Summer Solstice arrives on June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere, and along with it comes the undeniable truth that half the year has passed. The last six months were full of lessons, both professional and personal. I completed an enriching and transformative experience in life coaching with JRNI. I also moved into a new house, which has demanded more of my time and attention than I expected. It didn’t surprise me all that much when I drew The Hermit card and the Four of Swords on the New Moon in Gemini. Even the cards are telling me to rest!
It seems a little counterintuitive, though. Pagans are supposed to be reveling and basking in the glory of the sun at the height of his power right now. Maybe I’ll just head to the beach and revel in a chaise lounge instead.
Historically, I’ve used this time as a mid-year review, a little assessment of where I’ve been, where I’m heading, and what might need adjusting. I created the Tarot spreads below with that in mind.
The Mid-Year Review Spread follows the sun’s waxing and waning energy with the still point, the solstice, in between. Since Winter Solstice, it’s likely that we’ve been working on or processing something. Where we are now is the result of the work we’ve put in earlier. As the sun’s light wanes and the days grow shorter, it’s important to recognize where we may need a bit of extra support or nurturing to finish out the year.
When the Sun King is strongest at Summer Solstice, he also moves into the sign of Cancer, which is ruled by the Moon and the most feminine of all the signs in the Zodiac. There’s a great lesson in this. It teaches us to lead with the heart and balance strength with love and compassion. The Solar King Spread below is for the king within us all, who honors the feminine within himself and others.* It also pays homage to that most ancient Celtic ceremony of the king’s marriage to the land.
For this spread, you will need to place the The Sun and The Moon cards from your Tarot deck at the top. If you’re working with an oracle deck, choose something that represents those two qualities for you.
If you use either of these spreads, drop me a line below, or tag me on Instagram @quillofthegoddess. I’d love to see how they work out for you.
It may surprise you to know that despite being a witchy, Goddess-powered kind of woman, I cohabitate with a man who is decidedly non-woo. It has come to my attention that there are quite a lot of us out there who maintain some type of spiritual practice that doesn’t involve our partner. It’s like we’re all keeping a holy sanctuary that our most-loved person never enters.
Does it matter? Well, that depends.
For some, it’s no big deal, as long as the partner is respectful and understanding about things like burning candles, wafting incense, reading Tarot cards, and being highly conscious of the moon’s exact phase and astrological transits. As long as love is the foundation of the partnership, it works well enough.
I’ve also known women who relish their spiritual path as their private, inner world, and they have absolutely no wish at all to share any of it with a partner. Doing so would almost feel like a violation, because they have fought so hard to create that sacred space for themselves.
For others, spirituality becomes a sticking point. They want and need their partner to be fully on board and engaged with them and their woo-woo. Questions can begin to arise like, ‘If my partner rejects my spiritual values, does he/she reject me as well?’ and ‘If I can’t share this part of my life with him/her, then do we really even have a relationship?’
In the earlier days of my break from mainstream religion, I was thrilled if the guy I was with didn’t bug me about church or try to convert me. It was even better if he didn’t freak out over words like witchcraft, Goddess, and pagan. (Having been raised in the South, I was recovering from the emotional abuse and patriarchal wounds I received from the church. The slightest mention of evangelicalism would send me running).
So, I only looked for tolerance and open-mindedness from potential lovers, and that’s mostly what I attracted. The word witch almost served as a kind of litmus test to see who would stick around, although I have to say that many didn’t care what I believed or practiced. They were far more interested in my body than my mind and spirit anyway.
I thought that men who were spiritually awake, plugged in, and switched on would be too much to hope for, quite honestly. I figured I’d be doing really well just to find one who was stable, reliable, intelligent, driven, and kind. Enter Domestic Partner #3, who has all of those qualities.
I felt that he was extremely fortunate to have parents who didn’t drag him to church or force him to practice any type of religion. I certainly wasn’t going to do that to him, either. He formed his own beliefs, which are pretty close to agnostic if I had to put a label on them. He has always been supportive of me, but we’ll never share the same views on the inner-workings of the Universe and the things I feel inside but can’t always explain.
Our relationship works, as long as my witching and priestessing takes place on the outskirts of our daily life. It works, as long as my woo-woo conversations are limited to friends and members of my community. It works, as long as I don’t connect the dots between sexuality and spirituality. It works, as long as I don’t care if he ever joins me in my inner temple. It works, as long as I keep this immense part of myself, which informs so much of my writing and all that I do, separate from all that we do as a couple.
