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Posts Tagged ‘green witchcraft’

On Monday, we came home from our annual week-long summer camping holiday at Canada’s largest Neo-Pagan festival, Kaleidoscope Gathering. We had a truly fantastic time, spent time with friends, met great people, gave a Tarot workshop, attended workshops and rituals, and relaxed at our lovely campsite by the river.

Tuesday we spent trying to come back down to earth, and I went to pick up our pup Carter from his foster parents in Ottawa.

Wednesday morning t! went back to work and I started the day with some time in my garden, and did a morning meditation & tarot card draw, followed by some very useful and cathartic journaling. Four hours later I found myself typing a resignation letter for the part-time job I’m currently doing. I hate it, it sucks my time and energy, chains me to the computer indoors when I want to be working outside, and the person I’m working for is a nasty bully. Plus I’m severely underpaid, and the number of hours I’m billing per month add up to little more than pocket change. The only reason I haven’t quit before now is that I was afraid that if I tried to quit, he would bully me into changing my mind and I would end up feeling even worse about myself and the job!

After I hit “send” on the email, and the proverbial weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I started thinking about how to make (or mark) a “fresh start” on this new path.

One of the books I pulled off my bookshelf after we got home from Fest was my friend Arin Murphy-Hiscock’s Hearthcraft book (which the publishers insisted on calling The Way of the Hedge Witch, even though it’s about hearth & home magic.) And while flipping through it again, I started thinking about the energy in our home, and how it affects me and makes me feel. Making our home more welcoming, cosy and “homey” is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and something that the icky part-time job was specifically stopping me from doing, for a variety of reasons. My own spirit feels renewed and refreshed after spending a week at KG, and I want to expand that sense of renewed energy to my immediate environment, our home. So my Spell for a Fresh Start is going to centre around clearing all the old, stagnant, negative energy out of our house and replacing it with fresh, happy, productive, creative energy.

I decided that the first thing I needed to do was get rid of anything in the house that was dead and/or decaying, in order to banish stagnation, death, and decay from our environment. So yesterday:

  • The dried remains of some flowers got composted and the vase they were in thoroughly washed
  • I cleaned all the science experiments and soggy vegetables out of the fridge, and washed out the veg drawer
  • I cleaned up all the hairballs that the cats had horked up in the basement while we were away for a week
  • I took the dead mole out of the freezer[1]
  • I washed out the two coolers from the camping trip and all the icky tupperware containers that had held our camping food, and
  • I even snipped all the dead leaves off the houseplants.

Then I went out for a walk with Carter, and picked a fresh bunch of wildflowers – wild purple asters as it turns out – and put them in the clean vase.

Today I will start on sweeping, to further clear the stagnant energy out of the house. Since we have a big house,  sweeping (and vacuuming, for rooms that have carpeting) will probably take me two or three days (or more, now that I remember that I have to pick everything up off a floor in order to sweep it). I’ll try to get into every nook and corner of every room (except t!’s office, but he thoroughly cleaned it before our vacation), which will mean moving furniture, and get all the cobwebs off the ceilings too. As well as cleaning, and sweeping away any stagnant energy, this should also get rid of the last of the dead bugs off the windowsills, etc. And now that I realise what this plan entails, I’m thinking it may take me up to a week! That’s OK, I have some spare time while I’m waiting for the tomatoes in the garden to ripen so that I can start the canning…

I’ll check in again in a couple of days to talk more about how it’s going[2] and what I plan to do next.

.

[1] SKIP this paragraph if you are squeamish. You have been warned! The cats, as they are wont to do, did a lot of barfing while we were away. When t! when down to the basement after we got back, he found a mole in the basement, eating the half-digested kibble in the cat barf (ewww!) Not having a better plan (he couldn’t bring himself to simply step on it), he put a mouse trap next to the pile of cat barf. An hour later when we checked the trap, the mole was caught but not yet dead. We scooped the mole into a plastic bag and dropped it into the freezer – death by hypothermia is one of the kindest ways to go, and how I usually dispose of deformed baby chicks.

[2] Yes, I know traditionally you’re not supposed to talk about a spell while you’re doing it. I don’t know who made that rule, but like with everything I do, I follow what feels right to me regardless of what the books & traditions necessarily say. That’s one of the reasons I’m a Green Witch and not Wiccan. Plus, how are us Solitary Witches suppose to learn anything if we don’t share? Sometimes when I do I spell, I tell no one about it, not even my husband. But this one feels right to talk about. So I will.

