Knot (or cord) magic can be employed for many different uses. The most obvious usage is for binding but it can also be used to store the essence of yourself, as a memory aid, as a store of energy or even as a visualisation aid in drawing down the moon. The possibilities are only constrained by the imagination of the witch.
The most obvious usage of knot/cord magic is for binding, the idea of incorporating knots into binding spells is a powerful one. A poppet can be sealed into a bag or pouch, their influence bound by the barrier of the bag tied with a knot. I often physically bind my poppets when I want to cast magic that will limit another person. I make a plasticine or wax figurine and wrap cord around the arms to symbolise the helplessness of the person I am binding. This can be used as aggressive magic but also for protective magic, a mother may wish to bind her child to her to ensure that child is kept safely at her side. The knots in permanent bindings can be sealed with candle wax to protect their longevity and to add a finality to the spell work.
The idea of protection can also extend to the self - many people, not just witches wear woven bracelets for protection. A cord bracelet can be woven, consecrated, endowed with protection and worn as a charm when out in the world. Herbs or flowers could be woven into the bracelet for additional protection. Some people even choose to weave the hair of their relatives or ancestors into their protective charms to draw upon the energies of those who love/loved them. This idea can extend into healing bracelets as well, with threads dipped in beneficial essential oils to assist in the healing of the wearer. (Or you could weave in a few poisons and give to an enemy...*cackle*)
Knot magic can be used to bind items to you. Some witches will bind their tools in threads infused with their own essence to personalise the relationship between themselves and their tools which are essentially an extension of their person. There is also interesting work to be done with regard to the finding of lost items where a cord is "cast out" and the knowledge of the location of the lost item "pulled" back toward the person performing the magic.
You can use cords to bind negative parts of yourself. I've done work where I have bound myself from doing things I dislike in myself and equally I have bound up parts of myself in pouches or jars as a defensive boost to my shielding. It's a shame that binding is so often shunned as being dark magic, it has so many positive uses that even those who would prefer not to use aggressive magic can happily benefit from.
After binding, the other most popular usage of knot magic seems to be the usage of the knots for storing. I like the idea of tying knots into a cord for worries and then releasing the negative energy of the worry as you overcome the problem. I've done this myself in a slightly different way by knotting each of my worries into a thread of cotton and then allowing my worries to blow away on the breeze. Other witches may burn the thread instead but the principle is the same, you store the worry inside the knot and then destroy the knot and consequently the worry.
The essence of the self can be sealed into cords for later use. Threads can be dipped in blood (or urine - don't be squicky!) to personalise them to the owner. The threads can then be used in spellwork to add additional power of the self into workings. Not only the essence of a person but the essence of the elements or the weather can be stored in cord knots. A thread dipped in natural or blessed waters may be stored to invoke the element of water in a working for example. A cord held out in a strong wind may be tied to store the power of the wind, again to be released at an appropriate moment.
Weaving is an excellent example of knot magic through the ages. Many magical practitioners would chant while weaving and weave spellwork into the fabric. Fabrics can be charmed with desirable virtues such as greater strength or compassion that will be embodied in the wearer of the garment. Some witches weave threads into a "spine" for extra courage and strength when needed. This can even be worn under the clothes as a psychological reminder of the additional strengthening energies.
Weaving doesn't have to be anything complicated. I wove a fortune wheel a couple of years ago which is a very very simple weave around four crossing pieces of wood. But my chant and my intent wove an element of luck into the charm and it now hangs in my witch room to bring me good luck. In the same way charms can be made and displayed to promoted protection or peace within the home.
Knots can be used to store your emotions. If you feel exceptional anger or despair these are excellent times to employ knot magic as the intensity of your emotion will be of use in the different workings you may choose to do. In the same way you might seal an illness into a knot and burn the thread to destroy the illness (I do this slightly differently, I store my illnesses in pebbles inside jars in case I ever want to utilise the illness for curse work, but nothing to say an illness thread wouldn't work just as well.)
Traditionally a piece of cord employed in knot magic would be three feet by three feet with the knots tied in equal sections. Again traditionally, nine knots would be tied though the colour of the cord will differ depending on the individual witch and also - if a witch chooses to use colour correspondences - she may use a colour of cord appropriate to what she is trying to achieve.
