Upon the Paradox of Solitary Practice Within a Fertility Tradition
Article ID: 12565
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Grey Glamer
Posted: September 7th. 2008
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If the practice of Witchcraft teaches us anything, the lesson is this: The cosmos which you and I share is one filled with paradoxes both subtle and breathtaking. One cannot be a walker between the worlds without simultaneously feeling the tension or dissonance between certain seemingly incompatible concepts. Is the Divine many beings, or one alone? Are we the children of an ever-turning wheel, or are we fundamentally eternal?
The reflective Witch understands that such questions are a matter of perspective – by which I mean not the indifference of relativism, but rather, the acceptance that Truth with a capital T transcends our idiosyncratic conceptual frameworks.
Since our ways of being within the world preclude dispensing with such frameworks, though, the best thing we can do is explore those frameworks that shed light, however indirectly, upon Truth. To employ one metaphor from my study of astronomy: One cannot stare directly into the sun without going blind, but one can employ a telescope that projects the image of the sun onto another surface, which we can study. Just don’t mistake the image for the real thing, and don’t assume the image you perceive though your telescope constitutes the only valid image.
Those who walk between the worlds enjoy the perspective through many such telescopes. For the practicing Witch, the Divine can be both many and one, simultaneously. We walk among the changing seasons and the turning of Lady Luna, and still we share eternity. At heart, magic is the celebration of paradox, the dance among different ways of touching that ineffable Truth which lies just beyond our ordinary ken.
So when quite recently I encountered yet another paradox of faith, my inner Witch became excited. I’ve been reading T. Thorn Coyle’s Evolutionary Witchcraft, a glimpse into the Feri Tradition that Coyle follows, and in the third chapter she draws a distinction between ecstatic and fertility traditions. For Coyle, an ecstatic tradition like her own Feri develops and celebrates both feminine and masculine energies within the individual practitioner. Continuing Coyle’s analysis, the fertility traditions conversely explore sexual polarity between woman and man, prescribing distinct roles and spiritual mysteries based on gender.
By way of disclaimer, I haven’t made any pronounced study into those tenets held by the Feri faith – Goddess knows, I haven’t even finished Coyle’s excellent book yet! Moreover, while I consider myself Wiccan, mine is the very eclectic, very idiosyncratic strain of Witchcraft that comes from years of solitary practice. Nevertheless, I do consider myself an heir, however unapparent, to the ancient fertility traditions that contemporary Wicca embraces.
Coyle’s fundamental argument here, that every human being contains both their own physical gender and the complementary gender, resonates deeply with my own feelings upon the subject of sexual polarity. Consequently, I find myself wondering whether my own spiritual path leans more ecstatic or fertility. To be sure, the question can quickly descend into semantics.
Employing the definitions proposed by Coyle, I could say that I actually follow an ecstatic path. By my own reckoning, my path remains fertility-oriented, simply because I myself conceive (I pray the attentive reader will also be charitable and forgive the pun!) the union of feminine and masculine as first and foremost a fertility mystery, whether such union occurs within one single soul or among many.
The critical reader may charge that resolving the tension between “ecstatic” and “fertility” in this way constitutes semantics, pure and simple, and speaking candidly, reducing an argument to semantics isn’t particularly satisfying. To be true unto my starting proposition, as Witch I’m perfectly free to dance between both paradigms, yet dancing means really setting foot within both perspectives, without retreating into the easy refuge of relativism.
Furthermore, stepping on either side of this question raises a deeper question regarding spiritual practice: Excepting the fortunate androgyne, can the solitary practitioner of any fertility tradition ever unlock more than half the puzzle?
Physiologically and psychologically speaking, I am male, though I recognize and honor both feminine and masculine energies within myself. To borrow one example: Being a solitary Witch of the male persuasion, can I invoke Lady Luna during the Esbat Circle? In more traditional language, can male Witches Draw Down the Moon? Coven I have none, so whenever I recuse myself from ritual, that ritual doesn’t happen, period. I may enjoy something of a head start with those spiritual mysteries surrounding the Lord, yet the task of honoring the Lady I bear with equal weight. Speaking strictly for myself, my faith demands I walk with both Lady and Lord.
So what’s a solitary Witch to do?
In fact, I do invoke Lady Luna during my Esbat Circle. To omit DDtM because I lack certain genitalia would be tantamount to neglecting the very Goddess who made me the way I am, and again speaking strictly for myself, such an omission would be erring upon the wrong side.
Even if I were part of a mixed-gender coven, and the presence or absence of a priestess not relevant practically, on an abstract level the separation of spiritual roles by gender still runs afoul of my infamous “deserted island” test.
Phrased at its most basic, the question is this: If I were to be stranded on a deserted island, with no human companionship and no complex technology, would this spiritual practice remain possible and meaningful. If no, then that practice bears further scrutiny. (After all you never know when you might find yourself stranded on a deserted island!)
I’m aware that bridge-building and communion-type exercises fail to satisfy this inquiry, and I certainly don’t mean to suggest that community is irrelevant, nor do I propose letting religious pursuits descend into narcissism. By the same token, you never really know where the journey may lead, or what company you’ll be keeping when you arrive, so having a faith that can adapt to the vicissitudes life brings bears some merit.
To insist upon the division of spiritual roles by physical gender – saying that only women can invoke the Lady or explore Her mysteries, or that only men can invoke the Lord or learn His ways – unfairly handicaps solitary practitioners, to say nothing of those covens, which are single-sex by design or by circumstance.
I don’t presume to judge those traditions, which link the study of certain mysteries with one physical gender or another. I do believe that we, as Witches, have a duty to honor one another – and ourselves – as individuals who are both whole and beautiful. To do any less would deny the enchantment woven throughout the cosmos we share.
May you walk with both Lady and Lord. Blessed Be!
Coyle, T. Thorn. Evolutionary Witchcraft. New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2004.
Location: Athens, Georgia
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