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Invocations of the God and Goddess
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Witchcraft vs. Religion
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Is Your Wand A Sock Or A Cat?
Article ID: 13910
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Fire Lyte
Posted: April 11th. 2010
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When I was about 6 I asked my mother a question that could have potentially changed the way I lived for the rest of my life: which sock goes on which foot? I’m serious and I definitely was then, too. It was confusing to a little boy why your sleeves would go on a certain arm, there was a defined back and front to shirts, jeans zipped in the front, hats go on bill forward, and shoes came in left and right…but when it came to socks. Well, that was when you got into the chaos of the clothing world.
My mother attempted to plead with a 6-year-old me that when it comes to socks anything goes. Sometimes one could go on your left, others it could be on your right, and if the dog got a hold of it, it’s time to head to the store. Being 6-years-old I had yet to learn how to pick apart an argument or the proper rules of debate, so I caved and have since blissfully existed in a world in which socks are one of the few clothing items that swing both ways.
However, just to not have to deal with a child’s circular logic, my mother could have easily employed the magic of a Sharpie and delineated my socks into L’s and R’s. My knowledge of the secret world of socks could have become much more defined, which would have made it hilarious for any future partners of mine when they learned I couldn’t get ready for work, because I had two left socks.
I would now like to take a very obvious turn and define the word ‘dogma.’
Dogma is what happens when your mom tells you there is such a thing as a left sock.
Religion, and spirituality to an extent, is what happens when humans try to bottle up the infinite. We define how God works by saying what kind of prayers he’ll answer and how they must be offered up. We define how Goddess will bring about an event by laying down what kind of offerings we must give her to gain favor. And once we decide to color outside the lines, to choose to believe that socks don’t correspond to feet, we incur the supreme wrath of everyone else who follows a similar path.
Another relevant story: There once was a temple whose high master had a cat of whom the master was very fond. Each morning, when the master and his pupils went into meditation, they found it very difficult to find a calm center, because the cat would wander in between the neophytes and meow loudly during times of silence. After this happened enough times, the pupils began to express their displeasure to the high master.
So, the high master had a dilemma. He loved his precious cat, but he knew the search for inner quiet and peace was of the utmost importance. Thus he decided that every morning they would leash the cat and tie her to a nice tree outside. She would be able to roam around outside, would have plenty of shade, food, and water, and, most importantly, would not interrupt meditation.
This pleased the pupils, because now each of them was able to experience the beauty that meditation can offer. The master got to keep his beloved cat, and she didn’t interfere with their important work. As time went on, the pupils one by one achieved enlightenment and moved on to other temples and other work. New pupils came on and the temple became quite famous for being a place at which nearly anyone could achieve enlightenment. It was quiet and the master was very skilled at the art of meditation.
It came to pass that the high master died after living a very long, distinguished, and peaceful life. However, his beloved pet seemed to have her master’s gift for long-living, and remained at the temple for years after. Out of the pupils, a new high master was chosen. This new master taught in much the same way as the old master, and the fame of the temple grew even more.
Until one fateful day… The high master had taken to loving the old cat just as much as the previous master had, but, as all things do, the long lived cat died early in the morning just before the sun came up. Hours later a unique problem presented itself. The pupils didn’t know what to do. They could not think. They could not meditate. Their whole ritual was completely turned on its end.
The high master had no idea what could possibly be wrong, but then two pupils ran in to his chambers as he was getting ready for morning meditation. Breathing heavily and obviously distraught, they exclaimed, “Without the cat, how do we meditate?” The master was a bit puzzled, but could understand their conundrum. He gave the pupils strict instructions and went to temple.
The rest of the pupils were in a frenzy. Without the cat how in the world could they possibly even fathom meditating? Their whole morning was thrown off. They couldn’t think of sweeping the temple steps, let alone reaching nirvana. Soon, though, the students collectively breathed a sigh of relief. The two pupils who had been given instructions by the master had returned with a large box. All of the pupils and the master hurried outside to see what they had brought.
The two pupils carefully carried the box over to their former master’s favorite tree and opened it. Out came a beautiful calico kitten, which they carefully put a leash around, and tied to the old tree. They fed the kitten, watered it, and made sure she was quite happy and ok to be by herself. Then, they all went back inside and proceeded to sink deeply into profound silence and meditation.
What is your cat? Seriously ask yourself this question. What thing is holding you back from continuing with your practice? Did you run out of blue candles, so you aren’t performing a healing spell for yourself? Is the moon waning, but you need to do some prosperity magic to help make ends meet? Do you change your altar set-up every time a new book says your wand is fire…air…fire…air…?
