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I am delighted to announce that The Centre For Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation are publishing the revised and expanded edition of Dark Mirror: the Inner Work of Witchcraft by me, Yvonne Aburrow.
They are also publishing a new edition of my follow-up book, The Night Journey: Witchcraft as Transformation.
My first guest column at The Wild Hunt.
I have been anxious for months, years even. I have watched with growing horror the rise of right-wing populism, the melting of the icecaps, the burning of Australia, the beginnings of wars over water and resources, the seemingly inexorable destruction wrought by climate change. The protests of Fridays for Future and Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion gave me some cause for optimism, but it is also obvious that governments have not been doing enough to turn the economy around to stop the production of carbon emissions. So when everyone suddenly swung into action to deal with the coronavirus crisis, it gave me some hope that perhaps now the needful actions to deal with climate change (many of which, it turns out, are quite similar to the actions needed to flatten the curve of coronavirus transmission) would seem doable. It also feels like now everyone else is as anxious as me.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like my new book, Dark Mirror: the Inner Work of Witchcraft.
I thought regular readers of Dowsing for Divinity might like to know that I now have a public Instagram account, @birdberrybooks, where I will be posting videos, talks, photos, book reviews, and news of upcoming events and workshops.
So we had a very enjoyable brainstorming session via email, with a total of fifty-five different suggestions for names for the blog. But we kept coming back to dowsing imagery, with its connotations of looking for hidden currents, connections with the unseen, hidden waters, and hidden patterns.
We also liked the fact that divining is another name for dowsing, so there is a pleasing symmetry in the name Dowsing for Divinity. The divine, if we choose to listen for it, to feel for its presence, is hidden just below the surface of things, in the woods and the waters and the rocks and trees, hidden in plain sight in the land itself.
As W B Yeats wrote:
Once every people in the world believed that trees were divine, and could take a human or grotesque shape and dance among the shadows; and that deer, and ravens and foxes, and wolves and bears, and clouds and pools, almost all things under the sun and moon, and the sun and moon, were not less divine and changeable. They saw in the rainbow the still-bent bow of a god thrown down in his negligence; they heard in the thunder the sound of his beaten water jar, or the tumult of his chariot wheels; and when a sudden flight of wild ducks, or of crows, passed over their heads, they thought they were gazing at the dead hastening to their rest….
I love this quote, and it was for me the starting-point in the creative process of finding a new name for the blog.
— Yvonne Aburrow
When the three of us started brainstorming a new name together, once someone tossed out the word “dowsing,” we kept circling back to it. Dowsing is a form of divination sometimes known as “water witching” because it’s often been used to find ground water (though it can also be employed to find metal, lost objects, gravesites, and more). To dowse, the diviner holds a forked stick with one end in each of their hands, and then follows the motion of the third end to find what they’re seeking.
I love dowsing as an image for the kind of theological exploration we do on this blog. Dowsing is an intuitive, physical activity that requires a receptive state of mind. Of course, we bring our education and analytical skills to our writing—these intellectual resources provide essential structure for our theology and practice. But the heart of what we’re creating here is experiential, not intellectual: it reaches for a place that is beyond words, but as close as our own flesh. Through writing and thinking and living and being, we are seeking: Divinity? Mystery? Our Selves? Perhaps all of those and more.
Dowsing also appeals to me as a metaphor because of the close relationship between spirit and water in many cultures. Water is used for blessings and baptisms; it can be found in healing baths and holy wells; it makes up 60% or more of our bodies, and it is essential for life. To me, dowsing for hidden water is a perfect image for spiritual seeking.
— Christine Hoff Kraemer
Pick up the forked stick and move by feel and feeling, towards the secret source, the spring and springing. Suss out sympathetic resonances, wait for the dip, the tug and pull. Close the eyes and trust that there is water, that you will find it. Dare to step forward.
To dowse is to listen. To dowse is to walk, aware.
In this space, we do theology by gut, by feel, listening under the surfaces of events and words, making our way through the terrains of intuition, experience and reflection.
Reflection…another water word. Pointing us back to the original mirror, the calm pool, surface in which to see and seek.
This is the video of my talk at Witchfest in Croydon, November 2014. The talk discusses expanding and deepening our understanding of the concepts of polarity and fertility, what tradition is and how it works, what we bring into circle (our whole self, or do we bring only our essence, and what does our essence include?) and how to make Wicca more LGBTQI-inclusive, with examples from rituals and from history.
In my talk, and in my book, I advocate a more nuanced understanding of gender, sexuality, and biological sex, and using these understandings to inform our understanding of magical concepts like polarity and fertility.
In the middle of my talk, we did a practical demonstration of another form of polarity, asking all the people who were born under Air and Fire signs to create energy together, and all the people who were born under Earth and Water signs to make energy together. We then merged the two energies together. Polarity happened. And the room became warmer and everybody became more animated. The energy changed. (We didn’t video that part of the event because of issues of consent.)
