Monthly Archives: June 2014

Witchcraft Today: 60 Years On (Review)

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This anthology, published today, is a look at the major branches of witchcraft that have emerged since the publication of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today 60 years ago. The branches examined in this book have been heavily influenced by Gardner, reflecting to varying degrees not only the practices of the coven he was initiated into, but Gardner’s own reflections and innovations.

The first section of the book explains many of the most popular traditions, while the second section is a collection of personal reflections by practicing witches. There is also a brief biography of Gerald Gardner and a discussion of the climate from which his groundbreaking book emerged. You do not need to have read any of Gardner’s work to follow the articles. This book aims to give an overview of what “witchcraft today” has become and how it has matured.

I have written the chapter on Dianic Witchcraft for this anthology. It is not surprising that the Dianic tradition is included here – we usually are mentioned in any overview of Paganism and Witchcraft – but this is the first time to my knowledge that the section on Dianic Witchcraft in an overview has been written by a Dianic priestess. There has been so much misinformation propagated by those outside the Dianic tradition over the years that I think it is an important read not only for women who may be considering finding a Dianic coven, but for all witches. I think this background on Dianic Witchcraft is also important for all feminists, even those who do not consider themselves spiritual. Like it or not, a large part of the battle for women’s rights is occurring within religious institutions and frameworks.

Witchcraft Today: 60 Years On is edited by Trevor Greenfield and published by Moon Books. It can be purchased in bookstores or on Amazon.

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What are the women’s mysteries?

Statue of Greek mother goddess Demeter from the British Museum, 4th century b.c.e. Demeter had her own women's mystery cult in ancient Greece. It is hard to find an intact statue of this beloved goddess because the Christians were particularly zealous in their destruction of her statues and religion.

Statue of Greek mother goddess Demeter from the British Museum, 4th century b.c.e. Demeter had her own women’s mystery cult in ancient Greece. It is hard to find an intact statue of this beloved goddess because the Christians were particularly zealous in their destruction of her statues and religion.

No, we’re not talking about Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky here. Women’s mysteries echo back to the Greek mystery schools, which were religious groups centered around a deity or group of deities connected by an epic story. To become a member of the mystery school a person had to study and undergo a complex initiation ceremony. The mystery schools emphasized knowledge that could not be comprehended solely by intellect but could only be understood through certain religious experiences–these were the mysteries.

The most famous of the mystery schools was the Eleusinian mysteries, which flourished well into Christian times and had initiates of many ethnicities from across the Mediterranean world. Other mysteries were more obscure, and it was possible to be an initiate in more than one school. There were separate mystery schools for women and men as well as schools open to all. Probably there were schools that had other requirements for admission. While the word mystery has a Greek origin and our knowledge of the mystery schools comes from the Greeks, the concept of mystery schools itself is much older and more universal.

Today women’s mysteries refers to Goddess-focused ritual that acknowledges women’s bodies and life cycle. This is expressed as the stages of maiden-mother-crone. Maidens have not yet taken on the burdens of adult responsibilities, but are preparing for the important mother phase that comes next. Mothers bring forth physical life or use their womb-energies to nurture in other ways. Crones accept greater responsibility for leadership in the community, as their wombs are no longer constantly preparing for conception and childbirth and this energy is freed to move in other directions.

Women often ask how hysterectomy impacts participation in women’s mysteries. Removal of an organ from the physical body does not remove it from the etheric body and women are still able to participate in the mysteries post-hysterectomy. Cessation of menses is a necessary requirement for cronehood but age is also important, and a woman who experiences early menopause does not automatically become a crone. However, cessation of menses, whether through hysterectomy or natural means, is a critical life event that is honored through ritual within women’s mysteries. Mystery schools are experiential, and our religion is closed to males because the experience of “bleeding for days without dying” is integral to the knowledge we carry.

Some women say, what if I don’t like my body? What if I hate my period? Women’s mysteries are especially important for women who dislike their bodies or women who have difficulty coming out of their minds to fully inhabit their bodies. We are spirits who have chosen to occupy this women’s body that is such a source of pleasure and pain. We don’t have to always like it, but the goal of women’s mysteries is to gather wisdom from it.

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Lady Slipper


A Lady Slipper is an orchid that grows throughout the northern hemisphere. There are several species, and all of them are rare to uncommon depending on the country. This beautiful orchid is difficult to cultivate, even as orchids go. It requires a special soil fungus for seeds to germinate, and the Lady Slipper does not transplant well. To make matters worse, there is a special demand for this orchid, and not just from gardeners who feel they must have one. The root stock has calming, pain relieving, and hallucinogenic qualities that have prompted overharvesting of the plant, which is never abundant even under ideal circumstances.

I have had the good fortune of stumbling across this flower on occasion, ever since I was a girl in Ohio. Last week I was hiking on a popular mountain path when I spied two blooms right next to the trail. I decided to come back early the next day to take a picture, crossing my fingers that no one would arrive before me and take the plants. Sure enough, when I returned the next morning they were gone. I scouted around the area, however, and I found a nice specimen that was slightly better hidden.

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In researching this post I discovered that one variety of Lady Slipper does indeed look like a shoe. I had always assumed from looking at the flower that the name referred to a different kind of “slipper.” What would you think?

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Before heading down the mountain with my photographic trophy, I decided to bushwhack to an open ledge for a snapshot of the view, and I came across a whole clump of Lady Slipper plants. There were seven blooms, one for each of the Seven Sisters (Pleiades). These nymph siblings are priestesses of Artemis.

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Sources

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1960.

McGhan, Patricia J. Ruta. “Pink ladies slipper (Cypripedium acule Ait.)” US Dept. of Agriculture.

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Looking at the Sow Goddess

Photo Ben Salter.

Photo Ben Salter.


The Return to Mago blog is running a series of articles I have written about the Sow Goddess, entitled The Old Sow. There will be four articles, which I believe each stand on their own.

The research for this series was more arduous than any I have undertaken in a long time. In my experience when research becomes time consuming it is either because there is a huge amount of information about the subject–or very little. In this case, it was both. The archeological record for worship of the sow goddess is quite large, and the information available in myth and folklore is substantial as well. However, this information is also very scattered considering the amount of it, and I had to pull data together from many sources. Robert Graves in the 1949 book The White Goddess emphasized the importance of the sow in pre-patriarchal religion. This book has always been controversial, but Graves is correct on this point. It’s quite amazing that no one has taken on an extensive study of the topic. Though my series of four short articles is hardly exhaustive, I urge everyone to follow these articles and become more familiar with the Sow Goddess. I will be posting updated links to the articles as they are published.

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