I was never raised very religious but always brought up believing in God and Jesus. I don't like organized religion because of all the hypocritical rules telling you what you can and can't do or what is good/evil. This is why I'm so interested in following a pagan path, but something is nagging at me and I don't know what to do.

Am I being hypocritical or untrue to the path I've chosen if I still have that belief in God in the back of my mind? Being pagan means not believing in the Christian God right? I don't know what to do. I feel like I'm doing something wrong and don't know where to start.

I guess I'm a little confused as to why you want to be a pagan if
you're not sure what it means to be a pagan, but I'll try to asnwer
best I can.

"Pagan" is an incredibly generic word. It was coined by Christians to
denote non-Christians, although in practice Muslims, Jews and sometimes
Zoroastrians are also often excused from the term. Everyone else is
"pagan," ancient Romans, modern Hindus, etc. Most of those people do
not call themselves "pagan". They find it derogatory.

Neopagans, however, have embraced the term. This includes people like
Wiccans and Druids. This still includes a wide range of religions, so
you can't really summarize the specific beliefs and practices of
"pagans" or "neopagans."

As far as God and Jesus are concerned, there are plenty of people who
believe in them while having a problem with organized religion. Many
of them still call themselves Christians. Some of them don't call
themselves anything. Not having a name for your beliefs is still
perfectly acceptable! And simply not liking organized religion does
not make you a pagan.

Most pagans do not believe in the Christian God. If they did, they
would be Christians. However, there are some people who call
themselves Christo-pagans which might be of interest to you. They tend
to have strong Gnostic leanings, which is another term you might want
to investigate. They tend to have a different spin on Christianity
than is traditional, and often value additional books that did not make
it into the Christian Bible.


12/30/2009 03:54:00 PM | 0 comments »

I am traveling to Egypt for the next two weeks, so there will not be any posts...not that my posts normally have any schedule to them.

A question was recently posed on Yahoo!Answers concerning witchschool.com and the Corellian Tradition. Several people, including myself, mentioned the misinformation that they teach. People were generally pretty specific in their objections too, giving very specific answers rather than something like "they suck." You know, they way that adults are supposed to voice criticism.

But then one poster, Enigma, stated the following:

[I]f they are doing good in educating the world about wicca and paganism (even if it is not all ENTIRELY correct) then let them. They may be spreading some incorrect information, but that is for the rest of the pagan community to correct. At least they are trying to spread some information.

Exsqueese me?

Yes, I do correct bad information, because the bad information is out there needing to be corrected. How does that possibly justify someone for putting out bad information in the first place? I'm taking responsibility because others won't. I'm stepping up precisely because people put out ridiculous information with no concern about the consequences. So, because I (and others) play nanny to the neopagan population, that's reason enough to excuse poor behavior?

On top of which, we're supposed to applaud them for spreading information at all. Are you out of your mind? Bad information should never be encouraged or applauded. Bad information ultimately never helps our case. Bad information is, well, bad. Sorry to put it in such simplistic terms, but apparently this needs to be said in small words.

Think of it this way: according to Enigma's post, when neo-Nazis spout their nonsense, so long as a bit of it is correct it's up to the rest of us to fix it and they should be applauded for bothering to share their information at all? (Or does this logic only apply to pagans?)

People like the Corellians make us all look bad. They don't appear serious, and the attitude that other people are responsible for cleaning up after them just reinforces that fact. They are liars about their origins, and that tends to make all of us look like liars. They are attention-seekers, which both makes them very visible and then makes it look like Wicca is essentially a faddish popularity contest.

Some people do like the Corellians. That is their choice. And if they accept what the Corellians teach as fact, that is their choice as well. But to admit they put out bad information and then try justifying it is despicable.

The following is response to a long email from a woman whose husband is convinced a relative had voodoo worked on him five years ago which has caused a host of severe medical ailments that the doctors have not been able to identify. She is looking for a magical cure for this Voodoo.

Personally, I am not a big believer in people being able to cause that sort of acute harm through magic, particularly to strangers. Magic doesn't come out of nowhere. Energy is never created or destroyed. It merely changes form. Big results therefore require big input. Muttering some words over stones or herbs or bones is not going to cause major health failure for years to come in someone the caster does not even know. As such, I also don't believe in the cures for such things.

The power of curses is largely in the threat of them, not the actual use. How does he know "that the effects of the voodoo are still upon him"? Gut feeling? Personally, I think that's more likely the power of suggestion.

If you're determined to seek medical remedies, I would suggest searching for things that expel negative influences and encourage health and protection.

I personally understand how frustrating undiagnosed medical issues are, as I've dealt with them for most of my life. I suffer from fibromyalgia, but it was years before any of my doctors even knew that term, much less how to make use of knowing about it. When test results come back negative for me, people often say "well, I bet you're glad about that!" No, I'm not. When test results indicate a clear problem, they can often fix the problem. Tests coming back negative do not suddenly make my problems vanish! It would be nice to blame my medical peculiarities on magic. That would make some question marks vanish and give me someone to blame. It would give me the impression of having control over my health. But just because the doctors can't define all of my problems doesn't mean the problem still isn't medical. We're not all-knowing. The body is a frustratingly complex object.

I was wondering what your opinion was on buying, rather than making, blessed amulets, talismans, etc. I was browsing Pyramid Collections not too long ago, and found that they were selling "Magickal Weight-Loss Necklaces," made from a variety of different gemstones, each associated with some attribute I was unaware of. This seems, to me, rather uncouth, especially when considering the fact that most people who undergo considerable weight loss eventually end up gaining all of their weight back, plus more. Would you say this is acceptable as long as results weren't guaranteed, or simply right out?

I think some of these people are outright frauds, There is a large market for such items, so some people will hang a rock on a string and sell it on the internet as specially blessed, attuned, etc. Obviously, fraud is wrong, and one of the problems with buying magical items, particularly from strangers, is that you have no way of verifying that you have received the services for which you have paid. It isn't merely a question of "do blessings work?" but "did the seller even bother blessing it to begin with, regardless of the efficacy of blessing?"

For this reason, I personally will never, ever buy an item supposedly magically altered by the seller. I'm certainly not saying all sellers are crooks. I just have no way of separating the good from the bad. (On top of which, I'm not a big believer that strangers can effectively work the kinds of changes these sellers claim.)

In the example you give, there is actually an additional layer to this question. This seller doesn't seem to promising to work any kind of magic upon his or her wares. Instead, these talismans are being sold on the idea that the substances from which they are made do all the work. So whether or not you should buy it will depend on whether you think stones have inherent magical properties and if you think these particular stones have the specific qualities that are being advertised. It is my experience that if you find ten internet sellers selling magical amethyst, for example, you'll find at least five different claims as to what amethyst can actually do.

Does that make me personally skeptical and suspicious? You betcha!

Does that make this particular seller unethical? Not necessarily. He or she may honestly believe those combination of stones cause the effect they advertise. They can be ethical and still be wrong.

