Trad Craft

Hello lovely readers, it’s been a while.

If you thought perhaps that I had died: I am still, in fact, alive!

I’m been a busy bee this last month. In addition to the start of a new semester, my grad school applications were due. Now I’m preparing for the interviewing process. One of which requires a mock therapy session where I have to counsel a fake family. I’m also beginning my senior thesis, which will be about intimate partner violence in LGBT relationships.

Needless to say, I haven’t had much time to sit down and write. Any down time I do have is devoted to freaking out about grad school and sleeping.

ANYWAYS.

I’ve actually began making YouTube videos. My latest video pertains to my thoughts and feelings about Traditional Witchcraft. I thought for the sake of keeping this old horse alive, I’d put that video in blog format as well.

Traditional Witchcraft:

First things first. The term “Traditional Witchcraft” isn’t very useful. Witchcraft is a highly expansive thing. It includes many different cultures and practices throughout space and time. Therefore, trying to create a neat little box of what is “traditional” is nearly, if not completely, impossible. I think of it like trying to define what is “normal.” It just doesn’t work. The definition of Traditional Witchcraft depends on many factors including the culture, time period, and the individual who is defining it.

My personal conception of Traditional Witchcraft relies on the archetypal Witch. The Witch has existed in every culture in some form or another. They may look different or have different names, but they tend to follow the same base practices. These are things like working with herbs, healing, hexing, communing with spirits, and soul flight. These are practices that are common throughout Witchcraft lore. They are broad enough to allow flexibility because they do not include more specified practices or things like religious structure.  When you begin to include the latter, it gets harder to define what is Traditional Witchcraft in a way that is useful and well-rounded.

Why is that? Well, again, Witchcraft is an enormous entity and doesn’t belong to one singular group of people. Therefore, what is traditional to one group may not be to another. Again, showing that this term is really only useful to the one using it.

The second point I’d like to bring up in this post is the very adamant attitude a lot of Trad Crafters hold, which is that absolutely do not, under any circumstances, practice Wicca. That’s fine and well, until you see someone mention blatantly obvious Wiccan concepts/practices. For example, I’ve seen numerous individuals who make take the absolutely-not-Wiccan stance in turn mention things like their “Book of Shadows.” While the concept of magical texts and recording keeping is age old, the term Book of Shadows is not. For anyone who is curious, Gerald Gardner picked the term out of a 1949 copy of The Occult Observer. An advertisement for his novel High Magic’s Aid was published opposite an article titled Book of Shadows. This article was about an old Sanskrit manual which dealt with telling the future based on the length of shadows. Prior to 1949, the term Book of Shadows didn’t exist in the realm of Witchcraft. This is just one example of Wiccan concepts that are commonly held by Trad Crafters, most likely without their even knowing.

Another example is using the Wheel of Year. Certainly, the festivals have roots in ancient cultures. However, the synthesis of those eight into a wheel formation is a Wiccan invention. In early Wicca, there were only the four major Sabbats. This was supposedly an influence from our good friend Margaret Murray. It wasn’t until later that the solstices and equinoxes were added. The names of which come from Aidan Kelly, a Wiccan initiate.

Other examples include: casting circles, worshiping a horned god and moon goddess, using an athame.

The point of this is not to disparage anyone or their practices but to demonstrate that Wicca has a lot more influence on Traditional Witchcraft. More so than I think a lot of people would care to admit.

That being said, let’s discuss the tired argument of who influenced who. There is a lot of debate about whether Wicca has influenced Trad Craft or Trad Craft has influenced Wicca. Obviously the former is true, as seen above. But the latter is just a true. The answer is that they have both influenced each other.

Whether you are Wiccan or a Traditional Witch, we all owe Gerald Gardner a lot of respect. He brought Witchcraft in the modern era. Without his work, we may not have the practices we have today. This may chap some peoples’ asses, as they will likely disagree. But really it would be like trying to argue that the women’s suffrage movement would have happened without Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Maybe, but all we know is what has happened. Wicca has dominated the modern Witchcraft movement since the start, and it’s only enviable that it’s influence is felt by many different practices.

On the other hand, Wicca incorporates Witchcraft. This includes those base practices I outlined earlier. It can be argued that Gardner worked upon the material he was given by the New Forest coven (which could be looked at as a Tradition Witchcraft coven). Furthermore, he was supposedly connected to Old George Pickingill and his nine covens.