Sometimes I do care, though I try hard to release any expectations. I’ve learned that having expectations of anyone is always a recipe for disappointment. Knowing that is one thing; putting it into practice is another. Sometimes it’s lonely. Sometimes I feel we are speaking a completely different language, and there is no translator. Sometimes I follow the flowchart back to the beginning and find that the heart-centered medicine men and sages of this world are still in short supply.
I’ve never felt that my partner rejected me personally or even my spiritual outlook directly. It’s more that I question how deeply a relationship can go if one of the most important aspects of my life can only be experienced with other people.
A well-meaning friend suggested that I might want to be a little less witchy here in lower Alabama. I can understand why she would give that advice. I certainly don’t wish to be a target for people who will probably never try to understand other points of view, let alone something as controversial and misunderstood as witchcraft. There is always the pressure to blend in, conform, and adopt the “when in Rome” mentality. That goes double for a tiny military town like this one.
In my current stage of life, though, I’m politely but firmly ignoring that pressure. I’m too far out of the broom closet to get shoved back in, and I refuse to make myself smaller and more digestible for others. Either they can handle all that I am, or they can choke on me. While my spiritual path is not the first thing I lead with upon being introduced to someone new, it’s also not something I’ll hide or tiptoe around if I’m asked about it directly. Anyone who wants to do a diligent search can find me easily enough on this blog and on Instagram—I identify as a witch in both places. I understand there is value in speaking to someone at his/her level, which I try to do as much as I’m able, but not to the extent that I feel compromised or lessened in any way.
I’ve watched people bristle over the word witch for the last 15 years, when I first started rolling it around on my tongue and applying it to myself. It felt like a new black dress that I hadn’t quite grown into yet, but I wore it anyway, trusting that it would fit perfectly someday. Now the sleeves drape gracefully, the hem falls where it should, and the bodice hugs me tenderly in all the right places. Witch I am. Witch I shall always be, even when I don’t feel like witching (see previous post). My path is strange, winding, and quite lonely at times, but at least it is my own.
I know it’s a bit more socially acceptable for most if I just talk about the Goddess or the Divine Feminine and avoid the “w” word. I’ve done that in person and on this blog for years. The waters are always calmer if I talk about energy and holistic healing without mentioning things like spells and rituals. It’s disappointing, and it feels like watered down whiskey every single time. If you have ever stood in a cast circle and felt the currents of energy running around and through you, if you have ever invoked the Goddess under a full moon, if you have ever summoned the elements and felt the wild, infinite power of each one…well, then you understand.
I’ve been around the New Age community enough to know that witch can send ripples through a room and silence it faster than you can blink. I’ve made the mistake too many times of thinking that acceptance would be automatic, only to find myself shunned by people who hoard crystals, play with oracle cards, carry on conversations with dead people…and still show up for church on Sunday. It was all rather confusing, or maybe they were confused about their own path. It all served to teach me that (a) I can never assume anything about the tolerance level of any group, and (b) I don’t ever have to stay in a situation where I’m not welcomed for who and what I am.
When you can’t find community, sometimes you have to create one. I lead a small study group for solitary or eclectic witches, meaning those who are not affiliated with a particular coven or system. We draw from many sources. We do our own thing, but we also enjoy having an online forum where we can read books together, discuss them, and share our questions and observations. We’re currently reading The Inner Temple of Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak, which offers plenty of meaty material for witches old and new. In Chapter 4, he leads with a paragraph that reaffirms what it means to wear the mantle of the wise:
The witch’s path is not an easy road to walk. Through the roots of our history, we have seen the persecution of those who practice the art of magick and the mysteries of the Goddess and God. Though death is not the result in this day and age, witches are still discriminated against. If you can handle the difficulties, the life of the witch is very joyous, filled with never-ending study and exploration. Witches learn many disciplines to ply their craft. One must be a dedicated student, but also have the passion, the fire, necessary to live life as a witch. Witchcraft is constantly adapting and evolving, calling creative, daring people to it. (59)
I heard that call, as I’m sure many of you did as well. We are writing our own history as we go. Future generations will base their opinions and ideas on what “witch” means by how we present ourselves and what we leave behind. It is my hope that we leave them with a definition of kindness, healing, love, strength, and reverence for the world around us.
I spent most of 2015 grieving the loss of my mother. The following year was consumed with celebrity deaths, the election, and a general feeling of malaise and anxiety over what lay ahead, both politically and personally. It was supposed to be a year of recovery for me, a year to get my groove back…except it wasn’t coming back so easily. It was sort of inching back like a snail on a Hosta leaf.