There are many different forms of polarity, and whilst it is great that a man and a woman can make polarity, many other pairings can also make polarity – and even if you are focussing on male/female polarity in your rituals, you may be sure that other types of polarity are also occurring at the same time. The bottom line is: if one person can generate polarity with another person, regardless of gender, sexuality, or biological sex, let them do so. If a same-sex couple, or a man and a woman who are not a couple, or a person born under an Air sign and a person born under an Earth sign, or any other combination where oppositeness can be generated, want to make magic together, then let them do so. And no-one is saying you can’t have male-female polarity and heterosexual symbolism. We are just saying, why does it have to be that 100% of the time?
At a previous discussion of this, back in the summer, a couple of people said they felt that you don’t bring your personal stuff into circle (of course you don’t bring petty concerns about the shopping and the car etc into circle, but you do bring your core identity, which includes sexual orientation). But I bring my whole self, including my politics, gender identity, and sexual orientation, before the deities. I don’t leave behind my concerns about the struggle for justice for Black communities, or First Nations, or women, or LGBTQI people, when I am in circle – I do magic to support those struggles.
Others have commented that we should not adapt religious traditions to suit ourselves, but should allow the tradition to transform us. Yes, up to a point, but when the tradition excludes a whole group of people because of who they are, then it is time to dig deeper. If we look at the concepts of polarity, fertility, and gender as they are expressed in traditional magical texts (which are the source material for Wiccan ritual, as demonstrated in the excellent book Wicca: Magickal Beginnings, by Sorita d’Este and David Rankine), we can see that they are separate and distinct concepts, which are not reducible to a simple and restrictive gender binary. If we look at ancient pagan traditions (which Wicca also claims to draw upon) then we can see that they were also inclusive of people with diverse gender and sexual identities.
For me, Wicca is neither solely a path of self-development, not is it only a path of service to the deities. I was taught that we work in partnership with the deities. The deities are more powerful in their realm, but they need our physical embodied presence and co-operation to get stuff done in the physical world. I discuss this in some depth in chapter 14 of my book, All Acts of Love and Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca, and I also touched on it in chapter 16. I wrote a whole chapter on it in Priestesses, Pythonesses, and Sibyls, edited by Sorita d’Este.
Traditions evolve, and Wicca is evolving. They evolve because they are living and moving discourses, not fossils set in stone. Wicca is received differently by the different cultures in which it is practised, because of history and culture and context. Tradition is not a fixed and unchanging thing. Of course we should be mindful of accuracy in transmitting what has been handed down to us, because history and oral transmission of lore are important – but that does not mean we cannot change and adapt things, provided we transmit the original versions of the rituals that we received.
A happy New Year to all the readers of Sermons from the Mound, and may 2015 bring you happiness, health, and peace.
The term theology was coined by Cicero in 45 BCE in his book, De Natura Deorum (“On the nature of the Gods”). The book presented three different perspectives on theology – the skeptical, the Epicurean, and the Stoic, and was presented in the form of a dialogue between the three viewpoints.
What can we learn from this? Pagan theology can be discursive and involve dialogue between different schools of thought. It can include skepticism and non-theism. It does not lay down dogma or doctrine, but is exploratory.
The word theology means “reasoning about the Divine”. There are various different ways of doing theology – there is apologetics (explaining your religion to a member of another religion or belief system); systematic theology (an attempt to lay out your theology in a systematic and logical way); philosophical theology (theology based on the ideas of philosophy); mystical theology (an account of the Divine based on direct mystical experience); postmodern theology (theologies that take account of postmodernist theory); popular theology (deriving theology from the ideas of the whole community, rather than from academic theologians only); and contextual theology (fitting your theology to the cultural context).
There are also many different styles and schools of theology, some of which are of interest to Pagans and have influenced the Pagan revival – these include process theology (the idea that the Divine is a process, changing and growing with humanity, not an entity); Transcendentalism (the idea that we can transcend all religious belief systems and encounter the Divine directly); feminist theology (theology informed by feminist ideas, including the Goddess); queer the0logy (theology informed by LGBTQ sexuality); and liberation theology (liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions).
Other ideas that might inform Pagan theology include feminism, queer theory, and deep ecology. We should also look to other religions within the same dharma-space, such as Hinduism, Taoism, Shinto, and indigenous religions.
Theology is not only the theory of what deities are; it is also about ethics – how we relate to ourselves and other beings. It also includes theodicy (explaining how evil occurs). It is the theory that underpins ritual practice. What does it mean to call the quarters? Why do Wiccans consecrate cakes and wine? Why do we cast a circle? Why do Heathens bless their ritual space with mead? Why do some Pagans make offerings to the deities? What is prayer? What is magic?
