This month at Patheos there is an ongoing discussion on the “Future of Faith in America” asking each of us to answer this question:

Why I am still a ________ (insert name of your religion here.) 

Why do I still embrace this wyrdly wandering, beautiful and horrifying, rapturous and humbling path? Goooood question, my lovelies!  Why, oh why, do I do this, particular, thing?

Aphrodite and Hermes Altar / Heron Michelle
Aphrodite and Hermes Altar / Heron Michelle

Insanity not withstanding, the first answer that pops to mind is that This Thing is just who I have always been.  Whether I’m *doing* the praxis, the mechanics of religion, or not, is beside the point.  Frankly, I am not a person of “faith;” either I know, and I know why, or it gets none of my power.  Despite what any naysayer may think, my brand of Witchcraft has no time for “superstition” but all kinds of room for mystery, wonder and poetic, mythic truth. I can hold the space for the unknown, without succumbing to irrational fears.

Perhaps that is the first reason I continue to embrace occult sciences and Witchcraft in lieu of other forms of religion; I do not need “faith” when I have the rational, observable universe that I can taste, see, *perceive,* touch, hear, feel in all her delicious, visceral glory, both “above” and “below.” How does one turn down a date to co-create with the gods?

“…and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in Her praise. For Hers is the ecstasy of the spirit, and Hers also is joy on earth; for Her law is love unto all beings.(3)”

I remain in service to Spirit because when I call upon their guidance and power, when I “pray,” they show up, they answer…in words, feels, and full-color visionary detail. Not only do we co-create; we can argue with each other. Moreover, Their thealogy, as revealed directly, and through study, challenges me to evolve into personal sovereignty; to live ethically, lovingly, while taking responsibility for myself. I am encouraged to face my fears, to be strong, to question everything, and to seek answers both intellectually and through wild experience. I grow, make love and fully engage in the delight and challenge of the world.

“Let Her worship be within the heart that rejoiceth; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals. And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you. (3)”

The other option:

Mind you, there are two separate considerations here: Witchcraft is a praxis, mechanics with an underlying science, that can be learned by just about anyone and applied with varying levels of success.  These folks come into my metaphysical store and refer to how they “used to dabble in Witchcraft” but then they wandered on to other things.

But then there are those who *are witches.*  I agree with author Margot Adler, that Witchcraft, is a “religion without converts, (2)” By my experience, it is like a predisposition, an orientation, which has never felt much like an option.  The deeper into this “rabbit hole” of witchery I go, the more clear the patterns and flow of the Universe become, and that compels me onward, despite the sacrifices.

I have tried a few times to give it up, to lay down the tools, hang up the pointy hat and attempt a pleasant, comfy muggle life.  But the witchyness screams up from the depths of the soul and will not be quieted. You *see* things that cannot be unseen. You *know* things that will not be unknown. There is no flavor in the mundane, no succor enough to quench the drive and hunger of the Witch’s spiritual cravings, or so I’ve found.

I’ve chosen to call this path I walk Modern Witchcraft,  as have others before me.

What is Modern Witchcraft?

Here is the marketing blurb of what I do and teach:

Modern Witchcraft, as I teach it through The Sojourner Whole Earth Provisions, is a path of wisdom, reason, empowerment and responsibility that stands proudly on the historical and religious foundations of our ancestors. Yet, we look to the future and strive to create a healthy way of life in a modern world. We blend scientific knowledge with ancient mysticism to evolve beyond “religion” and superstition into a spirituality that brings healing, peace, and balance to the seeker.  The path of the Witch is a dance to the rhythm of nature. This dance transforms and strengthens us, while giving us a framework for processing the lessons of this life with grace.  To seek the path of the Witch is to seek enlightenment. All that we do here is for the highest good of all involved, harming none. We strive for a state of “perfect” or unconditional love and trust, at one with the Divine Spirit of the Universe.

Photo by Heron MIchelle
Photo by Heron MIchelle

What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” (1)

Lovely sentiment, and on the surface I agree, why does it matter what we call this thing? But then, there is the occult meaning–the deeper, hidden-just-below-the-surface meaning. I now serve Aphrodite, and so I know a thing or two about roses. During my first year of dedication to Her, I wrote this here:

Divine Love is a many splendored thing, as they say.  The roses smell lovely, in their delicate unfolding of brightly colored petals into the sunlight, but they are nurtured in the dark, dank shadow of the earth, fed by the decay of last season’s death, shat out by worms.  Between the earth and the blossom, there are the thorns.

I have found that the “rose” of witchcraft is also the thorny path, and has the whole range of “smells” from shit-tastic to enchanting. We could say it doesn’t really matter what we call it, yet, language is tied to thought and thoughts create reality. The witch, the magickian, uses language in spells, chants, mantras, affirmations and incantations, meant to create changes in that reality. So, our choice of language is important. In part, we create ourselves, this path, this religion, this community, by the words with which we define them.

As always, the heated debate continues over how we label all these little boxes and pigeon-holes we’ve obliged ourselves to fill.  The fallacy trap so many fall into in the beginning of their journey is to name the box first, climb in, then endeavor to fill it up with trappings, rituals, costumes and catch-phrases…trying to live up to preconceived ideas of what it means to be Witch,  Wiccan or Priest/ess (or any other title.) For the sovereign being, if we continue to define our own “box” or religion by parameters defined and maintained by others, we’ve already lost.

Two of Disks, the Book of Thoth  painted by Lady Frieda Harris according to instructions from Aleister Crowley / Photo by Heron Michelle
Two of Disks, the Book of Thoth painted by Lady Frieda Harris according to instructions from Aleister Crowley / Photo by Heron Michelle

For the last two weeks I’ve held the space on this question of what I am and why, allowing it to ramble around in my thoughts. I found more questions popping up than answers; more need to define the language; more need to release judgement of other’s paths; to mind my own business and just Do The Work. I accept that nothing remains constant–everything changes.

There is nothing “still” about me or my practice. Spiritually, I’ve been on a long winding road of every -ism, making many stops along the way.   Witchcraft itself is an ever-evolving spiritual jewel of practice with as many facets as there are people perceiving it. Trying to pin down this ephemera just might cause more frustration than it is worth.

“And thou who thinkest to seek Her, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the mystery; that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, then thou wilt never find it without thee. For behold, She has been with thee from the beginning; and She is that which is attained at the end of desire.” (3)

So, despite the thorny path, I journey on.

Until next time…Blessed be!

  1. William Shakespeare’s, Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
  2. Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler, Beacon Press, Copyright 1979, 1986
  3. The Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente


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Yes is the most powerful magical word in our vocabulary. It is the word that the Universe pays closest attention to. Say ‘yes’ and doors of possibilities open. Say ‘yes’ from the depth of soul, and we can transform our life. This is the high potency power of yes.

Photo courtesy of SheBard Media Inc.
Photo courtesy of SheBard Media Inc.

Saying yes, in this context, is conveyed not just through the verbal use of the word, but also, and more importantly, through our choices and actions; it’s what we do, not what we say, that communicates our yes. And deeper still, it is the why that underlies our words, choices and actions that has the most potency.

Magical workings, such as spellcrafting, guide us in the high potency power of yes. Spellcrafting is a deliberately structured process of sending a positive, desired change (our consciously chosen ‘yes’) message out into the listening Universe. It unites the dynamo powers of desire and will, and translates them into a specific intention and symbolic action. Desire is what we want, will is the form and focused energy to make it happen, and intention is the spark that ignites the magic between them. To be truly effective, a magical working needs to arise from our soul desires.

These same constructs can inform the everyday magic of making positive, desired changes in our life. To activate the high potency power of yes, we need to bring more conscious awareness to our choice making and action taking processes. What is often missing is a clear intention. What do we want? Why do we want it? And are we truly sourcing our answers to these questions from the level of soul? Without a clear, soul-based intention, our desire and will cannot be effectively aligned, the Universe can’t receive an accurate transmission of our yes message, and the change we seek can be blocked or waylaid.

An example: my partner and I make a decision to move from the city to a small, rural island. I am clear on what we want to do. And I think I know why: I’m smitten with the intriguing community and stunning landscape. We take action, finding a real estate agent and viewing many properties. I can sense the sureness in my body that this is a deep, soul-level desire. I even know intuitively when we find the right place. At the time, I am traveling with my sister while my partner continues to view properties. I tell my sister that he will find the land for our new home. And, sure enough, when we next talk on the phone, he has found the perfect place. We put in an offer, sight unseen by me, and… Nothing! The offer is rejected because their real estate agent vetoed our conditions, and that’s the end of it.

