Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: Mightier Than The Sword

Rowan and I go to the library weekly, if not more. The Columbus Public Library is an award winner for many reasons. We take home 15-20 picture and chapter books a week and have only repeated well-loved favorites upon request. This week we chanced upon "Mightier Than The Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys" by Jane Yolen. I am so glad that we did.

Anyone who has't read Jane Yolen really should. I love her Sister Light, Sister Dark series as well as her dark retelling of Briar Rose. She is also prolific in the kids' books department, although not all her offerings are this high caliber. She has two collections for non-kyriarchical, no stereotype child-rearing that I highly recommend- this book (which shows you do not have to use violence and force to solve problems and have a good life) and "Not One Damsel in Distress" (a book that shows enterprising young ladies how to get out of scrapes themselves). I plan on purchasing BOTH for my son. I believe that to counter all the propaganda out there about boys and girls, men and women in film, TV and culture in general- he will need both.

This afternoon, I read "Knee-High Man" to Rowan before his nap. It is an African-American folktale about a short person who wishes to become bigger. In the story, he asks for advice several times before he is questioned about WHY. In the end, he is happy "getting bigger in the mind". I also love "Language of the Birds" which has the byline "Not all enchantments are wicked". Indeed!

The collection Yolen assembled also includes Finnish, Afghani, English, Israeli, Russian, Burman, and Hungarian folktales (among others). It is a well-rounded collection across many cultures and times.

In the forward essay (entitled "An Open Letter to My Sons and Grandson" Yolen explains, "This book is for you. It is for you because this book did not exist when I was growing up." Yolen has given the world a gift in these two companion volumes.

I highly recommend this book to a parent of boys and girls.

Formal Rating:

Title: Mightier Than The Sword
Author: Jane Yolen and Raul Colon (Illustrator)
Publisher: Harcourt Inc.
Price: $19.00 USD (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0-15-2163914

Topics Covered: Gender, Sex, Identity, Challenging Violence and Force

Target Audience: children ages 2-10

Witch Mom Rating: Three Hats

This book is has a selection of great storiesthat counter the conditioning that boys need to become heroes through fighting, battles and use of violence and force. It is a powerful important message more children need to hear.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Teaching the Craft

Recently, I have had an opportunity to think about what a teacher of the Craft would need to pass on if they were to teach an apprentice. I thought that the list was interesting, so I thought that I would share it with you.

(These are my opinions of course and other traditions of Witchcraft (remember, I belong to a non-Wiccan, ecstatic, left hand path) may have different ideas- and that is OK. This path is not for everyone and that is OK too. There is room for everyone in all the myriad paths that exist.)

The Tools of Alchemy
My tradition has several specific tools that help transform a person into a Witch, ready to carry the current of my tradition. These tools include a daily sitting practice, working with life force, certain types of energy manipulation to transform the self, and what we call "demon work". These make a person ready to become a Witch. Not everyone can "run the amps" required to be what my tradition considers a Witch. I also differ with the idea that these tools benefit anyone and should be widely disseminated to people who aren't even being considered for initiation. This means that I disagree with some of the most visible Witches in the tradition that we split from*. I think these tools of alchemy are specifically to craft a Witch, not create a "better person". Some of these tools have become very commercialized lately- because they are easy to pass on in their simplest most shallow forms, one-at-a-time, via workshops, books, and intensives and sell them for a profit. That is unscrupulous to my mind. The Craft is not for sale.

The Gods and The Wheel of the Year Cycle
My tradition has specific Gods that it works with, both terrestrial and cosmic, and in order to be a part of this tradition you need to know them intimately and work with them deeply. Many are alien to neo-Wicca or non-initiatory groups of Witches, as they those folks tend to focus on gods in cultural clothing (the Greek or Roman pantheon, for example) or terrestrial gods only (Gaia, The Green Man, the Lord and Lady, for example).

My tradition is polytheistic and does not believe all gods are "the" god and all goddesses are "the" goddess (and we also believe that dualism is a human fiction). But we also simultaneously believe that we are all a part of one thing (did I ever mention that my trad enjoys a good paradox?)- God Herself- and hence all is divine and the divine is immanent. Hence WE (humans) are gods, too- and not just "a spark" or "a reflection" either.

We also teach a Wheel of the Year mythos that is tied to the seasons and the hero's journey- it tells the story not only of the earth's cycles (as most neo-Wicca trads adhere to) but also the life story of the initiate. To understand the Wheel and tie yourself to it is an act of Will**.

Ecstasy and Trance
My trad is not a fertility-based trad, but rather an ecstatic, shamanic one. This is a left hand path which means it can be scary for some and demonized by others. So be it.

