Wicca does not cost money: A position statement

First of all, I don’t think this is a controversial opinion. There used to be banner graphics posted on, like, coven Geocities pages that said “Trad Wicca does not cost money,” or some such. (I went to find one today but had no luck.) This debate appears to have been settled, and it might now be common knowledge that teachers of Wicca don’t charge their students beyond small fees to cover handouts, candles, or other consumable items used in the course of classes or rituals. That said, consider the following a position statement.

Traditional Wicca does not cost money. 

I’m making flyers for Saturday Night Witchcraft, and on them I was thinking about noting that it’s free to attend. However, I struggle with how much to emphasize that “free” here actually means that money will not be required of you at any step in order to learn Wicca. It’s not “free” as in multilevel-marketing “girl time party,” in which you don’t have to pay anything to get in the door but the entire purpose of the party is to sell you stuff. Neither is it “free” as in “here’s a taste, but I’m holding the good stuff back and you’ll have to pay to get it” — for example, I get mailings from a popular Tarot site that has just rolled out an expensive certification program, and while the free booklet I got for signing up for the mailing list was useful in my study of Tarot, the mailings since then have been nonstop advertisements for this certification program.

This is not what Saturday Night Witchcraft is about. When I say it’s free, I mean I don’t have anything to sell you.

You will not finish my free classes only to find out that the next level has a price. I didn’t pay to learn at any stage; my teachers freely gave me counsel, instruction, coaching, and friendship, as their teachers gave them, and this is what I will pass on. You will never have to pay me or anyone else in order to keep studying Wicca or to be initiated. If you’re considering studying with someone who does charge, think twice and do some research before paying, because this is not common or expected.

Granted, a certain amount of money will be involved as you study. You’ll have to pay for gas to get here, you’ll be expected to have your own set of tools someday, and you’ll probably want to buy books or jewelry or witchy clothes, too. But the key point here is anti-guru. You can buy (or make!) whatever tools you like from whatever source you prefer, not from a charismatic person with a catalog. You can borrow books from the library or from friends, or you can buy them from a local bookstore or from Amazon — your money goes wherever you direct it. Also, you should not have to choose between paying your electric bill and buying some shiny witchy thing. Keep the lights on; the witchy stuff is all optional.

As a side note: If you have plenty of money, buy whatever you want! Have custom tools and ritual robes made by the best artisans you can find. Drape yourself in jewelry and rare stones. Amass a staggering library. Fly to every festival and convention. But the fact of the matter is that you will still not be spending money in order to learn Wicca.

Instagram aside, we don’t judge who’s wisest or witchiest by their clothing, by how many crystals or Tarot decks or altar tools they own, by how big their library is, or by the number of events they can afford to attend. (Have you seen some of the items left behind by Gardner and other elders of Wicca? They’re simple, not flashy.) What matters is the power you can raise and wield skillfully in ritual — and that can be done with dollar-store tealights and a stick from your backyard. Spiral notebooks and a pen to write notes with. The rest is theater.

And you won’t have to pay your Wiccan teacher in order to learn it.

Saturday Night Witchcraft: What to know

It’s common to have concerns about attending an event for the first time when it’s held at someone else’s home, especially if you have health concerns: Can you eat the food that’s put out? What should you wear? Should you bring meds? Can you even get in the door?

Here are a few details that might help ease your mind (or just sate your curiosity), besides the what and when posted earlier and at Witchvox.

Directions: The house is not difficult to find! It’s one turn off a main road, not down winding back roads or anything. Once you’ve contacted me and shown interest in coming, I’ll tell you at that coffee shop meeting how to get here and/or provide my address (Google Maps is your friend and mine). We have a wide driveway to provide plenty of parking, and the roads are usually well plowed in the winter.

