Lammas (sometimes called Lughnasadh is the first of the three harvest festivals, the second being Mabon and the final harvest festival Samhain, more commonly known as Halloween. Lammas, celebrated 1 August is a cross quarter day, the midpoint between the longest day of the year (Litha Midsummer) and days and nights being of equal length (Mabon).
Lammas (translated from “loaf mass”) marks the gathering of the first of the year's crops and celebrates the bringing in of the first harvest. Traditionally it would be a chance to look ahead to the Winter months and see what supplies could be harvested to sustain families over the cold half of the year. For the modern pagan it is an opportunity to take stock of your life, to see what you have reaped from the seeds of intent planted and nourished from the year so far. It is a time to evaluate and to make any changes needed to survive the harder months ahead.
Lammas is a time of plentiful abundance and revelling in nature's bounty. As such, this particular sabbat is associated with feasting and crafting. There is an emphasis on using what the earth has given us to celebrate. Baking bread is a popular activity of choice, particularly as the corn and wheat crops are among the first to be harvested and time nicely with Lammas celebrations. As with all the harvest festivals there is a focus on giving to those less well off and many Pagans will acknowledge Lammas with donations of money or food to charities.
Witches and Pagans may well make a corn dolly from the reaping of the corn harvests. The spirit of the corn is represented by the doll and then released by burning at Imbolc the following year to ensure another good harvest. The corn dolly is also used to represent the transition of the Goddess from maiden to mother to crone. The seeds of this year's harvest will be the bearer of next year's crops. In this way, the Goddess is preparing herself and the earth for rebirth. At Lammas the corn dolly represents the Goddess in all her aspects as one cycle of life ends, creating another.
Lammas marks the turning of the power of the Sun God who reached the height of his powers at Midsummer. His fires are now fading as he sacrifices his powers at the culling of the corn. His powers will now continue to fade until death at Samhain, to be reborn at Yule as the wheel turns back from the longest night into lighter times.
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1397776 (amalrik)
One of the most common questions I get asked on “Ask a witch a question” is concerned with using a ouija board. It seems that use of a ouija board still hasn't shrugged off its stigma and the popularly supposed association with evil. However, such a stigma doesn't allow for the fact that it remains one of the more widely used tools of the modern witch and often plays a key role in her connection with the spirit world.
I'm assuming my readers are either witches themselves or seriously interested in the practise of witchcraft and/or the occult. Should you be neither, there are a great many articles on the internet talking about the dangers of ouija boards and the safest way to use them. I believe I've even written a post along those lines myself (previous ouija board post)
I'm not so bothered about rehashing all the safety advice, I'll just reiterate the point I usually make which is if you approach the ouija board as a tool, it will work for you, if you cannot approach it without bringing myth and superstitious conjecture into your workings with it, leave it well alone. What I'm more interested in today is how a witch can use a board to enhance her relationship with spirits and why, if at all, she would choose to do so.
So first of all, what is a ouija board. Well, it largely depends on your beliefs. A scientist psychologist type of person will tell you it is a load of hogwash where the beliefs of the stronger in a group are imposed on the weaker, the Parker brothers who marketed it to sell in toy shops would tell you it is a game and many new age practitioners would tell you it is a portal to the spirit world.
At its simplest level, a ouija board is a board/piece of paper/intricate carved and hand painted surface (take your pick) with the alphabet, the numbers 0-9 and usually the words yes and no written on it. The board is used by either a single individual or a group by means of a small pointer (known as a planchette) moved around the board to indicate specific letters and spell out meanings. The idea is that the spirits will either move the planchette themselves or inspire the individuals to move it to spell out the message they want to send.
The ouija board is an enabler for access to the other world, the domain of the spirits. This is different to saying it is a portal as such a description invests the board with a good deal more power than it actually has. The key element of spirit work is not the tool you choose to use for it, it is the person doing the contacting or the summoning. I sleep next to my ouija board, trust me that thing isn't open to the other world at all times. However when I choose to use it as a means of contacting spirits, it enables me to do so. The point I make is that I, not the board have the power.