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My Pagan Path, Part 1: Becoming a Green Witch
My Pagan Path, Part 2: My Green Witch Practice (What I do and Why I do it)

 
My biggest challenges

Flying solo

The green witch path is a solitary one by nature (no pun intended), but one of my biggest challenges is not having anyone to discuss my path with, most of the time. Practicing alone, you tend to get bogged down and stuck in a rut after a while, and you need new ideas or a fresh perspective or a reality check from someone else to help you get ‘unstuck’. Part of the problem is, of course, living out here in the boonies. When I lived in Montreal I worked regularly with the Montreal Reclaiming community, and I got a lot out of it. It’s not a lack of pagans – we see our pagan friends regularly and take part in activities put on by the wider Montreal, Toronto (and soon also Ottawa) pagan communities, but I would love to have one or two people whose paths are similar to my own, to share ideas with. The closest I get these days is discussing tomato varieties with Alan at the Farmer’s Market. 

I know there must be people reasonably local to me who follow a similar path, the difficulty is finding them. As I mentioned on Brendan’s blog, in reply to one of his questions that sparked this essay, I was recently at an organic farming conference that was attended by over 400 people. Chances are that a few of them were pagans, but of course I had no way of identifying them, or them me. t! and I are starting to network with pagans in our local community, however, so hopefully I will be able to meet a few people to have these sorts of discussions with.

Another good source of new ideas and new perspectives for solo practitioners is, of course, books. I’ve had a really hard time finding very many that resonate with me. I’ve read books by the ‘big name’ green witch authors (Ann Moura and Ellen Dugan) and unfortunately haven’t gotten very much out of them. Every so often I’ll spend a few hours with Amazon, hoping that there is something new that will be useful to me, but I haven’t found anything lately.

And the internet is a wasteland when it comes to green witchcraft. I’ve tried any number of “green” or “natural” magic e-lists, blogs, and message boards, and given up on them all because the level of discourse is so low. 

Being part of the larger pagan community, or not.

The same sense of exclusion that I felt when I first started reading paganism books, unfortunately still often exists when I try to take part in the larger pagan community. And I do very much want to take part in that community, because of the things I said above about the challenges of practicing as a solitary. One of the best ways to find people with similar paths who work with / talk to / exchange ideas with is, of course, through the larger pagan community. But it’s sometimes very hard to keep trying to participate in a community that doesn’t seem to be quite as “accepting of all paths” as it claims to be.

A big (huge) part of the problem is ignorance. Lots and lots of people in the pagan community are new, and haven’t read very much, or met very many other pagans, and so have a fairly narrow view of what paganism is. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear, in a workshop at a pagan conference “All pagans use the pentacle – oh, except the Asatru who use that hammer thing.” To which the workshop leader, a druid, points out that he uses a triskele, and other people add what symbols they use, or the fact that they don’t use any. Or to see, on an e-list, someone answer the question “What’s the difference between a witch and a Wicca?” with “Not much, really, Wicca is a religion for witches.” And so someone has to explain that, no, there are many different kinds of witches that have nothing to do with Wicca, and that Wicca is a formal religion that only some witches belong to. The only answer of course, is to keep explaining politely, to keep educating those that need more information.

Another part of the problem is that the Paganism 101 books all explain “the basics” (as they should, of course): grounding and centering, energy work, casting a circle, the Wheel of the Year, ritual design, and maybe divination or aspecting or astral travel. And because almost all of the introductory books (whether Wicca-specific or not) cover this “basic” material, the assumption seems to have developed in the pagan community that these things are also what’s Central to paganism. And I know all too well how hard it is to find books, or websites, or people who will explain that there are many other paths and give detailed information about those other paths, because I had so much trouble finding them myself. I don’t know what the solution to that problem is. It’s just kind of alienating to constantly be hearing “As Pagans we do This” and have “This” be something totally foreign to my spirituality.

Finding the time and energy to do all the spiritual work I want to do

No surprises here: just like with all the other aspects of my life, there’s a constant struggle to fit everything I want to do in. And just like with all the other aspects of my life, it’s a question of deciding what’s really important, and then making it happen. 

 

Where I want to go from here

Having been out here in our new home for only half a year, I’m still ‘bonding’ with the land. I’m looking forward to working with it more, getting to know it better, and shaping it into a sustainable homestead. With any luck that’s something I will continue to work on for the rest of my life.