Enter 2017. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion at first, and then it sprinted forward in May. Suddenly, my husband has a fantastic new job, and we’re hopping one state over to Alabama. As I’m writing this piece, the movers are filling cardboard boxes with all our worldly goods. I am parked on the patio, preferring the company of my dog, the songbirds, and the rhythmic sounds of Layne Redmond’s Hymns from the Hive.
Instead of focusing on the move, I’m thinking about my spiritual practice and how it has fallen into what can only be described as a slump. I am a witch who has not felt like witching. Other than my daily Tarot draw, I don’t do much. I’ve allowed Sabbats to go by with a yawn. I’ve acknowledged the moon through astrology reports more than I’ve gone outside to soak up her soft, comforting rays. Candles remain unlit and stored away. Crystals stay in a lovely wooden box that a dear friend gave to me years ago for my birthday—it even has an image of the wolf goddess Lupa on the top. There are reminders like that everywhere, symbols of the Divine Mother’s love and strength, but I walk by them as though they are shrouded in mist.
Rather than chastising myself, I’m looking deeply into why I haven’t felt inspired. Why do any of us turn away from our rituals when life gets nasty and we actually need them the most?
Weeks pass. The move is complete. Now I sit here on a rainy morning in a new room with a new desk in a new town, still looking, still questioning. Honestly, I have felt somewhat annoyed with one aspect of Goddess spirituality, particularly the intense focus on self-improvement that continues to mushroom. If I could roll my eyes any harder, they would slide right down my back.
For all the attempts to build women up and make us feel that yes, we are goddesses incarnate dammit, there’s also an assumption that we’re quite flawed and in need of fixing…and there’s plenty of money to be made from women who desperately want to be fixed. All of that makes my hackles go up. I’m baring my teeth, and this is my low growl that says, “Back the fuck off. I’m not buying, because the Goddess is not for sale…and by the way, I’m not broken.”
The problem with having your spiritual nose planted so deeply in your own ass is that you’re constantly in a state of “healing.” I’ve been there, and it’s exhausting. You bounce from one program or one ideology to another. You think that you’ll get out there and make a difference as soon as you finish cleaning up the shit from your childhood and your bad relationships and your grief and all the rest of the baggage you’ve been hauling around for eons. Here’s a hard truth: that day won’t ever come. You’ll never feel so perfectly “healed” that fairy dust exudes from your pores and rainbows shoot from your nipples straight to the heavens. Don’t use that as an excuse to avoid making your own unique contribution to the betterment of humanity. Have you looked around? No one is levitating off the floor, are they? You’re as good as anyone else. We can’t afford to be so inwardly focused that we don’t see what is needed in our own communities and the world at large.
Here’s a little story about that from my own dusty archives. I once practiced with a circle of women that really got into prosperity magic, which could be defined as rituals designed to bring about financial gain. Granted, this was about the time The Secret came out, so a lot of people were convinced that they could have wealth beyond their wildest dreams if they could just think positively, create vision boards, write themselves fake checks for a million bucks, and repeat a shit-ton of affirmations in the mirror every morning. I give that book about as much credence as the cow patties in the pasture down the road. Actually, the cow patties are useful as manure and do serve a purpose, which is more than I can say about The Secret.
Anyway, one member of the women’s circle finally began to question why we weren’t doing rituals that focused on world peace, healing the environment, equal rights for the oppressed, and so forth. After all, this is what the earlier Dianic covens did, and their political activism made an impact. She was beginning to see that prosperity for one is good, but prosperity for all is better. We were raising energy strictly for our own purposes, when we could have made it broader and more meaningful. Not surprisingly, things began to shift in a more positive direction for me when this group dissolved, and I went my own way.
I may be tired after all that has transpired the past couple of years, but I’m not defeated. I’m looking at everything with a very skeptical eye, and I believe this is healthy. I need to question my role, my path, and my focus. So forgive me if I don’t become positively rhapsodic about writing up a wish list for the full moon or a banishing list for the dark moon. Forgive me if my cauldron stays empty right now. If and when my witchy practice returns, it will have to encompass a lot more than personal transformation. It will have to reach wider, dig deeper, and feel truer.
I never imagined I’d see the day when the moon became trendy.