A witch may choose to use a ouija board to communicate with her ancestors. It is usually accepted among most users of a board that you should have a specific purpose or individual who has passed over that you wish to contact. For a witch who works with the spirits of her ancestors, a board can be another way of learning from them and of keeping the tradition of a family line alive. As with non witches there can also be a certain comfort in speaking to those who have passed over although such a connection is usually fleeting as rested spirits will move beyond an association with the living.
A witch may use a ouija board for guidance in her craft, she may seek to contact those who have influenced her beliefs and/or to seek guidance from those with more experience. Again, she would have a good idea upon whom she is calling and a valid reason for doing so Few credible witches will bother the spirit world for no reason, it is seen as disrespectful and a waste of time for all concerned. Its also important to take with a big pinch of salt any information you are given. Just because you are told something by a spirit doesn't make it any more or less true than if you are told something by anybody else. This is one of the key differences between a witch who uses a board and a casual player. A witch will consider the advice given, think about it, use what is relevant and discard what is not. The danger for the casual user is the tendancy to take everything the board says as “truth.” Such a naievity is practically begging for a little spiritual manipulation...
Less commonly a witch may use a board as a summoning tool and encourage spirits to use the board as a portal to transition across from the spirit world. This is where the idea of demonic infliltration comes from. Its important to remember that spirits are entirely different entities to demons (and some witches don't even believe in demons). Belief will differ as to whether the use of a board can actually invite possession. Certainly there can be no doubt that people believe they have been possessed by spirits that have crossed over using a ouija board. This is one area where the red alarms start flashing, one thing to communicate, another to...invite. Its a rarer use of the board and for obvious reasons.
What a witch is very unlikely to do is open up a board and fish around for any old spirit who wants to make contact. There is little value in such a connection. As I have said before, the spirits most attracted to making contact are usually the lower level entities from whom you can gain little knowledge or understanding. Such spirits will also pick up on the inexperience of a user and may even enjoy taunting them. Its no accident that many ouija boards love to predict doom, catastrophe and death. Its highly unlikely they predict with any foresight of course but the mischievious spirits seem to have worked out its a good way of upsetting people.
There seems to be an assumption in popular culture that all spirits are negative. This is at odds with the new age way of thinking that all spirits are fluffy and lovely. The truth is of course that spirits can be either. If we think of a spirit as the essence of a person who has departed this earth, we have no reason to suppose that the essence has changed much. If they were a horrible person in life, chance are they still are in death and vice versa. The key thing for a ouija board user is to have no prior assumptions but to have an ability to recognise evil should he/she encounter it. But the idea that boards should be avoided because any connection with the spirit world is negative is laughable at best.
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/75269 (zaido)
The whole concept of how much to share with other people is a subject close to my heart and one that I have been thinking about a lot recently. Witchcraft has, throughout history, been a relatively secret practise and although in the modern age more of us are willing to speak out about what it is that we do, opinions still differ as to what extent specific practises and personal details should be shared. It’s a tough decision to make when deciding just how much you want to open yourself up to others.
We witches often talk about hiding ourselves in full view, wrapping ourselves if you like in an invisibility cloak of day to day normality. You wouldn’t know I’m a witch from my day job, my everyday conversations or the way I interact with friends and family. I cloak my thoughts and the magic I work under a thin layer of convention. But interestingly enough, the more I open up about what I am, the more private I become with regard to what I do. I’m happy for people to know I’m a witch because it doesn’t threaten me at all for them to know it. Most people are fairly dismissive of such a label anyway and lack any depth of understanding as to what being a witch really means. But as for what I do - the details of the intricate way I weave magic and belief into my life - I just don’t feel comfortable sharing that with others, particularly others with dissimilar beliefs to my own. They don’t need to know and I don’t need them to know.
