Monday, October 31, 2011

My Ghost Story

Not a picture of the ghost in this story.  
As a boy I was fascinated with the paranormal, and while I've become far more skeptical as an adult, I still have an ongoing interest in UFO's, cryptids*, ESP, and ghosts.  I've never encountered any of those things outside of the printed page, with the exception of ghosts.  Yes, I've seen a ghost, and not only have I seen a ghost, I felt a ghost, which made the experience even more real.

In 1995 I lived in a giant house in Cape Girardeau Missouri.  I'm not sure exactly how old the house was, but it was over 100 years, possibly closer to 150 (we were led to believe that it had been built before the Civil War).  This house was monstrously big, and even had a carriage house out back.  It had been a frat house at various points in its existence, and was probably the most striking and noticeable house in all of downtown Cape.  I lived there with a plethora of roommates, so many of them I can't remember the exact numbers.

Shortly after we moved in we began to notice strange things happening.  All of these things were benign, none of us were ever scared, but they were noticeable   The most common of these anomalies were lights turning on and off for no particular reason, and this happened throughout the entire house.  You could be lying in bed at four am in and all of sudden have your bedroom light turn on, all with your bedroom door closed and locked.  Bathroom lights might suddenly go dark while you were in the shower, and that kind of stuff happened when there was no one else in the house, and with frequency.

Some of my roommates reported things being moved around, a set of keys left in the sitting room might end up in the kitchen.  Living with ten people the key thing is not surprising, anyone could have moved them, the lights were a whole different phenomenon.  I suppose they could be reasoned away by "old wiring," but we weren't buying that.  All of us were convinced that we had a ghost in the house, though we weren't freaked out by it.

Southern Missouri in the summer time should probably be called "Southern Misery," due to the overwhelming heat and humidity.  Cape Girardeau is a city built on a swamp next to the Mississippi River, to say that it's humid is like saying the ocean contains water.  There are days there in August and July when it's impossible to fall down, the overwhelming amount of moisture in the air will keep you vertical.  It's the only place I've ever lived where you can swim standing up on dry land.

On a sweltering July night, broke and bored, my roommates thought it would be fun to have a seance and attempt to talk to the ghost in our house.  Since I was the resident Witch of the house (for a whole year at that point!  An expert!) I was elected to conduct the seance.  It wasn't the first seance I had ever lead, due to my fascination with paranormal and the occult I led a couple in high school, but it wasn't something I did all that often.

(One of the high school era seances I led did produce some results.  That particular seance was held while on a church youth group trip, and occurred at a church in East Tennessee.  Two of the sixteen kids at that seance claimed to have seen a dead relative that night, and all of us thought that things in the room shifted a little bit:  words on posters were different in the morning, pictures on the wall looked different during our seance, etc.  I didn't have any experiences that night, other than things looking different during the seance, but it was interesting that other people did.)

Before starting the seance in Cape, I told everyone that it would be done in a Wiccan style for protection.  No one objected, so I called the quarters, cast a circle, and called the Goddess into our circle (I didn't really have much of a relationship with The God yet).  With the preliminaries out of the way I had everyone hold hands around our dining room table, and began to call to the spirits of the dead.

While I was asking for the dead to attend us, I felt two things.  The first was an abundance of energy near our front porch, it felt like an army of ghosts trying to break into hour house.  The second thing was a light, curious, energy, hovering at the very edge of our circle.  Taking a deep breath I said to that light energy, "Spirit who lives with us in this house, you are welcome to enter our circle."

When I said those words was when the creepiest thing happened, I felt a freezing cold crawl across my wrist, from the outside of the circle towards the center.  I was holding hands with my friend Scott, and when I felt that icy touch, he looked right at me and said "Did you feel that?"  Let me again state how hot it was that night, temps that day were near 100 degrees with a high amount of humidity.  That night was cooler, but it was still hot and miserable, there were no cold north winds that evening.  There were windows in that room, but I was on the other side of them, and if a breeze had caused that icy touch it would have come across the center of the circle towards me, this touch started at the non-window side of the room.

I've had a few "holy shit" moments, and that ghost-touch ranks as the biggest of them.  You will never convince me that sensation I felt came from anything but a ghost.  The fact that the person next to me also felt it, and in the same place, gives me even more faith in that conviction.  I was touched by a ghost, period**, and the experience was far from over.

