background – personal practice

Note: These posts were written in the summer of 2009 as an introduction to what my religion’s all about when I moved my personal blogging over to Dreamwidth. There are places where the comments are therefore a little dated, and I have plans to eventually redo these essays to be a little more timeless. Until then, just keep the timing in mind.

My background

The tradition I belong to falls roughly into cluster 2 with a side of cluster 3. Before we get into that, a few notes:

– Right now, there are only two groups in the tradition. Mine and the group I trained with (still active, too, but with a different focus. Small trad, small sample size.) My parent group is heavily teaching focused, with regular numbers of new students. Phoenix Song, my coven, is smaller and is aimed at being a working coven with stable membership once we get there. (Right now, we’re still building.)

– The tradition’s been around for over 12 years, though some of the core ideas really gelled in the last four or five.

– The definition of a ‘tradition’ (distinct line of practice) in Wicca and related religions varies, but one definition is “Someone (A) trains someone else (B), who trains someone else (C), all the way through the tradition.” By that definition, either I’m person B or C. (The founding high priestess founded the tradition, trained my parent group’s high priest, who was one of my teachers, along with the founding high priestess.) We’re reasonably stable, though, and I have reason to believe we’re going to make it to those three full generations without much problem.

– I founded Phoenix Song in March of 2008: my co-founder and I spent a year figuring things out and trying out different patterns. We’ve got a couple of prospective members under consideration right now (with an aim to add no more than 2 this calendar year, and probably the same next year. Fewer is also an option. My goal size for the group is somewhere in the 5-8 range with a little flexibility.

What is the tradition?

– an initiatory, mystery-focused priesthood tradition
– work in a ritual circle, using various magical and ritual techniques.
– have specific tradition practices, mysteries, and shared experiences
– celebrate 8 Sabbats (the solar/agricultural holidays) and full moons (along with some other rituals as appropriate)

However, I prefer to call what we do religious witchcraft rather than Wicca, because of some specific differences.
– No direct lineage to the New Forest area and relevant groups
– We’ve moved away from gender polarity (we include it, but it’s often not our primary focus: we look at the energetic ‘flavor’ polarity and others more closely.)
– We have some specific core mysteries that we focus on that aren’t generally considered part of Wicca.
– We are not all working with the same deities, precisely.

In addition, the tradition has a strong commitment to being GLBT friendly: I’ve sometimes said that I’m the most heterosexual active initiate in the trad, in terms of my personal preferences. (This may not quite be true any longer, but it’s pretty close: I do actually resonate with gender polarity in a way that is not true for many of my trad mates, though I’m equally happy to work with other modes of polarity when doing group work.)

So, let me work from most general to specific.

I’m the child of my mother (born in Vienna as the child of a highly assimilated Jewish father and a Catholic mother – they were refugees from Hitler, and ended up in Northern Ireland and then Wales. Mom was raised Catholic) and my father (raised Church of England in England). They married in the Catholic church, left it in the early 60s (after my older siblings were born), and were Episcopalian.

When I was 11, they started looking at returning to Catholicism, and I went through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program (the way adults become Catholic), and then through CCD and confirmation classes with my age peers. I was a very active Catholic (music ministry especially) through the end of college, when a combination of things got me reconsidering my religious choices. [a whole long post of its own]. I took a year or so when I moved to Minnesota to reconsider what I really wanted in religion, what I believed, and where the right place for me might be – and ended up starting by looking at Paganism, and something Wiccan-based in particular.

Things that particularly attracted me:
– I think I’ve always been polytheistic in theory (I grew up with a father who was a specialist in ancient Greek theatre, so I grew up on polytheistic myths), and the practice makes a lot of sense to me, too.

– The fact that as a woman, I could be clergy.

– The fact that while we have standard ritual practices (like how we create sacred space) that repeat, the working of the ritual is generally designed or at least adapted for each ritual. We have patterns and cycles, but also a real ability to create ritual that speaks deeply to specific issues on the fly.

– The focus on intergration of multiple approaches: in Wiccan-based practice, this is often based on the Platonic elements. I often say that my essential internal conflict in life is an Air/Water one. Air is associated with intellect and book-related learning, Water with emotional and intuitive understanding. Both flow and shift and change, but in very different ways and with different results.

