Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Dianic Religion: What We Believe and How We Practice

Aphrodite. Photo by Shakko.

Aphrodite. Photo by Shakko.


Often women contact me for instruction in witchcraft who are unfamiliar with the Dianic Religion. One of the first things they want to know is whether they will have to worship naked with men present. I have also been asked about the practice of self-flagellation or scourging. In Dianic worship we usually practice in all-women groups, and we certainly do not practice naked with men. Women’s experience with sexual violence and subjugation under patriarchy makes mixed nudity and scourging questionable practices, whatever their inherent benefits. But there are many traditions that do not practice nudity or scourging. What makes Dianic witchcraft different from these traditions?

In Dianic witchcraft we focus on the female. We worship the mother of all things who is all gods and all goddesses. She is many and she is one. We see the great mother as whole within herself: she gives birth to the god but she is the original and first creator, as a male cannot give birth to one creature let alone a whole universe. We see woman, born with the capacity to give birth, as a divine reflection of the goddess and therefore whole and complete within herself. The Dianic Religion centers on the reproductive life cycle of the woman. We see this as divided into three phases: maiden, mother, and crone. We are born in the maiden phase which is girlhood and adolescence, we reach the mother phase with the birth of our first child, and the crone phase commences at menopause. Each of these phases has their own powers and their own focus. They are not equal: the crone is the most powerful because she has experienced maidenhood and motherhood. Sometimes women say to me, I went through menopause in my early 40s or I have had a hysterectomy. Do I have to see myself as a crone if I’m still young? In these cases, and in cases where a woman does not have children or delays childbirth until late in life, we set the commencement of the mother phase at the first Saturn return (which is roughly age 30), and the commencement of the crone phase at the second Saturn return in the late 50s.

As females virtually all of us are born with the expectation that we will someday have children, and much of our socialization revolves around this expectation. Although attitudes are slowly changing in this regard, women who do not raise children are often considered to be unfulfilled or incomplete. The Dianic tradition teaches that we can use our mothering abilities in a variety of ways, whether or not we have children, and all priestesses in maturity are considered mothers. At the same time, we recognize that nurturing is something we must accept as well as give, and ritual with other women is a way we can be nourished and recharged.

Body acceptance is an important goal of the Dianic path. Most women struggle with feelings of inadequacy because their body does not meet a certain ideal. Worshiping with other women in a non-judgmental setting helps a woman come to terms with the body she has, and this is one of the reasons we may encourage nudity in our circles, according to situation and inclination. Many of our rituals are geared toward helping women to become more embodied. Dianics reject the idea prevalent in modern Western culture that mind and body are separate entities. Paradoxically, in becoming more aware and accepting of our physical bodies our ability to do psychic work is enhanced.

The existence of the Dianic Religion is very important not only to Dianic priestesses, but to all religious women. Women in the more progressive Christian, Jewish, Sufi and Buddhist sects, as well as other Pagans, are aware of our philosophy and borrow from our tradition. Some have even formed women’s traditions of their own. I also think the knowledge that women’s religions exist (and function well) helps women negotiate greater power within religious structures that include men.


Further Reading

Barrett, Ruth. Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries: Intuitive Ritual Creation. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 2007.

Budapest, Zsuzsanna E. The Grandmother of Time: A Women’s Book of Celebrations, Spells, and Sacred Objects for Every Month of the Year. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989.

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Divine Animals

The emblem of Nimes France, a crocodile with a palm tree, has its genesis in the Roman occupation of Egypt. (Designed by Philippe Starck courtesy of Nicolas Cadene.)

The emblem of Nimes France, a crocodile with a palm tree, has its genesis in the Roman occupation of Egypt. (Designed by Philippe Starck courtesay of Nicolas Cadene.)


Animal divinity can take many forms.

A living animal can literally be a god or goddess. An example of this would be the crocodile Petesuchos, who lived at the temple to the Egyptian god Sebek. Petesuchos wore jewelry, lived a pampered existence and was considered the literal offspring of Sebek, elevated above the ordinary crocodile who might be killed for meat or safety.

A specific animal can also be a living omen or message from a deity. The white buffalo calf Miracle, born on a Wisconsin farm, was seen as a message from White Buffalo Calf Woman of positive and momentous changes. Honoring Miracle honored the blessings and prophecy of White Buffalo Calf Woman. Miracle also shows how an animal can embody divinity in more than one way, as Miracle was often propitiated with gifts, sometimes highly valued gifts such as military medals, as if she were an actual goddess like Petesuchos (although not all Plains Indians who revered Miracle viewed her in this way).

An animal species might be sacred to a particular deity, and thus all members of this species might be treated with deference out of reverence for that deity. An example of this would be the dog, who is sacred to the goddess Nehalennia and usually pictured as her companion.