In the early days of my witchy explorations, I had to learn about working with the lunar phases from books and from other witches. There were websites, but the Internet was young and barely crawling at dial-up speed. It was hardly worth the trouble to do a search, because a lot of the material had been plagiarized or bastardized in some way. If you wanted original content about anything related to witchcraft, you still had to seek out a metaphysical bookstore, find a local discussion group, and/or join a coven that offered instruction, degrees, initiation, and so forth. It required more effort. You had to actually get off your ass to go meet real people and do real things. There was no social media to hide behind in the cozy comfort of your living room. Ah, those were the days!
Flash-forward to the present, and you can find tons of articles on how to do just about anything in accordance with the moon’s phases, along with Facebook groups, infographics, webinars, YouTube videos, downloadable classes, and probably more Digital Age tools that I haven’t even discovered yet. I’m not dissing them entirely, since I use many of them myself.
Still, who knew that our Lady Luna would become so popular with the tech-savvy, even among those who don’t necessarily walk the path of the witch? The moon is, dare I say, hot right now—and she gets shit done, or at least you would think so by the number of hits she receives on Google.
Advice on manifesting and releasing with the moon is trending hardest, and why not? It seems we are always trying to pull something into our lives or banish it for good, and the moon’s constant waxing and waning matches our desire for an in-flow or an out-flow of energy. Witches and priestesses have known and honored this magick for ages, but now it’s a thing…a tool…a shiny New Age toy (long, exasperating sigh).
As women, we feel (or have felt) this ebb and flow in our bodies most keenly with menstruation. We know the art of creating and letting go quite well. I am told that the feeling of building and emptying is still there even after menopause. We never really stop cycling with the moon. Blood or no blood, womb or no womb, our connection with that pale, luminous orb is never severed. Yet, we have become so detached in a collective sense that working with Luna’s energy seems new and hip. This saddens me, and it also makes me want to clarify some things I’ve learned about moon magick, lest it become just another hipster fad.
First, I see any type of lunar ritual as a catalyst. Whether we’re burying something in the earth to manifest a dream or burning a list of what we want to release, we’re asking for change. We are opening the door to people, circumstances, and divine messages that will bring about the transformations we desire…and we have no idea what any of that will look or feel like. Trusting that whatever does come is for our highest good is an act of faith, pure and simple.
Second, results are rarely instantaneous. The moon doesn’t work like a child’s wishlist for Santa. We may have several blocks to prosperity that have to be worked out over weeks, months, or even years before a dream can be realized. Coming up against those blocks isn’t exactly fun, but a new moon prosperity ritual will certainly highlight every single one of them. Dealing with our own resistance clears the way for growth and abundance.
It’s the same with releasing. I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve seen that advise writing down what you want to release and then burning it on the dark moon. It can be cathartic to watch a ton of emotional baggage go up in smoke. I’ve done it myself plenty of times. Fire purifies like nothing else. Just don’t be fooled into thinking that years of encrusted fear, shame, and self-loathing will vanish instantly in the flames. It doesn’t. What happens is that we are provided with opportunities to heal those wounds.
Whether we’re drawing something toward us or letting it go, we still have to do the work. Goddess never lets us avoid that, but She doesn’t abandon us, either.
Trendy or not, I’m grateful that the moon is slowly returning to her rightful, honorable place in the spiritual lives of women after being shunned and feared for so long. She has always been a symbol of all that is feminine, mysterious, and magickal. May we be ever mindful of how we work with her energy and what she can teach us with every cycle.
A SONG of the good green grass! A song no more of the city streets; A song of farms—a song of the soil of fields. A song with the smell of sun-dried hay, where the nimble pitchers handle the pitch-fork; A song tasting of new wheat, and of fresh-husk’d maize. –Walt Whitman, “A Carol of Harvest for 1867”
The word I would use to describe Lughnasadh is liminal: occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. Summer isn’t over yet, and autumn hasn’t begun. There is still work to do—the harvesting of crops, especially grain, if you happen to be a farmer. For most of us, however, the harvest is more akin to deep reflection, taking stock, and looking at how the intentions we have put out into the world have developed.
What has grown? What has withered? What can be gathered in and used for nourishment? Was it worth the sacrifices we made? Are we enjoying the fruits of our labors at all? We pause. We consider. We begin to winnow out anything that isn’t useful. We dance in the sacred space between “no longer” and “not yet.”
My coven celebrates the astrological date of Lughnasadh when the sun reaches 15 degrees in the sign of Leo. In the northern hemisphere, this marks a seasonal shift toward autumn, as it is the exact midpoint between a solstice and an equinox.
