Why not Wiccan?

Personal practice, Processing 4 Comments »

I’ve mentioned on other posts that even though I started on a pagan path as Wiccan, my personal path eventually diverged from Wicca. So what does that mean? According to Northwind’s About Wicca page here is a brief description of Wicca:

In summation, Wicca is a nature religion the adherents of which worship a deity who is divided into male and female aspects. The adherents of Wicca attempt to attune themselves with nature and to see themselves and all life as a part of nature. The Religion does not have as a component, a personification of evil, such as the devil but; believes in personal responsibility for one’s acts.

There are other components too, like the Rule of Return (whatever you do returns threefold) and the Wiccan Rede (And it harm none, do what you will). I mostly honor these.

NorthWind specifically honors Native American aspects. For example, the Cherokee were in the area of Tennessee where NorthWind originated. NorthWind uses the Cherokee names for spirits associated with each element. Using these names (with respect and understanding of the original context) is a way of honoring the people who know the land and have deep ties with them. Honoring their connection — not trying to claim any part of their culture. It’s an important difference to me. Something I always liked about the group rituals. I never used any of the Native American parts in my own practices.

In my personal practice, I do not believe in a deity who is divided in to male and female aspects. I honor one deity and acknowledge the existance of others, which is called henotheism. Wikipedia defines henotheism as “the belief and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities that may also be worshipped.”

Grey Cat said this about the view of deities within NorthWind:

Whether or not the God and Goddess are viewed as “real”, “the concept of the God or Goddess, that is personification of the gods, is the means to make contact with divine reality.” (Weinstein) And it is noteworthy that deity, as nature, is in all life, all of the world seen and unseen, including being manifest within each person. So to contact the deity, He/She must be awakened within oneself. This means that Goddess is always with and all around each being, Our Gods are very much a part of our everyday lives.

I still very much hold with this view. In order to have a strong connection with deity, you reach inside to connect to the Divine. I do believe that each person can connect with their deity(ies) if they do the work and listen. (That’s the big trick. Listening.)

So the big difference for me is that I am dedicated to one deity. One deity who isn’t part of or a manifestestation of a great godhead. She is who She is. Following that connection with Her is what lead me farther away from a Wiccan path. The more I learned about Her, the more the details about my personal practice changed.

I tend to do informal ritual. I do daily offerings each morning. My altar doesn’t have quarter candles or elements represented. No god candle. No goddess candle. There is a working reproduction of an oil lamp found in the ancient Roman empire. Other items on my altar include resin stick incense, wooden offering plate, vase with fresh roses, and my depictions of Her (statue, painting, sculpture).

As for the eight general sabbats, I may go to open rituals sponsored by local pagan communities, but I don’t generally do anything to mark the sabbats’ passing. Maybe a nice meal. My main holy day during the year is December 18, the one known feast date for Epona (even if the date only comes from a single inscription from Guidizollo, Italy).

Moving away from Wicca wasn’t something that happened over night. It was years a gradual evolution. I’m glad I had the training and the experience. It’s a good framework and background. It’s just not where I am now.

Evolving paths and Wiccan degrees

Personal practice, Processing No Comments »

When I first became Pagan, I was lucky to find NorthWind Tradition and to have the opportunity to train in an excellent program with some amazing people. NorthWind is a teaching tradition that provides a solid framework — a starting point. When NorthWind members are together, we use the NorthWind frame which doesn’t name a specific god or goddess. We all have different personal practices so I often thought that we use our own connections to our particular deities to invoke god and goddess. This freedom to both be part of the group together and have your own path was something I always liked. It seemed okay that I didn’t incorporate some aspects into my personal practices.

I knew from the initial First Degree class that I would continue through to Third Degree. Because it felt like something I needed to do. It would be important. It was, at the time.

People evolve and so do their spiritual paths. My focus changed from honoring a Wiccan view of the God and Goddess (Maiden, Mother, Crone) to one solely honoring Epona. The more I learned about Her, the more my understanding of Her changed. She wasn’t one aspect of a multifaceted Godhead. She is one deity of many. Over the years, I listened to my intuition (also inspired and informed by research). The Wiccan elements fell away and I slowly realized that a Wiccan wouldn’t recognize anything on my altar as Wiccan. An ancient Roman, however, would recognize most of the items.

