How Will the God-Fearing Own Up in the End?

To those who believe in God and the Bible… your book says humans are the stewards/ the caretakers of the Earth. You worry about getting into heaven or going to hell for your sins…

How will you explain the mess the planet is in, the animals being killed by human pollution and human over population and all the rest – to your boss? Do you even think about the production, consumption and packaging which you throw away every day? Do you ever wonder were it all ends up? Do you really try to use less or is it easier to just go ahead and do what you want and just buy more stuff?

When you think about your sins, consider those against the environment, the planet and the life on it. Maybe your God will be upset about the wreckage of the planet more than the small sins you think are so important, to you.

I’m not perfect. I won’t pretend I don’t cause pollution and add to the problems of the planet. But, I do think about the planet and, being human, I do think we are responsible for the planet and our own actions. I don’t expect any higher power to come along and fix everything while forgiving us all for making such a mess of it all.

How I Chose to be a Pagan Earth Witch

When I was about 20 I decided to look into religions. I knew the traditional Christian ways were not for me. I didn’t like they way these religions viewed women. I had just read a book where the women were put into isolation after having their period or giving birth, they were “unclean”. This was on top of growing up with the Adam and Eve mythology. From that point the Bible (written and rewritten by men) just goes on to look down on women, and worse. If I were a male, I would probably never have become Pagan. I would never have begun researching other religions and beliefs and looked deeper than the surface. Most likely I would have put religion behind me as not being all that important.

My Early Pagan Experience

I started with Witchcraft and Wicca because I found a book written in the 70’s. It’s a book I wouldn’t choose to read now but parts of it were enough to send me looking for more information from more reliable sources. I found a Pagan bookstore referred to in a book. I made the hour long bus trip to downtown Toronto and found the place. Entering for that first time was not easy. I felt daring and yet I also felt I was walking into a place I didn’t fully belong and might not be welcome. I wondered if they could see inside of me, my mind and my thoughts. Would they know what I was thinking, could they see my future and my past, my aura…? That was creepy.

The first thing that really happened was the smell. Ever since then I have noticed the same smell, strongly of incense over time, in every Pagan bookstore. I like pulling out a book I bought in a Pagan store. Even a couple of decades later I can smell it in the pages. If the smell ever goes away I don’t know. So far it hasn’t.

My adventure in that first Pagan store was intimidating. If I were less determined or less curious I doubt I would have tried another Pagan store. The people there did watch me and yet said nothing. Maybe they thought I was going to walk off with something, maybe they were just curious too, I won’t know and I didn’t ask then. I was already the shy type. I bought a book and a couple of polished rocks and I left, glad to be out of there. I was left with the feeling of not belonging and I never did go back to that store. Luckily there were others and more came along later.

Finding Where and How I Fit In

A few years more and the Internet came along too. By that time I was making my own decisions about what I believed and how I believed it. I didn’t accept Wicca as it came. I took what felt right to me and put it together with how I felt about the world and it’s people. I still believe this way; I’m very much an eclectic solitary type of Pagan. I gave myself the label of Earth Witch and I’ve stuck with that, to keep the explanation simple. To me an Earth Witch means I focus on the Earth, the natural and I don’t feel influenced by deities or magick. I believe we each create our own magick from ourselves and it is up to each of us to choose how to use it, or not use it.

I have written about my Pagan beliefs before but not shared much of my actual experience. I used to get email from young women who wanted to know more about being Pagan. The main thing they wanted to know was how to hide it from their parents. I was never behind this. For one thing, if you have to hide it, maybe you should rethink the whole thing.

I do understand that some families are very Christian and close minded or even afraid of Pagan ideas and Pagan ways. If that is the case and you are living at home, this is not the time for you to explore being Pagan. Wait until you can do it openly. In the meantime, there is no reason you can’t do simple things like have a collection of rocks, maybe some shells and feathers, keep a journal about your observations of nature, history and people. These are things you can do without upsetting your parents and family. You can be Pagan without having to prove you’re Pagan. Know it yourself and start there.

