Traditional Witchcraft, Spirituality, and Ethics

FDG2016TphatCurrently, it is a prevalent opinion among Pagans that traditional witchcraft was strictly magical, lacking theology or moral aspects. While I can respect that theory, it is not congruent with my own experiences. I suspect whether traditional witchery had sacred or ethical aspects varied by locale or by family tradition.

I never argue with anybody’s experience, only their theory. Theory is ever-changing. I’d never want to invalidate anyone’s experience, including my own. I’ll share mine below.

My experiences lead to conclusions that differ from the aforementioned current popular Pagan position. I hope to add to the Pagan dialogue on the topic, and provide support for those who, like me, have an unpopular point of view.

Growing up in a family tradition, I learned magic and a mystical worldview con leche. Therefore magic and mysticism were a given, as much a part of life as the air I was breathing. In the process, a religious and ethical worldview was deeply ingrained in my cells.

Note I say “my cells,” not “my brain.” It took my entire childhood and adolescence to imbibe the tradition’s basics, because cellular lessons take time.

The understandings of the tradition were so deeply imbedded in our home life that much of the family tradition was taken for granted, not out and out spoken, but more implied and lived. This includes the theist or moral aspects.

In fact, calling it an understanding in the above paragraph is somewhat of a misnomer. It is not so much an understanding as a way of being.

In any case, a lifestyle with many of its important aspects being subtle or unspoken seems an earmark of many traditional witches I have met.

When I got older, I saw that this subtlety sometimes causes people who were viewing the family tradition from the outside to not see the tradition’s deep religious and ethical roots, only the more overt—and perhaps less core—trappings. When I participated in family traditions in Europe, I usually found deep religious and ethical roots in them.

Observers are not engaged in the family culture. They are standing outside it, watching. Only by being part of a shamanic family culture over a long period of time can one can really understand the culture. The notion that to watch something is to fully understand it is a fairly current concept of scholarship. As I said above, learning the traditional witchcraft of my family required an experiential, long term lesson.

It has become almost de rigeur to insist traditional craft never had sacred or principled aspects. This makes it important to me to write this post about my family tradition, because I feel I’m speaking up for my Gods, for my witch ancestors, and for others who feel as I do.

I do not like it when a theory ceases to be a theory and becomes a mandated belief—in other words, when someone is mouthing somebody else’s words to, consciously or not, invalidate other seekers. Unfortunately, the concept that traditional witchcraft had neither ethical nor theological base has become yet another Pagan rote declaration, usually said—or written—in an intimidating tone of I-know-better-than-you-so-whatever-you-think-is-stupid.

I can admire people who authentically believe other than I do. An informed and friendly exchange of ideas about traditional craft, spirituality, and ethics could be a lovely thing. Healthy debate is a wonderfully educational process for everyone involved. A supportive, respectful, and thoughtful exchange of ideas can do wonders.

But debate is not the same as trying to legitimize and define one’s path by invalidating someone else’s. That hurtfully invalidates a lot of newbies who already feel insecure about their belief system. This can crush a newcomer’s spirit.

Coming to our community, hoping to finally find fellowship, but instead encountering someone just as invalidating as mainstream society, can be doubly heartbreaking, because they thought they had finally entered a safe space. So they often never participate in our community again, and end up without support in their Pagan explorations.

People who need to squash others in order to validate their own power have less power than they think, and more mere bluster than they realize.

Thus, I felt impelled to write this post to support invalidated Pagans.

A last thought on traditional witches and ethics: perhaps in some cases, a lack of morality had less to do with any tradition and more to do with human nature. Some people just take anything, even that which is moral and sacred to begin with, strip it of those roots, and use it for their own selfish—or even evil—goals.

I hope this post is a useful contribution to Pagan dialogue about traditional craft.

If you want experiential lessons in traditional craft, I teach The Third Road, a tradition I channel, informed by the magic of my ancestors and my mom. (Channeling teachings is part of traditional craft.) I teach mostly via group phone calls—aka teleseminars. Here’s the link to subscribe to my newsletter, which tells you about upcoming classes: http://www.well.com/user/zthirdrd/InfoForm.htm

Bless you.

