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New on The Cauldron

The following are just a few of the interesting things currently being discussed on our message board. Please join in any discussion that interests you.

New Book from SatAset

Book CoverSatAset, one of our long-time members, has just released a new book:

I just wanted everyone to know that my book, Lady of Praise, Lady of Power: Ancient Hymns of the Goddess Aset is now available for sale!

Here is information about the book:

Fiercely Bright One, Beautiful Lady, Queen of Heaven, Giver of Wealth, Great of Magic, Mother of God. These are some of the titles given to Aset, the ancient Egyptian Goddess commonly known as Isis. She is a goddess of kingship, sovereignty of Heaven and Earth, magic, knowledge, healing, divination and owns Ra’s Hidden Name.

Presented here is a collection of over 100 hymns, prayers and inscriptions from various Ancient Egyptian temples and papyri praising and petitioning the goddess Aset. Many of these works have never been translated into English.

In Lady of Praise, Lady of Power, you will find:
*Over 100 hymns from the Temple of Philae
*Hymns and inscriptions from the Temples of Behbeit el Hagar, Deir el-Shelwit, al-Qa’la, the Giza Pyramid, Esna, and Edfu
*Offering liturgies from Philae
*Demotic Hymns from various sources
*List of over 600 Titles of Aset and a Festival Calendar

Here are the links on Lulu:

Paperback: Lady of Praise, Lady of Power

PDF: Lady of Praise, Lady of Power

Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?

So, recently I had this brilliant idea to start a “witchery and wine” group. I know several women who are into witchcraft and divination, and I thought it would be a good idea to have a sort of informal discussion group where we could all kick back, have a few drinks, and talk about tarot, spellcraft, alternative spirituality, all that kind of stuff.

Our first meetup went well, although it was really more of a ‘getting to know you’ evening – we felt that we should all kind of figure out where everyone is at in terms of knowledge and practice.

So, it seems like most of the group falls under the “interested but not well versed” category. They all own a deck of tarot cards, but most of them are not secure in their ability to read them. They come from different spiritual and religious backgrounds – we have a girl from rural Tennessee whose childhood included Jesus camps where they had to lug crosses around, and another who went to a private Catholic school – but everyone seems really keen on spellwork.

As for active practitioners, it looks like so far it’s me and one other girl. She’s been practising for about 14 years in secret (she’s the one from Tennessee), and I’ve been at it for twenty as of this year.

So my question is this: how do we keep this group feeling like a chill space where we can all learn, as opposed to turning it into a lecture hall situation? I’m not opposed to teaching things, but I really want to avoid making anybody feel like some dumb newb. So I figured I would ask the forum, both to get advice from anyone who has been in a similar situation, and to get the perspective of people who are just starting out on what they would like from an informal group.

Magic vs. Ritual in Witchcraft Religions

Eliphas Levi's Pentagram, figure of the microc...

Eliphas Levi’s Pentagram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a specific question regarding magic and ritual in Witchy traditions, but I’m not sure how to word it so please bear with me.

So, I’m reading (in order to review for a book-group) “The Real Witches’ Handbook” by Kate West. The book is exactly what you’d expect from a Lewellyn 101 book first published in 2001 (this edition is 2008). In a chapter titled “Spellcraft and Herb Lore”, West discusses the elements of ritual (tool consecration, element evocation, deity evocation, circle casting, symbolic Great Rite etc) and then, separately, “the work itself… the Magic you intend to perform”.

My question has to do with this separation. I’ve always seen Wicca and similar forms of Witchcraft as an inherently magical religion, in large part because performing the rituals as listed above fits the same definitions of magic that I use (see Fortune or Crowley’s famous quotes).

But! I’ve seen instances of (neo-)Wiccans distancing themselves from Witches by saying they don’t do magic, and this blows my mind because I can’t understand how one would practice Wicca without it.

Is magic something separate from Witch-ritual? Is it specifically spell-casting? Or are these aspects of ritual magical acts themselves?

Any input (opinions welcome, sourced facts appreciated) from Wiccans, Witches or folks with knowledge relevant here would be appreciated.

Review of “The Real Witches’ Handbook” by Kate West

Cover of "The Real Witches' Handbook: A C...

Cover via Amazon

The Real Witches’ Handbook: A Complete Introduction to the Craft
By Kate West.
Published 2008 by Llewellyn Publications.

The author, Kate West, is a prolific and well-known writer from the U.K. with over thirty years experience in practicing Witchcraft, both coven and solitary. Her credentials are solid, and her writing style is clear and approachable – her books are fun & easy to read; often described as “having a conversation over a cuppa.”

Originally published in 2001 by Thorson’s, this introductory guide to modern pagan Witchcraft comes equipped with all the issues of its generational peers. It uses the terms Witch/Witchcraft and Wiccan/Wicca interchangeably. It makes huge generalisations and factual claims without providing sources. It focuses a lot on the what and how, rather than the why, of Craft practice. These sorts of problems are pretty common to books of the period.

With that in mind, let’s dig into some of the issues in more depth.