Nowadays…

For me, being Pagan is a personal thing. I mainly keep it to myself. I’ve found a local group with weekly meetings but I have yet to venture out and attend one. I think I will. Each time I have stepped out and met other Pagans I have enjoyed the experience and learned new things about history, religion and beliefs. But, I’m comfortable with what I believe now, the way my feelings about being an Earth Witch have evolved. So I’m not as eager to stir myself up as I was when I was younger and just starting to explore and discover.

How to Become a History Buff

Peace, Love MuseumsI think our interest in history begins with our own family. Parents and Grandparents talk about their own past, their parents and even farther back in your own history if you are lucky.

The first thing I ever did myself was to record my Grandmother’s sister, Alice, talking about her life, her past and what she remembered from when she was a girl living in Ireland. In school we made family trees, but that wasn’t something I had done on my own initiative. I still have the tape recording, I just don’t have a machine I can hear it on. Technology isn’t always our best friend.

Many people get into genealogy and stop there when it comes to history. Not me. I have researched many people (mostly women adventurers and fighters of one kind or another) and places (mainly local history, places I have found through my own exploring). I also like to research the history of paranormal things and creatures like dragons. (Can you prove they don’t exist?)

Try the history buff quiz for fun.

How to Learn About History on Your Own

Narrow your focus.

Choose a time period, an event, a country, a building, a person or some other smaller area of history you want to learn more about. Narrow your focus a bit because history is huge as a topic. Every moment becomes history as we live it.

Start a journal.

Pick a notebook (or bring a laptop) to take notes, write down facts and information as you find them. Keep notes about the resources you have used too. You may want to use the same book, website, etc. again or find the author of the book for more information, even an interview.

Keep a pen and pencils handy. Along with the journal you might want to draw maps, sketch a face, or use colour pencil crayons to organize your notes. Consider a hand scanner which you can take to scan a document or pages in a book rather than giving yourself writer’s cramp.

Review your notes and pull things together in a report.

It isn’t enough to have a rambling collection of facts. When you put all your information together to create a report (just for yourself even) it really helps you see everything as a bigger picture. You also notice details which you hadn’t seen connected before.

Join a local history society or group.

It’s okay to go it alone when you can’t find anyone to share your interest. But, most towns will have a local museum and a local history society too. Of course cities may have more resources for you once you begin looking. If the person or place you are researching is something local then the historical society will likely invite you to present your research to the group at a meeting. (Of course, this is up to you to do or turn down if you just can’t handle public speaking).

yesterday is history

Where to Learn About History on Your Own

  • Visit museums and libraries and talk to the staff there. Let them know about your interest in history – they usually have suggestions you wouldn’t have thought of.
  • Get on the mailing list so you will know when a new exhibit comes to your local museum or library.
  • Visit the art gallery and look at paintings/ illustrations from the time period you are looking at.
  • Make the trek to bigger cities and visit those museums and libraries too.
  • Look at genealogy. It’s a lot of information but a nice way to track down ancestors and find out where the bodies are buried, literally.
  • Get online and track down other people who share your interest. Read their websites or weblogs. Leave comments or notes for them. Ask questions. If they really seem to know a lot ask if you can send them some questions, even interview them through email.
  • If your interest is something local, get out there with your camera. Take photos of the places where history happened. Talk to people like urban explorers or look them up online and see the photos they have taken too.
  • If your interest is Medieval history talk to people who like Renaissance Fairs and create their own costumes to wear based on the authentic clothing worn in the time period.
  • If you have an interest in prehistory, find out about anyone who has been digging up history in the area you are researching. Try to find them online and get information from the source.
  • Read fictional history books too. In most cases the authors will talk about their research and any liberties they took in changing history for their fiction. Meanwhile, you will be reading an account based on all their own research of the time period, the place or person you are researching too.
  • Keep an eye on the news, online and through the television and radio too. History happens all the time. New finds and discoveries come up in the news more often than you may think.
  • Talk to people who were there for history in this century. Read biographies from people in earlier times. You may even find autobiographies which they wrote themselves versus a biography which was written about them.
  • Watch for TV programs, documentaries, coming up for your history interest. Talk to your librarian and see if any documentary can be ordered in for you. Talk to the people who were interviewed in the documentary and, of course, the people who created the documentary would be a great source of information. (The narrator is not always a great source, look for the people who produced the documentary).