Emphasis is placed on achieving brain states other than everyday mundane states (that we are in when driving, shopping, and going about our everyday lives). We do this because the job of the Witch (and yes, Witches have jobs to do!) is to go and be in-between. Between this world and the realm of gods, the fey, and the dead. We work with divine possession in this trad, sex magick, entheogens, divination, oracular work, and out of body travel as ways to achieve and as the tools used while in these ecstatic states. And because these are part of our work, we must be skilled at achieving these states and practice practice practice.

Working in a Group
While many Witches work solo, you also need to know how to work with a group, be it with a few others for a specific working, to celebrate the sabbats or esbats, or in a coven on an ongoing basis.

To that end, learning liturgy and its theological meanings are important. I have found that some teachers (in all kinds of religious traditions) learn liturgy and ritual forms but do not fully understand their theological significance. When ritual becomes empty of meaning, it is then that religion starts to die- because its practitioners do not understand, they merely do things because "this is how we do it" or "this is how I was taught" as the reason for doing things. I know there are several teachers that pass on information that they themselves did not write, experience first hand, or fully understand the significance of. And their tradition suffers for it.

Learning energetic hygiene is also key to working successfully in a group, too- as is learning to use non-violent communication and conflict resolution techniques. Far too often, when Powerful*** people join forces ego gets in the way of Will and starts power*** struggles. We need to recognize and deescalate these situations as they arise, for the sake of all.

The Universe
A Witch's point of view of how the universe is set up and how it "works" is different from that of other religions and people who do not believe in the divine or physics. We study the elements, our creation story, and learn about this animistic viewpoint. Knowing how it is set up allows us to understand that "you" and "me" are fictions that we reinforce to make life a little easier for us in the everyday and also allows us to make changes in the worlds- which is what many of us call "making magick".

What use would being a Witch be if s/he didn't use the Power that s/he has built for hirself? So we teach of how to work breath and energy as well and tangible objects and living things to make changes in the worlds. We have a shamanic, animistic outlook on the world, and therefore we must learn the properties of different plants, stones, foods, actions, animals to work our magick to its maximum effect. We learn to use sex, dreams and ingested substances to alter ourselves, others, and therefore the universe.

We also learn and use shapeshifting, out-of-body travel, necromancy and communicating with other non-corporeal beings.

Ethics and Philosophy
Being a Witch makes many people uneasy around you. This is because we are weird and energetically "off" to many, but also because there are no moral codes that to which we must ascribe- like the ten commandments, for example. And while some neo-Wiccans talk of "the threefold law" and "the rede" as their moral compass- my tradition does not ascribe to any moral code that is outside of ourselves. We do not follow the rede and call shenanigans on those Witches who would ascribe any moral code to our workings. Instead, we do the even harder work of cultivating ethics.

These ethics are based on aligning yourself, the Witch, with the Flow of All-There-Is. It means a Witch like me has to constantly do my Work**** to ensure I am not mistaking ego with Will. It means we make decisions that may seem immoral or amoral to outsiders. It means that with this Power comes great Responsibility.

I belong to a peculiar shamanic warrior tradition. We cultivate ethics much like what is outlined in the book Shambhala (which is a Buddhist lineage). Our warrior tradition is based on the interconnectedness of all beings and the reverence and love we have in defending them. We do not shy away from difficult situations. Often we seek them out and meet them head on- in order to not let fear rule us. We are Witches, not ostriches.

We also believe that this tradition is not for everyone. It is not a religion of the masses because not everyone needs to be a Witch (which is a function of society, not just a religious viewpoint). To say that "everyone can be a Witch" is like saying everyone can be an opera singer. Hogwash. Not only is this untrue, but society would suffer if everyone had the same role. We thrive as a culture when people specialize and have specific roles that serve others. We need Witches, teachers, doctors, shopkeepers, midwives, and yes- opera singers. We need mechanics and house builders and farmers. Sometimes a few roles overlap, but mostly they do not. And that is all to the good.

In this path, there are oaths that we take to the gods, to ourselves, to the tradition, and to each other. Breaking them means serious and dire consequences. For example, there are four Witches that I know in the tradition mine used to be a part of* that have broken oaths and/or sacred trusts and I actively shun them and warn people away from them.

They are currently facing serious consequences that only the gods can provide, but I know that it is my duty, as a sacred protector of this tradition, to shun and keep people away from them. They are not to be allowed to play with people's trust or sacred information or the Mysteries any longer. Oathbreakers are up there with murderers, child abusers, and rapists in my book- and no, that is not hyperbole. All four of these types of people have broken sacred trusts and created disconnection through their actions and/or words. It is up to a prospective student to agree to uphold this serious of an oath if they want to learn from me.

I will not charge for teaching the Craft and passing it on. Teaching is a sacred duty that exists out of time and space and certainly capitalism. However, I do demand loyalty and for a prospective student to do their work. I expect that they will be honest with me, themselves, and others. I expect them to work hard and show their work! And I expect that any student of mine, if they become an initiate- will follow these rules as well.

