Monday, July 29, 2013

Teaching Children the Craft: The Red Meal

So many paganish-Witchy types do "cakes and wine". In our tradition, we drink red wine and eat a dark bread as a reminder and tribute to a male and female dyad, and offer it to the Pale People (the dead) when we are through.

As you know, my son is being brought up in the Craft, so last night (Saturday, which is auspicious for such a rite) we had him participate in his first one. He is three, and was excited when we asked him to be a part of it. He got to sprinkle/clear the area around the tree in our backyard, walk hand in hand with mama as she carried the lamp widdershins, recite some Very Important Words, take sips of wine (!!!), a bite of bread, and pour out the wine onto our tree at the end.

Something felt very right about sharing this simple rite that we do from week to week with my young child. He got to belong to our family in a new way, participate in something bigger than himself, and learn about our Ways. It was a step beyond putting shared PB & J on the plate for the dead in our dining room.

What rituals and rites do you do with your children? How do they respond?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Graveyard Work

As part of our work with ancestors, we (my apprentice and I) have started visiting graveyards.

One in rural Ohio was particularly special. It is a pioneer graveyard, never plowed, and has become a state wildflower preserve. The graves start in 1816 and end in the 1890's. Many were infants and women who died in childbirth. There was an entire family, who was wiped out by illness, too. Hard times on the prarie back then.

We had to pull back the wildflowers to get shots of the grave markers.

Most of the markers are under these prairie flowers. Only tall ones and ones near cleared paths are visible.

See how high?

Purple Cone Flowers and Royal Fly Catcher

This was a particularly gorgeous stone.

A Mason! I always like getting dirt from these folks.

Hello Milkweed, my friend.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Trouble with Gurus

From Wikipedia (first paragraph of the entry): "Guru (Devanagari गुरु) is a Sanskrit term for "teacher" or "master", especially in Indian religions. The Hindu guru-shishya tradition is the oral tradition or religious doctrine or experiential wisdom transmitted from teacher to student. In the United States, the meaning of "guru" has been used to cover anyone who acquires followers, especially by exploiting their naiveté, due to the inflationary use of the term in new religious movements."
Hint: This is not how you learn The Craft.
 When I speak of gurus, I am not speaking of the traditions that they actually come from (such as forms of Hinduism or Sikhism). Since I have not experienced those teaching systems or those cultures in any prolonged period, I cannot speak to that. What I am speaking of here of New Age and Pagan-esque teachers who fashion themselves to be a guru of sorts.

You probably can name a few of these BNPs (Big Name Pagans) and New Age gurus. They sell books, go on the lecture circuit, run workshops, and take money and publicity for it all. I have several problems with this phenomenon, besides the capitalist incursion into spirituality (which I will also address).

My three big issues with the gurus are: 1. Lack of accountability, 2. Capitalism disguised as spirituality/religion, 3. Ego and individuality.

Sorry, it had to be done.
1. Lack of accountability: Unlike religions that have employed a guru system for years, there is no system of accountability (other than the free market, which as we all know, provides no accountability at all) with the "new gurus". They stitch together this and that, using irresponsible spiritual eclecticism to create something not only stolen from other systems, but repurposed and refashioned *just enough* to sound fairly modern or fresh- and completely unchallenging to the "practitioner". And unlike the systems' spiritual origins, most of these "new" systems do not require the sacrifice that older systems require for "enlightenment". To paraphrase a friend of mine who is in Lukumi, "would these "seekers" voluntarily give up human touch for an entire year and only wear white to symbolize their separateness? Very doubtful." And that is exactly why these gurus get so many followers. They offer feel-good platitudes that don't really trouble the spiritual waters. They make seekers feel as if they are doing something profound, yet don't really change much (other than the seeker's bottom line, that is).

Because there are no cultural systems in place that hold these leaders accountable, you often see:
  • Rituals that host gods from myriad cultures smooshed together with no real understanding of context and history (I have seen Hellenic Greek goddesses paired with Orisha ones- because "they have the same vibe". I have seen people calling upon a being to "aid in our work" when that being does not have a established relationship with anyone in the room.
  • You get workshops on "self work" that pull from 3 or more spiritual traditions, when the teacher is a master in none of them. And no- time spent dabbling does not make one a "master". Masters spend YEARS learning from those who have come before.
  • You see teachers broadcasting themselves as leaders and experts as much as possible (mostly all over the web) and changing their focus to the flavor du jour (to attract new followers): "I am a warlock!" "I am all about conjure!- meet me at the crossroads!"*
  • You see students and seekers harming themselves or their relationships with no ramifications for the teacher. 
  • You see teachers taking as many students as possible (there is money to be made, after all) and justifying the numbers by saying things like "I let the gods sort it out. Students will drop out if this path isn't for them." (All the while taking their money and not giving any one student enough time and attention to actually develop spiritually.)