Fast forward several months later. I am sitting in my office in the city, looking out at the ocean and mountains in the distance, while in the foreground I take in the hectic, jarring, urban madness of traffic, people and buildings. And I get, viscerally, in an instant: I can’t do what I’m doing anymore. We run our own consulting firm and I work constantly. I am addicted to work and the stress of urban living, and I am not going to get better living here. This is the true, deep intention for moving to our little island paradise: I want to get better, be sane, live connected to myself and the natural world. And living in the forest can give me this. Within the week, our real estate agent calls with the question: would we like to put another offer on the property? And the land is ours, with all conditions accepted and at a price lower than our initial offer.

To change our life in positive directions, we have to dig deep to truly source and name our soul’s desire. Through clear, conscious intention and action taking, we can activate the high potency power of yes in our everyday life that brings our desires, will and the Universe into alignment. A soul-sourced ‘yes’ can transform our life.

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The presence of the Goddess fills the room full of statuettes and figures. Lavender incense hangs in the air. Bright tapestries drape the walls, hung with carved plaques and decorated skulls gaze with strange animation as you enter. You are observed. What happens next is your choice.

Birth of Venus by Botticelli
Birth of Venus by Botticelli

A figure inside the lovingly made glass case catches your eye – the Goddess in all her glory, in the guise of …

"Morning Glory Zell at altar by Mark Berry - cropped" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -
“Morning Glory Zell at altar by Mark Berry – cropped” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Well, that’s the thing. There are over 350 representations of the Goddess in this room. Most of them fit, snugly, inside the case originally constructed to exhibit the museum quality collection, the accumulated life’s work of Oberon & Morning Glory Zell. The other figures, some too large and others in display upon the Western altar, each tempt you with unique beauty, seductive and cold. They are statues after all.

Goddesses each with their symbols. Beautiful, strong women with swords… torches… a chalice …snakes …a key – Goddesses from all over the world, every culture and age. Symbols so ancient they trigger a sensory dysphasia, with colors primary and audible as the beat of Pagan drums. It is broad day, yet they almost flicker in firelight.

One wonders about the hours spent collecting and recreating these works. The time spent sitting with a tray of Sculpey clay and carving tools under the gaze of a frowning museum guard as ancient figures were discovered in the obscure corners of exhibits and displays around the world, and duplicated with exacting precision. Three hundred fifty of them, measured and sketched for scale representation, one Goddess at a time.

Then formed into three dimensions, these Goddesses tall and willowy, fit and muscular, or oh-so-round-and-curvy, with hands, tools and molds made of wax or clay. Then cast in bronze, clay, porcelain, or sturdy resin cast and hand painted in bold and delicate detail.

“Oooo, this is (goddess name)…” Oberon Zell picks up a figurine and fondles it as if the action were unconscious. “She is from (pick a place)… the goddess of (your favorite activity)” Oberon’s enthusiasm for the collection and his intimacy with these goddesses, is apparent. His face shines with joy as he speaks.

Each replica boasts a descriptive entry prepared for museum display. The gathered accumulation of Morning Glory’s Goddess studies, all 350 of them, are annotated and condensed to fit a tiny card designed to stand with each figure and hint at the story of the Goddess depicted. A daunting task in miniature.

"<a href="">AMI - Isis-Persephone</a>" by Wolfgang Sauber - <span class="int-own-work" lang="en">Own work</span>. Licensed under <a title="Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0" href="">CC BY-SA 3.0</a> via <a href="">Wikimedia Commons</a>.
“AMI – Isis-Persephone” by Wolfgang Sauber – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Persephone, Hecate, Diana, Demeter…  and every other Lovely Lady loose nothing in this smaller scale. Good thing, because life-sized goddesses can get pretty big (according to the ancient wall art) and housing just one would take a Parthenon, really.  Did I mention there are 350 Goddesses in this collection?

More than that are magickal tools, including athames, wands, and even Books of Shadows– the recorded magickal practices — of  more than a few famous Wizards, Witches, Pagans, Druids and Bards who have now passed over into the Beyond, personal friends of MG, who also walked the path with Daddy Death in May ’14, and OZ, who is the sole curator of this store.

I turn my gaze to find thousands of books on crowded shelves – any thing and everything magickal is there from sex to psychedelics, ancient grimoires and ancient histories. Not just books, but films, too. I could spend hours just reading the titles one by one.  These, I am informed, are all part of the Library that is part of the Legacy Collection.

An eviction notice arrived recently for the Goddess Collection and her attendant household. A vision rose to find a home for the collections, a place to display and show the secrets of these objects, both curious and sacred; to provide workshop space and an event center for the magickally minded.  Time ticks mechanically by, because gears have hubs, not hearts. And now the lot of it must be boxed, and packed away. All of it, stored until…?

Until Morning Glory’s Goddess Collection finds sanctuary, a home and a place of honor among Goddess groupies and Pagan pilgrims alike. A place of celebration and sacrament. Seekers and seers all away for a week, a weekend, or a month of Mondays.

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Wand Basics
One simply does not serve soup with a butter knife!

(We are honored to have Gypsey Elaine Teague as a guest here at Agora and Patheos Pagan. Not only are we running an excerpt from her latest book The Witch’s Guide to Wands, but we’ve also got a little guest post in the middle of the excerpt. You can order Gypsey’s latest book here and read a review of the book at this link. Thanks to Red Wheel/Weiser for contributing here at Patheos Pagan! -Jason, Editor & Harmless Drudge)

Wands. Without them we would be missing a great part of our tool kit. Scott Cunningham says in his book Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner that you can even use a wooden dowel purchased from a hardware store as a wand. While that is true, and any piece of wood works under general conditions, it really is important to know the source of your mate¬rial and the conditions under which that piece was obtained.

Photo by Martin Brož, from WikiMedia.
Photo by Martin Brož, from WikiMedia.

Another staple reference book of witchcraft is Raymond Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. Here, Buckland says that the power of the wand comes from the witch and not necessarily from the wand. I agree with that to a point. While you may practice magic naked with your index finger, it is important that you understand the power of the tools if you are going to use them. Therefore, I believe you should choose your wand more carefully than either Buckland or Cunningham suggest.

There is a partnership between the witch and the wand. Any witch who has his or her favorite or working wand will tell you the energy gener¬ated between the wand and the witch is significant and prevalent. Wands are like shoes or jeans or shirts or your favorite little black dress. When it’s right, it’s just right and you know it. Therefore, when you craft your first or third or ninth wand and it doesn’t respond to you, don’t worry. A piece of wood in the wild or in the lumberyard is very different once you begin talking to it and crafting it. Think of building your relationship with your wand as dating. You may go out on a number of dates with a number of different people before you get the right spark. And even then, after mar¬riage the spark may still not be right. So it is with your wand. Work for the spark, but don’t expect overnight success.

For a more detailed approach to wands, I recommend Dorothy Morrison’s book The Craft: A Witch’s Book of Shadows. Morrison goes into detail about the particular properties of wands and explains that it’s just not about wandering aimlessly, gathering sticks and twigs in the hopes that one might become a wand. She explains the harvesting of the wand, which I think is an essential part of all witch’s training. She also goes into detail about personalizing your wand after you have procured the material. These are all important aspects of the training young witches should receive.

Most authors agree that a wand should be approximately the length from the tip of your middle finger to the crook of your arm. This makes it the length of your hand and forearm. To me, that is a little long, and I personally like a shorter wand of about fourteen inches. But this book is not about length as much as it’s about substance, so I’m not going to lay down some grand law to follow in making your wand.

“All Wands Are Different?”

This is a question I get a lot when traveling and talking about wands and their properties. Many folks think that wood is just wood and if they think of the types at all many of them stay within the pantheon that they practice. In actuality all woods are different and therefore carry energy unique to their structure and thusly carry magic the same way.


Many times I have said that one simply does not serve soup with a butter knife. It’s a silly statement if you think of it since you would never attempt to serve a liquid with a flat surface but in reality we do that with our wands. A dense wood such as Ebony or Lignum Vitae will feel much different than a lighter wood like Wisteria or Basswood. While they are all vascular their structures are so different that it would be like trying to compare a car battery and a jar with two electrodes in salt water. They both create power but don’t try starting your car with a jar and some salt.

94f50bc8c2ba-270x370To that end I wrote a book. I think it’s a very good book but I’m a little, okay a lot, biased. What the book is, though, is an explanation of wands from a number of points of view. The book is first and foremost a book on the spiritual properties of woods and metals used in wands. However each item starts out with a number of other areas covered.