Faery is a mystery tradition, with an unbroken initiatory line extending back through Victor and Cora Anderson, whom we honor as its Grandmasters. Further, Faery is much older than the Andersons. It has its roots in a pre-Gardnerian era coven that had influences from Applachian, Celtic folk magick, and non-Wiccan British Traditional Craft. It was further influenced in the states by Voudou, Bruja, Ho'omana, and other American traditions as it took root here. To paraphrase Victor, this tradition is an amalgam of "the religions of the small dark people of the world."

How I hope to spend my pension years.
The principles that I personally agreed to when I was initiated are here:

Ours is a mystery tradition, which is entered only by means of initiatory rite performed by someone who is already a Faery initiate.

We recognize the value of individual autonomy, but we also recognize and honor the fact that our choices affect the choices of others.

We will not share, divulge or out the names of our initiates or their students.

We honor our oaths to aid and defend our brothers and sisters. We also do not rub elbows with oathbreakers, who are anathema to Witch kin.

Faery is not information; it is the mystery and experience.

Faery curriculum and liturgy, and lore specific to curriculum and liturgy, are not for widespread dissemination. (Which is why I have not posted specific lesson plans here in talking about what I would teach- only ideas and areas of study.)

Only initiates can teach the tradition.

We prefer to teach individually or in small groups. In all our teaching, direct personal contact between teacher and student is essential. This is key to truly KNOW our students, their lives, their decisions, and what they are capable of. In order to add to your family, we must only let the best of the best in.

When we teach Faery, we do so always with a view toward initiation, although there is no guarantee that every student will be initiated.

We recognize that Faery is highly transformative and extremely experiential, requiring closer attention and responsibility than workshops, seminars, or intensives provide.

We do not charge for teaching the core of the Faery tradition.

*Faery had a public split with Feri a while back over many issues. Oathbreaking was one of them. My tradition split from a faction of the tradition who are very public teachers and authors because the Gods called for us to preserve the Mystery. We no longer share lore or gnosis with the public ("Feri") face of the trad, and their theology and lore will suffer for it. Looking up the road, I see very different outcomes for both traditions.

**There is a difference between will- with a small w- which is individualistic and often is tied to ego and Will- with a capital W- which is aligning yourself to the Flow and following it.

***I make a difference also between Power with a capital P, which in my tradition is one of the five human birthrights and comes from within (not by exploiting and subjugating others) and power with a small p- which has often been corrupted in our culture to mean oppression and subjugation of others for personal gain.

****Work, when used with a capital W, refers to The Great Work- of personal alchemy.

Tangible Witchcraft: Dreaming Bag

My student and I are working on myriad projects: as he learns necromancy, we compliment the ritual work with cunning. Here, we make dreaming bags. Bags designed to welcome them into our dreams, open ourselves up to them, and remember their messages of import.

I open myself up, go into a trance state, and do automatic writing.
Afterwards, I circle words of importance to help me design a sigil.

The sigil, also done in light trance.

I will be teaching my student green Craft (logically!)
and here s a trio of herbs for our dream bags, carefully selected for their properties.

My bag, mid-process. We embroidered the sigils onto a bag and then stuffed them with herbs and other curios.

The finished bag.
My students sigil was very different from mine (naturally!), as these are custom works designed for our own needs. At one point during the crafting, he asked, "Ever don this in fabric paint?". I wrinkled my nose. "There is something very magickal about needlework." I replied. "You are deliberately changing the fabric as you add floss and create not only a design, but a new thing altogether. The bag will never look the smae, even if you remove the embroidery. Far more old school than puffy paint." I snorted.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Teaching young children to plan a worship service and participate in it sounds like a simple thing. I assure you, it's like herding cats.

When I took the position as Director of Religious Education (DRE) at my small UU church, one of the goals I immediately had was for children to gain and explore a Unitarian Universalist (UU) identity. To do that, we have thus far created class covenants*, explored the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism**- one by one, and this Sunday we are putting on our first child-led worship service for Chalica (a UU holiday that explores the seven principles, one day at a time).

I currently have three age levels of kids in my programs: preschoolers, elementary schoolers, and middle-to high schoolers. Most of the kids enrolled in Religious Education (RE) at my church are in elementary school. So even though our Chalica service happened on the first Sunday in December, we started learning songs in September.

That was a wise move. The kids now now their song so well, they can teach it to the adult congregants in the "I'll sing a line, you sing it back" method without any adults chiming in with them to strengthen their voices. Huzzah!

I also had them create some crafts: the preschoolers created an altar cloth to place our chalices upon for the service. I also created seven small chalices for our electric candles (that seven children will light, one-by-one, as they read the principles.