Where to Find History Online

On This Day in History…

Sharks in Art

Sharks in art.  I am a Shark Collector in the way of collecting shark art online. I used to have a shark art book. Now I don’t. But, each great shark image or shark post (including the cause of shark conversation) I post to Snip.it: Sharks. Above is a shark done in text art. It’s not the […]

Where the Wild Things Are: Yule or Christmas

Originally posted to ‘BackWash: Where the Wild Things Are’ newsletter, November, 23, 2003.

Christmas, by that name, is a Christian holiday, Christ’s Mass is how it started as far as I remember. Also, if you want to get technical, holiday is also a Christian word, coming from holy day, the long, extended version before the remix.

I was thinking tonight, do you call it Christmas or always religiously, in a semi-fanatical way, call it Yule? To me, I don’t think the small things are worth fighting against the tide over. I don’t mind calling it Christmas or a holiday. I know what it means to me. I know where it comes from, historically and spiritually.

I also know how I celebrate it. I don’t go to a church, not one recognized by the average Yellow Pages phone book. I live in my ‘church’ it’s always with me and all around me. Mostly, I just like being outside. That’s when I feel closest to everything that matters and makes me feel good.

So, for me Yule or Christmas, is about time outside as well as our family traditions. The Christmas tree, singing carols, the exchange of new pajamas on Christmas Eve, the big dinner, making bread together, driving around admiring the fancy coloured lights, and so on. My favourite things are fresh, new snow on Christmas day and admiring the tree all lit up and decorated with ornaments we’ve made and kept from year to year and relatives past.

However you feel about Yule, remember the spirit of the season. Don’t insist people recognize you as Pagan, call it Yule whenever you might be listening and don’t make someone feel their Christmas is less than your Yule. Play nice. Religious tolerance works both ways.

Repurpose Old Books

Maybe your books were damaged beyond repair. Maybe the second hand book store wasn’t interested in books you took to trade because they already have a lot of the same book. Maybe you’ve got a lot of  books with outdated information. However you come across books which no longer have a real use as books, […]

Where the Wild Things Are: Keeping Faith

Originally posted to ‘BackWash: Where the Wild Things Are’ newsletter, February, 2, 2004.

I’m not a Buffy or Angel fanatic but I do follow the series, more or less. I like Faith, that character. I’ve thought about her even after the credits are rolling and the next show is starting. Of all the characters Faith has the least faith. She is distrustful and destructive. At least for awhile.

I’ve been thinking about faith, what that is and where it comes from and where it goes to. Kind of interesting. Having faith basically means believing in something without real proof that your belief is justified.

I once read about a woman who was charged with murder. She went through the trial and in the end the verdict was handed out as ‘Not proven’. That was something they used to do, ages ago. Not any more. But, it was interesting. For her and her life she always had that black cloud of suspicion hanging over her, not proven. Neither guilty or innocent, just some limbo.

Faith is like that too. If you take an idea to heart it’s hanging in limbo but if you have full faith in it it’s proven. If you are in doubt it’s not proven and you don’t have real faith, not blind, trusting faith anyway. There are levels of faith. I think that’s good. You shouldn’t close your mind to new theories, options and chances. Keep looking for more questions and their answers. Faith isn’t a permanent thing, written in blood or chiseled in stone. It’s subject to change.

The woman in the book had to live with people who were suspicious of her. She had trouble getting a job being allowed to go to church and being accepted by the community at all. It wasn’t fair, she wasn’t guilty after all. But, they didn’t have faith in her. They needed that final solid verdict to put her on one side or the other. you don’t get that with things you have faith in though. Pagans and Christians and all the other Faiths don’t get to see their gods or the heaven or hell they put faith in. We don’t get a preview or screenshot. It’s taken on faith.

But, it comes from within you more than something you read or are told. It has to seem realistic and practical, possible. We don’t put faith in something completely out there. Faith is too precious to just give away so easily.

Now that I’ve rambled on and on… the woman in the book did finally get her verdict of innocent. But, it came late in her life. Someone else confessed when they were dying and wanted to get all the skeletons out of their closet.

Where the Wild Things Are: How do you Feel about Your Religion?

Originally posted to ‘BackWash: Where the Wild Things Are’ newsletter, December, 8, 2003.