Food and allergies: Feel free to bring something to drink and a dish to share, if you’d like. We will provide some drinks (water, tea, etc.) and appetizer-type food (which may expand to a full potluck meal, depending on how many people attend, but right now the plan is light snacky stuff). If you are veg*n and/or have food allergies, let me know ahead of time and I will make sure that ingredients or potential allergens are labeled and that there will be something there you can eat; you’re also welcome to bring food, either just for yourself or to share. (On her Seekers site, Jenett talks in more detail about how to decide what to bring.)

Clothing: Street wear is fine. Again, Jenett has excellent guidance on choosing what to wear to a Pagan event.

Kids: We have two children, ages 6 and 4, who live here full-time and will probably be very interested in participating in Saturday Night Witchcraft (or who will be encouraged to play quietly in another room). If you have kids about the same age, you are welcome to bring them along.

Pet allergies: We do have cats, including one long-haired cat (who is shy and will hide in the basement while people are here, but her dander may still be an issue if you have cat allergies).

Access: The main entrance has four stairs; there is also a ramp installed in the garage, but the entrance to the garage itself has a steep incline that may be difficult to navigate for wheelchair users. (Hlevang, my husband, uses a cane, so accessibility modifications were made with his ability level in mind.) There are also some lips at doorways. The bathroom is on the main level of the house. Classes are seated; rituals involve standing, but chairs are available for those who need them. Both are scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

If I have left out anything that’s a concern for you, send me an email, or ask when we meet prior to class!

(Further reading for seekers: Check out Jenett’s tips for learning about a new group and the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame.)

Wicca 101 classes beginning!

The next step on this not-coven adventure is that I will be holding weekly Wicca 101 classes at my home! They will begin in conjunction with Wicca 101 classes taught by my coven sisters at Artes & Craft in Hartford.

Saturday Night Witchcraft begins on November 11 at 6:00 p.m., either meeting at my home or traveling to Artes & Craft for Sabbat rituals (and to hang out with the larger coven). We’ll start with the basics of what Wicca is and what witches do, likely with many digressions full of nerdery and comparison, because I am a huge fan of context and background. On New and Full Moons, we’ll have esbat rituals based on an Alexandrian structure with additions from published sources. Beyond that, topics will depend on the needs of the class or my current magickal interests. We’ll talk theory, we’ll make stuff, and we’ll do magick.

If you’re local, contact me to set up a coffee-shop meeting prior to attending class.

(Why a first meeting in a public place? Showing up at a stranger’s house for the promise of Wicca is a risky thing, and it’s wise to take precautions for your own safety. That said, Saturday Night Witchcraft is an affirming, inclusive space where all are welcome — except Nazis and their ilk, who are very specifically unwelcome — and I invite you to verify that in a way that’s safe and comfortable for you.)

Need more detail? Read Saturday Night Witchcraft: What to know.

Pagan Pride Day 2017!

I had a blast at this year’s Grand Rapids Pagan Pride Day! This year I was helping with Artes & Craft‘s booth and offering Tarot readings. (Kids in tow, once they were done with Saturday morning’s soccer game. Being a soccer mom and a witch at the same time is a special kind of liminality.) I’m glad I got the chance to talk to so many old friends and new people!

Time really is a spiral, and you really do come back to the same points over and over again, changed as a person. Two years ago I was here with a different, looser Pagan group. MoonFire put on the main ritual, and I only heard about it afterward. A year ago, I came specifically to ask about joining MoonFire, an introduction from an elder having paved my way; I’d read Tarot on and off for years but always with a book and only for myself. This year, I was here as a member of MoonFire, and I’d studied Tarot enough to read for others. Maybe next year I’ll be back and something else will be different.

On handwriting material

My Tarot journaling has had an interesting, unintended effect: I’m rediscovering comfort with handwriting.

I type fast. I’ve wholeheartedly embraced computers as a whole and Word documents and apps like Evernote and blogs and online journaling; in fact, one reason I was successful at journaling online (I was a terrible diarist as a kid) was that I could finally write as fast as my brain supplied the words. So, here in 2017, it is perhaps not surprising that I hardly ever handwrite anything. There are even apps for grocery lists.