Nehalennia with her little dog.

Nehalennia with her little dog.

An animal can be considered sacred for her contribution to human life, for her symbology, or for her pivotal role in myth. The cow is given special status by Hindus for her gift of milk. In the 1980’s thousands of school children wrote the Ohio State Legislature protesting a proposal to allow dove hunting, arguing that it would be killing peace. Lenape Indians were successful in getting some limitations placed on groundhog killing in Pennsylvania, due to the significance of the animal in creation stories.

Some deities of strong significance to humans are animal gods or goddesses. In his earliest known form of worship, Apollo is a mouse god. His temple in Tenedos housed hundreds or perhaps thousands of mice, who were not considered gods in their own right but were pampered as a favor to Apollo. The mice had a divine function as omens as well, with large litters presaging economic prosperity. Special priestesses were employed to interpret oracles from the mouse god. The goddess Athena typifies many deities of Old Europe by having twin animal forms of earth creature (snake) and sky creature (owl).

Every animal has its own deity. Modern pagans refer to the chief deities of plant and animal species as devas, a word borrowed from Sanskrit which means “god.” In appealing to the deity of an animal which does not have a recognized cult, the animal “deva” will be invoked. Alternatively, when petitioning a specific animal colony, the “queen,” who is leader of that particular family, can also be invoked. It is also possible to appeal en masse to a group of animals, praying to the animals in their collective spirit, although some would quibble that this is the same as appealing to an animal deva.

Closely related to an animal deity, but not exactly the same thing, is an animal familiar. A familiar is a being who helps a priestess with her magic. The familiar can be an incarnate living creature or a discarnate being who exists only in spirit, but most often she is a living animal. There is much that I can say about the animal familiar, and whole books have been written on the subject, so I will talk about familiars in a later post.

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Coyote Magic

Western Coyote. Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth

Western Coyote. Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth


There are many sounds of night that lend a sense of order to the world: a train whistle in the distance, a chorus of peepers, the music of coyotes. Some find coyote ruckus eerie, but for me it’s like traveling between the worlds. I’m convinced that these scraggly canines are making their obeisance in song to the Divine Mother.

Since coyotes are native to North America there is no specific Euro-shamanic belief about this animal. There is quite a bit of folklore about the wolf, of course, and coyotes are in many ways like little wolves, so wolf mythology could be transferred to the coyote. Native American mythology and folklore about the coyote could be absorbed, although there are challenges to this approach involving understanding and respecting the tribal culture in which they arise. Ideas about the coyote can differ significantly among tribes, so there is also the question of which attitude to adopt. Another possibility is to place the coyote in the context of Euro-shamanism by carefully studying the animal.

Coyotes like wolves often live and hunt cooperatively in extended family groups. This gives the coyote significance in divination, ritual and spellcasting involving family and community relationships. Like wolves they are shy, but coyotes are willing to hunt in more open areas, such as over ice. At the same time they are self protective, preferring to den in hilly areas with a view of approaching creatures. Coyotes, like wolves, are very smart, but unlike wolves they are inclined to hang around human habitations, albeit in low profile. Their ability to adapt and figure out new situations makes them a potential magical resource for problem solving. They are remarkably adept at learning how to prey on pets, chickens, and domestic rabbits, and I’ve seen them circumvent some complicated latch systems. For some reason they like to devour most of the animal but leave the face behind, a kind of calling card or a testament about the animal’s demise. (Oh, were you looking for Fluffy?) Coyotes cannot or will not be controlled, which is a factor to consider when calling on their magic. Are you secure about the absolute rightness of your actions, and are you prepared to have the spell turn out differently than intended?

Many have tried to eradicate both the wolf and the coyote without success, and the coyote population has actually increased in numbers and in territory since farmers and ranchers declared an all out war. The much-maligned coyote is a survivor and cannot be gotten rid of. It would be more productive to learn how to live with the animal, but doing this would require accepting that, despite best efforts, the thieving coyote is sometimes going to win a round. Learning to gracefully accept a loss – any loss – is a lesson that eludes many people, but the coyote keeps trying.

The coyote is a master at hiding. Chances are there are more coyotes in your town than you realize. At first glance coyote tracks look the same as dog’s, but with just a bit of study you can learn the difference. If you live in a suburban area where there is snowfall, check for coyote tracks and you will be surprised.

Eastern Coyote. Photo by Christopher Bruno.

Eastern Coyote. Photo by Christopher Bruno.

The Western Coyote is a scraggly-looking animal, no matter how healthy. She has that disheveled, half-starved look that skinny children can have no matter how well taken care of they are at home. Appearances can be deceiving. Animals associated with deception are used in the occult to unravel truth.

