Defining Our Terms

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Buffy: “No...actual witches in your witch group...?”
Willow: “Nowadays every girl with a henna tattoo
and a spice rack thinks she's a sister to the dark ones.”

On the nature of the practitioner

The pagan community is absurdly competitive about titles and labels, and the use of capital letters. Frankly, I don't much like arguing over capital letters, so I don't use them. I rarely capitalize god (or divine pronouns like He and His or She and Her. Although, you will find me capitalizing nature personifications as Moon, Wind, and Sea.) This section could be twice as long. These are my definitions representing one person's opinion.

Wicca – 1) Dettmer v. Landon (1986) declared, “that The Church of Wicca, or Wicca, was indeed a religion and is entitled to protection under The First Amendment.” In the 1964 case of the United States v. Seeger , a district court found that members of the Church of Wicca "adhere to a fairly complex set of doctrines relating to the spiritual aspect of their lives. These doctrines concern ultimate questions of human life, as do the doctrines of recognized religions.” 2) A practice and study related to the Gardnerian initiatory traditions, associated with or descendant from that tradition.

Wiccan - 1) those who considers themselves members of the Wiccan religion. 2) Those initiated into a Wiccan tradition by a priest or priestess. 3) those who call themselves members of an earth based religion

wiccan - 1) one who is self taught, but follows the Wiccan tenants, such as respect for the divinity of nature, the Rede, the Law of Three (the Law of Return), a belief in magick (whether they are or not practitioners) and the duality of divinity as god and goddess. 2) any tradition formed outside initiatory, fertility or mystery traditions taught from mentor to novice. 3)synonymous with Wiccan, with or without the practice of magick.

Witch – synonymous with Wiccan, with or without the practice of magick.

witch – 1) synonymous with Wiccan, with or without the practice of magick 2) shamanistic practitioners not associated with Wicca 3) practitioners of magick with or without a concept of the divine.
I am a witch of the latter definition.

Witchcraft – used interchangeably with Wicca although that is changing. The distinction being that of practicing of magick, not just having a belief in magick.

witchcraft - the practice of magick with or without a concept of divinity included within that practice.
This is my definition of witchcraft.

Magick – (poetically spelled with a “k” using the Olde spelling. No one has ever confused what I do with theatrical magic.) 1) Witches consider magick as a natural, not supernatural, practice. 2) the process by which one uses ones natural gifts and talents to achieve a greater degree of success in all pursuits. 3) Aleister Crowley: “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” 4) S. L. Mathers, one of the founders of The Golden Dawn: "The Science of the Control of the Secret Forces of Nature.” 5) Egyptian Magician, Christian Jacq: “…the essential energy which circulates in the Universe of the Gods, as well as in that of humans." 6) Dorothy Berry Mills, "Energies working with the senses and will to effect change that someday will be proven by science." 7) Ardriana Cahill, an unproven form of quantum mechanics.

pagan – 1) literally: country people 2) one whose concepts of the divine are defined as outside Abrahamic philosophy or religions, i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Although literally correct, is not commonly used to describe those practicing Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Jainism or other non-Abrahamic religions. 3)This word less accurately but more popularly defines the modern pagan movement.
I realize that I am a neo-pagan but I call myself a pagan.

Neopagan – academic and more accurate term for the modern pagan movement, but not used by the majority of the pagan community. The prefix “neo” tends to have a derogatory connotation insinuating that the “neo” is not as good as the original. For those professing a perfect resurrection of the Olde Religion, “neo” implies otherwise, which they defend as incorrect.

Heathen – one who follows the Asatru tradition of the northern Germanic/Norse tribes

heathen – 1) a synonymous term for pagan – person of the heath – country people 2) One who does not have an Abrahamic view of the divine.

On the Duel Nature of Witchcraft

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure
and the intelligent full of doubt. - Bertrand Russell

Paganism is most often a combination of spirituality and magick. Depending on one’s course of study it can include both extremes: of all magick and no spirituality to all spirituality and no magick, to everywhere in between.

