“Once you know the truth, discard it.” – Unknown

Everybody lies, but not all lies are created equal. For the purpose of we who study magic, there are three categories of lies that everyday people tell, and a fourth that we tell. These categories aren’t about techniques of lying so much as they are about the nature of power and the deeper nature of the self.

The three common kinds of lies are those we tell for our own benefit, those we tell to promote harmony, and the ones we tell to maintain sovereignty. All of these are all what we might call social lies. They are all, if not always rational, at least reasonable.

From Wellcome Images, drawing by Giovanni Benedetto.  CC 4.0
From Wellcome Images, drawing by Giovanni Benedetto. CC 4.0

These three categories are not exclusive, but are in fact nested. We can say that all lies are told for our own benefit. Some of those we tell to promote harmony, and some of those are told to defend our sovereignty.

The fourth type of lie, different from the rest, is the magical lie. These are lies we tell as acts of magic. If social lies are ones that we tell as we take part in society, magical lies are those that we tell to hold our place in society while stepping outside of its rules and beliefs.

Lies We Tell for Our Own Benefit

By far the most common conception we have of lying is that we do it for our own benefit. While it wouldn’t take much stretching to say that this is true of all lies in one way or another, doing so is more a trick of the light than useful analysis.(1)

The admonition in the Christian Bible to “not bear false witness” is talking about this kind of lie. There are other applications as well. If I tell people at a party that I have a Ph.D. in order to lend weight to my arguments, that is a lie for my own benefit. And when I leave out critical information (say, by taking off my wedding ring before introducing myself to a pretty girl), that’s still lying.

Lies we tell purely for our own benefit have a tendency to cause trouble. If I’m a bank robber and I lie to the police, they might throw an innocent person in jail for my crime. This magnifies my crime by expending someone else’s life.

These are the lies that are the simplest ones. These are lies that every sitcom seems to warn us about. “Did you dent the car, Jim?” “No.” And then hilarity ensues as Jim attempts to cover up his mistake – and in the end we all learn the lesson that it’s better to tell the truth. Right?

Yeah, not so much.

Merlinus, 15th Century Image.
Merlinus, 15th Century Image.

Lies We Tell to Promote Harmony

The second kind of lie is less about putting yourself ahead as it is about maintaining relationships. There are myriad lies that we tell to maintain harmony.

You got the promotion we were both competing for! I’m so happy!

The classic example of harmonious lies is the “white lie.” Living as we do among people, we often have to deal with others who have inflated senses of their own importance, unreasonable expectations of the world, or personality flaws that are terrible, obvious, and not worth getting into. In order to get on with our days, sometimes we have to bite the bullet and tell them what they need to hear.

The key to the harmonious lie is to understand and respect personal barriers and the importance of relationships. Sometimes there are higher values in a situation than “the truth” – trashing valued and carefully maintained relationships over a simple disagreement of “facts” isn’t necessarily wise.

At its simplest, social binary interactions are all about promoting harmony. When the cashier asks us, “how is your day?” they don’t want to know. Chances are, their day’s not so awesome, either. The polite inquiry expects only a polite response, even if it’s a lie.

A Druid Using a Hammer, from Welcome Images via WIkiMedia.  CC 4.0
A Druid Using a Hammer, from Welcome Images via WIkiMedia. CC 4.0

Lies We Tell to Maintain Sovereignty

In the brutal, competitive world of primates with language, the lie to maintain sovereignty is a necessary defense, especially when dealing with people who have much higher social power. These lies come down to politely telling nosy people that it’s none of their concern or business. Whether it’s dealing with a dominating boss or the neighborhood busybody, there are times when lying is a necessary part of social relationships.(2)

In short, lying smoothly is a basic form of self-defense. Each time we answer a question “honestly”, we are committing to that representation of ourselves. A question as simple as “what do you want for Christmas?” is a request for us to share a little piece of ourselves. But just because someone asks, that doesn’t mean they have a right to know. That’s your call.

Nosy questions are often a way of establishing social authority. This is a key part of dominance play in the cube farm (the modern battlefield for access to resources). If someone asks, “how’s that project going?” there’s a better than average chance that they’re not thinking about helping you. They’re establishing that you, in some small way, answer to them.

Lies We Tell as Acts of Magic

And finally, there are some lies that we tell in the furtherance of our spiritual growth. No, I’m not talking about wishful thinking. While “fake it ‘til you make it” certainly has its place, I am talking about something much more, well, magicky.

There is a broad swathe of social interaction that is more or less social wrestling, and the prize is social power. Each person tries to pin down the other, catch them out, and pretend to value and social worth. This is the social interaction that makes up being aggressively middle class. It is the battleground of social cutting.(3)

This battle for social recognition isn’t some petty game. It’s the way that we, lovely primates that we are, establish dominance and access to resources. It’s how we establish safety and consistency in a world that provides neither.

For most people, the social world is the only one that exists. The average person doesn’t have access to the world of magic. But most everyone, from the trash collector to the multinational corporate CEO, has access to society and some level of power.

For the everyday person, who lives more-or-less entirely in the social sphere, lying is usually a matter of raising, maintaining, or protecting social position. And social position is everything.

But for a magician? For someone who (we might imagine) spends their Tuesday night interacting with fundamental powers of the universe and Wednesday morning maintaining a database at an insurance company? Well, it gets complicated.

There is an old saying that goes something like, “with one ass, a man cannot ride two horses.”(4) It means that we cannot, being one person, follow two paths.

A competent magician, then, is by this definition a person with two asses. Lies, as acts of magic, are the ways we maintain access to both worlds. Everyday lies are the lies we tell to promote, maintain, and defend the social self. But once we’ve touched a deeper self, we have to develop a new category of lies, “the lies we tell to maintain the illusion of our social self.”

"Silence" by Johann Heinrich Füssli, from WikiMedia.
“Silence” by Johann Heinrich Füssli, from WikiMedia.

To Keep Silence (Even When Your Gums Are Flapping)

“The everyday world is not at all what we were taught it was, and I have begun to break free” is not appropriate conversation except in very prescribed circumstances. This is a lesson that every burgeoning practitioner has to learn (and usually the hard way). It can be the hardest thing in the world not to talk about the world-shaking experiences we invite.

Yet it is not the world that is shaken; it’s just us. The rest of the world is happy to go on as always. The trick, then, is to learn to be impassive before the immensity of the universe. It’s a skill that comes only with experience. In the meantime, this is an excellent place to apply “fake it ‘till you make it.”

Being a magician requires straddling paradox. The less you lie to yourself, the more you’ll find it necessary to lie to others. It’s a cruel truth of the practitioner’s world.

ProTip: There are three practical tactics for dealing with this very real problem. First, have peers who are also practitioners. Sometimes, we just need to share our victories and vent our frustrations. The internet is useful for this, as are social groups based around practice.

Second, maintain your relationship with the everyday world. In other words, don’t just choose the magic horse. As it turns out, the “magic” horse doesn’t come with very good access to resources, and the competition is atrocious.

And third, learn to lie like a magician. For the practitioner, lies are an important part of the survival toolbox. While the mystic can afford to retreat from the world, the magician lives within it. We don’t replace social power with spiritual power, but balance the two as best we can. Both are real, and each must inform the other.

(1) It is easy for us to assume, given the typical Western beliefs on the self, that all actions are done simply for our own benefit. That belief is a tempting one, but in the end it becomes a meaningless statement about the nature of people.
(2) When you get pulled over for speeding, it’s critical to remember that this is not a conversation about truth, but about primate and firearm.
(3) It’s also the national pastime at this point. Thanks, Internet.
(4) I was unable to find the origin of this phrase. I originally saw it in Jan Yoors’s The Gypsies (1965) as a Romani saying. Apparently everyone says it.

