How Not to Rant at a Writer

12/17/2008 03:42:00 PM | | 3 comments »

I strongly suspect these two geniuses are friends considering their emails arrived within minutes of each other, which brings us to suggestion #1: Don't ask your ignorant friends to back up your ignorant rant. It only multiplies the amusement.

The first email reads thus:

I guess opinions are just that.I Have prof that alot of what you say is trueth is a LIE. You should expect that at least some of us out here know the trueth. I am greatly affended that you you could be allowed to lie to people in this way.I'll pray the mother Goddess helps you. As you are clearly a VERY lost soul. Futher more you surely are not a witch. By the way Margret Ann Murry was a respected Anthropologist,And Paleantologist. She did present tangiable evidence.

Oh, where to start?

Suggestion #2: If you're going to lecture about opinions and facts, you should understand the difference.

Suggestion #3: Name calling only makes you look childish. If you want to convince people I am lying, you need to actually offer an argument supporting such a claim.

Suggestion #4: Proofread, learn to spell, and understand basic grammar. "Trueth" is not a word. And I would have thought if you respected Murray so much you would at least get her name right. If you don't know her name, what are the chances you understand her writings? I get it that people occasionally miss a key, but I can count 15 glaring errors at first glance.

Suggestion #5: Don't ever give credit to Murray in a witchcraft discussion. Educated people will just laugh. No one has respected her for several decades on the topic. She was respected as an Egyptologist, which is not the topic we're discussing. Some people respected her anthropological writings on witches, but only because no one else was working on the topic. She was never a paleontologist. Now you're just grabbing big words in at attempt to sound educated.

The second writer, however, I think is even more succinct in his idiocy:
First of all I think you need to do your research. You also need to open your eyes. Witchcraft was the first relighion in the world. Through out all history man has believed in a multitude of GODS. FACT, no matter what religion or religious title you give it dowism Wicca or Garneranianthe fact is any religion that believes in a multitude of GODS is witchcraft. [emphasis mine] Fact, and I myself am a witch. I take my religion very seriously. So do the world a favor don't write any books on witchcraft. You clearly don't know a thing about it.

I'm pretty darn sure this person wouldn't know what research was if it smacked him in the face, since he's apparently confused by dictionary definitions.

Suggestion #6: Understand the words you are using. I can't even begin to guess how this person thinks "witchcraft" means "belief in multiple gods." Webster is rolling in his grave. If you can't even define it, I'm certainly not going to trust you can explain it.

By the way, I don't believe Daoism (not "dowism," which I can only guess is worship of the Dow Jones Industrial Average) even has gods. And "Gardnerian" is generally an adjective, not a noun.

Suggestion #7: Know what you're actually protesting. Does this person really think my website is about witchcraft? Are they reading some other site? My site is about Wicca. If I wrote a book, it certainly wouldn't be on witchcraft. I guess my sporadic mentions of witchcraft just got their panties in a bunch as I threatened to shatter their fantastical little world where they followed the world's oldest religion.

After five weeks of waiting, my material at has finally gone live. I've taken over the Alternative Religion section there (which, ironically, does not include Neopaganism, since the topic is popular enough to get it's own section). It's probably going to get a little quiet here at Know, Will and Dare for a few weeks as I get my bearings at (which is a paying job) along with the general craziness of it being the end of December. I do sometimes blog about Neopaganism over there as well.

The address is

Happy Holidays everyone!

[My friend gave me] To Light a Sacred Flame by Silver RavenWolf. I haven't really started reading the book at all, just kind of skimmed through and looked a little at the spells. But after reading your post on why most wiccans despise Silver RavenWolf I decided that I'm not going to read the book. What I was wondering is are the spells in the book completely worthless or I guess wrong in a way? I know you write your own spells and do what feels best to you but since I'm starting out I kind of like using the spells I find in books as my 'guide' but I don't want to use RavenWolfs' if she really is that bad.

Let's clarify something first: spells are not effective simply because they contain the "correct" ingredients or chants. The suggestion that magic works like a recipe is one of the reasons why so many people want to tear their hair out upon reading Ravenwolf's works (among others).

Magic is something that works within you. The tools, stones, chants, gestures and everything else are there to help your focus. They can all contribute to the effectiveness of your working, but only if you understand how they relate to each other. A simple spells will a few but understood props is far more effective than one with piles of props if you don't understand why you're using them.

Because symbolic understanding is personal, many people write their own spells. However, if you're uncomfortable with that, your hesitation will only hinder you. on the other hand, if someone else's spell makes sense to you, then it makes perfect sense to use it.

Will you personally find meaningful stuff in Ravenwolf's work? Only you can answer that.

Westerners generally expect religions to follow certain patterns: it should rituals, holidays and gods, and it should have a story of creation as well as an end of the world scenario. These are the sorts of things people commonly expect.

Generally speaking, Wiccans don't have a creation myth. Some may work with an allegorical tale such as the universe coming into being through the union of god and goddess, although even that is by no means standard and it certainly isn't taken literally.

What people don't understand is that religion as a distinct and discreet package is largely a myth. Throughout history, people generally just had beliefs, and often wouldn't separate their religious beliefs from other beliefs. These people sought a tale of where we came from, and that tale generally involved spiritual beings because clearly something very powerful had to be at work to create the universe.

