The Witch Within

I have been thinking a lot about my Witchy/Wiccan roots. As I have felt increasingly connected to my spiritual life again, I decided to perform a re-dedication ceremony as part of my Beltane ritual this year. I performed my first self-initiation ceremony at Imbolc  over 21 years ago and for years after I would rededicate every year at that time. I would rise just before dawn and go to woodland near my childhood home. I had a special place with a big old tree stump as my altar; it was always such a magical experience offering up my commitment to the elements, the spirits of place and my deities as the dawn chorus broke and the sun rose.

My initial self-initiation is still so vivid in my memory. After months of research and honouring the festivals, I had planned to go at sunrise to another special place of mine in a forest on the South Downs but that night I was restless with excitement and anticipation, and as I lay awake in the early hours, I got the strongest sense that I should do the ceremony in my garden.

At that time, I lived in a house-share with friends in a wonderful house that I loved. The area, although at the edge of a city, was surrounded by mature trees and was a fabulous place for wild-life. Our garden was like a little woodland grove (foxes would doze on the lawn in the middle of the day!)  and it turned out to be the perfect place to dedicate myself to my Wiccan path.

The night was the coldest of that year, minus six with a stunning star-filled sky. Standing in the dark shadow of the trees, a circle of sky above my head, as I cast circle, called in the quarters and the Goddess and God, the blackness beneath those trees seem to be filled with a watching presence that made my heart beat hard and fast. As I spoke those words, it genuinely felt as if  I was being listened to, and at the point in my ritual where I asked  the forces of nature and the Divine to accept my dedication, I gazed up and saw an enormous shooting star. It was such a perfect moment of synchronicity.

It had taken several years to get to that moment. I had first started to be drawn to Witchcraft in the late 80’s. Unlike today, sources to learn about this path were few and covens even fewer. I met a woman in the early 90’s who had been a coven witch in London and we became friends. She lent me books on the Western Mystery Tradition and we had some fantastic conversations which led me to tentatively explore. I had read books by the Farrars and knew there was something at the heart of it that called me, but the traditional forms of Wicca felt too formal for me. It wasn’t until the mid-90’s when at University I took a module on Goddess Spirituality – and with the publication of books like Rae Beth’s Hedgewitch, Scott Cunningham’s solitary Wicca series, Teresa Moorey’s fab little books and the discovery of StarHawk’s Spiral Dance – that I could begin to see a structure to this path that I could explore without having to find a group to work with.

This time saw a sudden inrush of new people to the path; this birth and rapid expansion of eclectic forms of Wicca and Witchcraft brought with it new resources and fresh inspiration. It was an exciting time. I joined the Pagan Federation, met others who I would celebrate ritual with for years after, and began to truly learn in earnest.

It is now fascinating to me to see how my path has developed and changed over time. The beauty of this spirituality is that it is free from dogma; you are required to really engage with your own experience, what this teaches you and where it leads you. Over the years I have witnessed others on the path try and enforce ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways of practicing but this really is missing the point and seems to me a residue of some of the religious dogma of our Christian heritage. 21 years of practice has taught me that there is no ‘correct’ way; that the path evolves and changes as you do and that this is a strength to be celebrated.

When we are a newbie on the path, it is natural to look outside ourselves for examples of what our ‘witchiness’ is. But in time, I began to discovery who the witch within me was; I learnt exactly which practices strengthened my connection to nature, deity and self; I found the expressions of deity that spoke to me most strongly and I also gained the confidence to accept that these might well change over time; I learned that we will have moments of thrilling personal expansion but also the most fallow and stagnant phases where spiritual doubt and disconnection bring its own valuable lessons.

Committed long-term practice brings a confidence to discard or embrace as feels appropriate. I have rejected, questioned and adapted techniques and tools countless times along the way, discovering that the system really is just that, a method to help you connect. The real deal is the connection itself, and if what you practice isn’t getting you to that place, change it! Experiment and enjoy that process because everything on your path is an opportunity to learn and grow.

My re-dedication this year has brought with it a sense of gratitude for all those years of learning and exploring. Whatever the next 21 years brings – if I am granted that time, gods willing – that star burning its path across the heavens that I witnessed on that special night will stay with me.

 

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Climbing Down from the Tree

Druidcraft Tarot

I’ve been truly feeling the energies of Beltane this year. It is a joyous festival that celebrates love and passion; the natural world explodes into life; the greening and blossoming cracking open our senses.