2. Capitalism disguised as religion and/or spirituality: Want to really know if your teacher cares about your spiritual growth? Tell him/her that there will be no more money forthcoming. See what happens. Real spiritual teachers mentor individuals or small groups- actual apprentices who learn skills and get one-to-one attention from a mentor/teacher.

Several decades ago, I did a pastry apprenticeship. I was determined to become a pastry chef and jumped through lots of hoops to get a coveted spot at one of the luxury hotels in San Francisco. (That's another thing- not everyone is cut out for this work, and not everyone should be accepted as an apprentice. In my winnowing process, I was with hundreds of candidates who went through a written test, then a group interview (you do not know intimidation until you sit in a single chair across from a table of six chefs looking down their nose at you!), then ranked. The top 10 people were dispatched to individual interviews at hotels that had spots. I had two interviews and actually managed to get the spot at one of them. This process was nerve wracking.

Contrast this with my education in Witchcraft. I bounced from workshop to workshop, book to book, coven to group, to circle. I started this path in 1989. All groups admitted me with no prejudice. I learned a little, but did not grow spiritually- because frankly all involved were novices- even those calling themselves "High Priestess" or similar titles. Fast forward to 2006. When I discovered (and was hit on the head by) the tradition that I ultimately was initiated into, I sought the first teacher that I knew of. Seekers just starting out will only know of the BNPs and those attending Cons, of course. S/he was a BNP and did lots of workshops and had a book. I was required to wait til a class formed later that year and fill out a questionnaire. Then I was accepted and paid quite a bit of money to learn. I was in a class of over 30 people that met quarterly. We did not talk to or meet with our teacher very often in between. Indeed, many were intimidated to approach hir outside of "class".

To be fair, I grew spiritually from that experience with that teacher. I was required to form spiritual discipline- and so the work I was asked to do on my own- a daily sitting practice and other tools of alchemy opened me up to what would follow. And this class opened me to meeting others who would ultimately lead me to a teacher who taught The Craft in the way that it is meant to be taught.

Back to the Pastry Chef analogy: Once I was accepted into an apprentice position, I went to work *as a full time job* and learned from three others in the pastry kitchen. Was I paying for my learning, as they expect you to do at culinary school? Hell no. Being a culinary or pastry apprentice (or a Witch's apprentice) does not mean you pay them. I made $6 per hour (a pittance in the SF Bay Area, even back then), got one meal per shift, full medical and dental benefits, and again, was taught how to be a pastry chef in one of SF's top hotels. I worked very hard- getting up before dawn and dragging my tired butt home in the afternoon. In exchange, my masters were required to teach me everything listed in the apprenticeship guidelines.  My teachers were brutal at times (you do not know hell until you have served under a French pastry chef who was himself hazed as an apprentice.)- but they did teach me the skills. Was I also asked to PAY for these lessons? Hell No.

Is it any wonder that in the capitalist system we live under that most people have shifted from an apprentice model to a classroom model? People in the US go to "culinary school" instead of learning in the kitchen as they do in Europe and elsewhere. People go to workshops and study in "classes" to learn their spiritual "lessons". It is a tragedy. In terms of The Craft, not only does it mean poor quality of teaching, less time spent with each individual seeker, and paying out the nose for some students, it means poor candidates being initiated and brought into the fold for the tradition. It is a lose-lose.

That is not to say that I didn't "pay" my teacher/initiator. Even as a poor peron, when I was an Craft apprentice, I would bring my teacher gifts or offer gifts of service from time-to time. Nothing extravagant, just things I thought that she would appreciate. It was an offering from my heart. Nothing like the money that I was expected to pay monthly in my relationships with previous teachers- that was an obligation and duty.

In my tradition, a master (yes, I used that word instead of teacher, despite the fact that Americans in particular have baggage around it.) takes an apprentice to teach them a specific job- that of a Witch. Witchcraft is a job description, not an identity. There will be work that a student/apprentice needs to do in order to advance in their skills and be an effective Witch.

True spiritual teachers want to see you frequently, know about your life and personal progress, and will ask you to work actively towards that goal. Contrast that with Lifestyle gurus and these new-fangled, self-styled spiritual gurus in neo-paganism, Neo-Wicca, and even within legitimate traditions**.

I recently discovered this website, (and this one, retch) aimed at the gurus themselves. It ticks me off. It feeds the guru cycle by congratulating teachers in this genre and patting them on the back. It is an echo chamber reinforcing their exploitation.

