Why the Magic Circle is Magic

Greenman 1I am using this month’s writing to address the several reviews of Wicca: A Year and A Day that place a caveat on what I’m teaching. Several readers have raised concerns over my characterization of the Witch’s magic circle. In the book, I state that the magic circle is a “platform for the Gods” and for our spiritual work. Unfortunately, there is a vein of hard-core superstition that runs through our overall spiritual path that fuels misinformation and a general fear-based approach to the Craft.

…diversity strengthens Wicca/Witchcraft as a whole, just as it strengthens any ecosystem.

Some within our ranks rigorously defend a view that the magic circle is a form of “impenetrable” spiritual shield that somehow contains the Witch’s magic. My point is not to shame anyone for their views, because, as a whole, we who walk the hidden path must develop an appreciation of the diversity of our views. This diversity strengthens Wicca/Witchcraft as a whole, just as it strengthens any ecosystem. We who practice the Craft embrace views that are different from the mainstream in fundamental ways (beyond the obvious particulars). Specifically, in mystical paths such as Wicca/Witchcraft we have a shamanic heart beating at the center of our practice. Magical practices across the globe (including those from the ceremonial lineages) know that there is always an individual’s interpretation of a spiritual message that forms the kernel of any spiritual lineage or tradition. Layers of practice, of sharing one to another, from initiate to postulant then forms the core practices of any spiritual path. What can happen next can develop a real spiritual crisis for some of us.

The content of our path is shamanic, mystic.

If one’s tradition is not renewed, reinterpreted by the individual practitioner, the spiritual path becomes nothing but form. It becomes calcified, lifeless, and has no opportunity of informing us spiritually. Form should never be mistaken for content. The content of our path is shamanic, mystic. It is always based on one’s personal experience with the Gods, with magic, and with a direct contact with nature and life itself. When we begin to obsess about finite detail such as whether the magic circle is a “container” or a “platform,” or whether we think the more powerful tool is the athame or the wand, or whether the solstice was practiced on the exact hour on the exact day (or else we have somehow failed spiritually), we lose the important content of our spiritual practice. Wicca should be much less anxiety-based. There is no power when we approach life with fear and obsessive action taken to maintain rigid views. Furthermore, there is no container strong enough to impede shadows of our own making. I characterize the magic circle as a platform because a platform can be any kind of container we choose. It is a stage for us to create whatever “set” or “props” we need at any given time to realize our spiritual tradition, to raise magic from within ourselves and to touch the divine. As always, I do not offer this teaching as something to “believe.” I ask you to practice this. I invite you to try this out for yourselves.

Image courtesy of FreeImages.com

You Have the Right: A Witch’s Code for Living

Fairytale Forest - SunburstYou have the birthright to be exactly who you are right now. There is no need to shrink away or feel as though you are not worthy. You are manifesting the universe, right where you are.

You have the right to your experience of this life. Let no one tell you you’re “off” or “wrong” in how you think or understand what is happening. Even with supposed “limitations,” you have the right to see things as they are from your own experience—and that perception is indeed fact.

You have the right to stand in your power. Whether or not you “feel it,” you are a powerful being. You can say “yes” or “no” to anything that is happening—and you have the right to do so. You can act or not act based on your will and whatever you discern as needed in any given moment. Let no one but you define your power.

You have the right to stand in your power…

You have the right to be respected. What you offer, say and do is of value. And even if others do not see it as such, you are a living breathing manifestation of the entire universe. Therefore what you do and who you are commands that respect. Those who do not see this are blinded, self-involved, or foolish.

You have the right to your full set of emotions. As an expression of the universe there is light and dark all around. To live in connection with the great All of who you are, you should expect to experience times of sadness, frustration, anger, anxiety and more. Though others around you may try to control this or brush it aside, do not let them. For these too are expressions of living naturally.

You have the right to experience happiness. Whatever it is that brings forth your joy is important. No matter what others may say or how those around you may feel, you have the right to experience happiness in this life. Open yourself to it and let it flood in right now.