For Wiccans, we already have that answer. We generally share society's trust in science. Our religion doesn't need a creation myth because we already have our answers through science. Religion doesn't make up stuff it doesn't need.

The nature of the gods is an intensely personal question. Everyone has their own views on it. Personally, I believe the world and the gods were created simultaneously and developed in tandem. After all, why would a war god exist before there was war? And why would the nature of war change if the gods of war were static and unchanging? It's not a question of whether the gods shaped creation or changes in creation shape the gods: they develop simultaneously and influence each other. As above, so below. As below, so above.

Is there a reason you left out the "To Be Silent" part of the Witch's pyramid on the header of your blog? Irony?

The short answer is that "to be silent" is a really silly name for a blog, since blogs are meant as a means of mass communication.

The longer answer is that the blog name is based on the title of a manuscript I'm working on, and that title was in turn based on a comment a friend made several years ago, something along the lines of responsible Wiccans needing to know when things are wrong, to be willing to change, to dare to question, and to not be silent about such things. I suppose I could have called it "To know, will, dare and not be silent," but that would have been a mouthful-and-a-half.

A participant over at Yahoo!Answers posted this question about people naming 10 things that they actually believe in. We were specifically required not to list what we don't believe in i.e. "I don't believe Hell exists" is not a valid answer for this exercise.

For my answer, I added the further limitation that I wanted to keep away from beliefs that were effectively a derivation of a belief I had already listed.

Beliefs do not have to be specifically religious. We were simply asked to list ten things we believe. It's an interesting exercise. My answers were:
1. My Lord
2. My Lady
3. As above, so below. As below, so above.
4. Information is never evil. Evil comes from what we do with it.
5. There is no such thing as too much information
6. Good and evil are the result of free will. Neither was created, merely allowed
7. Science and religion can coexist
8. The only person responsible for me is me.
9. I am one small part of a very large reality.
10. Ritual is only useful when it sparks something within the participants and/or witnesses.

I don't dream much. The medication I take for fibromyalgia generally either keeps me from dreaming or at least keeps me from remembering that I dreamed once I wake up. So when I'm not only remembering my dreams but also seeing a pattern in them, I take notice.

In the last two weeks I've had four angry dreams. In all of them things just continued to escalate into more and more ridiculousness and I would get more and more angry about it all. Twice it was directed at my mother, once at my husband, and I don't recall the target in the fourth dream. They aren't nightmares. I don't die. I'm not even hurt. I'm just...raging.

I've always associated my Lady with anger. She's taught me how to positively channel it in the past, so when something pisses me off in real life I can at least do something constructive with it. I'm not one to often see overt divine revelation in things, but I have to wonder if she's trying to tell me something. If so, I have no idea what.

I've thought about this long and hard, and I can see no psychological reason for these recurring dreams. Even in my worst times, my dreams are rarely effected, and the simple fact is right now I'm doing pretty damn good. I'm not angry at my husband, and I'm certainly not mad at my mother, who lives almost 500 miles away and I only get to see a couple times a year.

So if its not psychological, what the heck does it mean? Although I suppose that's still the question even if it is psychological.

If there is only one piece of advice I can give to religious seekers, it would be this: never stop asking yourself why you do what you and believe what you believe. Why do I cast a circle? Why do I face the four cardinal points when I do so? Why does my altar face east? (Or north, or whatever.)

Any ritual without purpose is pointless. Oftentimes we don't even realize we're trivializing a ritual. We study and practice and everything seems to be fitting together well, so it must be "right," right?

The question of "why?" has brought me up short before. I know why I follow the gods that I do, and why I generally practice the way I practice, but there have been times when I have tried explaining the purpose of a ritual and suddenly realized that the only reasons I actually have is because someone I respect said that's how it should be done.

Realizing you don't have an answer doesn't make you a bad person. It just makes you imperfect, which we all are. More importantly, it offers us an opportunity to be more perfect, to seek out reason for our rituals or altar our behavior according something something that does have meaning.

Identifying our shortcomings is how we progress. It's also how we can avoid merely acting like Wiccans and instead actually be Wiccans.

I returned home to Detroit this week to visit friends and family. Among old acquaintances I caught up with was a friend who spoke at some length about the agonizing choice he made a few years ago to give a son up for adoption.

The process included choosing the adoptive parents from a list of candidates hoping to adopt.Some of the choices were easy for him. As an example: he immediately weeded out anyone who said God had made them barren specifically in order for them to adopt his baby. He didn't want his child being raised in that sort of atmosphere.

I have to agree. Besides just finding it creepy, I find it arrogant and self-absorbed. The gods do not micromanage my life. They are concerned with the machinations of an entire universe, and sometimes those machinations lead to biological issues. I myself have been trying to get pregnant for two years, but it's never even occurred to me to think a divine being was stealing my eggs or whatever is specifically going on that's keeping me from getting pregnant.

I suppose I should consider "Shit happens" to be one of my personal religious tenets. We don't always get what we want. That's not divine providence: that's life. We work with what we have. If you can't get pregnant and choose to adopt, that's great and I wish you and the child the best of luck, but don't fool yourself into thinking its part of some grand plan designed specifically for you. The person who most shapes my life is me. The gods are certainly with me, but if things are going to happen in my life, I need to take the initiative on them.