Dogma has become a rather dirty word in the pagan community. Dogma is a principle, or set of principles, laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. An easy example of this can be found in religions of the book. Religions of the book have a lot of rules that are thought to be incontrovertibly true. That’s sort of the purpose of the book. It takes away the question and gives a sense that the word of the Divine is true and unchanging, eternal.
I would like to briefly defend dogma. Dogma is good in the same way that school uniforms are good. It can take away the worry over how you’re going to do something so you can just get to actually doing it. Instead of worrying for hours over the precise wording of the ritual or the placement of the altar items or the phase of the moon, etc. etc. etc., you can just open up your book of shadows, look it up, and get to the business of doing the damn ritual. This is why covens are popular with certain people. There’s a method and practice and ritual that has already been defined, and all you have to do is follow along.
It didn’t take anything away from the mystical achievements of the pupils, because they thought they had to tie up a cat before they could meditate. They still achieved enlightenment. They still found inner quiet and peace. And they employed rather silly dogma.
Now…about that dogma. I know you’re all thinking, “You mean nobody ever questioned why they were tying a freaking cat up to a tree so that they could meditate?” The real reason why the cat was tied up was a good one, but it was lost to time. All that anybody knew was that the cat needed to be tied up before anything else could be done. And, of course, nobody questioned it. Sure they might have wondered from time to time, but everybody else did it that way, and they still achieved results, so the question wasn’t pursued.
How many times have you wanted to perform a spell and flipped open the index of Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs to find an appropriate plant that will fit your anti-gossip spell? It’s there. It’s quick. Most everybody else uses the book and talks about how great it is. But, why did Scott Cunningham get to decide that Marigold was a masculine plant with relations to the sun and fire? Sure, there was probably some research done, but admittedly a lot of it was instinct.
The marigold flower looks like a sun; it’s bright and orange and reminds one of fire. Ok…so that makes sense. But then you get to a plant like Birch. According to Cunningham the plant is feminine and is ruled by Thor…who is a man. It’s also ruled by the planet Venus – who is also called Aphrodite the Goddess of Love and Beauty – its element is water, but its powers are protection, exorcism, and purification.
How is such a supposedly watery plant that is used for exorcising spirits ruled by a man in charge of thunder and lightning and a woman who is responsible for the misery of love? I’m sure there’s a decent reason, but there seems to be a disconnect. It’s a bit muddled. There’s no good explanation provided in that particular book. Now, if you did a lot of research, a lot of questioning, you would probably find some answers, but not all.
It doesn’t really matter whether the wand is ruled by air or fire or earth… It’s made of wood, and its purpose is to direct energy. It can be ruled by any of the elements. Oh gosh, what if you got a poplar wand! It would be a water-ruled wood wand that might be either air or fire depending on what book you read! The confusion would only grow.
All of this is why the more experience members of the pagan community tell others the best spells are the ones you write yourself. The best rituals are the ones you craft yourself. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t write your spells and rituals and magical knowledge down and use it over and over again. Funny enough, though, this creates an entirely new set of dogma: our own.
Our Books of Shadows are dogma, but they’re dogma that we have written for ourselves. I have a little 4-line sleep charm that I absolutely swear by. I will probably use it forever, and when I teach it to my children they will learn a spell as though it were dogma. It will be THE sleep spell. There’s good and bad in that. The good is that they’re using something I know to be effective. The bad is that they’re not questioning, not thinking it up for themselves.
Though, I hope that I will have taught them never to trust anything they read in a book without researching it.
Be spontaneous. Do what feels right when spontaneity is appropriate. Now, there are obviously incontrovertibly true laws we must obey. Like, the laws of physics, the facts of history, the actual definitions of words, the medicinal effects of plants, etc. You don’t want to spontaneously feel like ingesting the Belladonna to get in touch with your inner fairy and wind up in the hospital or worse. Sometimes something is a sock and can be played around with. Sometimes it is a cat and actually needs to be tied up so you can get your work done.
So, check out what socks you have in your life. Where can you inject a little bit of cotton chaos into your practice? Not everything needs to fit into distinct left or right categories. Sometimes the wand is air, sometimes it’s just a frickin’ wand. The cat might need to be tied up before you meditate, but the importance comes in knowing why.
Copyright: (c) 2010 - Fire Lyte - Inciting A Riot
Location: Chicago, Illinois
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