I have never been one to analyze the birth charts of celebrities although I realize many do and it’s a popular genre. It’s click bait, it’s views, and that’s fine of course. It’s just never where my mind goes. I don’t think about famous people at all, whether they are actors or politicians or musicians. I love music yes and I have my favorite TV show but rarely do I think: gosh I wonder what Ellen Pompeo’s chart looks like (Grey’s Anatomy fanatic here! She’s a Scorpio).

And then came Donald Trump the president and the plethora of astrologers and astrology posts and psychics all over the Web addressing not only the future of the Trump presidency and policies, but the future of America and the world!

Presentation1 (1)

How could I not jump on the bandwagon just a little? And this topic in particular is particularly newsworthy at this time. Why? Because we have a Lunar (Full Moon) Eclipse in Leo on January 31st and eclipses change our lives. Behold: Mr. Trump has a Leo Ascendent (Leo Rising). This matters!

Eclipses set up an “energy pattern” in our lives. They last longer than a single day. Yes you may feel something the day of. Yes your life may change on or around that day, but the full effects of an eclipse can last for months!

So when I see that this Lunar Eclipse will be happening in Donald Trump’s chart in the house of “hidden enemies” — the 12th House — I start to wonder.

Now we know that Trump has plenty of “open enemies” — folks who make no secret of their dislike for the man — but open enemies is a 7th House issue, a different part of the chart entirely.

The 12th House rules secrets and things hidden and Full Moons tend to reveal what has been concealed! You may think there’s no way Donald Trump could surprise you. That you’ve seen it all, heard it all. But I promise you surprises are coming.

Now I am not making any specific predictions here. I am not saying that Trump leaves office in 2018 (something that I am getting asked a lot lately) or that he gets impeached in 2018 or even that proceedings begin. I am not making such predictions here however the man is having a super Full Moon Eclipse in the house of “Your hiddden enemies will make their presence known.” Friends, this year is going to change his life.

This eclipse is not only in his 12th House, but conjunct his natal Pluto which means it’s FUSED with his Pluto. What is Pluto? Power. Our personal power. And for Trump, it’s hidden 12th House power. Pluto is also all the ways we use or abuse or misuse our personal power.

Pluto is not “bad” in and of itself, but it’s an energy that can easily be perverted and since Trump has a 12th House natal Pluto, I would say that even HE is not entirely clear (the 12th House is foggy) on all the ways he throws his weight around, so to speak.

Remember that Donald Trump is a fun Gemini with a fun Sagittarius Moon and a fun Gemini with a fun Sagittarius Moon AND a 12th House Pluto is not fully aware of his dark side, his shadow, if at all.

And although I am not making the big hard and fast predictions here, I am going to suggest that some of these revealed secrets are financially scandalous in nature and mind you I am writing this on January 27th 2018 so whatever comes to light about these matters, I am predicting here and now. Donald Trump’s hidden enemies will no longer be so hidden and yes I do think there are folks who pretend to be on his side.

Much of this may sound obvious to you, that we don’t need an astrologer or a chart to see or feel this however the chart doesn’t lie. The man is going to have a Lunar Eclipse (a goodbye party) on his 12th House Pluto. Some of his personal power is about to be “eclipsed” and the power struggles will only increase in the months to come.


Interested in a reading from Aliza? You can contact her here.

Being brought up in a Christian household I had always experienced Christmas with my blood family, mother, father, sisters, brother, aunt, uncle, cousins and grandparents. At a very young age, however, I started questioning what all of it was about. My father was a deacon in the Baptist Church in Western New York State, and I had to go to church and Sunday school. But a lot of what I had learned just didn’t make a lot of sense to me, way back then. Even with the church stuff and Bible readings,it always seemed to me to be about getting stuff for Christmas. Sure, going to church with my family, setting through either Sunday School or as a teenager, sermons, something always was amiss. My thoughts, even as young as 6 or 7, would wander.

Bridge in Connecticut.  Photo by Mankey.
Bridge in Connecticut. Photo by Mankey.

Sitting in any room at the church with windows I was always looking outside, wondering why we didn’t commune with nature and have services outside. It didn’t make any sense to me just sitting inside. Why couldn’t we be outside, standing under the trees on the grass, in a circle, like the Bible had said early religious leaders did in biblical times. I did mention it once, to no avail. Nobody wanted to hear that! I got told, stop dreaming and listen to the minister. Living on the farm, any time I could be outside, communing with nature, I felt a much higher power than what was preached at me by my father and the ministers and teachers at church.

I think now, looking back, that part of the problem was knowing in the 1940’s, that being “different” back then was understanding that a much higher power was involved in my Spiritual life. I had always thought of myself, oh around age 5, that I really was a girl. Of course, biology and societal norms, dictated that I was to be brought up as a boy. When I wanted to play with girl toys instead of boy toys, my father would discipline me rather harshly. Damnit, you’re a boy Barry (my given name). So every time I got “caught” there would be spankings when I was really young, worse as I got older. I had been taught in church that Jesus was a loving God, but a strict disciplinarian. It really didn’t make sense to me that if he was that way, why wouldn’t he love me just the way I was. So nature became my salvation so to speak.

The Full Moon.
The Full Moon.

My first Goddess was Luna. When it got dark, and as we lived outside the small village, I would go out and marvel at the moon, especially the full moon. When I was out past bedtime, that too became a problem with discipline. I had no idea then that I was, in truth, starting on a Pagan path. All I knew was what the church said about heaven and hell, the devil, Lucifer and Satan. If I deviated from that path, then I was a big time sinner. Oh well, way around that was to keep it quiet. By middle school, and learning in history about mythology with the Roman and Greek Gods and Goddesses, it made me think there was way more to life than this churchy stuff. Was it really a sin to believe in a higher power than this masculine philosophy? By then, I was mostly keeping to myself as much as possible, doing my chores and avoiding my father. After my little sister, who was a twin, got killed in a farming accident right before she was five, I felt the family started to disintegrate into dysfunctuality. My mother blamed my father, but I saw the whole thing happen from the hay mow where I was working, and it truly wasn’t his fault. So again, questioning happened. If this God was a loving God, why did he take my little sister.

After that, the family Christmas dinners took on a much more solemn tone, almost bitter at times. So sitting around the table with the family, including aunt, uncle, cousins, and my Grandmother and Grandfather, I again drifted away in my mind. As soon as dinner was over, the adults would sit around smoking and at least maintaining some semblance of family unity. I would disappear into the kitchen and help Grandma with dishes and clearing away tables. It was my escape, and my siblings and cousins would go play with their new toys.

"Diana-Goddess of the Hunt" by Pietro Antonio Rotari.  From WikiMedia.
“Diana-Goddess of the Hunt” by Pietro Antonio Rotari. From WikiMedia.

I truly believe my Grandmother was Pagan in her own way, even though her and my Grandfather called themselves Christian Scientists. She would encourage me, when things got a bit rough, why don’t you go outside and take a break from the noise and other stuff. So, bundled up and away I would go by myself to the peace and quiet of the winter. Most of the times, at that time of the year, it really wasn’t too cold, so I would go off walking to the fields and the woods. It ended up that I was to have an opportunity to stay with them a lot after my parents had them take over with them living at the farm, after all the animals were sold along with a lot of the farm equipment except for a tractor. We moved around a lot, with my father leaving General Motors and going to work for General Electric.

I had been in three high schools by the time I was 15. The last time my parents moved, it was to California from New York State. My mother actually suggested I stay with my grandparents, as it would have been a bit crowded in the car they were taking. Her thought was that I could help cut grass, shovel snow and help out my Grandfather outside. It probably saved my life. Now Christmas was spent in a less complicated way, quieter, and more loving. Yes, we still had Christmas dinner at the farm, with my aunt, uncle and two cousins, but it seemed there was still something missing. It always almost felt to me to be false. Something was definitely missing in my life.

