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

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

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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).

Opening up, going deeper, and maybe using titles instead of naming names?

Okay, let’s see if I can pull some coherence out of this swirling mishmash of ideas and questions I have blowing about in my brain like leaves on a windy day.

First off, a little background info. I consider myself still pretty new to Paganism at just about two years of exploring and practicing. I came into it by way of ADF rather than via Wicca as seems to often be the case. I’m currently starting the OBOD bardic grade. ADF has been a good start, but it isn’t quite fitting me in terms of focusing on established IE pantheons.

It probably bears noting that I am something of what I could call a “fluid polytheist.” I’m not quite as hard as seeing all of the gods and goddesses as completely unique and separate, yet I’m not quite as soft as “all are facets of one or two.” If anything, I resonate with the Hindu model that there is the unknowable, incomprehensible level of divinity… from there some key figures emerge… and from there others emerge. They are, IMO, simultaneously distinct and yet part of something greater. When it gets down to it, I believe I will probably end up being something of a henotheist… honoring and working closely with two or three or four key deities while acknowledging and sometimes honoring others as appropriate. So I don’t quite click with hard polytheism but neither do I feel genuine doing the “God and Goddess” thing.

Part of my problem is I have a hard time choosing a pantheon or even a particular deity and saying, “I’m going to honor and develop a relationship with them because they’re neat” (or perhaps even “useful”). I do have ones I am drawn to and have brushes with. I have started to honor and make offerings to see what relationships may form. But in terms of exploring connections to other beings I have a hard time dedicating much to a being out of the blue. It seems a little like trying hard to cozy up to someone you just met by giving them presents and telling them how great they are and simply expecting a relationship will form. It doesn’t seem to create the space needed to see if there is a reciprocal interest there.

This issue often comes up for me on some of my grove’s high day rituals because there don’t seem to be many in the group that consistently draw from their personal relationships when putting together a ritual. This is probably because many of our few most active members, including myself, are still new and exploring. But, as an example, my local grove will be focusing on Brigid for Imbolc this weekend. I understand that this is pretty typical, but no one in this grove really works closely with Brigid. They’re mostly honoring her in ritual because, “That’s what one does at Imbolc.” Similarly, we honor Lugh and Lughnasadh because “his name is in the day” and partly because one person did a lot of research on Lugh, but there isn’t a closeness that really seems to motivate the choice. It all just feels very much like picking names out of a book. Now, I recognize that a ritual for a diverse group is not going to resonate with everyone each and every time. That just can’t be helped. But at the same time it feels very hollow to honor deities related to a certain day just because some book or website says those are the ones typically associated with that day.

The question this raises in myself whenever it feels like we’re just picking names out of a book is related to exploring and fostering my own connection to the gods and goddesses. It seems to me that what I need to do for myself is essentially, “sit down, pipe down, tune in, and see who shows up.” At the same time, I feel like I should at least attempt to direct my exploration to some degree. I personally do agree with the concept I have seen expressed in Hinduism that the divine will take names and faces that you personally can relate to… that you can even create a name and face and it will “don that costume you created.” But, at the same time I want to give beings the opportunity to be and express themselves.

So, I guess the first question to pull out of all of this is how to go about reaching out to the gods and goddesses with some sense of direction but without forcing an artificial focus on a pre-established pantheon?

The second part would be thoughts on addressing with titles or types rather than a specific name. For example, say I feel it would be good to connect with a deity related to healing. It might ultimately be Brigid, Eir, or some other. I’m playing with the idea of using a title such as “Great Healer” for now… at least until something shows up and I get to know them and how they wish to be known. It seems like that might be at least more focused than “to whom it may consern” but at the same time isn’t quite playing Pantheon Pokemon by tossing the ol’ Pokeball down and saying, “Brigid… I choose YOU!”

Of course, some of our historical deity names are actually titles rather than personal names.

Hopefully somewhere in there was some thoughts that made sense. I can try to refine anything if needed.

Basically, I want to deepen my connection to that which we identify with “gods and goddesses” beyond simple high day honoring, but feel like picking a pantheon from the “ADF-approved” list is not for me. I feel like, at least for myself, that is forcing me to reach out to the divine through an artifically-imposed lens of historical and academic concepts from long ago and far away rather than connecting in meaningful ways in the here and now with however those powers that be seek to express themselves to me.