Knot magic plays a part in many everyday and special activities of the witch. Some witches choose to denote their sacred space with a cord long enough to mark out the circle. This acts as a physical marker of the magical space created by their mind and can be a useful tool in group work. Handfasting, the "Pagan marriage" is a ritual where lovers are symbolically tied together to celebrate their union. The knots seal the love between the two people.
In many a modern home, magical or not, there often hangs a dream catcher, an intricate weaving of threads designed to trap the good dreams and allow the nightmares to pass through. A dream catcher itself is essentially just another usage of knot magic.
My own take on knot magic is heading in quite a unique direction. I am currently playing with the idea of anchoring myself to the magical places where I find spiritual solace. For me it is Scarborough on the East coast of England and on my next visit I intend to find a quiet spot and anchor some knot ties to "pull" me back to the place when I feel I have been away too long and I need to be spiritually replenished. The other great interest of mine of course is my tarantulas and I look to both utilise their webbing in the work that I do and to create some webbing of my own as a piece of cohesive magic to link together the threads of my life in a positive and unified whole. So as you see, the possibilities really are as long as a piece of string.....
Bit of a change of plan this week, I was going to treat you to an article on Knot Magic (we're on K on the Pagan Blog Project) but you may have to wait until next week for that. What I want to talk about today is a bit more controversial and inspired by the slaughter of a British soldier on the street of Woolwich (UK) yesterday.
Like most of you watching the news yesterday and today, I was horrified that such an attack could take place. There is and never can be an excuse for mindless violence. My own belief, shared with many of you, is that no political agenda is weighty enough to justify the taking of a human life. Life is and should always be regarded as sacred.
However, and I'm going to be honest, what has shocked me to a far greater extent than the blood spilled on the streets of Woolwich has been the attitude of the media and the general public to the atrocity. The spewing and outpouring of racial hatred on Facebook, Twitter etc has been entirely unnecessary and, quite frankly, bloody disgusting. I am appalled to see status updates from people I once liked and respected calling for Muslims to be banned from the country (and much worse). I have for the first time ever in my life felt ashamed to be British as in the last 24 hours the British flag has popped up everywhere tainted with the stigma of racist hatred and bigotry.
I'll be even more honest – the odd murder here and there has lost its power to shock me. Acts of violence appear in the paper every day. I think I've become a little jaded by eighty year old women raped in their beds, children abused by their own parents, fathers killing their babies to revenge themselves on their spouse. I'm not saying we should accept it as everyday life because of course we shouldn't. But what I am saying is bad things happen, they happen every day. If anyone is surprised that the odd individual is capable of acts of extreme cruelty and evil then they can't have left their house much in the last ten years. Certainly they haven't read a newspaper. It never ceases to surprise me that humanity in general is so surprised by the darker side of its nature.
And I'll go one step further – I doubt the individual slaughtered soldier or indeed any self respecting soldier would wish for the onset of extreme civil unrest to avenge the death of a single individual. Our servicemen understand the principle of sacrificing life for a cause. This man who has dedicated his life to a profession which attempts to bring peace to the world will have died in cruel irony if his death only brings a racially inspired revolution to the country. Perspective, in this as with everything, is critical.
The difference with the events in Woolwich yesterday lies in the reaction to the atrocity, not the murder itself. We have a country united in grief and lashing out with bigotry and hatred to find somebody to blame. And instead of placing the blame where it very obviously belongs which is at the feet of the individual who made the choice to slaughter a serviceman, the country appears to be using this an excuse to turn on the Muslim community and embrace a self righteous holier than thou attitude to a cultural group who make up a good proportion of our community and who follow a religion predominantly associated with peace.