Again, there is the overriding theme of being poised without having to move in either direction. For me, nothing captures this better than The Hanged Man of the Tarot, and he has been making a frequent appearance lately.
This card disturbed me a little when I first encountered it years ago. The whole idea of being hung upside down seemed barbaric. I imagined the blood rushing to my head, the ropes chafing at my ankle and wrists, and the constant exposure to the elements. I thought of insects biting and stinging and feeling helpless to swat them away. Some decks show The Hanged Man underwater, which is even more unsettling if you suffer from aquaphobia.
Yet, he seems to endure his restriction with a contented expression on his face. There is an air of quiet resignation about him. He has accepted what fate has delivered and knows that struggling is futile. Rather than focusing on his outward circumstances, he goes within and finds peace. He appears to have chosen this particular trial and is managing it gracefully, like Odin’s shamanic initiation upon Yggdrasil.
If you flip him right side up, The Hanged Man becomes the cosmic dancer of The World card, the very last trump in the Major Arcana. But he hasn’t achieved that supreme level of integration yet—he cannot avoid spending some quality time in the Underworld first.
We can learn much from this placid figure about honoring the space between. As an American, I was brought up to believe that achievement is paramount. Competition is instilled from elementary school onward, because how else would we survive in a capitalist economy? You either climb the ladder or dwell in various levels of poverty. So we develop this driving force to be the best at whatever we try and to constantly set higher bars for ourselves.
I’m not saying that pursuing goals is a bad thing, but when 40 million of our citizens have anxiety disorders and 17.3 million die from cardiovascular disease every year…you have to wonder if we’re doing it right. Maybe we haven’t been taught the value of BE-ing along with DO-ing. After all, what does it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our souls?
That is what The Hanged Man is finding again as he sways from the branches of the World Tree—his radiantly beautiful soul. He is teaching us that liminal space is healing space and that a divinely ordered time out is often just what we need. There is no place in the past worth revisiting and no place in the future to run toward. There is nothing to be accomplished immediately and no all-important five-year plan to hatch. As we celebrate the first of the harvest Sabbats, casting our magic circles once again to honor the Old Ones, let us drink in the sanctity of being between the worlds. In the midst of an ever-changing and frequently chaotic era, may we listen to the subtle whispers of nature, reminding us to Be Here. Be Now. Just Be.
We drank the wine, and broke the bread,
And ate it in the Old One’s name.
We linked our hands to make the ring,
And laughed and leaped the Sabbat game.
Oh, little do the townsfolk reck,
When dull they lie within their bed!
Beyond the streets, beneath the stars,
A merry round the witches tread!
from The Witch’s Ballad by Doreen Valiente
People assume a lot about witches and pagans, and much of it springs from the fanciful pages of gothic and paranormal fiction. Sometimes I really wish I could be at least half of all the things they imagine, but I daresay that most would find my witchy life quite mundane in comparison.
Many moons ago (I’m not going to say exactly how many), when I began testing the uncharted heathen waters, I found divided camps. Now, keep in mind that I was exploring paganism in the southeastern U.S., and many witches here (self included) were brought up in extremely conservative, fundamentalist churches. On one side of the pagan fence, I found those who practiced a freewheeling, skyclad (sans clothing) version of Wicca. On the other side of the fence, I found those who preferred to stay fully robed and far, far away from anything resembling an unbridled, ecstatic rite.
It was a bit confusing. Did we not leave the repressive church to experience something different? Were we simply trading one dogma for another?
I began circling with all-female groups, mostly because I had heard stories about lecherous male pagans and high priests who insisted on sexual initiations for female coven members. That sort of thing tended to get my feminist hackles up, as I did not want to be in yet another situation where men had ultimate power and women were subservient. Looking back, I wonder if there was even a kernel of truth in any of those stories. I’ve met precious few men in the pagan world, but most have been kind, strong and deeply respectful of women as the embodiment of the Goddess. Had the patriarchy infiltrated so deeply into paganism, or was it all just a projection of deep-seated fears that women have carried for millennia?
Most of what we knew, or thought we knew, about covens came from British Traditional Wicca. When I review the works of Valiente, the Farrars, and other witches who were writing and publishing throughout the 1970s, it seems as though their ideas were somewhat diluted in the crossing of the Atlantic to America. Perhaps it’s because they landed on Puritanical soil, which wasn’t quite ready and willing to receive them.
What I love most about these foundational writings is that they address sexual polarity and how central it is to Wiccan philosophy and practice. There is always a High Priestess and a High Priest, serving in equality, as representatives of the Goddess and God. The balance and beauty of that is undeniable.