For over a decade, I was one of the online First Degree class teachers for NorthWind. (We had an awesome group of people who met online once or twice a month for many years.) As my personal beliefs changed and I grew away from Wicca, teaching the tradition felt strange because I was teaching a path that wasn’t one I followed in my every day life. How can I be a good example when I wasn’t walking the path I taught? I worked around part of this by inviting guest speakers for topics where I didn’t know enough or personally follow. When I moved in 2007, it was a good opportunity to step away from teaching. Having an excuse like the move to stop teaching was a huge relief.

My participation in NorthWind was also minimal at the time I moved out of state. The tradition, like my online classes, had wound down its activities. The internal conflict I felt over teaching or belonging to a tradition that didn’t match my own personal practices was minimized and set aside for a while.

So long as I was participating as myself I didn’t feel the conflict. I was fine participating in local pagan activities and rituals. I was just another pagan helping organize events and meet other interesting people.

I’ve always felt that it is incredibly important to be true to yourself and to live a life so the spiritual and mundane parts are integrated. Sena at a pagan event is (mostly) the same Sena at work. Who I am at core stays the same, even if the topics I talk about are different depending upon the context.

I stayed as a member of NorthWind because it had been my home. Even if I felt like I didn’t fully belong because of how my personal beliefs had diverged from NorthWind’s core teachings, I still stayed a member. So long as I wasn’t asked to teach, the specific conflict of teaching that which isn’t my personal path didn’t come up. Since I moved in 2007, I’ve taught informally — call it mentoring — by helping people develop a personal relationship with their deities.

While mentoring is fun and helps improve my own understanding, it isn’t as challenging as having to understand something when learning something new. I wanted to be challenged. To be able to talk to peers (instead of people who were still learning the basics). I missed having people who were farther along in their paths.

And then last year I found out that Cat was sick and that I needed to drive out to see her. She was a wisp of who she had been. She was still there mentally, but physically she was half way to the other side. She had such dignity and grace in her transition. It was inspiring and amazing and so very sad to see the person who had been the cornerstone almost dissolving before my eyes. It was her time. (Some times it’s only when a person is gone that you realize how much they meant and how much of an impact they had on your life.)

NorthWind rallied around Cat and pulled together after she passed away. I was so elated to see so many old friends at her memorial last year. It was like a family reunion with people I hadn’t seen in years. So amazing.

It highlighted how much I missed having a community. Having that sense of belonging to something like NorthWind. I didn’t want to leave Cat’s memorial because I knew it was the last time my “extended family” would be together. Cat was the charismatic leader who brought all of these people together.

I wanted that connection. I wanted that sense of shared path and sense of community. So I tried really hard within the remaining NorthWind members to rebuild.

Last night, two of former my First Degree students asked me to continue their education for Second Degree. And I panicked. I felt conflicted because I’m not Wiccan any more and I also felt obligated because they have been my students. Second Degree is like getting a Master’s. It’s clergy and leadership training. Both of my initiates are amazing women and are very interested in the Native American elements for the areas where they live. These aspects of NorthWind are not an area I have ever used in my personal practice. Honored, yes; respected, yes; actively done? No. I feel like these students deserve to have the best teacher they can have. I’m not it because I can’t teach the class topics for Second Degree with conviction. It’s not my path any more. I’d be more of a guest speaker on deity relationships instead of the primary teacher.

How do you tell two very dear people that you can not be their teacher? Gently and with love, and hopefully help them find another person to be their teacher within the tradition.

Maybe it is time to consider truly stepping away and not just being inactive.

Epona article by Reinach available online

Deity, Research No Comments »

When I’m doing heavy research, I use JSTOR, Library of Congress, and the Biblioteque Nationale de France (BNF). The BNF is a great resource. If you haven’t been to the library’s site, go visit.

Imagine my surprise (and great delight!) to discover that they have an electronic copy of Salomon Reinach’s Epona, La Deesse Gauloise des Chevaux. Not only is the whole book available online, you can embed a copy of if on your web site.