And if I do end up with a child, either biologically or through adoption, it will be because of decisions I've made, not because of some divine mandate. While I may have a child, I am not destined to have it, as the example woman seems to think she is.

There's a definite change in my spirituality of late. For the first time in my life, I'm finding myself wanting physical representations of my faith around the house. I've never collected statues or been drawn to "Blessed Be" plaques. I've never had a permanent shrine or altar; rather, I simply get the appropriate tools out when needed for a ritual. I've never felt a need to hide such things. I've just never wanted or needed them.

That has suddenly changed in the last few weeks. I'm not sure why, although there's a lot of change in my life right now, and maybe I'm making a sort of spiritual fresh start. I've picked up a pentacle for the wall - one of those traditional ones with the degree symbols on the top, the god and goddess symbols on the side and the mercy/severity symbol on the bottom. I've also found a Cernunnos resin kit from Neil Sims that I've ordered. I particularly like the fact that it's a kit so I can contribute to its final creation.

My goddess image is more problematic. While the quality of Wiccan statuary has improved remarkably over the years, I still haven't found a goddess figure. I'm basically down to three possibilities:

I'm tending toward the central figure. The wings are iffy. I do strongly associate the wing motif with the Morrigan, but I also don't see her with actual wings. I may just have to compromise on that one. By the way, she can be found at, which seems like an actually decent resource.

At some point I might acquire this one as well. At the moment I'm really looking for more of a warrior-type representation, but this one speaks to me quite a bit as well.

I think I'm going to go for a shrine rather than an altar once I assemble things. It'll be a place to honor my gods, maybe leave votives and trinkets. I still see no need to put my tools on display as I would on a permanent altar. They are just that: tools. I get them out when they have a use, the same way I get a hammer. I personally continue to find no spiritual use in using them as decorative elements around the house.

Living in the US, I have more rights than in just about anyplace on earth. Unfortunately, more and more of us seem to think that our long list of rights is an infinite list of rights that guarantees everything to us and holds us accountable for very little. These invented rights include:

The Right to Happiness. No one can guarantee that we will be happy. The Founding Fathers declared we have a right to the pursuit of happiness. Actually attaining it is our own problem.

The Right to Associate with Whom We Please. People who want to associate with one another generally have a right to do so. This doesn't mean we have the right to associate with people who don't want us.

The Right to Speak Without Consequence. You're certainly allowed to say what you want, but listeners are just as certainly allowed to form negative opinions about what you say. If you speak out for the rights of gays, you may not be welcome in a conservative Christian church. If you wildly rant about the evils of Christianity, people may stop taking you seriously altogether.

The Right to Be Published. You have the right to write down your beliefs and opinions, and you have the right to seek out methods of disseminating such information. That doesn't mean anyone is required to assist you. It is not censorship if a publisher refuses to publish your work, whether in printed or digital form.

All of these assumptions primarily come from a lack of self-responsibility. People don't want to be held accountable for their actions or their fate. They are so fortunate with their circumstances that they expect everything to be handed to them on a plate.

A 16 year old Wiccan seeking fellowship with other intelligent practitioners asked the following:
Can you recommend any *good* books about Wicca (Particularly culture and general philosophy)?
How do I avoid fluff bunnies?
How do I avoid becoming a fluff bunny myself?
How do I get *serious* practitioners to take me seriously?

My book recommendations can be found here: . There's very little discussion of Wiccan "culture", which is fine in my book. When people turn Wicca into a culture, it tends to become a fashion statement, which annoys me to no end. Our culture is the community in which each individual lives, and in most cases that's better described as Western (as in Western Civilization), East Coast, West Coast, etc.

Avoiding being a fluff bunny is actually pretty easy: you seek out knowledge rather than sound bites that sound good. If you're worried about being fluffy, you almost assuredly are not. Fluffies don't care.

Avoiding fluffy or simply inaccurate information is much harder, and the fact is we all fall prey to it occasionally. Keep an open mind. If you learn about conflicting claims, examine the evidence for each. Be willing to change your mind when new information becomes available.

When a Wiccan writer is writing about history, take it with a large grain of salt *especially* when he or she doesn't footnote a source for such information. If you find too many problematic statements with a writer, it may be best to discard them entirely. While no one is perfect, multiple errors suggest poor research skills or a flair for writing what will sell rather than what is the truth. You're probably not catching all of the errors in their work - just the most obvious. This is why I warn people away from particularly bad writers like Ravenwolf. Sure, there are some factual statements in her work, but there's no way a beginner can sort between the fact and the fluff. (If you can, you've already advanced past her books).

If anything sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Common sense is important in any religion. There are many Wiccans who actually think they're supposed to check reality at the door because this is a "magical" religion. If you think magic is unrealistic, why on earth are you studying it?

As for being taken seriously, this is going to be very difficult for you for at least the next two years, possibly longer. Most sixteen-year-olds simply aren't serious about it, so it's guilt by association. Also, teaching a minor about religion without parental consent is considered unethical by many of us and can get us in serious legal trouble should your parents make an issue of it. If you're looking for a proper coven, you have to understand that a lot of these groups won't even consider initiation for someone until they are well into their 20s. Those who are younger simply haven't matured enough for the close spiritual work customary in covens.