Early covens also adopted ritual nudity in order to be completely free of the notion that the body is profane, to rise above ego and persona, and to increase psychic power and awareness. Perhaps this was partly inspired by the sexual revolution of that era as well, but even so, they were tapping into something ancient and transformative. The poetry and passion in their rituals, indicative in the High Priest’s invocation below, is deeply moving.
Altar of mysteries manifold, The sacred Circle’s secret point— Thus do I sign thee as of old, With kisses of my lips anoint.
Open for me the secret way,
The pathway of intelligence, Beyond the gates of night and day, Beyond the bounds of time and sense. Behold the mystery aright— The five true points of fellowship… Here where the Lance and Grail unite, And feet, and knees, and breast, and lip. (written by Doreen Valiente)
Fast forward 30 years, and you would see a plethora of books on Wicca and witchcraft, but you would find only the barest hints of erotic mysticism within their pages. Skyclad covens were getting seedy reputations, whether they deserved them or not. Sabbat rituals were becoming short, saccharine, and whitewashed of anything that might offend tender sensibilities. More’s the pity.
You would also find female centric covens that worshipped the Goddess while stripping away her sexual nature. The male aspect of divinity was, at best, a mere consort who sat politely in the background, waiting to be called forth like a faithful hound. It was a clear backlash against the patriarchy, as women rediscovered their power, the Goddess within, and Her awakening presence in the world. The only problem is that the Goddess isn’t singular or chaste as the Virgin Mary. She is Shakti…always cavorting and co-creating with Shiva. I am a great proponent of women’s circles and women’s mysteries, but only if we extend that healing outward to include the sacred masculine from which we are never separate.
Deep within, I believe all human beings have a natural craving for ecstatic ritual, but how often do we ever really let go and surrender to such power? All of the poetry, the pageantry, and the ritual nudity that characterized Wicca’s beginnings were just ways of getting above the mental blocks that keep us rooted in a third dimension reality. In a world that is fraught with so much sexual wounding, can we step through our shadows long enough to feel the light? How do we reclaim ecstasy in a way that honors the gods and the highest self?
I may be an idealistic witch, but I believe we reclaim it by owning our stories, standing in our power, honoring our bodies in whatever way we choose, embracing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, building circles of trust, daring to be vulnerable, stripping off our barriers (and perhaps our clothing), dancing wildly, drumming passionately, loving deeply, and becoming the alchemists of a New Age.
Sacred ritual, properly guided by an experienced shaman, can create a “whole brain” experience that awakens the curiosity of the neocortex, satisfies the need for safety of our more primitive limbic brain, and makes ecstatic states accessed by the frontal lobes of the higher brain possible. Ritual performed wholeheartedly allows us to transcend our limiting roles and beliefs and experience more elevated states of being. – Alberto Villoldo Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation by Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman
The Random House Dictionary defines ritual as “an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite.” That’s a rather ho-hum definition that suggests following something very structured and scripted that may or may not be inspirational. The word itself can feel heavy and laden with centuries of doing the same thing over and over again in the vain hope of recreating a sense of wonder and ecstasy. It can also suggest something mundane, like brushing one’s teeth or applying deodorant.
Yet, the idea of being in a ritual and experiencing something ethereal is part of what drew me to paganism. I wanted to be out of my head, out of my body, and out of this world if possible. After working in sacred circles for many years, I now see ritual as a catalyst for spiritual transformation when it flows from the heart and is fueled by strong intention and desire. A well-designed ritual has the power to transport us to a different level. We enter the circle, and we are changed by what occurs inside. The change may be instant or gradual, but there is no denying that a shift occurs.
That magical shift in thought and awareness is something that modern society has tried hard to achieve through psychology, but we’re now waking up to the fact that traditional methods are losing some ground. A paper published in the Psychological Bulletin revealed that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is roughly half as effective as it used to be in treating depression, for example. It’s quite possible to lie on a couch and talk about a problem with a therapist for years without ever making progress. Perhaps the frustration over “getting stuck” is one of the reasons people are seeking something much older and more shamanic in origin. Rituals use symbols that work with the subconscious mind to bring about lasting (and sometimes dramatic) changes. It’s more than just venting about what hurts—it’s getting to the root of the issue and healing it on a deep level.
When designing group rituals, I look at what’s happening seasonally, astrologically, and energetically. Are we in the dark half or light half of the year? Are we more inwardly focused and reflective or more active and expressive? What solar and lunar influences are at play? What is the overall mood of the group? Sometimes there is a need for rest and recovery; sometimes it’s more about raising energy for particular goal.