After my sophomore year, my father wanted me in California so I took a plane there. After 6 months, he was transferred to Omaha, Nebraska in the winter. That Christmas, I had to go with the flow. In early January had to go to an advanced training course back in Syracuse, NY. I had wanted to finish high school where I had started. My mother again, encouraged him to let me do it. Yea, back to living with Grandma and Grandpa. I did have to go each Sunday to the Christian Science Reading room with my Grandfather, but I knew it was only an hour. Then, lunch and outside, as he believed we should not work on Sundays.

But through all of these 17 years, by the time I had graduated, Christmas always found me wondering if maybe I was adopted or something. I never really “felt” like part of this Christian family. I went into the Air Force in October 1961, and as we were required to put a religion on our dog-tags, I did choose Christian Science. I stopped going to any church, again taking to the outside, walking and thinking about the greater power. Then, a light bulb went off in my head when I read an article about “two-spirit” Native Americans. Wow…I knew somehow that I too was one, and that I had past lives. But I still wouldn’t call myself Pagan. But liking history, I kept reading about ancient indigenous societies, including the Anasazi, cliff dwellers. I suddenly was able to identify with my previous life. In most indigenous societies, the family was very important. This made sense to me.

"Mesa Verde National Park" in Colorado.  Photo by Andreas F. Borchert.  GNU Free Documentation License.
“Mesa Verde National Park” in Colorado. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert. GNU Free Documentation License.

Until mid-2016 I had been a solitary practitioner. Before my two marriages and divorces, I did all my personal rituals outside, with my altar being rocks, and my temple being trees, fields, or parks while walking or hiking. Totally nature based and very, very simple. I gave silent thanks to my deities every evening before I went to bed. I was just “out” as Trans to my second wife in 2003, only a very few of my gay and lesbian clients, and still had a lot of crap in my life I was dealing with. I had first met Selena Fox when she was a photography client way back in the 1980’s. Because of a lot of business and personal matters, most of my friends didn’t know I was Pagan. I didn’t pursue going to Circle until my first Sanctuary work day making Spirit Bags for PSG 2016. It really wasn’t planned, I just had a message from my Goddess that I should go.

When I first walked into the Temple Room that morning Ashleigh came up to me and introduced herself, hi, “I’m Ashleigh.” I told her I was Bree, and I came to help in whatever she needed me to help with. I was immediately welcomed by the women I was helping, not as Trans, but just being me, Bree. That was a very happy moment for me. I wasn’t able to go to PSG 2016 because of business concerns. The next week, while a lot of people were at PSG, I attended my first Solstice Ritual, around the maypole at Circle Sanctuary. It was a wonderful and profound experience for me. It was great being able to attend, and having the Ritual outside the same time the Ritual at PSG was going on. It was one of the best Spiritual moments I had ever had, and many more were to come. I ended up joining Circle Sanctuary in August of 2016. Yuletide 2016 was cancelled because of bad winter weather. By then I had become an active volunteer, and really have enjoyed being with my Pagan family.

Yuletide 2017 at Circle Sanctuary was a watershed event for me. We decorated the Temple Room, had some nice workshops and a wonderful Ritual. Warm weather made it possible to go to the cemetery and lay wreaths in our cemetery there for the veterans, and it was truly a blessing, for me an Air Force veteran, to be able to lay a wreath on the headstone of Patrick Dana Stewart, killed in action. His was the first gravesite I had seen the first time I went up to military ridge. Afterward, we all met for a feast in the Temple Room. I was out burning paper trash when it all started so I got there a bit late. One of the only chairs that was vacant was next to Moonfeather, who is also one of my mentors, as I have learned a lot from her, as well as Selena. That turned out to be another wonderful Spiritual moment for me. I really didn’t feel like eating, except for some bread. When she asked me what was wrong, I got real teary eyed, including now as I write this, I told her this was the first time in my entire life that I felt I was with a real loving family at Yuletide. Welcome home Bree!

This Imbolc will be the 27th anniversary of the holiday on which I first dedicated myself to the path of witchcraft. Maybe that seems like a long time to some people, or maybe it doesn’t seem like very long at all to other people. Either way I find myself reflecting this year on where I am now, how much has changed, and what remains the same. I also find myself thinking a lot about the things I wish I’d know when I was starting out, not because I think knowing would have changed the course of things but because it might have helped make some things easier as I went along.

So, today I thought I’d take a look at the things I wish I’d known back then because maybe they’ll resonate with other people as well, and maybe they’ll help out someone out there who is just starting out and needs to hear them. Some of these may, of course, seem very obvious to you as you read them, but I can remember a time when they weren’t obvious at all to me. I think we forget as we go along what it was like to start out and have this whole new, complicated spirituality opening up around us.

"The Sorceress" by JW Waterhouse.  From WikiMedia.
“The Sorceress” by JW Waterhouse. From WikiMedia.

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes – We all make mistakes, but I know when I started out as a new witch I had a very unrealistic expectation of how things would go. I thought rituals would be seamless, spells might not always work but they’d be efficiently cast, and overall I’d have myself together as a witch. In reality my friend and I set a carpet on fire in one of our first rituals, more than once in the beginning I knocked over, spilled, or dropped spell ingredients mid-spell, and it took years for me to learn when to act and when not to act magically. I still make mistakes, even now. Eventually I let go of the idea that I had to do things perfectly to be a witch, but I really wish someone had been around to tell me at the beginning that it’s alright to make mistakes. We learn from our mistakes (I’ve never set another carpet on fire) not only how not to make them again but also how to handle the consequences, and that’s important.

It’s Also Okay to be a ‘Bad’ Witch – I don’t mean bad in a moral sense here but I mean bad, like not perfect. It’s okay to miss acknowledging holidays, or moons, or to forget when an eclipse is. It’s alright to put your health or self-care ahead of casting that spell at the perfect time, in fact at this point I’d personally say it’s better to put your health ahead of that. When I was younger I would look around at the few other witches I knew, or the ones I read about in books, and I’d compare myself to them; they always seemed so much more on the ball than I was, so much witchier and better at it all. As I gained more experience though I started to realize that we can’t measure ourselves against anyone else, only against ourselves. We should try to get better at what we are doing, and to do it well, but we know when we aren’t in a good place, mentally or physically, to be putting energy into magic. We have to trust ourselves. I also realized as time went on that what one person judges as very important could be meaningless to someone else.

And that Kind of ‘Bad’ Witch Too – When I first started out the books I read emphasized the Wiccan Rede in ways that made it seem like a universal law of witchcraft. It isn’t, and I really wish I’d known that sooner. The morality of the Rede is only one possibility in witchcraft and while it works well for some people it isn’t for everyone. As I began to follow a more Reconstructionist methodology I became comfortable with the idea of cursing when necessary and adopted a more situational ethics approach to both life and magic. I moved away from the popular witchcraft books which advocated one interpretation of witchcraft and into a different view, of a different kind of witch, and that’s okay – I just wish I’d known it was okay when I was starting out.

"The Crystal Ball" by JW Waterhouse.  From WikiMedia.
“The Crystal Ball” by JW Waterhouse. From WikiMedia.

The Gods Aren’t Always Nice – I think the view may be a little different today if you are just beginning as a witch, but when I started in the early 90’s I remember that the books I read seemed to emphasize the kindness of the Gods, as if they were all loving, caring, beings. As a pre-teen this idea appealed to me, but as I started reading mythology from different cultures I saw a disconnect. The gods described in my witchcraft books were given names from mythology but they weren’t described in ways that resembled the gods I was reading about in the actual mythology. I wish I’d known then that while the Gods are awe-inspiring and deserving of our respect and worship, they are not gentle loving divine parents. At least not the ones I have experience with. I’m not speaking for other people’s experience here, but I have certainly seen deities act in decisive and brutal ways when they are angered, which is a big part of why I am so careful not to anger them.

