Monday, 29 September 2014

To Be a Witch

This post follows on from my post 'How do I become a Witch?'

In my previous post I gave you some quick and traditional methods of becoming a Witch, in this post we will look at how you could create your own ritual to celebrate your first steps into the Witchy realm. These rituals are sometimes known as self-initiation as no-one but yourself needs to be involved in whatever you decide to do.

I feel that there is a lot to be said for your first ritual to be between yourself and the Old Ones. When you work your ritual in solitude it is literally a matter between you and the gods. You will decide whether you wish to give yourself to the Gods, and they will decide whether to accept you.

It takes courage to work a solitary ritual of initiation. It can be a scary experience - but all initiations should be scary, as what you are doing is deliberately turning away from your old life and taking on something completely new and very different. In many initiation rituals you will find a point where someone asks the postulant, 'Are you sure you want to carry on? Because if you go through with this there will be no way to return to your old way of being.'

Initiation should and will fundamentally change you. Sometimes those changes are subtle, it could be a feeling of contentment that at last you have acknowledged a part of you which has been suppressed, or sometimes those changes can be quite brutal. Being a Witch has never been an easy course to take, Doreen Valiente was quite clear on the value of keeping your beliefs to yourself, saying 'Witchcraft won't pay for broken windows.'

But being a Witch is never boring!

So now we shall look at what your ritual could be like, but bear in mind you do not have to follow my suggestions, your own ideas may be totally different. Just try and keep things simple, complications always cause problems.

The first thing you will need for your ritual is a place where you can be alone and uninterrupted. Turn off your mobile, unplug the phone, make sure anyone else in the house is asleep or out of the way.
Midnight is known as the Witching hour for a very good reason: in the days before electricity most rural people would be fast asleep before midnight so it gave Witches the privacy they needed for their spell working. Midnight is also a 'between' time, it is an hour between one day and the next, so Midnight is a good time to pick for your ritual.

I would suggest that you do your ritual by candle light, a single candle can act as a focus for your energy, and it also feels special and magical too. You could also light some incense, flavours such as Night Queen, Sandalwood or Patchouli would be appropriate, or one which you particularly like.

Some people insist that for this ritual you should be naked, as it is a re-birth into a new world. I can understand the argument but I don't feel that it is necessary, and again you should follow your own feelings in this matter

If it feels appropriate to you, you could start by reciting the Lord's Prayer backwards, this effectively unfastens you from your previous life and sets you free to choose to become a Witch. Alternately you could simply say:
       I stand here alone, I put myself beyond the bonds of mortal life, I offer myself to the Old Ones.

One of the acts of many traditional initiation ceremonies is the taking of the measure. The priest or priestess would use a length of cotton, wool or cord to measure the height of the new Witch, this measure would then be kept by the coven. This piece of cotton represents the person it measured, and as such if that person betrayed the group, then they could use the measure in spells and rituals to bind or silence them.
You could measure yourself, with a piece of cotton: simply hold one end in one hand and spread your arms as wide apart as possible and call that your measure. This piece of cotton should then be put into a small pouch and kept safe.

Alternately you could put one knee on the floor and put one hand on the top of your head and say:
   'I give all that is between my hands, freely, to the Old Ones and ask that you accept me as a Witch.'

   'Let me see or hear a sign that I am acceptable to you.'

Traditional signs are the barking of a dog, or the cry of a bird, but it could be a book falling off a shelf, or the sudden flickering of your candle flame, or that it bobs or grows larger or smaller.

At this time it is also traditional to take a special magical name, so you could say:
'Let me be known within the circle as ... [name you have chosen].'

Then finally stand up and say:
'I stand now before the God and Goddess as Witch [Witch Name]. 
Merry Meet, Merry Part and Merry Meet again.'

Welcome to the circle of Witchdom.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Equinox Balance?

This is an article which first appeared in the Raven Newsletter Harvest 2011 edition:

   So many times we are told that at the Equinoxes of Spring and Autumn the powers of Light and Dark are in balance. At Spring the light is poised to grow and strengthen and at the Autumn Equinox it is the darkness which is advancing.
   Because of the equality of light and darkness at the Equinoxes we often picture this as an old fashioned balance scale (as in the astrological symbol of Libra) with the two pans standing level.
   These times are therefore looked on not only as times of balance, but also of harmony. However as there are two pans on a balance scale, the Equinox energies have two sides or faces to them.
   As well as the harmonious, balanced energies, there are also the chaotic, unbalanced energies. The chaotic energies are often ignored or simply disregarded as a temporary or anomalistic blip in the overall harmonious metaphysical energies of this season.
   Chaos is a normal part of these seasons
   Chaotic elements can be seen even in the weather around the Equinoxes. March and September are known for their wild and windy weather - this year we have had the tail of a hurricane crossing the country causing great disruption in places. Remember the old weather lore saying that March can come in like a Lion and go out like a Lamb, or equally come in like a Lamb and go out like a Lion. In other words great contrasts in the weather have been recognised as a feature of the Equinoxes for centuries.
   And as it is with the world of nature, so it can be with the tides of magic and emotion.
   Many times people find that great chaotic changes in their lives occur around the Equinoxes. There may be job losses (or gains), house moving, relationships breaking up or being remade. You may find old friends appearing out of the woodwork - or falling out with you for no apparent reason. The Equinox energies are Mercurial, changeable, chaotic and can hit you with all the force of a sledge hammer.
   The Equinoxes can be thought of as times of cleansing and purification in preparation for the two greatest times of magical energy in the year. In Spring the next festival to come is Beltane, and after the Autumn Equinox will come Samhain.
   In the physical world the Equinox winds whip the old dead leaves from the treas. Both Equinoxes clear away dead wood, blow away clouds and foggy uncertainty as, when they have passed, you are in no doubt that the seasons have turned. At this time of year we have moved from the settled, bright and balmy blue skies of Summer into the colder and darker days of the coming Winter.
   The Equinoxes can be thought of as times when one door closes and another opens. They are times of change, which in the physical world is the change from Summer to Winter, or Winter to Summer - the Celts recognised only two seasons, Autumn and Spring are our later interpretations of these times of transition.
   When anything is changing from one state of being to another we are lucky if that transition happens smoothly, gently and harmoniously. In practise most change involves some disruption and even conflict, very often having to be shoved through against a protest of one kind or another.
   We like our lives to be predictable. We are content (in the main) knowing that today will be much like yesterday and tomorrow, this is how we are able to plan for the future - and hence the old Chinese curse 'May you live in interesting times.'
   However this can lead to stagnation and taking the easy way, the path of least resistance, or least disruption, just to keep a steady level (no matter how low) of stability or contentment.
   Sometimes we need a shake up. We need to find out that a loved one isn't content with you going out with your mates three nights a week, or equally would like to go out with their own mates rather than sit at home every night. The state of your lives 'harmony' can be a dangerous illusion which can crumble without warning.
   This is not to say that changes only occur around the Equinoxes. Change can happen at any time, but the Equinoxes can regularly be found to be times when these changes all seem to decide to happen all at once. Some people do seem to be more susceptible to these disruptions than others, this is particularly true of those who live a more magical life.
   Incidentally these same chaotic energies can often manifest prior to an initiatory experience, another time when old attitudes, habits and even relationships need to be broken and remade in a new form. An initiation can be a rebirth, and often this means former relationships have to be made anew as you move into a new mental, magical and spiritual sphere.
   So if your Equinox is being chaotic rather than harmonious, this is natural and normal.
   Just be ready and remember;
   Some changes really are for the better.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

How do I become a Witch?

When I am asked this question, I am often stumped what to reply, as there are so many ways I could answer.

The simple answer is: just get on and be a Witch.
But that doesn't really help with the practical 'how's and 'why's and 'wherefore's.

So since the nights are drawing in and we are heading towards the most Magical time of the year, I decided it was time to look at giving out some practical information instead.

First: If you haven't already done so, please send for a Raven catalogue (you will find links to a version you can read online on this blog page, and on our facebook page). I know that is a bit of shameless self-promotion, but just having the catalogue to read through will answer a lot of your questions. For example there are the Basic and an Advanced Wicca Course, Fact Sheets and the Folk Witchery Book of Self-Initiation and Solitary Witchcraft.
All of these will help you on your quest, but the really basic thing to consider is:
         Do I feel like a Witch and that I want to make a commitment to being a Witch?

Anyone can cast a spell, you do not have to be a Witch to do that. So if all you really want to do is learn how to cast a few spells for various purposes, just find yourself a spell book, there are plenty on the market.

The way most books recommend that you become a Witch is by joining a Coven and being initiated by them. Of course that does have its own difficulties, firstly finding a Coven is difficult enough, then finding one that is willing to initiate you, and that you feel comfortable with is another matter.

Becoming a Witch does not have to be a convoluted process with an elaborate ritual, but it should involve you making some sort of commitment to a new way of being.

There are actually a lot of traditional methods for becoming a Witch. Many of them come from times when everyone in Britain was christian, or at least had to appear to be so, and when every child would have been baptised, thus making them a part of the christian church. So in order to become a Witch, very often the process involved ways of breaking your links to your former religion.
One old ritual says that you should walk three time widdershins around a church at midnight and then leave your prayerbook in the porch. Leaving your prayerbook obviously means that you will no longer be able to participate in the christian rituals, and widdershins movement is a way of undoing something, in this case you are undoing your attachment to the christian church, leaving you free to make a new bond to Witchcraft.

Another old ritual is to kneel naked at midnight with a single candle and recite the Lord's Prayer backwards. Again the backwards recitation of the prayer is a way of undoing your commitment to your former ways and leaves you outside the bounds of conventional society.

There are other traditional spells which emphasise more the commitment to your new life, rather than breaking the bonds with the old, for example:
Go to a crossroads at midnight and mark a circle there big enough for you to move comfortably within it. Then kneel down and put one hand on the sole of your foot and the other on top of your head and say:
          I give all that is between my hands to the service of the Old Ones.
You should then stand up and wait until you hear a noise such as the rustling of leaves or the cry of an owl, or until the world feels uncannily silent around you. Then throw a silver coin towards the noise, leave your circle and walk back to your house without looking behind you.