She said nothing. Her eyes were black as coal, black as her hair; her lips were redder than blood. She looked up at me and smiled. Her teeth seemed sharp, even then, in the lamplight.
"What are you doing away from your room?"
"I'm hungry," she said, like any child.
It was winter, when fresh food is a dream of warmth and sunlight; but I had strings of whole apples, cored and dried, hanging from the beams of my chamber, and I pulled an apple down for her.
Autumn is the time of drying, of preserving, a time of picking apples, of rendering the goose fat. Winter is the time of hunger, of snow, and of death; and it is the time of the midwinter feast, when we rub the goose-fat into the skin of a whole pig, stuffed with that autumn's apples, then we roast it or spit it, and we prepare to feast upon the crackling.
She took the dried apple from me and began to chew it with her sharp yellow teeth.
"Is it good?"
She nodded. I had always been scared of the little princess, but at that moment I warmed to her and, with my fingers, gently, I stroked her cheek. She looked at me and smiled -- she smiled but rarely -- then she sank her teeth into the base of my thumb, the Mound of Venus, and she drew blood.
I began to shriek, from pain and from surprise; but she looked at me and I fell silent.
Faced with several possible interpretations based on the evidence we correlated, it became clear that although it remained possible that Gerald Gardner may have created the tradition, it was certainly not that plausible in comparison to some of the other conclusions that we reached. In fact, at this stage of our research we feel that it is most likely that Gardner was not that much of a charlatan after all, but that his accounts of initiation into an existing tradition, upon which he later expanded, were truthful. When stripped right back, without the many additions and evolutions it has undergone since the 1950’s, Gerald Gardner’s ‘Witch Cult’ appears to predate him by at least some years.
Perhaps more interesting to me than the ever-debated question of whether (YES!) or not (YES!) Gardner created a "new" religion (is there such a thing? YES! NO!), is d'Este's and Rankine's discussion of Wicca as a mystery religion:
Whilst debating the possible starting point of this magickal tradition, we realised that all the evidence being presented was focused on the people who were the early public face of the tradition and their contemporaries. Yet this is a tradition which is also called a ‘Craft’ and which is an experiential tradition where personal experience is paramount for the understanding of the practices and beliefs. So why were we debating the origins of the tradition in terms of who said or did what?
. . .
Having asked ourselves all these questions again and again over the years, . . . we found that ultimately Wicca remained a mystery tradition at its heart. The practices and beliefs could only be fully understood through direct experience thereof and it was through this that the tradition could be best defined, not through the endless debates about lineages, initiations and personalities!
The definition of a mystery religion (or "tradition" as the authors would have it) as one that can only be understood through direct experience rings true for me; Wicca is what you do. I've been reading The Wiccan Mystic: Exploring a Magical Spiritual Path (religion, tradition, path, we're a confused people; I love us that way) by Ben Gruagach, who spends considerable time trying to define what a mystery religion is, and then determining that, even though Wicca fails to meet several prongs of his definition, it still meets the important prong, so it must be a mystery religion!
Gruagach says that mystery religions:
*require formal initiation
*have secrets shared only with members of the group
*focus their worship (bad word, IMHO, practice would be better) on communion with divine.
As examples of true mystery religions, he lists Eleusinian "cults" (v. bad word, IMHO), worship of Mithras, and the "cults" of ancient Egypt.
Gruagach says that Gardnerian Wicca was definitely a mystery religion: initiation by a "high degree" witch was required, secrets were shared (BoS!) only with members, and communion w/ the divine was sought through ecstatic practices, including flagellation, chanting, dance (if he were more thorough, he'd have added sex) (and drugs, including alcohol).