Magic vs. Ritual in Witchcraft Religions

A handfasting ceremony at Avebury in England, ...I have a specific question regarding magic and ritual in Witchy traditions, but I’m not sure how to word it so please bear with me.

So, I’m reading (in order to review for a book-group) “The Real Witches’ Handbook” by Kate West. The book is exactly what you’d expect from a Llewellyn 101 book first published in 2001 (this edition is 2008). In a chapter titled “Spellcraft and Herb Lore”, West discusses the elements of ritual (tool consecration, element evocation, deity evocation, circle casting, symbolic Great Rite etc) and then, separately, “the work itself… the Magic you intend to perform”.

My question has to do with this separation. I’ve always seen Wicca and similar forms of Witchcraft as an inherently magical religion, in large part because performing the rituals as listed above fits the same definitions of magic that I use (see Fortune or Crowley’s famous quotes).

But! I’ve seen instances of (neo-)Wiccans distancing themselves from Witches by saying they don’t do magic, and this blows my mind because I can’t understand how one would practice Wicca without it.

Is magic something separate from Witch-ritual? Is it specifically spell-casting? Or are these aspects of ritual magical acts themselves?

Any input (opinions welcome, sourced facts appreciated) from Wiccans, Witches or folks with knowledge relevant here would be appreciated.

Does magick influence planetary movements?

I was thinking about this question and was hoping to gain some insight from you all.

Does magick influence planetary movements to bring about the desired result that the spell caster seeks?

For example, let’s say that currently the astrological transits hitting my natal chart don’t suggest anything in the way of wealth, career or love.

I am curious to know then if by performance of a spell planets are influenced to align in such a way to bring about the desired outcome?

Or is magick independent of current astrological transits and will bring about the desired outcome regardless of current planetary configurations the native may be undergoing.

Looking forward to hearing your views!

Tarot and Memorization

So this bit of conversation happened in the most-recently-active Lenormand thread

Quote Originally Posted by Aster Breo View Post
I’ve always been intimidated by tarot. I have a very bad memory, so the idea of learning 76 cards plus the same number of reversals plus the variations of different decks is very daunting.
Quote Originally Posted by SunflowerP View Post

78, but who’s counting?

I wish you’d said something about this around me years ago! I have advice for that! Basically, the idea that what one does is memorize all the meanings is, at best, misleading. I’ve lots more to say on that, but this is a Lenormand thread; I’ll (try to remember to) start this topic its own thread. Probably tomorrow; I don’t have enough brain left for threadstarting tonight.

Whether the advice I have on this topic will be helpful to Aster specifically, I don’t know – but I’ve been running into the notion that one has to memorize the meanings repeatedly over the many years (well, decades) I’ve been studying, reading, and occasionally teaching tarot, so it’s likely something that will be helpful to people generally, and worth having a thread about.

Contrary to the widespread misconception, most tarot readers don’t know the card meanings ‘by heart’, or at least not the card meanings as expressed in words in this or that book. (I could come at this from the angle that ‘by heart’, as distinct from ‘memorized word for word’, is exactly how an experienced reader knows the cards, but I fear that ship has already long since sailed; ‘by heart’ is effectively synonymous with word-for-word memorization.)

So what do they know? That depends on the individual tarot reader.

Some don’t rely on ‘book meanings’ at all, but instead work from the visuals on the cards, either intuitively/improvisationally (‘what does this picture seem like it might indicate in this case?’) or by familiarity with the iconography/symbolism (either of their preferred deck, or the iconography traditional to the Rider-Waite-Smith family of decks – or others, but this is a largely RWS approach), or both. While it’s rare for an iconographic reader to have not studied book meanings at all, since there’s considerable correlation between book meanings and iconography, some visual/intuitive readers have never looked at book meanings, even when they were first learning.

Many develop familiarity with cards and their meanings through studying and/or meditating on each card individually (one common way to approach this is by drawing one card per day to study/meditate), gradually developing and internalizing a sense of what the cards mean, in a way that derives from but isn’t necessarily specifically of the book meaning.

Some place more focus on layouts, positions of cards, and the relationships between the cards/positions – this is a skill any reader should develop, to go beyond just basic-level reading, but some readers make more of a specialization of it. Tarot is a system, a cohesive art, not just a set of meanings bundled together; focusing on the systemic level is a perfectly viable approach.

Some – of whom I’m one – are ‘word association’ readers. I get my sense of how to interpret a card in a particular reading by springboarding from the words related to that card; while I can (because I started studying tarot in ’73; some of it’s bound to have stuck to my brain by now) supply at least some words for most or all cards out of my brain, I will always give better, more precise, and more useful readings by consulting the book, preferably one that provides a wealth of single-word or short-phrase associations.

The latter are the readers most disfavored by misconceptions about memorization; if memorization is necessary, we really would have to do word-for-word rote memorization rather than committing the general sense of a card’s meaning to memory. When I was first considering going professional, this was one of the things I had to consider, the conception that a ‘real’ reader is one who ‘doesn’t need’ a book, and how that would affect my ability to draw clients. I decided my best move was to be completely candid about my reading style, explicitly kick that misconception to the curb – not only was it a more honorable business practice (why should people be paying me good money for readings that are less good than I’m able to do?), it would help dismantle that false standard for all word-association readers.

