Rites of Passage

I’ll never forget reading a book about rites of passage in one of my college classes.
The entire class, in fact, was about rituals and rites and how we humans make sense of the world.  I read about some more culturally disturbing rituals, in which young men are required to “take their elder’s seed” into their mouths to receive the knowledge and strength of their elders (they perform oral sex on their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers).  But overall, the threads of that class — how a ritual is structured, the purpose of a ritual, and all of those things — I see them running through my daily life.

I witnessed a Ph.D. defense yesterday.  Well, the public part. They do the actual defense in private, but I had an opportunity to watch him tell a room full of people about his research. Although much like a normal presentation, an oral dissertation presentation has an additional layer of both nerves and giddiness. It’s not uncommon to hear jokes intended to up the ante, like, “We’ll leave all the questions to your committee,” or, “I’m sure they’ll talk about that later.”

Rites of passage are all around us.  From the training videos at national corporations like Target and McDonalds to the elaborate customs and decorations involved in handfastings and weddings, there are often symbols tied up in our everyday activities.

This line of argumentation or description may be helpful to you in your encounters with the non-pagan world. One of the more common arguments from others is that magic isn’t real, or even worse, magic is evil. Magic, if you remember, is the simple act of demanding change from the world. Any time that someone declares “I do” or “I will” in response to a question or statement, they are engaging in magic. From the court room to the DMV, magic and rituals are all around us. Pagans should not be demonized for calling what they do, what it is. The only difference is that the rituals associated with paganism are less common than the rituals associated with church on Sunday.

A Treatise on Magick

I’ve spoken about sources and methods for magic multiple times throughout this blog’s history.  I have compared the process of magic to removing mortar from bricked over windows, and even photosynthesis.  I’ve claimed that Christians, Hindus — pretty much anyone that is religious — have used magick in their lives at some point.  I’ve asked where magick comes from, and what it means to us.  I’ve even announced that the Universe has a minimum “dumb” requirement when it comes to requests.

But these discussions scatter throughout the years, and I want to create a concise discussion for my readers.  In part, this blog post is the first draft of a document that will be included in that book I’m trying to write.  In part, it serves as a capstone document to summarize what I know so far, and what I’d like to learn.

Magic vs. Magick

You will see both “magic” and “magick” scattered throughout the Pagan literature.  Some people think that the latter spelling is stupid, but it does have roots in history.  In the late 1800’s, Aleister Crowley decided to make the distinction between “show” magic and magicians, and true, ritual-based magic intended to affect change in the world.  The former, he called “magic,” and because the latter was newer, he referred to “true” magic as “magick.”  Some people use the distinction, others do not.  I am notorious for mixing the two, although I tend to use the latter because the “k” on magick makes the word stick out to me a bit better in writing.  You can read more about this history in Ronald Hutton’s, “Triumph of the Moon,” which is a treatise on modern pagan history.  This fact is also commonly cited throughout the Pagan literature, especially in the introductory literature.

What Is Magick?

There are many, many different definitions of magick, but I defined “doing magick” in 2008 as the act of taking responsibility to create change.  That would mean that magick, the noun, is simply, “conscious change.”  Nothing really satanic or crazy or even esoteric about that, is there?  Sorry to disappoint.  Here’s the thing.  No amount of wishing, hoping, and dreaming will get you that new car.  No amount of secret, intense ritual, will get you that car.  Unless, after you perform your wishing, hoping, dreaming, and magick, you try your best to put yourself in a position to receive a new car.  Which means that you take those extra hours or odd jobs, and you try your best to save your money.  In other words, after you decide that you want something, you need to act on it.   You need to make good on your agreement with the universe and begin enacting conscious change.  And that, my friends, is why I define magick not as some supernatural power, but instead, “conscious change.”  Because, when you do magick, you are trying to align your wants and needs with the Universe.  You are visualizing success.  You are telling your whole self — your conscious and subconscious minds — that this is what you want.  This is what you need.