Now, if they *insist* their product will work, then they are probably frauds, although it's possible they are just really out of touch with reality...which is still a good reason to not buy their product! If they don't understand that magic influences rather than guarantees, what are the chances they got the other details correct?

i am new to this whole thing. i registered my email address on spells4free.com requesting for a free weight loss/attractiveness spell in return for signing myself up for their newsletter. is that wrong? the spell is on myself because i am tired of diet products/torturing myself with diets/pills/etc..why are some people born luckily thin and yet others work so hard? is it fair? do you think this spell would still have a future threefold effect or whatever the law of return is in a negative way? should i take back my request? 
You say you are new to this whole thing. What whole thing? Wicca? Spells? Getting free stuff?

People want to tell themselves they can get something for nothing, but that expectation is completely unnatural. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You only get out what you put in. Reading someone's "spell" does nothing. Not a thing. If you are interested in working magic, you need to understand how it works. Magic comes from the worker, not words on paper.

Life isn't about being "fair." Life is a complex interaction of causes and effects. Each person has things they are better at or worse at. The fact is any goal you seek requires enough effort to overcome existing obstacles. People with slower metabolisms have bigger obstacles than others when in comes to weight maintenance, but in the end it comes down to understanding you body and its needs and having the fortitude to work with it and not give in to cravings.

I can understand why you are frustrated with diet pills, but you seem to just be replacing one quick fix for another. Without active change on your part, you're not going to lose weight. Even dieting is not a permanent fix. Once you lose the desired weight, you have to continue to keep healthy habits or the weight comes back. That's why most fad diets don't work.

Every choice has consequences. That is what the law of return is about. Sometimes the consequence is a simple as "I asked for a spell, and they emailed me one."

As far as attractiveness, that's in the eyes of the beholder. People who are more confident in themselves tend to gain more positive attention. Telling yourself that you need a spell to be worth someone's attention only feeds your lack of confidence.

Celebrating the Sabbats

12/21/2009 04:03:00 PM | | 1 comments »

I've never been big on holidays. Not as a Christian. Not as a Wiccan. This year, however, I'm feeling decidedly down about not marking the seasons in some meaningful way. And I stress meaningful way. I've never been one to hang random decorations around the house and then tell myself that means something.

I realize only recognize two of the Sabbats: Samhain and Beltane, and I often don't even doing anything specific to mark those two days. In that past, I was content with that, but now I'm feeling....disconnected?

I think part of it is peer pressure. Thanks to Facebook, I'm aware of the number of friends who have celebrated Yule in some way. But I don't feel particularly compelled to join the local ones in their celebrations (I've never had a good experience with a public gathering).

The Lesser Sabbats are particularly problematic. Personally, I find a lot of them largely represent things dealt with on the Greater Sabbats. In addition, the fact that Gardner added them to his ritual year so the Wiccans and Druids could party together more often doesn't exactly reinforce importance.

My adult son 27 has been practicing "rituals". I don't agree with his decision but it is his to make. However... He has been attempting to form a "circle" of teens. His sister and her friends, because they have more power. His sister 15 is incredibly strong. Auras, colors, minor precog, links to specific people etc.. She is also severely Manic-depressive and fragile mentally. She as well as several of her friends, have been having all kinds of emotional problems, since my son tried to "teach" them. How can I explain to him that he does not have the right to use others powers. Especially when they don't understand what he is trying to do. The kids have talked to me and I am furious. This has been going on for over a year. I want to just slap my idiot son, but he doesn't listen to me. I need some "authoritative" background to make him leave these kids alone.

Since I don't know what he is specifically doing, I will answer in the general sense.

First, there's lots of ethical issues with adults teaching teenagers.
It can also potentially get him into legal trouble should the parents
of any of those teens object to what's going on.

Honestly, it sounds a bit like he's forming his own cult. There is no
legitimate reason why a 27 year old person would want to work
exclusively with teens. At best, he's looking for people who will look
up to him and praise him as their leader. At worst, he's sucking in
people at a vulnerable age because they are easier to manipulate and
use. I warn teens all the time to run as fast as possible if they are
ever invited to join such an arrangement.

Teachers and coven/circle leaders have responsibilities. It's not just
about being the guy in charge. If these teens are suffering adversely,
he should be sensitive to that fact and address it. He has no business
leading rituals with people who are not prepared to deal with them.

Mental issues are also a common concern among us. While those who have
their conditions under control (through medication, therapy or
whatever) are often welcome in working groups, those who do not have
such issues under control have no business working magical rituals.
It's not good for them, and it's not good for those around them.

Bottom line is if you think your son is taking advantage of these teens
(whether by using their powers or otherwise) you should say exactly
that to him. Taking advantage is taking advantage, and it's wrong.

Likewise, if these teens are concerned about what is going on, they
should *leave* and you should encourage them. Established Wiccan groups work together in
"perfect love and perfect trust." If they have concerns about your
son, they shouldn't be there. Everyone should be looking out for
everyone else's best interests, and if that isn't happening, something
is very wrong.

For a time I lived with a "witch".  Not entirely sure if she even had much definition to what kind she believed, or what she drew from, but she made much out of it, even accusing me of persecution. (I simply disagreed, but let it go).  Anyhow, as she was moving out, she hung a scissors by a string, pointing down, above the front door, on the inside of the house.

It was hung from a bulletin board tack, which I thought was unsafe, so I took it down. A day later, she put it back up. I took it down again. I found out that it was related to her beliefs, because she left me a nasty note about interfering with her right to practice her religion. I told her that I didn't like the idea of a poorly hung scissors clipping someone in the head, and after I found the scissors up again, I took it down. But this time, I replaced it with a banana. The next day, she had replaced the banana with a Santa Claus christmas ornament, which made me laugh, so I guess good humor won the day.

Anyhow, It's left me honestly curious about it. Do you have any idea what "scissors over the door" means?
I'm not aware of anything regarding scissors, although a google search brought up a few links about old superstitions about hanging scissors over a door. It was meant to keep evil influences out of the home. Why your roommate would do this as she was moving out is beyond me, but it sounds like she was crying for attention with all of her leaps of accusations of persecution.

Ironically, the scissors as ward-against-evil had strong Christian connotations. The scissors were hung by one loop so they would hang in the open position, like a cross. Also, some websites state that the gesture was supposed to keep "witchcraft" out as well as evil influences!


I think replacing it with a banana was pretty awesome, actually.

Unnaturalness of Man?

12/08/2009 02:38:00 AM | 2 comments »

The folks over at Unreasonable Faith have a wonderful illustration about the arbitrariness of "natural" vs. "artificial."

As a pagan, I'm constantly hearing about how wonderful the natural world is and the corruption of urban life. But why are man-made things suddenly "unnatural"? Are they not ultimately made from natural substances? Are they not shaped by natural intellect?

Sure, humans screw up. We sometimes muck about our planet as if cause and effect somehow doesn't apply to us. But that doesn't mean everything we do sucks. The gods gave us these amazing brains for a reason. I simply cannot believe they would be offended simply because we strive to better ourselves.

Anyone else have to deal with people who just plain don't know how to use the word "Wicca" in a sentence? Things like "How do I know if someone has used Wicca on me?" or "How do I do Wicca?"

For anyone who doesn't understand my complaint, replace "Wicca" with "Christianity" or "Islam" or any other belief system and see if the sentence makes a lick of sense. You don't "do" a religion. You can look like a member of a religion, but if all you're doing is focusing on motions and actions, you are most certainly not actually participating in said religion.