A Pagan theological conversation is happening, but many people are worried that it will involve the formulation of doctrine. I think this is very unlikely, especially given the wide variety of ideas in Paganism.
Hinduism has many different schools of thought, and none of them are branded as heretics; they co-exist peacefully. The word haeresis (from which heretic is derived) originally meant a school of thought, rather than a deviation from the “one true way” of orthodoxy.
It is more likely that we will settle for unexamined assumptions about how the world works if we fail to have a theological conversation. For instance, the gender binary is widely accepted among Pagans, and we need to have a conversation about the gender of deities, polarity, and how that affects sexuality. There have been a number of excellent articles relating to gender, sexuality, and polarity; but sometimes it feels as if queer Pagans are lone voices crying in the wilderness, and heterocentric Pagans proceed unabashed with their heteronormative agenda.
We need to talk about whether Paganism is a “nature religion”, a “fertility religion”, or something else. If Paganism is a nature religion, how come so many Pagans are so fixated on mythology instead of learning about the natural world?
Pagan theology has much to contribute to the interfaith theological dialogue. Because Pagan traditions are world-affirming, non-dogmatic, generally Nature-loving, erotic, mystical, queer-affirming, and feminist, we have an unique perspective to offer.
I have been a Pagan since 1985, when I realised that the various philosophical perspectives I had cobbled together for myself could be described as Pagan. This was a bit scary at the time, because I thought I was the only Pagan in existence; this was pre-internet and before I met other Pagans.
The philosophy I had patched together for myself was this. I had decided that there was no external deity outside the universe, controlling it – how could there be when there was so much wrong with the world? I had decided that sexuality and the body are sacred. I had realised that Nature is full of divinity. And I had realised that if the world is going to get any better, it’s up to us to roll up our sleeves and do the work ourselves, not wait for some deity or deities to do it for us.
These realisations have formed the basis of my Paganism ever since. My emphases have shifted and changed from time to time, but these are my core values. I realised that the label “Pagan” best described my philosophy because I had read Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling. It’s still one of my favourite books.
I also believe that we are not here to serve deities; we are here to work with them as allies to make the world a better place (for all its denizens, human and non-human). The deities need our finite, time-bound and local perspectives as much as we need their infinite, eternal and non-local perspectives.
In 1991, I became a Wiccan, and in 2007, I also joined the Unitarians. However, I have realised that it is too hard to follow two paths and do them both justice. I can only be fully part of one sangha (spiritual community), in one dharma (model of how the universe works), and in one tribe. Wicca is my dharma, my sangha, my tribe. I have learnt much of value from Unitarianism and will always value it. But I need the wildness and eros of Wiccan spirituality; it’s in my soul.
One of the reasons I looked elsewhere was the way in which much of the Pagan community is fixated on a binary gender model; a model into which I do not fit, and which makes me profoundly uncomfortable. The Pagan community is certainly not homophobic, but it can be decidedly heterocentric at times. However, this does seem to be changing – albeit with the slowness of glaciers.
I also affirm the idea that all religions are looking at the same underlying phenomenon from different perspectives; and that includes Christianity. There is much that we can learn from Christian spirituality, even though we reject most of the theology. There are plenty of heretical and mystical ideas that have come out of that tradition which are worth investigating. Many Christians are now interested in these ideas, and in Pagan ideas too. It’s time for dialogue, not flinging stereotypes at each other.
My approach to Wicca (and that of many other Wiccans in the UK) is experimental and fluid. I think that every witch should build up their own Book of Shadows, not regard the text inherited from Gerald Gardner as some kind of holy writ. Wicca is not a religion of the book, and should not become one. Our “holy book” is Nature, not the Book of Shadows. I have other “heretical” ideas about Wicca, which will probably appear in subsequent posts.
And finally, I think that the basis of theology is relationships – our relationships with each other and the world around us.
Two pieces of exciting news today:
First, Yvonne Aburrow is joining Sermons from the Mound as a contributor! Yvonne is the longtime editor of the Pagan theology wiki Theologies of Immanence. Her recent book, Many Names, is a collection of earth-centered prayer and liturgy for Unitarian Universalists Pagans and others working in a multi-faith environment. She has also published several books of folklore and a poetry anthology focusing on place, the seasons, and the sacred. I’m excited to bring her perspective to this blog.
Second, I have a new academic article available on gender and sexuality in contemporary Paganism. It’s a summary of (almost) everything scholarly that has been published on the topic so far — including an article by Yvonne on queer theologies. If you have university library access, please check it out at the Religion Compass site here:
Kraemer, Christine Hoff. “Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Paganism.” Religion Compass 6:8 (2012): 390-401.
Otherwise, it is available through my profile at Academia.edu.