Evolving personal practice

Personal practice No Comments »

Here are two good resources I’ve been using for inspiration for my personal practice lately: Classical Living by Frances Bernstein and Daily Rituals from Nova Roma. Classical Living has recipes and suggestions for activities based upon ancient Roman traditions. Good stuff.

Lately I’ve also had the desire to use the morning and evening rites from the Daily Rituals page on Nova Roma’s web site. I love the rhythm and pattern of the Latin. It’s so simple and elegant.

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Happy Eponalia!

Deity No Comments »

Happy Eponalia, to anyone and everyone who honors Epona’s feast day.

Preparing for Eponalia

Deity, Research No Comments »

The more I have learned about Epona, the more my personal practices have shifted from being traditional Wiccan to being inspired and informed by historical traditions, from personal gnosis (i.e., listening to Her and following what feels right), and from my horses.  There are not a lot of specifics about how Epona was honored (see Epona.net for an excellent summary of what is and is not known). Her artifacts date from approximately 50 AD to 400 AD and are clustered in three regions, mostly in modern day France and Germany.

To learn about how She might have been honored, I read some of the ancient authors, studied Her artifacts, and read a lot of stuff (bibliography forthcoming). Some of the classical writers provide hints about how She was honored, or at least about what might been considered common knowledge. There are a few references from classical authors that provide hints about what might have been common knowledge about Epona. For example, Apuleius in The Metamorphosis (The Golden Ass) describes an altar to Epona in a barn adorned with fresh roses. Professor Greg Woolf, in Becoming Roman: the Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul, points out that the Romans allowed almost any deity to be honored so long as the worship was performed in a Roman manner.[1]

In a Roman manner. That was the key then for what I was looking for. Even though there are sites that talk about reconstructing Gallic religion and religious rites, that didn’t feel right. My daily rites are basic: every morning, I leave an offering of incense, some times food like carrots or apple cookies, and listen to Her. I try to keep flowers on the altar too, usually roses. When choosing what goes on the altar every morning, I listen to what feels right. Sometimes it’s carrots and other mornings it’s an apple. (Old offerings and flowers are then left in the woods behind my place.)

When I do something more involved, I may do rites in Latin or French (closest to a Gaulish language that I can speak).  It’s felt wonderful — “closer” is the best word to describe it. Sites like Cultus Deorum and Nova Roma have some excellent rites in both Latin and English that are easily adapted.

Every year my celebration for Eponalia changes. It depends upon what feels right at the time. Some years I go to the barn with the horses: honoring Her by spending time with Her sacred animals. Other years, I’ve spent the day making a sculpture (which is currently on my altar). I’ve made offering cakes like mola salsa from recipes online. (See this Nova Roma page for a list of rites and offerings that can be used — some interesting ideas.) I usually have a nice dinner in the evening.

What will I do this year? It depends upon what feels right. Whatever I do, my mares will be part of it.

[1] Woolf, G. (1998). Becoming Roman: the Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. pp. 1-23.

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Hoof to the rump

Deity, Horses No Comments »

Some times things happen happen and you wonder if it is another Message from deity to get your attention. I have been trying to listen more and be more attentive at my altar. It’s not always easy to stop everything and listen. It’s easier to leave an offering of incense or carrots, say a thank you, and then continue into the day.

I try to be good but some times there has been a stack of issues that make it easier to not have to deal with them. It’s like looking at mirror and ignoring the reflection. In the past year, I’ve lost three family members who were major influences in my life. My horse-crazy Aunt, who understood all of my calls about horse tales and cat stories. When my aunt passed, my sister and I tried to get hold of our father’s brother, only to find out that he had died shortly after our aunt.

Six months later, my entire world shattered when my horse died. She had had many medical issues, but she was a huge part of my life for 18 years. A friend of mine commented that for me, losing my mare was the equivalent of losing a child. She meant the world to me and left a huge void by her absence. My younger mare has not filled that void, but instead has shifted the universe to her realm.