I've been hanging out on Yahoo!Answers for a few years now answering questions. In the beginning, I answered practically every question I came across about Wicca. Over time, however, I've grown decidedly jaded. I understand that there are a lot of misinformed and uninformed people out there, and in some cases I appreciate them seeking answers, but there's a lot of stuff that just make me want to bang my head into my desk.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the number of questions about how to do rituals "correctly." I'm not talking esoteric meanings here. I'm talking about "I want to do a ritual for Samhain but I only have blue candles. Will it still work with blue candles?" I have to restrain myself from replying somewhere along the lines of "Well, you could, but the temporal energies are likely to backfire, obliterating your coven," or "No, the Goddess abhors blue in October. She thinks it makes her look fat."

These questions come from a mentality that is, to me, quite contrary to Wicca and bred by our fast-food society: I want spirituality. Publish a quick guide with easy to follow step for me to gain understanding of the universe. Please avoid big words. Thanks.

if people who ask these questions would sit back and think for even a minute about what they are actually asking, it should sound ludicrous. Can you imagine someone asking if a Catholic Mass would still "work" if they changed the colors of the candles?

We have all of these marketers emphasizing crystal wands and fancy athames and blessed candles, and newcomers fall hook line and sinker for them. Heaven forbid our faith require thought and patience and energy and trial-and-error. That would be practically unAmerican.

just fyi ravenwolf is my mentor's friend. while you have the right to say as you wish, tread lightly please.

The above email arrived in my box this week. No name. No email address. (Way to express your sincerity.)

I'm not quite sure what to even make of it. "Tread lightly please." Why, because it makes you feel bad? Because you think I'm off the mark? Because you fear Ravenwolf will stalk me in the night if I don't?

"Ravenwolf is my mentor's friend." OK, and...? Does your mentor require you to stick up for all of his or her friends? Does the fact that Ravenwolf's friends are sometimes mentors somehow make Ravenwolf less nonsensical? Are you pointing out that Ravenwolf does, in fact, have friends? (I've always presumed she does, for the record. I don't depict her as some sort of social shut-in.) Seriously, inquiring minds want to know. Why should any of this matter to me?

I have no wish to unnecessarily trample Ravenwolf. I comment on her published works, not her personally. (I don't even know her pesonally.) And I do it to warn people away from her highly problematic and erroneous materials, not specifically out of any spite directed toward the woman.

And, heck, if someone reads my article and STILL thinks Ravenwolf is a good source, that's their business. It's a free country. I'm just offering information...information I can regularly source, which is more than Ravenwolf does. What the reader does with said information is up to them. But so long as she puts out clearly false information, or makes clearly unethical recommendations, I'm going to warn others about it.

Yahoo! Answers

10/05/2009 01:05:00 AM | 4 comments »

I've been on Yahoo!Answers a long time as Nightwind (not my craft name, BTW, just a funny username that has stuck over the years), and I figured I'd share a few gems from over there in a new box on the right of this blog. Normally I'll be highlighting questions I've answered, although occasionally I'll highlight one that already has good answers and I have nothing more to contribute to them. Some of them are helpful. Some of them are snark. Some are both.

I just love how certain people think that so long as you claim an action has something to do with religion, you automatically have a right to it. Today I came across a question where a Wiccan was asking "do any laws protect my rights to have days off" to celebrate the Sabbats.

The language here is important. He isn't asking if he has the right to days off. He is asking if there are laws to protect rights he already presumes he has. And from where do these magical rights come? Rights are about being treated decently as human beings. It's about things like equality and not being tortured. How spoiled do we have to be to start claiming the inalienable right to vacation days?

The issue of religious requirements conflicting with employee duties can be sticky...but generally not for Wiccans. Wicca doesn't require us to do or avoid particular things. We aren't required to do anything special on the Sabbats. It's simply something we often prefer to do. And there's certainly nothing that says we have to do such rituals during work hours. It's not like we have to avoid pork or keep ritually pure or not drive a car from sunrise to sunset.

What the Sabbats off? Spend vacation days like the rest of us.

If Wicca is an accpetance [sic] that they're are many gods, male and female, and that we are unable to live without one or the other, then does that mean that a wiccain cand [sic] also believe in God?

It's not like we kick you out if you believe certain things. The question is whether it is logical to call someone Wiccan based on what they believe or disbelieve.

By "God" I presume you mean the Judeo-Christian god, a monotheistic god. If one believes in many gods and goddesses, he simply can't also believe in a single all-powerful god. It simply does not compute. Personally, I suspect that there *is* a deity listening to the prayers of Christians, Jews and Muslims. But I don't believe he's the only god out there. So I think his followers have some very basic errors in their concept of him.

This is one of the reasons I think the idea of "Christian-Wicca" is so poorly constructed, or at the very least poorly named. You cannot honestly be both a Christian and a Wiccan. You cannot be both a polytheist and a monotheist.

I have to agree that [Ravenwolf] does seem anti-Christian at times (not to mention, the book I own contains little in the way of actual, helpful information).  However, you seem very anti-Silver Ravenwolf, and I wonder why you expend the energy.  Also, what do you think of Scott Cunningham?  And finally, I can't tell if you are pro-Gardner or anti-Gardner. 
I said everything I felt I needed to say in that article. Every point I make is a problem of which I think people should be aware. If they read that essay and still run out and buy Ravenwolf's books, that's up to them. I've said my piece. Expend the energy? It's one essay. It's over and done with. heck, when people ask my opinion of Ravenwolf, I point them back to the article, so it actually saves me the energy of stating the same concerns over and over online.

I grew up on Cunningham. There was an intermediate period where I blew him off as fluffy (which might have been more because of hearsay rather than what he actually wrote, I confess. When I reread him my opinion returned to high praises), but for several years now I've been highly recommending his books for beginners, including on this site.

I'm not really pro- or anti-Gardner in any clear-cut meaning of the terms. I believe people who say "my practices have nothing to do with what Gardner taught" clearly are practicing something other than Wicca. I do not believe that you have to be slavishly dedicated to every Gardnerian teaching (right down to Wicca being ancient religion) to be Wiccan, however. He started something wonderful. He had lots of good ideas. He also had lots of kooky ideas (although not nearly as kooky as some of the people since him!). He's human, like the rest of us. I recommend his books for intermediate students so that they can better understand where our ideas come from. I strongly don't recommend his books for beginners, because there's too much bad stuff (like wonky history) that will confuse them.

Hiatus from Blogging

7/22/2009 02:25:00 PM | 1 comments »

My apologies for the silence of the last several weeks. There are things going on in my life that have taken precedence over blogging, and I fear that may be the case for some time.

The mailing list is discussing the place of "universal love" in Wicca. It's in reference to a YouTube post in which the author expressed not being able to understand how you can call yourself Wicca if you don't believe in universal love and the Principles of Wiccan Belief.

She focuses upon the 13th principle, which reads "We work within Nature for that which is contributory to our health and well-being." Ok, a little vague perhaps, but decent. But how does that equate to "universal love"? How does working toward *my* health and well-being comment at all about how I deal with the rest of the world?

Personally, I find the notion of "universal love" to mostly be an empty phrase, used when someone is trying to convince you either that his or her religion is great or harmless.

The mere notion of "love" is difficult enough to codify. Some people do certainly express their relationship with their gods as one bound by love. I'm certainly not going to comment one way or the other on someone else's personal gnosis, but that certainly isn't how I would describe my relationship.

