A few summers ago I went inward to reexamine everything about my life and my sacred mission. I’d just turned 40, suffered an unexpected end to an engagement, and was seriously considering closing my shop and giving it all up so I could change my name and move far, far away. At that point I’d been identifying as a pagan for 24 years, and was 9 years beyond the gates of self-initiation into Modern Witchcraft. I’d come a loooong way, baby.
This is the Lammas of my life. As the single mother, the priestess, the captain at the helm of the ship–I was feeling the sharp sting of sacrifice demanded of that service. I neither much wanted to keep on living this persona, nor to keep pushing this stone of witchcraft up the damned hill. Like Sisyphus, my sacred mission felt like cosmic punishment. It is fair to say I was having an existential crises.
As it happens, this was also the first year I’d dedicated to the Goddess Aphrodite, and asked her to teach me about unconditional Divine Love, to know how the lessons of perfect love and trust should be applied within human relationships. [WARNING: Do not mess about with Aphrodite; do not expect every day to be Valentine’s Day.] I had my heart broken in every conceivable way that year.
That summer, I resented the Craft entirely. Don’t ask me why I felt compelled to do this, but I suddenly NEEDED to dive deeply into early Wiccan history and thealogy. I’ve learned that after I set my Great Work intention for the year, I follow the flow wherever it leads of regardless if it seems illogical at the time. I always end up going places I never intended to go.
Primarily, I wanted to know what the Mothers of Wicca had to say on the subject, their first hand accounts of what really went down back in England in the 60’s and 70’s. How did Gerald, Alex and Robert (1) actually live? What was it like to priestess those covens when they were my age and giving birth to a global phenomenon, all while paying the bills, living, loving, divorcing and raising the children. I needed to read that they eventually “lived happily ever after,” because I was still looking for that ending, myself.
By reading the older books by Doreen Valiente, Maxine Sanders, Patricia Crowther, Lois Bourne and Vivianne Crowley (5) (and others) they helped me to re-examine my own personal odyssey. More importantly, they helped me scrutinize the intricacies and failings of my practice so that I could get back on track.
Following the BreadcrumbsThe books began arriving from all over the globe, with dog-eared, yellowing pages and goofy cover-art, penciled notes in the margins and terrible editing. I savored them. Each book contained its own breadcrumb of wisdom and encouragement that I followed like Hansel and Gretel through my personal dark forest.
I remember the afternoon that Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium (2) by Vivianne Crowley (5) arrived. I didn’t remember ordering it, and I’d never actually heard of the author before. It was originally published in 1989 (when I was 15) and this was the 1996 revision. I opened the cover incredulously, but I was hooked from the very first page.
Dr. Crowley’s introduction to her revision spoke directly to me. Here in the Lammas or high-summer of my own practice, I was going back to the drawing board and revising…everything…sacrificing all the old bullshit that no longer served me, and asking the hard questions that had never been adequately answered. Her revision of this book served the same purpose.
“As each of us travels on our own initiatory journey, our understanding of the path which we have walked evolves. We can look back and ponder our own journey… This does not mean that I now have all the answers. As each year passes…I learn more still.” (2) Page ix
Pondering the Journey
By reading all these older books, I found how far my practice had grown in parallel to what they would expect in the British Initiatory coven setting. Simultaneously, I was horrified to discover the ways in which I’ve been an idiot out here blundering around on my own as what they might derisively call an American “solitary.”
There was an important point of Wiccan mystery teachings that I’d misunderstood for decades (3). Because I began my journey in the 90’s by reading the 101 “self-training” books by authors like Scott Cunningham, who didn’t mention these mysteries, I didn’t realize they were there. That is the very definition of “ignorance;” I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Did Scott even know?
“Another difficulty is our oaths. The words of the oath of the first initiation bind us to secrecy. Wicca is a mystery religion and if the Mysteries are to effect inner change, they must always contain elements that we cannot understand; elements which confound but also tantalize the conscious mind and force it to work on them until realization comes.” (2) Page x
I guess we shouldn’t expect the deep cosmic mysteries of the Craft to be spoon-fed through a book we could find just lying around a Barnes and Noble. Self-training is not ideal, but if its your only option, what’s a seeker to do? I certainly didn’t just sit on my hands and wait around for a Wiccan Priest/ess to move to town. I sought out witchery wherever I could find it.
“No book can ever fully capture [Wicca’s] essence. Wicca is not a religion or Craft that can be taught through and learned from books. It is a living, breathing, growing system of thought, belief, ideas, knowledge and experiences…”(2) Page x