Essentially I suppose what I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter what others think and believe about what it is that I do. An experienced witch looks only to herself for validation. I would consider myself a poor witch if I needed to be thought well of by others to justify what I do in my own personal workings. It follows therefore that I don’t need to be transparent about what I do and the powers I work with, it is enough for me to know what I do and that I do it well. There’s an obvious arrogance here but I prefer to think of it more as a self reliance, the lack of need to share because I’m content with who I am. In truth I’m not keen on all this heart on the sleeve, inner most thoughts out and displayed to the public business. I suspect a lot of it is because people are seeking approval for the fundamental nature of their true selves and such a thought appals me. You’ll never see my innermost thoughts on the internet because I seek approval from nobody but myself.
Speaking personally, I am a bit of a dichotomy. I’m more than happy to identify as a witch and to share with most of my friends, family, work colleagues and acquaintances the concept of what it is that I do. However, I am reluctant to share the detail. Beyond the written word I find it quite difficult to communicate with other people and to express any part of me beyond the superficial. My mind is my own and for me solitary witchcraft is just that, solitary. I am perhaps more fortunate than most in that as a novelist I have a cast iron excuse to remove me from any social situation at a moment’s notice. And if occasionally “writing the novel” has become shorthand for manipulating the world around me then perhaps I am more comfortable with that than I would be sharing my workings to a more personal degree.
Despite the fact that I believe my craft to be a private undertaking between myself and the Gods, my inability to share the essence of what I think and believe with others does on occasion frustrate me. In shying away from sharing the more thoughtful side of my personality I often across as a bit silly and I can’t tell you how much this annoys me. But whether I like it or not, being a witch has separated me from other people. People find it hard to understand why I do the things I do and I don’t understand their fascination with the mundane. (You don’t change the world by watching television!) I do come in for a fair bit of criticism for perpetually having my head in the clouds but in honesty, for a witch, that’s the only place for your head to be.
However it can be hard to watch the distance expand between yourself and others, especially when you know you’ve come far enough to never be able to turn back. Once a witch has achieved a certain degree of self actualisation there is nothing in the world that will force her to turn her life back over to the mundane. I would rather lose everything and everyone in my life than turn the clock back to a time when I didn’t have the abilities I have today. And if the price I must pay for that is that other people no longer find me easy to understand and I no longer find them easy to understand then sadly that is how it must be.
The loneliness of a craft path can be difficult for all concerned. I don’t mean in respect of lack of other people, but with regard to the expanding distance from them. I speak to many witches who feel trapped in their own heads and at times I can identify with this. My mind is filled with thoughts and sensations that simply don’t translate to the world around me. I’m as erudite a witch as they come but even I don’t have the language to express my thoughts and bring other people into the world I have created for myself. And unfortunately the more I become involved with the intricacities of my craft, the more this void widens. A witch learns to rely on herself for support, to find solace not in the company of others but within her own head. It is perhaps unsurprising that eventually company comes to mean less to her than it once did. Speaking personally and with that rare touch of Degu Witch honesty, I have found that the harder it becomes to express myself, the more I choose to shut myself off from other people, both emotionally and physically. The effort of constant explanation is just too great, it is easier to present a simplistic façade and live an alternative mental reality “behind the scenes.” If you imagine trying to express complex thoughts using only your GCSE French you might get an idea of what I am talking about. Sadly, loneliness is, for many, the price you pay for the powers you command as a witch.
A word of caution from a friendly witch - too often “different” is implied to mean “better” and this isn’t the case. Being a witch does make you different to other people, there’s no two ways about it - being a witch does separate you from non witches and makes it harder for you to relate to the world but that doesn’t mean a witch is living a life of any more value than anybody else. Beware of widening that gap further with the implication that you see yourself on a higher plane to the rest of the world…
The thing with the word “witch” is that people use their own misconceptions and beliefs to interpret it as they wish. Openly identifying yourself as a witch is giving little, if nothing of yourself away. It doesn’t matter what label you choose to term yourself, a witch can wear a huge placard saying “witch” and still hide who she is and what she does from everyone who knows her. No matter what she chooses to share, the true essence of a witch is to keep most of herself locked away on the inside.
