Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Four, Six, or Seven Directions?

When we were young and innocent (in the days when Jesus walked the streets of Chicago), we used four directions in our circles: east/air, south/fire, west/water, north/earth. Pretty soon, after some gentle guidance from Native Americans, we added above/Grandfather Sky, and down/Mother Earth.
Now we had a problem. To wit: If earth is down, what to put in the north? We decided that Time was appropriate. Chronos is the elder god of the Greek pantheon, and Father Time with his snowy-white hair seemed fine. After all, if there is no time, nothing exists.
That's how things went for years and years. In the center of our circles was a seventh position: the fire in the stone fireplace (the pentanfaen) representing the Spirit in the stone (that is, the mineral) of our bodies. We thought of the smoke as Self or soul in the act of ascending.
Then we traveled to Korea. We learned that at the center of the Korean circle too there was a position--it was You, the center of your universe. Here You is actually composed of a triplet, as depicted on the Korean spirit fan painted in the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue. The colors are said to represent body, spirit, and Deity; or earth, sky, and human.
We always questioned what element is appropriate for which direction. Obviously in Australia, for example, fire is better in the north. If you are working on the east coast of the United States, surely water should be in the east. Remember that east is the direction of new beginnings; and we all began and begin in a fluid environment. Since for most of North America the winds blow from the west, well, now we can put air in the west and everything seems to balance.
But, but---TRADITION! Well, where did the traditional directions come from? The more we study the roots of most old religions, the more we become convinved that the Indus Valley and their adaptation of the Vedic religions is the root. Basically we are considering the Punjab or five- rivers area.
Now we know that several of the characters who put together Witchcraft and other occult traditions were retired British administrators of the Raj.
In the Punjab, the prevailing wind is from the east; that the Himalayan massif is to the north. Hence the reasoning of those administrators, natural enough, in assigning traditional directions. But we are not Hindus and we're not working in the Punjab; therefore we think it rational to honor air in the west and the earth in the below.
Because we believe a Wiccan should always maintain awareness of where he or she is, and because it's only rational to work in terms of the real-world environment, we are attaching a new circle calling: for your amusement, your education, and perhaps your use.
    As usual, we invite your comments. We are not trying to offend anyone; we do not scorn any tradition. Please be constructive. Our hope is that we all may arrive at a shared understanding of what we are doing. If you know a better way and can suggest the reasoning behind it, please share that better way with the community.
Here is a specific example of a circle and its dimensions, designed and adapted for group work. We owe this to a friend whom we meet at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Beckley WV, Al Youmans. Thank you, Al, for creating something we all can share.


Below Below our Mother Earth sustains us and gives us life. May we honor the Earth. May we be ever vigilant to protect her from pollution and from rape of the land.
All:- Hail to our Mother Earth. May we always remember who gave us birth. May we always protect Her from harm wrought by humankind. Let there be peace on earth.
East In the east we see the sun rise and we know a new day is beginning. Each day is indeed a new day and a new beginning for the rest of our lives. May we all give thanks for the blessings of the east, and may we forgive the mistakes of the past as we begin this new day.
All:- Hail East, and hail this new day. Let there be peace in the east.
South Here in the northern hemisphere the sun is southward. From the south come warmth and heat and fire. May we all honor the blessings of the south. Let us rekindle and strengthen the fire of passion and the commitment of our spirits for the just work of this fellowship.
All:- Hail South. May we strengthen our commitment to what is just. Let there be peace in the south.
West Here where we are, the prevailing weather arrives from the west. From the west come the air and the healing waters that fill our wells and rivers, waters that enable our crops and forests to thrive. May we give thanks to the west. May we share new air with them, with all those here today, and with our neighbors, that we may all have good health.
All:- Hail West. We give thanks for healing powers. Let there be peace in the west.
North To our north the jet stream moves with the seasons and brings us cold and sometimes snow. Here in the Appalachians we live in four-seasons country. Beauty is all around us. As the seasons circle round, so do our lives. We are reminded of time and of our mortality. We are reminded that we must use this time to live our lives to the fullest.
All:- Hail North. We recall the passage of time and we express our gratitude to the north. Let there be peace in the north.
Above To the great Above we have the sky and the heavens. Traditionally the sky represents our Father. From the sky we seek knowledge. May we honor the great Above and our fathers, and may our knowledge grow and serve us well.
All:- Hail to the great Above. May we be ever mindful of knowledge given from above. Let knowledge bring peace.
Center In our center resides Spirit. Spirit dwells within each of us and in all things. Thus are we connected to all things. May we always remember how we are interconnected and that we thus must not do harm to others but must promote peace.
All:- (Here do not speak in unison. Instead turn to someone near you. Give them a hug or a warm handshake. Say to them, "Peace be with you." Or, if it is your tradition, use another phrase that has a similar sentiment.)