My gods are the force behind nature. Nature doesn't love. Nature balances, often violently. My relationship with them is not fearful or meek either, but its not what I would call love. Sometimes my gods give me a kick in the butt. That's not out of "tough love." That's cause and effect. And just to be clear, it's a fantastic relationship. I wouldn't dream of walking away from it. But I don't find "love" to be the right word for it, and it certainly doesn't translate into "universal love."

There are plenty of people in this world who do not deserve my love. That doesn't mean I'm planning to do them harm, which is often the dichotomy that people fall into. Life has more options than just love and hate. There's a very wide spectrum of possibilities and experiences.

Religious bickering is frequently little more than an absurd show of one-upsmanship, and that is certainly my opinion of the decades-old rift between Wiccans and Satanists.

On one side, Wiccans frequently insist that "we're not Satanists," sometimes in the same breath that they beg for religious tolerance. While they claim we should respect the beliefs of others, they systematically condemn Satanism as something vile and to be avoided.

On the other hand, Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey's own writings make numerous digs at Wiccans and "white witches," accusing them of hypocrisy, self-deceit, and pretentiousness.

The fact is miscreants on both sides are guilty of working with exaggerations, half-truths and misinformation. Anti-Satanist Wiccans are commonly attempting to distance themselves from things that Satanists don't actually do, while LaVey seems to have only a vague notion of what all Wiccans believe, instead presuming all of us act and believe like fluff-bunnies.

I am absolutely a Wiccan. I am very comfortable with that religious identification. Recently, for my work at About.com, I've been reading a number of works from the Church of Satan, and I'm also quite comfortable with admitting that I agree with the large majority of what the Church teaches.

Sure, there are differences. I am a polytheist, while LaVeyan Satanists are atheists. But, quite frankly, there's at least as many similarities as differences. Magic is about expression of will and emotion. Humanity is a part of nature and we should be proud of that, not ashamed of it. We should follow our needs and wants, but we should also be aware of the ramifications and consequences of those actions and act accordingly. Miscreants should get what they deserve; thus, acting badly will bring trouble upon yourself.

The male/female dynamic is prevalent in both Satanic and Wiccan ritual, which should be of little surprise. Both groups are heirs of older occult movements which likewise emphasized the male/female dynamic. The two groups certainly went their separate ways, but the common foundation is still easily evident.

In all seriousness, I suggest to any non-beginner who is tired of fluffy-Wicca sources to take a look at some of LaVey's works. I don't mean copying his rituals, and I certainly don't mean looking for "spells," which he doesn't offer. He has a very no-nonsense view of magical workings that are hugely refreshing in light of the piles of "teach me to fly" requests that I get.

Much of his philosophy of life I likewise find perfectly acceptable and a nice change from the "whitelighters" who tell us we're supposed to be all altruistic dolphins and butterflies. He gets overly harsh at times, but you know what? I'm a grown up. I can decide what I should embrace and what I should not. Want to know something else? Self-determination is something Anton LaVey strongly emphasizes. Reading a Satanic book does not make you a Satanist.

The fact that I'd even recommend LaVey's works will most likely earn me hate mail. Real Wiccans don't mess with Satanic stuff. Seriously, grow up. Real Wiccans avail themselves of available resources and decide for themselves what to accept as their own. Real Wiccans don't cower from gossip and rumor about topics they've never bothered to study.

But you'll encourage the Christian notion that we worship Satan! Perhaps, but only in stupid Christians, and I can't fix stupid. Considering that LaVeyan Satanists don't even worship Satan, the idea that we're doing so by reading some of their books is ludicrous. Besides which, if you're going to have public opinion dictate your religious studies, I'm not sure if Wicca is really for you.

Over on Yahoo!Answers recently, one questioner asked for advice on how do reconcile personal spiritual experience with rational skepticism that Wicca is "corny and fake."

Now, I am presuming that he's not considering those personal experiences corny and fake. Rather, I'm guessing the concern can be boiled down to certain practices that he has read or heard about that he finds corny or fake.

The answer is deviously simple: don't do those certain practices.

First of all, there's a lot of nonsense out there written by people who have been Wiccan for a weekend, or who have modeled their practices off of Charmed, or whatever. Second, ritual is only as effective as what it evokes within you. Even if a highly respected writer suggests a certain ritual, it won't do you a lot of good if you're agonizing over the way it feels fake to you.

Religion is not an all or nothing arrangement. Accepting Wicca as your path does not mean you have to believe and act exactly like every other Wiccan. From my perspective, such an approach is completely contrary to an esoteric path, where the true messages are learned on your own, not through someone's book or lecture.

Religion does not have to be contrary to rationality and common sense. An open mind means you're willing to consider new options, not that you accept and believe every option with which you cross paths.

I spend quite a bit of time in the Religion & Spirituality section of Yahoo!Answers, where people write in questions and other people (hopefully) give back helpful answers. My goal is to help share my knowledge with others, but periodically I find a question worthy of being blog fodder.

A Christian asked what she could do about the supposedly blatant religious discrimination being shown to her by a college professor who threatened to subtract points if she refused to attend a lecture on Wicca... in a comparative religions course. Since she disagreed with the practices of Wicca, she felt it went against her religion to even hear about it...

Read the entire blog entry at Alternative Religion on About.com.

Is the God/Goddess of the WICCAN faith capable of changing a willing person to be better suited for daily living, i.e.; removing fear, anger, worry, and other character defects? Our primary purpose is to help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety by helping them to find a power greater then themselves and helping them to developed a personal relationship to said higher power. 
I have a little hesitancy in answering this question because I view the exact partnership between an individual Wiccan and his or her gods to be a matter of personal gnosis: one person's experience is not necessarily the same as the next person's, and there's no independent method of verifying which experiences are "valid." As such, I've decided to answer from my own personal experience and hope that my words are taken as such.

I do not ask nor expect my gods to change my life. My life is my own and I am the one ultimately responsible for it's direction. However, I certainly can turn to them for assistance in such matters. It may sound like splitting hairs to you, but for me I see a wide gulf between my gods removing my fears and my gods assisting me in overcoming fears.

Maybe a simpler answer is: yes, a Wiccan working on his personal relationship with his gods can certainly be helpful in overcoming the hurdles in his life. We don't see our gods as being totally separate from the world. As we better understand them, we can better find our own inner strengths, that divine spark within us.

The following was written in response to one of my articles discounting that Western society is a patriarchal one:

...While the Western world has made great strides, I do not think it is correct to say that the actions of the past are not continuing and do not continue to affect us now. Women still only earn approximately 72 cents per dollar as compared to men, even when they are equally qualified. (I can cite this if you so desire. ) Women are also much less likely to be in leadership positions, even when equally qualified. Women in this country, like many others non-Wester or not, are also the most likely to be victims of institutional and structural violence. Meaning that, the cultural and economic structures that we exist within typically disfavor women...Perhaps women in the United States and the Western nations have *more* freedom and equality, but I feel that as Wiccans we should look beyond our own borders and understand the structural and physical violence and inequality still rampant in the world.

I think our slight disagreement on the matter mostly comes down to one of focus. I am familiar with the 72 cents on the dollar figure and by no means which to play that down. I just don't see it as being a particularly religious issue, and I find it kind of vague to just chalk it up to "patriarchy".

