Saturday, February 17, 2018

Nontheistic Sabbats: Nontheism and the Wheel of the Year

The Neopagan Wheel of the Year has its roots in several historical celebrations ranging from Greek and Roman to Gaelic to German.  Over the years, we have modernized it to fit our needs, creating a syncretic series of celebrations loosely defined by the original holidays.  Many of these holidays center around certain gods and goddesses.  What is Imbolc without Brigid?  Lughnasadh without Lugh?  Yule without Odin?  In fact, the Wiccan Wheel of the Year focuses on the life cycle of the Horned God and Triple Goddess, meaning that every sabbat relates to deity.

All of this deity-centric celebration can certainly make things difficult for the nontheistic practitioner.  In fact, you might even wonder why a nontheistic witch might follow the Wheel of the Year when it seems so diametrically opposed to their beliefs.  The truth is that you absolutely don't have to.  There are many other historical celebrations you might choose to follow. You might simply follow the moon phases instead.  You may even choose to avoid holidays altogether and fly to the Witches' Sabbath.  There are so many options!

However, some of us do enjoy celebrating the Wheel of the Year for many reasons.  For some, it gives us a sense of community.  Most Neopagan and witchcraft groups and communities follow the Wheel of the Year, giving us eight times we can regularly come together and share something in common.  For others, we appreciate celebrating the cycle of the seasons divided up in such a logical way.

If you choose to celebrate the Wheel of the Year, you must know where each holiday comes from.  Celebrating the sabbats without an understanding of their historical context allows you to trample on cultural customs.  It also makes it difficult to join in community celebrations when you're not sure why the holiday is being celebrated as such.

That being said, modern holidays change and secularize all the time.  As long as you are distinctly aware of the sabbat's roots, you are welcome to celebrate the holidays as nontheistic or secular as you wish.

Please note: I am a nontheistic witch in that I believe deities are no different than any other spirit and do not hold power over me.  The following views stem from that belief and will include other entities in the process.  Your mileage may vary!

Historical Context

Samhain is one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals adopted into the modern Wheel of the Year.  Marking the start of the darker half of the year, it is primarily celebrated in Ireland and Scotland nowadays, though it has been proven to be an important date since ancient times.  During this holiday, livestock were slaughtered for the winter, bonfires were lit and the Aos si, or spirits and fairies, could more easily be seen in our world.  Samhain is typically celebrated starting at sunset October 31st to sunset November 1st.

My Interpretation

With modern science, we are able to more easily calculate the midpoint between the equinox and the solstice, thus changing the direct date to sometime between November 6th and 7th.  Though I still often call this holiday Samhain as a reference to its previous incarnations, November Night refers to its celebration in November and its status as the opposite of May Day, it's counterpart across the Wheel.  For me, this seems more appropriate.  Our first frost in Kansas City likely occurs around - or just before - then.  The mass death of plant life and the official hibernation of animals creates a sort of liminal space for spirits and witches alike crossing the Veil.  In fact, I'm likely only just feeling the liminal space right around the typical dates for Neopagan Samhain.

November Night is a time for reverence of the dead.  Shrines should be erected, ancestors and friends who have passed should be fed and focusing on our own personal mortality is the primary theme.  Now is the time for spiritwork and divination.

Historical Context

Yule, a Neopagan festival, was primarily based on the celebration by historical Germanic tribes.  Customs included the slaughtering and sacrifice of livestock and the utilization of the blood for cleansing temples, a lengthy feast and toasts to Odin during this three to twelve-day celebration.  Eventually, this holiday would be merged with Christmas during the Christianization of Germanic peoples.

My Interpretation

Scientifically, the Winter Solstice celebrates the longest night of the year.  This is a time of rest and contemplation as we observe it from sunset to sunrise with electronics turned off - only the light of the candles and decorations to guide us.  This solstice is a wonderful time for shadow work as we come to terms with that which we dislike about ourselves and accept ourselves for exactly who we are.  Because this time has also been connected to the Wild Hunt and the Wild Hunt has been connected to the witches' Sabbath, celebrating the Wild Hunt at this time is pertinent.