Tarot journaling, on the other hand, is almost always a handwritten task for me. I don’t take notes when I read for other people, but when I read for myself, I prefer to sit at a table or on my bed, lay out the cards, and write by hand in a notebook. I sketch the spread, note the meaning of each position, write which card appeared in each position, and add a short interpretation. I’m also working my way through the deck via daily one-card draws, and those get handwritten in a different journal. In fact, I’d been writing like that for at least a month before I realized how much effort I’d been putting into penmanship and how little I used those muscles anymore.

But why handwrite, other than the vibe? Why not type?

To answer that, I need to digress a little more.

I’m currently reading Merry Meet Again by Deborah Lipp; I’m working my way through lots of Craft biographies and autobiographies lately. In Chapter 10, Lipp describes working on a coordinated healing ritual and adds a practical note — these appear in each chapter — suggesting that a well-illustrated anatomy book, a medical dictionary, and a medical encyclopedia belong on the bookshelf of anyone doing healing work. “Most spells must, in order to succeed, manifest themselves in the physical world, so understanding the physical reality of healing is a necessity,” she says. And for the medical dictionary, Lipp suggests some good online sources but, she says, “I like having a book on the shelf that coven members can read from, pass around, and bring into ritual.”

Why can’t you just bring your phone into ritual and use it to look that stuff up? This book was published in 2013; people have smartphones now, so it’s not like you need to drag your laptop into ritual space.

There are two main reasons, I think.  For one, the energy flow inside the circle functions much like an electrical current, and electronics sometimes fail or don’t work right inside a cast circle. Particularly intense circles can short them out or break them entirely. And I’m not speaking mythically here; a grovemate of mine once forgot his phone in his pocket during ritual and it wouldn’t turn on afterward. He had to get a new phone. Will that happen in any circle, no matter what? Probably not; it has a lot to do with the quality of the circle casting, the energy raised, the work done, and so on. But do you want to depend on risking your phone to access information you could have just written down, printed off, or gotten from a physical book?

Another reason, and perhaps a stronger one where regular practice is concerned, is that the presence of electronic devices can interfere with the suspension of disbelief that goes along with theater (and ritual is theater). It’s incongruous. Allow Alexander Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda to demonstrate:

My point: To preserve the bubble of sacred space that you’ve spent so much time and effort to create, whatever you bring into circle should be handwritten (or at least printed off).  I don’t have a whole lot of Pagan ebooks because I might want to bring the book into circle (or loan it out, but that’s another digression entirely). I may type up my rituals, but I’ll print them off and bring the pages into circle, not my laptop or my phone. And I handwrite my journal of Tarot readings so I can bring the entire notebook into circle, do a reading in sacred space, or carry the notebook and cards with me so that I’m not dependent on wifi or a battery to write.

And, also, the vibe.

“There are no Pagans near me!”

I’ve recently become a fan of Thorn Mooney, who writes Oathbound at Patheos and has a YouTube channel with years’ worth of videos that I am, apparently, slowly working my way through until I’ve seen them all. (And this from someone who forgets that YouTube exists sometimes.)

The video below is from 2014, but as a witch who is laying the groundwork for a coven in a rural area, it gives me a little hope.

I also have hope from something that happened between rituals at Artes & Craft sometime this spring. There were 10-15 of us sitting on chairs and couches in the reading area talking about how all of us, at one point, had thought there were no other Pagans around. I had driven 2 hours to get there, past Grand Rapids — for the record, I’ve met up with two GR Pagan groups that are still going strong so I’m sure there are more out there, and the area has enough of a Pagan community to support a Pagan Pride Day for 17 years and counting — and I think I had come the farthest that day. Literally, there were 10-15 of us physically in the same room, and most of us had been sure that there were no other Pagans this close by.