As for older views influencing us, I wouldn't call the view old if it was still influencing us. I'd call it a current view that's been around a long time. ;) that particular passage was written in response to a number of pagans and Wiccans who insist they've made particular religious or social choices because 500 years ago (or insert your favorite date here) men were held superior to women.

If the inequality still exists, we should address it. But we shouldn't invent issues to address, and we shouldn't dig up issues that are no longer applicable. And while having a world view is also a great thing, we need to be mindful of who we are talking about rather than personalizing everything. Yes, inequality in other countries is bad, but claiming I personally am being oppressed because of something that happens in Saudi Arabia is bad form. It dismisses the suffering of the people actually being oppressed. It was that kind of behavior I had in mind when I wrote those statements.

Wiccan Publications

4/02/2009 02:35:00 PM | | 3 comments »

Is anyone familiar with a Wiccan publication that they would recommend? Someone emailed me asking about a "Wiccan newspaper" that could be delivered to a Wiccan currently in prison, and I personally have absolutely nothing to suggest. Anyone with ideas can post them here. I will direct the questioner to look here.

A lot of the books I have talk about visualising various things (white light, pentacles, etc etc). I can't do this. I don't think in pictures, I think in words. If I try and visualise "white light" all I think is "white light" in my head. Does this mean I can't be a Wiccan? Is there an alternative to visualising?

Not being able to visualize certainly does not mean you cannot be Wiccan. Visualization is a tool that Wiccans regularly use, but to say that non-visualizers can't be Wiccan would be like saying someone without an athame can't be Wiccan.

Magic happens within us. Visualization helps us focus on the task at hand. It's the frame of mind the white light puts you in that's important, not the image of white light itself.

Since I myself am very visually oriented, I'm not sure what to suggest. Perhaps there are sounds that you may associate with your practices that would help you, so that you "visualize" sound instead of images. For example, if you're trying to consecrate something, you might think of a clear bell ring or the rush of wind rather than white light.

How you go about that will be a lot of trial and error, but Wicca has a lot of trial and error in it, even for us visual people. What Wicca teaches are practices that people tend to find useful. Not everyone finds every practice helpful. People start to adjust things so as to best suit their own mindset.

I've made a new blog post over at Alternative Religions concerning persecution of occultism, if anyone is interested. I'm not supposed to duplicate content, so I'll just provide a link. ;)

I understand and support why you and many others recommend waiting to dedicate yourself for several years until you are confident this is the path for you. However...I do feel led to pray to both my God and the Elements for guidance and such. I don't feel wrong in doing this, but I almost feel like I'm going against what is "accepted" by not waiting to do this until I've declared myself. I'm curious as to what's your opinion on this?

My first thought here is don't ever do something merely because it isn't "accepted." That's falling into the trap of groupthink, and is really detrimental to your own personal spirituality. Look at the reasons why something is or isn't accepted and then judge whether those reasons make sense. If they don't, then my general thought is you should do what seems best for you. Maybe that means the term "Wicca" doesn't really accurately describe you (depending how much you deviate from "accepted" definitions), but that's no reason to not follow your heart on spiritual matters!

As far as the specifics here: many solitary Wiccans mark their formal entrance into Wicca with a dedication ritual, and we generally recommend a minimum year and a day of study before you do that so that you can make a truly informed decision. That doesn't mean we ask for credidentials. We're not going to question you on how long you studied or whether you dedicated yourself, and honestly, our opinion of you isn't going to change if you tell us you have or have not done a dedication ritual.

Second, just because you haven't formally committed yourself to this path doesn't mean you can't practice anything religious-looking. Wiccan study isn't just about reading. It's about experiencing. So if you feel comfortable with ritual, try ritual. If you want to speak with your gods, by all means speak with your gods! You certainly don't need an official religion to speak with the gods; I know several people who have no religion, yet describe themselves as having a "personal relationship with God." What goes on between you and them is between you and them.

My teaching schedule, now compounded by a theatre schedule, has been keeping me away from the blog these past couple of weeks, and that may well be the case until May or June. However, I definitely wanted to address an emailed question from a Christian asking for suggestions on how to deal with a friend who constantly insults Christianity, spreads bad information about it, and tries converting Christians to Wicca.

Unfortunately, some people are so wrapped up in their hate that you can't reason with them. I've had people tell me that the reason they are Wiccan is "because I hate Christianity." It's a nonsensical answer that indicates their complete lack of knowledge about Wicca, but it does indicate an unfortunate mindset that exists out there.

I can offer a couple of suggestions. The first to explain to him how offensive you find his behavior. This won't deal with what he may be preaching elsewhere, but it might make your friendship bearable again. Point out that you respect him enough to not try converting him or badmouthing his faith, and that it is reasonable to expect the same respect in return. If he's unwilling to grant even that level of respect, is this even really a friendship?

As far as stopping the nonsense, ask him where he gets his information and start educating yourself on those sources. If it's from a book on Wicca, ask what evidence the author gives for that information...because generally Wiccan authors don't cite sources at all and thus make really lousy sources for any historical claims. Ask for specific historical instances of claims he is making. If he can't answer, the question comes back to "then why are you so sure it happened?" Ask about the author's credentials. If the writer isn't a historian, why does he trust that they know more about history than historians?

And if he's make claims about "ancient Wicca," ask him what he thinks of Triumph of the Moon by Ronald Hutton. It's not about Christianity, but is IS about where Wicca came from. Hutton is both a Wiccan and a professor of history, so its hard to argue that he shouldn't be a good source.

Without knowing the specific pieces of nonsense this friend is spewing, I can only give general suggestions. In general, fight ignorance with information.

I keep finding people on message boards, and in real life who have the opinion that if a person is solitary and eclectic, they aren't really Wiccan and shouldn't claim the religion as their own. Instead, they believe a solitary eclectic Wiccan should label themselves as religious witch, neo-wiccan or simply pagan. How would you address this issue with someone?

When Wicca began, everyone was a Traditionalist: they were members of covens that trained them in the ways of the coven and put them through an initiation ceremony. Even the definition I use for Wicca lists initiation as a core value of Wicca. How then do I justify describing non-initiates and eclectics as Wiccans?

First, it is very common for Traditional covens to describe all members as Wiccans, including the Outer Circle members i.e. those not yet initiated.

Second, the use of the word Wicca to denote a follower of Gerald Gardner's religion does not date back to Gardner. In all of Gardner's writings, followers are called witches and the religion itself is called witchcraft or the witch-cult. The word Wicca was applied later, probably by Alex Sanders. Twenty years ago, as the Eclectic population started to boom, many Traditionalists staunchly insisted that these newcomers were Wiccans while the properly initiated followers were the true witches. Now some are arguing the opposite. Clearly, we can't make everyone happy.

Third, vocabulary is formed through common usage of the word. People who invent nonstandard uses of a term are likely to gain confused stares as they refer to felines as dogs or softballs as cheeseheads, for example. Whether the Traditionalists like it or not, Wicca has been commonly used in reference to both Traditionalists and Eclectics for several decades. The toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak.

Fourth, it isn't just Eclectics who believe they have a right to the term Wicca. There are many, many Traditionally trained and initiated Wiccans today who also freely apply the word to Eclectics.