The only reason people are treated seriously is if they act serious. However, just because you act serious doesn't guarantee you'll be accepted as such. That's the reality of the situation. However, the longer someone knows you and the more they see you behaving maturely and responsibly, the better they are going to view you.

If it makes you feel any better, one of the main reasons I am still a solitary at the age of 34 is because I've never been able to find a group of locals who were both interested in group work and were not fluff bunnies. Being on your own is way better than being in a bad group.

I have just been awarded the job of writing the Alternative Religion section at (Currently, the last writer's material is still in place. I will give an update when my material goes live.) Ironically, I was turned down last year when I applied for the Wicca and Neopaganism section. In retrospect, however, this might work out for the best.

When I write about Wicca, I can't help but be involved. Even when I'm trying to remain neutral, I know the topic well enough to have substantial personal views on it. Writing about other people's religions, on the other hand, is an entirely different exercise more conducive to unbiased presentation.

When I was trying out for the Alternative Religion position, I had to write several articles, including some on Scientology. This was both a challenge and an interesting exercise. I was raised by an anti-Scientologist mother. She has a friend now in witness protection because of his testimony against the Church of Scientology (CoS), which had previously also kidnapped said friend. As I became an adult, I did some research into Scientology to see if my mother's concerns were justified (I mean beyond the kidnapping issue) and came away with the very definite negative impression of it.

Now I have to write about it, and I need to direct it toward people who are interested in practicing it. I'm not required to not say anything negative about it, but it does need to be neutral and fact-based, and I also have to write articles about what Scientology offers, how it's practiced, etc. In short, the main goal cannot be to dissuade people from joining.

I've actually found this to be remarkably easy. The CoS now has published a tremendous amount of material online, so I no longer have to work from secondary sources. I can honestly say that I have a much better idea of what Scientologists believe, which makes it much easier to respect those who believe in it. I've also been reminded that there is a definite difference between the CoS itself and the individuals who practice Scientology. I've become sympathetic toward individuals who get targeted by Anonymous (an anti-Scientology group) even though I agree with many of their concerns about the Church.

I even have objections to some of the criticisms against Scientology. For example, the alien being "Xenu" is constantly flaunted about by anti-Scientologists as an example of the religion's "silliness," even though most Scientologists are not even aware of this being. It's not a central precept. Its existence doesn't govern the day-to-day behavior or beliefs of followers. Condemning Scientology for Xenu is like condemning Christianity because Adam and Eve probably weren't real people.

Questions about appropriate use of colors, incense, stones and other objects are pretty common from Wiccans today, and it's frustrating because of how focused people have become on stuff, rather than the purpose of said stuff. This weekend I came across a question regarding whether one's altar has to have an altar cloth.

Only if your goddess is Martha Stewart.

Has the commercialization of Wicca has become so acute that some people fear the gods won't listen (or worse, might be retaliatory) if the altar doesn't include a tablecloth? When did our gods become so petty? Why would you want to form a relationship with said gods who have nothing better to do than critique one's design skills? Does anyone think a piece of cloth really confers power to an altar?

An altar is a focus and a reminder of one's relationship with the gods and what task is at hand. Each individual knows how to best accomplish that goal. If an altar cloth (or any other item) adds nothing to the ensemble, then it has no purpose. As you become more involved in Wicca, becoming more comfortable with your own rituals and understanding more about why different Wiccans use different items, you may find that an altar cloth would be a valuable addition. But if you do use one, it should be because it has a purpose, not because you're working off some shopping list.

Out of all of the books on my shelves, only a couple discuss the proper "working tools" of Wicca - nine items considered central to Traditional practice. Many books (and many more websites), however, provide long lists of stuff: candles, bells, brooms, jewelry, stones, altar cloths, cloaks, robes, herbs, amulets, and so on. One commercial Wiccan website I recently encountered even had a category for "bath and beauty." If you find these things useful, so be it. But when these become the center of attention in your practices, the gods lose out to Martha Stewart.

Rob Reiner is directing a new adventure film called Book of Shadows. The story "follows a young man facing the perils of first love and growing up" as he quests for a magic book he must close in order to "restore balance to the world." It has nothing at all to do with the religion of Wicca, whose followers commonly call a book of rituals a Book of Shadows. In fact, the term exists in no other context in western culture.

Certainly, movie makers should not be expected to keep everything true to life. We call their work fiction for a reason. But taking a distinctly religious term out of context and radically redefining it strikes me as exploitive. I think everyone would find it decidedly weird if Reiner's movie was entitled, for example, The Holy Bible. Wicca is fashionable at the moment, particularly among the demographic this movie is presumably targeting. They've grabbed a popular buzzword without concern for its meaning.

Full article:

Oil City, Pennsylvania has allowed Halloween trick-or-treating only in the afternoon since a child murder that occurred in 1992. This year, urged by a 5th grader, the city council unanimously voted to allow trick-or-treating to return to evenings.

