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I. Loved. This. Book.

Is that too enthusiastic? Especially for a book published by Llewellyn? 😉  Besides A Witch Alone by Marian Green, this book is the most balanced, practical and grounded introductory book I’ve found. There isn’t any side-eye history (that I found). There isn’t any Christian-hating. There is certainly no dogmatism.

What In the Sacred Circle offers is, essentially, a series of essays. The book is organized by the Wheel of the Year, starting with Yule and then alternating throughout with different chapters on deity, circle casting, magic, sacred place, building a shrine, etc. Each chapter on a Sabbat starts with a personal story of how she celebrated and then moves into some history behind the holiday and ways to celebrate it. The chapter on casting a circle is the most thorough chapter and the one where she offers the most explicit direction. Her magic chapter only offers a few different kinds of magic, with theory booking either end of the suggestions. This is in contrast to many 101 books where pre-made ritual and spells seem to make up the bulk of the material.

I really liked this quote on what magic is really about:

“In fact, on a deeper level, magic is more about resolving emotional and psychological issues than about changing outer circumstances…though if we change ourselves, our outer lives will inevitably change as well. Interacting with life and working through situations brings spiritual growth. If we apply the wise use of magic to our life’s path, we are working in harmony with the needs of our deep selves, the part of us that desires our highest good.”

Though this book is listed under Wicca, besides the dual-Godhead, I didn’t pick up on many Wicca-specific teachings. She doesn’t go over the Wiccan Rede. I’m not sure she ever says always or you must like a book I’m reading now does (The Craft by Dorothy Morrison). The book mainly displays her love of nature, the seasons and her gentle advice for a beginner. It guides the reader into a self-guided learning process.

I would recommend this book to a beginner as a primer to A Witch Alone. I would recommend it also for anyone who just wants to know more about witchcraft, or anyone who has family that is curious about their path.

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I read Book of Shadows by Phyllis Curott a few weeks ago, so my apologies for being a little late with this review.

First off, let me state that I enjoyed the book…mostly. I thought it had great entertainment value.  I liked the narrative style and how she imparted a lot of information about Wicca through her experiences. To me, the use of story and prose is the easiest way to learn something from text. I know that others prefer charts, grafts and lists, so it’s just a personal preference. Her story was certainly interesting: how a high-powered attorney becomes a coven-based Wiccan.

I also really enjoyed the guided meditations that are throughout the book. They are woven into the narrative, and I’ve found some of them easy to incorporate in my meditations.

However, there are certain things that date the book and make it a little hard to swallow.

There is an emphasis on the Old Religion mythos, the Burning Times (though she refutes the 9-million figure often bandied about) and the pan-matriarchal Indo-European culture that supposedly existed back in the day. I’ve read some essays and forum postings about the (maybe) value of these discarded theories in the mythos of paganism, especially in Wicca (and especially Dianic Wicca).  I also know that in 1998, perhaps, the information discrediting those theories might not have been so popularized within the pagan community.

Because it’s a memoir it’s definitely a product of its time. I do wonder what Curott would have to say about the more recent push back against that set of beliefs. In my opinion it doesn’t make witchcraft of paganism any less valid, but I could see where some would say it would. I liken it to believing that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and the Pentateuch was written by Moses—only to read Who Wrote the Bible and to find out that the most commonly held theory about bible authorization is the Documentary Hypothesis. It can shake things up a bit. Persisting in false history/facts/beliefs is one thing (and plenty of books about Wicca still do), but I can accept it as part of history in a memoir published in 1998.

My final thoughts:

It’s an enjoyable book. If you like to have information passed to you in an entertaining, narrative style like I do then I think it’s worth a look-see. Her story is certainly interesting, and the appendix has some correspondence charts, spells, Wheel of the Year information and a bibliography. I think it’s value is mostly for a new-new beginner into ‘all of this’, like myself.

Discussion topics it brought to mind:

One of my favorite women’s spirituality memoirs is The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Susan Monk Kidd, published in the mid-nineties. It’s the story of Christian inspirational writer, wife of a Southern Baptist preacher, who finds her way into Goddess spirituality and ritual.  I was only 8-14-ish during the time when all of these books were coming out and though some of it certainly resonates with me—patriarchal hierarchy in the church, hello—I don’t really understand the…urgency, perhaps, of that time for women, especially when all of these books were coming out that proposed the idea of a pan-European Goddess religion, etc. What was it like? What has it been like to have those theories challenged?