Fifth, Gardner's religion is in and of itself highly eclectic. He borrowed from Celtic holidays, witch folklore, Greek mystery religion, the magic of the Golden Dawn, reincarnation beliefs from the East, and the liturgies of Aleister Crowley, just as examples. It seems to me a wee bit arbitrary to suddenly say "the eclecticism must immediately stop after Gardner."

Sixth, Gardner appeared to have expected his religion to be an evolving one. Books of Shadows were not supposed to remain stagnant but were to change over time according to needs and understanding. It's arguably one of the reasons personal BoSs are supposed to be destroyed on the death of their owners.

Finally, there is a difference between an initiation and an initiation ceremony. The ceremony is what a coven puts you through when they judge you ready. They need to judge whether you are ready, however, because the unprepared are highly unlikely to experience the actual initiation, which is exposure and understanding of mystery. Initiation ceremonies are meant to evoke initiation, but they are not one and the same. You can experience mystery outside of a ceremony.

I can certainly accept that the experience of mystery should be a central goal of all Wiccans and that reaching that experience is probably much easier with the formal training and tested rituals of a coven. But Eclectics can certainly still pursue and experience mystery, and I see no reason why they should need a separate word to describe themselves simply because they're doing it on their own.

So how do you deal with someone who insists that Eclectics should not be called Wiccan? While you can explain the points above as to why you feel the word choice is valid, coupled with other core beliefs of Wicca that you agree with, don't expect to win over a lot of converts to your way of thinking. We have our reasons for thinking as we do, and Traditionalists have theirs. Their reasons, I feel, can be just as rational as ours, so in the end you may just have to agree to disagree.

(This response has now been posted as The Validity of Eclecticism and Non-Initiation)

You state that there are no known matriarchal civilizations. What about the Etruscan civilization? I can't find a legitimate resource on the internet, but in my Italian studies (BS at a Catholic University), as well as my visits to Etruscan ruins in Italy, they portray the Etruscans as a civilization where the women were fully in charge. Their art and artifacts do demonstrate this idea. I am curious to know what you think of this; is this a ruse to draw in tourists, or is this a legitimate matriarchy, and therefore an exception to the rule?

I confess I'm not an expert on Etruscans, so I'm going to have to lean on my more general historian sensibilities. However, historical record clearly mentions kings, so the idea of the Etruscans being matriarchal goes out the window on that point alone.

Googling "Etruscan kings" will find your more sources than you could probably possibly want. Googling "Etruscan matriarchy," however, gives some interesting links as to where the idea comes from. This link jumps out at me as having some quick and dirty answers to the matter, but there are plenty others.

Etruscan women were probably more highly regarded than women in Greece or Rome, however. Their tombs frequently depict both husband and wife in a familiar embrace. Such a depiction is quite different than what you would find in Greece or Rome. Much of what we know of the Etruscans actually comes from Roman sources, who had to fight to gain their independence from the Etruscans, which does suggest their descriptions might be biased. They talk of Etruscan women having a great amount of freedom, not only actively socializing but involving in numerous affairs. Again, part of this might just be talking smack, but it also at least suggests that Etruscan women were more free than their Roman counterparts, which is why the Roman writers found them so scandalous.

So while I'd say they were wrong, I'm not sure it's simply a ruse to draw in tourists. The display creators may well have been working from outdated source materials (claiming civilizations to be matriarchal used to be much more en vogue, before scholars started more seriously looking at the supposed evidence being cited), or the displays themselves may be outdated.

I was reading through your website, especially the 'Myth and History' section, and was wondering if there were any particular books from which you were getting your information. The things I've read directly contradict the things you are saying and I'd like to do as much research as possible to come to the most correct conclusion I can.

I'm going to have to make a guess about the things you are reading, so pardon me if I am incorrect here, although this is the usual scenario in which I see this question.

When looking for expert information, you should go to people who are focused on that specific topic. So when you want to learn about Wicca, going to a Wiccan makes perfect sense...way more sense than one of those books on Wicca written by a conservative Christian, for example. In that same vein, when you're looking for history, you should look toward historians. Just because you've been practicing a religion does not mean you know it's history. This is the case whether you're talking Wicca, Christianity, or something else.

When Wiccan authors talk about history, they generally have little or no familiarity with the materials they claim to be drawing from. A lot of the "witchcraft is ancient religion" comes directly from the works of Margaret Murray. Murray herself was barely familiar with witch-trial records (which is what she claimed to be working from), and the people who quote her generally have no experience at all with such evidence: they just presume it's right because someone published it.

When someone makes a claim about Wicca being ancient, ask yourself how they could possibly even know the facts they are providing. Cavemen left us no writing, yet a variety of Wiccan writers (copying Murray) have stated that witchcraft is the world's oldest religion, dating back 25,000 years. How can we possibly know what people that long ago believed? We can, at best, make some general guesses. If Wicca has been practiced in secret for centuries, how do we know that? No historian has ever pointed out a historical religion that looks anything like Wicca. The usual argument I get is "Well, that's because it was secret." OK, but if it was so secret no historian knows about it, how does some Wiccan author have so much evidence about it? And do they actually offer any evidence, or do they just say "this is how it is"?

If you're interested in Wiccan history, Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon is pretty much required reading. Not only is he a professor of history, he's also an initiated Wiccan. He spends considerable time giving examples of the leaps of logic made by Murray and others and provides numerous opposing pieces of evidence or arguments.

The absurdity of the Murray thesis is discussed in many, many books by historians. Here are some suggestions:

  • Baroja, Julio Caro. The World of the Witches, trans. O.N.V. Glendinning. Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1961; reprint, University of Chicago Press, 1971.(Baroja wrote that claims of pagan cults and Horned Gods are totally in opposition to any and all serious, factual investigation, and he accused the supporters of such claims of using arbitrary archaeological fabrications. He acknowledged, however, that the theory was still highly accredited in the English-speaking world.)
  • Burr, G. L. "Review of The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology," The American Historical Review, Vol. 27, No. 4. July, 1922, pp. 780-783. (Burr credits Murray's popularity to "the lack in English of any thorough history of witchcraft." He also states: "To her every confession is true, all the accused guilty, and whether convicted or acquitted. She does not trouble her judgment by hearing even what they say for themselves. Mary Osgood, for example, whose confession she repeatedly quotes, not only retracted it all and was eventually discharged, but handed in (she and her Andover neighbors) a vivid description of the pressure and persuasion by which the confession was extorted.")
  • ----------------. "Review of The God of the Witches," The American Historical Review, Vol. 40, No. 3. April, 1935, pp. 491-492.
  • Cohn, Norman. Europe's Inner Demons. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1975.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia Vol. 19. Chicago, London, Toronto, Geneva, Sydney, Tokyo, Manila Seoul, Johannesburg: Helen Hemingway Benton, 1974. (The 1974 edition contains updated info on Witchcraft as well as flat out admitting that it's previous article ont he subject (written by Murray) has been discredited and was, in their words, "highly imaginative.")
  • Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • ----------------. "Paganism and Polemic: The Debate over the Origins of Modern Pagan Witchcraft," Folklore, Vol. 111, No.1. April, 2000, pp. 103-117.
  • Loeb, E. M. "Review of The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology," American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 24, No. 4. October - December, 1922, pp. 476-478. (Loeb described Murray's approach as "novel," fueled by "a na├»ve desire for originality combined with an over-facile intuition" resulting in "the most fantastic lack of discrimination in her evaluation of the validity of the court testimony given at the witch trials" and finally "a bewildering mass of false inferences". )
  • Larner, Christina. Witchcraft and Religion: The Politics of Popular Belief. Basil Blackwell, 1984. ("We have now reached a stage when it is possible to ignore altogether the once-influential view of Murray.")
  • Macfarlane, Alan. "Review of The God of the Witches," Man, Vol. 6, No. 3. September, 1971, p. 506.
  • Monter, William. "European Witchcraft: A Moment of Synthesis?" The Historical Journal, Vol. 31, No. 1. March, 1988, pp. 183-185. (Monter lists laying the ghost of Murray to rest as one of the accomplishments of witchcraft historians.)
  • Parrinder, Geoffrey. Witchcraft: European and African. 1958; reprint, London: Faber and Faber, 1963.
  • Simpson, Jacqueline. "Margaret Murray: Who Believed Her, and Why?" Folklore, Vol. 105, Issue 1/2. 1994, pp. 89-96.
  • ----------------. "Scholarship and Margaret Murray: A Response to Donald Frew," Ethnologies, Vol. 22, No. 2. 2000, pp. 1-5 (originally pp. 281-288).
  • Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971. (This book gives the most thorough breakdown of the problems of the Murray thesis that I am familiar with.)
  • Wood, Juliette. "Margaret Murray and the Rise of Wicca," The Pomegranate, Vol. 15. Winter, 2001, pp. 45-52.