Traditionally, Beltane honours the ecstatic union of opposites, of goddess and god  – it is about sacred sex and the alchemical transformation that we are offered when we open ourselves to another. This ‘other’ is not limited to a person but can include all elements that live outside of us, and so we can discover this union not only with our lovers but with the world itself. A key word for Beltane is ‘opening’, a process in which we allow ourselves to be deeply touched by the environment outside our perceived boundaries. It helps us to recognize that life is a circuit that flows between self and other and like the blossom that unfurls for the bee, in that contact the potential for something new is born – we are fertilized by life.

Being open takes trust and to truly trust the heart must be free to engage fully and yet when our hearts have been bruised, our natural response is to close down. Initially, this protective mechanism is necessary; if life has dealt us a painful blow, strengthening our boundaries can aid us in catching our breath and re-centering ourselves; it is a part of the healing. Sometimes shutting ourselves away to lick our wounds is all that we are capable of. At those moments we need to show ourselves a little compassion;not judge ourselves so harshly for turning our back on life. However, if the hurt has been profound, we can become stuck, not wanting or feeling able to take down our defenses and let life in.

I have spent the last four years intimately exploring the impact of grief and depression – coming out the other side, I have been pondering the nature of our inner seasons. Of course, the seasons in nature flow endlessly one into the other; we can generally predict the length of time that winter will be with us; we can look forward to the coming of spring. Our emotional seasons are a little less easy to judge. When we find ourselves caught in a harsh emotional winter, the certain return of spring can feel, well, a little less certain.

Depression is a world apart from the expansive energy of Beltane. When we are depressed, nothing truly touches us, we close down – we become numb to the inspiration that contact with ‘other’ can bring. If we use the metaphor of seasons for our emotional states, depression is a painfully harsh winter. It is helpful not to place judgement on whether this season is ‘natural’ or pathological – psychologically speaking – like winter in the natural world, it is a vital part of a cyclical whole. Rather, we must ask ourselves, what is winter’s value, its meaning and its gifts? Winter brings needed rest – a stasis that is actually a pause between the breath of living – its pulse slows and deepens until it can barely be felt. It is a stillness that asks that we turn inward and open to our inner life, to see what dead wood needs to be cleared and released, what treasures lie hidden.

I am a huge fan of Tarot. All through my journey with depression and grief, my personal Tarot spreads were haunted by the Hanged Man card. The Hanged Man in Tarot symbolism is an archetype of surrender. In life, he can represent sacrifice – the giving up of something precious and the trust it takes to surrender to this process, long before hindsight has given you the opportunity to see the deeper meaning of that sacrifice, or the gifts it may have eventually brought.

Rider-Waite

In the traditional Rider-Waite deck, the Hanged Man is hung upside down from his foot and around his head is a halo of light. He is suspended and passive, although not bound – his hands are free and so he could easily untie himself and walk away from that tree. This suggests that something more profound is happening here. There is a purpose to this stasis, to this lack of movement. In fact, there is movement occurring but it is subtle and happens beneath the surface. Being hung from his foot, he is forced to see the world from a completely different angle -not exactly a comfortable thing to do as the blood rushes to his head!

Every time I saw him appear in my spreads, he pissed me off! I wanted him to go away and I could feel this powerful resistance to his presence. But as time went on and I was forced to go inward – to sit patiently with my feelings of sorrow and loss – his presence began to make perfect sense. I was being required to embody that stasis, the crippling lack of emotional movement, the discomfort of it and rather than fighting it, I had to surrender to it, trusting that it wouldn’t destroy me. And in that trust – the kind of trust that has absolutely no guarantees of happier times returning – in that perfect trust, in that act of faith, the path back to my heart appeared.

To open my heart again, I had to surrender to life and trust, and to do that fully I realised it was time to let it all go, let the hurt and pain be taken by gravity as I swung in the breeze, suspended by my foot. I had to go inward, sit, wait, be…

Green Witch tarot

The Hanged Man takes us to a place where we can forgive life for striking the killer blow; where we can forgive others for hurting us; where we can forgive ourselves for not measuring up, and in that forgiveness and non-judgmental acceptance of exactly where we find ourselves, the cracks in our heart start letting in the light and warmth, and that Beltane blossoming begins; there really is no stopping it.

My heart has been opening gradually petal by petal and it is the best feeling! It is a common quote now but one that is still beautiful and poignant,

The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~ Anais Nin