Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Spirit Initiation

Initiation is a rite that many witches go through to enter a covenant or understanding with a group or within a tradition. Many covens use initiation rituals to symbolise the death of the old self and the metamorphosis into the new self, as part of the group. Many shamans have written and spoken about their perilous and painful initiations to bring them to their new expressions of self.

There are two schools of thought in the traditional witchcraft community, two different sets of initiations, as demonstrated by renowned occultist Andrew Chumbley; the red thread and the white thread. The red thread is the physical initiation, usually conducted by a coven. It is the physical bond that is formed with your path. The white thread, however, is the initiation by spirit.

There are a lot of schools of thought on spirit initiation. In layman's terms, spirit initiation (sometimes noted as a shamanic initiation) is a death. It is the slow dismantling of the self, a breaking down the bits of the self to use as kindling for the fire it is about the start. It is a complete and total metamorphosis. It is a death - death of the self, death of the preconceived, death and decay - and it is difficult.

The metaphor of death is used in many traditions, from Wicca to Shamanism to Voudou. For some, it's a mere ritual. For some, it's symbolic. For others, it can be an experience that draws a practitioner  and forms a bond or a oath to that particular path. These spirit initiations are almost always unpleasant, and in some cases can exacerbate already existing depression or mental health issues. It manifests differently and in differing intensity, depending on the person experiencing it. People will sometimes describe the experience as feeling flat, deflated, empty, destroyed, or broken.

There are a variety of ways that it can manifest. For some, it is a long and unexplained bout of depression, or it's a persistent and on-going series of nightmares. For others, it borders into hallucinations, or can manifest as a physical sickness. These are usually marked by an initial period of personal crisis or trauma. It is almost always lead by a spirit of some kind. Some more traditional witches believe it is the Devil. Some, a horned god. Others see it as a spiritual guide who its meant to guide you through your transition, and there is always the possibility of a god intervening and guiding as well.

The main characteristic is that it is an ordeal, in the classic sense. It is pushing yourself to the point of breaking, and then acknowledging that you want to know more. When you hit that lowest point, that is the death and rebirth - that is the moment you are guided forward, like a newborn sprung from the womb. It is an unpleasant and torturous event, but it serves the great purpose of burning away all the unnecessary bullshit, and honing you into a sharp and sure weapon. It makes you dispose of the hurt and trauma of the past and forces you to truly connect with the spirits and your own power.

How do you know if what you am experiencing is not just symptoms of your mental illness? My answer is this - sometimes it is hard to know. I know that for me, it was helpful looking at all of my spiritual experiences and life experiences before it happened, and looking at my own bouts of depression in the past. Based purely on my own experiences and speaking with my therapist, I can safely say that the last year or so has been an abnormal cycle for me. I won't go into it too much, because I honestly feel these events can be a very private thing - but I think that some co-morbidity existed in my own case. However, my own transformation (which I am just coming out of) is very rooted with the traditional shamanic initiation - trauma or crisis event, spiritual revelation, and healing.

It is very important to develop a routine of self care and to ensure you care for all aspects of your health - mental, physical, and spiritual. Most of all, do not be afraid to seek help if you feel it may be more an issue with mental health than initiation.

This type of initiation is not for the faint of heart, but those who are not cowed by it will find a great deal of wisdom and power at the end. It can be terrifying and intimidating and soul crushing, but for me it is worth the effort.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Illegitimi non carborundum.

With all that's happening in the world right now, I wanted to take a moment to talk about racism and discrimination in the general pagan community.

I know a lot of people see pagans and witches as a loving, hippie-dippy, group who couldn't possibly contribute to such a hateful thing. It almost makes me want to laugh. Not only does the pagan community contain racism, parts of it actively enable and perpetuate it.

I have written extensively about my own experiences in my own community 2 years ago, when a local white supremacist was harassing me online, attempting to defame me, and attacking and slandering members of the community who are people of colour (POC).  I cannot speak for any of those POC, I do not know their experience. I can only speak for myself and what I saw happen. I saw members of my own community, members and organizations that I have worked with and that I have trusted, back up a known white supremacist with 'they're just proud of their heritage' and a refusal to do anything to protect other members and potential members of the community, even with proof. I still see people that I know and used to respect attend their events or promote their events.  Our community here is so steeped in racism, and it is enabled by the people who have the power to prevent it.

I can't even imagine what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a POC here, seeing a whole mess of white folks who claim to be welcoming and accepting, sheltering a known neo-nazi. It must be so uncomfortable. It must be so infuriating.

Unfortunately, you see a lot of prevalence of neo-nazi beliefs and behaviours in the Heathen and Asatru community. Our gods have been co-opted by the jack-booted masses, looking to perpetuate their ideals of a pure race (which, newsflash, doesn't actually exist), white is right, and hatred of the other, searching for ways to twist the words of the gods to justify their tirade of fear and hatred. You have groups like the Wotan network, Asatru Folk Assembly (which is officially classified by the US government as a hate group), and the Thulean Perspective. You have the Heathen Harvest, the Soldiers of Odin, the Wolves of Vinland. People take the beliefs of the Thule Society and the pro-Germanic beliefs of the Nazi party during WWII, and mix it with good old fashioned fear. Presto, welcome to the new nationalist kindred: whites only, please.