Now I own a copy of the Quran and I've taken the time to have a read of it. And I can tell you categorically that Islam is a peaceful religion. There is nothing in the Islamic holy texts that promotes the slaughter of the innocent. The average Muslim is no more a religious extremist than the average Christian wants to join the Westboro Baptist Church. We taint entire communities with the evil acts of a single individual at our peril and in doing so we foolishly allow bigotry to cloud our better judgement. I'm hoping, really hoping that the unprecendented level of racism I have been forced to witness in the last 24 hours is nothing but a knee jerk reaction to the horror of Woolwich and that when people calm down they will take a more balanced view and reach the understanding that the Muslims with whom we share our lives and our country present no more of a threat to the average citizen than any other demographic living in Britain today.
I'd like to think that the xenophobic idiots (do people seriously vote BNP?) spewing their hatred on social media are being ignored by the majority. Certainly it hasn't gone unnoticed that on the many Pagan sites I belong to there has been a much more tolerant view of placing the blame on the perpetrator of the crime and not attempting to tar the entire Muslim population with the accusation of terrorism. I'm hoping this is strong evidence that those spouting their hatred are very much in the minority.
(Excuse me while I spell it out to the stupid – Yes, I am most definitely talking to you people who are putting your nasty little voices on the social networks, hiding behind the grief of others to bring your bigotry forth. Just so you know exactly who I am getting at here. Every one of you who has used this crime as an excuse to promote your own bitter racist agenda should be ashamed of yourselves. You glory in being British but your attitude has nothing to do with national pride. Were I the British Government it would be you narrow minded racists I would be deporting – and fast! I'd be extremely thankful if I were you that the Degu Witch isn't the PM.)
Likely these small minded types are trying to look good and talk big. Idiots will always jump on band wagons to try and get their little voices heard. It's pretty pathetic but I suppose that ultimately as long as those shouting their hate are ignored by the rest of us, hopefully their voices will soon cease to be heard. I've still got (just) enough faith in human nature to believe there are far more decent people out there than they are racist bigots.
However, there is a darker picture that comes to my mind. This underlying level of racist hatred is exactly how Nazi Germany started. It didn't start with Hitler and the Government, despite what the history books tell you. It started with ordinary people - the likes of you and me – turning against whole sections of the community and demonising them for arbitary reasons. Nazi Germany happened because ordinary people were not strong enough to stand up for their beliefs and refuse to let people be condemned simply for being who they are. Evil flourished, as is stated in that famous quotation, because: “Good men did nothing.”
Well this isn't Germany 1939, its Britain 2013, but I'll tell you what, I'm never going to let it go down in history that I stood by and played my part in allowing innocent people to be persecuted. I refuse to be part of the silent majority who does nothing and I refuse to be afraid of giving an opinion that goes against the rubbish I am seeing on my Facebook feed today. I can't put it plainly enough, I will not be part of a society that persecutes others and I will always speak out against hatred when I find it.
And you can hold me to that.
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/520882/?forcedownload=1 (ushakov)
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
The purported link between travel and spiritual enlightenment has always interested me. I think its because over the last few years I have seen so many friends head abroad with a rucksack, a map and a vague idea that seeing other lands will have a beneficial affect on their psyche. Said friends have often tried to interest the Degu Witch in traipsing round a foreign land or two, but to be honest I've always been oddly resiliant to the idea of travel. (I went to France on a school trip once, it looked pretty similar to England to me except they ate mussels with their chips and had little models of the Eiffel Tower in all their little tobacconist shops. I didnt see much evidence of the cafe culture everyone goes on about either, but to be fair I was in Normandy not Paris, it was pretty chilly for the time of year and I was more interested in perfecting my Time Warp dance steps for the end of trip disco than in observing French culture).
The idea that travel goes hand in hand with spiritual enlightement probably comes from literature, not so much the Bill Bryson travelogue writings but the weightier fiction tomes a la Kerouac's On the Road or even more popularist literature like Alex Garland's The Beach (dramatised with the excellent Leonardo di Caprio playing the lead). Such books make travel seem a bit cool, a touch adventurous and laced with the promise of self discovery and esoteric knowledge that lie beyond the discovery of the average person sat at home watching the telly.
Anyway, influenced by literature or not, it seems to be the done thing these days for most people between the ages of 18 and 40 to pack that old backpack and set off to experience life. This is how they put it, their words not mine - Its one of three stock answers I get when I ask people what they hope to achieve from their travel: 1. Experience life, 2. Broaden the mind, 3. Find themselves.