Shortly after we had felt the ghostly presence enter our circle I asked it for a sign so that those it hadn't touched could experience it.  A moment later a blobby looking ball of energy began to coalesce in the center of the table.  This energy was about the size of a basketball, and a ghostly, glowing white.  After forming it began to move upwards, thinning as it did so.  It was almost like watching a pitcher pour in reverse.  As the stream of ghostly energy began its upward climb it began to dissipate at the peak until nothing was left.

Shortly afterwards, we began ending the seance and I dismissed all of the spirits.  The ghostly energy I felt on my front porch began to wane, and I thanked the Lady, the quarters, and took down the circle.  After that seance we never had a light suddenly turn on or off again.  The skeptical will rationalize this experience in their own way, and that's fine, but I'm sure I saw (and felt) a ghost that night.

Happy Halloween!

Blessed Samhain!


*A cryptid is an "unknown animal" like a Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

** Not only was a touched by a ghost that night, I had created a circle that worked exactly as I constructed it to.  Nothing entered that circle without my permission.  If you are ever going to hold a seance, I recommend casting a circle first.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Traditions . . . . .

 (This was a hard piece to write.  Most of the things discussed here require much more depth, I am mostly just giving you the bare bones of years of research.  I almost foot-noted the thing, but since I don't get paid to blog, it became too daunting, and I didn't want to add four more hours of work to the project.  If you like the piece, please link to it and share it!  The greatest gift you can give to a blogger is that of sharing.  Praise is great, but sharing is even better!   Enjoy!  -jason)

When I was a kid, Halloween was a happy time of year.  My little brother and I dressed up in costumes and went trick or treating.  Our elementary school even gave us a half day that was mostly just dedicated to a party.  (We even got to wear our costumes!)  It was one of the best days of the year, and while I knew that "being scared" was a part of the holiday, it was a minor one.  It was mostly about candy and costumes, carving pumpkins, and spending time with friends.

In 2010 Americans spent nearly two billion dollars on Halloween, as a holiday cash cow it seems to be getting bigger every year, but in some ways it feels like it's getting smaller.  Trick or treating is on the decline, and schools are facing pressure to cancel Halloween Parties during the schoolday.  People are still dressing up and carving jack-o-lanterns, but Halloween has become less of a children's holiday than it once was.  Some of the decline in trick or treating is probably due to the ridiculous and untrue stories about randomly poisoned treats and razors in apple blades, and some of it's probably due to the increased levels of isolation in America, but there is another factor.

As Halloween became more and more popular in the 1970's and 80's a backlash began, and as the Evangelical Right grew in power that backlash become louder.  Certain Christians began to actively campaign against Halloween, proclaiming it a "pagan holiday," beginning a drive to remove it from the public schools (using the argument for the separation of church and state, which is hilarious when you think about it) and marginalize the holiday.

What's so weird about the Halloween backlash is that very little of Halloween is actually pagan, modern or ancient.  It's true that the Celts celebrated the harvest on October 31st (Samhain), and that the day was considered a time when the "veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest" (and even that is disputed-the Celts just didn't leave us a lot to go on) but other than that . . . . there's not much pagan (for an overview of how I use the word "pagan" click the link)  in Halloween.  Samhain was probably a time to honor ancestors, prepare for winter, and celebrate the harvest.  That sounds a lot like most holidays from October-January, and you'll notice that most of our modern Halloween trappings are conspicuously absent.  The Celts didn't dress up, go trick or treating, or even engage in any pranks, in short, Samhain shares a date with Halloween and perhaps a "feeling" but nothing else.

So where do most of our modern Halloween customs come from?  It's a good question and a complicated one.  The Modern Halloween celebration in the United States is a relatively new phenomenon, and represents a mix of cultures, capitalism, and accommodation.  The Celts weren't the only ancient pagans to celebrate a holiday near October 31, the Romans celebrated Pomona on November 1st, as both a holiday and a goddess.  Pomona was the goddess of the orchard, perhaps beginning Halloween's long association with the apple (thought the fact that it's harvested in October is most certainly the bigger factor).  Pomona was a time of feasting and merry-making, much like the Roman Saturnalia.