The goal of the service was to introduce the holiday to the congregation and inspire parents to celebrate Chalica at home. To that end, I created a take-home sheet with background and tips that was given to everyone in their church bulletin for the day. I pasted it below, for those of you who are UU minded.

Seven days for our Seven UU principles
Overview: Chalica is seven days long and runs from the first Monday in December through to Sunday. Each day represents a different Unitarian Principle, and a chalice is lit each day and gift(s) are given and received. Gifts can be made, bought, verbal, written, acts, shared/personal celebrations. One can have seven different chalices or one common chalice.
This holiday is an invitation to spend a day with each of the Principles, reflecting on their meaning and doing a good deed focused on each one. It is a great way to extend our UU identities beyond Sundays at church, into our homes. 
A word of advice for families who might stress out about adding Chalica to the other December observances they may have (of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the Solstice). Don’t make Chalica into another holiday obligation. This holiday is about living the principles and weaving them into our everyday lives. You can send a card to someone, stand up for someone on the playground, discuss current events with a UU frame of reference. Often, we try so hard to fit our UU beliefs into other religion’s holidays. Now, we have have one organized around our own values.  All it takes is meaningful conversations for seven days, perhaps at dinner.

For video inspiration, check out this link! 

Details: The days are as follows:

Monday: We light our chalice for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Possible activities:
Give gift(s) to honor those you do not understand/agree with/like. Small children may benefit from reading the book
Enemy Pie.
Examples of this work:
a thank-you card celebrating differences, words of forgiveness/apology, a peace offering such as inviting someone to diner, help someone in need

Tuesday: We light our chalice for justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
Possible activities:
Give gift(s) to honor those in your local community that are less fortunate.
Examples of this work:
spend time in a soup kitchen, donate clothes to a worthy organization, display kindness and care to those around you, take part in a political demonstration at city hall

Wednesday: We light our chalice for acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
Give gift(s) to honor fellow Unitarians and their spiritual journey.
a chalice / book / hymnal, extend words of peace or forgiveness to a fellow Unitarian with whom you may have hurt / not understood in the past, offer/take part in an event at your church / with your congregation, church potluck

Thursday: We light our chalice for a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
Give gift(s) to honor another tradition, to honor education
offer / take part in an event that celebrates another religion/tradition, teach someone something you know and love, learn something new from someone else, give a book / read a book

Friday: We light our chalice for the right of conscious and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
Give gift(s) to honor democracy
help a political party, write your government, help or join a committee at church, host a dinner / party to celebrate democracy

Saturday: We light our chalice for the goal of world peace, liberty and justice for all.
Give gift(s) to honor our global community
volunteer with an organization that has global influence, write a letter for amnesty international, help your social justice committee hold a fundraiser, donate to a cause such as UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, etc.

Sunday: We light our chalice for respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Give gift(s) to our earth and/or its creatures
start a compost, recycle bottles and cans and donate the money to an environmental / animal aid society, rescue an animal from a shelter, hold an outdoor worship service (dress warm/bonfire)

*Covenants are critical to forming a UU identity, as UUism is a covenant-based, not a creed-based faith. That means we can encompass so many personal beliefs within any group or congregation, because we all covenant to act a certain way with one another. This is how I, as Witch and polytheist, can share space with monotheists who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and general pagans in the same congregation.

** The seven principles of Unitarian Universalism are here.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Beloved Dead (Humans)
My heart is glad today because as of this morning, we have shelves in our dining room for both our Craft/occult library and our beloved dead altars.

It has taken 10 months of saving and planning to get shelving for our dining room for these purposes, and in the meantime, a hole has been keenly felt in our lives, to be sure.

Beloved dead (Other species)
Often, we have been looking for "that one book", only to find it is buried in the basement, waiting to be unearthed. Especially now, we are starting to make connections with magick folks here in our new home- and want to share that one tidbit of insight. It has been frustrating, to say the least. But huzzah and hooray, we only have to unpack now. We now have several rooms mostly complete in our new home.

The shelf where both
dead altars are kept.
Now, in addition to our mealtime ritual of gratitude practice ("What was your favorite part of the day?" is a question that we ask of each person every night, and we usually let Rowan ask all of us.) and lingering over food and conversation in the dining as a social act, we will be resuming the offerings to our dead.

The ritual we have of making offerings at mealtimes to our ancestors and friends has been put on hold all this time, as I did not want fragile things broken with a make-do altar space. I am so glad that we can start showing Rowan how to make offerings and why we do it- and incorporate it into Rowan's everyday life. Living the magick, being the Witchcraft- that is what our lives were and now will be about.

And now that my partner and I are meeting with people that may become students, having access to our libraries is critical. Now when I recommend a book I can read along with the other person and have better discussions.

The start of the library.