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Book Update

Last night, in a bid to rid ourselves of as much junk as we could before we move, husband and I took our old clothes to Goodwill and sold our castaway books and magazines at Half-Price Books. Selling books at Half-Price is always a dicey proposition. I went in there once with one box full of current paperbacks and still-in-use textbooks and walked out with $60. Yesterday Jonathan and I sold about 50 current-ish magazines and two boxes full of books—mostly engineering and physics textbooks—and got a ticket for $12.

Lame.

Still, the buy-back discounted three books I greatly desired: Drawing Down the Moon (Margot Adler, 2006 edition), The Spiral Dance (Starhawk, 20th Anniversary edition) and The History of the Devil (Gerald Messadié, American edition 1996). I started Drawing Down the Moon last night and couldn’t put it down. As a sociological/cultural study it’s fascinating…I appreciate how she goes to great lengths to define her terms, acknowledges the controversy behind calling all/most of witchcraft Wicca, etc.

I realize it’s kind of irrational to buy books when I just finished packing all of our book boxes (eight! full! boxes!), but…well. When opportunity knocks…:)

So now the plan is (besides pack, pack, packing) to finish Drawing…, continue the exercises from Paganism…, and afterwards read the History of the Devil and Spiral Dance. If I don’t post much in the next few days, forgive me, as today is really the last day before the moving push (with all our families included) begins in earnest.

And still…suggestions always welcome.

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After my What Next? post I puttered around (read: procrastinated) on Amazon and different religious sites to come up with some sort of plan. See, in the Myers-Briggs personality quadrant I am an INFJ. And J means I need a plan. This sometimes gets me in trouble, religiously speaking (see: inability to break free of religious structures), but sometimes—when exploring a vast depth and wealth of knowledge—helps me out.

So I read through the websites and I searched through my own desires and came up with topics that I’m really interested in and will pursue.  Though the What Next post was a good start…I think I need to do some background work before jumping into some of that.

  1. First up will be exploring the history of satan. I think this is necessary, especially coming from the charismatic background that I do. There is so much emphasis on satan, satanic attacks and oppression, demons, demonic possession, etc. that I want to understand where it all stems from. Books I’ve looked into are: The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots by T.J. Wray and Gregory Mobley, The Devil: Perceptions from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity by Jeffrey B. Russell and maybe The Origins of Satan by Ellen Pagels. Ellen Pagels’ scholarship and bias can be up for debate by a lot of people, so, I might save that for last/if I get around to it.
  2. The other book I’d like to read, also by Jeffrey B. Russell is A New History of Witchcraft. I’ve read Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon, which I liked but it couldn’t quiet keep my attention.
  3. Formative pagan books, i.e. The Spiral Dance by Starhawk, Drawing Down the Moon by Margaret Adler, etc. Suggestions more than welcome.
  4. Books on history/myths/psychology that interest me: Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women by Sylvia Perera, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth by Monica Sjoo, etc. Again, suggestions welcome.

Okay. I really have to get to packing and stop procrastinating!

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Yesterday, Friday, I picked up my first real Pagan book called Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions by Joyce and River Higgenbotham.  I have other books, such as Scott Cunningham’s Oils, Insence and Brews and an old, old, old copy of his Wicca: Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Both were ‘interest’ books, and not necessarily ‘serious’ ones.

Since Imbolc I’ve felt it imperative to begin—really, continue—the journey I began months ago. I let it rest for the winter season, but now that the sun is slowly waxing action is necessary. Wanted. Desired. Anticipated. You get the idea.

So yesterday after some web-licious researching I decided that Paganism looked like a promising beginner’s guide that included thoughtful journal exercises, discussion, meditations and light craft work.  I took the entire evening to read it over, except for the section on physics (which, hopefully, I’ll go back and finish tonight).  The contents of the book are pretty basic but very satisfying. They address the Wheel of the Year, celebrations, rituals, beliefs, diety, good/evil, the concept of satan, ethics and values, magick, divination and briefly discussed the differences between the major sects of Paganism. Lots of nice graphics and essential points of Pagan philosophy, such as Paganism is about personal responsibility, spiritual work, engagement, etc. It is not a book friendly to arm-chair spirituality.