Not Everything Without a Body is Your Friend – I admit this is one I did know myself starting out, having already had some experiences with ghosts and spirits before becoming a witch, but I’m including it here because it still caused me lots of trouble when I was just starting out. When I was young I may have known disembodied beings could be trouble but that doesn’t mean I knew how to handle them – but because I was fairly out as a witch from an early point people would come to me, even when I was in my teens, because they’d gotten into trouble with a spirit. I had my boyfriend’s mother come to me, when I was a teenager, because she and her adult friends had been playing with a ouija board and invited in a spirit which then attached itself to one of the women’s homes and started trying to drive her to suicide. I had to banish it, which isn’t something I particularly wanted to do at that age. So this is my public service announcement – not all beings without bodies are your friends, even if they say they are.

"Jason and Medea" by JW Waterhouse.  From WikiMedia.
“Jason and Medea” by JW Waterhouse. From WikiMedia.

Spiritual Work is Really Hard Work – not all the time, but a lot more of the time than I think I realized it would be. There’s fun moments as well, and joy and laughter, but there’s also a lot more blood, sweat, and tears than I expected. Not everyone needs to become a priestess or lead a group or teach, but even just living as a witch and being good at your craft requires effort and work. And that work is harder than I certainly thought it would be when I was starting out. I think when I was younger I had this idea that it might take effort but it would be like school where you do the homework and progress forward – as I became more experienced I realized that it isn’t like that at all. Real spiritual work is painful and gritty and can take years to make any progress at all, and it often focuses on things you don’t even realize are issues. And however much of that is true for practicing witchcraft is doubly and triply true for being a priestess.

Not All Witches or Pagans Are Good People – when I started out I really did believe that if someone was a witch or pagan then they must somehow be a better person, a good person, because they followed the goddess and the Wiccan Rede. Time and life experience has shown, painfully, that this is not true. Witches and pagans are people, just like any other people, flawed and human and imperfect. We should never trust anyone automatically just because of their religion or spiritual path, and we should always be willing to check someone’s claims. This isn’t a matter of mistrust or paranoia this is simple common sense. And I really wish I’d known it starting out because it might have saved me some serious pain and grief along the way.

There’s a list of seven things I wish I’d known when I was starting out. I’m sure if you ask any five other witches you’d get five different lists – in fact I encourage you to, because I think a lot can be learned from this sort of thing – but this is a look at the things I’ve learned through experience that I wish someone had told me sooner. Although knowing me, maybe I wouldn’t have listened. I guess sometimes we have to learn certain things for ourselves the hard way. I hope some of you reading this can find some value here though, or at least some food for thought.

In this post of the Hearth of Hellenism, I want to introduce to you the “Greek Wheel of the Year” using the calendar that was established by Y.S.E.E. It varies from the typical “wheel of the year” that you may be familiar with.

When do we honor the gods? We honor the Gods all the time, but certain times more than others, that is when a religious calendar comes in. Calendars however are a problematic issue concerning contemporary paganism. The problem is that the Greeks had many holidays, and a variety of religious activities to do during the year. Which system do you follow, which holidays do you observe? Contemporary followers can participate on various levels with differing degrees ranging from simple to complex.

Wheel 2 (1)

An important thing to keep in mind is that you do not have to reconstruct/ imitate the ancient ways that is out of sync of our times. We do not seek to replicate exactly everything from the past. Our lives differ so greatly from the lives of our ancestors. The polis and cultic religious practices are gone, vanishing and transformed when Christianity came in. Many traditional festivals continued under a Christian disguise along with folk practices from the ancient world. Nothing is ever completely lost, you just need to know where to look.

Bringing back a revived Hellenism requires an acceptance that we are in the 21st century. We honor the past, we seek to restore what we can, but also in a way that makes sense that bridges the ancient ways within the modern reality. This is the essence of a living tradition, it evolves without losing itself. The simple fact that we recognize that the Gods existence and we seek ways to honor them is enough. The added bonus of remaining information we have from the historic record and oral traditions helps us to pick up where we left off and gives us the bridge of continuity.

The calendar produced by Y.S.E.E joins contemporary man with the close contact that ancient man had with the cycles of nature.. Each month features a festival from antiquity, and is directly linked to a moral (virtues) exercise in the specific qualities associated with the honored Gods. The calendar presented here is a solar based, reflecting the cycle of the sun along with the cycle of nature.

Each month has a festival, a presiding deity, and virtues for contemplation. The twelve festivals are divided into two groups, “Solar” and “Olympian.” As the year progesses I will do my best to share with you each given month’s festivals and activities as I did in October of 2017.

The Greek Wheel of the Year

1. January, beginning of the sign of Aquarius, celebration of Theogamia (Sacred Marriage). Goddess Hera dominates during this month and the cultivated virtues are Boldness (Παρρησία) and Pride (Υπερηφάνεια).

2. February, beginning of the sign of Pisces, celebration of Anthesteria (honoring Dionysus, the God of vegetation). During this month God Poseidon dominates and the virtues cultivated are Piety (Ευσέβεια) and Integrity (Χρηστότης).

3. March, beginning of the sign of Aries, celebration of the Spring Equinox and Asklepeia (honoring God Asclepius). In this month Goddess Athena dominates and the virtues of Bravery (Ανδρεία) and Ingenuity (Αγχίνοια) are cultivated.

4. April, beginning of the sign of Taurus, celebration of Charesia – Aphrodisia (honoring Goddess Antheia Aphrodite, the Graces and “georgios” / “terrene” Sun -Helios of the spring). During this month Goddess Aphrodite dominates and the virtues of Love (Φιλότης) and Generosity (Γενναιοδωρία / Χαριστικότης) are cultivated.

5. May, beginning of the sign of Gemini, celebration of Thargelia (honoring the twin Gods Apollo and Artemis). During this month God Apollo dominates and the virtues of Harmony (Αρμονία) and Honesty / Straightforwardness (Ειλικρίνεια / Ευθύτης) are cultivated.

6. June, beginning of the sign of Cancer, celebration of the Summer Solstice. During this month God Hermes dominates and the virtues of Knowledge of good dealings (Ευσυναλλαξία) and Sociability (Ευκοινωνησία) are cultivated.

7. July, beginning of the sign of Leo celebration of Dioscuria and honoring the Dioscuri and the heroes of the battle of Thermopylae. During this month God Zeus dominates and the virtues of Justice (Δικαιοσύνη) and Orderliness (Ευταξία) are cultivated.

8. August, beginning of the sign of Virgo, celebration of Heraia in honor of the Goddess Hera. During this month, the Goddess Demeter dominates and the virtues of Endurance (Καρτερία) and Prudence (Σύνεσις) are cultivated.

9. September, beginning of the sign of Libra, celebration of the Autumn Equinox and honors to the heroes of the battle of Marathon. During this month God Hephaestus dominates and the virtues of Creativity (Ευμηχανία) and Diligence (Φιλοπονία) are cultivated.

10. October, beginning of the sign of Scorpio (Taurus polarity), celebration of Herakleia (honoring God Hercules, the “demetrius” / “subterranean” Helios – Sun of the autumn). God Mars dominates this month and the virtues of Courage (Θαρραλεότης) and Steadfastness (Ευψυχία) are cultivated.

11. November, beginning of the sign of Sagittarius, celebration of Maimakteria (invocation to God Zeus Maimaktes for a mild winter). Goddess Artemis dominates this month and the virtues of Wisdom (Σωφροσύνη) and Self-Restraint (Εγκράτεια) are cultivated.

12. December, beginning of the sign of Capricorn, celebration of Triespron (birth of Triesperos Herakles) and of the Winter Solstice. During this month Goddess Hestia dominates and the virtues of Stability (Σταθερότης) and Decency (Κοσμιότης) are cultivated.

Since it is January (Gamelion | Γαμηλιών) let us begin with the Theogamia, the Sacred Marriage of Zeus and Hera. This festival honors the union of the King and Queen of Olympus. Their union produces Life, which is represented by Dionysus (the winter sun), who’s festival is celebrated in February.