The inclinations I grew up with are very Air heavy. (British parents who did not discuss emotion much.) The more I integrate the Water stuff, the healthier my relationships and interactions are. And the more I integrate Fire (action, desire, will) and Earth (foundation, stability, practical choices), the better things are too. (I anticipate a heavier Fire focus for a while this summer, incidentally, if things go the way I hope.)

Training

I started introductory classes with CotP (the group I trained in) in early 2001. I became a formal student later that year, and had my first degree initiation in early 2003. I became a 2nd degree in late 2005 (about 2.5 years later), and my 3rd degree in late 2007.

This means that I’m considered religious clergy (and could, if I did some paperwork) get ministerial credentials through the state. I haven’t bothered because the primary reason I’d want them would be for something like a wedding, but I may in the future. In Wiccan-based practice, 3rd degrees are referred to as ‘Lady’ or ‘Lord’ most commonly, along with their ritual name – technically, I’m Lady Althaea in formal use, but I do not use the title except (occasionally) in circle, and even more rarely (speaking formally for the group) outside of it. (Ritual names should probably be a separate post too.)

In degreed traditions, there’s generally a minimum time frame of a year and a day between degrees – but it can take quite a bit longer. (Depends on how you integrate the experiences, take on roles that develop appropriate skills, and so on.)

My first degree was pretty straightforward in a lot of ways: I built a lot of skills, deepened my practice, and many other good things, but it was not as earth shattering as the later stuff turned out to be. The year before my 2nd degree, my ex-husband got fired from his job, was not working for much of that year, broke some significant agreements with me, and then we separated (he moved out 3 days before my 2nd degree ritual.)

Between my 2nd and my 3rd degree, I moved three times in 18 months (from the apartment he and I had shared into the covenstead house with groupmates, with them to a new house, and then into the place I currently live.) I went back to and then finished my grad school education, and I ended up doing a tremendous amount of support work when a close friend’s partner died suddenly. (To say I was busy is an understatement, because on top of all of that and working full time, I was spending 10-15 hours most weeks with group religious work, between leadership meetings, teaching classes, and rituals.)

It’s all turned out pretty well (my grades, in fact, were the highest they’ve been in my academic career) but I’m still paying some of the costs now in terms of adrenal strain and messed up responses in my body.

This sounds very traumatic – and yeah, it wasn’t easy – but even then, it was pretty clear that this was about shaping my life in ways that made it possible to make and keep the commitments I wanted at 2nd and 3rd degree. That includes being able to give a significant amount of time to my religion, to building specific kinds of leadership, ritual, energy, and to having relationships in my life (romantic and not) that can support me in that work willingly and proactively. Got that now – not as much a few years ago.

Coven

In practical terms, here’s what it looks like:

– Full moon rituals every month, usually on a weeknight or weekend evening. 3-4 hours, in which we gather and set up for ritual, share ritual together, and then have a small feast together. (Good food and drink is one of our coven core values: we don’t mean fancy, we mean intentional, when we say ‘good’)

– We celebrate all 8 Sabbats, but we’ve moved away from the Celtic names commonly used in Wicca to other names (on the principle that we’re not working with Celtic deities or myths, and the names don’t make as much sense.) This should probably be its own post sometime.

– We have a group discussion once or twice a month. (As we have students, one of these is limited to initiates only: we’re currently doing a study of the Anglo-Saxon runes a few at a time that would be hard for someone to start part-way through.)

– And as we add students, we expect to add 2 classes a month per student. (The idea is that each of us would mentor one student directly, but we’d sometimes both be at a teaching meeting, or if we have multiple students at once, sometimes do things with students + mentors together.)

– We have a coven focus on the use of music in magic and ritual, and on a number of other things listed on the coven website. We work with four deities – two are part of the tradition, and two we’ve been working with since the coven’s founding. They’re a bit complex to explain here (and we have not yet settled on names we’re both comfortable with), and that’s okay. (We expect this to be a process for a while. Relationships are, really.)

A lot of my time right now is going into fleshing out our teaching materials: I know what I want to have in there, and am pulling things together (and writing them).

We also do some social stuff together: my covenmate hosts an irregular arts and crafts afternoon in months where scheduling is not miserable, we go to occasional concerts or museums together, that sort of thing.

Oh! Worth noting. Some people talk about covens being a second family. I consider my current covenmate and co-founder one of my three closest local friends (and I see her at least once a week most weeks). My hope for other coven members is that we’ll be close, and have an intimate, trusting relationship – but I don’t necessarily expect we’ll share all our other interests or be a great fit as friends. (And there are ways in which being a priestess and teacher makes it hard to create a friendship directly with a student, anyway.)