There is nothing wrong with either group taking influence from the other. The problem arises when people either don’t understand where their practices come from or are just shady bitches about it. Again, we see the issue of not enough research and reading of quality material. People are taking what is on the surface level, what is aesthetically pleasing, and running with it.

Just look at the younger generation of Witches today. I don’t just mean age wise, but also the newbies. They have an increasing online presence, through Instagram, YouTube, and Tumblr. It’s on these sites that they are seemingly learning their entire Craft. Through idiot memes and stolen black and white photos of anything creepy or “Witchy.” They treat shows like Salem and American Horror Story: Coven as historical fact and authentic Witchcraft practices. When we know that is simply not the case, they are television shows meant for entertainment not education. If there is any book learning it comes from Gemma Gary. They treat Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways as a bible. It is the entirety of their practice. You’ll see a large portion of Trad Crafters claim that they are “Cornish Witches” despite the fact that they live in America and have no ties to Cornwall. They seem to have missed the parts about regionalism in the Craft. The practices outlined in that book are not strictly bound, historically, to Cornwall and that the Cornish part of that text has more to do with specific landmarks in that area. Additionally, they seem to skip past  Gary’s own admission that her books are her own work and while they draw inspiration from folklore, they are not meant to be historical manuals.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Traditional Witchcraft. I think it’s a wonderful thing. I am certainly fall somewhere within that term. While there are a lot of misinformed, and sometimes rather stupid, people out there (Trad Witch and Wiccan alike), there are also a lot of brilliant, well-read, resourceful people. I may have gotten a little sassy and made a few generalizations about Trad Witches in the above, but that’s because I’m highly passionate about Witchcraft and I hate seeing people falling prey to bullshit information and bullshit people.

So here’s my diagnosis:

How to NOT be a bullshit Trad Witch 

1.) Read. Read everything you can get your dirty little Trad Witch hands on. Read books about Wiccan history. I understand you want nothing to do with Wicca, this will help you understand where certain practices come from and help you avoid Wicca at all costs! (Hint: drop the Wheel of Year and other assorted practices mentioned above). OR accept that you are using Wiccan practices and drop the anti-Wiccan attitude (it looks douchey anyways).

2.) Turn off the television. Salem and AHS: Coven are not reality. Sure they are entertaining to watch. However, if your practice looks like you just binged watched these shows and put on a wide-brimmed black hat, sit your ass down and open a book.

3.) Don’t shit on Wicca. You wouldn’t have your ‘proper old’ without it’s influence. Don’t agree with me? Come back when you’ve read more than Gemma Gary and stupid Tumblr posts.

4.) Do your own thing and stop bashing on other peoples’ practices (maybe this one is a big hypocritical but it’s for your own good). You don’t own Witchcraft. You’re not the supreme.

Hop Off

It’s the New Year and lately I’ve been thinking a lot of life transitions. Each year I take a step further into adulthood. Each year I get closer to finishing school. Each year life becomes a little more hectic.

The New Year is a time when everyone, myself included, comes up with grand plans to reinvent themselves and change their lives. Maybe New Year’s resolutions are cliche and never work, but I make them anyway. Not only are fun to cook up but also make me feel more upbeat about life (although this can later lead to feeling disappointed if nothing comes of them). Nevertheless, I am devoted to being a more outgoing and positive person this year.

In order to begin this transformation I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. What are things that trap me into negative thinking? Are these things that I’m voluntarily succumbing to? How can I change this?

As it pertains to this blog, one of the biggest negativity traps for me has in fact been my research. Now don’t get me wrong. I love learning and I highly recommend it to everyone. I stand by every word I’ve said thus far.

I’ve done a lot of reading, writing, thinking, and observing this last year about Wicca, Witchcraft, and Paganism. I’ve learned so much, not only about history but about myself and my own practice. I’ve also learned a lot about people, how they interact with each other, and their eternal quest for authenticity. Despite this, I’ve begun to realize that I’m spending way to much time in my head. I’ve lost the balance of head and heart, research and practice.

Furthermore, I’ve become too caught up in what other people are doing and saying.

I think this is actually a major concern with many people in the Wiccan/Witchcraft/Pagan/Whatever community. It is nice to look and see how other people are practicing. However, I find that a lot of the time, instead of using this as a point of inspiration, people are judging each other. The question is raised of who has the real secrets, who is doing it correctly, and who is the real Witch?