So, despite my rural, middle-of-nowhere (future) covenstead, I have hope that this “There aren’t any Pagans around me!” thing is an assumption that we make uncritically, sometimes without Googling the obvious (as Thorn mentions in the video). And I hope that once I’m ready to put up my own Witchvox listing and open the doors, it will be found by five or six folks who really are interested in learning Alexandrian Wicca, even if they have to drive an hour or so to do it — and even if they had been really sure that there were no other Pagans out here.

Notes on Tarot practice

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been doing daily Tarot card draws and writing meanings in a journal — both my own intuitive meanings and notes on each card from 78 Degrees of Wisdom. Here are a few notes so far:

I’m really hesitant to write down more than very brief meanings before consulting the book. I don’t want to get them wrong because this Tarot journal is also intended as a reference, but that also means I’m relying more on copying someone else’s words than on intuition. So, this practice is kind of a mixed bag, but I do find that I’m able to look at a card I haven’t drawn before — today’s was 2 of Wands — and intuitively say, “Oh, this card is about how I have what I worked for (in my case, a book to edit), but my success means that I have to sit on the sidelines and wish I was doing something else.”

However, court cards are the most difficult so far. Even if a specific court card has popped up multiple times and I’ve had a solid intuitive sense of its meaning, I look at the card and go, “…uh?” It’s like the meanings fly right out of my head.

It’s also interesting to look at what cards have come up so far: queens of every suit, but only one king (King of Wands). Pages of Wands and Cups, knights of Cups and Pentacles. Eight total cards from Wands, Swords, and Pentacles; seven from Cups. None of the pips have shown up in all four suits, none of the aces have shown up at all, but at least one of each number has shown up (and I’ve had three 10s and three 2s).

I’ve been drawing cards for 40 days, but that doesn’t mean I’ve drawn 40 different cards. Some days I had “stalker cards,” or cards that show up repeatedly (sometimes days in a row, no matter how well I shuffled), because the situation they refer to is ongoing or because I wasn’t getting a message. When I did readings for myself with this deck, I also wrote down the meanings of the cards I drew, just because it was becoming apparent that simply drawing a card a day would not get me to 78 card meanings on its own. (Which makes sense; over time, that might happen, but if the cards are meant to reflect a wide range of human experience, that’s a lot for one person to go through in three months or so.) I suspect that at some point I’ll run out of patience and just finish writing journal entries.

So, this might be a longer-term project than I’d thought! It’s worthwhile, though, because I’m acquiring a facility with Tarot and a confidence in my own intuition that I didn’t get from simply reading through 78 Degrees of Wisdom. 

Returning to Tarot and meditation

Daily practice used to be very difficult for me. I’d forget, or there wasn’t anything that seemed to be important enough to do every day, or my heart wasn’t in it… any number of excuses.

Just this year, however, I’ve finally begun (and maintained!) two daily practices that are often recommended for beginners: meditation and Tarot. And I’ve found that both of them really are useful, separately and together.

Back when I first started — I love that I’ve been around long enough to need that qualification! — meditation practice was very different. Guided meditations were included in many books published in the late ’90s and early 2000s. But how do you actually have that guided journeying experience from a book? Personally, I developed a mental ability to be in two places at once; part of me was reading the words on the page, and part of me was off doing the journey. That’s not as satisfying as participating wholly, but it got the job done.

My alternatives were to memorize what the journey was supposed to be, then put on a CD of drumming (yes, I paid money for a CD of nothing but drumming in different increments of time) and attempt it, or have a friend read the meditation for me. Highly embarrassing. Or I could get out my trusty Walkman cassette tape player and some blank cassettes, record myself reading the meditation, and then listen to it later. (A lot of folks went the tape recorder route, but this is also how I memorized Bible verses for quiz team, so I didn’t want to touch it.)

Or you learned Zen meditation, which was about emptying your mind, and you didn’t need a book or drumming or a friend with a good reading voice to do that. However, you were supposed to come out of the meditation after so many minutes by hearing a note played on a special bowl… and how were you to know how long it’d been without watching the clock? And if you were “back” enough to play the note, did you even need to hear it?