All this baffles me a bit. Last time I looked, there were signs of life pretty much everywhere. From the mountains of the Himalayas to a concrete housing estate in Hull, life can be found quite easily. One wonders why it is necessary to trog all over the world to find something that is without a doubt on your own doorstep...?
But they don't mean experience life, they mean experience different cultures....which is a different thing altogether. Assuming our intrepid travellers don't do what most travellers do (if they are honest) and head straight for the local McDonalds as soon the plane touches down on foreign soil, chances are they will have a real opportunity to learn about lifestyles and cultures that differ to their own. From an educational point of view, no doubt experiencing other cultures, languages, cuisines and beliefs is fascinating. However, doing it under the premise that you are experiencing life is extraordinary. You'll find just as much life on that council estate in Hull, life doesn't become any the more interesting or real just because the scenery is prettier.
The whole broaden your mind thing gets me as well. I've watched some of the stupidest people known to man trot off diligently to the likes of Machu Picchu (You know the type, wouldn't know their Incas from their Aztecs...) with the expectation that staring at a few ruins they know nothing about will miraculously sprout a spark or two of wisdom into their heads.
Frankly, the travel will be of little benefit to their sadly underused minds. They'd do better spending a week under the duvet with the Boy's Big Book of Knowledge. Leaving your own country may well give you some knowledge (I learned how to order a ham sandwich in French on that long ago school trip to France) but it will teach you nothing that you can't find in books. For the person who truly wants to learn, being country bound, home bound, even bed bound is no barrier. You can travel the world in books, understand the great minds and even view the breathtaking views of continents and worlds alien to our own. Granted, those lacking imagination may well be unable to appreciate some of these things without going there for themselves, but that doesn't mean they are broadening their minds, it is merely an indication that they have a heavier reliance on their five primary senses.
When people tell me they travel to "find themselves," I find it hard not to laugh (actually, being a bit of a bitch, I don't try very hard, I just laugh.) The whole concept of needing to travel the world to find yourself is an entirely ludicrous one to my mind. It's procrastination from putting in the real work to find yourself and its far more about escaping from than journeying to. The you, that centre of your being that we all search for so desperately is not waiting for you in the sunny climes of some far away land, it is right with you in the here and now. When you travel, you know yourself only in isolation, it can teach no lesson about how you relate to the environment that you have created, the relationships you have formed, the life that you have chosen to lead. Seeking a glimmer of spiritual enlightenment in a world entirely divorced from your own is a redundant undertaking.
I often find the attitude of seasoned travellers to be a little sanctimonious and it irritates me because they entirely miss the point and the value in what they are doing. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking travel, I think there is a lot to be gained from seeing the world, but what I do dispute is the claim that travel is a necessary step to a form of spiritual enlightement. The attitude that having a few more stamps in their passport entitles them to a lofty claim to any kind of spiritual advancement is laughable at best. Though there is a kinder side of me that pities them a bit for needing to spend all that money to do achieve something that I can achieve at home with a quiet room and a 20p stick of incense.
In my opinion, travel is a bit like drugs, it probably can play a part in unlocking the inner you but to be honest, anyone worth their salt doesn't need to rely on it. If you absolutely cannot engage with your inner self any other way than to go climb foreign mountains and look at ancient ruins then knock yourself and your passport out. But don't make the assumption that what you are doing is necessary for everyone. Spirituality is the journey into the mind, not the journey across the world and many people (myself and many other witches included) can make that journey perfectly successfully in our own armchairs. If you don't understand that the journey into your own mind is the hardest and most rewarding journey you can ever hope to make then I am afraid I can teach you nothing.
The real secret of knowing yourself is to journey as deeply inward as possible. It's about understanding the detail, not the scale, it's about seeking out the elements of your world that matter and learning how to weave them into the tapestry of your life. Its about having the courage to sink deep inside your own mind, to wade through each carefully constructed layer of self preservation and knowing you have the strength to confront whatever lies at the bottom of your own pit of fears. No scenery, no drama, no grandeur, just that long honest journey inward.