Again, please don’t get me wrong. I think there are plenty of people out there doing some pretty shitty and rather stupid things with their practice. But, first of all, it really isn’t my place to tell anyone what to practice or believe in. Second, why should I even care? I’m here in my own little world with my own practice and my own beliefs. What they do doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t change my relationship with my Gods, and it doesn’t have any hold on my Witchcraft. More so, who am I to judge if I’m not even actively practicing my Craft? The only thing that comes of this is an ignored spirituality and a pissy Kelden.

There comes a time when you begin to realize that everyone (including yourself) is full of bullshit. Witchcraft is a huge, ever changing sphere. It encompasses so many different traditions and beliefs that there is really is no one way of doing things. Everyone has their own way of Witchcraft. Whether it’s Misty the Gardnerian High Priestess, Lotus Starshine the eclectic solitary, or Derek the Trad Witch. Everyone, myself included, needs to just hop off everyone else and just get back to doing our own things.

So this is where I’m at. The point of realizing that I’ve been talking the talk and now it’s time to shut the fuck up and walk the walk. That’s what I intend to do these next few months. I’m going to pull my head out of the stacks for a while and focus on strengthening my practice and my relationship with the Gods and spirits.

Winter Solstice 2015

I set up my sacred space at the base of an old tree stump. From this stump three trees use to grow. During my childhood it was a special place where I would build fairy houses and cast spells.

With a fire lit in my cauldron and incense burning, I called upon the elements, the land spirits, my ancestors, the gods, and my familiar spirit.

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I gave an offering of cookies, wine, and spices,  thanking the Gods and spirits for all the blessings they have bestowed upon me in the past season. Taking in deep breaths, feeling my roots sinking into the earth, and connecting to something bigger and deeper than myself.

A solstice tradition of mine is to write out all my goals and wishes for the next coming months. I fix my will upon achieving these and ask the gods for their aid. Then I cast it into the fire and let the smoke carry my prayers out into the universe.

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Overall, it was a nice and simple celebration of the changing season. It’s rare that I’m able to celebrate out in nature like this anymore. So having the chance to do ritual in such a sacred spot was truly a blessing.

 

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I wish everyone a wonderful and magical holiday! 🙂

A Case for Alex Mar

I feel like I’m one of the last people on earth to make a response to Alex Mar’s Witches of America. However, between the stress of finals, work, and applying to graduate school, there just hasn’t been much time to do any writing. There are a lot of reviews out there, some of them good, most of them bad. People have reacted to this book in the most extreme ways. From deeming Mar a manipulative and vindictive spiritual tourist to insinuating that this book will single-handedly be the cause of “The Burning Times” 2.0.

What has stricken me the most about these histrionic reviews are that they are being written by people who haven’t even read the book. Instead, they are going off the word of others and running with it. The hallmark of which is the common response of people, “Thank you for reading this so we don’t have to.” This, to me, says a lot about the laziness and lack of scholarship on the part of the Pagan community. “Thank you for writing this review so that I don’t have to form my own educated opinion” is more like it.

There is so much more to Alex Mar than what is being presented in the majority of the reviews. After reading the book it is clear to me how much has been taken out of context and twisted. So, even though there are now at least a few insightful responses to Witches of America, I’d like to make my own.

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First, consider that Mar is approaching the matter from an outside perspective. Therefore, she isn’t going to sugarcoat things the way an insider would. For example, when she discusses the attendees at PantheaCon (pg. 39). She goes into vivid detail about their costumes which include glitter-glued fairy wings, rubber horns, and velvet capes. She isn’t concerned with how society will view these people, because she isn’t one of them. That may seem harsh but think about it. If you, as a Pagan were writing a book that would potentially be read by outsiders, would you write about the gritty details or would you write with a filter? Of course you would write with a filter. It’s natural to want to come off as more palatable to the public. That’s what has been happening within the Wiccan community from the very start (ex. the ‘spells are just like prayers’ argument).

Furthermore, this book is meant to be a memoir, not an anthropological view of Witchcraft in the United States. The title may be confusing but once you start reading, it becomes apparent that this book is more about Mar than the Witches she writes about.

So with these things in mind, let us move forward.