The 16-year precaution is an example of the unreasonable fear people attach to Halloween. The victim wasn't even killed on Halloween. Rather, she was abducted on the evening of Oct. 27 and found dead on Oct. 30. The death had nothing to do with Halloween, but still the city council insisted children shouldn't be out after dark on Oct. 31. Seriously, if they were going to single out a single night, wouldn't Oct. 27 make slightly more sense? (I emphasize "slightly".)

We all want to protect our children, and parents should, of course, always take reasonable precautions. But we're developing a culture in which we think unreasonable precautions will somehow guarantee our children's safety. Singling out one night is not going to protect children. Teaching children to fear the dark rather than respecting it and taking proper precautions is not going to protect them either.

Full story:

I'm currently reading Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone's Progressive Witchcraft. A quick flip through in the bookstore looked promising, although so far it's been little more than frustration.

Janet and her late husband Stewart have previously claimed that Wicca was an ancient religion. Since then Janet at least has stated otherwise (Stewart's outlook is unknown to me), and this fact is reiterated in Progressive Witchcraft. Great! The book also admits that magical workers in previous centuries would have never called themselves witches. Fantastic!

But then things start to go sideways. First, the book states that Wicca and witchcraft can be used interchangeably. OK, problematic, although such terminology issues are certainly not new nor are they exactly the biggest problem we face. The real problem comes from repeated mentions of Medieval witchcraft, how witches did things then compared to how witches do things now. There's a couple mentions of ancient witchcraft, and one completely mind blowing claim suggesting that witchcraft has always been the practice of a priesthood (i.e. all members are considered priests).

I'm fuddled not so much by any inaccuracy as by the sheer incomprehensibility of such statements. Wicca is equivalent to witchcraft and Wicca is modern, yet witchcraft is ancient? The basic illogic hurts my brain. And exactly what are we calling historical witchcraft? Continued claims of a priesthood being involved strongly suggest we're still talking about a Murrayesque secret pagan cult even thought the authors appear to be simultaneously distancing themselves from Murray. And if we're discounting Murray, and we admit that the people who were called historically called witches had nothing to do with what we're talking about, why are we continuing to call this...whatever Farrar and Bone are referring witchcraft?

They also denounce the importance Wiccans have previously put on age of practice and lineage, yet they seem to be simultaneously doing literary gymnastics to continue to associate our practices with something ancient. Certainly we borrow bits and pieces from previous cultures, but what we practice is new. We can learn from the past without claiming to be emulating it or descending from it. The continued arbitrary application of the word witchcraft merely confuses readers and frequently perpetuates misinformation.


10/23/2008 03:10:00 AM | , | 6 comments »

The notion of familiars within Wicca is one of those things that certain people seem to think make them look more Wiccan without the vaguest concept of what a familiar is. Some Wiccans refer to any pet as a familiar. Others use the term for a pet that appears particularly intelligent or seems to have some sort of empathic bond with its owner. That's not what a familiar is. It's a straight up, radical redefinition of a word.

It is true that historical witches were often accused of keeping familiars, and that the familiar in question was often a common household animal such as a cat. These creatures, as they were understood, however, were not pets. They were not even mortal. Familiars were (theoretically) demonic spirits serving the witch. Such entities commonly took the form of a common animal as a disguise and they fed on the blood of the witch.

Are you so sure you want a familiar now?

What Wicca Is Not

10/23/2008 02:36:00 AM | , | 5 comments »

I understand that people have many different views of exactly what Wicca is. Some of it is misinformation, and some of it is simply differences of well-informed opinions within the community. What I do not understand are the number of people who continue to think that Wicca is for them when they have no grasp at all of it.

"I think I may be Wiccan," is the way some put it, which immediately tells any half-informed listener that the speaker is clueless. I don't mean they've come across bad information. I mean they haven't bothered with any information. I doubt most of these people have picked up a single book on the subject, not even a bad book. One doesn't accidentally follow a religion. You either are or you are not. You either believe, or you don't. You either practice, or you don't.

Of close relation to this type of person is the "I'm a new Wiccan. What am I supposed to do?" I fail to grasp what these people could possibly think Wicca is in even the broadest of terms, if they think they can be a part of it while not even being aware of basic beliefs and practices. Isn't that like saying "I'm a new Christian. Who's this Jesus dude?"

The reasons why certain people see themselves as Wiccan can sometimes be nightmarish: they love the environment, they want spells, they respect other religions, they're psychic, etc. This is all nice. We certainly aren't going to send you away for such outlooks. But how does any of that make you even remotely Wiccan? Seriously, has our education system broken down to such a degree that our children now think that because Wiccans respect the environment, respecting the environment makes one a Wiccan?

Other things that are not distinctly Wiccan and in no way make someone Wiccan:

  • Astrology

  • Herbalism

  • Feminism

  • Lesbianism

  • Power Crystals
  • Ouija boards, seances or other manners of speaking with the dead
  • Tarot cards, rune casting or other forms of divination
  • Reiki
  • Chakras
  • Aura reading

4 out of 5
John Michael Greer, A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism
Anyone sick and tired of pagan how-to books will find Greer’s A World Full of Gods a delightful read. Rather than laying out beliefs step-by-step, Greer presents an in-depth and mature discussion of the draws of polytheism and gives logical and theological reasons why people familiar with monotheism may still choose polytheism as their belief of choice.