Two minutes walk from me is a corn field, I walk there, I ground there, I lie on the earth, I look at the stars, I've danced in the morning dew and I've watched the bats at twilight. I've played in the snow, picked flowers and brambles and had the occasional private cry away from prying eyes. I probably do most weeks what most people do when they travel, only I've made it a part of who I am. I don't need to cross the world to engage with nature or my emotions, I've learned to look deep inside and reached an understanding how I fit into my world. I found spiritual enlightenment only minutes from my door and in doing so, I've taken that journey to the only place that really matters.
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1246908 (deberinger5)
May 1st sees the Pagan wheel of the year turning to Beltane. Beltane is the best known of the three Pagan fire festivals (the others being Imbolc and Ostara) and is termed a cross quarter day, marking the midpoint between days and nights of equal length (Ostara) and the longest day of the year (Litha).
Beltane is considered by many Pagans to be the first day of the Summer. The symbolism of the growing strength of the Sun is echoed in the festival’s link to fertility and growth.
Traditional elements of fertility have become incorporated over the years into general culture with the phallic symbol of the Maypole remaining a particularly popular May Day ritual in many communities today.
The fertility of this festival is linked to the development of the God and Goddess on their journey around the wheel of the year. At Beltane the God has reached maturity and becomes the lover of the Goddess. It is their union that gives birth to the summer.
Beltane reminds Pagans of their links with the world of magic and is believed to be the day of the year when the veil between the world and the world of faery is at its thinnest.
The tradition of annual well dressings (still very much in evidence in Derbyshire where I live) was originally intended as an offering to the spirits, faeries and deities of the otherworld.
Beltane is an excellent times for the start of magical workings which will come to fruition as the wheel of the year continues to turn. Many Pagans, Wiccans and Witches will also use this festival to communicate with the otherworld and ask for guidance and support in the coming year ahead.
Beltane is closely associated with fire, the significance of the flames being for cleansing and purification but also for the increase of fertility. The fire represents the awakening of passions, energies and desires. Fire plays a key element in most Beltane ceremonies, notably in the ritual of “jumping the bonfire.” Jumping over the bonfire is a ritual designed to bring luck and happiness for the year ahead. (I suggest you don’t do it in your long robes though…)
Beltane is a time to look toward the coming months and decide where your passions, priorites and energies will be invested. Its a time to make plans, to stop procrastinating and to get out there and do it!
Image http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=1215451 (kasseckert)
“Bring out the best and the worst you can be…”
I write a lot about the positives of being a witch and following a magical path. But sometimes I wonder if I come across as being a bit biased about the upside of witchcraft. I think its important to be balanced when representing anything, particularly something as fundamental as a religion or spiritual way of life. So I’m devoting my spare time this week to telling you a bit about the downside of being a witch.
Nobody sums it up better than the singer Billy Joel (who no doubt was talking about something else entirely….) with the phrase: “Brings out the best and the worst you can be…” Becoming a witch forces you to confront which parts of yourself are compatible with the path you have chosen to take and which are going to go by the wayside. The parts that remain after the culling of your old self are distilled into a more extreme version of who you were. Witchcraft gives you the confidence to be you, right down to your essence. This is not necessarily always a good thing...
I came to witchcraft several years ago from a fatalistic sense of ennui. I wanted more… actually I wanted a great deal more than my life at the time was giving me. I wanted to awaken those parts of me that had lain dormant through those interminably conformist years of my twenties. I wanted control, power and self actualisation. Particularly the self actualisation (actually, probably if I'm honest, particularly the power!). I deeply longed for the freedom to be unconstrained by the image of what people believed I should be.
And so, after brief flirtations with other religions and other paths, I started to study and practise witchcraft. And the more I studied, the more I felt my personality start to change and morph into quite a different person. And I’ll admit, not all the changes were for the better….