First each wood and metal is discussed in terms of origin. Where did the item come from? What kind of place is it found and what does it look like? As a Landscape Architect I talk about the wood itself, the taxonomy, the families and other woods of like mind.

I am also a wood worker, therefore next I discuss the hardness and how that lends itself to being made into a wand. Do you use a lathe or hand tools? Is the hardness scale so high or low that you must practice caution when applying tools to the wood? Ebony and Ipe are wonderful woods to work with but depending on the grain and the humidity may be heinous to turn on a lathe. And even though Eastern Red Cedar is a wonderful soft wood it is the worst wood to try to turn on a lathe because there are so many knots and the wood is exceptionally soft that even the slightest catch of the chisel will split the wand in two.

51uLMThKexL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_What myths and legends are concerned with the wood or metal? Each specimen has a section of legends and myths that may or may not affect the properties of the wand and the wand’s temperament. Please remember that wands are like people. Some are pretty, some are not. Some are fat, some are not. Some are straight and some are not. Some are nice and some, well some are not.

Finally the properties for the wood. What does the wand do and how well may you anticipate the results. If you want a healing wand then you don’t want a Black Walnut wand. Or if you want a wand for cooking then don’t expect a White Willow wand to be your best choice. The properties are just not there for those uses. That’s the nature of wands. The more you work with them the better you understand them; but again that’s also like people.

It is important to understand that there are wands and then there are wands. With the popularity of Harry Potter, wands have gained an elevated status in pop culture. An entire generation has grown up with a renewed sense of wand appreciation not seen since Disney’s Cinderella of 1960. Now, not just witches and fairy godmothers wield wands—every young child who has read Rowling’s books and envisioned him- or herself as a wizard at Hogwarts has a wand in hand.

11026144_10153468532443232_2824854767067676132_oUnfortunately, these same children grow up not understanding the difference between a play stick called a wand and a wand as held by an actual magician. These children and adults believe that you can put a phoenix feather or a unicorn hair into a wand to gain more power against the Dark Lord. So is the way of popular culture, I suppose. However, for a detailed explanation of the wands of the Harry Potter books and how they correspond to the characters they chose, see the section later in this book.

There is a saying that one simply does not serve soup with a butter knife. This means we do not use the same tool for every occasion. In construction, people say that if all you have is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail. That is very true with wands. If we have one and only one wand, then I believe we can only do spells or rituals that accommodate that one particular wand. You can’t successfully perform a vast array of spells with a single wand any more than you can cook and serve an entire feast with a single butter knife. You must have more than one. This is a book of choices.

This book is also a book of construction. Each wand discussed will include how the wand was made. The lathe is just a tool; but then again, so is a wand. Some wands should be crafted at specific times and days of the month or even the year. If you cast a variety of spells and perform a pleth¬ora of rituals, then you should, and I say “should” since I don’t want to be accused of being dogmatic, have a wand for each area within which you are working. And not all wands should be from a single material. Wands are like anything else you use. If you must have two or three traits for a spell, then why not turn a wand out of two or three different woods?

Wands are also like batteries; there is a positive end and a negative end. I polled my witch community to ask how they use their wands. Over 90 percent said they use the pointy end only, which we will refer to as the head of the wand. A good friend added that if the wand is unidirectional—that is, one end is pointier than the other—then he will only cast with the head, but if he has a wand that has no head, then he considers it a bidirectional wand and either end will do. I agree with that wholeheartedly for him, but I contend that even if there is a head and a base, you still may use both ends.

A battery is powerful from both ends, and you must connect a wire to each end to draw the current from it. So is it with a wand. However, do not think of the metaphor of the battery as a discussion of good and evil. The positive and negative ends of the battery are just two sides of the same force, like two sides of the same coin. Neither is better or worse. They are used in conjunction to be a complete whole. Sort of like the yin and yang of the power you are holding.

If you are using a peach wand, the properties are both positive—love and fertility—as well as negative—exorcism. For love and fertility you would hold the base and direct your energy with the head. If you were working an exorcism or banishing spell, then you would need more of a negative power, the power of the base, and therefore you would turn the wand around and hold the head and use the base.

The section of the wand between the base and the head is the shaft. Some bases are ornamental or embellished. In a metal wand, the base may be large and fashioned around a crystal. In an organic wand, the base may be finely tooled or turned and marked with sigils or other symbols import¬ant to its user. Therefore, the base may extend far into the shaft, but that is what the wand dictates.

Gypsey Elaine Teague is the author of The Witch’s Guide to Wands and Steampunk Magic, both published by Weiser Books. She is the Branch Head of the Gunnin Architecture Library at Clemson University as well as a member of the National Board of Certified Counselors, an Elder and High Priestess in the Georgian tradition, a High Priestess in the Icelandic Norse tradition, and a High Priestess and originator of Steampunk Magic. Teague is published in a number of areas and presents nationally on Steampunk history, literature, and popular culture.

Excerpt from The Witch’s Guide to Wands reprinted with kind permission from Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.

“I want to talk to you about children’s programming.”

Photo courtesy of Melissa Hill
Photo courtesy of Melissa Hill

I hear that a lot. I heard it last weekend when a small delegation from a grove in Indiana visited my grove for our Lughnassadh celebration. I sat down with a couple of earnest childless young people, to attempt to distill decades of knowledge into a twenty minute spiel.   They were both enthusiastic liturgists, knew more about the epithets of Brigid than I do, and sang a song in Gaelic together in beautiful harmony. Needless to say, I was impressed. But all the knowledge of lore in the world won’t teach you what to do with a stubborn three year old who wants attention.

I’ve taught a number of workshops on kids and paganism over the years. I’ve been asked questions about whether or not we will brainwash our children by raising them in our religion (we won’t), and how to integrate young children into deep trancework (you probably shouldn’t). I’ve been working with kids since I was a teenager. I’ve been a Senior Girl Scout, an Outdoor Aide, and Girl Scout Leader. I studied child development in college, volunteered as a tutor, and worked in a daycare, along with raising my own two precious children and helping to raise a passel of other. So I know a thing or two about kids.

Having said all that, here are a few of my thoughts on how to integrate children into ritual.

All Kids Are Not Created Equal

Or: Knowledge is Power

When you have kids coming to a ritual it’s really good to know a couple of things:

  • How old are they?
  • What grade are they in?
  • Do they have food allergies?
  • Are their parents responsible?
  • Do the kids want to be coming to ritual?

The first two will tell you how to focus your integration process. Teenagers are going to be a lot different than school age kids, of course, but there is also a huge difference between a second grader and fourth grader. Age and grade level will give you a general idea of what they are capable of and will aid you greatly with the magic of google-fu. Try googling “spring craft project” and you will get a lot of links to a lot of things. Try googling “spring craft project for fourth graders” and your search time will be greatly reduced. This will also help you pinpoint how the kids can interact with ritual, which I will talk about in a minute.

Food allergies are a thing these days. If you have issues with it, get over it.   Food allergies have skyrocketed and you don’t want to be the one who feeds little Timmy peanuts, you want to ask. Adults are capable of fending for themselves, but even the most responsible parent can lose a kid in the thronging crowds of an after ritual potluck. Ask and share that information, especially if the kid is young or has a particularly severe allergy.

The fourth question is not something that you can directly ask a parent. “Hey Bob, would you call yourself a responsible parent?” Yeah. That’s not productive. But you can clue in by asking around, gently. If you know someone who knows the parent, talk to them about their interactions. Explain that you are trying to prep for the upcoming ritual and maybe throw out some age appropriate ideas and see if the person thinks the kid would be up for it. Often you can get some good feedback, but remember the source. If Jim happens to be righteously childless and likes to talk about “Breeders” his feedback might just be tainted. Often you can tell a lot just by emailing or talking on the phone to a parent beforehand. An interested and involved parent is a responsible parent. If you don’t have kids, remember: parenting is hard. Even those who desperately wanted parenthood can have bad days.

The fifth question addresses motivation. I’ve seen three main scenarios. One: the kid is genuinely interested in spirituality and wants to participate. Two: the parent is genuinely interested in spirituality and the kid is along for the ride. Three: the kid wants to come because there is a friend/girlfriend/inexplicable-longing that is also attending. Door number one is the best case option, but the other two can work as well if you are able to be flexible. The answer to this question often varies from event to event. When my kids were little they stayed at home with Dad. As they got older they started to come to events and it was very exciting. They wanted to be involved and do everything I did. It was a lot of work, but it was also awesome. Now they have friends who come to grove and I have a tween. They tolerate a certain amount of structure and then they have to go off and do tween things. It’s actually kind of adorable, but don’t tell my eldest.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Hill
Photo courtesy of Melissa Hill

Rule number one of Kid Club is: Don’t Suck

Or: How to be Interesting to People with Different Developmental Needs

Now that you are armed with information from the aforementioned questions you can move forward with your integration of children into the ritual space. I’m going to give you a very quick rundown of the various developmental stages and how children in that group might be able to participate. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a very large topic. There are people who are experts in getting children to do amazing things. They are called Teachers and are greatly underpaid and underappreciated. If you are lucky enough to know one, you might ask them for help.