You have the right to be at peace…

You have the right to be at peace. There will be those who may threaten to darken your life or rob you of the peace of simply being. Do not let them. This life passes by quickly. Find the balance of peace and dwell in it frequently, for it is yours if you claim it.

Magic for Invisibility

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The other day I read a statement from someone just beginning the path of Wicca. She seemed to be wavering about her participation. She had been told during her life that she had certain “gifts” and could see other realities. But she sounded afraid of the “gifts.” She wasn’t sure if her Craft participation was something that was “right,” and she further seemed to be deeply troubled about whether or not it was “right” to let her powers “come out.” She was speaking from a perspective that sounded as though she was seeing magic and the abilities cultivated in our path to be something forbidden, exotic, strange and rare.

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It made me realize that the more we enshrine our natural abilities, no matter their form, we end up separating ourselves from the world. Nothing that occurs in the world, as a course of our nature is special in any way. The more we are caught up in either fearing or rarifying what is natural, we miss the point of our power, which is expressed as our true nature. The true nature of a human life is nothing “special.” Is it a manifestation of deity? Yes. But so is everything else we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Magic is deity. Your coffee is deity. Flowers and excrement are deity. We’re living in it, breathing it, eating it, sleeping in it, and we’re made up of it.

The powers of the Witch are the natural power of life…

When an experience catches out attention, what is important is to notice why it catches our attention, rather than mentally framing the experience as “special, strange, rare and peculiar.” Bringing the event back to ourselves, to our own inner process, helps us to break down the structures (made up of life experiences) that keep us chained to mental habits that ultimately disempower us. Are the powers of the Witch special? No. They are the manifestation of a realized life. They are the evidence of living life in close unison with all, which means barriers such as the mental-label barriers (including terms like “special,” “not special,” “better,” “worse,” etc.) are rendered invisible. The powers of the Witch are the natural power of life flowing though us moment by moment, unblocked, not rarified, feared or glorified.

sixth pentacle fo the sun

The Spell

I offer this magical working to help us notice and calm that part of us that wants to stand out, that wants to be noticed as different, rare, strange and peculiar. It is a spell and a protection to help us notice in each moment that all things are of the same source. I am using a pentacle from the Key of Solomon for this spell. We are only using this pentacle as an object to focus our intention, rather than the traditional use of the pentacles. You can find the pentacle anywhere online if you want a cleaner copy than the one I post here.

What You’ll Need:
A copy of the 6th Pentacle of the Sun (just copy and paste from this post)

Dragon’s Blood Reed (as an incense)

Incense burner and a self-igniting charcoal

Your regular circle casting tools

Directions:
During the dark of the moon, print out a copy of the 6th Pentacle of the Sun. Cast a circle using your own circle casting technique, or the one I offer in Wicca: A Year and A Day. Place the image on your central altar. Sprinkle it lightly with your blessed water and salt mixture. Sprinkle some of the Dragon’s Blood Reed on the charcoal (make sure the coal is really hot all the way through; it should be slightly ashy on the edges). Bless the image in the twisting incense smoke. Hold the image between your palms and vow to live your life as one with all of nature. See yourself becoming transparent, like clear, rushing water. Imagine yourself as water, joining the whole of the ocean, merging, dissipating, holding all potential within you. Open your eyes and close the circle. Carry the charm with you and remind yourself each moment of your intention to live in unison with each moment–not fearing it or glorifying it. Instead, just be life.

Opening Magical Channels

Witches Dance

Someone once asked me, “What exactly are you teaching?” I was a bit shocked that someone might ask such a question of an author who has dedicated himself to teaching the Craft of the Wise. But as the question settled—and I considered its source—I began to ask myself a question in meditation, similar to the stark question posed by a casual onlooker, but also unique. The question I sat with was: “What is this?”

It’s a good question to begin asking yourself in your own meditations. As you ask the question, inhale, and hold it for a second at the level of the solar plexus chakra. “What is this?” Don’t seek an immediate answer, because that’s just your head talking. You want a response that goes deeper. You want the whole body to resonate with this question—and then ultimately respond in a way that illuminates, sheds light on your magical path, and frees up channels of energy.

