Posts tagged “practice

On Ritual

Week 36 (R): on ritual, and why I’m a lazy witch

I don’t “do” ritual. This simplistic statement sets me apart from quite a few of the other Pagans I’ve met. To them, it’s important to have a separate space whenever possible dedicated to Magick. That space is filled with esoteric gestures made only in circle, a “solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order” (thanks for that perfect definition Google!). This conception of ritual bores me to tears.

how I feel about ritual

On the other hand, that kind of ritual makes me think of Monty Python, which is pretty awesome

This is not my kind of witchcraft. There’s little space for solemnity, and the idea of having a set routine makes my lip curl. That sounds deathly boring. I just couldn’t do it. Routine is comforting in other aspects of my life, but in witchy things I want variety. I want flexibility and change and discovery in my faith.

Practice is a word that better suits me; practice is application of belief. My rituals are typically spontaneous, and the best ones have often been crafted in the space of a few minutes, when I’m out in the woods for a walk on a beautiful day. Then I bring only a stick of incense, perhaps a candle, and myself to ritual. There’s beauty in simplicity.

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A Naked Witch is a Happy Witch

Week 27 (N): on nudity

Skyclad: it’s a word you might have run into in some beginner books that refers to ritual nudity. In contemporary practice, it’s primarily associated with Gardnerian tradition but is used in other paths as well. There’s also a reference to it in Aradia by Charles Godfrey Leland (a semi-historical account of Italian pagan traditions in the nineteenth century):

“And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also: this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead;”

The beauty of this verse is evident, even if Leland’s text isn’t exactly historically accurate (he was a folklorist, so the book is a mix of nonfiction and his own creations). I’m not a Gardnerian, nor do I take much from ceremonial traditions, but I do think that practicing skyclad can be a useful tool. The logic behind both Doreen Valiente’s version of “Charge of the Goddess” and Leland’s Aradia is the same: nudity represents truth, looking beyond social mores, and it is “a sign that a Witch’s loyalty is to the truth before any ideology or any comforting illusions.” (Starhawk).

skyclad1

Part of the importance of practicing skyclad for me also has to do with radical self love. If you can’t be comfortable in your own skin before the Goddess, when can you? I practice skyclad whenever I can, but it’s not always possible. For one thing, Massachusetts is cold six months out of the year. Also practicing in public spaces means you are unfortunately bound by social norms (and laws). But when I can, I am naked in a circle of candles, asking the Goddess to join me once again.


Meditating with a Guide

Week 26 (M): on guided meditation

Meditation was something I knew how to do before anyone taught me. I love the idea of guided meditation; it seems like a good way to keep focused on the task at hand (which hearkens back to what I was talking about with last week’s mindfulness discussion). The two videos below are the best of a variety of guided meditations I found on Youtube.

When looking for a guided meditation, I think an important part is to look for someone’s voice that you find soothing. The content of the meditation matters too, of course, but it’s important to be able to listen comfortably to them while they guide you. Otherwise you could spend the whole time distracted by how annoyed you are by their voice. I liked these two in particular, but your mileage may vary.

The first is for chakra cleansing. I plan to use it in combination with stones I bought specifically for chakra cleansing. I imagine this would be a useful meditation to do on a regular basis. I think of chakra cleansing sort of like cleaning the house: it has to get done regularly, or else I go a little nuts. I plan to use this one stretched out on my back on a yoga mat, in a quiet dark room.

The second is for deep relaxation and sleep. Sometimes I have problems with insomnia, so I’m hoping this might help. I think this could also be a nice way to relax into sleep every night, a way of delineating between waking and restful hours.

On a related note, this article on mindfulness meditation from Scientific American crossed my path this week. It’s worth a read, as it talks about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Meditation is helpful for a range of ills: insomnia, anxiety, depression, etc. Not to say that it’s a substitute for other types of treatment, but I think it’s an excellent supplement to them.


Interpreting the Old Ways

Week 18 (I): interpretation, or how to know when you’re putting modern meanings on ancient beliefs

While browsing one of the old pagan communities over on Livejournal, I came across a really excellent question (original thread here):

Some witches use traditional folk songs, stories, and legends to supplement their understanding of pre-Christian beliefs. My question is how do you prevent yourself from interpreting the material too much? How do you know that you are not projecting your bias into the material? Sometimes a wren is a bird and not the God.

In other words, how do you incorporate old material outside of the context in which it was first constructed? Full disclosure: I am not a reconstructionist* and have never been one. There are definitely other pagans who are, so I suspect their answers will be markedly different from mine.

I wouldn't do the same things within this stone circle that people would've done centuries ago

I wouldn’t do the same things within this stone circle that people would’ve done centuries ago

That said, I do use old symbols and gestures in my practice. One of my favorite songs for meditation and prayer dates back to the 1600s. But I have no illusions that I am using these things the way our ancestors did. The world is a different place, though aspects of it have remained the same. You can never step in the same river twice, but whenever you do step in it, the river is still made of moving water. While it may not be the same water that clung to your skin before, it’s still water. The elements may be the same but the details are disparate.

My interpretations of these songs, rituals, and gestures that are hundreds of years old are informed by the world in which I grew up. I am not the same witch I would be if I had been born in the 1700s, and I imagine I am not the same witch I would be had I been born in 2300. For me, context and time period matters. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate songs from past centuries, or like the way a particular form of antique ritual dancing looks. You can still use old things in your practice, but for me I see it as an homage to and appreciation of things past.

Put another way: I may dance at dawn on the summer solstice in a stone circle (fun fact: there’s actually a stone circle near my house), but I don’t think it’s the same way people danced at stone circles at dawn a thousand years ago. My dance is reminiscent, perhaps, and certainly an interpretation of their practices, but it’s a distinctly modern interpretation, not a perfect reconstruction.

* My own understanding of reconstructionist traditions is pretty basic. I’ve linked to the Wikipedia article on it, but I would love to hear from readers about where I can find more info on what reconstructionist practices look like!