See it like this.  What you want is on the other side of a barrier.  Let’s say that the barrier is a sum of all of the things preventing you from your goal.  If your goal is that new car, we could define the barrier as a combination of economic background, current monetary situation, your luck, your relationships with others, the availability of the cars you desire… et cetera.  You can think of a thousand different major and minor obstacles to getting that car.  But let’s think of that barrier as a physical brick wall.  When you perform magick, when you declare to the universe that you want that car, that you’re going to get that car… you’re initiating change.  And in this brick wall metaphor, let’s say that suddenly, the universe decides to weaken the mortar between bricks, or make that wall a little shorter so you can just hop over it, or make a door in it, so that you can walk around the obstacle.  The universe helps you bypass those barriers.  But it can only do so much.  You need to help yourself bypass those barriers, too.  And that’s why magick, in essence, is “conscious change.”

The Ideal Magician

So what are the qualities that turn you into an effective magick-wielding entity?  After all, surely some people are better at doing magick than others.

  1. The ideal magician is someone who is completely sold on what they need or want from the universe.
  2. The ideal magician is ready to accept this change in their lives.
  3. The ideal magician is willing to meet the universe halfway and initiate the change that they can to help themselves towards their goals.
  4. The ideal magician is master of her environment, and not subject to external influences: she does not desire a new car out of jealousy of her friend’s new car, but instead, because her car is unsafe, unreliable, or nonexistent.
  5. The ideal magician is willing to reexamine herself and her goals.

Magick and Sacrifice

All magick requires sacrifice.  The minimum sacrifice is time: time to develop your goals, wants, needs, and desires.  In some cases, the way you want to do your magick requires sacrifice of material things: perhaps you lose the picture of your ex, because you’ve burned it in your spell to separate yourself from him.  Perhaps you lose some herbs you’ve gathered, as you bury them to bring their qualities into your life.  As a child, I would often make and sacrifice small paper boats with messages to the gods, which I released into a local creek.

Ritual Sacrifice of the Gummulate Tribe!
Sometimes, the sacrifice comes after you’ve done your magic.  To get to your goal, you begin sacrificing time or pleasure to achieve your goal.  Perhaps, after you’ve done your magick to help you repair your bond with a friend, you realize that its best if the friendship just ends, that the friend is drawing time or energy or happiness away from your life.  Sometimes, things happen that you just can’t… unsee or undo, which you can clearly attribute to your magick.  Regardless of the circumstance, you will always find that with magick, with conscious change, comes sacrifice.

Some may disagree with me on this point, and bring to my attention the sentence of the “Charge of the Goddess” which states:

Nor do I demand sacrifice, for behold: I am the Mother of All Living, and My Love is poured out upon the Earth.

The difference between sacrifice to your magickal goals and sacrifice to the Mother is this: she doesn’t demand sacrifice for you to live a happy and successful life.  She is the Mother, all giving, all knowing.

But these magickal sacrifices of which I speak, they are not true “sacrifices,” for you certainly get something in return.  No, these are trade-offs.  These are the currency that you pay for growth and change in your life.  These are your “action” to get your “reaction,” like in Newton’s laws of thermodynamics.

There is a lesson in your sacrifices:  Be the change you want to see.  This requires change.  This requires sacrifice.  What you sacrifice, be it time or materials or actions, is up to you.  Your sacrifice does not necessarily improve your chances of success, but there will always be a sacrifice.

Religion and Types of Magick

Other than the brief mention of the Charge of the Goddess, above, you will see that I have left religion out of this discussion entirely.  That’s because, although Wiccans often practice magick, magick is not unique to our religion.  Magick is incorporated into a wide variety of traditions across the world, including mainstream religions such as Catholicism.  Return to the definition of magick that I provide: conscious change.

Let’s take the Catholicism example.  During each mass, the Catholic priest stands over some bread and wine (occasionally, grape juice and crackers), and he declares that the bread is now the body of Christ, and the wine is the blood of Christ.  And those who have been initiated fully into Catholicism are welcome to eat of the body and drink of the blood of their savior.