What would it feel like to live in your own skin if it was all new to you? I’m thinking about hearing the blood in your veins. Feeling your food being pushed along to digestion. Taking each breath rather than leaving it on auto-pilot. All those things we have grown so used to that we don’t even feel them when we try. How different would your body feel if you felt everything going on inside yourself? How would you feel about your body? It would be kind of creepy I think. Too much information about all those regular functions we take for granted.

I was reading a book, one of those historical fiction type things. It’s a different version of the story of Arthur and Guinevere. But, the book is turning into an advertisement for Christianity and the one true god. I hate it when that happens. First, it makes light of what people felt back then, how seriously they took their religion and the world they lived in. Secondly, it tries to make what I believe look foolish. The first part annoys me far more than the second.

You may be surprised. But, I don’t have to defend my beliefs, I know what they are. I’m not on a crusade to promote Witchery or Paganism in general. I can be quite happy if all the world isn’t Pagan. I’m willing to share but I’m not forcing anyone to see things my way. That’s why I don’t feel overly angry about the way my beliefs are treated in this book.

However, it’s wrong to have someone convert to Christianity for no real reason. In the book the main character is a Pict woman, Guinevere. She has a slave (a Briton taken in war) translate when the tribes meet to discuss a treaty. Anyway, the slave is Christian, a monk previously as it turns out. She decides to learn the language since she becomes betrothed to one of Arthur’s noblemen. During this time she is curious about the slave’s religion and asks him about his beliefs. That’s fine, I expect young people were curious about a lot of things, still are. But, I can’t see her converting to another religion for such flimsy reasons as are presented in this book. The reader is expected to believe she suddenly finds her own religion hollow and meaningless just because the slave talks to her about one god. She goes to a sacred place and gets no answer to her prayers to the gods. So she prays to the one god of the slave instead. There’s no answer there either but that’s not mentioned in the book.

She asks the slave a lot of questions, doubting the existence or sincerity of his god. But even though he has no real answers beyond having faith and believing she accepts that. How would a real person back then choose to accept that over what she has always known? What her family and tribe continue to believe. It’s like telling someone they have a third leg and expecting them to just believe it cause you said they should. It’s based on nothing but the word of one person. Whereas her own religion is all around her, her ancestors and the people of her tribe.

So what does any of this have to do with the beginning of this? It’s all about feeling your religion. I don’t think religion or beliefs are something you can take off as you change your clothes. They shouldn’t be something so light. You need to feel it all the time, in all kinds of ways and places. If you aren’t feeling something special then you need to reconsider and investigate other ways, other paths. Like your body, if you forget how to feel the blood in your veins you’re not really living fully. Maybe you’re taking too much for granted and should start fresh, with a new perspective.

Anyway, I’m not sure if I’ll finish the book. It’s getting bogged down in dogma for me.

Rede Magick

Originally written for The Crying Clown Zine (c. 1998)

Tis the season for ghosts to haunt, vampires to suck (blood that is), werewolves to howl,and witches to fly. Or is it? Most people have put Santa and the Easter Bunny away with the broken decorations and the egg you didn’t find till the next year. Yet the idea of a witch in black from head to toe, with a black cat, casting her spells with the twitch of an eyebrow is still around. I don’t cast spells, I don’t like to wear black but I do admit to a fondness for cats.

Oh the wonder and the power of being a witch able to whip out a spell to make your life simpler, easier and so much better… Put that idea away with dear old Santa. Wiccans do not take the powers they study that lightly. To weave your magick you have to carefully consider the many strings attached before you even begin creating neat little rhymes to conjure with.

The Wiccan Rede: If it harms none, do what you will. The Rede is the heart of Wicca, it is the theme song, the top icon on your screen and the apple of many a witchy eye. However, there are as many definitions for ‘harms none’ as there are Wiccan Paths. Harm none includes yourself, your neighbor who yells when you cross his lawn, the guy/ girl you desparately wish would give you more than a second glance, your pet lizard, the ant you stepped on last week and the planet you step on every day. It includes everything you can touch, see, feel, hear, smell and think. Did I leave anything out? It includes that too.