These tiny creatures are quite helpless and needy. No, they are not crying to get attention, they are helpless, have no words, and need lots of help, lest they die. So they cry. However, prolonged crying can really wreck a ritual. At this age, the main job of the ritual leader is to support the parent in their work and to make sure that everyone is clear on boundaries. Make sure to mention beforehand that you would appreciate it if the parent will take the baby out of circle if they are crying excessively. Support the parent’s choices. Do not tell them that they ought to be breastfeeding. If they are breastfeeding do not tell them that you think it’s weird and sexual. (Yes. I had that happen.) Have a space nearby where babies and parents can hang out, maybe a blanket or a comfy chair. Make sure they know where things like changing stations or hot water for formula can be found.


As they become mobile and verbal children are in a dangerous place. I like to call this the “Cliff-Flinging Stage” because this is the age when they just don’t know better, have endless energy, and like to stuff things in their mouths. Ritual with toddlers can be hard, but it can be done. Put away that fancy glass candleholder and your blackthorn athame. Think non-breakable. Wood is a good natural material, as is stone. Be careful with flames. Parent responsibility is at its height here.   Parents of a toddler who want to be able to experience ecstatic union with the divine during the rite are fooling themselves. They need to be focusing on little Lily and her need to stuff quartz points into her mouth like a psychic chipmunk. Make sure to communicate dangers and the need for vigilance beforehand. Simple crafts can work well here. Also, a play space to the side of the circle can be distracting and good. Using spray bottles for purification is a great way to get little ones involved. Anything tactile and full of movement is great. Bubbles, ribbons, bells, simple songs, and dances work well.

Preschoolers and Kindergardeners:

These are four and five year old kids. They are quite a different game than two and three year olds. They can express ideas, follow simple directions, most of them can focus on something dull like ritual for at least a little while. If you are lucky, they might even sit patiently through a whole boring talky ritual. That’s the thing. A lot of ritual is a lot of talk. Obscure talk about weird things they don’t have a lot of experience with. Make your rituals multisensory and movement oriented for these little folks. Remember that they have a much shorter attention span than an adult. That’s how they are built and expecting anything else is like expecting everyone to be an astrophysicist. Sure, you get someone like that every once in a while, but most of us just like looking at photos of Pluto. Coloring pages are still a little beyond these guys, blank paper is better. Crafts are great but messy. Snacks are vital to sanity. It’s good to think of them like cats. Let them wander where they want to go, steering them away from dangers. They’re usually capable of taking direction from trusted adults, so I have noticed that the village helping to raise the child really kicks in here. I remember my little one wandering off at one festival and I alerted my grove. Everyone stopped what they were doing to go help find my four year old. I was part of a family in that moment, and it was beautiful. The Rev. Kathleen Pezza has written a beautiful liturgy entirely in song that is perfectly suitable for kids this age and older on into elementary school.

Lower Elementary or First Through Third Grades:

Now is the time to glory in glue and scissors! Behold the beauty of Pinterest and the wisdom of pipe cleaners. When people without kids think about kids, this age group is what they usually think of. It’s all about adorable little kids making bird feeders out of pinecones, peanut butter, and bird seeds.   This is the time when you can really begin to explain what it is that you are trying to do with this whole “ritual” thing. Discussion about deities can be interesting and fun, especially if you relate it back to their lives. It’s actually really neat if you can find a craft project, a coloring page, and maybe a story for them that all relate to the seasonal theme. There are lots of options for working school age kids into ritual. Thinking about seasonal traditions and using them as the working can be fun. We’ve bobbed for apples at Mabon, done a tug of war of the powers of water and fire for purification in spring, and made milk jug skeleton masks for Samhain. Look at the folk traditions that surround the culture you are focusing on and use them as part of your ritual. Let kids take part in ritual with an adults help. Expect that they may still get bored and wander off. We are not brainwashing our children. That is okay. Setting up a station with coloring pages and stickers can help keep them occupied while parents finish up thanking the Gods.

Upper Elementary or Fourth through Sixth Grades:

Things begin to change in the Upper El. Seismic tremors of hormone cascades and logical reasoning are happening simultaneously. They are able to think about things rationally as concrete operations kick in from ages 7-11. Discussions can deepen, history becomes more interesting and their depth of wisdom can be remarkable. However you can’t forget those hormones. There will be times when they want nothing at all to do with ritual. I’m deep in this territory right now with my grove and it’s a delicate balance of offering options, respecting a negative response and occasionally bribing them to participate. (I’m a mom. It’s a time-honored tradition.) It works best when I involve them in the planning. Having a group of children that are doing activities together can work really well and be a big motivator. The tug-of-war between self-direction and adult led activities can be hard to navigate. It’s important to listen to the kids and help them develop activities geared toward what they are interested in.

Photo Courtesy of Melissa Hill
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Hill

Remember: children are little bundles of chaos and wonder. Appreciate where they can lead you, and don’t be afraid to dance and sing with them.

Peace out, and good luck, Dear Reader.

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We’ve been asked to write about why we belong to the religion we belong to belong to, why we are what we are. This is one of those simple questions that always trips me up because it means choosing a single label and sticking to it. Simple definitions are not my forte, although I can use them when I need to in conversations. A simple definition implies a straightforward answer.

I’m not good at that.

So instead I’m going to talk about some of the different labels I identify with, and why.

Assorted witchcraft supplies / Morgan Daimler
Assorted witchcraft supplies / Morgan Daimler

I’m an animist – everything has a spirit. Everything. Rocks. Trees. Swamps. Cars. Natural things, man-made things, physical things and non-physical things. It’s impossible to separate out the sacred from the profane for me when everything has an aspect of the sacred to it. This is worldview that I find uncommon among many (but not all) of my assorted co-religionists and so it has become its own category for me.

I’m a polytheist – I remember back when dinosaurs walked the earth and dirt was young* and there were no “shades” of polytheism. I suppose I’d say that’s the sort of polytheist I am, but these days I think the accurate term in conversation is “hard polytheist”. I see the Gods as individual Beings who are not controlled by or reliant upon human belief to exist. I am open to the idea that human belief influences the Gods, but that’s a topic for an entire blog of it’s own. The Gods have personalities, and preferences, and agendas.

I follow the Fairy Faith – this is probably the single most important thread that holds everything else into a cohesive whole. I believe in and respect the Good People, diverse Otherworldly spirits, and spirits of the land. Much like the Gods I see the People of Peace as existing separate from humanity and as unique individual beings with their own desires and purposes. Sometimes those purposes align with ours. Sometimes those purposes are in direct conflict with us. They can be helpful to us, or harmful. A significant amount of my personal practice, by any name or approach, is based on creating and maintaining good relationships with the Fair Folk and knowing how to handle any situation that might arise involving them.

Henbane and wormwood / Morgan Daimler
Henbane and wormwood / Morgan Daimler

I am a witch – I am the sort of witch who studies old folk charms and magics, who knows what fretrúnir are, and who has a box of thorns from a blackthorn just in case I need them. I know the local spirits and Good Neighbors, and the best ways to deal with them. I don’t follow the Wiccan Rede or Rule of Three and see witchcraft as a practice to do in conjunction with my polytheism, rather than a religion per se. I’ve been a witch for more than two thirds of my life at this point, since about 1991, and I can’t imagine not having that as an aspect of myself. 

I am a Reconstructionist – the second strongest influence, besides the Fairy Faith, on who I am is Reconstruction. It’s a methodology that I apply to everything I do magically or spiritually. I study the history, the archaeology, anthropology, folklore, myth, and anything else I can get my hands on, to piece together a viable modern practice. I found that I was using reconstruction long before I knew what reconstruction was, simply because it’s my personality, it’s how approach a subject. I would say I started applying the idea of historical accuracy as a benchmark in the mid-90’s. It is the lens through which everything else is viewed.