Household Ritual

A simple at home for the following festival that can be done at your altar/shrine. Burning of incense (styrax is recommended). You may wish to decorate, you can do so using the attributes of the gods. Peacock feathers and lilies for Hera, and eagle feathers and oak branches for Zeus.

Opening Ritual

“Hear us/me Gods of the Hellas, You we/I call upon, to come to us/me in good mind.
Hear us/me blessed ones and come to us/me from fire, from earth, from water, from air, and from Olympus.”

Wish to the Gods of the Hearth

“We/I invoke you Household God,
Overseer of the home
increaser of our possessions,
in every space, house or workshop
and always in charge.

We/I invoke your presence Goddess Hestia,
holy light,
seated in the center, of every space, house or workshop
and always in charge

We/I invoke your presence Ephestian Gods
and divine ancestors,
pure sources of all generations
invisible just spirits
guides of your offspring.

Come to us/me in good spirits,
You who possess all the graces, come to this sacred ceremony
Heed our/my prayer with a favorable ear
Come to us/me and take away
troubles and illnesses,
Give us/me peace that brings happiness,
prosperity, well-being of the body
and increase the light of our minds”
“May it be!”

Invocation to Zeus and Hera

Hymn to Zeus

“O Zeus, much-honour’d, Zeus supremely great,
To thee our holy rites we consecrate,
Our pray’rs and expiations, king divine,
For all things to produce with ease thro’ mind is thine.
Hence mother Earth and mountains swelling high
Proceed from thee, the deep and all within the sky.
Saturnian king, descending from above,
Magnanimous, commanding, sceptred Jove;
All-parent, principle and end of all,
Whose pow’r almighty shakes this earthly ball;
Ev’n Nature trembles at thy mighty nod,
Loud-sounding, arm’d with light’ning, thund’ring God.
Source of abundance, purifying king,
O various-form’d, from whom all natures spring;
Propitious hear my pray’r, give blameless health,
With peace divine, and necessary wealth.”

Hymn to Hera

“O royal Hera, of majestic mien,

Aerial-form’d, divine, Zeus’ blessed queen,
Thron’d in the bosom of cerulean air,
The race of mortals is thy constant care.
The cooling gales thy pow’r alone inspires,
Which nourish life, which ev’ry life desires.
Mother of show’rs and winds, from thee alone,
Producing all things, mortal life is known;
All natures share thy temp’rament divine,
And universal sway alone is thine.
With sounding blasts of wind, the swelling sea
And rolling rivers roar when shook by thee.
Come, blessed Goddess, fam’d almighty queen,
With aspect kind, rejoicing and serene.”

Closing of the Ritual

“Farewell Blessed ones, farewell eternal Gods,
To the pious worshipers, increase the Divine Light,
Disease, pains and decay take away to the ends of the earth.
May it be.”

It’s the beginning of the year, and we all have New Year’s resolutions. I’m not a fan of this tradition. It seems more like a tradition of setting ourselves up for failure. That being said, I have done something foolish, myself.

I started a brand new leg of my training these last couple of weeks. Without getting into the details, some of the aspects of this training require me to go back to the basics. Doing that is hard, and requires that I wrestle my ego down and say enough.

"Soria Moria" by  Theodor Kittelsen.  From WikiMedia.
“Soria Moria” by Theodor Kittelsen. From WikiMedia.

Following the necessary path requires discipline. Not only self-discipline, but just plain old do-what-you’re-told-and-trust-the-teacher-or-you’re-wasting-your-time discipline.

I like to think I am not alone in facing this challenge. This happens to everyone on the path. As we grow in knowledge and power, our discipline needs to ramp up, too. While a teenager might “know it all!” now that they know something, how much more challenging is it to learn later on in life when you really do know a few things?

Self-discipline is not a skill that can simply be learned. Like a host of other aspects of the deeper self, it is not a skill. If everyday skills are like things we own, discipline is something that comes to own us.

Like other aspects of character, discipline cannot be learned. It must be grown.

Discipline and Self-Discipline

Self-discipline gets a bad rep these days. The easy reason for that might be cultural. We somehow liken self-discipline to discipline – that is, discipline driven from the outside.

Discipline is unpopular because most people don’t like to be told what to do. This is true in everyday life, and it’s all the more true in the Pagan subculture.

The second reason that discipline gets a bad rep is that it’s hard. We live in a time when so many things are easy. Heck, I work a tidy little office job where the worst things I need to worry about are ennui, alienation of labor, and the occasional reorg.

Discipline – the ability to truly and wholly follow direction – is rare and powerful. With just a little bit of it (in the sense of doing what I’m told), I’m pretty much golden at work.

And yet we struggle against external discipline’s constraints every day. Balancing it with self-determination is one of the great challenges of modern office life. It’s ridiculous, but it’s true.

External discipline and self-discipline are not contentious opposites – they are polar opposites. It’s not a matter of having one or the other. These two types of discipline are two sides of the same coin, two ends of the same magnet. They only seem to fight when we stand on one side or the other.

Seungmu (monk dance) ©2009 by Polly Peterson [used with permission]
Seungmu (monk dance) ©2009 by Polly Peterson [used with permission]

Discipline and self-discipline are two aspects of the same underlying principle. Worse, it is only possible to truly be disciplined when you can master both.

Initially, discipline comes from the outside. We begin when we yoke ourselves to something greater, and do what we’re told for the good of the whole. Yet those who would control us are hell-bent on teaching us that that is the sum total of all discipline.

We are taught that to lead a disciplined life, we must kneel before greater powers and do as we’re told. And that really is the first step. It’s just not the last.

The First Steps of Discipline

All discipline grows this same way. We begin by doing what we’re told.

The first steps of discipline come early, maybe when we learn that we’d best not cross the street without help. Eventually, we learn the discipline of looking both ways for ourselves, and where and when to cross the street for our own safety. Eventually, we learn to run wild, but still with the self-discipline not to get hit by a rushing car.

When I was young, I was super-undisciplined. Yet the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. I wanted discipline and I wanted it desperately. But I was, at the same time, unwilling to listen to most anyone. This was terrible for the simple reason that I was a kid and I didn’t have the experience to know better than anyone, let alone everyone.

But at least I did something smart. I saw the people with self-discipline, unruffled by the everyday tragedies of life, and I made myself their student. At first it was martial arts. Then it was meditation. Then it was magic. Then the void.

Discipline is not a skill. It’s not something we can study in school, or pick up at a weekend seminar. Discipline is a feature of what Westerners call the soul; it is part of character. And as much as character is destiny, we can shape our destiny by cultivating character.

The first step is to find someone who already has discipline – really has it – and ask them, “how?” If you’re really lucky, maybe they’re in a position to help. More likely, you’ll get a few crumbs to help you on your way. Often that is enough.

Monk Shoes ©2009 by Polly Peterson [used with permission]
Monk Shoes ©2009 by Polly Peterson [used with permission]

The Danger(ousness) of Discipline

Some people hold up discipline as something dangerous. And you know what? They’re absolutely right. It is dangerous, like all things that are powerful are dangerous.

We do not come to any path of self-cultivation, whether Paganism, magic, or any other spiritual discipline, because we want to remain weak. If we’re honest, we come to these paths to seek power or to ally with power. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Our teachers know that, too. That’s why there are rules imposed. In the martial arts, it often starts as simple as, “we are going to teach you to fight – now don’t go around picking fights.” Such training has deep impact, as well. These early lessons are not lost on the students.

I have spent a lot of my life hanging out with martial artists, and one thing I know for sure is that (at least in my crowd) these are about the hardest people in the world to get into a fight. Their defenses start several layers before the fight even considers getting going and they dodge with powerful hidden techniques such as diffusion, misdirection, humility, self-confidence, and clarity.