I’d like to start working with herbs more. I want to develop a really solid grounding in the basics of herbal remedies. There are some plants and herbs I know well and use regularly, some I want to get to know better, and some I haven’t started working with at all yet. I want to try to grow most of my own herbs (the sage and St. John’s Wort are currently sprouting on the seed rack with the tomatoes, leeks, and parsley). I’m going to plant a magical / medicinal / culinary herb garden (though I still haven’t figured out exactly where) starting this summer, but it will be a work-in-progress for a number of years, I know. 

I’d like to learn more about and possibly start working with the celestial bodies, especially the moon. In the past I never felt very drawn to work with the moon, but the moon is a bigger part of my life now: the moon cycles are very apparent out here, since we have very little light pollution. One the night of the dark (new) moon it is pitch black, and when the moon is full we can almost read by its light. We know the age of the moon by living with it rather than looking it up on a chart, so I’d like to get to know it better. t! gave me a telescope for Christmas, and a good book on astronomy, so I want to learn more about the constellations and some of the traditional astrological associations as well. 

I would very much like to learn more about the indigenous peoples of my area, the Mohawk Indians. It’s their land, after all, they lived here for thousands of years before we showed up, and left their imprint on it. I would very much like to learn more about the local tribes’ relationship with and use of the native tree, plant, and animal species. I’d love to hear some of their stories / myths / legends / histories. The Akwesasne Mohawks of Cornwall Island have an open Powwow every year in September, so I’ll be able to start there.

I’d love to teach more. I’ve taught friends bread making and canning, people often come to me for gardening tips, and I’ve led a workshop at the Toronto Pagan Conference, but I would really like to do more sharing/teaching. That’s probably a little ways off in the future, though. For now there is an awful lot of  building to be done here, first.

Like I said above, I’d like to find a couple of other people whose paths are similar to talk with and learn from. I also want to try to have one or two gatherings of our pagan friends out here on our land every year. At very least I’m going to try to get people out here for a harvest celebration in the autumn. Harvest is easiest because unlike the frantic “getting everything into the ground as soon as possible” in spring, harvest happens in a succession of waves as various different crops ripen, and so can be celebrated any time between the middle of August and end of October. 

I’m also very aware of the fact that where I’m going could well change. The more I practice, read, learn, and experience, the more I understand what certain authors have said or why certain things tend to be done a certain way. Things that I don’t currently find useful might some day turn out to be so. Things that don’t resonate with me now may some day. The universe is very good at reminding you that you’re not in charge, if you tend to forget that. As a case in point, I used to think that the concept of people having a ‘magical’ or ‘craft’ name was vaguely silly. A craft name on a book cover will still put me off, but I’ve learned that people with names like “Starhawk” and “Grey Cat” are very much worth reading. And I’ve also learned that I don’t necessarily have any choice in the matter. When you have a dream that you are working on a construction project with someone you know to be a powerful magic-worker, and he calls you by the name of a type of tree that you’ve always felt a strong connection to, well, I could put my fingers in my ears and sing “la la la I can’t hear you” but that would be dumb.

 

Note: This is the last part of the original essay, but tomorrow I’m going to post Part 4: Questions and Answers to address some of the queries I’ve received here in the comments and by email. I’m still in the process of writing it, so if you have a question or something you’d like me to expand on further, let me know.

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Note: Part 1 is here. Also, I wanted to say that I’m very happy to answer questions about any of this.

“Talking to the trees” – living my connection to the land 

My practice is rooted in the deep connection I feel to the land. Every since I was a kid, I loved to spend as much time as I could out in the woods. The highlight of my summer was the time I spent at camp (one year I managed to convince my mother to let me go for 5 whole weeks, 3 weeks at the YWCA camp and 2 weeks of Girl Guide camp), sleeping in tents and spending the days swimming, canoeing, doing crafts, picking blueberries, and so on. As I got older, my camping got more ambitious until I was doing 3 and 4-day solo backpacking trips in the Adirondacks a couple of times a year. I learned to rely on myself and my skills, that there was nothing to fear in the “big bad woods,” and a very healthy respect for the changeable weather conditions in the mountains.

These days I live my connection to the land in a number of ways:

I walk in the fields and woods behind my house every day, on our land and our neighbour’s land. I’m getting to know every tree, learning where the outcrops of bedrock are, discovering what species of shrubs and grasses grow where. I notice how high the geese are flying and in which direction and in groups of how many. I’m feeling the seasons change, and sensing the patterns and flows of the natural energies of this little patch of earth that is mine to love and protect and cherish and nurture. I call this “talking to the trees” and in a way it replaces the daily meditation I used to do when I lived in the city.