Greer goes beyond the common understanding of the pagan community – that we pray to gods to get stuff - and discusses instead the much more complex reciprocal relationship many polytheists have with their gods. Worship and religion is not just about pleasing the higher powers to get what we want or avoid smiting. Rather it is recognition through giving of what has been granted in the past and will be provided in the future.

A World Full of Gods is a survey work addressing in the broadest sense all polytheists, although the focus is on modern Western pagans and, to a lesser extent, the cultures that most strongly influence them. When Greer wishes to speak only of Wicca or Druidry or Asatru, he clearly states it, but most of the book addresses the polytheistic outlook in general. Thus, this is a perfectly appropriate read for a wide Neopagan audience.

Monotheists might also find the book useful in trying to better understand the reasoning behind polytheism. However, Greer does devote a considerable amount of time arguing against monotheism, which might turn off non-likeminded readers. Nevertheless, it remains an excellent, well thought out and well written investigation into polytheism that will make a worthy addition to a serious Neopagan’s bookshelf.

Check out the website for more book reviews.

When I first came to Wicca, my gods were, in retrospect, little more than shadows. I can't even recall when I found names for them, only that it involved a lot of seeking and no small amount of frustration to get there. Even afterward, the gaining of knowledge was slow-going. My affinity is with the Celtic pantheon, although I hesitate to even use that term due to historical ambiguity: the gods of the Celts did not function within a single cohesive mythological system, just as the Celts themselves were not a single culture or society.

In earlier days I occasionally wrote about my gods. As my relationship with them became more complex, however, I felt less and less comfortable discussing them in public. Part of it involved the notion of personal gnosis. Teaching of spiritually revealed information to the general public is sort of like trying to teach people that chocolate is the best flavor of ice cream. There was also an issue with my personal experiences extending beyond academic information for these deities.

Academic information for Celtic deities is extremely problematic. The myths that have survived are often fragmentary, and none of them were written down by people who believed in them but rather by Christian monks preserving their cultural history. On top of which, many publications of these myths come from creatively translated and embellished Victorian works.

I'm a historian. I really like having a trustable chain of evidence. If my heart had drawn me to Greek or Roman gods this would have been far easier for me, but it didn't. Instead, I was drawn into a relationship with gods whose records are so convoluted that I am not even confident enough to recommend a particular book on Celtic mythology to others.

How then do I separate myself from those who "make it up as they go"? For one, I do not find my view of these gods to be outright conflict with their surviving mythology, such as it is. It's simply more detailed. Second, I can admit to myself that while my gods seem happy with the names I have ascribed to them, they may not be their "real names" (if gods even have such a concept, which I tend to think they do not). This gives me yet another reason, however, to not name them publicly in order to avoid confusion. I don't want anyone to come away with the idea that the Celts viewed these gods as I view them, when evidence does not support that fact. And I don't want anyone to feel they should question their own personal gnosis based on my personal gnosis.

Finally, what I absolutely will not do is become a prophet for these gods. There are certain Wiccans who have taken it upon themselves to preach "the truth" about their version of Celtic deities, versions that bear little resemblance to surviving mythology. I'm not going to question the truth of these individuals' personal experiences with such deities, but when they publicly proclaim personal gnosis as truth, they are setting themselves up as prophets. And when they insist others ignore the evidence available and testify that their version is the truthful Celtic version (sometimes accompanied by cherry picked nuggets of out-of-context information), they are taking on aspects of a dangerous cult leader.

Never ignore the evidence. Truth is the summation of all knowledge, not just the convenient pieces of it. That is not to say you should smash every piece of information you find into one gigantic and incoherent blob of theory, but you should examine every piece, weigh the value of the source, and acknowledge exactly why you weigh some pieces more heavily than others. Historical fact should not be treated as personal gnosis, and personal gnosis should never, ever be confused with historical fact.

There is, unfortunately, a variety of historical misinformation circulating the pagan community. Too often, people simply repeat what sounds good and proves a point, even if they have no clue as to historical facts behind a claim. Here are nine peeves on the subject (in no particular order).