Paganism is not one religion or spiritual path but a family of traditions, with diverse and idiosyncratic members. Contemporary pagans can be anachronistic, liberal, conservative, nonpolitical; individualistic, communistic, tribal, democratic, authoritarian, hierarchical; gender-biased, sexist; pacifist, militaristic; ecumenical, or fundamental. Also, to every unconventional group there is an unconventional fringe of that group that represents few of us. (Those pagans who make a religion out of pop culture, thinking they are descendants of aliens or that they are Jedi knights or Vampires or take their myths from Lord of the Rings, Star Trek or Anne Rice novels do not represent me. No harm, no foul if this is you...all roads lead to the center.) Common themes in paganism include a reverence for nature, Goddess worship, resurrecting old gods and ancient myths, honoring the ancestors, reconstructing religious practices, a general or specific belief in magick, and often a non-Hindu belief in reincarnation.

Mystery has its own mysteries, and there are gods above gods.
We have ours, they have theirs. That is what's known as infinity.
- Jean Cocteau

On the nature of the Divine

Pantheism: Often interchangeable with the definition of Animism. Almost all pagans believe in some form of nature as divine. The pantheistic view is that divine energy dwells in all living things. Some Pantheists do not believe in individual spirits and does not believe that this divine nature intervenes in the world, but that its divine creation should be respected and protected. Other pagans base their definitions of magick on the divine energy of nature and the manipulation of this divine energy to intervene in the affairs of humans. Still, others (Animists, see below) deify nature into individual spirits that can be petitioned to intervene in our affairs. This translates into the intrinsic power or magick in natural amulets and talisman even before an object is enhanced by magick. Others see these divine nature spirits as manifestation of the gods, which may also be a manifestation of polytheism, duotheism or monotheism.

Animism: Animists see life in everything; the sea, the rivers, the trees, the rocks, the winds, the moon, the stars, the sun, and the earth herself. Both animate and inanimate objects are credited with an individual spirit or life force. Some of these spirit forms are endowed with reason and volition, the same as humans. Some of these spirits possess a greater or lesser degree of intelligence. All believed to possess simple feelings. Studies in anthropology date this belief system back to the Paleolithic age. It is arguably the oldest form of religion and can still be found in native, shamanistic and aboriginal cultures.

Derived from the Latin words animus, or anima, meaning breath or soul it was essentially a belief system between people and the land. The participants believe that the spirit of a place is a function of geography, ecology, and history, and that the land shapes the inhabitant as surely as the inhabitant shapes the land. This system of knowledge usually involves practices, such as offerings or sacrifices, for entering into beneficial arrangements between the practitioner and the spiritual beings that are accessible to them. Each "anima" has the power to help or hurt us. Within this system of belief comes a reverence for the deceased; ancestors, as well as all living things. In a non-material state these soul or spirit beings exist as part of a universal soul but with an independent will. These spirits are greater and lesser spirits, some of which grew to take on god-forms.

In Ireland, trees were worshiped as totems or because of their usefulness and beauty. In some ancient cultures trees were regarded as maternal forest spirits. High respect was given, even when their lives were sacrificed for human use (woodcutters would first ask the trees permission to cut it and transform it into a useful object or fire). Greeks saw female tree spirits as dryads. In Native American studies, many animals were god-forms. In one form or another, Animism or Pantheism, this philosophy is often a core belief of all pagans, even if they also acknowledge Creator/Creatrix gods in some form of Monotheism, Duotheism or Polytheism.

Father Sky and Mother Earth are the basic god-forms that eventually took on names. These eventually translated into more complex concepts of Creator gods, Sky or Sun Fathers or Thunder gods like Zeus (Greek), Jupiter (Roman), Lugh (Irish), Yu-Huang-Shang-Ti (Chinese), Dyaus Pita (Indo-European), Izanagi (Japanese), Anshar (Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian), Ammon Ra (Egyptian), Tyr, Odin, Thor (Norse), Wakea (Hawaiian), and Mulungu (East African) were all rooted in Animism. Mother Earth goddesses evolved like Gaea (Greek), Demeter/ Persephone (Roman), Anu/Danu/Brighid (Irish), Hu-Tu (Chinese), Tara (Indo-European), Izanami (Japanese), Kishu (Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian), Isis (Egyptian), Inanna (Norse/Germanic), Honua Mea/Papahanaumoku (Hawaiian) and Eseasar (East African).

Modern Animists are reviving the historic belief that the general spiritual quality of life can manifest into individual spirits in the material world. For those looking for the most ancient form of religion, Animism is the oldest. Modern Animists have expanded on historical Animism to include their knowledge of atomic structure. Every atom in motion supports a definition of action and thus a definition of “life.” With their belief in a divinely guided theory of evolution, they see the earth and all its inhabitants as part of their personal genealogy. Trees, rocks animals, humans are all children formed of the same “star stuff.” They believe that even manmade objects can have souls garnered from the spiritual elements from which they were made and thus cars, homes and even computers can take on personalities and desires of their own.
I am an Animist.