I try to learn all I can about the local flora and fauna. I have a shelf of reference books on trees, birds, wildflowers, herbs, edible wild plants, etc. and I whenever I notice something new, I try to look it up, figure out what it is, and remember its name. Because for me the first step in learning about the spiritual or magical properties of a plant, animal, tree, etc. is to understand as much as I can about its physical nature, its habitat, and so on. Then I try to learn about its spiritual or magical nature through working with it or observing it or meditating on it or connecting with its energy.

I cultivate the land. I grow a garden. I plant trees and shrubs. I’m careful to stick to species that are native, or at least fit in well with what’s already here. This month we will be planting a small orchard of apple, cherry, plum, and rowan trees. I’ll also be planting blueberries, cranberries, currants and grapes. I’m learning about permaculture methods that work in our climate, and looking into what nut trees will do well here.

But I like to think that I’m pragmatic about it, too. I don’t treat my natural surroundings as something so sacred that I shouldn’t touch it. There are wild apple trees in our hedgerow that I would like to rehabilitate if possible. This means they need a fairly severe pruning, and that I will have to cut down the buckthorn shrubs that are competing with the apples for food & water & light. I’m cutting saplings out of our hedgerow to use as tomato stakes – it makes more sense to me than buying tomato stakes from a garden center. More saplings will grow.

I am dissatisfied with the above paragraphs, but I can’t figure out how to improve on them. I think that perhaps trying to explain the connection that I feel to the land is like trying to explain what it feels like to be in love. You can’t really.

Meditation & tarot & journaling

As I explained in Part 1 of this essay, the practical part of my pagan practice started with meditation and tarot and journaling. I do less of that these days, though I feel I should do more and would really like to.

Meditation and energy work taught me a great deal as I started to practice. I did almost everything intuitively. I would start with a standard “ground and center” and then just see where the meditation took me that day. I remember one day t! and I were doing some spiritual work together and he asked me, “What colour energy do you work with?” I didn’t really understand the question, because I’ve never controlled what colour my personal energy was, I discover what colour it is when I look to my center. Some days it’s blue, some days green, some days yellow, etc. The earth’s energy changes colour day-to-day too, when I make a connection to it though yellow, white, and green are more common than any other colours. I don’t know what this ‘means’ or if indeed it means anything, it’s just the way I’ve always experienced it. Through meditation I learned how to connect with the energy of the earth, of the elements, of a tree or a plant or a cloud or the wind. I learned how to shield and how to travel on the spiritual (or astral) plane.

I haven’t done very much meditation lately, largely because of our dog Carter. We got him in early December and I discovered almost immediately that his energy was so new and big and different and pervasive and, well, just so energetic, that I couldn’t settle my own energy enough to meditate with him around. But I’m getting used to it now, and he’s settling down more and more as he gets older, and the weather is improving so I’ll be able to meditate outside where there’s more psychic ‘space’, so I hope to get back to meditating more regularly soon.

But my notebook (or grimoire) is always there whenever I need it, and I even wrote part of yesterday’s essay in it, while I was sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for the Toyota mechanics to finish working on our car. I use my grimoire for many different things: journaling about a tarot draw, or a meditation session, notes from any pagan workshop or conference or ritual or class that I go to, notes about what wildlife I’ve seen or looked up, story ideas, poetry, recording my mental & emotional state (I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, and writing things down helps me remember that a ‘down’ day is just that, not a total failing as a human being). I use it to record anything I learn that’s related to my spirituality that I’m afraid I’ll forget if I don’t write it down. I used to also keep all my gardening records in my grimoire, but now that we’re living on six acres and I’m trying to build a small farm here, I bought a separate record book for the farm/garden.

My tarot deck is always there, too, though it tends to be a little more vocal about having been ignored than the grimoire. t! and I discuss tarot occasionally, which is always fun and interesting.

Playing well with others

Once The Way of the Green Witch had started me on my path, I went back to the book shops and, instead of looking for an introductory book that would explain things, I started looking at everything with “green” or “natural” or “earth” in the title or subtitle. I picked up Starhawk’s Earth Path (which ended up being #3 on the list of most important books to my personal spiritual path, see below), which then led me to find the Montreal Reclaiming Community.