The scholarship on historical witchcraft, paganism and Wicca can perhaps be best summed up in the following quotes from Hutton and Simpson, both written in response to a non-academic Wiccan named Donald Frew who published an article in 1998 stating the Murray thesis still couldn't be ruled out:

at the opening of the 1970s, the thesis was rapidly revealed as possessing no sustainable basis...More recent research has apparently buried it beyond retrieval, and it must be emphasized how extensive that research has been. Between 1980 and 1995 fifteen international academic conferences were held to discuss the witch trials and their context, and the papers presented there, and generally published in the proceedings, represented only a part of the work carried out in the subject during the past two decades. That united hundreds of scholars, covering between them every European state....None have [sic] found any basis for characterising early modern witchcraft as paganism.

Donald Frew has apparently read not a single one of these works. As a result, his declaration that the hypothesis that witchcraft was a survival of paganism "can't be ruled out" is made without an attempt to engage even with the relevant body of secondary sources, let alone primary records.(Ronald Hutton, "Paganism and Polemic: The Debate over the Origins of Modern Pagan Witchcraft," Folklore, Vol. 111, No.1. April, 2000, p. 110)

Particularly over the past twenty-five years, there have been very numerous books, articles, and conferences in Britain, Europe, and America. Presenting the research of a multitde of scholars, none of whom uncovered any evidence to support her theory, while finding a great deal incompatible with it….Anyone who hopes to reclaim Murray's reputation as a historian, let alone argue that 'the hypothesis that Witchcraft was a survival of paganism…can't yet be ruled out', can only begin to do so by confronting squarely the issues which this huge body of scholarly work has raised. (Jaqueline Simpson, "Scholarship and Margaret Murray: A Response to Donald Frew" Ethnologies, Vol. 22, No. 2 (2000), pp. 4-5.)

I've made a new blog post over at Alternative Religions concerning Wicca, if anyone is interested. I'm not supposed to duplicate content, so I'll just provide a link. ;)

This question came up in response to my post on Edain McCoy:
I was wondering how Wiccans (to the extent that one can generalize) account for new historical or archaeological information as it affects belief systems. Like, suppose you believe X based on historical fact Y, but then Y changes due to new info. That might be too vague a question to be answered, or too obvious to be bothered with, but forgive me -- I'm an interested outsider to Wicca.

That's kind of vague to answer, but I'll try.

This was a much bigger problem when Wicca was commonly promoting itself as ancient, because every time our understanding of ancient cultures changed, the Wiccans were in an uproar over it.

When Wicca is understood as a modern religion, that stops being so problematic.

Also, Wicca expects people to seek their own revelation rather than having revelation dictated to them through a prophet. As such, our understanding of history can change without it threatening out beliefs. Our founder was not a saint. He was a human being, and he had the same quirks that other human beings have. We can discuss such things without it endangering the validity of what he taught.

Really, I can't think off of the top of my head of any of my religious beliefs that are dependent upon history. While studying how other people have related to my gods in the past has certainly helped me in my quest to better understand and become closer to those gods, my ultimate beliefs are based on personal gnosis. Discovering that people actually thought somewhat differently than I first thought does change my own personal experiences (although it may suggest an avenue of further exploration for myself, and might even explain why I've hit a dead end, if that's how I've been feeling).

Do you think that Edain McCoy falls in the same category as Silver and DJ Conway?

I definitely think Edain McCoy belongs in the same category as Conway and Ravenwolf. (Actually, I think Ravenwolf deserves her own subcategory, because I find her ethics absolutely abhorent on top of her already bad information.)

McCoy will publish whatever she thinks will sell, regardless of whether there's a shred of truth behind it. The book of hers that I have actually read is Celtic Myth and Magick. You can check it out on Amazon and read the reviews. The low rating ones sum up my feelings nicely. The problem? It's not about the Celts. It's Wicca with a thin veneer of Celt thrown on top of it. It might have been a decent book if she made it about Wicca, but she didn't. Instead, she spun it into pseudo-historical drivel.

Even the title grates on my nerves. There are reasons people add the "k" to "magic". There's no reason why it needs to be used if we're actually discussing an ancient culture. But "magick" is cooler than "magic," so there it is.

But the true crowning "achievement" of McCoy is Witta: An Irish Pagan Tradition, which is one of the biggest jokes in the neopagan community. It supposedly describes the 3000 year old Irish branch of Wicca, which honored the Ancient Irish Potato Goddess. Let's forget the whole Wicca-is-a-20th-century-religion argument for a moment. Apparently the Irish had a goddess for something they wouldn't encounter for another 2500 years. The potato is a New World crop.

What is possibly even worse is that when she was called on it, McCoy confessed/claimed she had based the entire book on the stories of a single Witta follower she thought she could trust. Let's pretend for a moment I was born yesterday and actually believe that: so you want me to take your research seriously when it's based on no evidence and the word of a single person? That wouldn't even fly for a college paper, much less a published book. Joanna Hautin-Mayer has lambasted the book in painful detail here, which is a read I highly recommend.

Well, the good news is I'm working pretty much full time again. The bad news is that it seriously cuts into blogging time, particularly those down moments when I think of random things of note about Wicca. So, for the near future, I expect I'll be primarily catching up with Questions of the Day.

Are you familiar with the terms 'Lady' and 'Lord' being used to address coven/group leaders and initiated coven members? (When) do you use them and (when) are these terms appropriate?

Honestly, I'm not very familiar with the practice. This may have to do with the fact that I am not a member of an initiatory coven. The only people I know of using such a naming convention is Lady Sheba, an early author on Wicca, and Lady Gwen Thompson, who wrote Rede of the Wiccae which put a lot of erroneous notions into people's heads about what Wiccans as a whole believe.

