The Paradox of Personal Sovereignty in Modern Witchcraft

The Paradox of Personal Sovereignty in Modern Witchcraft March 19, 2018

A few years ago, our coven’s intention for the Great Work of magick was to “don the crown of personal sovereignty.” Sounds romantic, right? In typical witching fashion, the results of that work did not unfold as expected. The lesson I learned that year can be summed up with two words: “User Error.” Thanks to the Facebook Memories oracle, I was reminded of these lessons today.

"As in most cases, all my problems were 'user error.' There is a lesson here: when you feel like outside forces are picking on you, take a look at yourself...your problems most likely begin with you, but they certainly can end with you; seeking both assistance and knowledge are keys to overcoming all obstacles. Even if you really hate it."

This is the important part of the message:

“As in most cases, all my problems were ‘user error.’ There is a lesson here: when you feel like outside forces are picking on you, take a look at yourself…your problems most likely begin with you, but they certainly can end with you; seeking both assistance and knowledge are keys to overcoming all obstacles. Even if you really hate it.”

Which got me thinking about the paradox of personal sovereignty within Modern Witchcraft.

Personal Sovereignty and Agency

What is Sovereignty, anyway? Here is what dictionary.com offers as a definition:

  • the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign; royal rank or position; royalty.
  • rightful status, independence, or prerogative.

That sounds fine and good for governments, but what do witches mean by personal sovereignty? I often see it defined in our texts as “The right of personal governance.” In America, we live in the resulting patriarchal, dominator over-culture that grew from the Abrahamic religions.  If the marquees outside our local churches are any indication, they are indoctrinating their sheep with a message to submit, let go and let god, forsake earthly enjoyment, and hope things work out better in the after-life.

Empress In Her crown
Detail of The Empress Card III, Thoth Deck by Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris, Photo by Heron Michelle

Cooperation vs. Domination

Witches, on the other hand, are purposefully excavating a matriarchal, cooperator culture from the ancient Pagan religions.  We are reclaiming our right to question, think, and act in Divine co-creation here in this life.  All of us should be embraced as equals, because Mama loves all her children uniquely.  In Pagan culture, we are reclaiming our agency and tearing down the patriarchal structures that would further dominate us. The Goddess rises again, as the barriers of social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, and custom come crumbling down.  In the social sciences, agency is defined as “the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices…agency is one’s independent capability or ability to act on one’s will.” source 

Unlike the patriarchal control of the Abrahamic Father god, whose structures keep his sheep in a child-like position of dependence, our Great Goddess of Nature grants us personal sovereignty like adults; Like a good mama, she teaches us by example to grow into co-creative partnership, accepting everyone. On Earth, witches are granted authority over our own lives, like Kings and Queens to govern our individual domains.

The Sovereignty Paradox: Independent and Interdependent

Affirming our personal sovereignty claims our independence and authority over OURSELVES – not other people. We take responsibility for the world we create. While this may seem like a solitary pursuit, we cannot stop here, as that might isolate a witch with the lonely, narcissistic assumption that we are separate and nothing else matters. We can’t let this freedom become an “every witch for themselves” scenario.

The paradox is that we also affirm our interdependence within the web of existence. She is the matrix that weaves us together, the ground of being. From the Charge of the Goddess, we are instructed that “She is the soul of nature, who gives life to the universe. From Her all things proceed, and unto Her all things must return (1)”  While on Earth, She grants us sovereignty over our personal patch, but with great power comes with great responsibility.  Our witching duty is to serve as beneficial stewards within that web. The charge gives us our commission:  “Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever towards it; let naught stop you or turn you aside. (1)”

Emperor wearing crown
Detail of The Emperor Card IV, Thoth Deck by Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris, Photo by Heron Michelle

Of what is the “web” made?

This is the key point to the personal sovereignty Paradox: Of what is this “interconnected web of existence” made? I believe it is made of unconditional Divine Love. In Wicca this is called “perfect love” because it is whole, complete, nothing is excluded. So what is the polar opposite of Love? I think it is fear of the void, which would be the deprivation of that Divine unconditional love. I wrote more on that here.

The rituals of witchcraft help to purify us of these fears. Through our praxis of union, we are “saved” from the “illusion of separateness.” As we discover our Divinity, we come to understand our responsibility to help maintain that web as agents of Divine Love.

Making the Bed we Lie In

Think about it like this: We are all here to make this bed we are sleeping in together. The cosmos is like the honeymoon bower of creation. <Boom chica wowow> The more comfortable the bed we all make, the more we can enjoy life. Unlike our Abrahamic neighbors, enjoyment of life on Earth is supposed the be the point of witchcraft. I wrote more on that here.

“…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. (1)”

We refer to this responsibility as “perfect trust.” In other words, while you are free to “Do as Ye Will, (2)” the rest of the witchery would appreciate it if you wouldn’t shit the bed for the rest of us. This is why the Wiccan Rede suggests that we “harm none. (2)” Any human mom who’s co-slept with their little children will tell you that no matter who made the mess, the whole family is going to get dirty. Don’t be that kid.

Emperor, Tower and Empress Tarot Cards, Thoth Deck by Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris, Photo by Heron Michelle

Emperor, Empress, The Tower and “User Error”

Which brings me back around to the messages I received throughout 2016: User Error.

Whenever I was raging in frustration, and I bitched and moaned about how something was broken, or too hard, or too stupid, or the tables were tilted against me…I discovered every time that my problem was actually myself. Hermetics calls that the Principle of Vibration. Or you may call it the Law of Attraction. My thoughts created my reality. I acted like a victim of forces beyond my control, and thus I was victimized.

My methods were ineffective because of my ignorance. I was bitch-slapped by my limitations, my need to learn more, work harder, dig deeper, and stop assuming the worst. I did all this magick to “don my crown of sovereignty” and I can tell you that there was zero joy from any kind of superiority. Nope, the tower of my ego was burned to the ground…

…Until I cried out for help. I am interdependent with my neighboring sovereigns, and it wasn’t until I stopped wearing my own ass like a crown, and negotiated for mutual aid, (ie paid for technical assistance) that my problems could eventually be solved.

From the Emperor Card in the Tarot, I learned that a leader rules by serving – and his wisdom is expressed through humility. The Empress Card taught me strength and power are sourced from compassion, and her wisdom is expressed through grace.

Yes, to be sovereign means you are in charge of you. You have authority over your own life, mind, heart, will, body and spirit. While we can’t always control what hurtles we must jump, we can control how we approach those challenges. I learned that I am the only one to praise or blame for how I PERCEIVE those challenges, and how I utilize my power to overcome them.

Detail of The Tower Card XVI, Thoth Deck by Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris, Photo by Heron Michelle

Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown

For me, personal sovereignty means that I no longer have excuses for harmful behavior – including self-sabotage, wallowing in despair over my short-comings, or being consumed with rage about how unjustly society treats me. Besides, to whom would I make my pitiful excuses? There are no free passes in Witchcraft. Once you take possession of your rightful crown, the buck stops with you.

You don’t like your life? Put on your crown and change it.

~Heron

1) Charge of the Goddess by Doreen Valiente found here at Sacred-texts.com

2) The Wiccan Rede found here at Sacred-Texts.com

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