For the rest of the time that I lived in Montreal, I worked with Reclaiming folks fairly regularly. Discovering how to do pagan ritual with others was a fantastic experience, and I learned a huge amount, and met some truly wonderful people. With the Montreal Reclaiming community, I did classes and workshops and conferences, planned and ran public rituals, met in the woods and on the mountain and by the edge of the river, explored the elements and ecology and emotions and energy, went to drumming circles, taught canning, and even attended a wedding.

Reclaiming is a pretty close fit to my path, and if I were still living in Montreal I would almost certainly still be working with the Reclaiming folks on a regular basis. I miss having others to work with occasionally, and I’m thinking about how to fix that.

Traditional Pagan Stuff: My altar

One of the things that didn’t resonate with me when I was reading the Paganism 101 books was the idea of setting up an altar at which to worship the Goddess (and God). Part of the problem was all the “Here is a picture of my altar” pages you find on pagan websites, which show a bunch of silk scarves and statuettes and candles and pentacles and branches of (sometimes fake, plastic!) greenery. They were so far from what I consider spiritual that they turned me off the idea entirely. But one day I was reading about setting up an altar with objects that symbolized the elements, and I looked at the kitchen windowsill over the sink. On it was my mortar & pestle, a cup with some wildflowers from the garden, two large pebbles – one each from a beach in PEI and one in Victoria, BC, and a photo of some grasses blowing in the wind that my father took. So I shrugged and added a candle. And a couple of other small things.

I resisted calling it an altar for a long time because I associated the word too strongly with both Wicca & Christianity (not that I have a problem with either, it’s just that I was doing neither and didn’t, at the time, feel it was appropriate to borrow the trappings of a different religion). I learned more and realised that altars are pretty universal, and I couldn’t come up with a better name for the windowsill above the kitchen sink that held the bits and pieces I associated with my developing pagan practice.

When we moved I agonised about it for a couple of months, and then splurged on a piece of furniture to be a dedicated altar. It stands in the kitchen, with shelves to hold my books, herbs, incense and tarot cards, a surface for the altar ‘proper’, a drawer, and a cupboard. I don’t do very much ‘work’ at my altar, I’ve never cast a spell there. I use it mainly to honour the seasons and as a focal point when I’m sending energy to someone who needs it.

I do very little spellwork – in fact I think I’ve only ever done two formal spells. They both worked beautifully, though.

All the stuff I/we do that’s ecological living & homesteading, but also part of my pagan ‘practice’.

None of this stuff is paganism. But it’s all part of my path because that’s the way I live my path. As a green witch, my day-to-day life and my pagan path aren’t separate, they’re one and the same. I know the following might come across as holier-than-thou. There’s nothing I can do about that except to say that I don’t mean it that way:

The Garden: My ultimate goal is to produce as much of our own food as possible here on our land. Starting this year with a large vegetable garden that should produce most of our veg for the year, and chickens for both eggs and meat, and fruit and nut trees. The vegetable seeds are open pollinated, heirloom, organic, and/or saved myself from last year. The trees are heirloom varieties, the chickens are a Canadian rare breed. The varieties of plants and animals that were grown/raised before modern farming methods are more ecologically sound choices. Plus they taste better.

From Scratch: For the past couple of years t! and I have been trying to reduce the amount of packaged food we buy and eat. I cook almost everything from scratch, including baking my own bread. t! takes a home-made lunch to work every day. The freezer is full of local meat and home-made soups and stews and curries and chilies. We’re not perfect. We had a frozen pizza for dinner last night. But we keep trying to do our best.

Eating Local: We buy as much of our food as we can from the farmer’s market, because we like knowing where our food comes from. As Michael Pollan puts it, we “shake the hand that feeds us.” Our beef comes from our friend Peter’s farm, where we’ve stood in the middle of his field and petted his cows. We buy red deer & wild boar sausages and free range eggs from Hans, and pork, lamb and our Christmas turkey from Artje. The vegetables I can’t grow myself, I buy from Alan. We get apples and juice from Tessa. Our flour, beans, cooking oil, and dog food comes from the mill that’s been in Tom’s family for three generations. We also like the fact that our money is going directly to our neighbours, not to the shareholders of Proctor & Gamble.

Homesteading: raising livestock for food, canning & preserving, hunting & trapping, making jam & jelly, sewing, quilting, stocking up for the winter, being prepared for a power failure or being snowed in, etc.

Ecological living: recycling, compact fluorescent light bulbs, a very fuel efficient car, composting, all that good stuff is a fundamental part of the way we live.