Tarot can also be helpful when I need guidance on developing a ritual theme. During the month of March, for example, I did a reading on what the focus should be for the next women’s circle. I drew the Eight of Pentacles, the Hanged Man in a reversed position, and the Nine of Pentacles. I’m sure there are many ways to interpret those cards, but I was seeing frustration over being out of alignment with one’s higher calling. Too much time and effort was being wasted on making widgets instead of making a life. The graceful ease and refinement depicted in the Nine of Pentacles hadn’t quite manifested, but the desire was certainly there.
Given that the date for the circle was near the Spring Equinox, it was the perfect opportunity to focus on planting seeds, both literal and symbolic. Our ritual focal point was the blessing and planting of some organic basil seeds, which are now quite leafy and ready to transplant into a larger container! Basil is associated with drawing money and success while warding against misfortune, so its properties also matched our intentions. (Plus, it makes a yummy pesto).
My personal rituals often begin with a shamanic journey. Most of the time, I know what I want to address, but I don’t always have immediate inspiration on how I will go about it. So I let the sound of a drum take me deep into theta where I can meet with a trusted spirit guide. I’ve received advice on ritual timing, herbs, incantations, crystals, talismans, and more just from traveling in the astral realm. I tend to trust what my guides tell me more than the ready-made spells available in books and on the Internet. Those were fine when I was new to the Craft, but eventually, I wanted something more personal and specific to my needs.
After learning what I need to know from my journey, I do the ritual. I inscribe the candle with runes, create the mojo bag, bury the object, paint something with menstrual blood, make a collage, chant the words, dance like a banshee…whatever needs to be done (as long as it’s legal). Then I let it go. This last step is crucial—when a ritual is over, obsessing about the outcome won’t help. I trust that I’ve done all I can, and I leave the rest up to forces greater than I am to work out the details. I believe that all rituals work—even the ones that seem to affect nothing, because they are sending a message that everything is in stasis for a reason.
I won’t say that rituals are the solution to every problem—if you need professional help, please go get it. But I will say that serving as my own priestess and shaman has helped me navigate the seasons of my life and deal with the harder blows like divorce, death, and illness. I didn’t have to trek deep into the Amazon or climb the Himalayas to find a guru, either. I became my own. I’ve never felt completely powerless, because I knew that as long as I had breath in this body, I could at least be fully present in sacred space and do something that symbolized what I wanted to achieve. If there is one magickal axiom I still trust completely, it is this: As above, so below. As within, so without. As the universe, so the soul.
Johnsen, T. J., & Friborg, O. (2015, May 11). The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000015
My spiritual journey did not begin in a sacred grove amidst ancient trees under the light of a silvery moon. I didn’t wear a cloak or carry a staff adorned with a glowing crystal sphere. I didn’t have a wand or an athame or a silver pentacle dangling from a chain around my neck. I had nothing other than the hardness of a church pew matched by the rigidity of the sermons I listened to each Sunday, because I had no choice in the matter.
Like many other natural witches, I did my time in mainstream religion while under my parents’ roof, and then I followed a quest for something deeper and more meaningful on my own. I tried out other ideas, other modes of thinking, other ways of being. I wandered down a meandering path that took me into solitary witchcraft, New Thought communities, Buddhist meditation, women’s spirituality, traditional Wicca, shamanism, and back again.
No matter how wide my path became or how many side trails I explored, the roots and bones of the craft stayed with me. I found myself returning again and again to the Wheel of the Year, the eternal dance of the Goddess and God in the earth and the heavens, the lunar cycles, the power of the elements, and the transformative energy inside a sacred circle. All of those things became the cornerstones on which everything else in my life rested. I could not feel winter’s icy embrace without appreciating the Goddess in the mantle of the Crone. What was Midsummer without basking in the glory of the Sun God at the height of his power? What was a full moon if I could not dance beneath it with the pounding of the surf in my ears and a billion stars twinkling above me?
The patterns of my life became inextricably tied with those found in nature, and so the ways of my agrarian ancestors began to feel more normal to me than much of what I witnessed and experienced in the modern world. How could it be natural to sit in front of a screen all day to earn a living? My eyes longed for sunsets. My feet ached for soft grass and warm sand, and my heart sang with the rhythm of the tide.
Nature was not something outside of myself to be feared or controlled. She was part of me. I was part of her. I wanted to be more in alignment with what she had to teach. Following the path of the natural witch and the wise woman gives me that connection, season after season, year after year.
