What Do You Believe? Belief, Knowing, and Neopaganism

A gentleman occultist whom I respect a good deal made a post on social media today which received a lot of attention. I want to respond to it, but I felt that responding elsewhere was more respectful because I have a very different perspective from him on this topic. I don’t want to give the appearance of attacking his perspective in front of his many friends; I only intend to present a separate and (I feel) needed slant on this matter. The gentleman in question is intelligent and thoughtful, and I have no quarrel with him personally.

The question was about the existence of ‘personal theologies.’ Someone asked him “I am confused by your theology. What do you believe?” And his response was “I believe in the theology of “I don’t know, and I don’t know that we can know fully, at least not right now.”

Of course (and predictably) a lot of people demonstrated high approval of his answer. I respect his right (or anyone’s right) to take the stance of agnosticism and position it at the center of his personal epistemology. I, however, take a very different approach. The reasons why I take a different approach might matter to a lot of people out there who are struggling through the confusions and conflicts of our modern world, and that’s why I’m writing this.

Continue reading

Unawake and Unsleeping: Hypnagogic Prayer and Invocation in Witchcraft

 

hypno4* * *

“From spark, from ember I raise up the Warm One
As the Lady in the House Below would raise him;
In the Gudeman’s name I raise him,
And this good home I give him.”

-The ule or Fire Charm from The Witch Dreams by Robin Artisson

*

“Master mischievous and misshapen,
Giving power to sorcerers in sacred dreams,
Be kind.”

-From The Elphillock Charm

* * *

Pre-Modern Witchcraft and the World of Sleep and Dreams

The most profound difference between modern witchcraft and the witchcraft of Early Modern Europe lies in the primary experiential stage that the witchcraft itself is encountered upon. For people practicing most of the forms of modern witchcraft, the primary encounter with “The Craft” lies within ceremony and ritual; “magical tools” with elemental associations are utilized within circles drawn and ‘quarters’ called, either indoors or out- and this is because most modern witchcraft is a recent decendant of European ceremonial magic, albeit a simplified form of ceremonial magic blended with heady doses of spiritualism, Neopagan Goddess worship or the worship of other divine figures from pre-Christian times, and a vaguely Eastern-flavored brew of “all is consciousness/energy” mentalism-monism and ideas of spiritual development through karma.

But the people living before the Industrial Revolution (and some living for a good while into it) who were mediators of the complex cultural phenomenon of historical witchcraft primarily encountered the agencies and powers that stood behind witchcraft  in sleep, in vision, and dreams. This difference, and the many reasons why it is critically important, can never really be emphasized enough. Continue reading

Being Held, Being Home: A Review and Analysis of Ari Aster’s Film “Midsommar”

MIDS_Murals_3.0

Warning: The following review and analysis of Ari Aster’s folk horror movie Midsommar contains extreme spoilers. If you have not yet seen Midsommar, but plan on seeing it, read this article afterwards.

* * *

Separating the Layers

Before I can begin to give my analysis of Ari Aster’s masterpiece folk horror film Midsommar, I have to clear up something with my reading audience which is critical regarding their understanding of my approach. Ari Aster is an accomplished filmmaker and story-teller. Like all good works of film, and like all good stories, Midsommar is a complex work that operates on more than one level at the same time. When these different levels are presented in a finished form, they are all combined; this combination of the various layers, techniques, and messages is the movie as we see it on the screen.

But to perform an analysis of the film and to tease out its many messages and communications, we have to separate these distinctive levels. Midsommar is a horror movie, specifically a folk horror movie, which endears it to me (almost) automatically, for folk horror is my favorite genre of film. There is a certain level of Midsommar that is truly horrific- we can call it the “horror layer” if we want. And this layer is required for the movie to be what it was intended to be: a horror movie. Continue reading

Gratitude From the Depths: Shaping A Personal Devotional Practice

offeringpoint2

A member of the Circle of the White Stag community asked an important question. What follows is the question, and my answer.

“Spirituality is a hard thing for me. It’s one of the primary drives for the changes I’m making in my life over the next year. Changes to simplify and realign the course the rest of my life will take. Exciting and daunting to be sure but well worth it at the end of the day, I believe. And it’s another reason I need to lean on this community and the advice and encouragement you all provide. To that end I’d like to discuss the oath (of belonging), if I may, and how to apply it to the business of living and to gain a better understanding of it in general. The first phrase calls upon us to put the Ancient White One and the White Queen first in our reverence. To me this means, among other things, devotion. Which is great as I need a focus for daily/weekly/regular spiritual activities. One question is how do offer devotion to “pillars of reality”? I know they don’t need such things so is it wise to make them a focus of regular devotional practise? If anyone is inclined to share how do you structure your reverence and apply this first phrase to your life?”

* * *

“The most important thing I think I can say about this is regarding the idea of personal devotional structure. In some way, nothing helps as much as a good devotional practice, and nothing hurts as much as failing to keep a devotional practice up. And so, I always counsel people to go as easy on themselves as possible- to create an easy-to-maintain devotional schedule or structure, so that the possibility of “failing” at it is all but eliminated. You get more from something you can maintain for years with ease than you do from something that’s complex and impressive-seeming, but can’t be maintained for longer than a few weeks or months. Continue reading

A Fairy Common Confusion: Fairyism and Neopaganism in the Modern World

fairiess

“Fairies and the Peasant Girl” by Yuliya Litvinova

If Fairy folklorists agree on anything, it’s that the origins of the conception of the fairy draw upon many pre-Christian strands of cultural belief. In the fairy of folklore, we see the shadowy remnants of the human dead, of ancestors, of some old Pagan Gods, of some nature spirits, and so forth. There isn’t a single category or “species” of beings called fairies with their own unique origin, their own uniform appearance, fairy laws, fairy customs, fairy rulers, and fairy natures. You only get such ideas in very late, localized stories belonging to distinctive cultural regions, and only because of the creative needs (and cultural assumptions and limitations) of certain storytellers.

Anthropology and History, however, reveal a deeper perspective on the complex reality of fairies that we can’t ignore.

By the time you believe in Pagan Gods, Ancestors, and nature spirits and worship them (as most Neopagans do), you don’t need to add fairies to that mix because you already technically have them; you are already reaching out to the very beings and forces that fairies are later cultural descendants and memories of. Sticking “fairies” next to your Gods, Ancestors, and nature spirits is redundant. And blending Pagan and post-Pagan cultural lore, absent of historical context, is a recipe for disaster (or at the least metaphysical confusion.)

People in later times weren’t often consciously aware of the origins of the “fairies” they heard cultural tales about. Some places in Britain or Ireland storied the fairies one way; others storied them other ways. In some places, they are given a distinctive character: the fairies are X in appearance, X in character and temperament, and so forth. For those people, in those times and places, that’s what the fairies were. That’s what they believed.

But that’s not the whole story of “fairies”, and that can’t be taken as an authoritative pronouncement of what “fairies” are by us today. The folk tradition isn’t making theological pronouncements nor revealing a singular, orderly cosmology meant to be taken as fully-shaped and authoritative. That’s not what folk tradition does. Continue reading