How t! and I practice together, or not

My husband’s path is completely different from my own. There are some things we both do, like using tarot, keeping a grimoire, and having an altar, but the similarities pretty much end there. He calls his path Performance Shamanism, and it’s about creativity and being the best human being he possibly can, and showing others that they can do/be/create anything. So we don’t practice together very much, instead we support each other’s practice as much as we can. When we do practice together it’s usually something about our home, and we build a ritual together that works for both of us. And we have discussions about paganism and ritual and community and tarot and self-awareness.

What I don’t do

I also sometimes joke that the reason that I don’t ‘believe in’ or work with deity is that I’m a fundamentalist animist. I ‘believe’ that everything has a spirit, or energy. Every rock, every tree, every bird, every flower, every mountain, every lake and river and ocean. With all those spirits and energies to work with and learn from, I don’t need (or, to be honest, understand) ‘extra’ spirits in the form of gods and goddesses that, in my view, kind of ‘float around’ not attached to anything. Again, I’m not saying they don’t exist, just that they aren’t (usually) part of my practice. I have, on a special occasion, once asked a question of The Green Man. If a godform should one day tap me on the shoulder during meditation, I’m not going to put my fingers in my ears and sing “la la la I can’t hear you” because that would be dumb.

I don’t experience the earth as female or the sun as male. Gender plays almost no role in my practice, because gender isn’t a useful or informative attribute of the things I’m working with. Most of the trees, herbs, wildflowers, vegetables, etc. that I work with have hermaphroditic flowers, or separate make and female flowers in the same plant. It’s unusual in the plant kingdom for an individual to have gender (some species of trees, such as holly are exceptions). The animal kingdom of course, has gender, and sex, and lots of it. I look out my window and see a pair of chickadees chasing each other like fighter pilots through the cedars or two chipmunks spiraling up an ash tree. It’s all part of the cycle of life, but it doesn’t have a specific place in my practice.

I don’t cast a circle for my own work. The purpose of a circle, as I understand it is to set up a special magical space, separate from the ‘real world’ in which to work, undisturbed. As a green witch, my connection to the ‘real world’ is part of how I do my magical work, and try as I might, I can’t stop seeing the circle (or more rightly, sphere) of energy as a barrier between me and the earth. I will happily help to cast a circle when I’m working with a group, because the circle prevents the group’s energy from splashing out all over the place – which considering how much energy is raised at some of the Reclaiming rituals I’ve been to, would be very messy indeed.

I don’t work with the cardinal directions. I’ve tried to form associations between the elements and the cardinal points, but it just doesn’t work for me, so they are not part of my regular practice. I don’t invoke the four elements, but I do greet them (with a respectful “Hello” or a cheery “Good morning,” depending on my mood and theirs) and anything else I’m working with, such as a specific tree or herb. I work extensively with element energies in meditation.

I mostly don’t celebrate the sabbats. When I was working with Reclaiming I helped to plan public rituals for sabbats, and had fun and learned a lot doing so. I helped t! plan and run Ostara rituals for a couple of years. We used to take our outdoor Christmas lights down for Ostara, now we take them down for Earth Hour instead. I don’t have any problem with the sabbats or seasonal celebrations, and am very happy to take part in them when invited, but they don’t really apply to someone who is living with the actual agricultural calendar in a particular part of North America. The day the wild apple trees in our hedge bloom will be a day of celebration for me. As will the day we plant our own orchard, and the day I break the ground for the vegetable patch, and the day I pick up the baby chicks from the hatchery, and the day the first tomato ripens. I plan to try to have a bunch of our pagan friends come out to our place sometime in the autumn to celebrate harvest, but the date will be flexible.

I keep track of when the equinoxes and solstices are, but don’t usually mark them in any special way. Starting next summer though, I will probably have a bonfire on or around the summer solstice, because of this fascinating piece of information I found in The Apple Grower, by Michael Phillips:

“…the summer solstice also marks the time when [Codling Moths, a particularly nasty destructive pest of apple and other fruit trees] are actively laying eggs. Alex Person, a philosophizing orchardist if ever there was one, thought about this concurrence. Moths fly at night. Moths are attracted to light. Bonfires burn bright… Ten or more fires light the night sky along the ridge of this Wisconsin orchard. Streams of moths fly down the rows to consummate a deep pagan understanding…”

He also advocates doing your grafting by the lunar cycles, by the way.