This is what we call “sympathetic magick” and is the second of three types of magick that I will share with you now.  Thought magick is any magick that is based primarily in thought, and does not include any actions.  Examples of thought magick include prayer and visualization.

Sympathetic magick, what the Catholics practice, is a type of magic where we use symbols to affect change in the world.  For the Catholics, they are taking the bread and wine as symbols of the body and blood of Christ.  Most of the “magick spells” you will find on the internet use a form of sympathetic magic.  What everyone thinks of as Voo Doo dolls, are a form of sympathetic magick.  We are saying to the universe, when we interact with a Voo Doo doll: whatever I do to this doll, let it be done to the person it represents.

And finally, ritual magick is a more formalized version of sympathetic and thought magick(s) that relies on historical symbology and formalized ritual.  Ritual magick is often used to achieve more spiritual goals, and is defined by some as “magick on purpose.”  Ritual magick is the combination of the two aforementioned methods (thought, sympathetic), but within a ritually consecrated and designated space.  Sympathetic magick becomes ritual magick, for Wiccans, when its done in a circle on an auspicious night.

How much you use magick, and use your thoughts and actions to affect the world around you, is up to you.  Unlike in Harry Potter or other fantasy novels, magick is not a crutch.  It is an extension of the self and will into the world around you to affect change.

Beltane Blessings

So, I don’t perform rituals much anymore – I’m always in the wrong spot at the wrong time, etc.  I do have small ceremonies, often without tools like chalices or even food offerings for the gods.  Sometimes I just take some time to sit in silence and think, and pray, and maybe even sing a little.

Those were my activities on Beltane night.  I sat on a bench, feeling the cool breeze and the wet air, the promise of summer still far away.  I thought about my life and where it has come from and where it’s going, and also about my partner’s life.  My partner has been having some issues lately – the economy hit him hard and for a while, he was jobless.  We live quite a distance away from each other, and I can’t be there for him when I need to.

In any case, I ended up just praying that he would find happiness again, and not three days later, he made an opportunity for himself and he now has a job.  It was a surprising career choice, but you take what you can get, and I’m definitely not complaining.

In the end, that’s all I want.  For those I love to be happy and safe and well cared for.  I hope that this Beltane – or soon after – has found you all the same blessings.

That’s the thing about prayer.  You walk around in a fog for a long time before you sit down to pray – you complain, you think its unfair or too tough or none of it is your fault, etc.  You get angry at the world.  Depressed, sad, maybe you cry.  And when you’re done throwing your temper tantrum, what you do next is most important: Sit down.  Think.  Sing.  Pray.  Decide what you want and how you’re going to get it.  And then do it.

You have support when you’re at your lowest point.  Granted, our gods don’t carry you through.  They pick you up, dust you off, and remind you that you have two feet and a world of opportunity.  But isn’t that all we ever need?

The Meaning of Bears

Bears are kinda cool, in my book.  They’re relatively inoffensive, as long as you don’t get between them and their cubs, or them and some really, really good food.  There are a variety of species, and they eat a variety of things.  They’re not always bloodthirsty and angry and roaring.  They’re playful and inquisitive and intelligent.

If a bear is your totem, it could represent a good balance in your life – the ability to be curious and figure problems out, but also the ability to live a balanced and healthy life through your diet.  In addition, some bears hibernate.  A bear coming into your life (hopefully not in the, “I’m going to kill you!” sort of way) could indicate that you are in hibernation, about to emerge.

Bears also care very deeply for their young.  We say that someone is a mother bear, or that mother bears are the most dangerous creatures in the world.  With a bear as your totem, you know – or will know – how to hold onto and defend what is yours.

Protector of the family, intelligent, adorable AND omnivorous, what’s not to love?