ProTip: Changing your destiny means developing character. Developing character starts with discipline. And discipline starts with a single act. If you want it, and you want it with all your heart, but you have nowhere to begin, begin with a single act.

It doesn’t really matter what that act is – just that you do it, again and again. Find something that calls you. If you want to be a martial artist, learn a form, or even a single move, and devote yourself to it. If you’re an artist, practice a single technique. If you’re a writer, write a single page. If a magician, a single ritual.

Of course, that is only the first step. But it’s a good one.

“I love getting tarot readings,” said a friend recently, “they’ve saved me thousands of dollars in therapy!”

Uhm, no.

I’m not here to say that one self-improvement system is necessarily better or more useful or more anything than the other. I do believe that, while both systems might share some common elements, there are significant differences between effective, ethical tarot readings and effective formalized therapy, and to equate them can do a disservice to all involved.

14th Century Image, from WikiMedia.
14th Century Image, from WikiMedia.

James Connachie, a British journalist, author, editor and broadcaster, writes in his article The truth about tarot, “[Tarot] is a system for describing aspirations and emotional concerns. It is a closed system rather than one based on evidence but, as such, it is not dissimilar to psychoanalysis, another highly systematised, invented tradition whose clinical efficacy depends ultimately on the relationship between client and practitioner.”

He adds, “[The cards] are, however, a fairly unique remnant of the esoteric wisdom traditions of the European Renaissance, and they offer a form of informal, popular, easily accessed therapy. Meditating on the meaning and relevance of the four virtues, of Time, Love and Death, of the Hanged Man, the Angel and the Wheel of Fortune, can be valuable. The same is true, even, of meditating on the Fool.”

This brings me to the first thing effective tarot readings and effective therapy have in common: generally, people who ask for a reading/enter therapy do so because they’re looking for some sort of guidance or help in reaching a personal insight (or, in the case of some therapeutic situations, because they have been ordered to do so by a civil court).

As the sessions continue, a relationship is forged between the client and the reader/therapist, a relationship that is enhanced by openness and certain amount of vulnerability on the part of the client and careful observation and/or use of training or learned skills on the part of the reader/therapist.

But here is a point where tarot and formalized therapy diverge: your tarot practitioner, as insightful and intuitive and s/he may be, does not serve the function of helping to hold you accountable for your choices. S/he can offer you fresh insights to aspects of your character (or of a situation) about which you may be unaware which you can then act upon to reshape how you approach your decision-making, and that’s a pretty positive benefit. But, for the most part, your practitioner does not work with you to formulate behavior plans, co-discern coping strategies, connect you with support groups, or work with you on family of origin issues.

Your practitioner can be the most empathetic, positive influence in your life. So can your therapist—another point in common. More commonalities: both your practitioner and your therapist likely have years of training that serves to inform the interactions they have with you; both likely participate in continuing education opportunities to keep their reading/counseling skills sharp; both likely consult with professional colleagues on occasion when faced with a quandary posed by a particular client while maintaining your privacy (therapists because they are legally required to do so through HIPAA; practitioners, not being bound by the same laws, because it’s Best Practice).

Benebell Wen writes in her superb book, Holistic Tarot, “Observance to a strict code of ethics is necessary. […] A Seeker’s reading should remain strictly confidential. A Seeker’s identity should also remain confidential, unless express permission is given by the Seeker to the practitioner to reveal such information. Just as there are doctor-patient, attorney-client, and priest-penitent privileges, there is a privilege and duty of confidentiality between the tarot practitioner and Seeker as well. Even if one might not be recognized by the laws of the land, the true tarot practitioner should uphold the standard for him- or herself, out of respect for the practice and the profession.”

Wen continues, “Tarot practitioners may be consulted by Seekers in tandem with professional counseling, though tarot should never be used as a replacement for a licensed psychologist or therapist. […] [T]he ethical tarot practitioner will emphasize repeatedly to the Seeker that nothing in tarot can replace professional legal, medical, financial, or psychological counseling.”

Photo by the author.
Photo by the author.

Tarot cards can be used as part of a therapist’s toolkit when working with clients. In Using Tarot in Psychotherapy Jessica Dore writes, “Just like the Rorschach and Thematic Apperception tests, a set of classic tarot cards portrays ambiguous images of humans in a wide range of situations. Though tarot cards do not function in quite the same ways as projective testing methods, when the cards are used correctly, they can help to better understand the patients, and to help them to better understand themselves.”

In these settings, the cards are not so much used in readings (such as a practitioner might offer) as they are offered individually for personal reflection and insight as part of a broader therapeutic system. Their language of metaphor is independently powerful regardless of who is using them as a tool of discernment, experienced practitioner or trained therapist.

I offer tarot readings to folks who request them, and I’m told I give effective readings. I ask Seekers to hold their query in their hearts as they shuffle the cards, and I tell them that I don’t necessarily need to know what their question is, because when I do a reading I am telling the story that the cards tell me.

I talk about elemental dignities, and qualities associated with the Suits, and overall balance between receptive and active energies, between Major and Minor Arcana and Court cards, but overall the reading is informed by the relationships and flows of energies I see in the cards. I check in frequently during the reading to see if what I’m saying makes sense to the Seeker; 8 to 9 times out of 10, it does. This approach safeguards both me and the Seeker, helping to ensure that appropriate interpersonal boundaries are observed and respected. I’m a tarot practitioner, not a therapist.

So, are tarot readings an equal substitute for therapy? Nope, not in my Little White Book. Is one method better than the other? Not necessarily. Does therapy offer opportunities for genuine personal growth? Absolutely. And does tarot as well? Absolutely.

This entry into the Hearth of Hellenism expands on an early post, Why Greeks are Leaving Christianity, in this post I want to give my reasoning for leaving Christianity, and how I came to Hellenism.

I, like the majority of Greeks, was baptized into the Orthodox Church as an infant. Though I was born in New York, my parents took me to Greece to baptized. In a Byzantine era church, in a small village in the Peloponnese I was greased up with olive oil and placed into the baptismal vessel. I must have been too oily, since I nearly slipped out of the priest’s hands, as I have been told. I am sure it was not his fault, I must have been trying to escape. It was a certain foreshadowing of my future departure from the religion. My departure would be rooted in dissatisfaction and a craving for something meaningful.

"Meeting the Gods in the Clouds" by Cornelis van Poelenburch.  From WikiMedia.
“Meeting the Gods in the Clouds” by Cornelis van Poelenburch. From WikiMedia.

My ambivalence with Orthodoxy was a consistent theme through most of my life. If I had to apply some keywords to associate with the Church experience I’d choose creepy, mysterious, dreadful, and smelly. Creepy because the whole thing was unsettling. I recall being roughly nine or ten years old and a family member asking if I would receive communion at Church on Sunday. I shook my head, I did not want to. They asked me, “You don’t want [spirit of?] Jesus in you?” or something to that effect. What a CREEPY thing to say to a child who has no understanding what that even means. It was mysterious because I did not understand any of the liturgy since it was spoken (chanted) in Koine Greek of the New Testament, I barely mastered modern. Thus, the whole experience meant nothing, since I could not understand any of it. It was dreadful because it did not give me a good feeling, there was something off about it all. It is a somber affair overall that brought discomfort. Smelly because all that damn incense really gets to you after a while. While I did enjoy the iconography, they are the most beautiful aspect of the religion – Byzantine style icons are lovely. However, the eyes, they stare at you and follow you, which returns me to the dreadful feeling and overall uneasiness.

Like the professor of Philosophy, N.N. Trakakis – who posted an opinion piece called Why I Am Not Orthodox, we share similar sentiments. While in Theological school, Trakakis’ professor said to the class “the study of theology will either turn us to God or turn us into atheists” or in my case there was the third option, pagan. Trakakis gives philosophical reasons for questioning Christianity and in the true spirit of Hellenism he demystifies the divinity of Jesus for himself. My own journey to Hellenism from Christianity could only occur when Jesus was demystified, education helped me do this. Studying the history of religion helped me break the chains to Christianity’s exclusiveness as the “one true religion.” All this studying would also eventually pay off when I got my college degree in religion.