I used to be a living in the detail kind of person. The type who always had a tidy house and a clean kitchen. But the more I became absorbed into the mysteries of the unknown, the more I started to question whether it mattered if I had a few coffee cups dotted about my kitchen. And what exactly in the point in cleaning a bathroom on Tuesday? You only have to do it again on Friday…. Why bother? I went from slightly neurotic to completely devil may care. It annoys the hell out of my husband. I’m kind of the opposite of the OCD sufferer. Nothing really matters. I can talk myself out of anything worrying me. But the downside is that neither am I the organised and motivated person I once was. Most of the time I just can’t be bothered…. My own place in the universe is so staggeringly unimportant that I don’t think the state of my kitchen surfaces has any significance on the cosmic scale. (I can almost hear my husband grinding his teeth….lol.)
This casual recklessness was really a side effect of spending too much time thinking about philosophy. When you broaden your mind to take in some of the bigger concepts, it becomes very hard to focus it right back in to the little pin prick that is day to day reality. It is difficult to concentrate on what you want for dinner next Tuesday when your mind is off in the clouds, floating around merrily and thinking its own abstract thoughts. And I think there is also a certain degree of recklessness in the sense that: a) It doesn’t really matter what happens any more, I’ve got the power to put it right and: b) It doesn’t really matter what happens any more, I’ve got the spiritual strength to deal with it if it does.
Which brings me nicely to arrogance. If you asked my close friends and family the single most annoying change in my personality over the last five years it would be arrogance. I struggle very hard not to be arrogant but it is unfortunately a very intrinsic part of my personality. I’m not completely sure why. It doesn’t stem from any rational reasoning. I’m not particularly beautiful or clever or talented. I am however very good at my workings in the craft, so perhaps my success in this area spurred on the arrogance a bit. But arrogance is very typical of a lot of witches (most in my own opinion). Once you start to have the power to influence yourself and the world around you, there is a very natural reaction in that you start to feel a little invincible, a touch less vulnerable to the fates than others. It isn’t a nice characteristic. My husband called me “smug,” the other day and he’s right. But is a hard personality trait to shake off. The absolute best witches, the really wise ones have learned to embrace their own humility. For many of us lesser gifted souls, every day is an upward struggle not to let that self adoring little quirk have too much head space.
When I first started studying witchcraft I kept it quiet for a long time at first. I disliked the idea of being judged or stereotyped for my beliefs or my practises. But gradually, I inched my way out of the broom closet and I’m now pretty open with most people. But one of the things I found difficult was where to stop sharing information. I had expanded my own boundaries with my study, my numerous personal contacts in the witch world, forums, Twitter witches etc. And many things in this new world were a lot more socially acceptable than outside it. And I completely failed to understand where the boundary should be drawn. The look of horror on the face of a colleague when I told her I had spent the weekend boiling a dead badger…. the innocent request that someone keep a look out for roadkill…I asked a friend the other day for some menstrual blood to fertilise my plants and she looked at me like I had gone out. What is perfectly normal for witches can often be offensive and even frightening in non witch based communities. And the confusion it has left me with has been a real downside of crossing over for me. I’ve even lost a few friends. Not close ones but on the fringe conservative types. Shame in a way, I suppose.
But the single biggest hurdle for me in the personality change that followed my crossing over was my embrace of the nastier side of my personality. I have always seen myself as being quite a nice person, indeed quite a tolerant and moderate soul. But the more I explored my real self and got to know what monsters lurked in my basement, the more I realised that part of me is actually quite a bitch. And not just a bitch but a self seeking, self serving, slightly vengeful bitch. Hard to come to terms with in all honesty. But like I say, being a witch forces you to seek out all parts of yourself. You can’t work magic with only half your intent and you can’t actualise your intent without knowing yourself. So while becoming a witch did not make me malicious, it forced me to acknowledge the hidden parts of myself that were already there. And I was more than a little shocked to uncover quite so much enthusiasm for cursing….
So crossing over shouldn’t be taken lightly. I’ll be tackling some of these issues into my fifties. Becoming a witch didn’t just change me, it changed my own perception of me and shook the bedrock of the person I believed I was. Not that I’d do it again any differently…but be advised, it isn’t all as sunshine and roses as some witches would have you believe.
A mate of mine asked me recently why I practise as a solitary and why I’ve never shown any interest in joining or starting up a local coven. I gave him my usual spiel about preferring to work on my own, but then I got to thinking about why solitary practise at this stage in my life works best for me.