  1. Wicca has been practiced for thousands of years. This has been scrutinized time and again, and no one has been able to come up with a scrap of evidence that suggests anyone thousands of years ago was practicing anything resembling Wicca. If you have evidence, we’re all waiting for it. (read more)
  2. The Witchcraft Act made it illegal to be a witch in the UK until its repeal in 1951. Please read the Witchcraft Act. It makes two things illegal: claiming to have supernatural powers and accusing other people of having them. This is the act that ended the witch-hunts in England. You could not legally tell someone you were a witch, but the law certainly did not dictate what could or couldn’t be practiced privately.
  3. Pagans universally respected women. Christianity imposed misogyny. For most of history in most of the world, women were second-class citizens. The degree of separation between the sexes varied greatly, but women were rarely equal to men. Christianity certainly encouraged this second-class notion, but many of those notions were borrowed directly from (pagan) Roman culture. (read more)
  4. Pagan Europe converted to Christianity at sword point. People converted for a large number of reasons, one of which was threat of violence. However, long before Christianity had enough power to convert through might, the religion had to first win over converts through such methods as missionary work and exemplary living.
  5. Joan of Arc was executed for witchcraft. Joan was executed as a relapsed heretic as demonstrated by that fact that – after promising to only wear dresses – she continued to wear men’s clothing. (One might ask how said clothing got into her cell.) Witchcraft was one facet of her alleged heresy, but it was a small one. The judges were far more interested in her claims of being called by God to fight as a soldier.
  6. The Church long feared pagan magic, which is why they attempted to control it through witch-hunts. Actually, for many hundreds of years the official Church position on magic was that it was imaginary and delusional, and those who thought they practiced it were “stupid and foolish,” as per the Canon Episcopi.
  7. Women were burned at Salem for practicing the wrong religion. Bzzzt! Try again. This is the one I see people most often use as the litmus test on whether someone is talking completely through his or her (pointy) hat. No one was burned at Salem, and there’s no evidence anyone was practicing a religion other than the accepted form of Christianity, with the possible exception of Tituba. The Salem trials were about children supposedly being haunted and spiritually tortured by witches.
  8. The Inquisition is responsible for, well, everything. Too much has been attributed to the Inquisition to list here. My final straw on this one was when the Inquisition was blamed in a book for England’s negative opinion on witches. Unfortunately for that author, the Inquisition never operated in England.
  9. The Ancient Irish Potato Goddess. Ok, I don’t actually hear this one often, but it’s just too ridiculous to not get mentioned. Edain McCoy published a book about a supposedly ancient Irish form of Wicca that’s been worshipping the Ancient Irish Potato Goddess for 3000 years…which is darn impressive considering the Irish have only had potatoes for 500.

Anyone who still thinks that there aren't connections between every person on this planet must be living under a rock after the last couple of weeks on Wall Street. Little things add up to big things, and things that happen halfway around the world affects us right here too. We watched the world markets topple in a domino effect after the US market finally seized up after being clogged with frozen credit.

There are consequences for every action. Too few people seem to even acknowledge that fact. CEOs embraced policies that were good for their bonuses but bad for their corporations, and then watched in shock as their corporations crumbled. Bankers and mortgage brokers decided to live in a fairy-tale land where lending money to people who couldn't pay it back was somehow a sound business model.

Meanwhile, the politicos continue to blather on about the free market's ability to sort itself out, which is sort of like a Gaia Theory for economics. Yes, the free market will sort itself out, but it may do so with crushing force to purge itself of failed businesses. We don't really want it to do that, which is why the government is stepping in attempting to rectify the situation. If only more people had thought of addressing the problem before the consequences started to take effect.

One of the common questions I encounter from new Wiccans concerns "rules." What do I need to do as a Wiccan? What am I not allowed to do? What am I required to do?

It's very hard for a lot of people to comprehend that religion does not have to involve absolute rules. That notion comes from Christianity, which heavily influences Westerners' views of religion in general. Christianity has a very concrete goal - salvation - and Christians generally have very solid conditions required for that goal. But not every religion works as Christianity works.

How can you have a coherent religion if no one is following the same rules? Because religion is inherently about belief, not rules. We share general beliefs, but we may approach those beliefs differently. In fact, many of us feel that we should approach each issue individually. Ethics should be determined by the circumstance, not but some impersonal list of rules, for example.

The notion of solid rules in many ways takes away personal responsibility. Followers feel they do not need to consider the ramifications of their actions so long as they technically remain within the rules. They also expect some sort of guarantee of success: if I accomplish X, Y and Z then I will attain goal Q. Wiccan spirituality simply doesn't work like that. Our goals include the gaining of information and understanding and closer communion with our deities. These things do not come out of celestial vending machines just because we insert the correct quarter. They are things to be sought and investigated and examined. To guarantee that a certain ritual will produce an expected effect is like promising that reading Grey's Anatomy (the anatomical guidebook, not the TV show) will make you a doctor.

There's nothing wrong with Wiccan how-to guides in and of themselves. It all depends on exactly what a specific book is attempting to teach. It can be a fine format for teaching the basics of ritual, so long as the steps are being fully explained, rather than simply scripting steps. But if it promises results, or if it keeps the focus on the actions rather than the understanding of those actions, then such materials have missed the mark entirely.

4 out of 5 stars
Thea Sabin, Wicca for Beginners
I'm not sure a book on Wicca has ever been given a more appropriate title. Wicca for Beginners delivers exactly what it promises: truly introductory material for those just beginning to investigate Wicca. It makes no presumptions about what the reader knows, and it doesn't get ahead of itself.

It's meant to be more informative than instructive, which is an approach sorely lacking in available materials today. While there are various basic exercises to assist in understanding, Sabin is far more interested in explaining basic premises and beliefs - the kind of information that will be foundational for Wiccan students as they move on to other books and more complex understandings of Wicca.

Sabin also generally avoids specific ritual. She sometimes gives some examples of phrasings, and she gives some basic outlines for practices, but she steers clear from concrete instructions telling you how many times to turn around or what incense you have to burn. Those details can all come later. Right now a reader needs to understand the bare basics, and this book is superb in delivering it.