I am a Heathen – in the sense of a Germanic pagan I identify as a Heathen; since 2006, when I started actively honoring Germanic Gods in addition to the Irish ones, particularly Wodan (also by the name of Odin, so I suppose there’s some Norse influence in there too) to whom I am dedicated. It probably doesn’t help my liminal tendencies that He encourages me to wander widely. I am comfortable calling myself Heathen because when honoring these Gods I do so in a reconstructionist way, meaning I try to stay true to the culture itself. This is an example of where things get really muddy though because I practice seidhr, which some might call a kind of Norse witchcraft, study runes and use them magically, and honoring the elben and land spirits is the core of my practice, even in Heathenry.**

I am a Druid – I’ve been an Irish polytheist for as long as I’ve believed in the Gods. When I first began practicing witchcraft it was in tandem with honoring the Irish Gods and by the late ’90’s I’d started looking into Druidism. I initially started studying Druidism online with the Celtic Reconstruction Druid group the Order of the White Oak around 1997; I’ve been a member of Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF) since 2001. Much like witchcraft I see being a Druid as something I do in conjunction with my polytheism rather than a religion itself, but in a modern context Druidism has become something very different from what it was historically. It’s difficult – sometimes impossible – to separate being a Druid today with the religion of Celtic Paganism. Again this can be a very liminal place itself, because with Celtic Reconstruction communities I identify as a Druid as a practice/role within the community but with neopagan communities I identify as a Druid religiously because that is true as well.

Morgan's altar / Morgan Daimler
Morgan’s altar / Morgan Daimler

I am a Priestess of Macha – to be fair this might fall under the category of Druid, but I have found that being dedicated to Macha has made me even more liminal than I was before. I go where I can serve Her best, and that means being open to any and all communities that honor Her.  Part of my service to Her is a willingness serve Her followers in any necessary context, whether or not they follow the same path I do or self-identify as I do. There are some limits to this – I have restrictions that mean there are specific types of ritual I cannot participate in, in any way – but generally if someone honors Macha or any of  the Morrigan and they need a priestess, if I can help them I will. I also do what I can to write about Her and Them and to generally serve Her and Her community. Honoring Her and being in Her service is part of who I am.

So there you have it. I’m an animist, a polytheist, a follower of the Fairy Faith, a witch, a reconstructionist, a heathen, a Druid – I am liminal. I am all of these things, woven together into a cohesive worldview and system of belief and practice. I could go on and add more flourishes and details, but that’s the crux of it. In different contexts I might give one or more of these words as a descriptor to answer the question of what I am, but the truth is, I’m liminal. I’m all of these things, together, at once. They are all a part of who I am because they are the core of how I understand and relate to the world. For a long time I tried to be just That One Thing but it isn’t in my nature. And the more I studied mythology and came to realize that while some figures were That One Thing many others were like me, liminal and multifaceted; the Morrigan is a witch and a druidess, for example, a poet and sorceress, in the myths. Sometimes one single term just doesn’t cover it. And that’s okay.

Why am I still these things? Because they are truly part of who I am. I’m not an animist or polytheist because I believe in the Gods – just like I don’t believe in trees or birds – I don’t need to believe in something that I know exists, I simply know it. Being a witch and Druid are things I do, but I do them as expressions of my self; I don’t think I could stop being either of those things any more than I could decide to sprout wings and fly. I am what I am because I am who I am, and the labels are intrinsically woven into my sense of self, my worldview, and my personality.

* yes, this is a joke. I do not actually remember any dinosaurs. I just feel that old some days, even if I’m not.

** There was a running joke for awhile with some friends that I should call my Heathenry “Alfatru” but while apt it was a little too reminiscent of an ’80’s sitcom

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I think a lot about the meaning of fairytales and stories. Recently I began working with the fairytale Rumplestiltskin and the idea of “Straw into Gold” as the theme of a festival I’m presenting at in a couple of weeks. On first blush, I thought…that’s a fantastic theme. I’m all about personal transformation, alchemy. But then I thought about the source fairytale…and I realized, this is not at all an empowering story of transformation. It’s a story about a girl put in a horrible situation by her father, and then by the king, and she’s then exploited by Rumplestiltskin. The only agency the girl displays is when she discover’s the name of Rumplestiltskin so she can renege on her contract.


Since I have fairytales on the brain, both as stories as a vehicle for personal transformation in ritual, and as I’m also a fiction author and fairytale themes weave their way through my paranormal romance books, that got me thinking–as it usually does–about myths and stories and themes. And since it’s the height of summer harvest and Lughnassadh, I’m also often thinking about the magic of gold.

And I needed to figure out the nugget of gold in this story since I’d be working with it for the main ritual as well as other workshops.

I posted about my dilemma on Facebook, and had a great conversationon my wall with a bunch of folks who had similar thoughts about the disempowering aspects of this particular tale. Here are some of the various facets that came up, and then I’ll outline how I finally decided to approach the main ritual I’m facilitating in two weeks to be true to the fairytale, but to also make the ritual an empowering and transformative experience.


Much of this story revolves around the power of names, the power of contracts, the power of words, the power of oaths. The young woman is trapped by a boast her father makes: that she can spin straw into gold. Now–her father never suffers the consequences of this lie, because the young woman pays for it instead. She is the one who will be killed by the king if she doesn’t produce the gold. She, then, makes two contracts that she fulfills, and one she does not. She gives Rumplestiltskin two pieces of jewelry (usually it’s a ring, then a necklace) for the first and second night, and she promises her first-born child for the third.

Some potential lessons for this facet:

  • Don’t make boasts you can’t fulfill, don’t take oaths you can’t keep. Lies have consequences
  • Sometimes it’s time to break an oath, such as when you made a promise in an unfair situation.

The latter one is of especial interest to me because I often find–when I teach leadership and personal growth workshops–people get bound up in contracts signed in their own blood, their own naivete, and they are bad contracts. Yet, people feel bound by them, and they end up damaging their own lives by trying to stay in these contracts.

In the story, the young woman’s clearly taken advantage of by Rumplestiltskin, and the oath he takes from her is unfair, it’s under duress. Years ago I worked with the story of Psyche and Eros and one of the themes of the story was the unfair contract, the time when the oath must be broken. We explored lots of different types of oaths–such as a marriage oath–and sometimes it just isn’t realistic to stay in that contract.

We explored the kinds of “deals with the Devil” that we make all the time. Contracts such as, “I’m not good enough,” or, “I have to….” Name something you say over and over and that might be a contract you made that it’s time to re-evaluate.

Sometimes, taking our own power back is breaking out of the terrible crap we never consented to. Or, we were put in an impossible situation and we made a bad bargain. When you make a mistake, or were forced into a contract, you can take the opportunity to get out. This can include an abusive relationship, or just a friendship that has run its course.

Free Magic

This one has been more and more important for me–free magic. I see so many people coming into the Pagan community (or who’ve been involved for a long time) and they want free magic. What I mean is, they use magic to mean, “I squint really hard and  I light the right candle, and burn the right incense, and then stuff happens for me and I don’t have to do any real work.” That’s not how magic works.

The girl’s father promises she can spin straw into gold. He’s lying, but he wants something for free. Now, it’s possible if he’d have come clean, the King wouldn’t have taken his daughter away and locked her in the tower, he might have had mercy. Or if the girl had come clean, the king might have punished the father for lying, and not the girl. But instead, she weeps and wails and Rumplestiltskin comes to her. And–let’s face it, she wants the free magic too. The first two nights, the cost she can bear. And the third night, it seems that it’s no cost to her at all–not until she has her child in her arms does she understand the cost.

What was the cost of that free magic? Because, it’s not free.

Instead, this is the only real empowering aspect of the story, as-told. She is brave and daring and goes to do what could be a very scary thing for a sheltered girl. She goes into the wild to try and learn his name.

Myths and fairytales are full of stories of heroes and heroines who go through difficult things in order to gain their magic, their power. It’s the entire essence of the hero’s journey, the grail quest–the hero goes out into the wild and, in doing so, transforms and becomes more powerful. In the Ballad of Tam Lin, Jennet spends a year sewing her magical green mantle. Isis tricks Ra into gaining his power. Inanna does the same to gain the “me” from Enki. Psyche travels the world and Underworld fulfilling tasks for Aphrodite to regain her lover Eros. Magic is built, it’s developed, it’s grown.

What are the difficult things you’ve had to do, when have you pushed yourself to do the impossible? What was your motivation? When were you willing to do the hard work to gain the magic? What are you willing to give up, what are you willing to sacrifice, to gain the magic?

Secret Names

Secret names are an old trope of many fairytales and myths, but after examining a few, I realized that there’s a commonality; female heroines (and goddesses) are often the ones stealing the secret name of a male god to gain their power.