The Eastern Coyote is a more handsome and robust animal. The Eastern Coyote is believed to be a hybrid of coyote and wolf, and people disagree on how much of this animal is coyote and how much is wolf. This makes the Eastern Coyote “neither one thing nor the other,” a mark of transformative power in Celtic and Germanic belief.


Sources

Chapman, William K. with Dennis Aprill. Mammals of the Adirondacks: A Field Guide. Utica, NY: North Country Press, 1991.

Rezendes, Paul. Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign, 2nd ed. New York: Harper, 1999.

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The Origins of Candlemas

Madonna Lily. Photo by Maciek Godlewski.

Madonna Lily. Photo by Maciek Godlewski.


While there are many longstanding Pagan holidays observed in the beginning of February, the Christian holiday of Candlemas grew out of a specific Roman Pagan observance. February was an important festival month on the Roman calendar and thus began with a purification ceremony known as Juno Februa, Juno the Purifier. The most prominent of the Roman matriarchal deities, Juno is essentially the goddess of essence itself. She is thought of as a moon goddess, since her worship originally revolved around the lunar cycle, but this only partially explains her. She is the state of Being, illustrated by the waxing white moon appearing out of the black void. The Romans saw not only plants, animals, and inanimate objects such as rocks or mountains as having spirit, but core truths or principles as well. Thus the month of vital ceremonies required not simply purification practices, but the calling up of the essence of purification herself. Some say Juno Februa occurred at the second full moon following the winter solstice before Rome adopted a solar calendar, but by the start of the common era the date of the festival was fixed at forty days past the (also static) December 25th date of the winter soltice festivities.

Under Christian rule, Juno Februa became a celebration of the purification of the Virgin Mary following the birth of Jesus. The mass was celebrated with a procession involving a great many candles like the earlier Roman holiday. Mary took on not only the ritual date and its association with purification, but Juno’s white lily. The lily became a symbol of Mary’s renewed purity. The goddess Juno, though like Mary also a mother, needed no such purification because the idea of pollution in childbirth was foreign to her cult. She came to bestow purification, not to partake of it, and would give birth a full month later to her own son, the god Mars. The birth of Mars was also a virgin birth: Juno conceived him through the fragrance of the white lily, the white lily being a form of Juno herself. In other words, Juno impregnated herself and her white lily symbolizes self generation.

Detail from restored statue of Juno. 2nd century. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Detail from restored statue of Juno. 2nd century. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Some attribute the instigation of Candlemas to Pope Gelasius I in the fifth century, but it appears that he was railing against the climactic February festival of Lupercalia, which eventually became St. Valentine’s day. Gelasius may have been successful at driving Lupercalia underground, where it began its own long transformation, but people continued to openly celebrate the Juno rite. In 684 Pope Sergius I officially instituted the mass of the Purification of the Virgin Mary at February 2nd on the church calendar. From the start many theologians protested the event, arguing that Mary would have needed no purification since she was impregnated not through sexual intercourse but by the Holy Spirit. Within the logic of Christianity they were right, but as time wore on the church had conflicts at Candlemas not only with remnants of the Roman pagan cult but with propitiation to weather deities and and fire goddesses elsewhere. The tension between theological purists and synergistic forces was eventually satisfied by fixing the time of the presentation of Jesus at the temple, which is referenced in scripture, at forty days following his birth, or February 2nd. The focus on Mary on this day remained popular with the masses, however, so the celebration of the purification of the Virgin, while declining in emphasis, never totally went away.

Today among witches and many other Pagans February 2nd is a time for vows and initiations. There are many reasons for this having to do with Celtic and Germanic beliefs, but the Roman observation of Juno Februa also fits nicely with this understanding of the holy day. During this time of commitment intentions need to be unassailable, informed by the essence of purity Herself.


Sources

Durdin-Robertson, Lawrence. The Year of the Goddess: A Perpetual Calender of Festivals. Wellborough, UK: Aquarian Press, 1990.

Hazlitt, William Carew and John Brand. Faiths and folklore of the British Isles. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1905. http://books.google.com/books/about/Faiths_and_folklore_of_the_British_Isles.html?id=JDXYAAAAMAAJ

Monaghan, Patricia. The Book of Goddesses and Heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1990.

Perowne, Stewart. Roman Mythology. London: Paul Hamlin, 1969.

Walsh, William Shepard. Curiosities of Popular Customs and of Rites, Ceremonies, Observances. 1898. Detroit: Gale Research Company. 1966 Reprint. http://books.google.com/books?id=VKwYAAAAIAAJ&dq=Candlemas+Pope+Innocent+XII&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.

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