What I read

The three books that have resonated the most with me are:

  • The Way of the Green Witch by Arin Murphy-Hiscock
  • A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
  • The Earth Path by Starhawk

Other paganism books I’ve found useful are:

  • Deepening Witchcraft by Grey Cat
  • The Spiral Dance by Starhawk
  • The Inner Temple of Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak
  • Power Spellcraft for Life by Arin Murphy-Hiscock

A much bigger section of my bookshelves is taken up with books that aren’t about paganism, but which inform my life as a green witch nonetheless:

  • The Complete book of Self Sufficiency by John Seymour
  • In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  • The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall
  • The Herb Book by John Lust
  • Edible Wild Plants by Lee Allen Peterson
  • and the National Audubon Society field guides to trees, wildflowers, birds, etc.

(If anyone, having read this, has recommendations for other books I might find useful or interesting, I’d love to hear them!)

My Pagan Path, Part 3: Challenges and What Lies Ahead will be posted tomorrow.

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Why I’m writing this

The ideas for this essay started bouncing around in my head when I proofread t!’s contribution to Arin‘s upcoming book, Out of the Broom Closet. Then Brendan Myers started asking some very interesting and thought-provoking questions on his blog, and so I’ve been thinking a lot about my pagan path lately. Also, it’s spring, the time for re-awakenings. This is mostly just for myself, to have thought about it and organized it in my head enough to write it, but it’s also for sharing – for my friends who might be interested to know more about my path & practice, and also as a public documentation of “What I do as a pagan and why I do it that way” because, as I’ll explain below, I found very little of this kind of material when I was searching.

How I got here, and where ‘here’ is

I sometimes joke that I “married into” paganism. t! is pagan, in fact when we met he was the president of the Montreal Pagan Resource Centre and a dedicant in a Wiccan coven. He passed the presidency of the MPRC on to someone else shortly after we started going out, and the rules of his coven meant he didn’t talk very much about what went on there, so I actually didn’t have a lot of exposure to his spiritual practices at first, except for his various personal practices. Which I would sometimes gently ask about, and he’d explain as much as he could. At the time, I was reading the Tao Te Ching in search of a spiritual path that suited me.

My religious or spiritual background is fairly pedestrian: I was raised Presbyterian (liberal Canadian Presbyterian, not scary strict Scottish Presbyterian) by a Catholic mother and Protestant father, until the age of 12 when I refused to be confirmed, because I wasn’t comfortable with standing up in front of our church’s congregation and saying that I believed in God when I wasn’t sure I did. I went through my adolescent atheist period, and then in my late 20s, while living in the UK, started going to Church of England services vaguely regularly with my friend Emma because the vicar was thoughtful and intelligent and had some very interesting things to say. I also started going to the local Friends (Quaker) Meeting House. I liked the fact that the Quakers were active in social justice, had no priests, and that you didn’t technically have to believe in Jesus, even though most Friends did. The fact that I didn’t need to stand and mumble my way through the Lord’s Prayer, feeling slightly guilty about it every week was also a big plus.

So almost five years ago I was looking into Taoism, but it didn’t ‘take’ with me, it’s a beautiful philosophy, but I couldn’t figure out how to build any kind of spiritual practice around it, and that’s what I was looking for – a personal spiritual practice that resonated with my life, my values, and, for lack of a better word, my ‘beliefs’.

Since t! and many of his close friends were pagans, and paganism was supposedly a “nature-based religion”, and ‘nature’ was a big part of my personal spirituality, I started to ‘poke at’ paganism, mainly by reading books, websites, elists, and LJ communities. Why didn’t I just ask t!, or someone else about it? A number of reasons: 1. t!’s coven had secrecy rules. He wasn’t allowed to tell me much about what they did. 2. Canadians in general don’t talk about their religion much, and I was raised to feel that it’s vaguely impolite to ask. 3. As an introvert, I’ve always found it much easier to learn things by reading books than by asking people questions 4. I didn’t really know what to ask.

In a way my teenage atheism never completely went away, because the biggest barrier that I kept hitting as I read various introductory-level paganism books and websites was Deity. What I was reading kept telling me how empowered I now was as a woman because as a pagan I believed in the Goddess (and possibly also the God). And that there was an entire pantheon of gods and goddesses, each with different attributes and specialties and personalities, so that I could choose which one(s) to worship / honour / work with / use in my majick spells.