  • Lilith used the secret name of God to escape from Adam, YHVH being a secret name of power
  • Name of RA used by Isis to create the magic to bring Osiris back to life
  • Inanna gains the “meh” powers/arts from Enki by getting him drunk
  • Freyja has sex with four dwarves to gain the power of the Brisingamen necklace

The young woman in the story sneaks out into the woods to learn Rumplestiltskin’s secret name; if she can guess his name, he will not take her first-born child.

Feminism and Misogyny

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the complete powerlessness of the young woman in the original story. She doesn’t really have any agency, any power; she’s stuck. It’s not her magic that brings the gold, and she gets taken advantage of. So for me I look at this as an opportunity to acknowledge that disempowered place and reclaim our power.

She’s put into a horrible position by the men around her. Boasting (the father) Greed (the king) Extortion (Rumplestiltskin). This is a story about how weak women are, and how the only way out of a bad situation is to sneak around and maybe use their cleverness to find a way out of the contract. Similar to the above myths about female goddesses taking their power/magic from more powerful gods, this tells a story of how the dominant culture views women.

In many stories, women only get power from stealing it, or from trickery, or by being gifted it by men.  Then again, this story can drastically change with a different twist on the stories. I’ve told the story of Isis seeking to bring together the pieces of Osiris, and instead of tricking the sun god Ra for his magic name (and thus, his power) Ra challenges her to acknowledge her own power her own secret name. The cost? She can never see herself as powerless again. (And interestingly, the phallus she creates for Osiris is gold too!)

Worthless and Value

What’s worthless? What’s valuable? Alchemical lore focuses quite a bit on the idea of turning lead into gold–something worthless into something of value. Straw into gold is the same thing–taking something perceived of as worthless into something of value. But what value? Lead is valuable for certain things. It’s certainly not as pretty as gold. Straw, too, would be of more use to a simple villager than golden riches. For that matter, how many myths focus on the rags-to-riches, or something turning into gold?

So the core of the idea of this kind of transformation is that gold is “good” whereas other things are “bad.” That gold has worth, it has value, whereas other things do not.

Generally, I see this as just an easy exercise in metaphor and contrast. Gold is a really easy metaphor for beauty/valuable/special. But thinking about this story has drawn me to ask the question, when is a story about taking something perceived as worthless and transforming it into something of value, and what is that value? And is the “worthless” thing truly worthless, or is it just not valued by the dominant culture?

The risk of this particular cultural meme is that it’s a quick slide into dualism. Dualism is the philosophical belief in two basic binaries, good and evil. Paganism often supports these binaries by breaking things into God/Goddess, Masculine/Feminine, Solar/Lunar, Gold/Silver, White/Black, Transcendance/Embodiment, Heaven/Earth, Light/Dark, Positive/Negative. The problem is that binaries like these can lead to the easy dualism of Good/Bad.

Most “lead into gold” stories, and most stories patterned on the hero’s journey, are about that transformation, but on a personal/spiritual level. The gold is the metaphor. The Grail–often perceived/illustrated as a golden chalice–often serves as the visual representation of that transformation.

Gold, thus, is usually a shorthand for good/valuable/positive, but it’s always useful to take a look at any binaries offered and if it’s connected to a dualistic good/evil approach.

Beauty and Magic

One of my favorite quotes on my comment thread about this story is from Pagan musician Sharon Knight (no relation) who said that for her a theme of straw into gold is “Making beauty out of this fucked up world.”

I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment, and that’s a lot of the essence of my work as an activist, as a change agent, as someone who crafts rituals and workshops to make a fertile ground for personal transformation. So part of the essence of that transformation work is gaining the magic of transformation itself. Gaining the power to transform, to transmute. Gaining the power to transform is a form of magic in itself.

When we’ve done this, we can take challenging, painful, difficult situations and transform them, learn from them, gain power from them, and we can work to step into our authentic selves, our best selves. Most artists I know (painters, musicians, dancers, performers…any kind of artist) is pretty good at transforming the pain of our past, or the pain we see in the world, into something of beauty.

This is the essence of creativity.

Into Gold

A few times when I’ve tried to describe the sensation of connecting to the divine, I’ve described it as having “gold on my tongue.” While I’ve never been fully trance-possessed, the times when I’ve felt closest to drawing down or aspecting a facet of the divine are when words seemed to flow out of my mouth. There was still a conscious connection, but I felt like liquid gold, I felt that I was speaking the right, “correct” words for that moment.

Often it was in a moment of desperation–trying to get a group to sing or otherwise engage in participation when they’re just staring at me, unwilling to open up and be participatory in a ritual. Other times, it was more of a moment of transition, of cracking open, of facing our shadows or opening our hearts to the greater divine. Sometimes people in the ritual seemed to just need that extra…something, that extra push, that extra safety, the right words to open them up to that thing they were seeking, and then I’d have gold on my tongue and that would somehow bring them across to that place.

And this brought me right back to the magic of words, the magic of names, the magic of what activists often call “right speech.”

When I thought about the power of names, and words of power, I had the essence of the ritual: Claiming our gold. Claiming our own name of power. What if, instead of making a really bad contract with Rumplestiltskin to save our own hide and cover for our greedy father, what if we instead learn the power of our own magic? The power of our words?

The ritual would be about claiming our power through our own secret name. The name of God, the name of the divine, the word of power that unlocks creation and our own magic.

Straw Into Gold Ritual Arc

Thus, having gone through all that, here’s the arc of ritual descriptions I wrote up for the weekend’s rituals at the Six Crows festival, and I’ll also be doing a workshop specifically on “Finding Your Personal Magic.”

Opening Ritual: Opening to Gold
Turning straw into gold is about transformation. It’s about manifestation. It’s about unlocking the secrets of the universe, and your own personal magic, your personal power. If you unlock the inner mysteries, if you face your shadows, if you look into the deep within, there your power lies, and within you is the power to turn straw into gold. Let us open to that magic, let us open to that power, let us open that gate within and without, let us open to the gold.

Main Ritual: Claiming Radiance, Power, and Gold
Would you claim your magic? Many fairytales start with a challenge; can you remember when you were trapped in the tower with the straw and the spinning wheel? Then someone offers you help…but only for a price. Magic always has a price.

To claim your own magic is no easy task. What are you willing to sacrifice? Will look into the mirror…face your fears, your shadows…will you break the spells that bind you?  There’s a secret to power, to radiance…you can never say you are powerless again…and opening to magic will crack open your heart. What is your secret name of power? With a breath of enchanted gold, speak the incantation, the words of transformation. We spin radiance, beauty, and love…and into gold we sing.

Closing Ritual: Bringing Our Gold Into the World
We have sung the gold. We have breathed out the breath of life, the words of power. We have transformed ourselves, we have claimed the secret name. But what do we do with all of this magic? Is this magic just here to sit within us, untapped? Or is it to bring healing, beauty, and love out into the world? We begin the process of spiraling back out into the world. Let us bring that gold with. Let us breathe out, sing out our magic together to make this a better world around us.

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For the past several years, accusations of cultural appropriation have been flying thick and fast around the Pagan world. Any time someone draws upon an idea or cultural artifact they can’t prove belongs to their ethnic group, especially if it’s from a culture deemed oppressed or exploited, someone else is right there to scold them for underhandedly “appropriating” it.

But cultural appropriation isn’t always the misappropriation of myths and spiritual artifacts from low-technology indigenous populations by high-technology Western wannabes. Sometimes, it’s more peer-level than that, if no less damaging.

"Knossos fresco women" by cavorite - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Knossos fresco women” by cavorite
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
"Θεά των Όφεων 6393" by C messier - Own work Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Θεά των Όφεων 6393” by C messierOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In the early days of Modern Witchcraft, many of us believed that one of the most important ancestral origin-points of Witchcraft was ancient Crete. Lots of us had Minoan snake-goddesses on our altars, or wore Her image or the sacred labrys (double axe) as a pendant. Both non-fiction and fiction books, such as The Dancer from Atlantis (Poul Anderson) or Sign of the Labrys (Margaret St. Claire), linked ancient Crete–the “Kheft” of the Egyptians–with modern Witchcraft, and the fledgling Pagan press, such as the Green Egg, often featured articles about it. While we cared a lot less back then about academic proof of Witchcraft’s origins, as we didn’t believe we needed to justify our beliefs to anyone, we read archeology avidly. We especially devoured anything supporting the theory that the eruption of the volcanic island of Thera, a prosperous colony of Crete, was the origin of the legends of Atlantis.