And the notion that ‘no longer need to use the book’ is some sort of gold standard of tarot acheivement disfavors everyone (except maybe those who are better at rote memorization than at actual doing readings). Use the books! Use as many books as you need! Choose books that are useful to you, and use them as much as you need, for as long as you need, and never be afraid to pick one up to help you suss out a difficult interpretation, or just for more study!

I’ve probably missed any number of other reading styles, and a slough of other angles to this, and likely (hopefully!) have given rise to new questions. So put them in replies, please!

“Stolen” Goods?

The Short: Why do we pagans always seem to talk about things that were “stolen” from us/our spiritual ancestors?

The Long
So this is something I’ve noticed all over the place, but seems to crop up most often when we are talking about the relationship of Paganism with Christianity. As one post here goes into great detail about, we always seem to think that Christianity “stole” a good deal of ideas, symbology, festivals, dates, etc. from earlier pre-Christian/Pagan religious practices. Now, as it has been pointed out in beautiful detail by one FraterBenedict here, there is good evidence and often times clear understandings that while it may look like something was stolen, it was in fact not.

I was spurred to wright this post, (Dua Djehuty) after seeing a headline on Pantheos for an article asking if Valentines day was stolen from the pagans. While I will not claim to have read the article, the first thing that popped into my mind after reading the title was ‘So what if it was?’ What real world effect does it have on the celebration of the modern Valentines Day in regards to its either Pagan or Christian origin?

Now Valentines Day isn’t what usually pops to mind when we think of holidays “stolen” by Christians, usually its Christmas and Halloween that we think of. But again I ask, what difference does it make in the celebration of these holidays en mass? To me it seems that it could be argued that both of these holidays, as well as St. Valentines day, have again been “stolen” by, if not candy companies, consumer cultures writ large. Why do we seem to worry about the origins of holidays that are at least two steps removed (in the most general terms) from their originals and also not usually celebrated in their popular forms by many who call them selves Pagans?, (in my experience, granted.)

The other part of this discussion that doesn’t sit right with me is the use of the word “stolen.” The use of this word implies, at least to me, that a) there is a malicious, conscious intent behind the act (i.e. they are doing it on purpose and to be mean), that b) the act is perpetrated by someone on the “outside” (i.e. no a part of the group that is being robed), and C) that something like a day, a shape, etc. can only have one meaning and that meaning belongs to whoever came up with it first.

In the vastness of human religious and cultural experience, probably innumerable times things have overlapped, borrowed, appropriated, reinterpreted, evolved from, and been used for the sake of convenience. To say that “the church” “stole” the date of Christmas implies a lot more planning and malice then I think was actually involved; for all we know it could have just been an easy date to pick. It seems odd and silly to split hairs, spill ink, and rap keyboards over these things. I have heard that it’s a matter of acknowledging things, the making aware of true history of an event, often it seems to be in regards to making a group (usually the Christians) aware that they aren’t the only ones celebrating on a given date.

But this comes back to my above question: What’s the point? Weather or not the run of the mill Christian acknowledges what their religion has incorporated from other sources, does that affect the way we, the practitioners, actually celebrate and practice? Is the way we associate with our gods, their symbols, the holy days, and all the rest dependent upon how other people think of and related to a different version of them? And if so, why should we let outsiders influence the way we worship?

Now, as I write this, I can see the awareness reply coming forwards. By educating people about our traditions and the who/what/why/when/how of things, it will help foster understanding, acceptance, and interfaith dialogue. These things I can see as being very beneficial and should be undertaken. But, I ask my self, at what point does the discussion become excessive? Like with the example of St. Valentine’s above, at what point does this discussion of origins become completely irrelevant in the practical world beyond interesting trivia? If its not helping to generate understanding that moves us towards openness then why do we do it?

In my experience these topics usually pop up in majority pagan discussions, where they are least likely to have any educational effect. I worry that we may treat the discussion of things “stolen” from us in a way that allows us to feel that we, the modern pagans, are the victims of real or imagined acts of violence against our spiritual/literal ancestors in the past. This is not to down play the importance of any historical incidents, if they happened they happened, but it I wonder at what point do we let go and move forwards?

Omni-Deity?

I wasn’t entirely sure how to title this, but lately I’ve been thinking about the possibility of an omniscient/omnipotent/omnipresent deity and how much I actually believe in the concept. (so far, not much–just in the vaguest, most agnostic sense). It’s obviously a tenet of the Abrahamic faiths, but I was wondering if any of the non-Abrahamic people over here had thoughts to add about it.

In other words, do you believe there is some kind of omni[suffix] deity who…keeps things running, so to speak? If so, to what extent do you think their influence goes? If not, why do you not believe that? And can this deity coexist with science and evolutionary theory? (my thoughts are, if there is such a deity, then yes, because science is not incompatible with religion, but).