You run into a lot of issues with any POC who dares to work with gods from any of the northern European pantheons: it's as though they feel that anyone who isn't lily fucking white has no business working with their gods. Oh, did you buy them? Do you have a fucking deed of sale? I mean, try not to mention that northern Europe has never been 100% white, what with all the Romans and Moors who travelled there long before and long after they were Christianized. You think they didn't intermarry? Don't dare mention that most of the population of northern Europe is Christian, and they are praying to a brown, middle eastern Jew. Don't mention that their gods were queer and sometimes brown. Like, get the fuck over yourselves.

Don't even get me started on the racist practice of cultural appropriation, or the claim from some groups that are clearly not closed cultures (cough NAZI HEATHENS cough) that POC are stealing their beliefs. The POC have no right to the Germanic/Norse gods (what are you, their fucking keeper?), that they should (and this is a quote I have see many times) just stick with their own African gods, or go back to Africa where they belong.

Heathenry is not closed culture; it is in no way under threat of extinction, and it's practitioners were not subject to genocide or mistreatment. So yeah. How about no. How about this: we all should just listen to our POC and listen to what they say about their cultures and their practices. We white folks have no business telling them what we can steal from them; we've done quite enough of that, thanks.

As much as we claim that 'hate is not a pagan value', to some it is. A belief they hold deep in their very souls. It starts, insidious at first,  as a belief in pro-nationalistic, pro-tradition rhetoric. It speaks of bringing together the 'disenfranchised', whose culture is being threatened by the cries of diversity. It slowly turns into anti-immigration, anti-islam, anti-feminism. Then it turns into marches and gatherings to 'preserve their culture'. Then it turns to violence. Then murder.

Example? Varg Vikernes. Super racist metal musician, confirmed northern practitioner, convicted arsonist who burned down churches, and convicted murderer. Now that he's out of jail, he preaches intolerance and violence through the Thulean Perspective. The man is so full of hatred, and because he was a popular musician, he commands a large audience.

Tackling the utter mess of the racist pagan community is not an easy task. I have no easy answers. All I know is that in times like this, there are 2 quotes I live by:

“Where you recognize evil, speak out against it, and give no truces to your enemies”
-Havamal, stanza 127

and the always quoted:

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
- Edmund Burke (often misquoted as 'all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.')

The most important thing to do in times like this is not not be silent. We need to stand up against racism whenever and wherever we see it. We need to own our own racist shit, and strive to be better. We need to listen to the folks who are suffering the most, and do what we can to make sure their voices are heard - and we need to let our voices rise up to combat the hatred.

We can't literal nazi fucks continue to co-opt what we have tried to build. Been there. Done that. Pretty sure we fought wars about it. It means making hard choices. It means removing people from your life who have decided, for whatever reason, that there are numerous people who do not deserve basic human rights. It will likely mean ending decades-long friendships, or family. It will mean standing up for what is right, even if it is what is hard to do.

We have to look at what these communities have become, and be absolutely disgusted at the state of them. We need to be the helpers. We need to be the ones to push to create change.

If we want this community to survive, we need to fight for it. If we can't save it, we need to burn it down to kill the disease, and start again.

At my desk at work, I have 2 yellow sticky notes on my wall. The first says "Illegitimi non carborundum." Don't let the bastards get you down. The second is the lyrics from a song that was covered by The Barenaked Ladies:

Let's kick at the darkness together, shall we?

Friday, 11 August 2017


I really love this time of year. I dread summer every year, because I hate the heat and the drought, but there is something magical about August, particularly mid-late August. The colours are gradually fading into the tones of autumn, the yellows and pale greens, the leaves starting to lose their brilliant green lustre. The pops of goldenrod. The cranberries ripening from pearly white to lush garnet gems. The days are hot, the evenings cool. I have been fortunate the have the companionship of my dog to get me out to enjoy all the beauty, and to see the excitement of all the new smells and sights every time we go out is a blessing.

I am growing to love August.

It's also the symbology, the beginning of the climax of the growing season. Everything is starting to slowly wind down - the wheat will be harvested. The proverbial squirrels are starting to gather the nuts from the ground.

It is the beginning of the move inward.

This is the first time in a number of years that I have found myself really focusing and enjoying the season. The last number of years have been chaotic - many changes. This year there is a sweet calmness that I finally - finally - get to savour.

D and I celebrated Lammas, the first harvest, by making a loaf of spelt bread with harvested flowers from our garden. We drove out to the shore, the wild cliffs, and we chanted and sang and prayed for rain. We sowed the seeds of our intentions to be harvested in the coming months. We listened to the waves crash perilously below us, felt the fog and sea spray kiss our cheeks. We poured libations of fresh water, left offerings of bread, honey, tobacco, and money.

It felt incredible. Even after grounding, I felt like I was humming for days. I slept like a baby.

This is the beginning of the time of year where I feel the most in tune, the most powerful. The days growing darker, the temperatures dropping - I live for it. I feel like I have more motivation, more stamina. I am doing the things I love again - baking, reading, writing, creating. This movement,  this energy, this change - I am ready for it.