The focus on the female aspect of deity seemed to be so central to paganism (understandably, as many of the world’s religions distinguish themselves by their definition of deity) that it excluded me. To put it crudely, I don’t “believe in” the Goddess and the God. But it has nothing to do with “belief” – I’m certainly not about to deny that the God and the Goddess (or Hecate, or Diana, or Pan, or Jesus or Mohammed) *exist*. It’s just that my concept of Deity is something that is pure energy, and exists primarily on the spiritual plane. The idea of Deity having the very human attributes of personality quirks and gender doesn’t make very much sense to me. And it certainly doesn’t fit into my personal spirituality. What I was reading about paganism was telling me that if I wasn’t willing to “believe in” or at least “work with” the Goddess and the God, then I couldn’t be a pagan. So I left it for a while.

Months later, t! and I were away for a weekend, and he had brought a few of his tarot decks with him. We spent a couple of hours one evening with the cards spread out on the bed. He told me the story of the fool’s journey, showed me his favourite cards, explained the differences between different decks, and told me how he worked with the tarot. I’d had a tarot reading done for me once, years ago, and found it both interesting and useful. t!’s explanations confirmed for me that tarot was, at very least, a great tool for accessing one’s own subconscious mind, and possibly a lot more besides. I borrowed one of t!’s decks, and started to look into buying one myself. I spent all my spare time for a week on the Aeclectic Tarot website, and finally decided on my first (and still primary) deck: the World Spirit Tarot. I adore it. These days, every time I go back to working with it after a time away, I am struck again by how much I like it, how well it suits me, and how glad I am that I bought it.

I asked t! to buy me a nice notebook to record my tarot work in, which he did, and I started to work with my deck by doing a card draw first thing in the morning at my studio before I started my work for the day. I soon figured out that the tarot work went much, much better if I did that “centering and grounding” thing that I’d read about in the Paganism 101 books. Every day I recorded what I was discovering about tarot (and about myself, natch) in my nice notebook. Without having made any kind of decision to do so, the “centering and grounding” gradually evolved into meditation, and then into meditation and energy work.

So I’m doing a daily grounding & centering, meditation & energy work, and tarot draw, and recording it all in my special notebook. But I’m still not calling myself a pagan because of that pesky Goddess.

To be fair, though, it wasn’t just the Goddess and other deities. Heck, if it was I probably would have just called myself an “atheist pagan” and jumped right in! It was also the fact that much of the introductory material I found was somewhat Wicca-centric (or otherwise Gardner-derived), and so tended to “Here’s how to practice witchcraft: you need an athame and a wand and a pentacle and an image of the goddess, and here’s how you arrange them on your altar, and here’s how to cast a circle, and here’s how to celebrate the sabbats.”

And most of this stuff, though interesting, didn’t resonate with me. Having a pretty ceremonial knife that you were supposed to never cut anything with seemed slightly bizarre to someone who has spent most of her adult life with a Swiss army knife in her pocket. Knives are meant to cut things, that’s their function, their purpose. I really, truly don’t mean to mock other people’s beliefs here, or sound dismissive. I’m trying to explain, through example, why I felt at the time that paganism wasn’t for me. My way of seeing / interacting with the natural world (which is what my spirituality is all about) seemed to simply not mesh with the descriptions of paganism that I was finding.

Then I read Arin’s book The Way of the Green Witch which said,

“The green witch … does not necessarily worship the gods and goddesses that are expressions and representations of earth patterns and energy. The planet itself is an archetype of nurturing, but further refinement of that archetype is not necessary for the green witch.”

and

“…there are no instructions for creating a magic circle in which you must work, no calling on deities, no sequences of formal ritual that must be enacted precisely as written.”

and

“Some green witches are comfortable talking about fairies or devas, whereas others roll their eyes and get down to hoeing the garden.”

and I thought “That’s it! That’s me! I’m a ‘hoeing the garden pagan’!”

oh, and,

“An essential green witch tool is a sharp knife used to harvest herbs and other plants.”

Hah!

It also said a lot of other stuff about earth energies and the elements and gardening and cooking and crafting, most of which resonated strongly with me in a way that none of the other material I had read had.

And, perhaps most importantly, The Way of the Green Witch made it perfectly clear that I could do things my own way, that the book was just a bunch of suggestions for things I might find useful, or want to try to see if they worked for me. For example, when talking about invoking the elements, her wording was “you can choose to recognize them in your practice,” and “if you choose to invoke all four elements.” Unlike the other material I had read, I wasn’t being told that I would “need to write a little poem” (Marian Green, A Witch Alone) and invoke Air in the East by walking widdershins around my circle.

Now I had a starting point that felt right, and I could begin to develop my personal spiritual practice as a Green Witch.

 

Part 2: My Green Witch Practice (What I do and Why) will be posted tomorrow.

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