From an AP News Article on Bears

Thinking About Science and Magic

I’m going to attempt to make my return to this blog.  This year was hard on me, but as far as the rest of my life, keeping up should be relatively easy, except you know, grad school in a year.  Ah, well.

Okay, onto the topic of the day.  Something that I never pursued, but would like to, is relating our magic potential to the process of photosynthesis.  For all of you non sciency people, photosynthesis is when plants take water, carbon dioxide, and light, and create sugar(their food) and oxygen.

So magically, this could relate to our process of taking a situation and conforming it to our desires.  I wanted to get more into the technical processes and relate everything, because as we know, the world works in both macro and micro cosms. 

Anyway.  So let’s take a loot at this diagram.  ATP, or adenosinetriphosphate, as well as NADP/H are both energy sources for the plant.  NADPH is specific to plants, but ATP is universal.  NAD/H is the version of NAD that we use in our systems(without the phosphorous).

To recharge energy so we can use it, we need to split water with light.  There are two types of systems that do this.  The first.  photosystem II, gets an electron from breaking water.  It’s passed to photosystem I which uses the electron to produce ATP and NADPH.  Oxygen is also produced.

I’m *really* summarizing here.  This diagram doesn’t really get into the details.  Anyway, you can read through the diagram on your own.  I’m getting distracted.  Okay.   So let’s look at the macroscopic view.  You have to put in energy and molecules to get anything out of it.  In terms of magic, this could return to the sacrifice that is required for change to occur.

The sacrifice of water, and the use of light, allow previously uncharged molecules to become charged.  Your sacrifice creates a potential!

Now check out where the charged molecules go.  They require a starting material – CO2, but then we get to go through the calvin cycle, in which the CO2’s are converted into a few different formats before reaching a final format.  Notice that the final format can be any number of things – and as such, we should be ready to accept all possibilities of our actions.  Our energy will go to where it’s needed most.

If a plant needs an amino acid or some other compound, it will activate and create the enzymes necessary for producing that instead of just storing the object made as sucrose(food).

It’s looking at scientific models with magic and life in mind that really help me get a new perspective on life.  The last time I took a look at photosynthesis as a magical process, my conclusions were different than above.

“Too” In Tune

I was informed that it was too early to think about autonomy yesterday 😉  So, we’ll go for a lighter subject today.

Well guys, here comes a story that is bound to make you smile.  Wiccan, pagan, or just spiritual alike, we all have those days where we begin to work with the Universe’s energy to create change.  We call it magic.  But sometimes, the magic is unintentional.  Because I went on the same cycling trip last year – From Buffalo to Albany – I sort of knew what each day was involving.  Granted, they did change some of the routes – more trail was added – but overall the ride was very similar, up to the very weather that we had.

So, we’re pulling out of Syracuse, and I remember that this day’s trail follows along the REALLY old canal (there are three canals – the Erie, the Enlarged Erie, and the Barge.  The Barge canal is the one that is still open and used by tourists today.) – the one that is 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep.  Because it isn’t used, it’s overgrown, the water is stagnant or with a very slow current, and as a result it is teeming with wildlife.  Green algae blankets the top, but in the spots where it is clear, you can see two foot long fish chilling at the surface, turtles, water birds, and the like.  Along the path, you can see any of your ground animals – bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, deer, foxes, raccoons, opossums, etc.  I saw the first three of those.

Anyway.  I decided before I left that when I went through that type of environment, I wanted to see a turtle.  They’re pretty hard to spot when you’re going fifteen miles an hour.  Well, I was doing ten on that trail – damn was it bumpy!  But anyway, that was my will.  And somehow, a fleeting thought like, “I want to see a turtle!”  caught the Universe’s ear.

Three miles out of Syracuse I had my first flat.  It was about 7:15 AM.  Three wonderful people – only remember one name: Mike – stopped to help me fix it.  Twenty minutes later, I’m back on the road.  I get to our first rest stop an hour or two later, and my tire is still just a little soft from our patch.  It wasn’t leaking, we just hadn’t pumped it enough.