So how did I end up in Hellenism? It must have been a natural shift, an easy choice to go from Jesus to the Greek Gods since I am already Greek. Unfortunately, the process took many years, the indoctrination was deep – the monotheistic worldview had me captive. I took the long way around to paganism, since it was still sort of still taboo in my mind. I did not think that a valid path until much later. At first, I played it safe and went the Gnostic route, it was in vogue at the time. “It’s still Christian-y” I thought. Not to the Orthodox, they are heretics, but alas, they believed in Jesus, just differently. I was Gnostic for a bit. Gnosticism represents the esoteric side to the normal exoteric Christianity, it did give me a new way at approaching Christianity. However, I wanted to get to the roots of Gnosticism were based on, Jesus still did not really mean much. I knew there was more to it, something prior to Jesus. In short, I really wasn’t into Jesus.

"Circe" by Wright Barker.  From WikiMedia.
“Circe” by Wright Barker. From WikiMedia.

So, my search began around eighth grade in school, I had a brief stint in Wicca, but it was quick and my focus was more on spellcasting than anything religious. It was at this time I found the tarot and later throughout high school I studied astrology and numerology. I had an obsession with prophecy, especially Nostradamus – I think I did my senior paper on him. In my college years, I ventured into the Western Esoteric Tradition which still remains with me today as a main area of research and learning. Western Esotericism has been very fruitful for me and is from there was able to find paganism and then Hellenism specifically. Getting to Hellenism would be the end result of constant narrowing down, following the bread crumbs in the Western Esoteric Tradition back in time.

I studied Kabbalah, but never felt too comfortable in that camp. It was insightful and what I needed at that time. But slowly that no longer spoke to me, it is essentially a monotheistic version of polytheistic philosophy. I figured well if they are adapting Platonism, I need to go to Plato and company – closer to the wellspring. So, I made my way to Greek philosophy and “general” paganism, exploring the material out there on it. I learned much from philosophy but I felt uncertain with much of the pagan material, it was not speaking to me fully. I think because a lot of it is geared toward the northern European concepts like the Wheel of the Year. These things did not resonate with me as a Greek. Ding, a light went off in my head, I need be exploring Greek religion – Down the rabbit hole I went.


I began to buy statues of the gods, I began to read books on Greek religion and consuming any material I could find. I read what the academics had to say, and tried to figure out how to apply this to modern life. Taking an ancient religion into modern times can be difficult process, one I will talk about in another post. I started to do some rituals at home. Slowly I built up the courage to start calling myself “pagan” openly to others. The things I was learning felt natural and agreed with me as truthful. My mind was always pagan, it just took time to realize it.

What was it about Hellenism that made me want to really pursue it? It is not simply because I am Greek, I could have been a Buddhist, or something else but I ended up with Hellenism. Being Greek does play a role of course, in my mind if I am going to follow any path it is going to be ancestral path it is simply the logical option for me. I have always had a love for the mythology and ancient history in general – I am currently a graduate student in history. I think of the Mediterranean – Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Near East as the “neighborhood” so to speak, I feel at home.

Beyond the familiarity and personal bonds, it is the teachings which speak to me. I could have rejected Hellenism; dumb ideas are dumb ideas after all, even if they are Greek. I could have easily skipped over Hellenism, but I saw that it offered so much, it is the complete package in many ways for me. My various interests are addressed with Hellenism. There is room for my intellectual passions along with my spiritual passions, this is because it is not simply a religion but a whole way of life. The philosophy teaches me how to live, the history gives me a sense of identity, knowing my past and helping to define me moving forward. This is how I came to Hellenism, I came to it looking to find a meaningful experience of the divine and proper understanding of life and how to move about in the world. I wanted to educate myself on history, to learn philosophy and to honor the Gods.

I was talking with a friend the other day (he’s a wizard, mind you), and he told me a story about when he was much younger. One time when he was getting sick with a cold, he did a spell to boost his immune system. The next day, his cold worsened. His symptoms became terrible. He thought the spell had backfired.

My friend wondered what had happened. And then he did some research into the immune system and discovered that the spell had worked exactly as designed.
The problem wasn’t his magic; the man is a fine magician. The problem was that he didn’t have sufficient medical knowledge. Boosting someone’s immune responses won’t make them feel better. It will actually make their cold symptoms worse.

Image by darksouls at Pixabay.  CC0 License.
Image by darksouls at Pixabay. CC0 License.

When we recite the old saw “knowledge is power” we sometimes forget the less-well-known-but-equally-important old saw, “Expertise does not cross fields. Experts often do.”

The cure to the problem of expertise isn’t actually being an expert in everything. It’s long, hard, practical experience – the kind of experience that no one gets until they start trying to make things happen.

“Street magic” is practical magic. It’s the kind of magic that allows us to solve everyday problems. From sensing danger before it happens, to finding your missing car keys, to navigating traffic, it’s magic that makes life better. It’s the practical side of being a practitioner.

But street magic isn’t just about the immediate end. If we do it right, every time we use a bit of magic to function in the world, we integrate ourselves – mind, body, and spirit – just a little bit more. Practical experience (both successes and failures) chips away at every assumption we carry with us. In time, a deeper truth is revealed.

In this blog, I’ve talked before about the importance of daily practice but maybe not as much as I should about daily application.

Street magic is the field of training. We do magic, see the results, adjust what we’re doing, try it again. We get an intuition and neither believe nor disbelieve, but instead check the data. It’s not enough to believe. We must know. To train ourselves, we must steal a line from Ronald Regan: “Trust, but verify.”

The Pitfalls of Theory

In recent years in magical circles, there’s been a false dichotomy growing up between the theoretical and the practical. The trend has been against magic theory – but most proponents on both sides of the debate don’t actually understand what theory is. Each side sneers at the other, but neither knows that they’ve lost the plot.

Odd as it might sound from the inside, there’s a seed (and sometimes a tree!) of anti-intellectualism to be found in magical circles. This is a reflection of growing sentiment found throughout Western culture.(1)

“Practical” magicians generally absorb the meaning of “practical” from culture – robbing magic from having any deeper meaning or spurring a wider view of the world. When we limit the purpose of magic to getting us what we want, we tie ourselves to a model of the self, and magic, that limits growth and change.

Photo from pxhere, public domain image, CC0 License.
Photo from pxhere, public domain image, CC0 License.

On the other side of this debate is the straw man of the armchair theorist. Oh, armchair magicians exist, but they’re not the real theorists.

I’ll say it again: the “armchair” magician is not a theorist – the armchair magician is a consumer. Talking about theory is what people do at cocktail parties, and is often more about measuring intellectual phalluses (or is it phalli? – let’s measure and find out).

Being a theorist means finding theories, building models, testing them, applying the results, and revising the models against feedback. “Theory” is careful experimentation, “science” in the original sense. Only after all that is done should we have any interest in whipping them out at parties. As long as theory is a measuring of opinions and egos, magical debate is just office politics in a job that pays poorly and doesn’t come with dental.

At the heart of it, the practical magician isn’t against “theory” – just against replacing training with debate. And as it turns out, I’m against that, too. So how do we dig ourselves out of this hole?

Magical Research and “The Freud Mistake”

A lot of the magic theory floating around, from theology to ritual to spellwork, suffers from “The Freud Mistake.” I’m not referring to a preoccupation with sex, cigars, or traumas from childhood. I’m talking about a problem with how we apply the scientific method to “soft” topics.

When we think of Dr. Sigmund Freud at all, we think of maybe a few basic ideas, like the subconscious, the Id, Ego, and Super-Ego, or his stages of development. Further, we realize that mostly people would rather be talking about sex. And when they don’t think they’re talking about sex, they’re still talking about it.