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In the beginning of the book Mar writes that, “I’ve been driven by an easy curiosity, an attraction to the exotic and far-out – which the whole spectrum of belief has seemed to me – but I’ve also been looking hard for those intangibles I might have in common with even the most alien congregation” (pg. 4-5). At first glance it would seem that maybe Mar is indeed a ‘spiritual tourist’ (whatever that means). But her statement is deeper than that and deserves a closer look. She is someone who wants to believe in something (which will become very apparent as the book goes on). However, belief is something that seems exotic or strange to her. Therefore, she has made it her goal to seek out different paths in order to find one that resonates with her. Does this make her an awful person? Surely not, as the majority of us have gone through similar experiences in our lives. If this is what makes her a ‘spiritual tourist’, than we all are. And don’t you dare protest! I see your Buddha over there on your altar and that dream catcher hanging above your bed.

The problem with Mar is that she doesn’t seem to have an understanding of what it means to believe in something. For one, she approaches belief as if it’s an outside force. While attempting her OTO Minerval she remarks that, “I try to think of this time in the swamp as a time of endurance destined to culminate in a revelation – it has to. This is how this works. If I can just push though to the other side, a troop of occultists will be waiting there with an answer, a sign, a solution – my epiphany!” (pg. 260). She doesn’t realize that the answers, solutions, and epiphanies are meant to come from within. Even if someone hands you spirituality on a silver platter, belief will not happen without your own internal working. Unfortunately this is something Mar just doesn’t get, “In other words, I’m hoping that, as a reward for sheer determination, a revelation will be foisted on me from the outside” (pg. 260).

Another problem is that she doesn’t have a concept of the work that goes into belief and spirituality as a whole. Throughout the book she acts as if belief is something that either immediately and effortlessly happens or doesn’t happen at all. This leads her to consistently feeling disappointed and giving up.

Finally, whenever Mar actually begins to experience feelings of belief, she immediately writes it off. For example, after having a visceral scrying experience, Mar insinuates that it was simply the result of exhaustion (pg. 200). For whatever reason, she just will not let herself believe. The most troubling instance of this occurs, again, during her Minerval initiation. If there is one path that Mar really resonated with, it was the OTO. However, despite her positive experiences she writes that, “I am not sure whether I believe a revelation is still possible, or if at this point I’m conning myself. In light of my divorce from Karina, and my lingering doubts that I’ll ever metamorphose into a believer – a believer of anything – I think I’m viewing this journey into the swamp as a Hail Mary pass. Please! Bully me! Shove me ahead! Push me into belief!” (pg. 255).

In summation, Mar is desperate to believe in something, “I want to be disturbed, shaken into believing” (pg. 116). She believes that this will require little work, happen instantaneously, and be the result of some outside factor.

However there is still more to Alex Mar. Why is she so desperate to believe in something? If she is consistently faced with disappointment, why does she keep trying? And why, when she experiences something approaching belief, does she walk away?

The answer to these questions lie in examining Mar as a person.

….

It is blatantly clear that Alex Mar has some self-esteem issues

This comes through in the way that she views the women (Morpheus and Karina for example). These women are described in great detail and Mar gushes about the presence they give off. It goes beyond adoration to a deeper level of idolization. She wants what these women have, and that is the power that comes with belief. At one point Mar makes a telling statement about Morpheus, “What she’s fighting for is the part of her that rises above that, that exceeds those assumptions, those limitations, and transforms her into the person inside her head. the person she’s willing herself to be: a priestess with her own priesthood, the devotee of a war goddess, the product of her own perfect invention” (pg. 250). The belief that these women have is so powerful it has transformed their lives and given them purpose. More than belief itself, we come to see that Mar is looking for a purpose in life, “And in that process, the shapeless disappointments of pedestrian life give way, and everything you do suddenly has heft and meaning. A clear path of action emerges” (pg. 55).

The problem for Mar is that she can’t seem to wrap her head around why she can’t access this power. In fact, at times it comes off as her being rather condescending. She is remarks several times about how she is well educated, upper class, and surrounded by friends. For all intents and purposes, she is living the American dream. Yet something deeper is missing. How can these women who are single mothers with low income, overweight, or living in dusty stone city be living a happier and more authentic life than her? And while she clearly admires these women there are times when she makes revealing comments such as, “Right now I feel as if I exist in a liminal place, a borderland between to zones: one occupied by smart, upwardly mobile agnostics, and the other by possibly unbalanced super devotees of obscure practices” (pg 174).