*My tradition, before it split into two was a flavor du jour for a while there. It brought a lot of dilution to the actual practice and some n'er do wells to our door. Ultimately, the trad broke into two- and the ones who are the most visible are in the fork that does a lot of the things I outline here as reckless. But it is not the only trad that is affected by unscrupulous guru-ism, to be sure. Wicca (which is also an initiatory tradition from the lines of Gardner and Sanders, mostly) has been diluted to a shadow of its self by neo-Wicca and too many fluffy books by authors and leaders with names like "Golden Crowdog" or "Misty Willow Moon" and such.

** Although if you ask around enough (and know who to ask), you will find that these "gurus" do NOT have the respect or blessings for what they are doing of the majority of people within their own tradition.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Having an Apprentice

 As some of you may know, I have an apprentice. I outlined many of the things that I thought it would be important to teach someone learning The Craft earlier last year. And now, this year, I am actually doing it. It feels weird, after 24 years of only being a student, to finally be teaching someone else. And as I navigate that responsibility and honor, I thought showing some of our activities together this year might be interesting.

 In my tradition, we place an emphasis on establishing a clean relationship with our Fetch in order to work magic, communicate with other beings, and move between the worlds. So we have been doing lots of work on Solitude, Simplicity, and Silence in order to remove the distractions of everyday life to establish a connection and communication. My apprentice has a daily sitting practice and we sometimes go to the Shambhala Center to meditate in a group, too. He has been giving up "screen time" spending time in silence and alone, and avoiding commercial distractions.

We have been getting out into nature and learning about plants (for both healing and conjure) that grow here (Ohio is not the ancestral home of either of us- and some of the flora is unfamiliar, so as I teach him what I know, we also learn together!). We have been listening deeply- to plants, to animals, to the wind. He has been learning how to listen to plant allies and how to use that in cunning- both magical and medicinal.

I am asking him to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night and we have been doing dream work. He has been participating in rituals throughout the wheel of the year with us. Much of these rituals have been ancestor driven and he has been building altars and making offerings to the beloved and mighty dead and establishing a communication with them. This Lammas, we are visiting another initiate in West Virginia for a weekend. We will be hiking in the mountains, circling in the woods, wildcrafting, and doing a ritual to ready him to meet his Fetch.

We talked last night, my apprentice and I, about having him grow specific plants and commune with and tend to them (with the end in mind of creating specific formulas come harvest time). After he left and I went to bed, plants visited me in my dreams- plants that I do not work with yet but will be in the near future. I wrote down what I could remember and have begun research into these plants and how we can use their gifts.

I have found that teaching has helped me refine what my vision of The Craft is and what it is not. It has helped me define theology, hone my skills, and articulate a vision that positively hums with Old Fate Herself.

My apprentice has a lot to offer. He is a healer in his own right and gifted at energy work and manipulation. He is generous and laughs a lot. Working with him has been a blessing and a gift and I am happy to pass the Craft to him in this intimate way.

Monday, July 1, 2013


And so begins the long season of harvest here at Boline. I have posted previously about wildcrafting (which will continue all summer and autumn long) and today I am posting about harvesting cultivated things.

Today, I went to a friends house who grows a lot of medicinal and culinary herbs as well as edibles and she let me pick some of her suplus that I can use. She treated me to a tasting of at least 5 different kinds of strawberries, some shiso leaf, some heirloom radishes, and lots of oregano.

For Boline, I got stinging nettles, red clover, and lime balm. Nettles are wonderfully nutritious and they are the basis of my Allergy Tea, my Preggers Tea, and my Menopause Tea. Rec Clover will be going into a Cold and Flu Tea that is in the works. Lime balm will supplement my lemon balm in formulas like Tummy Tamer Tea (but I think it is even more tasty than lemon balm!)

Some lovely radishes. I ate a few tonight in my salad!

Apologies for the dark pic- this is red clover on a drying rack.

When I got home from picking, I discovered the back mulberry tree had a few choice morsels on it.
Rowan will love these on his breakfast cereal!

Washed sorrel, for the potluck salad this week.

Red Shiso. Yum.

This is the herb basket for my personal stash in the kitchen.
It always has thyme and rosemary, and now it also has savory, oregano, and sage.

Rue. I am making some Witchy oil with this!

Nettles, placed on a rack for drying.
Even though I personally don't get stung, I wear gloves anyway. I recommend that you do the same.

I got quite the haul!

I had to remove the orange and tangerine peels from the rack to make room for the nettles.
Orange peel is for my chocolate orange body scrub.
Tangerine peel will make a tincture.
It will be paired with St. John's Wort and a few other things for a Mood Tonic.

My dryer has been quite busy lately! I have lots of dandelion and plantain as a result.