Here in the future, however, we have iPhones and apps. I’m hitting my meditation groove with Insight Timer, which is so much easier. Yes, there is a timer that will play a number of calm sounds when time is up and at intervals along the way, but there are also thousands of guided meditations in many languages available, and — crucially for me — there are milestones shown by stars for the number of days you’ve meditated with the app and the number of days in a row (because daily practice isn’t important for everyone). Some guided meditations help you sleep, some help you ground and center, some help you clear your chakras (or focus on specific chakras), and I’m sure there are tons I haven’t explored. And you can even do the old-school meditations outside the app by recording them on your phone, no blank cassettes needed.

Also, this practice has already borne fruit, less than three months after beginning. I really wanted to keep my days-in-a-row streak alive even though I was fatigued and it was nearly midnight, so I meditated with the timer for five minutes and had some experiences of second sight. In that moment I understood why newbies are told to learn meditation: not only is it important to learn how to focus your mind and keep that focus where you want it for as long as you want it (a skill you need just to cast a circle), but regular practice will also open you up and make you more sensitive to spirit and to altered states of consciousness. And I’ve also used meditation twice now when I was writing rituals to let something bubble up: the perfect activity, a concept to tie the whole thing together, the best order of steps.

Speaking of sensitivity to spirit, my practice with Tarot is also improving quickly. When I started out, I bought a deck or two, didn’t really understand how to read the cards, and the books that came with the decks didn’t clarify things much. I don’t think I had driving divinatory questions, either. I set Tarot aside as “not for me” for a few years. However, sometime around 2008, Tarot struck me as a necessary occult skill to learn, and I picked up the Universal Waite deck so I wouldn’t have to translate image descriptions. I also bought 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack and read it cover to cover, cards in hand. I found Aeclectic Tarot and did many readings with many different spreads. My interpretations gained more depth (and I successfully predicted my first pregnancy, which shocked the hell out of me when I realized), but I was still dependent on the book; I understood the Major Arcana well enough but the Minor Arcana eluded me.

I didn’t read Tarot often when my kids were babies, however. I didn’t like my reliance on the book, didn’t how I’d get past that without investing time I didn’t think I had, and had lost four cards from my Universal Waite deck so I couldn’t read anyway. (Finding them again felt like a sign.)

Becoming much more active in Wicca this year brought back my interest in all of this, though, and I decided two weeks ago — on the night of the New Moon — that I was finally going to learn Tarot in a more structured way. I’d become more confident in reading with Earth Magic Oracle cards, which used a symbol set that I understood immediately and intuitively, and I’d been doing daily single-card draws with Extraordinary Oracle cards, which were much the same. So I began drawing daily Tarot cards as well, and with guidance from Biddy Tarot, pressed a pretty notebook into service as a Tarot journal (tip: steal ideas from bullet journaling, like adding a table of contents and page numbers and pretty headings!). So far I’ve discovered that the two cards work with each other, the oracle card often building on or highlighting an aspect of the Tarot card; for example, today’s cards are the 10 of Swords and Broomstick, which tell me to quit my whining and tackle some overdue housecleaning chores I’ve been putting off because they’re haaaaaaaaaard or they’re groooooooooooss. (And I didn’t even need to get out the book to know that, because I’d drawn the 10 of Swords reversed earlier and had written the upright and reversed meanings in my journal.)

So, one important idea here is that the advice given to beginners is sound. It’s not just busywork or distractions aimed at teens or twentysomethings who are interested in Wicca — these two practices, among others, really will help you later on, so they’re good first steps (and don’t cost much or take up much space). Another key idea is that you can always come back to something that wasn’t important to you at an earlier point on your path, and you might find that it’s important now or that experiences you’ve had along the way can shed light on it now.