Bickering, Community Service, and Self-Awareness

Part two in a series on supporting newcomers (and oldtimers) in your spiritual community. May, 2013. Part one is on my other site, at http://www.outlawbunny.com/2011/06/14/welcoming-newbies/

A woman phoned me to inquire about my classes. That’s not unusual; I teach oral tradition style, so feel I should be available by phone if someone wants to ask about my work.

She immediately said that very few pagans are hard-working in their spiritual efforts. This is not unusual, either; I hear that sentiment plenty.

After addressing her community critique, I tried to move the conversation past it, but she kept returning to the issue. She is not someone for whom I’d be a good teacher.

It is only human to bond with someone new by denigrating others. But it is a tendency I try to avoid: While it feeds the ego of the two people bonding (they get to feel superior to everyone else in the world), it keeps them from getting any actual work done. I mean the sort of work that happens in my classes: for example, self-examination, self-care, nurturing of ability to serve community, and building shamanic skills. No, I am not the teacher for her.

Fool, tarot card, Francesca De Grandis, 12-03

The fool is about love. Fool, tarot card, Francesca De Grandis, 12-03

When first working as a spiritual counselor in an occult shop, I received a pretty big shock. I’d been guiding folks in a private practice, mostly by referral. Suddenly I was thrown onto the front lines. Someone would come to the shop to consult with me because their daughter had just died. Or their 14-year-old son had gotten somebody pregnant. Or their husband beat them.

I went home and threw out my lofty new age abstractions. I threw out my Celtic cross spread, at least for most of the shop appointments. (For those of you who don’t know the spread, it makes for a complex lengthy session.) A lot of these shop sessions were only ten minutes long. After that my boss pressed the buzzer: Time’s up!

I sat in my home and started coming up with very fast spreads that would tune me into the heart of the client’s issue(s) and the essence of the advice they needed. I compiled a list of community resources: contact information for women’s shelters, teen crisis counseling, etc. I honed my inner skills more than ever so that I’d sense a client’s needs stat.

I was a working minister.

Decades later now. As then, not all my work is with trauma survivors. Often, I help people with more “everyday” concerns,” as well as train folks in shamanism, other esoteric skills, creativity, and marketing. But I’m definitely always on the frontlines: in community, with a busy schedule of counseling and teaching.

I mention being a shop employee and my ensuing work because: I’ve rarely gotten involved in pagan debates; I am too busy! Mind you, I discuss my work with other front-line ministers who can help me polish my shamanic skills, not burn out, and otherwise address my work. But I do not want to be criticized because of theoretical issues that have little basis and are thrown on the table by angry people with no understanding of what I am really up against on the ministerial front lines.

When we’re busy looking at our own faults, polishing our own skills, taking care of ourselves, and serving community, we don’t have time to unnecessarily criticize people.

Criticism is appropriate sometimes. Each of us needs to be held accountable by community. And healthy debate is joyfully welcomed in my classes because fresh perspectives rise.

The sort of criticism that I’d like to see less of is the endless picayune bickering that seems to produce little. Hmm, well, it produces swollen egos, draws the limelight, hurts sincere seekers whether newbie or oldtimer, and silences timid souls. Important sidebar: It hurts the newbies not only because they feel rejected but also because it encourages them to behave in kind.

Even as an oldtimer, I can feel hurt and invalidated, when people get so riled up and so angry and bitter; and behind their words is the statement, “I am better than you, I am better than you, I am better than you.” And behind that statement is their primary one: “Go climb in a hole so that your sincere efforts don’t shame me any longer.” This can be devastating to newbies who are ardent seekers with hearts wide open!

Those kind of arguments and the comments of that person who phoned me are also tantamount to saying about the person being criticized, “You are the ‘other.’ You are ‘one of them,’ so you are not as worthy of love and respect. I do not have to treat you with caring and decency because you do not have the same vulnerabilities as me.”

Now, if this post ends now, my mental meandering amounts to me just being another superior jerk. But I am going somewhere productive (I hope):

It felt important to paint a recognizable picture of high-handed community strife and its outcome for three reasons:

1) If you avoid insane community debate, you still might be uber-critical of other pagans (or someone else) within the confines of your own mind. When I find myself doing that, it’s time for a good look at myself. Internal criticism (perhaps a running commentary on the superiority of others, lol) has the same impact on me as it would were I voicing it online. Same impact, dude! I might be avoiding looking at my own errors or avoiding responsibility, to either community or self.