By focusing on very rudimentary beliefs, I hope that Sabin's book is also useful for people still trying to figure out if Wicca is for them. If these beliefs simply don't make sense to a reader, that should be taken a very strong hint that Wicca is perhaps not the religion for them. That will certainly spare someone the wasted effort of memorizing a bunch of rituals only to find finally find out that the rituals are based on ideas he or she doesn't agree with or are addressed to beings to whom they have no relationship.

Check out the website for more book reviews.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Frederic Lamond, Fifty Years of Wicca

Frederic Lamond is an almost unique position to write this book, as he was a member of Gerald Gardner's coven. He has first hand experience as to both what Gardner actually taught and what the other coven members thought of the teachings. He has watched Wicca evolve over the past 50 years, and he has more than enough experience to describe his own viewpoints of the subject, both good and bad.

Fifty Years of Wicca is, at its heart, a personal story, focused on Lamond's own outlooks and experiences. Once a reader is past needing Wicca 101 reading materials, this is a very useful approach. After all, Wicca does not provide revelation from without. Rather it is a path for revelation from within. We learn from each person's experiences, knowing we are not required to emulate them yet often can take notes from them.

Some Traditionalists have complained that this book "tells Eclectics what they want to hear." The adjective "Huttonesque" has also been employed to describe it in reference to Wiccan historian Ronald Hutton. Lamond is very clear about the history of Wicca, stating that everyone in the coven knew the practices dated back no further than the late 19th century, and Gardner was awkward concerning this fact when he spoke about mythological ancient Wiccan times. I cannot for the life of me, however, imagine why the Traditionalist Lamond would lie to appeal
to Eclectics, nor does it seem plausible to me that he would not know the opinions of those in his own coven.

I particularly value Lamond's covering of various Traditional practices, how they have evolved over time and why some of them have disappeared or become less prominent. He spends a great amount of time on both the Great Rite and Drawing Down the Moon, covering information almost completely whitewashed from texts available today. It paints a very clear picture of how bastardized some versions of these practices have become and how, at least from Traditional viewpoints, some common practices are largely empty of original meaning and function.

Check out the website for more book reviews.

I have recently began to study Wicca. I have always been interested in it, but just recently started actually researching it. However, I really don't know where to start. I am currently reading Wicca For the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham and I like it very much. I have some stuff to put on my altar, but does that come later? As far as a God and Goddess, I have always been extremely drawn to ancient Egypt, RA especially. Is anyone accepted as a God and Goddess? After I complete the book, what should my next step be?
Let me start off with some reading suggestions. contains a suggested reading list for beginners. It's broken down into topics so you can focus on particular areas as you wish, although I really suggest the first group of books be read first. Many of those books are reviewed on this site and you can order them from Amazon through the site as well. In addition, you can read other reviews here:

Second, I've created a document entitled "How does one Become Wiccan?" at I think you will find some of your answers in there.

Third, I'll address the specific points you mention. Everything should have a purpose. If an altar means something to you, than use it. If it doesn't mean something, or you feel like you're just shopping off a list for it, then wait until it does mean something and you do have a use for it. One of the biggest dangers I find with eclectics (and I've fallen for it myself) is that they want to do things "right" so they emulate what they read in books even though they really don't have a use for it yet.

There is no approved list of deities in Wicca. Some, I think, work better than others, but the final determination of that has to be you. My suggestion is that if you are finding specific deities calling to you, answer them. Study them. And as you learn more about them and about Wicca, you may discover that deity wasn't actually calling you (personally, Athena has always been one of my favorite deities, but I don't actually have a relationship with her. She's not the one who called me), or you may discover that your choice of deity is right but Wicca may not be the best framework. (I would suggest Kemetic Paganism as an alternative in that case.) Alternatively, you may find that everything works out fine. It's a process of growing and learning.

As for next steps: keep reading, keep practicing, keep learning. Religion is a lifelong endeavor.

Over these last couple of weeks I've been reading up Zoroastrianism and I'm struck by the centrality of the good vs. evil struggle within the theology of that faith. Zoroastrians strive to do good because it literally contributes to the order of the universe.

Personally, I've long been suspicious of good and evil dichotomies, but the more I read and empathize, the more I suspect that perhaps my real objection is to the applications of such dichotomies to various theologies rather than the dichotomy itself. I am vehemently opposed to a Satanic figure who goes around making people evil, and I generally reject the notion of people being inherently evil: people choose to do evil things, but no matter how much evil one commits, he or she may always choose goodness in the future (and vice-versa).

Furthermore, I abhor the behavior of certain neopagans who drag their Christian notions of good and evil into their new faith, declaring that Nature itself is all good and benevolent and only wishes the best for us. Even cursory knowledge of current events shows this to be false as hurricanes, tsunamis and other disasters wipe out thousands upon thousands of people.

But in writing off good and evil as solely the results of choices and free will, I am considering we may be throwing out the baby with the bath water. Evil is a powerful force to combat. It is out there. It may not be bound up in a red man with a pitchfork, and it may not be promoted by anyone specifically devoted to being evil, but there are people who effectively champion it, such as those slaughtering civilians in Darfur. There's also a danger in labelling such people as evil, because the label tends to bring along a tendency for people to stop looking at the mundane causes and reasons for such behavior. But there's also dangers in not facing the full spectrum of what an enemy is.