Don’t seek an immediate answer, because that’s just your head talking…

That’s really the point of the meditative inquiry process that I propose in both Wicca: A Year and A Day, as well as its companion volume, Wicca: the Second Degree. It isn’t to make you good at mediation. It isn’t to pose silly questions. It’s to make you good at your life. It’s to open up previously choked up channels of magical power. So often, we live unconsciously in ways that are dictated by habit, convenience, and a deep need for pleasure. Nothing wrong with any of those motivations—as long as they don’t interfere with your spiritual progress.

The problem is that these habitual patterns actually do get in our way—whether or not we choose to acknowledge this. Habit actions might make us comfortable, because they’re familiar. But they are not powerful channels of magical energy. Magic just gets stuck, blocked, ineffective and “murky” when we, ourselves, become caught up in relying on them for responding to every situation in our lives. The process of meditative inquiry moves our blocked energies around—almost like how acupuncture moves Chi around the body. The process wakes us up. And the responses we uncover by asking a question and listening deeply frequently startles us into new, brave actions. It changes our consciousness. And that, as Dion Fortune would say, is magic.

Is Meditation a Problem?

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About five days ago the Atlantic posted an article entitled “Dark Knight of the Soul” which was intended to warn readers about the potential harms from meditation. I’ve provided the link below so you can take a look at the original text.

The article  documents the so-called “negative” experiences some may have following meditation. Some beginning meditators report experiencing anxiety, sadness, “terror,” confusion, and more. For over two decades now, a whole slew of trans-diagnostic research on the effects of meditation across various health disciplines has arrived on the scene and has made big news.meditation2

This research has helped to guide the field of mental health into developing new psychotherapies. But the research has shown that meditation is by and large successful in assisting as either a complementary or first line treatment in literally every field of health science. That being said, in the field of psychology, we have known for a long time the limited benefits and drawbacks of meditation for individuals who are in the pro-dromal state of psychosis or who have an active form of psychosis. Meditation practices were never intended to control  such issues, and stepping onto any spiritual path that teaches how to “uncork” the emotional issues of your past is bound to cause individuals to brush against their long-repressed emotional content. That may, in fact, include anxiety, sadness, “terror,” and confusion.

It isn’t to say that meditation causes this–but rather, the material is brought forward from the individual through the meditative process. For most people, these emotional experiences are transient–and they may not have any direct impact on anyone’s “effectiveness” in everyday life.

It isn’t to say that meditation causes this–but rather, the material is brought forward from the individual through the meditative process.

stacked stonesThe article seemingly makes a “direct link” between meditation and the strikingly dramatic, unsettling experiences of the individuals who appear in the article. However, we know nothing of these individuals’ back stories. We know nothing of their mental health or illness, their traumas, emotional repression, drug or alcohol use. There are many factors that can contribute to long-lasting, destabilizing  experiences that have nothing to do with meditation itself. In fact, it may have been just as likely that there would be some other “triggering” experience that these individuals would encounter along their lifetime. If they had just eaten a Twinkie, would we be seeing articles about the dangers of eating Twinkies? Okay, bad example.

It is important to understand that meditation is not necessarily meant to “soothe the soul” either. Any spiritual path worth its salt will shake you up. It will cause you to look deeply into the causes of your suffering, disempowerment, and the patterns of your life that have contributed to or compounded your difficulties. In the popular western mind, meditation is all about “blanking the mind” or “feeling groovy.” So it may come as a bit of a shock that meditation, as a practice, takes you down some rough emotional road here and there–especially at the beginning of your practice. That can be difficult to swallow given our western intolerance for any kind of discomfort. And yet, feeling our feelings is really the only way out of the tangled mess we create by suppression. Medication, drugs, alcohol and “pushing your feelings waaaay down,” only compound any suffering or disquiet you may feel already. The only way out is through.

Any spiritual path worth its salt will shake you up.

Is meditation harmful? I think the bigger question is–are the alternatives (e.g. suppression or drugging) any better for you? The answer on both accounts is a resounding no.