The trouble with covens is that, as with any other hierarchial structure, there has to be a certain amount of power exchange. So essentially you have to choose whether you want to be a leader or a follower and either join an established coven or be instrumental in founding your own. If you go with joining a coven that is already established, you face the inevitable problem about having to compromise something about the way you work to fit in with the others. To some people that may be a worthwhile trade off. There are real benefits to being in a coven - shared experience, like minded people, calling upon the power of group energy…. But to other people, and I count myself among them, the thought of having to adapt the way I work to suit others does nothing for me. And I dislike the idea of being told I have to turn up every second Tuesday just because that is when the coven meets. Ironically I am actually very structured in the way I do practise – I complete formal ritual work every Sunday night and very rarely move it. But sometimes (usually when I’m hopelessly caught up in writing one of my novels) I’m just not in the mood and I move it to another night. I like the fact that I can do my magical work when it suits me. Same with the moon phases. Some periods I’m very aware of the moon and follow it through its phases. Other times I lose track of what the moon is doing. So it follows that some Esbats mean more to me than others. I don’t always acknowledge them. Same with the Sabbats actually. I’m very connected to Imbolc but Litha isn’t a big thing for me and nor is Beltane (because it always – literally - rains on my bonfire).
So joining a coven isn’t really for me, but of course the problems of compromising only really exist if you are a member rather than a founder of the coven. However the thought of founding my own coven is a daunting one. The abilities required to be a spiritual leader are very different to the attributes needed to be an authority figure in any other walk of life.
The way I see it, in general, figures of authority fall into one of three clear categories. Teachers are normally, (not Mr Duffett at my old school, lol) patient and articulate. Managers are structured and organised and leaders are charismatic and inspirational. None of these fit the mould of the coven founder. Spiritual teaching is not about the giving of knowledge, it is about the drawing out of skills and attributes that are already there. A coven leader who sought only to place knowledge in the minds of others would never bring her coven to realise its potential. Management is a pretty useless tool for the coven leader as well. As you are dealing with people who want to be where they are, have a vested interest in what they are doing and have demonstrated enough ability to be in the coven anyway, it is unlikely that they will need all that much managing. Leadership skills are probably the most useful but it is so very easy to cross the land from charismatic leadership to the cult of the individual personality and at that juncture spiritual direction becomes worse than useless.
All this is quite good news for me. I’d be the worst teacher in the world – no patience and no real interest in helping others learn. I’m a rubbish manager, far too much of a soft touch and I tend to let people just drift off and do their own thing. Nor do I have the charisma of a natural leader. Which of course begs the question, if I don’t fit into the conventional mould of the authority figure, could I have what it takes to found my own coven?
Well actually no. At least not yet. I’m still at that stage in my life where I haven’t learned enough humility to guide an entire group of others. I’m still arrogant and judgemental. I’m learning not to be but I still like to think I know best and until that arrogance has been knocked out of me, I’d be in danger of manipulating the group to suit my needs and not theirs. A coven founder needs to be a good deal more selfless than I am. I’ve said before – humility is one of the most important tools of the witch. It is only when you really understand your total and utter unimportance that you should even begin to think about taking on responsibility for others.
I’m also too young. To be honest I think being in your thirties is too young for most witches to found a coven (not all, some younger witches do it very successfully). I would not be at all surprised if founding a coven is something I come to in my forties. I can already see me starting to head that way with my website, the spiritual direction I undertake and something tells me that my first proper apprentice is starting to make herself known….But I’m rather enjoying life at the moment. Running a coven would be hard work and take up a lot of my free time. My poor husband barely sees me as it is. And I’m still far too inclined to step completely out of the real world and live in my novel for a few weeks. That would be unfair on the witches who would look to me for direction.
So I’m going to cruise the rest of my thirties and enjoy the remainder of my selfish years. No doubt my experience in teaching and directing will grow as the opportunities continue to present themselves. And one day when I’m suitably humble, a little more experienced and perhaps a little less inclined to silliness, I’ll give founding my own coven some very serious consideration.