Atlantis, you see, was one of the main mythical origin-points for the magical heritage that would come to be called British Traditional Witchcraft. There had been legends in the British Isles of the island’s having been settled by refugees from Atlantis, as documented in Doreen Valiente’s Where Witchcraft Lives and other sources, for at least a hundred years — much longer if you interpret the Book of Invasions in light of anthropology and, more recently, DNA. It was all so consistent.

And then, the lesbian feminist Witches came along. They claimed that Witchcraft was “wimmins religion” and that Crete had been the last great matriarchy of the ancient world. Suddenly, it was Not-OK for Traditional Witches (what later came to be called Wicca) to hark back to Crete, to display the labrys or images of the snake goddess. It was only OK for lesbian separatist Witches. They reluctantly conceded that it might be possible for heterosexuals to be Witches but claimed the entire subject of Minoan Crete as theirs. They were quite aggressive about that. It became extremely uncomfortable for the rest of us to wear our Minoan talismans in public and if we talked about what had until then been the common mythology of our origins we were silenced with slogans like “Hands Off Wimmin’s Religion.” It was more than a slogan — it was a battle cry. And anyone who trod on what they considered ‘their turf’ got blasted.

"AMI - Goldene Doppelaxt" by Wolfgang Sauber - Own work Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0Via Wikimedia Commons.
AMI – Goldene Doppelaxt” by Wolfgang Sauber – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 Via Wikimedia Commons.

There’s nothing wrong with lesbian separatism or the idea of a women-only culture. Truth be told, a lot of women need a space that’s free of men for at least part of their lives. I imagine many men need such a space, too — that used to be one of the reasons men joined the military. What’s wrong is the appropriation – no other word for it – of a large chunk of our mythology by what was as least as much a political movement as a spiritual one. And what’s wrong is what happened afterwards: instead of standing up for our right to hold on to our Minoan connection, we just let it go and replaced it with another myth.

The hijacking of Wicca’s mythology about roots in Crete happened to take place around the same time Irish folk music–real Irish folk music, not Irish-American pub ditties–hit the US music scene. Suddenly, Wicca became “Celtic.” Granted, Gardner had called it that, but he’d meant only that it appealed to what in his day was called the “Celtic temperament” — artistic, extroverted, and mystical. This new “Celtic” Wicca looked awfully Irish, despite the fact that the vast majority of its practitioners knew nothing about pre-Christian Ireland except that it was polytheistic and had cool art. Ritual accessories lost their astrological or classical décor and were slathered with Irish interlace (which, by the way, was originally Norse). New initiates began taking Celtic names in preference to almost any others.

Within ten years, few Wiccan practitioners had any idea there had ever been any connection between British Witchcraft–Wicca–and ancient Crete. In fact, among most British Traditional Wiccans (Gardnerians and their kin) in America, and despite Gardner’s frequent mentions of Pan and Diana as the patron Deities of Wicca, ancient Mediterranean Paganism became an unacceptable topic. It simply wasn’t done to invoke any but Celtic deities or to acknowledge that there might have been any influences into the formation of Traditional Wicca outside the British Isles, never mind the copious archeological evidence that the Roman army had brought their many religions with them to the Isles, where they’d taken root nicely. Except for a rare few of us Old Farts, this part of modern Wicca’s culture is gone forever.

Feminist Witchcraft, too, moved on, becoming much less a branch of Witchcraft and more a feminist Paganism. A large faction dropped the pseudo-archeology and most of the magic, opening up to a wider spectrum of women and incorporating New Age ideas to become the Goddess Movement. They don’t seem to wear the labrys much anymore, either.

Maybe I’ll dig mine out and see what happens.

(Postscript: I recently encountered a group of Minoan enthusiasts on Facebook, and it’s wonderful to finally have others to talk with about my life-long fascination. They have developed a Minoan-based seasonal cycle and liturgy, a Minoan Paganism that isn’t exactly Reconstructionist but isn’t far off, either. So far, though, not a word about Atlantis… or Wicca.)

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<Tap, tap> Hellooo? ….is this thing on?

Oh, HI! You can call me Heron. I’m new here at The Agora. In August, I’ll be back to tell tales, make confessions, and narrate the unfolding wyrdness in my magickal life on the second and fourth Tuesdays every month. But that’s not what brings us together today, my lovelies. Today, LAMMAS! The time is nigh.

Image 3
Black Eyed Susan, Photo Credit: Heron Michelle

“Summertime, an’ the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’ an’ the cotton is high…” (1)

The Wheel of the Year clicks onward into the grand sign of Leo. I don’t know about y’all, but down here in North Carolina, I’m feeling the heat of this fire-y sign; feeling the juicy, high-tides of this greater sabbat deep in my solar plexis, deep in my Will. I am on fire to continue the magickal work I began back at my Imbolc dedications.

Lammas is a “pregnant” time, full of expectation, succulence, and satisfaction, and I’m beginning to taste the fruits of my labors within the Great Work, and my back yard garden, too!

Not long after The Sojo Circle celebrated our Litha, the first day of summer, under a scorching noonday sun, and the oak king fell in battle to the holly king (complete with light saber swishing noises, because we liberally sprinkle the mirth in with our reverence), I began to feel the shift, the deepening, the long shadows cast into the dark half of the year. The message was loud and clear: Vacation is over; it’s time to get crackin.’

Mind you, I’ve been “turning the wheel of the year,” as they say, pretty much continuously now since 2005. Like anything worth doing, practice makes perfect. (Heron’s fourth rule of Witchcraft: You must be present to win, more on that later…)

Long ago, at a distant Imbolc rite, when I was a new-baby witchling, I stood at the altar and with giddy expectation spoke these words:

“Spirit! Great Weaver of all things, I seek to know your nature! Ignite within me your fires; wash me clean of doubt; blow my mind. I dance to your rhythms with earthen shoes and the starry heavens tangled in my hair. Show me the way! As I will, it is so. Blessed be.”

Since that day, I have been a Witch on fire. I am washed free of doubt. My mind enjoys regular blowings. We are old dance partners now, so I sense the subtle twirls and dips. The magick is so intuitive, yet, so visceral to me.

So, here we are at high summer, and my “garden” is bursting, both literally and figuratively. Each evening I go out to fill my basket with vegetables I’ve been cultivating since Ostara. I sing my gratitude to the plants, Reiki flowing from my palms as the red and yellow cherry tomatoes fall into them. It is easy for me to feel the bounty of the first harvest approaching because that basket is getting heavier each night!

Image 4
Photo Credit: Heron Michelle

All the best books on the Sabbats, and even my own training course in Modern Witchcraft, speak of this being the first harvest of “corn” and grains. The word Lammas itself is said to derive from the Old English phrase hlaf-maesse, which translates to “loaf mass.” So we celebrate with bread rituals, and adorn the altar with stalks of wheat. Then there must be the ubiquitous singing of “John Barleycorn,” just because that’s what you do.

However, the other day one of my students asked me where the best place was to find dried wheat stalks for his altar, and I said, “the arts and crafts store.” We are city folk and I don’t know any local wheat farmers. Yellow Corn? Sure, but not wheat. The silk floral section of the local Michael’s is where I’ve found it in the past, but the deeper I get, the more I value the power of collecting my supplies first hand. Not to mention that I own the local metaphysical shop, so buying these things from a non-local, mega-corporation just feels…tainted.

That’s when my perception shifted, and I suggested that this harvest is about what is growing right here, right now, in our own back yards, thanks to our endeavors and partnerships with nature. For me? Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and flowers.

Lammas is also about sacrifice. The Sacrificial King voluntarily gives his life to feed his people. The vegetable life in my garden give of themselves to sustain my family, and for that I am eternally grateful. However, despite any delusion that I might be on the top of the food chain, when I go out to the garden in the liminal of dusk, not only have I given of my sweat and tears, I inevitably leave a blood sacrifice to the horde of vampirous mosquitoes. If they don’t get me, the rose bushes will. They will have their due, no matter what skeeter beater potions and lotions I douse myself with. There is no way around it; nature feeds on itself.

Image 1
Garden Messenger, Widow Dragonfly. This beauty is the predator of the mosquitoes for whom I am the prey. Reminder: Nature feeds on itself. Photo Credit: Heron Michelle

“One of these mornin’s
You’re goin’ to rise up singin’
Then you’ll spread yo’ wings
An’ you’ll take the sky.” (1)

As for the Great Work of my spiritual evolution, at this time of year I contemplate not only what harvest I am beginning to reap, but what sacrifices need to be made to create space for those bounties. How is my energy exchange with the Universe remaining balanced?

