witch. While there may be some spells and charms passed on through oral lore or in the form of a Grimiore ( or Book of Shadows) essentially every witch must find what works for them selves. This is why constant trial and error is important. That is why constant study and exploration is important.
My witchcraft involves angelic forces from time to time. It can involve elemental spirits, dragons, other spirits, ancestors, gods or just my own energy. The spells I create can involve intense energy manipulation or little to none. They can involve manipulating physical objects or they can involve simply focusing mental energy. My magic is varied and allows for experimentation and development.
The final question asked in the prompt this week by Rowan was:
how do you feel eclectic work benefits you if that’s the path you follow?
I have found several benefits to being an eclectic pagan. One of the key benefits is that I can widen my network of contacts and I can increase my experiences. I have found that by honestly going into the various Recon and eclectic or traditional groups saying that I am a seeker who seeks genuine wisdom and experiences. I do not know if my path lies along the lines of a specific tradition or if I am suited more to always be an eclectic. For now I wish to simply discuss and learn from you about your groups practices that they will be more willing to accept me.
Another benefit has been the ability to constantly explore and try new things. As I said before in this post I am not limited to any specific holiday calendar or ritual setting. By being an eclectic I have opened myself up to the possibilities to be found in any and every path out there. I don’t have to experience the mysteries of the universe (and I believe every path to have a unique set of mysteries available to them) through just one culture. I can experience many mysteries.
The largest drawback I have found to be that I have to constantly be studying. As an eclectic I have to constantly be reading and expanding my references for various paths. I have to look into history and culture. I have to look into modern telling of myths and folk lore as well as more of the literal translations of source texts.
I have to look at personal experience. I have to compare it to lore and experiences by other people. I have to keep a record of what I have done and what I hope to experience. There is a lot of exploration that comes with being an eclectic. There are times that the work may not seem worth it, but in the end I find it worth it.
I am an eclectic because I am a philosopher in the truest sense of the word. I am a lover and seeker of wisdom and knowledge. That may explain the various deities I have connections to (Zeus, Odin, Thoth, Friga, ect). I believe that there is wisdom to be found any where. You just have to be open to the possibilities.
Could I be wrong?
Yes. However I have found that the journey is worth it. I have found that in the end I seek to find wisdom where I can. I might not agree with every practice I read, and frankly not all of the rituals I have experiences have sat well with me. The fact that I keep going shows that I have the one key virtue that all eclectics need:
To be an eclectic witch and an eclectic pagan is to have the courage to explore, test, and question everything that is out there. It is to test your self and your practice. It is the courage to try things that other people might not. It is the courage to experiment and fail and try again.
Is it worth it?
I think so. I find enjoyment and pleasure out of reading about, researching, experiencing, and exploring various religions and philosophy. I find enjoyment out of pondering the nature of the universe. I find enjoyment out of exploring all avenues of wisdom and learning. I am in that ways happy to be a college student.
For those reasons and more I am an eclectic. I tread the border between being a traditionalist. I hold that traditions should remain in tact. I hold that traditions are meant to be done a specific way for specific reasons. In that way I am a traditionalist. In that I am open to more than one tradition or way of thinking I am eclectic. Just because it’s tradition doesn’t mean it’s the only way, but it also doesn’t mean that traditions should be discounted.
So yesterday was the first day of spring. While I was on a walk at the Beach I did some meditating and I merged with the spirit of the land. The spirit was sleepy, yet trying to wake up. I could feel the warmth of the Sun and yet the cold icy grip of the Summer the time of rest and connection to Fate. Spring is truly a liminal time. It is a time where the plants are waking up and the earth is breathing. I did also notice a sense of peace.
The beach I was at is a State Park. For that reason I could understand the enjoyment of the peace. Once summer comes people will be waltzing all over, and not everyone respects Our mother. The sea is where life originated and the Earth is our home and that which sustains us. The beach is a place I can really understand the inter-connectedness of the Land, Sea, and Sky.
I have found a place in which to start doing my workings. I shall do my work at the beach. I feel powerful there and I feel as if it is a place where I can contact Mother Holle and the Underworlds. It is home. There I prayed to Mother Holle and the Serpent of the Land. The lord of the land and the spirits of Land sea and sky. I felt hope, a sense of peace, and a sense of acomplishment.
I am a witch and it’s high time I remembered my practices. I have a rite to perform this weekend in honor of Spring and the passing of my Grandmother….13 years today. She is one of my guides and I know she is with me always. I feel I should perform a proper ancestral rite in her name and her memory.