My basic guideline for covens is trust – is this someone I’d feel comfortable checking on my cat if I’m out of town? Supporting (or being supported by) if there’s an emergency or crisis? Talking about the stuff that really matters to us, but that’s sometimes messy and hard to do? Those last two kinds of interaction require ongoing communication and a commitment to the relationship.

Daily life

Stuff I do all the time:
– Keep up with various online discussions about Paganism (I’m a regular participant on LJ, now on DW, and one large major Pagan forum. I’m an intermittent participant as I have time and interest on others.) These take about 2+ hours most days, in with my other personal reading.

– Have playlists of songs in iTunes that reflect various ritual and magical goals. (I have seasonal lists, elemental lists, and all sorts of other things.) I may not be paying conscious attention all the time, but I’ll surface from some project and listen closely to the song, and so on.

– I have an altar in my front room. I don’t do lots of seasonal changes to it, but I do rearrange it semi-regularly.

– I also do a lot of reading of Pagan-related books. I don’t write about them much because that usually takes more brain than I have when I’m home right now, but I want to do more.

And in a world where I had more energy and less exhaustion, I’d also be doing the following:
– a morning moving (dance-based) meditation of 10-15 minutes most days (that, or a walk outside).

– regular trance and meditation work at least once a week for an extended (20-60 minute) period.

– more formal personal ritual work that I’m doing right now (quite possibly linked with the trance work.)

– far more substantial work with music.

My personal deity work is with two deities who I have personal names and a fair amount of sense data for, but nothing that maps to public research. Both seem pretty clearly English as opposed to other places, and there’s a very specific focus in both cases.

M’Lady is a goddess of water, but in a sense of water flowing as information and understanding flow, not just ‘water is this wet stuff’. Himself has horses and light dappling through the leaves on a path, and a sense of stewardship for land and particular kinds of interactions. (I’m His, because he’s Her’s, too – and M’Lady and Himself are the ways I usually refer to them in this kind of interaction online.) My posts are/will be tagged with ‘deep wells and fast hooves’.

In general, I’m particularly focused on magic in ritual and magic, group dynamics work, ritual theory and design, and building and maintaining a toolbox of approaches to different aspects and needs in my life – as well as honoring the Gods I work with.

Broader community

My personal preference for ritual work and ongoing interaction is (as you might have guessed by now) for a small intimate group where I know people well and get to know them deeply over time.

However, I live in the Twin Cities – sometimes referred to as Paganistan, because we have a tremendous number of Pagan events, and on any given day, there are likely at least one (and often more) Pagan-related events I might go to.

I go to very occasional public rituals (once or twice a year) when they don’t conflict with other commitments, but I’m also part of the Twin Cities Pagan Pride board. Pagan Pride is an international educational organisation designed to help educate the general public about Paganism (as a side effect, it’s also a good place for people curious about Paganism to connect with local resources.) They happen all over the place (including internationally).

Here, the TCPPD has been a 2 day event for the last two years: 30+ workshops, 4-6 rituals, music, vendors, and all sorts of other stuff going on. I’ve been Programming Chair or co-chair since 2006, and am currently training a minion to hopefully take it on next year (as I also am VP for our organisation, and the webmistress, and I’d like to have slightly fewer jobs! Also, I think it’s very healthy for different people to have a master plan for programming over time.)

I like it because it’s a great fit for one of my personal commitments – helping people make informed choices in their world – without either being pushy (you choose to be at the event) or too personal.

I have attended a small invite-only Pagan festival in the past, but haven’t recently. These are events – often camping – where Pagans gather for workshops, rituals, and other activities, and they’re a great way to get new ideas. I’ve found that camping tends to take up enough energy that I find it limits what I want to do in the actual festival parts. (However, there are a couple of festivals or other events that involve cabins or hotels that I’m keeping an eye on and may go to one of these years.)

I’m currently taking classes in herbalism (focused on medicinal stuff, not magical, though there’s a bit of the latter too) this year from my herbalist, and think I’m going to continue with at least some of them next year. I want (as I have more time) to do work with both magical and medicinal uses in various forms (salves, oils, etc.) but that takes research and time I haven’t had this year.

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Introduction
Part one: An overview of modern Paganism
Part two: Religious witchcraft and its various definitional issues
Part three: Personal practice