As it happens, my dedication this year to my patrons Aphrodite and Hermes were to offer my voice and my talents to bring Her thealogy of Divine Love to the wider world through my writing. My students keep badgering me to write a book, so, I asked Hermes for his help in mediumship, communication and travel to other communities.
Within days of the dedication, I left for Pantheacon, and His message was a resounding, and understandably tricky: “shut up; pay attention.” There was a LOT to hear. Suddenly, I was mute. I haven’t written anything in months; couldn’t even find my favorite journaling pen, which for me, is serious business.

Lammas nears, and the message shifts to, “Now it is time…what did you hear?” The obsessive fervor to write, to craft, to fully engage all my artistic skills, (Hail, Lugh!) and to prepare my upcoming workshops filled me. FIRE took over and I’ve been driven like a madwoman for three weeks. When my personal will feels like that, I just know it is in alignment with my highest Divine Will because it feeeeels goooood. Anyone truly meant to *be* a witch (as opposed to “dabbling in Witchcraft”) will tell you that witching isn’t really optional. The Work demands to be done, and there is no rest, no peace within your soul, until you’ve found your way to those inner crossroads, your own Axis Mundi, to commune with your Gods, and accepted your sacred mission.

Photo credit: Heron Michelle
Divination: Art XIV, Queen of Wands, Knight of Disks. Thoth Tarot, by Crowley and Harris. Photo credit: Heron Michelle

So, to the crossroads I go. “OK, what’s next?”  

That’s when I got the invitation to write this column on Agora. WITCHCRAFT, I tell you! I just love it when that happens. Talk about a harvest! Furthermore, my first out-of-state teaching gig is next week at TempleFest in New Hampshire. Huzzah for travel! This is the Lammas festival hosted by The Temple of Witchcraft, and I make my debut on the night of the blue moon, no less.

So, I posed these prayerful questions of myself, and send them out to the Universe.  Do I have the courage to do the work of Divine Will, accepting the sacred mission to be Their public voice, even when that terrifies me? To truly be Their priestess? I ask my squishy, empathic, Piscean self if I can take the heat…nay, *be* the fire that catalyzes the world I live in? Am I willing to make the sacrifice?

Then I drew the cards: Art XIV, Queen of Wands, Knight of Disks.

“Yes,” I answered. “I accept the sacred mission. What should I name the column?” I ask of my patrons.
“Witch on Fire,” They answered, over and over again.

Alrighty, then. So mote it be!

Blessed Lammastides, my lovelies,


Just for some fun Witchin’ in the kitchen, here are a few of my favorite Lammas recipes to thrill your coven-mates this Sabbat feast.

Lammas Confetti Salad: Vegan
1 can black beans,drained and rinsed
1 can corn niblets, drained
1 large tomato, diced, or 1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes
1 cup diced bell peppers in a variety of colors: green, red, orange, yellow
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup or agave nectar
3-4 diced green onions
1 tablespoon chili powder
1-2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
Mix it all up in a pretty bowl and serve room temperature or chill and serve later. Serve over tomato polenta or as an appetizer with tortilla chips.

Cheesy Tomato Polenta: Vegetarian
1 Cup milk
1 Cup water
1 Cup tomato juice or V8
1 Cup yellow polenta cornmeal
1 teaspoon sea salt, pink Himalayan sea salt is even better.
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
In sauce pan, bring liquids and salt to a boil. Slowly sprinkle cornmeal into liquids while stirring constantly to break up lumps. Lower to medium-low heat and continue stirring for 10 minutes or until mixture is thick and like “grits.”  Stir in cheese. Remove from heat and pour into a flat casserole dish or pie-plate. Set aside to cool and set-up or refrigerate and use later. After it is firm it can be reheated, baked or sliced and fried. Serve with Lammas Confetti Salad on top.

(1) “Summertime” is an aria composed in 1934 by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based, although the song is also co-credited to Ira Gershwin by ASCAP.”  Link to source.

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South Carolina made news recently when they took down the Confederate Battle Flag which had been flying in front of the state capitol. The flag had flown since it first took up residence beside a large Confederate War Memorial in 1960 first established to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Civil War.

"South Carolina State House" by HaloMasterMind - Own work Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
South Carolina State House” by HaloMasterMindOwn work
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Like all things Southern this was not the entire story. Southerners take a great deal of pride in saying one thing, doing another, and meaning something completely different. After all, “Bless your heart,” is most likely the nicest put down a Southern will ever give, and they can mean it in a variety of ways.

So, Southerners didn’t just raise the flag as a means to show pride in our Civil War past or to honor the men who died believing they were fighting for a just and right cause. We did it because we were pissed at the growing civil rights movement in the south at the time of the 100th Anniversary of the Civil War. The Civil Rights Movement was another reminder that the Confederate States of America had lost the Civil War, and the demand for an end to Jim Crow was additional salt in the wound.

If this writer sounds conflicted, it is because she is. You see, I am related to Robert E. Lee; my son is related to Robert E. Lee on both sides of his family tree. This isn’t some passing fantasy that southerners have, this was what I was born and raised knowing. The Family Book of Bridges showed the connection plainly as the connection my ancestors have to the Cherokee Nation. On my son’s side of the family, whose surname is “Lee,” the connection is more direct. His family line descends directly from Robert E. Lee’s brother, Sydney Smith Lee.

This family connection, however, doesn’t erase the sins of the past nor does it take away the right of all Southerners to say something, do something, or be something that has multiple meanings. What do I tell my son? Do I tell him that his ancestry is rife with a deep sense of hatred for the black race as nothing more than chattel? Do I tell him that Robert E Lee was such a great battle general they still study his wins and loss in military institutions?

How do I tell him that our family is on the wrong side of history?

I just tell him.

My family, our family, was wrong. Slavery was wrong. Chattel slavery was vile. We come from a history of keeping slaves and enjoying the benefits of an unpaid work force that we stole from another continent and forced to work in our fields without any benefit unto themselves except what our family would give. And, in all likelihood our ancestors did not see this issue as we do, with the benefit of time and enlightenment. They thought, truly, that the Confederate States of America was protecting a way of life — and they were, but it was way of life bought and paid for in black lives. They believed in this so deeply that they went to war and died to prove how just and right their way of life was. Their lives, their blood, does not, however, trump the blood and lives of black slaves.

We can admire things about Robert E Lee:  his skill as a general, a leader, and a warrior. However, in the end, we must admit, he was wrong. The Southern way of life was not one worth preserving if it came at the cost of chattel slavery – and it did, without flinching or shying away from the truth. It did.

The other thing that white southerners have to get over is the loss. It is as if for generations we have been mourning the loss of the Civil War and the integration of the South with the rest of the United States. We have continued to punish black Americans for the loss we had. In the end, the righteous prevailed and it wasn’t the Southern Confederate States of America. We were wrong and we need to let it go.

Ultimately we have to understand our own history, not through our own eyes, but through the eyes of the very race upon which we built our nation. We have to take a deep breath and admit that fellow Southerners raised that battle flag in South Carolina not to honor or commemorate our long dead Civil War heroes, but as a signal that a battle was still raging in the south. Only now it was over Jim Crow, the right to ride on any seat in the bus, the right to vote unimpeded or intimidated, the right to peacefully march and not to fear.

When that flag was raise in 1960, it was a signal that a battle was going to be fought and lives were going to be lost. And make no mistake about it, they were. The flag was a warning, the first shot across the bow that we Southerners would not go down without a fight.

"The steeple of Emanuel African Methodist Church, Charleston, SC" by Spencer Means from New York City, USA - The steeple of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, SCLicensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The steeple of Emanuel African Methodist Church, Charleston, SC” by Spencer Means from New York City, USA – The steeple of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It has no place in our world today.

We southerners were defeated and now it is time to let those hopes and dreams shift and be filled with the unrelenting, unfiltered truth of our past and our present. It might cause the heart to twinge, but our hearts should burn with the loss of bloodied bodies that are still being spilled in this fight. Our hearts should recoil at the destruction of the sanctity of Mother Emmanuel.

If we take down this flag from state grounds across the south, we are saying – “We battle no more.”

We battle no more. We surrendered to the quiet and righteous truth that all men are created equal. We are willing to lay down the barbs of our tongue and the holding hatred in our hearts. We are willing to acknowledge that we do not want any more. No more bloodshed or unfair and unjust treatment of an entire race. We understand that years ago what we once thought was right, good and just was none of those things. It was wrong. Wrong on a level of wrongness that even now, hundreds of years later that injustice still rings, kills and decimates – not only the black race – but the southerner’s very soul.

We take down this flag because we know all of this and we only want to battle no more.

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