Yet, when he looks at modern Wicca, Gruagach finds initiation is often lacking; even in Gardner's day, there were certainly Solitaries who were never initiated by anyone (except, perhaps, by themselves. And, Deity. Which, would, you'd think, do the trick.) Similarly, there are, today, few Wiccan secrets not for sale in the aisles of any Barnes and Noble. (Except, of course, for the one that can't be printed in any book, posted on any website, or told by even a Ninth Degree witch to an Initiate: And you who seek to know Me, know that the seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am That which is attained at the end of desire. And that's where Gruagach concludes that Wicca does measure up to the most important prong of the mystery religion test:
Wiccans often perceive even mundane [now there's a word I hate] life as flooded w/ the Divine presence. Wicca is an experiential religion where one is expected to [I'd have said, "where one does" . . . "expectations" (of others) play so little a role in the religious life of most witches. You either do experience the divine or want to or you don't.] to actively seek out contact with the Divine [maybe "awareness of unity with" is better than "contact."] Concluding that it is likely that this characteristic [direct experience of Deity] is the essential core, the mystery of mystery religions Gruagach determines that Wicca is a mystery religion.
Does it matter? Probably not. One could live (and, certainly, through the centuries, many have lived) with intimate awareness of unity with the Divine, do magic, perform ritual, dance the Spiral Dance, and be in every way a witch without ever having heard of mystery religions or considering whether Wicca is or is not one. As d'Este and Rankine note, Wicca is called The Craft for a reason and a craft is something one does, not only a body of intellectual knowledge.
But I like Gruagach's discussion for this reason: it highlights what I believe to be an important distinction between Wicca and many of the "accepted" world religions. In what I find to be a rather icky attempt at "inclusiveness," xians, in particular, often talk about "people of faith" as if that somehow included all (real) religions. But it most emphatically does not include a mystery religion such as Wicca, where faith plays no role at all and experience is everything. (And you who seek to know Me, know that the seeking and yearning [and having faith] will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am That which is attained at the end of desire. ). Other religions, xianity, Judaism, Islam, Hindus, and even Buddhists may have their occasional mystics, the Levi Yitzchaks of Berditchov, the St. Theresas, the Rumis, etc., who directly experience union with Divinity, but one can be a full-fledged leader of, say, Catholicism, without ever having had such an experience. As long as one has faith, (OK, and for Catholics, who, perhaps more than Protestants, retain a few mystery traits, as long as one is baptised (initiated)) one is "saved," a complete member of the faith. Me, I find everytime that someone wants me to take something on faith, they're trying to sell me something, put one over on me. You gotta Deity? Show me. Otherwise, meh.
This focus on experience may be why the concept of S/he's a witch but doesn't know it is common among many witches. We can recognize people who aren't Wiccan, would recoil at the suggestion that they're witches, but who clearly live in touch with Divinity, do magic, have found the Mystery within themselves, with them from the beginning, and attained at the end of all desire.
I'm a big believer in daily practice. There are witches, wonderful witches, who celebrate only the Sabbats, or only the Sabbats and the Esbats, and that's v good. But, for me, being a witch means sitting down daily at my altar. Daily lighting the incense, daily lighting the candles in the candle spells, daily grounding, daily calling the directions, daily casting the circle, daily saying the Ha prayer, daily working several magics, daily listening to the Goddess.
Today, for no more reason than the law of averages, deep magic picked me up and carried me, the way that some occasional wave at the beach will lift you up and carry you. I've called Water a thousand times; today, West picked me up and carried me. And that feeling is the feeling of deep magic.
We've had simply the most lovely weather, here in the nation's capital, for the past few days and, well, that's my excuse. I've been outside, in the garden, too much to blog. Life is short; there are a finite numbers of perfect days poured into each life. You can't waste them inside.
Lunea's musing about tribe. What's interesting to me is how, these days, tribes span the globe. I feel lots closer to folks all over the world than I do to, say, my wingnut neighbor across the street or to my sister the idiot.
On the other side of the planet, Aquila qua Hecate is celebrating the feast of Brighid, a time for burning out the dross. In a way, for me, that process begins at Lughnasadah. I begin yanking out the stalks from the dead day lillies, watch the tiny yellow birds clean the seeds off the lovely, twisted branches of woad, continue yanking out bindweed, start watching for falling leaves and acorns. More and more stuff is "done" and the dross can be yanked and thrown into the sacred compost pile And the process goes on through Mabon -- eat it up now, it will spoil later -- through Samhein -- let's celebrate the dying that's happening everywhere around us right now -- through Yule -- clear, clean, crystal, not much organic mess left -- and on to Imbolc -- burn out the remaining mess, we need to get ready for the life that's coming!
Picture (and lots of other v interesting stuff) found here.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."