I want to take a deeper dive for a minute, but not on anything that Freud said that was right or wrong. I want to look at a common research flaw that I call “The Freud Mistake.” It isn’t just his – it’s a mistake that we all make in everyday life.

You see, Dr. Freud came up with a long, complex explanation of the nature of the self, and then (based upon that model) a long explanation of why talk therapy works. And then, when talk therapy turned out to work, this became “proof” of the theory underlying it. It wasn’t genius; it was bad science.

Most people already know that when someone’s upset, talking about whatever’s bothering them helps them feel better. Middle-class Victorians forced by society to act terribly reserved felt better when they could express themselves in strict and protected confidence once in a while. Good job, Freud.

"An Alchemist in His Laboratory" by David Teniers the Younger. F rom WikiMedia.
“An Alchemist in His Laboratory” by David Teniers the Younger. F rom WikiMedia.

Reconciling Freud’s Mistake

The “Freud Mistake” isn’t about making poor connections when we think things through. It’s about making the right connections, but misunderstanding cause and effect.

We all create models that explain our data. Our models are based on what we already know – our assumptions about how everything works. Just because the data is a good fit, that doesn’t mean that our underlying assumptions are correct. It would often be better to refer to our theories as “reconciliations.” That is, our “theories” are simply ways that we reconcile what we think about the world with the evidence out there.

A lot of theories are, in the end, reconciliations between what we think we know and the data out there. This is nowhere more true than in the realm of spiritual exploration. Mostly, our theories of the universe, and of cause and effect, don’t so much explain the data as realign the data with what we think already know.

As far as they go, such practices are useful. Such reconciliation is important. It is a necessary part of study. It is not, however, breaking new ground. Breaking new ground means not just knowing things, but knowing what we know. Further, it means knowing and being able to articulate how we know.

Street Magic

It has long (a century or so) been a tradition in Western Esoteric Traditions that the “goal” of magical training is self-development on a spiritual level. Such practices are a simple growing of the self.

The tendency of these practices toward navel gazing and ways to bolster the ego is clear. But the solution is not to throw out theory.

Practical magic can be about more than just getting what we want. Practical magic as part of a regimen of study is a path to a deeper self.

ProTip: Learning magic isn’t hard, it’s just hard work. There are four components to learning a new magical skill: Research, Study, Training, and Rest. We need to learn how to do something, practice doing it, apply it, and then let it go.

If we’re not applying our magical skills to daily life, then magic will never be anything more than a (probably not-so-cool) hobby. That being said, I always recommend starting small and sussing out the pitfalls when your neck isn’t on the line.

While it may or may not be readily apparent to the practitioner, from a spiritual perspective much of magical training focuses on communicating with, developing control of, and strengthening your own spirit. It is only through this special kind of self-development and self-control that we can rise to become more than people with a few magic tricks, but rather step into a new world. I’ll see you there.

(1) While many New Age beliefs are easy targets for such critiques, it’s a problem that’s rampant in large swathes of Western culture. From anti-vaxxers to atheistic (rather than agnostic) scientists, there’s a failure to understand the limits of knowledge. I suppose that’s a blog for another day.

On my first day of graduate school the professor told our class, “New graduate students always think that now they’re going to have access to ‘the good stuff’, that they’re going to learn some sort of secret knowledge that we kept hidden from them when they were undergraduates. What they don’t realize is that it’s the same ‘stuff’, the same knowledge they’ve been studying throughout their first four years of college; there’s just more of it.”

The secreting away of the “good stuff”, of Higher Knowledge, happens across a wide spectrum of religious and non-religious groups and has been a practice since the time before time. Secret societies such as the Freemasons and/or Illuminati, Rosicrucian, and the Knights Templar come to mind, as do the Catholic Masses of the medieval period, conducted in a language (Latin) the general population (peasants) could not possibly understand, behind a rood screen through which they could not clearly see. High Mysteries were in play. Secrets. The Good Stuff.

Photo by the author.
Photo by the author.

There are, of course, greater nuances to secret societies and medieval church architecture than are being touched upon here—I’m painting with some pretty broad brush strokes, and by no means am I a scholar on either topic. My own experience with secret societies, of being one of the insiders, is much more based in the socio-economic stratum I was born into. The uneasy awareness I have of the benefits I’ve derived from my privileged status negatively skews my view of almost any group that requires some sort of admission fee, be it financial, mental, emotional, physical or spiritual.

So it should come as no surprise that I’ve never been a member of a coven. I’ve never been through an initiation rite with a group of like-minded folks nor do I particularly care to experience one. The closest I’ve come to anything remotely resembling an initiation rite was being dragged, kicking and screaming, through my debutante year, and that was ten months of a pure and holy hell that ended in ruptured relationships and burned bridges, none of which were ever rebuilt.

And I want to be very clear that I am not positing that any one way of faith expression is better than another, or that one way is truer or more authentic or more noble or more to be desired or more anything than another. In my view, it’s not about “more than” or “less than”. Each stand of woods has within it several paths; or, in terms of the famous story of the blind men and the elephant, it’s all the same elephant. It’s all “the good stuff”.

So, initiation into a group is not for me. I walk a Solitary Path, even though at times it is exhausting. Even though at times I find I have veered far away from my path, which generally has happened when I start second-guessing myself on how I ought to be living my faith practice. (John Beckett’s post on this kind of “self-gaslighting” is well worth a read. He writes, “Your senses may sometimes confuse you, but they will not lie to you”). And I’m self-aware enough to realize that my own bad experience with a secular initiation has little or no relationship to the qualities inherent in a sacred initiation. Initiations into a spiritual group are meaningful—and hopefully meaning-filled—spiritual border stones.

As a liturgist, I understand the value of ritual and of its psycho/social components, and I understand how initiation serves to further strengthen the connective tissues of a body of believers. The experience is meant to be—and often is—profoundly moving, even life-altering, the same sort of experience I try to provide when I write liturgy for the Earth-centered spirituality group I co-lead.

And while I can sometimes access the High Mysteries during the rituals I lead, it’s far more often the case that I am so focused on what comes next that the ineffable slides right past me. I’ve made my peace with that—sometimes I think of it as the cost of leadership—but it does mean that I must be intentional about seeking out and experiencing “the good stuff” on my own, as a Solitary. It means (to paraphrase e.e. cummings) that I must keep the “ears of my ears awake” and the “eyes of my eyes” open, for one never knows when the wildness of magic is afoot.

The Opening Ritual at Chicago Pagan Pride a few years ago offered one such moment—a startling surprise to me as usually my moments of deep connection occur when I am wandering about in the woods and far away from people. In a loosely organized line, over one hundred attendees, hand-in-hand as they were able, streamed through a gateway of two lit torches and formed an ever-moving spiral of concentric circles until all had passed through the symbolic entrance.

"A Dance to the Music of Time" by  Nicolas Poussin, from WikiMedia.
“A Dance to the Music of Time” by Nicolas Poussin, from WikiMedia.

Instead of throwing up my mental/emotional blocks as I usually do when in a crowd of strangers, I opened myself to the barely-controlled chaos of bodies of every sort and condition all walking or rolling or tripping or skipping or limping or dancing, each in their own rhythms, as the spirals grew deeper and wider and more compact. It was noisy and colorful, mismatched and pulsingly alive, with way too many people standing way too close to me . . . and it was delightfully, unutterably magical.

What meaning have I made from this experience and others like it? It’s that interpersonal relationships can offer me a peak experience that I had once thought I could only access when alone in nature. It means not getting sidetracked by semantics, and resisting the rush to judgment. It means I’m on a shared journey, whether I practice as a Solitary or in a coven. It’s all “the good stuff”, and there’s always more of it, if I remember to loosen my control and soften my borders.

Magic really is everywhere—even in places or situations that make me uncomfortable—if I only open myself to it.

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