So I’m not saying never, just not yet...
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1174069 (Svilen001)
I’ve always prided myself on not having any “isms…” And by that I mean that I tend to approach people I meet as individuals rather than a representation of their age, sex, class, race or religion. This is probably because I’d rather be judged as an individual myself. There is nothing that would annoy me more than somebody saying – well you would think like that - all dumpy, white, middle aged, middle class witches think like that. Grrrr!
But upon a bit of further thought, I’ve come to wonder if the whole “ism” thing is a bit reactionary. We’ve become so bogged down with the negatives associated with discrimination in our culture that we no longer dare admit that some of those stereotypes exist for a reason. And I’m not so sure that we can forget stereotypes entirely just so we don’t offend the sensibilities of the easy to offend individual. Take my husband for example. I married an Irish man. And I think you’d know it if you met him. Not just to look at him, but his easy going laid back manner that is so characteristic of the Irish (lol, well he was before he met me…), his propensity to drink spirits and his astonishingly hot temper when you finally push him to the end of his tether….
Now I use the word stereotype in italics deliberately – because to me a stereotype is borne from people in a definable group sharing a common characteristic. It doesn’t mean that everybody in that group shares the same characteristic, it just implies that a fair few of them do. So I cannot legitimately make a claim that all Irish men like a whisky or two,
(any teetotal Irish man could shoot down such an argument with one flick of his orange juice…) but I certainly can comment that my husband, is in general, typical of the Irish because he’s more than fond of his single malt.
And this kind of thinking can be seen in any “ism” today. We can’t assume all gay men listen to Kylie Minogue, all Indian people are hard working, all old people are uncomfortable with modern technology and no women can read a map. What we can be confident of is that enough people in each of these groups meet the criteria for this to become a commonly perceived trend.
The problems and the social issues with “isms” come when you take a general characteristic and apply it to an individual. “You must be xxx because you are yyy.” The insult behind racist/sexist/ageist behaviour is the assumption that the person is not an individual, that they are just behaving in a manner indicative of their “type.” The insult is the assumption, not the characteristic itself. And this seems to confuse a lot of people. The confusion comes in particular with positive assumptions. It is just as racist to say “All black people sing well,” as it is to say “No black people sing well.” To make either statement is to remove the concept of individuality from an individual and to reduce the individual to a stereotype of their race. The non racist way to behave is to treat the person on their own merits. Some people can sing, some can’t. The one thing you can guarantee is you can’t work it out by the colour of their skin. Try asking them to sing….
But the misconceptions of the “isms” works the other way too. We have started to become fearful of expressing comments about entire countries or communities in case somebody accuses us of racist behaviour. But if we agree that stereotypes exist for a reason then I don’t have a problem with expressing an opinion based on a common trait of an identifiable group of people. A statement like “The French eat horse,” isn’t racist. It’s a comment. Its true of a lot of French people. It probably isn’t true of some of them, but as a communal collective, the French do eat horse.
I personally dislike the fur trade in China, the bull fighting in Spain, the whole nuclear weapon hoohah in Korea and the attitude of the super healthy in California. But that doesn’t make me a racist. If I met a Spaniard, I wouldn’t accuse him of spending his evenings taunting the local bulls. I wouldn’t assume. (OK if he told me he was a bull murdering bastard, that’s a different story, I’d probably give him a good slap, but my point is that I would treat him exactly the same as I would anybody else. I would respect his right to be an individual and to have beliefs and personality traits that don’t fit into the stereotypical characteristics of his race.)
I do believe in stereotypes, some negative, some positive. I think some cultures have got things seriously wrong. Others are so alien to my own way of thinking that I can’t understand them at all. I’m happy to express a positive opinion (I personally find most Polish women attractive) or a negative opinion (Most old people walk so slowly they annoy me…) and I don’t consider myself bigoted for doing so. Because as long as I continue to treat everyone I meet as a blank slate and I’m willing to take them at face value as who they are without preconception, then I think I’m doing ok avoiding the “isms.” And my advice to you is to do the same. People are so much more than the stereotypes would allow you to believe.
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1380778 (rojijaune)
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