Struggling With Reconciling Paganism and Christianity

English: A cross close to the church in Grense...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lately I have been having some problems reconciling different religious traditions that I practice. I have been a practicing pagan of some stripe for over a decade, and I was not raised in a religious household in which we went to church regularly or anything, but in the past three years or so I have been going to church. I am even working on a graduate degree in Christian theology right now, which is an… interesting experience. Somehow I ended up really involved in the wider Church community.

I feel like my heart is in paganism, but church offers a lot that modern paganism just doesn’t. It’s about structure, tradition, community, and satisfying liturgy/ritual. I just feel secure in certain types of churches. For me, at least, paganism is isolating and alienating. It makes me feel different than the rest of society in a way that makes it difficult to relate to others. I’m in a big city, but pagan communities are pretty scarce, and the ones I have been able to find just like to bitch about Christianity and mainstream culture, and the negativity is just so draining. When it comes to ritual, I’m either lighting candles and incense by myself at home, or I’m in someone’s living room with the couches pushed back, holding hands with people I don’t know very well and dancing around in a circle feeling silly.

While I’m not completely on board theologically or in terms of Scripture, I love the drama of high church Christianity, with its processions, choral music, candles, sacred art, thuribles smoking with incense, and reverent gestures. There was a time when I was starting to reconcile myself to an Abrahamic monotheist theology and a greater appreciation of Scripture, but for whatever reason it didn’t stick. Maybe because I support feminism, queer rights, and sex-positivity. There are Christians who are into those kinds of causes too, but being pagan and having a worldview that accepts diversity when it comes to sex and gender, not to mention pretty much everything else, is a lot easier than trying to believe in a text that promotes patriarchy, violence, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. It’s more complicated than just those issues, but they are the obvious ones.

Sometimes I think it would be a good idea just to devote myself more fully to the Church, and not bother with the pagan stuff anymore, which I have not been able to do fully. It would give me the structure I crave, which is easier to maintain as part of a community rather than just a solitary lighting candles in my room and honouring gods no one around me cares about, or they would think I’m crazy for worshiping. I would feel more in touch with society, and have a community of people who aren’t so angry and emotionally draining to be around, and not feel as disingenuous as I often feel now. I just don’t know if I can make it work, as my personal understanding of “God” is as a more feminine being, and eroticism plays a big part in my spirituality, and I don’t know if I can reconcile that with Christianity. There is something I genuinely love about the Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic faith, I just don’t know if I can stick to it exclusively, but if I don’t, I feel like I am not getting as much out of it as I could. I currently follow Anglican Catholicism, which is kind of a watered-down imitation of Roman Catholicism, since it’s more open to issues of gender and sexuality, but I wonder if I converted to the Roman Church I would take it more seriously and try to live according to its teachings. However, that doesn’t always seem like a good idea.

Thank you if you have read this all the way through. Let me know if you can sympathize or have any suggestions.

[url=http://ecauldron.com/forum/showthread.php?12936-Struggling-With-Reconciling-Paganism-and-Christianity]Struggling With Reconciling Paganism and Christianity[/url]

What Does the Daily Worship of a Heathen Look Like?

Forn Sed: The oath-ring and the ceremonial ham...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello everyone. I tried to search through the searchbar to see if anything similar came up, but I couldn’t find anything. Then again- I’ve never been the best with forum searches and I am new here, so please forgive me if I over looked something.

I’m extremely new to Heathenry. I considered myself a Wiccan for a short period of time and worked with the Runes and Norse deities, then someone in my Coven showed me Heathenism. I’ve never looked back on Wicca since. I realized it just wasn’t for me. Reading about Asatru and Heathenry clicked something inside of me that I never have felt before. I am Germanic heritage, so it’s particularly appealing to me.

My question is, what does Heathen or Asatru daily worship look like? Right now, I’m also Kemetic Orthodox, and I have been for years now. In KO, we have a daily Senut ritual where you tend shrine and give offerings to the Gods. It’s become quite the discipline for me.

I know Asatru has blots and sumbel, but I was just wondering if there was any rituals/prayers/offerings/etc done on a daily basis to honor the Gods, similar to what I mentioned above with Kemetism. What does your daily worship look like?

Thank you in advance for any help with this, and sorry for such a beginner question, lol. I’m reading through the Eddas right now and loving it. I’m also quite the history nerd, so I love the cultural and historical aspect of it all too.