Perhaps you’ve been in a similar situation with no mentor to advise you otherwise, and when some bit of technique in a book isn’t explained and doesn’t make sense, you adapt it on the fly. That is a benefit of radical sovereignty. Hey, if you are a solitary witch, and it feels right at the time, what does it matter that you shifted your posture, picked up a different tool, or changed a few words in some bit of liturgy? Do as you will, so long as it harms none, yes?
More than a decade after I set foot to the path, I joined up with friends for group practice and my adaptations were exposed to other people for the first time. Years later, this evolves into formal teaching of new seekers. Though I don’t claim to be a Wiccan, as I’ve never been initiated into that lineage, I did teach what I thought I knew from the books that I had. Our praxis developed over time as a reflection of our understanding. Dozens of students later and a Book of Shadows of my own making was now in the hands of so many who’ve gone their own way…like blowing on a dandelion fluff, once the seeds take flight, there is no recalling them.
“Any book about Wicca can only be the personal view of the individual priest or priestess who writes it. It will contain truth and error, good bits, excellent bits and bad bits…Other and sometimes opposing views will be equally valid and right for those who hold them.” page x-xi
Fast forward to 2014: I dedicate to Aphrodite and contrary to what I said I would be doing with my Great Work, I was compelled to find these older books. I don’t even know why I chose some of those titles or authors during my mad, middle-of-the-night click-fest. The Gods work in mysterious ways.
To Err is Human…
And just like that…the necessary decades-old Wicca book falls into my hands–the kind of introductory book that I’d long been too arrogant to even open–because surely I’m beyond that now–and the critical information is finally revealed. As I read, the missing pieces fell into the puzzle of my understanding and the imagery shifted and solidified with reverberating effect.
The big !AHA! light bulb flares into brightness, followed by a hot flush of !OH SHIT! horror…oh no. No, no, no…the implications…
“Wicca is still something which we must learn from others, by observation and by doing. A book can only be a shadow of reality. This is why, in Wicca, our ritual books are called Books of Shadows.” (2) page x
Don’t you hate it when you grow up a little and realize that your elders were right? It was as though the Mighty Dead of the Craft were all nodding in “I told you so” disapproval. I felt like a ridiculous fraud, a clueless child, who still needed to be schooled and had no business teaching others.
For a time, I was in a tail-spin. I crawled under my blankets, into a wine bottle, and a Netflix series binge. I felt emotions that I hadn’t indulged in a long time: shame, embarrassment, regret. In short, I broke my own first rule of Witchcraft and “burned the witch;” I was burning myself at the stake.
But I kept reading and also found MANY instances in these books in which I affirmed that I was doing *exactly* the correct things, and that I’d figured out some really deep stuff on my own by going directly to the source: the Gods themselves. My story of self-discovery was a mirror of the memoirs of our Grandmothers, having had basically the same initiatory experiences and realizations out here on my own. That was pretty affirming, I cannot lie.
The Moral of This Story
Rather than run away from my Sacred Mission, or bury my head in the sand, or dogmatically stick to those sorry old guns as if I hadn’t just discovered some paradigm shifting new intel, I had a moral obligation to correct my mistake. Aphrodite’s lesson through this detour was about the authenticity and trustworthiness required of Divine Love. To rise into leadership as a Priestess demands humility and your personal ego to be in proper alignment with Highest Divine Will. Those are some Tower times (4), to be sure. To be trusted means you have to be radically honest and willing to be stripped bare of all hubris.
I went back to the coven and I owned my mistake. I faced the shadow of shame, and I shared what I’d learned. I asked the others to read the book and then we talked about it. Together we adapted the teaching program and coven praxis. We amended our Book of Shadows, because we cannot allow ourselves to become dogmatic, slavish, “people of the book.” This is the other requirement of radical sovereignty: adaptability. Dr. Crowley’s Wicca book (2) is now required reading prior to our initiations, and is my GO-TO resource for advancement through second and third degree priest/esshood.
To Forgive is Divine…
That Lammas season was the perfect illustration of the Sabbat’s mysteries of the sacrificial King. It was about ego, image, and threats to authenticity, trustworthiness and security. I deconstructed preconceived ideas, discarded what no longer served, and was reconstructing something meaningful from the remains. Through our sabbat rites I realized that I had to stop burning the fallible Witch that I am, and instead released that wasteful thinking to the fires. That summer was a long slog through the shadows of the underworld, but like all things, I did reemerge much better for the trip. By Mabon I was back on my game, and harvesting some really juicy, good fruits of this labor.
As this Lammastide wanes toward Mabon, I invite you to look at the ways in which you might still be “burning yourself at the stake” and to forgive yourself. In what ways are you merely pushing the same old stone up the hill like Sisyphus? Honor that this whole shtick is about the unfolding personal journey, a spiraling path that is constantly evolving. Do the best you can to follow whatever breadcrumbs the gods lay before you. No matter how deep you go into the dark forest, remain open and trust in Divine Guidance even when asked to double back and start over from the beginning. It’ll be worth it, trust me!
(1) Gerald Gardner, founder of Gardnerian Wicca; Alexander Sanders, Founder of Alexandrian Wicca; Robert Cochrane, Clan of Tubal Cain.
(2) Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium (2) Vivianne Crowley, published by Thorsons, 1996.
(3) I know you are just dying to know what mystery I misunderstood, and what praxis I foolishly changed. Maybe that confession will be made another day.
(4) Referring to the lesson’s of the Tower card in the Tarot.
(5) “Vivianne Crowley is an author, university lecturer, psychologist, and a High Priestess and teacher of the Wiccan religion. She was initiated into the London coven of Alex Sanders at the age of eighteen, but later joined a Gardnerian coven in the famous Whitecroft line derived from Eleanor Bone, and so she was one of few people in the seventies to be part of both traditions. Wiki”