Today I took the journal exercises for a test drive. I sat in Chick-Fil-A, where I get my best journaling done, and completed two sections of the first chapter. It addressed thoughts on the seasons, how Pagans view life/death, and if I thought I was a pagan.

I scratched my head for a moment. I ate a piece of lemon pie. I sipped some Diet Death.

I put my pen to the page several times, each time leaving a little black dot but no answer.

Am I a Pagan? Do I think I am?

I eventually wrote that I might not be a Pagan, yet, but I don’t think I am a Christian anymore, at all.

What I love about Christianity is this: Jesus, as a wise person. The Incarnate of the One God? I can’t attest to that. I can attest to Jesus’ sacrifice, his words on love, community, priesthood and wisdom. But I have so many problems with so much of everything else: inerrancy, the Old Testament (as spiritual text, not as history–as in, I take it as a historical/mythological document, not necessarily a spiritual one), Paul, the inherent stance on women, the pervasive sense of fear in the Church, the us/them mentality that stems from a rabid belief in satan, demons, possession, generational curses, etc. Just when you thought magic wasn’t in the church? Hah. The church—all stripes—is full of magical belief.

Some might say, well, cut the wheat from the chaff and just take a belief that Jesus died for your sins. See? You’re a Christian.

I struggle with that, I do. Christianity is seeped into the very marrow of my bones. But also sharing the marrow are some very non-Christian feelings. Like the pull towards nature I get every time I am alone in the woods, or on a path, in the rain, in the sun, before a storm, looking to the moon, when the wind blows across my neck. The electricity that vibrates in the air before the first spring storm or the first autumn cold front. The life in the earth when I garden. The taste of wine. The salty flavor or cheese. The feeling of curiosity co-mingling with a coming home when I read books on certain kinds of paganism, magick, philosophy or folktales. The utter connectedness I experienced at Imbolc.

It seems…stupid, in a way. To look to all of this as a sign of another Divinity, of being mutually exclusive with Christianity and Jesus. But the Christianity that I am emerging from believes that, if not under the name of God, what I am experiencing is demonic. That the Tarot is demonic. That if I pray to another god/dess I am praying to demons and inviting them in my life. That, at this moment, I am in sin. It’s a scary mindset to be in, a fearful one. I’ll be honest: when I started this path I felt terrified. I still do, at certain moments, though the terror is easing into an acceptance. This is my life stage. More importantly, this is my life. I shouldn’t be afraid. I am starting to slowly trust myself, and starting to slowly trust that I am a mature, adult woman who has a sense of ethics, values, balance and right action. Imagine! Being a spiritual adult and not perpetually an errant child.

Whether I revert to Christianity or journey to Whatever Else this single thing will always stay with me: I choose, and therefore am responsible for, my religious/spirtual belief.

I should say that I know all churches aren’t Charasmatic, Evangelical Protestants.  I am going to a UU church tomorrow to experience liberal religion for the first time. But I don’t think that I can just easing into a…less rabid? easier? more liberal?…church is going to solve the problem. The problem is I’ve always let myself be told what to believe (because I craved that structure!) and never figured that out for myself.

And that’s what Paganism gives you. That’s what it promotes, actively. Figure it out. Paganism is a buffet, not a restaurant. Get your ass out of your seat and get your own food, dammit. Sure, there are figures in Paganism/Wicca/etc. who make money on those looking for quick-fix-its, but the majority of the pagan community I have found online are thoughtful, earnest seekers. It’s not an easy path for them and it requires constant work. Again, sure, you can find the quacks and flakes all over the web as well, but I guess I’ve been blessed to find some really good forums and blogs. *

That is what draws me to Paganism. The work. The ritual. The curiosity. The demand for intelligence, research, study, journaling, activity whether you are solitary or coven/grove/community oriented.

So am I a Christian, at this moment? I don’t think so. Am I a pagan? Not yet, no. I won’t label myself (again) until I am so positive and so sure it hurts me to not call myself by that name. Then…then I can attach some sort of label. Until then I am me, seeker, wanderer.

Ah! There is such freedom and joy and rightness in my heart.

*One forum I’ve especially enjoyed is Ecauldron. Also the blogs on the sidebar, as well as others that I find randomly through comments sections.

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