Therein lies the disconnect with Mar. In some way she feels that she is better than these people. That, in spite of her friendships with them and her obvious envy, at the end of the day she is more intelligent, more balanced, and more entitled than they are. She wants what they have but she doesn’t want to become one of them. She is so afraid of letting go of her social standards and how people will view her as a result.

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Alex Mar is frustrating. She is typically American (in her desire for quick and easy spirituality). But she is not a manipulative and vindictive spiritual tourist. She is not an oath-breaker or body shamer. She is solely someone who has found her life lacking and is desperate to fill that void. Unfortunately, because of a misunderstanding of spirituality, a lack self-esteem and personal unawareness, other deep-rooted psychological reasons, she systemically fails.

Of course, this is all my own speculation. However, whether because of internal or external reasons, what it all boils down is that Paganism, Wicca, or Witchcraft simply just didn’t resonate with Alex Mar. We cannot shame her for leaving a path that she didn’t respond to anymore than the religions that many of us left behind can shame us.

In the end I encourage anyone who is interested to read Witches of America. It is not the be-all-end-all of Witchcraft. I don’t think it’s a necessary book to read. You won’t be missing much if you don’t. But, if you don’t read it, don’t make comments and responses to it. There is much more to this book and its author than what surface level garbage is being shit out by the masses.

King of Chalices

“Your least favorite card from your favorite deck”

Earlier this year Ann Moura released The Green Witch’s Tarot. I am in love with this deck! From the colorful imagery to the changes she made to certain cards (she changed The Magician to The Witch). The cards are homey and I can honestly related to their themes of Witchcraft and Paganism a lot more than I could with the Pagan Tarot. Each card features a plant and an animal that tie into the meaning, which just gives it extra depth and awesomeness.

There is one card that sort of wigs me out, The King of Chalices. ugly card

Perhaps it’s because of his awful hair. I don’t really know. I just imagine him ripping into that turkey, meat and drool all over his face. He sort of just grosses me out? It’s a strange reaction for such a relatively positive card. Maybe it says more about me and my own emotions. Oh well.

The Hermit

“Your favorite card from your least favorite deck”

When I was in sixth grade I got the Pagan Tarot deck for Christmas. I thought in concept it was cool. However I found it awfully confusing. While there are some super Witchy cards that depict Pagan rituals and whatnot, there are also random cards where the woman is doing things like grocery shopping. Not to mention the Tower card which depicts a ritual orgy, which made me terrified to read for anyone other than myself. Overall, I now find this deck tacky and useless. There are way better decks out there for Witches/Pagans/Wiccans, so don’t waste your money on this one.

However, one of the cards that I do like is the Hermit. I’ve always related to the loner archetype. This card shows the woman deep in her studies, something I can totally relate to. I love how she is surrounded by piles of old books and artifacts and  the candle light is just plain sexy.  This card resonates greatly with me and my life. I feel as if it could be me in the card (minus the massive cleavage).

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Skull

“Some shit you picked up outside and use”

A lot of the tools that I use in my Craft are things that I find outside. I use a lot of stones, sticks, and feathers. However, my most prized finds are bones.

The story behind this object starts when I was at my parents’ house visiting. There is a large expanse of woods nearby and I spent the the majority of my childhood in there. Every time I come home I like to spend some time visiting with the land spirits. On this specific occasion I had an intention, and that was to find bones.

When I’m in the woods I like to let my mind go blank, and just let the spirits guide me. I tend to wander aimlessly and it becomes a sort of a walking meditation. Before I knew it I was no longer in the woods but in a field, crawling on my hands and knees through thick bramble. The bramble bushes created these tunnel like structures and I shed a lot of blood twisting my way through the thorny branches. Yet I was determined, something was pushing me to go deeper into this woody cavern.

And then there it was, a beautiful deer skull resting in a pile of dead leaves. It must have been there for quite some time because there was no skin or muscle left on it. It was a bit beaten and there were pieces of it missing, but it was perfect. Nearby I found the two pieces of its jaw as well as other various bones including small joint bones, rib bones, and an entire spine.

I collected the skull, some of the joint bones, and three larger bones. The rest I used to form a crude monument to the marvelous creature who they belonged to. I said a blessing and thanked the spirits for guiding me and to the animal. I left some offerings, including pieces of my hair.

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The skull now rests on my altar, as a spirit house for my familiar. Additionally, it reminds me of my own spirit and to always be true to my wild, Witchy self.  It is one of my most powerful and prized possessions.

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