Historical Context

A Gaelic celebration, Imbolc marked the beginning of spring.  It was specifically a celebration of Brigid, a goddess (and later saint) of the dawn, spring and fertility. Celebrations began on January 31st at sunset and continued until February 1st because Gaelic days began and ended at sunset.  The Gaelic Irish would light hearth fires, create corn dolls to Brigid and visit holy wells.

My Interpretation

February Eve is an actual alternative name for Imbolc, so I kept it.  That being said, February Dawn might be more appropriate.  I see this holiday as the beginning in the cycle of life, the spark of hope like the first time a newborn opens their eyes.  It is the start of something fresh, a renewal of sorts.

While historical celebrations saw this as the start of spring, spring is still distant here in Kansas City.  Our grounds are still frozen solid and we likely still have a few more bouts of heavy snow to come.  While it may hardly be planting season, this blanket of snow and hard-frozen grounds is a sort of purification for what's to come.  I enjoy lighting candles and cleansing my home with a fiery incense or, in particular, full moon snow water, during this time.

Historical Context

It has been suggested that the modern celebration of Ostara is based on a single mention of a Germanic goddess named Eostre by English monk Bede in his work.  The historical accuracy of this has been questioned and whether Eostre even existed is a mystery.  That being said, the equinoxes were clearly of significance in ancient celebrations and lend themselves to be included on the modern Wheel of the Year.

My Interpretation

The equinoxes mark a scientific almost-balance of night and day.  This gives us two chances a year to focus on balance - what is needed and what is not - within our lives.  Also, this is actual first day of spring according to the Farmer's Almanac and, by now, we're actually feeling it.  By this point, we can actually go out, till the soil and plant seeds.  Symbolically, planting of seeds is akin to creating goals in our lives, thus I use the Spring Equinox as a time of planning and goal creation, setting forth intentions to be realized within the year.

Historical Context

Yet another of the four Gaelic festivals celebrated in the Wheel of the Year, Beltane marked the start of summer.  Special bonfires were lit from which hearth fires were then relit, livestock would be protected by special rituals and everything from doors to people to cattle would be decorated in yellow flowers.  During this time, the Aos si would also visit again. Offerings of food would be left for them.

My Interpretation

May Day celebrates the height of life and it should be just that: A celebration!  It's a time to enjoy the company of loved ones, dance and, if you're of the variety that enjoys doing so, make love.  Those of you who plan to reproduce might focus on the fertility aspect of May Day by utilizing red to represent menstrual blood and white to represent semen.  Those who do not plan to reproduce might interpret the fertility of the season in other ways, such as the fertility of the ground and of livestock, the growth of your career or the focus of friendship and happiness within your life.

As the other holiday on the Wheel where the veil is thin, this one sees life rather than death.  We're more likely to encounter otherworldly creatures such as faeries than we are spirits of the once-living.  Now is the time for faerie work!

Historical Context

Multiple different ancient and modern cultures observe the Summer Solstice as an important time for celebration, from Europe, where Stonehenge lines up perfectly with the rising sun on the solstice, to ancient Greece, were the Summer Solstice marked the start of the new year.  In Egypt, the solstice sun sets between the Great Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre if you're looking from the view of the Sphinx.  Nearly every culture has attributed some sort of significance to the Summer Solstice.  However, for our purposes, we'll be looking at European traditions as they contributed most to what modern pagans celebrate as Litha.  During this solstice, it was believed that spirits roamed the land - perhaps fae, perhaps something else.  Bonfires were lit to protect the land and its people from these spirits, and garland and wreaths were made of protective flowers and herbs such as "chase devil" (now known as St. John's Wart as the holiday was Christianized into St. John's Eve).

My Interpretation

Rather than seeing this as the middle of the summer, our heat is just starting to rise here in Kansas City.  Our hottest months are easily July and August.  So this, for me, is most definitely the start of summer.  The Summer Solstice celebrates the longest day of the year which, historically, would be the longest working day.  On this day, I often celebrate career and work-oriented triumphs, emphasizing empowerment and strength.  A good backyard fire, a grill, some friends and perhaps even a little camping out are in store along with a good look at my career and where I want it to go.  Work-oriented spells are more potent on this day. 