Image http://browse.deviantart.com/art/Witch-fragment-78757278 (Katjafaith). Lol - image sadly NOT of the Degu Witch :(
The term “New Age” is a pretty all encompassing definition for any religion/path/movement that falls outside a traditionally established religious structure. That’s a broad definition and a bit of an over generalisation but I’m using it for my purpose today in exploring why Paganism, Wicca, Witchcraft, Druidism etc. have experienced such a popular revival in recent years and why the traditional churches are fast losing their congregations.
Christianity has been the predominant religion of the Western world since well before the Middle Ages, it was the primary religion of the late Roman Empire (adopted circa 4 BC) and to date is the world’s largest religion (beating the second largest - Islam by approx 0.5 billion adherants).The Christian religion is based on the books of both the Old and the New Testament of the Bible with particular emphasis on the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. (Christ, incidentally, whether you believe him to be the son of God or not indisputedly existed. History confirms that there was a Jesus of Nazareth, it’s the virgin birth bit that historians debate).
The twentieth century saw a change in the fortunes of Christianity. Churches that had once been packed to the brim with eager worshippers started to empty. Conventional religion started to lose its impact for the masses and in its place an alternative religious wave began to emerge, replacing traditional dogma with freedom of spirituality and giving people a chance and a choice to make up their own minds as to what role (if any) religious belief would play in their lives.
When we speculate about why Christianity is no longer as popular as it once was, there are many factors to consider. Crucially and certainly in my opinion, the Christian church has failed to move with the times. We live in a world of scientific discovery and any religion wishing to retain its believers needs to learn to move with the times. It is simply not logical to follow a faith that denies something as basic as Evolution (not all Christians deny this by the way..). It switches people off. And it makes people question the fundamental beliefs of the religion, if you can be so wrong about one thing, chances are you might be wrong about a whole lot more and that makes the foundations of religious belief rather shaky and not necessarily all that attractive to follow.
Christianity (Catholicism in particular) is also mired down in the morals of yesterday. In a world with the health concerns of HIV and hepatitus or the economic concerns of unwanted children, it is simply not reasonable not to approve contraception. This failure to move with the times makes it difficult for those in the modern world to adhere to the strict commandments of the faith. And gradually they start to drift away from the church...
Christianity is a very morally dogmatic religion. And in a world of permissive cultures it is hard to find the meaning in some of the more archaic concepts such as homosexuality is a sin, witchcraft is evil etc. Such moral imperatives are divisive and force people to break away from the church if they are to live their life in a way that makes them happy. It is hardly surprising that huge groups of people, unwilling to think their natural inclinations are bad or evil are moving from the church and turning to less judgemental faiths. As long as the church continues to uphold anachronistic moral imperatives, it will continue to flounder in the modern age. People want to think for themselves and any church who refuses to let them do so is doomed to a long lingering death. In denying the principle of live and let live, the church is closing its doors to huge sections of the community.
The shift in the cultural paradigm is particularly interesting in relation to Wicca and Goddess worship. Historically we have lived in a male governed society but in the modern age women have finally achieved the equality they have always sought. Again, Christianity is preaching values that modern people find hard to identify with. A patriarchal God is no longer a valid figure for the time we live in. Should we be surprised that worship of a dual male/female deity is more popular than it ever has been? Is overcoming the inherent sexism in religion the last hurdle to achieving equality between the sexes?
Modern lifestyles have also played their part in reducing the appeal of worship in a structured environment. People lead busy lives, many for example work on Sundays when Christian churches typically choose to meet. It is no longer as easy as it was in times gone by to make the time to join a congregation for worship. People are moving from group worship to individual worship which fits in better with the life they lead. And as they move from the formal structure of worship, the Christian church loses the opportunity to preach to these people and gradually they seek religions or spiritual paths that better fit with their needs.