Harm none is a huge responsibility. At some point magick will infringe on free will. It is up to you to decide if it is harmful. Some Wiccans will use love spells. I see this as manipulation and that rubs my version of harms none the wrong way. Manipulation does not respect the free will and rights of another person and is harm to that person. Of course, the easiest harm none definition would be black magick. White magick: works in harmony with the life forces of the universe and harms no one. Its goals are spiritual such as self knowledge, and for the good of all such as healing. Black magick is: causing change (in reality or in consciousness) for the purpose of causing either physical or non-physical harm to yourself or others, and is done consciously or unconsciously.

Every action causes a reaction, a pull on the strings attached. This is the basis of the ‘threefold law’. Simply put, everything you do (negative or positive) will come back to you times three. This is all wrapped up in karma and other strings upon strings upon strings upon strings. Keep things simple with your own version of ‘harms none’. Judge carefully what strings you are pulling and tangling in the magick you choose to weave.

Black is almost considered a witch uniform but no where in any ‘rule book’ does it say Witches, Wiccans or any Pagans must wear black or be forever black balled, black listed or have their names blackened. (I just couldn’t resist). True black is a mystical colour but the wearer won’t suddenly have magickal powers or secret knowledge. Power and knowledge can be gained through study and work. As for the cat thing… I’m training him to be my familiar, of course!

Happy Halloween/ Merry Samhain!

Altared Naturally

Originally written for The Crying Clown Zine (c. 1998)

Just picture yourself, in mid ritual, suddenly your Book of Shadows falls to the floor with an unpleasant sounding thud. Silly you, you forgot your altar!

The Wiccan/ Pagan altar is not just for eating your breakfast on anymore. Also, those looking forward to virgin sacrifices are in for a disappointment. But, look on the bright side, now you don’t have to save yourself for that big moment on the stone slab, just go out and have fun!

So, what should you know about constructing your very own altar? Start with all natural ingredients and assemble them inside a circle. Those are the basics. Your altar can be outdoors for all the little bugs and squirrels to see or it can be inside and easily pushed under your bed for those with parents who like to make room inspections still. An altar can even be made on your desk at work. Just use some creativity and no one will suspect you have brought Pagan influences to concrete jungle.

The altar itself can have a circular base or square, depending on how natural you want to go with it. Outdoors, a fire can substitute for an altar. Make sure you are prepared to safely extinguish it before you leave. Face your altar in a direction of power, generally that’s north, the direction associated with Earth. Some Wiccan use east and west, the direction the sun rises and sets. Lastly, everything on your altar is positioned in a pattern. The arrangement is very individual and can be kept track of in your Book of Shadows. (The Book of Shadows is a book or some other form of note keeping Wiccan use for their exploration and discoveries along their path of learning.)

Just raring to go and get Medieval, I mean creative? To dedicate your altar to the Goddess and God, something you can choose to do. Set up put the tools dedicated to the Goddess (pentacle, cup, bell, crystal, cauldron and others) on the left side of the altar. The tools dedicated to the God (athame, censer, white handled knife, etc) are placed on the right side. In the middle of the altar, you please yourself; at least that is how I see it.

If you don’t follow the ‘standard’ altar plan with God and Goddess on either ends you can fill those areas of your altar with things to represent the elements: Earth, Air, Water and Fire. The idea is to stick to natural ingredients but you can do a lot with those. A natural altar contains assorted leaves, stones, drawings/ pictures, candles, seashells, feathers, flowers/ herbs, a glass of water, your pet guppy, tissues (handy if you have a cold) and a pirate’s treasure map (assuming you can find one). Keep in mind the elements. The feather and leaves can represent Air. The candle and maybe some burnt offerings from breakfast can represent Fire. Water is easy with seashells or a glass of water. Earth can be represented by the stones or leaves (think compost, just don’t put it on your altar unless you are ready for the smell).

The altar is the physical centre of a ritual. Its a place of power and magick. To think it is mostly a flat surface to work at is a mistake. Some of your energy and magick will remain in your altar after each ritual. You will be bringing a lot from yourself to the ritual and your altar. Because of this, your altar must have special meaning to you. Use your own sense of style, things that are important, have meaning to you, and design your altar to suit yourself and your needs.