So, I decided to borrow someone’s pump and give it a few pumps of air.  It gets just up to the right psi, and we try to take the pump off.  The valve came with it – big, big popping noise.

As we change my tire, comprehension begins to set in.  I had been craning my neck allllll day to see a turtle, but it was still morning.  Turtles will only come out to bask on rocks when the sun is shining and its warm.  I have now spent two hours of the morning off of my bike, begging a tube off of someone to fix mine.

By the time I get back on the road again, it’s 11:30.  I don’t normally stop to eat, but since I figured it was that or another flat(gotta love the gods!)  I opted to stop into Canastota’s Sunrise Cafe for some lunch.  By the time I hop back on my bike, the sun is shining down hard (although it’s still a beautiful day!) and right before the afternoon rest stop?  I see a turtle.  Sunning itself.  On a rock.

turtle along the erie canal

turtle along the erie canal

Just to sum up and bring us back to the title of the post, is there a point where you are “too” in tune with the universe?  Because I think that’s the point where your thoughts become dangerous(Ooh!  I want to see a turtle!) and meditation(keeping your louder thoughts, quiet) may be the only route to your own safety/comfort.

Remember the number one of the Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time?

Never Underestimate the Gods’ Sense of Humor.

Number One of the Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time

Well guys, today will be the last biking day: From Scotia, NY to Albany. Hopefully, I’ve biked the entire mileage and will come home proud and sore. Without further delay,

Number 1: Don’t Underestimate The Gods’ Sense Of Humor

That’s right. It’s called irony, and its god the will of the gods written all over it. You wonder why your friend prays to Odin, and suddenly, as you’re walking home, you swear you see someone hanging from a tree(You’re actually just blind during the night and see a guy standing on a swing that’s in a tree). You think about the fact that you haven’t had a physical in a few years, and suddenly you break your leg. You perform a spell to bring you a good night’s sleep, and suddenly you get knocked out by the baseball at your son’s baseball game.

It’s happened to us all. The first one – Odin and thinking someone has hung himself – happened to me not a month ago, in Florida one late night as I was returning to my dorm.

But to be honest, even being scared like that, or in the many other instances I’ve been privy to the gods’ amusement, I do enjoy their sense of humor, as it so closely matches my own. It is recognition of that quality of the divine that enables me to laugh even through the worst migraine, because I know that a few days, or weeks, or months from that point, I will look back and remember what spawned it, or why it made me stronger, or what irony there was in the event.

It gives me comfort. their sick and twisted (though usually not in bad taste) ways of working the worlds around us really does give me the hope that everything that happens has some lesson to be learned. And occasionally they do grant us the grace to allow things to work out in the way we intended. But, I always imagine exerting our will on the world as a dangerous thing, like dropping a ball through a vertical maze and hoping to get it to the right hole at the bottom. It may get there, but the path to that may be the oddest possible combination of events.

“Where attention goes, energy flows” is a useful adage in understanding this quirk of the world, as is the simple mechanics fact that an object will follow the path of least resistance. We put our thought, our will out into the world, and it is a projectile, trying to find its way through with using the least amount of energy. Sometimes, the easiest way to find a better job is to get fired from an old one. It may not be the easiest for you to deal with emotionally, but it is definitely the Universe’s way to show you how to appreciate your job (both the former and the new one!).

I hope you’ve enjoyed my top ten. It’s the first time I’ve done something like this, and maybe I’ll do something like it again soon.

Blessed Be!

Number One of the Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time « Pagan Pages.

Number Two of the Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time « Pagan Pages.

Number Three of the Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time « Pagan Pages.

Number Four of the Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time « Pagan Pages.

Number Five of the Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time « Pagan Pages.

Number Six of the Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time « Pagan Pages.

Number Seven of the Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time « Pagan Pages.

Number Eight of the Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time « Pagan Pages.

Number Nine of the Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time « Pagan Pages.

Top Ten Things A Witch Learns Over Time « Pagan Pages.