Also, just know that Tarot cards will call you out sometimes. It’s way more fun to write 1200 words on reminiscences and lessons learned than to do gross household chores. FINE, I’ll DO IT now, ugh.

Books: On borrowing and buying and keeping and returning

I just have to share: I’m rediscovering the joys of the local library and inter-library loan. This is a story about how I get books.

When I was first studying Paganism and witchcraft as a college student in the early 2000s, I read every book on the topic I could get from the university library, so obviously I knew all about borrowing the books I needed. However, right around that time, Amazon (and free shipping!) became popular. Folks on Pagan email lists (yep, that’s how I first learned) spoke with astonishment about all the hard-to-find books that were now readily available on Amazon. Buying my witch books has pretty much been a habit since then. Why would I not, especially when I can get them used for cheap?

But six or seven years ago, when my first daughter was born and my attention span dropped off sharply because infant, in stolen moments I started reading way more fiction and very little nonfiction. (I just did not have the brain cells left for history or theory. It happens.) That’s when I discovered ebooks and, specifically, that the reading experience and the quality of the books themselves and had gone way up while the price had gone down. Joy of joys! The future is awesome.

Within the past year or two, however, enough of my bitterness had faded and my heartbreak healed that I was ready to pick up witch books again, and I do have a few ebooks. But they’re largely priced around $10, and when you get used to snagging ebooks for free or cheap ($1-2), laying out $8-12 for a book starts to look like an investment.

I’d also been thinking about what I wanted to do with my books when I was done reading them, rather than just indiscriminately collecting them. Did I just want to read this book once, and maybe I didn’t care if I kept it after that? Did it end up being shitty, and added to my pile of shitty books no one else wants, either, so I can’t sell or donate them? Or was this book so good, I wanted my daughters to read it, too, without having to ask permission to use a tablet? Did I want to loan the book to anyone else? Did I want to make sure I had it forever and ever, no matter what changes ereaders and apps and publishers and sellers went through? (I started out buying Nook books, and it is now a process to get to them on my Kindle, let me tell you.)

There’s one more factor at play here, too. When I had resolved to start a coven (or, given my current status, a weird not-coven maybe-study-group thing) and I started developing the Resources page here, I went to the libraries closest to me to evaluate the books they had on the shelf. Could I tell my future students to go get this or that title from the library? Or would I need to loan out my own books instead? Also, could I test-drive being “out” locally by borrowing books that were very obviously about Wicca and witchcraft? (Librarians could hardly give someone my contact info, but maybe they could tell some lonely seeker that someone else was borrowing witch books too, and they weren’t alone. Or maybe that lonely seeker would see me checking out the books and strike up a conversation with me.)

Side note: The Greenville library has a small but decent Wicca-specific section. The Lakeview library has a few mythology books and only two on Wicca, both by Steve Russo and published in 2005: Protecting Your Teen From Today’s Witchcraft: A Parent’s Guide to Confronting Wicca and the Occult and What’s the Deal with Wicca? A Deeper Look into the Dark Side of Today’s Witchcraft. So, you know. Not particularly friendly.

Instead of trying to find cheap used copies of books that were recommended to me but that I didn’t know for sure I’d want to keep always… enter the library! And thanks to the MelCat interlibrary loan system, it doesn’t matter if my local library only has books that are antagonistic to Wicca. If a participating library anywhere in Michigan has a copy of a book I want, I can borrow it. It’s not quite so broom closet-friendly as Amazon, because you can click buttons to request books online but you do have to interact with another human to pick them up. It is free, however, and that’s hard to beat.

This post was brought to you by the books I’ve read recently that were interesting, but not worth keeping on my shelf or in my ereader, and books I’ve just requested that are similarly interesting but I’m not sure I’ll love them (and if I do, I’ll buy a print copy to keep). If I’d paid money for the books I just finished, I’d be cranky. But I didn’t! And they simply go back to the library! Off you go, mediocre books! May you be just the thing someone else is looking for.