I believe there are distinct stages on any spiritual journey, and the ways of the witch are no exception. There is an initial stage of curiosity and discovery, followed by a deeper stage of self-exploration and learning from various teachers and texts. At some point, the seeker begins to apply all of that knowledge to develop a personal practice. After years of devotion and practical application, the seeker often becomes the teacher, and the cycle continues.
There are also the inevitable dark nights of the soul when one’s beliefs and methods are put to the test. I have fallen into the abyss, faced my own darkness, and risen from smoldering ashes many times in my life. I could only see the growth and transformation long after the pain was over, which is usually the case with life lessons. Those who are drawn to the external trappings of the craft are often quite disappointed when they discover what is truly required of one who walks the witch’s path. We cannot always make our troubles vanish with an herbal brew and an incantation. We may be metaphysically gifted, but we are not spared from illness, death, adversity, losses, and rejection. Sometimes the greatest magic we can summon is our own strength and integrity to endure the storm until it passes.
Looking back, I could stitch together all the pieces of my journey like a quilt—and it would look like a “crazy quilt”—the kind your grandmother might have made with fabric scraps of varying sizes and colors. It only makes sense when you’re standing back far enough to see how those irregular parts become a unified work of art.
The question I keep asking myself at this stage of life is not so much what I can learn (although I am always learning something), but what can I teach? What can I leave behind that will help someone else? Is there anything I can pass on that would make a difference?
This is an “8” year for me in numerology, and it has already been filled with opportunities for leadership, teaching, and some promising results from seeds planted long ago. I’m a rather shy Virgo who tends to avoid the spotlight, but I’m finding that the desire to share knowledge is finally outgrowing my insecurities. I don’t have to be perfect—I just have to do my best with what I have been given.
The highest expression of the 8 in the Tarot is The Star. She is a woman at ease with her natural, unadorned self and her surroundings, knowing that she is deeply connected to the source of all life. Rather than pouring water between two vessels, as we see in the Temperance card, she now pours the healing waters of the Goddess from both vessels freely upon the earth. She knows there is an inexhaustible supply, and her only task is to be, to allow, and to trust that all is in perfect harmony.
As I contemplate the purity of The Star, those words become my mantra…be still, allow, trust…and keep walking the soulful path of the witch.
There are two witches living inside of me…one wild, one tame.
I won’t deny that I love the wild one most—
she who resists order and structure,
she who prefers the loamy smell of woodlands and the sand of untrodden shores,
she who calls the lightning bolt down to shatter the tower,
she who gives not a single flying fuck about your opinions.
The wild witch knew magic long before it was sifted down and spread categorically into the pages of dusty books and grimoires. She knew it well before the Golden Dawn, before Gardner, before Cunningham, before replicated lists and correspondence tables. She knew the Goddess before they gave her names and the Horned Hunter before they demonized him.
The wild witch walked in the forest, lifted her hands to the sky and felt the radiance of the noonday sun pulsing through her veins. She pulled the power of rocks and soil and gnarly roots up through her bare feet into the core of her being, renewing her connection to the Earth Mother. She waded into the stream, and the water swirling about her calves and thighs was her very first lover.
The trees spoke to her in every season, bearing the changes of growth and dormancy in equal measure; so she learned to do the same, dropping her leaves like the oak in autumn…blooming like the hawthorn in spring. The flowers and herbs beckoned to her, revealing all of their secrets one by one, and they became her strongest allies. Rosemary grew tall and strong at her door. Artemisia graced the entry to her garden. Primrose danced between the stones of her walkway.
The wild witch attended the university of the winged ones, the four-leggeds, and the creepy crawlies. Lessons arrived daily. She listened to the hawk’s piercing cry and reveled in the raucous laughter of crows…caught a glimpse of the elusive fox and the owl’s golden eyes at dusk…watched the shy, gentle deer and the steely serpent shedding its skin.
The moon waxes and wanes, and so does the wild witch.
The cycle of
replays over and over again with the ebb and flow of Luna.
Her world is fearless inspiration…blood and fire of creation…bitter ashes of death and destruction.
She recoils from domestication.
Don’t try to “save” her, please. You will find her in the deepest of caves, drawing portraits of her yoni on the walls with red ochre.
The wild witch loves as only feral beings can love…completely but without attachment, deeply but without anchors.
There are two witches living inside of me…one wild, one tame…and how fiercely I love the wild one.