Feeling superior is more comfortable than looking at my own faults. And superiority can, oddly enough, make me feel safer than self-care. And superiority is safer than getting out into the world to try to make a difference. You avoid the endless, high-handed criticism of I-know-better-than-everyone-else idlers who are likely to pursue you once you try to make a diff in the world.

2) Angry superiority is what many newcomers first see. Or we might meet newbies with a subtle version of the same thing. I want to make a practice of examining myself for this. For example, is my ego playing out in a more subtle manner? Goddess, when someone inquires about my work, keep me humble, welcoming, self-aware, and focused on love and service. Goddess, at all times, keep me humble, welcoming, self-aware, and focused on love and service.

3) If you are afraid of getting into the pagan community because of what you see, now you know i see it too. You are not alone. Please realize there are people who do not bicker. We aren’t as vocal because we’re busy living. If you ask the Universe to guide and inspire you, you will find us.

And, with us, you can work and dance and celebrate the Gods. Because we are pagan to the bone. Heathens, celebrating the stars, the earth, the seasons, ourselves, and each other.

You will find us. We are here. I am like you.

Ethical (and Unethical) Fey Teachers

The following was a post I made on the Faerie Nation Yahoo group in 2008. I’m blogging it now because the problems it addresses keep on happening, I recently heard instances of it that broke my heart. And they did not all happen to a newbie! I hope my thoughts helps someone.

Ethical (and Unethical) Fey Teachers
Francesca De Grandis, May 5, 2008

For hundreds of years, fairy glimmers in the woods have beckoned, reflecting our secret longings, illuminating our honest needs. Puritanical moralists caution us about the evils of the fey. But we know better than that: The good folk can help free us from repressive religions and absurd social strictures. In addition, when we are barraged by a logic that denies magic and miracles, that fairy glimmer reassures us, telling us that mysticism is real, and that the wondrous is possible.
 
But not all the realms of fairy have beneficent dwellers. There is an Unseelie Court. And not all fey-touched magicians can be trusted, whether they call themselves fey, faerie, feri, fairy, or faery. (To define Unseelie in an oversimplified manner: Just as the Faerie Queen and her Seelie court might help us, so the Unseelie Queen and her followers are more likely to malevolently perpetuate great tragedy for humans.)

Eagle with Iris in Great Darkness, Francesca De Grandis. For info about a limited first edition print of this painting, click on it

Sate your hunger for luminous mystery and faerie mysticism, and for the fellowship thereof. But don’t let that ferocious appetite, authentic though it is, blind you to the following fact. Some people with immense glamour and fey power are pawns of the Unseelie Court. Perhaps this happens because power has made them so haughty that they are unwitting dupes for the forces of evil. Or perhaps they themselves become outright evil. Whatever the reason, it does happen.

Silence allows it to continue. I might sound strident but: I will not tolerate Fey practitioners who participate in molestation of children, sexual harassment of students, disregard for magical safety, and flashy curriculums lacking a moral compass that withstands the rigors of daily life. I am available by phone (814-337-2490) if you’re concerned about yourself or a friend when it comes to such people. Newbies to the community are vulnerable, and I post this warning for them and for anyone else who needs support around these issues.

While many cautions against the fey realms can be rightly interpreted as disguised attempts to suppress us, and to make us milquetoast, there are valid cautions. Dark mysteries needn’t be an excuse for a teacher to dominate. Wild hearts don’t mean that a teacher can ignore your sexual boundaries. Powerful magic needn’t lack caution. The quest for utter fulfillment needn’t lead to hollow longings or addiction.
 
There are dark mysteries that are wholesome, wildness that is authentic, satiation that is both attainable and ethically possible. Powerful magic can safe. Fey fellowship, wild lovers, and powerful teachers can be both otherworldly and good. Find them all!

Francesca De Grandis, May 2012

So mote it be.

In Her service,
Francesca De Grandis

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Here is another blog by a woman named Mae that also addresses this issue. (It also says very kind things about me. Mae, thank you again.)