Personally, whatever you do in your coven is your own business, IMHO. However, when you start strutting coven titles around outside of the coven, that looks attention seeking and needy to me. If your coven feels "lord" or "lady" is an appropriate way of showing respect, so be it. But when you use it outside the coven, you're expecting outsiders to respect your title, rather than the title being a sign of respect. I buy someone's book if they appear to have good information, not because they have offered up impressive titles for themselves.

If I was running a coven, I probably wouldn't use them. As a solitary, I certainly don't use them.

I was just wonder[ing] why you said in you article about RavenWolf, "Satanists have as much claim (if not more) to the term as we do".

The Word "witchcraft" has been around for a very long time, way longer than the religions of Wicca or Satanism. Some Wiccans have adopted the term. That's their prerogative, but it's historically nonsensical. "Witchcraft" has always designated a magical practice, generally a malevolent one, not a religion such as Wicca.

People who practice magic today sometimes term themselves a "witch." Those people can, and do, come from many religions, including both Wicca and Satanism. Since the term is older than us, how can we possibly claim ownership? The term is equally appropriate regardless whether you're referring to a magic-practicing Wiccan or a magic-practicing Satanist. Considering the terms association with malevolent magic, Satanists arguably have the better claim to the word, since they are more likely to work magic against another person.

My friend says he was a wiccan and called me a jumper. i asked him what it was, and he said that it was an evil soul who put foolish ideas of being gods or goddesses in people's heads. i didn't understand him. do you know what he's talking about? Do you know what a jumper is?

How to put this tactfully? Your friend seems disconnected from reality. The idea certainly isn't Wiccan, and sounds more like he's been watching too many B-movies, such as perhaps Body Jumper, the plot of which sounds similar to what you're describing. He's also, quite frankly, being a creep. If he thinks you're really an "evil soul," why would he even hang out with you? Ergo, the name-calling appears just hateful and rude.

I'm beginning to understand how early Christians must have felt when they were accused of such bizarre things as orgies and setting fires. This is just one of those face-palm moments, when I desperately want to ask the "friend" in question "What planet are you getting your information from?" or "Are you just throwing your favorite movies in a pot and calling it Wicca?"

Some of my friends and I are considering forming our own coven. I initiated myself into Wicca about a year ago after studying it for a few years, and I have friends who are interested in it, too. They sort of look to me as a leader since I've been studying Wicca longer than them. The thing is I'm not a High Priestess and my friends and I don't know any High Priestesses (or Priests). My mom also won't let me join a coven or school where I can study and learn enough to get to that rank becuase she says a lot of creep-os pretend to be Wiccan.

I was wondering what your opinion was on someone who's not a High Priestess/Priest starting a coven, especially if that person is a teen.

First of all, I encourage you to listen to your mother on this one. While the vast majority of Wiccans are perfectly decent people, there are those out there who have used positions of power within a coven to get favors from members, particularly if they're young. No respectable coven of adults will accept a minor without parental consent, if at all. There's just too many dodgy morals involved.

Second, a coven is generally a small, tightly knit group of people with very similar beliefs and work together toward spiritual goals. Everyone generally has responsibilities within the coven, including attendance to gatherings. People often find their covens be second families to them. The leaders of covens have generally been involved with Wicca for many years and have developed organizational skills as well as spiritual ones.

As a teen, what you and your friends are probably forming is something closer to a study group. You're still figuring out exactly how you relate to Wiccan beliefs and how ritual might address your needs. Since you've been studying longer than your friends, they may look to you as a teacher and leader of sorts, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Calling yourself "high priestess", in my mind, is unnecessary. Of course, within your group they can call you whatever they want, but I'll tell you from experience that when teens publicly claim to be high priestesses, older Wiccans tend to roll their eyes at the notion.

So my suggestion is form a group, study together, work together, whatever you and your friends find is most beneficial. There's no need to describe it as a coven. As you all get older and more experienced, its quite likely that at least some of your friends will grow tired of it and give up (that was my experience as a teen student of Wicca). Also, friends are likely to simply move away as your college years loom. The remaining members, if any, may or may not eventually find it appropriate to form a proper coven, at which point it would make more sense to to elect a high priestess from among you. Or you may find an existing coven that you fit well with and from which you can continue to learn, if you're lucky.

In today's scientific world, there is a habit of commonly designating anything not reinforced by science as "superstition." Because neopagans commonly accept that the world can be manipulated through "magic," which in turn is also commonly called superstitious by wider Western culture, neopagans tend toward the notion that labelling anything as superstition is wrong.

The fact is just because we hold a minority opinion does not mean we should stop thinking critically. Just because we respect some ancient beliefs does not force us to accept all ancient beliefs as valid.

We all structure ritual differently. Some of us work on elemental models, some use tables of correspondences (with various logic systems behind those tables), some work with few accouterments, etc. We all find different things that work...and different things that do not work.

When you incorporate an item into ritual for no better reason than some book says you should, that's superstition. Minimally, you should understand why the source is suggesting such a use and then make a judgement on that reasoning.

This issue recently came up for me in a discussion on the use of herbs. Personally, I'm not a big fan of herbs. I often use a pleasing incense, but the choice of scent is almost entirely personal preference, not supposed mystical properties.

In my experience, the different meaning associated with plants varies wildly from source to source, and the majority do not even indicate what logic they base their suggestions on. For all I know, they've developed their list through use of a magic 8-ball. Even if the writer is working from older sources, they're all using different folklore, different cultures, etc. These older sources are working on the idea that plants have inherent magical properties, in part because they didn't differentiate between magical and mundane properties. I accept that many plants of mundane properties, which can be tested. But when every source is saying something different about a claim that cannot be verified, I am left with the conclusion that we are dealing with superstition rather than an accurate understanding.

The ancients didn't actually have all the answers. While they certainly should not be discounted just because they are from a time long ago, they likewise should not be accepted solely because they are from a long time ago. That is counter to reason.

Last week my resin bust of Cernunnos arrived and I'm in the process of painting him, and I've surprisingly found him to be the source of continually awkward conversation. "Who is he?" people keep asking, and I find myself with no good answer.

I could answer what the figure means personally to me, but that doesn't really help anyone else understand him, much less understand where any of this is coming from.

I can give a historical explanation, which was my first tactic, only to find myself qualifying every statement. "Is he Celtic?" Well, kind of. The Celts have a lot of images that kind of look like him, but we have no idea what they called him. We have one incidence of his name, and that statue is Gaulish-Roman, and the name is actually Latin. "What does he represent?" To the Celts? The answer's highly arguable. "What's his story?" He doesn't have one, at least not that was ever written down. "So what's your connection with him?" That would take a small thesis to cover.

I found slight solace in an unlikely source, however. About an hour after having this conversation with my husband, it dawned on me that I had a simpler answer. "He's Herne the Hunter."

"Oh!" explains my husband. "Now I get it."

Of course, my husband's only exposure to Herne is through Robin of Sherwood, a British TV series from the mid-eighties. But to be honest, that show does a fair job of depicting Herne as I see him. In fact, finding that show years ago was one of the things that lead me to learn about the historical Herne/Cernunnos in the first place.

But it's still awkward referencing TV, especially when I grit my teeth when people reference something like Charmed to explain Wicca. I guess it's the difference between being inspired by TV to further learn, versus taking TV as some sort of canonical instructive text.