Historical Context:
This holiday is celebrated modernly as a combination between the Gaelic festival Lughnasadh and the Gule of August or Lammastide commonly celebrated in Europe during Medieval times.  Gaelic Lughnasadh celebrates Lugh, a sun and sky hero god who presides over truth, law, skills and crafts.  Lughnasadh included ritual athletic competitions, races, storytelling and drawing up laws and settling legal disputes.  Alternatively, Lammas marks the annual wheat harvest where it was said that any bread loaf baked that day would have magical and protective powers.  Neopagan celebrations tend to lean towards historical Lammas with hints of ancient Lughnasadh.

My Interpretation

I see August Eve as a perfect compliment to February Eve, and thus have named it such.  Where February Eve celebrates that spark of life that a newborn might have, August Eve focuses on the waning life and accomplishments of a middle-aged to, perhaps, a retiree.  Here, we truly focus on reaping what we sewed earlier in our lives: What is it that we accomplished?  What do we need to let go?  Warding spells and banishing rituals are particularly important to this holiday as we enter the darker part of the year.

Historical Context

Historically, Mabon didn't exist until the 1970's when it was coined by Aiden Kelly, an influential figure and writer who has been associated with Golden Dawn, Wicca, Feri Trad and more.  In fact, up until 1970, we really didn't have a name for Ostara or Litha either.  Kelly drew from English monk Bede for those.  But Mabon is unusual in that he didn't follow the same pattern for this equinox, instead choosing to name it after perhaps a god that isn't even associated with this time of year or holiday.  The closest historical holiday to this time is Harvest Time, but it wasn't celebrated as an equinox holiday.  Rather, it was a Thanksgiving-like feast.  Confusing!

My Interpretation

While the equinox is sometimes seen as the middle of fall, we're lucky if we've seen the end of 90F temperatures in my city.  Leaves haven't shown a touch of turning, still bushy and green, and summer picnics are all the rage.  So the Autumn Equinox represents the first day of fall for me, just as it does in the Farmer's Almanac and on any calendar you might open.  From here, the days definitely begin to get cooler and the trees actually start to turn.

The Autumn Equinox is the second time of balance on the Wheel.  Marking equal day and night, we once again get to look at our lives and see what we need to find comfortable balance.  In addition, this equinox is a day of feasting and gratitude.  The harvest is well under way - and, for me, my chaotic work season is starting to come to an end - so I'm able to share the spoils of my efforts by sitting down to a feast with my circle.

As you can see from my interpretations and the chart above, the sabbats are split into two important sections for me.  The quarter days, or the equinoxes and solstices, represent balance.  Two actually focus on balance while two balance each other out in terms of energy versus rest.  The crossquarter days, or the four "fire festivals," represent the cycle of life.  I utilize this symbolism in my correspondences. 

In the end, your interpretation of the Wheel of the Year is yours.  As long as you see it as necessary to your practice and you keep in mind the historical celebrations behind the sabbats, you are welcome to celebrate them without deity and in the matter that best suits you.  Best of luck to you on your journey!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February Personal Update

This time of year is always pretty mellow.  Work is steady but not overwhelming, the circle is settling into the initial parts of the year and life floats on.  This update will likely be pretty short and sweet given that not much is happening right now.  Honestly, it's preferable.  I appreciate months that are routine, mundane... normal.  We've had enough excitement in our lives.  A little normalcy is important to balance it out.

Work is steady.  Nothing too new to gush about there.  We're in the middle of college events for February, which means a lot of driving.  It's well worth it though.

Many of you will be happy to know that my circlemate's divorce finally went through.  It's just paperwork at this point and it's finalized!

Health-wise, I'm doing okay.  Some mild flare-ups here and there and a touch of Seasonal Affective but certainly better than most years.  I'm just now finally getting a chance to focus on my health, which is important after years of neglecting it.

The pets are also well.  Nothing unusual to report there.  I still need to take them for their vaccinations but I have to get a few more paychecks under my belt before that happens.

One of my circlemates got Artie a toy which he gleefully shared with Apollo.  It was super sweet.

This cat...