I miss my girl with all my heart. She is with my deity now: I felt her go. I have felt my mare’s presence with Her. It’s almost a year now since I lost my girl. With a loss like this, it’s something you process in in chunks. It comes back and comes up in places you don’t expect it. (More on that in another post.)

When my 6 year old and 27 year old mares both ended up with injuries today, I took it as a definite message. Focus. Listen. My old girl had an abscess that was lanced today and the youngster cut open her shoulder. Neither one is serious, but it’s a wake up call.

 

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Information about Sulis

Research No Comments »

A friend of mine is interested in learning more about Sulis, the Romano-British goddess associated with the Aquae Sulis at Bath, Somerset, England. I gathered some resources for her, which I’m including in this post.

When I start working with a deity, I try to understand the historical context of the people who honored a deity. When you work with a deity, you tap into the cultural context of all of those people who have honored the deity. I try to answer questions like these: Who were the people who originally honored her and what was their culture like? How was the deity depicted and what did the symbolism mean in the context of the original culture (as opposed to modern culture)? I did some searching and found some articles:
Miranda Green’s Gods of the Celts talks about goddesses associated with water and the sun. There is a lot of good info in there about the aspects of Sulis and how she relates to other deities.
Another book with information on Sulis and Bath is Roman Britain: A New History.
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Density and listening

Horses No Comments »

When I get stressed, I often forget to listen to a lot of internal voices: intuition, connection with horses, connection with deity, etc. It’s as if the stress of whatever the situation is causes me to become disconnected, unrooted. My energy bottles safely in my throat / heart / solar plexus chakras and doesn’t reach out.

My deity is patient. This situation comes up every now and then. Most of the time, I realize what is happening, analyze my reactions, and take steps to remove myself from the stress or work through it. Resolving the stress lets me reground and reconnect — and listen.

In those instances when I am either slow in recognizing I’ve fallen in the stress-unground-head-up-butt pattern, She lets me know with subtle hints at first, finally escalating to hoof-to-butt bruises. (Nothing will dislodge head-from-butt faster than an appropriately placed hoof.)

A few weeks ago, I was in a serious rut. There had been some major stresses, one after the other, and I hadn’t caught the stress cycle in time. I was making daily offerings in the morning, but I wasn’t really listening to what She had to say. Instead, I was leaving an offering and then quickly going about the business of getting ready for work.  The normal reminders weren’t getting through: minor car issue, horse having minor issue, recognizing that connection with my horse wasn’t as clear as it should be, etc.

What final message knocked me about the head enough that I realized what was going on? I fell and twisted my ankle. A few days later, my mare had a windpuff and was lame — back right foot, just like my right ankle. Talk about a wake up call. (My mare was fine after a few days. The swelling went down immediately.) At some point, you realize that the stupid little things that have been happening aren’t just stupid little things… they are an escalating series meant to get your attention.

I’m dense, so in this case, I had to be physically stopped and forced to work from home where I had to have my leg up. Working from my bed in sight of my altar every morning.

Hello, clue phone, I finally heard you.

 

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For Cat

Mentors No Comments »

Grey Cat’s memorial was held on her birthday on June 16th at her old house. I spent many evenings up there in classes, attending potlucks, and sharing time with friends (while trying to survive a room-full of smokers). This was a poem I wrote a few days before Grey Cat’s memorial. It is a strange thing doing a handfasting one weekend and attending a memorial service the following weekend. Bookends, in a way.

Court and carry candles

She passed with grace from our circle
to the Samhain side of the veil
a loved Grey Cat with a lioness personality

Has it been so long that I am the one in center now
instead of fumbling in the ritual closet for items
(and never putting them back in the right place –labeled or not)

The copper carry candle still burns
lighting the way this time
for us to find our remembrance of you.

I speak up during ritual now
clean dishes unasked
shuttle people through before-and-after ritual
weaving a web of discourse
knitted conversations
never managing to capture court

With a tilt of your head
glancing over glasses
tapping a cigarette
the world stopped for you
You, graciously, nodded its passing
and marked your last months with beauty and love.

I’m still here
remembering Summer Solstice
visiting the privy and the falls
meeting people who stand here now
Smiling.

-June 14, 2012