Blessed be all. Gavin and Yvonne.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The True History of Wicca

      December 26 1968 - The newly formed Coven of Boskednan in St. Louis, MO, decided that the course Gavin and Yvonne were then teaching should be called Wicca and that the letterhead of that course should be the Church and School of Wicca. The course was based on what Gavin had been taught in England and on his initiation by the Coven of Boskednan in Cornwall in 1950.
     The original roots of Wicca thus come from a single source: that Coven of Boskednan. Apocryphally the coven was founded by one Henry Wilcox. In 1925 he retired, either as a civil servant in India or from the British Army. (Or of course it may never have happened.)
     Another retired British civil servant, one Gerald Gardner, had talked about Witchcraft (note: not about Wicca) and had used the word wicca once in a book of his; however, no one had theretofore written a description of the new religion and spiritual path.
Wicca had absolutely no direct connection to Gardnerian Witchcraft or to any of the multifarious Gardnerian roots: Kellner, Reuss, Masonry, the Order of the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis, the Folk Life Society, Leyland, and (last but not least) Doreen Valiente.
Despite rumor and innuendo, and despite what Wikipedia thinks or claims, the above is a true statement of what occurred. All else is history-as-wished-for or simple creative fiction.
The course was advertised. Thousands of neophytes amost immediately signed up for it.
In December 1971 the Church and School of Wicca applied to the Internal Revenue Service for exempt status as a religious association. By December 13 of that year By-Laws and Articles of Association were written and approved. It earned its status as a religious association in 1972, in the form of a Letter of Determination dated August 31.

    In 1976 and 1977 the IRS carried out an extensive investigation of the Church and School of Wicca. The IRS found the Church blameless of any wrongdoing. It reported that fact in the Senate, giving the Church of Wicca the imprimatur of federal approval.
    In 1985 inmates in the Virginia penal system petitioned the state system to acknowledge their right to have Wiccan robes and books, and to have Wiccan holidays recognized. That request was rejected; it went into Federal Appeals Court in 1986: Dettmer vs Langdon 799 F.2D 929. The appeal finally led to the landmark decision in the Federal Appeals Court of the Fifth District, confirming Wicca as a religion. In the judge's words,
"The Church of Wicca is clearly a religion for First Amendment purposes. Members of the Church sincerely adhere to a fairly complex set of doctrines relating to the spiritual aspects of their lives, and in doing so they have ‘ultimate concerns' in much the same way as followers of accepted religions."

    Both in Lecture XII of the School's original course and in the last chapter of "The Witch's Bible", the Frosts explicitly opened Wicca to all people who were on a positive path. That openness and the conscious sustained avoidance of centralized power have since enabled the wonderful, enriching diversity within the Craft that we all enjoy today. Diversity allows anyone to follow any spiritual path that they see fit to follow, so long as it is a positive path and so long as they do not seek to inflict their path on anyone else.

    What more is there to say? The rest is merely froth and insubstantial gossip and someone's Disneyland-type creative fiction.

                 Thou shalt not denigrate another religion -- yea, verily, thus saith the IRS.

We are delighted beyond words to have met a whole group of new friends and fellow pilgrims during Yule in Louisville. Traveling toward the meet, we said to a waitress during a pit stop, "We're celebrating solstice tomorrow on the full moon."

"What's solstice? I've never heard of it."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who among You Is Moral?

The title of this blog may sound downright biblical; in fact many definitions of morality include obedience to custom and acting in accordance with "sacred" texts, especially in matters of sexuality. For many years the Church of Wicca has had its sacred writings; thus we can claim that when we act exactly in accordance with our own sacred writings, we are by definition moral.

We Frosts do not believe that many "sacred" writings are actually moral. The Koran requires that a person convicted of theft has at least one hand cut off. The Bible requires that if a child tells a lie, (s)he shall be taken to the city gate and be stoned to death. The Old Testament is full of mayhem; indeed, Richard Dawkins writes of Jehovah's policy of scorched-earth ethnic cleansing.* Nor was Jesus above blasting a poor fig tree that didn't fruit when he ordered it to.
One of the freedoms of the Church of Wicca is in matters sexual. (Remember "If it harm none"?) For years we have been using the acronym DUPED to define what we mean. Sorry the internet doesn't faithfully follow our idiosyncratic spacing of this business, but just line up the capital letters to get to DUPED, and things will assume the place we intend. So anyhow, what do we mean when we talk of getting DUPED? We mean

no D isease

not U nder contract (as in a marriage, for example)

no unwanted P regnancy

no E xpectations

no implication of D ebt

So from the sexual point of view, if you act in accordance with our acronym, in our opinion you're sexually moral.
Yet that leaves 90 percent or so of our readers' actions still questionable by conventional standards. The Hindu word dharma may be defined as taking the right actions in your life--right actions consistent with your position in society. What this has to do with abusing children or beating your spouse is a mystery to us. Here abuse and beating are not necessarily the physical act of applying a rod it where it hurts the most. They can also mean mental cruelty.
How then do we define a moral person? Is (s)he simply a decent person, honest and fair in their actions? We believe that it is rational to evaluate people by their life style and their actions: When they commit an act, the act has consequences. When you yourself act decently and honorably, you will eventually gather around you people who are motivated in the same way--as explicitly articulated in the Wiccan tenet concerning the Law of Attraction. Thus the morality of a person can easily be estimated according to the morality of their friends.

