Wednesday, October 12, 2011

To be a Witch or to be Pagan

So this is kind of a side note to the general food theme of this blog, but it's something that I think relates closely so I'm going to post it here.

I recently read The Witches' Book of the Dead and early on in the book the author talks about what exactly a Witch is. He differentiates witchcraft from Wicca rather strongly.

In the early 1950's, a new image of the Witch emerged in the form of modern Wicca, which portrays Witchcraft as an ancient fertility cult that worships a god and a goddess. Blended together from bits of pre-Christian religions, Freemasonry, and nineteenth-century ceremonial magic, Wicca incorporates magic into its practices, but it is often secondary to worship. While it is true that some historical Witches have been associated with this deity or that, religious devotion did not define those individuals as Witches, and was certainly not the reason they were both vilified and deified-their power was. (Day, pg 8)

Throughout the book Day draws on images of witches from Greek mythology as well as several other mythologies. His examples while not specifically used as a way to reinforce this statement do an excellent job of performing that task anyway. The excerpt above could be argued, and certainly wicca and modern paganism as a whole drawn considerably from a Magickal background. This background gives strong ties to the power that Christian Day invokes at the end of the passage above.

There is also no avoiding the fact that many modern pagans do not make magick a strong part of their regular practice. It would be easy if you thought of paganism and witchcraft as synonymous to think of these individuals as "weekend" pagans. Much like members of more mainstream religions who make it out to church on high holy days, but at no other time. Personally I feel this gives the matter much less thought and evaluation than it is worth.

Another book that I am currently working my way through is The Modern Pagan: How to Live a Natural Lifestyle in the 21st Century. This text deals with a completely non religious paganism, and in fact takes some issue with the modern use of the word as having intrinsically religious meanings.

Traditional, or true, paganism, in the fundamental but modernized form described in the second part of the book, is essentially a practical, survival lifestyle. But it has during the last two hundred years increasingly attracted interest from individuals and groups wishing to overlay their own customized spirituality upon it. In one sense this simply represents the creation of other religions, and mirrors the processes that Christians applied to Celtic paganism centuries earlier. But certain groups, of which wiccans are perhaps the best known, have retained far more in common with traditional pagans than Christians after the Middle Ages were ever prepared to countenance, and as such these groups often refer to themselves today as pagan, or are so styled by others. Traditional pagans would take issue with this on the grounds that the overlaying of a spiritual element on the basic pagan folk culture takes such groups beyond the boundaries of true paganism. Moreover, the persistent use of the word 'pagan' to describe such groups has led to much confusion over who is pagan and who is not. I can but emphasize my own position that true paganism is non-spiritual . . . (Day, 9-10)

Now, being a "spiritual pagan" I'm not quite ready to give up the term, and I don't entirely agree with the argument that using the term pagan is inappropriate given some of the things that modern neo-paganism emphasizes. However, this passage even if you disagree with the extent of the argument illuminates a very interesting dynamic that is not often discussed. We refer to ourselves as witches, and own the identity that goes with that term, yet at the same time when someone asks a random pagan what being pagan is all about we tend to give some description of the roots of the word pagan. That is to say paganus which meant rural, rustic, a person of the country or land. I've heard this described using a few other terms, but it's always generally along those lines. So was the house wife who toiled day in and day out to do such mundane things as make a home, and help with harvest, and tend the land in general a witch? Would she have thought of herself as a witch? No she would not. There were certainly witches in the days of classic paganism. Wise men and women who tended the unknown things. There are plenty of stories of the local medicine woman, shaman, or druid and the wonders they could perform. Truly modern witches are inheritors of that lineage, but what of the common folk? Do modern neo-pagans have to be inheritors of both the unknown realms of ancient workers of craft as well as the general paganus of the time? No, we don't have to be inheritors of both these realms. Let's be honest though the majority of us are to some varying degree.

Anyone who has walked in modern neo-pagan circles long enough has run across the kitchen witch as it were. More concerned with gardens, sustainability, organic food, and carbon footprints than circles and elements. Though these individuals may practice wicca, or some other form of ancient pantheistic observance they often do not devote themselves to magick and the pursuit of its secrets, often specifically neglecting the aspects of modern neo-paganism that developed from the high magick from the turn to the 20th century.

What does any of this have to do with food and magick? In all honesty the issues I raised in my first blog post live in the intersection of these two paths. I do not want to say these paths are divergent, more that they are convergent. In the past while witches may have been pagan, in truth the craft which defined them as witches had nothing to do with religion, because the common folk often if not always followed the same devotional paths. In today's world this is not true; the pagan and the witch have been merged for better or worse. We seek the secrets of magick both ancient and new, and seek to rediscover the roots of the paganus who is so missed in the hustle and bustle of modern life. While some may be a bit more witch than pagan, and some may be a bit more pagan than witch it strikes me that it is worth the time to recognize that we walk a dual path, and to find the places where these paths can be brought together.

Food is a fundamental realm where this possibility can be realized. If our goals are to establish an energetic connection to nature and the naturalistic deities which call to us then food is an ideal medium. In many of the rituals I have attended there is a cup of wine passed around, and a nice piece of bread purchased at the store or local bakery. While these are not necessarily inappropriate offerings to those who watch over us, the use of purchased fare misses a significant opportunity to commune with the mythology and experiences of our divine patrons. There are two ways to approach offerings made in a modern pagan context. You can truly learn the desires and passions of those you worship via research, or communing with them through meditation and vision. You can also offer the Gods what is uniquely yours.

When we look at these options three very distinct forms display themselves. To offer the Gods what you have, what is valuable, what is available yet precious is the path of the pagan. The farmer who worked the land knew what came from the land, and his offerings were what was most precious to him, what he devoted himself to most dearly. The priests, and wise men and women on the other hand had the luxury of trying knowing the Gods. It was in fact the calling of the priests, Druids, and etc. to do just that. There may be a specific offering given at a specific time to a specific deity, and another appropriate offering at another time in another place. How specific these rites were of course varied, but it is the path of the priest to know these specifics. Witches were something of a different matter altogether. Understanding that historical context for witchcraft is problematic at best, but if we look at Day's description of the witch the one thing we can determine is that the cornerstone of the witch was his or her power. When we look at offerings we see then that the third option, the one where you create what is uniquely yours is very much the path that fits the traditional witch. On a quintessential level creating a manifestation of your creativity and will and bringing it into the world then sacrificing that manifestation to your deities is the path most appropriate to both the witch, and if you follow a more modern path the high ceremonial practitioner, for the most sacred things to both is their will and power.

To bring together the tight connection with the land and cycles held by pagans and to pursue the path of Magick and power are two things that have been brought together in the modern neo-pagan movement. Understanding what part of that lineage we are communing with is powerful in it's own right. Making conscious decisions when we provide offering to craft our will into the world and offer it to the Gods, or to commune with the inner desires of the Gods and spirits, or merely to offer up what is most precious of our world helps us connect more deeply with nature, our gods, and to ourselves. That at it's core is the power of taking the fruit of the land and making it a part of our ceremonial work.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to read this Victor!
    I love how the terms are still so difficult to pin down, but that's part of the charm of paganism. The search for meaning (of both the unknown,and the word itself) ;)