If you have an evolving or active serious mental health diagnosis, it is important to seek treatment. Meditation may not be right for you now. But there are many other spiritual practices that can complement any treatment you receive.

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/the-dark-knight-of-the-souls/372766/

From my forthcoming work–Wicca: Another Year and A Day

witch

The “meaning” of life takes place on a much larger scale than our own personal lives. Our lives are just a momentary speck. They are the most recent manifestation of a long lineage of consciousness expressing itself in endless forms. Once your life is finished, another takes its place and continues to express this impersonal flow long into an unfathomable future.

They are the most recent manifestation of a long lineage of consciousness expressing itself in endless forms.

The same immense, powerful, vast and impersonal tide of energy that gives birth to solar systems and swallows them up in black holes, also gives birth to the temporary forms that we inhabit. Life must fulfill itself. When we become dissatisfied and unhappy, it is because our own “personalized” version of life is not occurring as we “want it to happen.” Thus, on a small scale, we impede the vast and impersonal flow of this force and attempt to make things happen according to our individual plans. To live a more fulfilled existence, we must detach from this Alchemy2notion that “its all about me,” and live our lives as agents of this unknowable flow that manifests as just this moment.

Sisyphus and Finding the Great Balance

MythI used to love Greek myths when I was a kid. The hero deeds, the great feats, the Gods all spoke a language that hit in the gut. They weren’t stories that appealed to my mind so much as they were appealing to my dreams. Now, because I’m both a psychotherapist and a pagan, I’m going to reference the old-timers, the granddaddies, the myth-makers of psychology: Freud and Jung. Both of them contended that myth and dreams both originate from the same place. They represent the body speaking.

…something “other” awakens within us and comes to life….

When the mind settles away from the known shores of conscious thinking, planning, working, and communicating with others, something “other” awakens within us and comes to life. It’s the life of our bodies, with its own set of demands, which usually has little (if anything) to do with the social demands and expectations of our everyday lives. Yet we live in a split way. We have sort-of parallel lives running, with each sphere almost blind to the other.

Living in this split way leads us to disempowerment, discomfort and ultimately suffering. We feel dissatisfied at some level with our lives, our work, our partners, families, communities and ourselves. But we can’t quite put our finger on the problem. Why? Why do we feel this way? And how can we come into a greater accord with the twin rhythms of our lives—the mind and body, light and dark, conscious and unconscious processes?

…we live in a split way. We have sort-of parallel lives running, with each sphere almost blind to the other.

The myth of Sisyphus might give us a clue. Sisyphus was the God who was consigned to the underworld and given the task of forever pushing a tremendous boulder up a hill. As soon as he reached the summit, the boulder would roll back down and he would have to start the task again. So the question this myth raises is whether or not Sisyphus is bound to suffer. It also asks whether or not we will suffer, for the heroes, Gods and Goddesses of myth are really ourselves.images2LS5LLH6

Sisyphus will suffer if he lives out of synch with the task before him—pushing, pushing, pushing. If he stands there and thinks, “Oh hell no! This is bulls**t,” then he has misaligned himself. Suffering and disempowerment will ensue. But if he throws himself just into the pushing, and simply does just what the moment requires of him, then the mind and body align. The world opens. Power floods in. In that state of alignment, there is no room for preferences, a product of habitual thinking and a lifetime of patterns that always leads to misalignment, confusion, dissatisfaction and loss of power in our lives.

It isn’t easy to live in alignment. Old habits and preferences die hard. Most organisms want to experience comfort and pleasure as much of the time as possible. But there is no power when you live in that way. It’s living lopsided. Living as a slave to our preferences leads exactly to where we are now: stressed, unhappy, dissatisfied and disempowered.

At the time of the Equinoxes, it is time for each of us to take stock of balance. Do we have it? Are we living in it? This Fall, take time to throw yourself into your life fully with no gaps. Push the boulder. Be an instrument of the universe and do the thing that needs doing in this moment. This is living in balance—moment by moment. See for yourself the difference that living in balance will have.