Polytheism: Literally, the belief in more than one god. Some of us see the “old gods” as sleeping giants answering the call of their new and hidden children. These pagans believe, in fact, that beings like Thor, Bridget, Isis and Zeus are not just a metaphor. They are spirit forms that were either always there or are transcendent humans. Others see these old gods as merely aspects, other names for a single monotheistic divinity and that all names of all gods lead to the one divine creator. Some magicians believe that magick is possible by the manipulation of all divine energy, including that which is captured within the names of these gods, other divine spirits and their symbolism. All concepts of divine pluralism can either include intercession through prayer or intervention through magick or both.
I am a polytheist seeing trancendent humans as the ancient gods, who with my ancestors and personal heroes, make up my pantheon.

Duotheism: Some pagans, Wiccans specifically, believe that divinity is by nature divided and balanced into male and female aspects. This belief is held literally, honoring the gods as two separate beings, creating in union. Many believe that all the names of all gods lead to the one god and all the names of all the goddesses lead to the one goddess. Others still, believe that the dual nature of male and female are just aspects of a monotheistic, one divine singularity. There are those who acknowledge this duality with a decidedly lopsided emphasis on the masculine god or the feminine goddess. All concepts of divine duality can either include intercession through prayer or intervention through magick or both.

Monotheism: A belief in one god. Many pagans belief in a single divine creator and intercessor. However, unlike those of Abrahamic descent, pagans do not believe that there is a single true being, with single true name or that anyone knows that being’s true nature. They believe all the names of all gods and goddesses lead to the one divine all. Many believe as do the Abrahamic religions, that their god of many names and faces intervenes in the world of mankind. That intercession is achieved as in other religions through prayers of petition. Some pagans define their magick as a physical form of prayer "with props", a petition to the divine for intercession. Others see the divine as a creator only, who does not intervene in the world and thus intervention must be achieved with one's only magickal abilities.

Antitheism: Antitheists are zealot Atheists. They not only don't believe in god but they think you shouldn't either. A friend of mine who called himself an Antitheist said the he didn't believe in the divine and thought people were weak if they did. He said even if he could believe in the divine, he'd still hate people who sit on their butts begging for favors from the gods. He said the divine, be it he, she or they, have probably left the cosmos in our capable hands and expects us to make and clean up our own messes. (We are friends because my philosophy somewhat agreed with his, although hate is too stong a word for people who sit and wait for blessing. I own the "life is up to us philosophy" because I think the gods expect us to take care of ourselves with the vast and amazing gifts they have already given us, even if I would like to think that a rare magickal event may be the handiwork of the gods.) My friend forgives me my weakness in this last belief.

Deism: The belief that the divine is unknowable and unnamable. Deists base their belief on a natural religion based on reason and ethics rather than revelation. Deists deny the Creator as interfering with the laws of the universe. Most of America's Founding Fathers were Deist.

What I Believe

An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.
- Spanish proverb

What I believe is that we don’t have a freakin’ clue. That said, for the most part, I lean towards the words in brown. Since inheritance is as a central theme of Mother’s teachings, I am an ancestor worshipper. That beginning already puts me honoring more than one being.

For millennia, theologians have tried to reduce god to a single idea. Philosophers have tried to reduce wisdom to an ultimate truth. Science has tried to reduce the universe to one element. In all these, the atmosphere of “my way or the highway” prevails. I’ve always liked the highway. Even in paganism (and I am as guilty as anyone) we have a tendency to homogenize everything into neat packages. We start a path and are told to go down this road and we go and we listen and learn and discover that after we collect enough of the message, tools and rhetoric in our Books of Shadows that we too are trying to reduce everything into small edible bites that are easy on the digestion and will please the most consumers. About 20 years ago, I realized that although I understand our desire for simplicity and agreement, that I have always been in love with expansion. It seems to me that, by example, the expansive nature of the universe suggests the universe delights in creation’s complexity and even its contradiction; if not in its creation, at least in its function. This math lead me to my ever so gentle slide from a instinctive understanding of family to an intellectual reduction to monotheism. I flowed through the possibilities of the one Great All being a male trinity, or a goddess trinity, or the marriage of the two. I ended back where I started; to a family of divine energies and the progeny of that creative variety, the cosmos. And this time, instinct and intellect met in agreement.