The focus on individuality is a massive cultural shift since the latter half of the twentieth century. The concept of the individual has become for the first time greater than that of the community. We are concerned with individual needs and values and consequently the validity of beliefs is no longer confirmed by group consensus but by individual belief. As such, people are looking less for an absolute one size fits all morality and more for a unique morality that fits what they personally believe as an individual. Christiantiy fails to cater for these people. It remains fixated on an absolute morality and refuses admittance to those who cannot believe it. This turns off the people who want to think for themselves and they refuse to subsume their own beliefs to join the Christian church. It is perhaps unsurprising that they choose to practise their personal faith in a way that does not require them to compromise their own views on morality.
Incidentally, morality is also a concern for the Christian church in that it retains a slightly prudish view on all things sexual. As society develops, the cultural ideal of what is morally acceptable also changes. Definitions change, in the modern world, the definitions of sexual identity have blurred, we are no longer limited to heterosexual men and women, we have transsexuals, pansexuals, polytheists, cissexual, gender neutral, hetero/homo/bisexuals and even neutrois (identification with no gender). My point being that a modern religion needs to acknowledge this. Sex, sexually permissive behaviour, sexual non conformity and gender fluidity are all still viewed as a sin and this just doesn’t reflect the thinking of individuals in a modern world. Sex has lost its power to shock with the only remaining exception being that of the traditional church. So people seek out alternatives, Neo Pagan paths in the main welcome and honour sexuality. (We witches are quite hot on the old Great rite as well.) Sex isn’t dirty and forbidden, it’s embraced as part of who we are, as both a physical pleasure and even as a spiritual release.
Just as individuality plays a bigger part today in our relationship with religion, it also has a bigger role to play in the relationships we have with our deities. Traditional religion has usually involved the idea of intercession, a priest or holy figure standing between the lay man and his God. As we focus ourselves more inwardly, the question of whether that intercession is still needed today arises. When the hierarchy of the church's religious figures is put to one side, can each individual not approach the God/s on his own and for himself? Is there anything to be gained by going through a third party? In some ways the rejection of Christianity is not a rejection of God him/herself as an entity but a rejection of the convoluted way God has traditionally been approached. Paradoxically by turning away from organised religion and finding that one on one connection with the deities, those who choose to do so are often not turning from God but finding a new way to worship more intimately. One could argue that the direct spirituality of the new age religions marks a straighter way to the deities than the indirect ambling of the Christian church.
Education has also played its part in the dwindling numbers of the Christian church. There used to be a time when only the elite educated read the bible and interpreted it for the masses. Now every person who wants to read it for themselves can, leading to a much more varied wealth of interpretation (some of it entirely nonsensical and I’m thinking specifically of the Westboro Baptist Church with their silly little crusade against the gays and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who would rather let their children die than give them blood transfusions. Sometimes a little education really can be dangerous in the wrong hands…) But education has also allowed people to question both the origins of the Bible and the relevance of a book that has been translated in and out of more languages than any other since book binding began. It is hard to believe that the writings of a few wise men over 1000 years ago actually do represent the word of God. It is perhaps even harder to think that after the many revisions to the book, the words we read today actually bear any relation to the words originally written. People are not turning their back on the word of God, they are exhibiting scepticism that the Christian church actually has any right to claim knowledge of the word of God. And if Christianity has no more knowledge of God than the rest of us, what's to stop people from looking for new and different ways to assert their own individual beliefs?
We live in a world where nature is becoming more and more scarce and natural beauty harder to find. Where once we experienced nature in abundance, there is now a void in our lives that is unfulfilled by concrete and man made structures. Perhaps it is then understandable that our appreciation of nature has grown and the new age nature based religions have grown in tandem with it. We are starting to see the value in the beauty of our planet and as we begin to appreciate our diminishing greenery we naturally look toward a more nature based worship. It would possibly not be too optimistic a speculation to wonder whether it will be this shift in religious belief that finally spurs us on to save our planet before it is too late. I hope so.