This cat. <3

We've been working on Zeus's weight.  He's finally able to jump up to the high table in the dining area, which is significant progress!

Otherwise, everything has been well!

And that's about it.  Like I said earlier: Short and sweet.  Until next time!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

[Part Two] Hermetic Spellcraft: The Principle of Mentalism

“THE ALL IS MIND; The Universe is Mental.”

The first principle of Hermetic Spellcraft is the lens through which we must view all other principles, all other actions and spell craft itself: The mind.  Amazingly straightforward in its wording, particularly when compared with future principles, we can take this one at face value:

The universe as we know it and see it exists mentally before it can exist in any other form.

I think therefore I am.  This statement from philosopher and scientist RenĂ© Descartes isn't far off from the axiom above.  In order to process existence, to analyse both science and magic, we must first think.  Everything that happens within our minds is then translated through that mental lens and into the physical or spiritual world - or both.

The material universe is contained within the framework of the mind, and our perception of it is constructed by our thoughts, feelings and beliefs.  We experience the universe through these perceptions, through this mental visualization.  What we see, what we know, is all translated through the mind.

Manifestation first occurs within the mind.

If the universe and how we experience it is affected by our mind, then we can manipulate our experiences through the mind.  Your mind is your power.  This is why visualization is such a key component of witchcraft.  This is why we walk through guided meditation and why energy work is often seen first in the mind and then expressed in a different plane.  By being able to create the framework in our mind, we can better produce it in the physical or spiritual planes.

Though all is mental, we are not The All.

That being said, it would be a bit egotistical to assume that, because everything we see, do and witness is processed first through our mind, that somehow conflates us with an all-seeing, all-knowing deity.  The state of things within the physical universe isn't Schrodinger's Box; if we can't see it, it doesn't mean it exists in a state of maybe until it reveals itself to us.  People don't magically materialize into existence when we think of them.  Everyone is their own unique and distinct being.

Some interpret The All as a deity, a pantheistic god that is present within everything.  If you're theistic, this may very well be your interpretation of it.  That being said, it's important to note that this principle insists that deity is not outside of the universe but rather within it and thus constricted by the same rules and laws we are.

As a nontheist, however, I see The All instead as a universal consciousness from which all things manifest.  Mentioned multiple times within The Kybalion, The All is unknowable and infinite.  To me, this implies that The All is a universal consciousness of every living being.  We could not possibly know the thoughts of every single being on earth, these thoughts would be infinite and, as long as life continues to exist, there would be no end to it. If this is the case, then we all contribute to this consciousness, each of us visualizing and creating at every moment of the day, expanding the greater mental universe at an exponential rate.  If we are all part of The All, this explains how we're able to manipulate it by mentally processing our own corners of the world.  This could even explain multiple deities for polytheists as, just like humans, they would have their own mental universe and their own pulls.

The Constraints of Natural Law

By saying the universe as we perceive it is a mental construct gives a working template for how magic works and how we can affect the world around us without affecting the universe as a whole.  Through visualization and meditation, we can first create the framework for magic utilizing our mind.

However, when that visualization crosses the boundary into the physical universe, it is still constrained by natural law, by science.  Perhaps this constriction is created by the billions of minds working together to create physical law, or perhaps the physical universe operates on a lower, more restricted version of our mental plane.  All of this, we will dive into more thoroughly through the subsequent principles.

The Visual Representation

If the universe is mental and The All is mind, then the perfect representation of this principle is a perfectly clean whiteboard.  Anything you can think of can be conveyed through this whiteboard, yet it's still constricted, once marked down, by the laws of science.  This translation from our minds to the whiteboard comes with rules and limitations, just as the translation from our mental lens into the physical universe does as well.

In Magic

To directly apply this principle to your spellwork, begin with a visualization such as meditation or, as a more advanced technique, astral travel.  Formulate your needs and your spell mentally before approaching it in any other manner.

Part Three: The Principle of Correspondence
Part Four: The Principle of Vibration
Part Five: The Principle of Polarity

Part Six: The Principle of Rhythm
Part Seven: The Principle of Cause and Effect
Part Eight: The Principle of Gender

Part Nine: Putting it All Together