What say you? Is decent or honorable or something else a better term than moral?

* Richard Dawkins The God Delusion

Monday, December 13, 2010

Musings on the Axial Age (how women lost their groove)

     The Axial Age is defined as occurring around 800 BCE to 200 BCE. This is the period when women's position in society--worldwide--was degraded and (male) gods were assigned a new dimension of morality and "goodness", of power and control.
      It doesn't matter where you look: ancient Greece or China or even India. All the thinkers of the time handed down the same edict: the (male) gods demanded that everyone be "good" and "moral"--good and moral as defined by mouthpieces of the newly supreme male juju. We look at the laws of Hammurabi from a somewhat earlier age, and find that 75 percent of them deal with controlling women. We look at classical Greece, and find that the only women allowed to own property after 400 BCE were the hetaerae or courtesans. Further east, geisha were typical of the women who retained a place in society. The story of Tiamat being overcome by her son, the "good" god, is yet another example of the effects of the Axial Age.
      Here is the question: Why did this happen? One theory suggests that old men with ED* wanted the young men to quit having fun. Another says that centralizing authority in the various priestly classes demanded some way to control the people. You couldn't starve them of food or deprive them of sleep, because you wanted them to work--but you could deny them the pleasure of sex. You could make it a moral issue and control people with the eternal trinity: guilt, shame, and fear.

Ayn Rand got it right in Atlas Shrugged; here's a paraphrase of her thought.
     If you tell a man that smelling spring flowers is wrong, and he smells spring flowers,
he's guilty. You've got him.
     This business of the hetaerae and the geisha and their position in society is interesting. As we Frosts drive southward in our frequent travels, as we get into the "red" or "Bible-belt" states we see a higher density of euphemistic "gentlemen's relaxation clubs" and sex shops offering porn films. Apparently the men of the region assume that they "need" these services and are entitled to them; but in using such services they degrade the position of women, tending to treat them as non-persons, merely conveniences for sexual relief. One such term for the setup is sexual toilet. Still, here's something--at last--that even they can dominate.
        We can only hope, and work, for things to revert to a culture with parity between the genders, but it's almost 3,000 years since the beginning of the Axial Age; in other words, this dominant-male mindset has had a long time to dig in. The culture needs a complete purge. Perhaps we can dream of a Free Age in which people are moral--make that ethical--because the nation's leaders are moral; when we behave decently and ethically because we want to be decent, not from fear of the law.
- - - - - - - - -

* ED = erectile dysfunction

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Religious Freedom

You know, it seems to us that people--especially those in the Wiccan/pagan community--don't understand the term that serves as the title of these thoughts. Religious freedom means that you have the one and only right and true path ... for you. And it means that you are allowed to pursue the path of your choice without let or hindrance--so long as you obey the secular laws of the land.

It means as well (here's the corollary) that you do not have the right to criticize anyone else's path or to try to amend it. You've got freedom? They've got freedom. Yet we witness such leaning-on behavior ad nauseam; it seems to be a pervasive culturally-inflicted trait in luckless individuals whose minds have been twisted into knots. Leaning on other people is not a duty and it is not a right. Such a mindset is an intrinsic part of the duality attitude of ethnic monotheism. Black and white, good and evil, either/or, no gray scales, and (god forbid) no color. Yvonne sometimes wishes (vainly, of course) that freedom of religion could also mean freedom from religion.

In India there are literally thousands, if not millions, of gods and goddesses. A famous sage once said there are 330 million gods and goddesses in India because, given 1 billion Hindus, you can imagine that a few of them have overlapping ideas of "god". In other words, throughout the length, width, breadth, height of India there may be three people who share the same or a similar idea of what a god or a goddess is.

You can contrast this with Pakistan, where a Christian woman is due to be hanged next week for "insulting" the memory of Mohammed. She stepped out of bounds by criticizing someone else's high mucky-muck. Granted, hanging is a little severe; such an offense normally earns only a public whipping. In a state where true religious freedom reigns, she would not criticize somebody else's sacred icon but instead just follow her own path in perfect freedom. Of course her sentence of hanging offends our American standards and we decry such severity. By the way, in Pakistan there are almost ten percent Hindus and two percent Christians.

These thoughts apply to Wiccan/pagans because every day we hear of some new attack by one group on another group. God(ess) damn it, good people! Follow your own path. Take pleasure in it. Know it and know its natural follow-ons well enough to know why you follow it. Look at other paths and see whether there is anything you like--even if they do it differently. Whatever you do, don't criticize them. After all, they may be right ... Another famous Hindu belief teaches, Everyone is right.

Regrettably India itself has been polluted by the disease of monotheism, so now you can find Shivites who criticize followers of Vishnu. In classical times this would never have happened because Shivites are polytheists. (Shiva has many varied aspects.) So if I say "Shiva is not the dancing god of creation and destruction ..." in a presentation, and someone in the audience says, "Oh, no! He is." My response should be "That's right." Then there can be no argument.