For me, the gradual turn away from Christianity can most likely be attributed to the manner in which the Christians have turned from the simple lessons of their own teachings. Jesus Christ suggested man: “Love God and Love thy neighbour.” Now I'm a witch, not a Christian but I can get behind that, its simple, easy to follow and fundamentally good advice for how to live your life. But as Christianity has allowed itself to get immersed in moral debate and religious dogma it has moved further and further from these common sense roots and the simple truth now is that Christianity as a main stream religion no longer preaches the message of Christ. This leaves the door of the new age religions wide open and welcoming for those who seek a greater degree of spirituality in their lives, for those who want to live without judging or being judged, for those who want a simple and direct relationship with their deities and most importantly for those who want to think for themselves and find their own path to walk. For finding our own way to walk through the world is as much as any of us can ever really hope for.
Image http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=1163997 (Topsoft)
At the end of each day my ears fairly buzz with the sounds of the world around me. I feel the noises bouncing around my brain, drowning my thoughts and cluttering up my mind with useless stimuli that serves only to distract me. The hum of electricity generates a noise of its own between my ears, a persistent whining sound, somewhere between the slightly out of tune peal of bells and (for those of you old enough to remember it) that awful sound you used to get on your television when the VCR wasn’t switched on. If I didn’t know how to siphon off all this noise and built up energy I swear I’d go mad. I’d be like Michael Douglas in that film Falling Down when he finally snaps and just goes around killing people. Really I would. Fortunately I’ve got the resources to minimise the effect it all has on me but I often wonder if the bombardment of all this noise does play a part in influencing those who genuinely do go completely crazy.
I seem to spend half my life switching things down or off. I walk into rooms and automatically look for the remote to shut televisions and radios up. I close windows to block out the sounds of children playing or the squawk of some youth’s rock music blaring out from his clapped out banger - the music he plays at full volume with all the windows wound down.... (It’s a wonder I don’t wear my hexing finger out!) As for that man who wakes me up at stupid o clock on a Sunday morning walking up and down the streets singing “Any old irrrrron!” I’m liable to kill him some time soon. And I think you probably know me well enough now to know that I mean that with all sincerity.
Achieving total and blissful silence in the modern world is just about impossible. We use sound to block out sound, sticking headphones on in the hope of blocking out some of the noise that assaults us as we go about our daily lives. We turn up our own music to drown out the sound of other people’s melodies. Turning up the volume has become the way we deal with the world. Its all about becoming the loudest, only those who generate sufficient decibels to win the war of the noise can have any hope of hearing what they want to. And what they want to hear certainly doesn’t appear to be silence.
I sometimes wonder if people actually know how to be quiet any more. Always there is music blaring out, the television on (but not being watched), mobile phones spewing out their tinny little tunes, pointless nattering between people on buses. People no longer know how to be still, untouched by stimuli, peaceful and aware, receptive not to the humdrum of modern life but of something less tangible, a silence beyond the buzz, a world we have forgotten how to listen to.
A friend told me the other day that she is frightened of silence, she cannot bear to be alone with her own thoughts because they turn inward and hurt her. I wonder if the rest of the world feels the same way, if people use sound as a way of avoiding their own thoughts and negating the need to be in tune with who they are and how they respond to the life they are living. Its sad in a way and its a dangerous way to live as the time will undoubtedly come when the noise temporarily and the silence will confront those least equipped to deal with it.
I turn off the noise because secretly I'm not all that enamoured of the real world. I dislike other people (not individuals but people en masse), I dislike having thoughts and images forced into my mind, I dislike having my inner monologues interrupted and broken by the mundanity of unwelcome sounds. I like to live in my own little world where I spend my time listening to my own thoughts. I can't imagine ever wanting to tune out the essence of who I am and choosing to live in a world of distractions.
I personally think the quickest way to a sane and healthy life (and I sure we're all in agreement that the Degu Witch is a shining example of sanity...) is to spend some time tuning out the modern world and learning to be at peace within your own head. If that means switching the tv or radio off occasionally, I advise you do it. Seek out those rare moments of silence and solitude and learn to listen to your own thoughts. The modern world isn't always an easy place to live, but its a much harder place for those who allow the constant buzz of noise to drown out the peace inside their own heads.
Image http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=1383851 (Ayla87)
Join the Witch Path Forward Facebook community. (Click the icon).