I embrace the romantic idea of sleeping gods who wake at my call or awaken to call me. I like thinking that they rejoice at my asking them to return. I choose my gods (or they choose me) as having the nature of perfect parents or grandparents being my spiritual partners and advisors. (For when I meditate, it is they who most often appear to me in my ethereal temple or during ritual. The middle aged pair are very physical and appear more often as kindred partners to each other and to me. They are warriors, workers and nurturers who do with and for me. The older pair are my advisors, wisdom givers and reprimanders. Plus, I seem to amuse them a lot.)

I choose the enchantment of nature being made up of divine spirits that have personality and purpose, the trees, tides, birds and beasts who partner with us to share their energy and wisdom. I love that all of divinity is an ongoing process of discovery and that over every hill and around every mountain, each tree, each stone, each brook, each leaf that falls has intrinsic wisdom or benefit to impart. I like personifying everything with personality. My home, the trees in the yard, the plants – all have names. My magickal tools are all gifts from family members and all have names. There is an entire school of study on the magick and power of names.

On the cruelty of the Divine

I believe that the opposite of love is indifference, not hatred. I believe the opposite of goodness is indifference, not evil. I think of nature as both good and indifferent. I choose the romantic belief that the gods are by nature inherently good despite the fact that they can seem indifferent. This is not to say that they are not capable of smacking us on our self indulgent, egotistical, ignorant heads occasionally.

On the cruelty of the humankind

The Old Irish word for evil is adbal, which meant excessive. A family motto, "Nothing to an excess," pretty much taught us the way to avoid evil. Excessive. No word better describes my belief in the evil that mankind is capable of. Humans have the maddening and colossal weakness for habituation in a heartbeat. It seems that if we do a thing three times in a row, it takes us three weeks to undo the behavior. We turn the trivial into something meaningful, the meaningful into something momentous and the momentous into something earth shattering, and in three blind steps we're ready to kill each other.

We find a good thing, then do it to death and blame IT for dying. We do stupid things and say, “I can’t help it.” Or like Adam, “She did it first.” Or Eve, “He did it, too.” I don’t think Jehovah threw the biblical pair out of the garden for wanting knowledge. I think he threw them out of the garden for not taking responsibility for that knowledge. We react out of pain, ignorance, and hunger; hunger for food, for comfort, for power, for possessions. And when we have it all, we still hunger – and we don’t even know what for.

Some answer that we hunger for god. The sad truth is that most often we only hunger for something new. God can be a new thing, too. Often when the newness wears off, so does god and the next thing you hear is someone confused as to how god could forsake them. If we look outside ourselves for that divinity, it only feeds us for while as witnessed by the church hopping, faith swapping, state of religion in some countries. Then, we use the absence of god in one’s life as another excuse for our bad behavior. I think of evil as a wholly human offspring, a kind of self-absorbed blindness achieved by excessive, repetitive, insulated thinking. Reductive thinking, if you will. It is a complete loss of perspective and a surrender to impulse that after inviting it to dinner, it eats its host. Frankly, we can talk ourselves into anything. But I think it is abomination to invent wrathful gods in the name of controlling that evil, which only creates evil justified by the gods. And if you think I just blasphemed your god, you’ve made my point.

As I said, I don’t think anyone has a clue. So what do we hang onto? Mother said it begins with knowing exactly who you are and deciding who you will become. Then knowing what you want to accomplish in life and gaining the skills to accomplish it. It takes time and study and we are an impatient breed, so we miss a lot with speed, spoon feeding, and immediate gratification. She said that everyone must find within themselves an island of serenity. Once realized, divinity doesn’t seem such an unattainable understanding. Once realized, the church is superfluous.

Maybe what my atheist friends say is true - that all the gods are human inventions to answer the big questions of life. If so – I like my gods and their answers just fine.

I communicate with the divine every day in every way. I think magick can work like prayer, that prayer can work like magick but not in the way most witches do. They see both magick and prayer as a petition to sway the caprice of the divine into helping them. I mostly reserve prayer for thanksgiving. I use witchcraft for intervention. I believe that you are the magick and whether you use the training of prayer or the training of magick – you manifest the energies to your aid.

I say this with conviction because I have done both successfully.

© 2004 - 2012 Ardriana Cahill

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