In the 9th Century Pope Gregory IV declared November 1st as All Saint's Day (also called All Hallows or Hallowmas), a holiday dedicated to remembering all of the saints "known and unknown."  In 1006 November 2 was proclaimed All Soul's Day, a day set aside for praying for all the souls lost in purgatory. Curiously, in Ireland, All Soul's Day had been celebrated on May 1 prior to 1006, so the placement of All Saint's and All Soul's doesn't entirely rest on the idea of propagating the Celtic Samhain from the pagans.  I'm sure it played a small part, but it's important to remember that the Catholic Church represented all of Europe, and the majority of Europe was not populated by Celts, and not every culture had a holiday on October 31st.  (Western Europe had also been Christianized centuries before the establishment of All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day.)

We tend to think that the "Holiday Season" (Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's Eve) as long today, but it was even longer in the Middle Ages.  Hallowtide (Halloween through All Soul's) was the beginning of the Holiday Season-a season for masques, balls, rebel rousing, and begging.  In some respects, Halloween became a repository for orphaned holiday traditions.  A lot of the traditions we associate with Halloween actually got their start in other holidays, including Christmas, and later the American version of Thanksgiving.

The tradition of trick or treating grew from a variety of sources.  For several centuries All Hallow's Eve was an evening spent begging.  The less fortunate would ask the rich for money or food, a common practice before important Catholic holidays.  The Christmas version of Wassaling (or Caroling) is an early version of "trick or treat," though minus the trick.  It was considered better form to sing or dance for a reward.  During the Renaissance the "treat" became more defined, and many areas settled on the "Soul Cake" an oat and molasses cookie.

The term "trick or treat" wasn't even in common usage until the 1940's, and its first use in a national publication was only in 1939 in an article for "American Home" magazine.  The trick or treating written about in 1939 bears little resemblance to the modern day version.  In 1939 the magazine writer was encouraging her readers to leave an open door on Halloween, and to invite children inside to have some treats in an attempt to prevent vandalism.  Kids during the 1930's were already asking for treats, but usually at local businesses instead of residences.  It was only in the post World War Two years that trick or treating turned into a national phenomenon, and that was done to quell the violence that had grown up around the holiday.

While it seems weird to think of Halloween as violent (scary yes, violent no) it was scarily violent in the United States from the post World War One era right up until World War Two.  The tradition of violence and mayhem on Halloween arose from many sources.  One of those sources was the rowdy celebration of Guy Fawke's Day (or Bonfire Night) where an effigy of the Catholic Fawkes was paraded through town (sometimes with an effigy of the Pope as well) and thrown on a bonfire.  Revelers on Bonfire Night sometimes wore masks as well, hiding their identities as they engaged in the rowdy and destructive festival.

Halloween also became a time for drunkenness and role reversal.  It became the one night of the year where it was "OK" for a child to get away with playing pranks on a parent or other adult.  Eventually these pranks became more malicious, especially in the United States, where gangs of kids would wander major cities on Halloween causing nothing but trouble.  Some of those kids were just soaping windows, but others were engaging in physical and petty vandalism, costing cities and home-owners thousands of dollars in property damage.

What inspired Halloween in the United States?  Massive immigration from Scotland and Ireland.  Halloween was popular in England, but had been mostly overshadowed by Bonfire Night.  It was always seen as important in Scotland and (especially) Catholic Ireland, a country that wanted nothing to do with burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes.  The earliest Halloween celebrations in the United States were cultural holidays, celebrating Scottish and Irish Culture.  Early Halloween cards featured tartan and the words "Auld Lang Syne" in yet another example of how Holiday Traditions mixed and took awhile to settle into their now comfortable spots.

The word Halloween is of fairly recent vintage, first being used in the mid-1700's.  The holiday might have become known as something else entirely if not for the work of Scottish poet Robert Burns (who also wrote "Auld Lang Syne") who wrote the poem "Halloween" in 1785.  "Halloween" is difficult to understand today (having been written in Burns' native Scottish brogue) but it's a fascinating glimpse into the cultural celebration of Halloween in Scotland.  For Burns, Halloween is a celebration of the harvest and a night for divination.

Despite what people want to find in Burns' "Halloween" the poem is more notable for the absence of the familiar.  There is no trick or treating, no witches, ghouls, or ghosts, but there is a lot of divination.  Wanting to know the future is a cultural universal, and divination is an art form found in every religion and in all sorts of local folk-customs.  In the 18th Century Halloween was considered a good time of year to try and figure out who a young woman's future husband would be. (It wasn't the only time of year for this practice either, it was common at numerous other holidays, including Valentine's Day most obviously, but also Candlemass and May Day.)  Nuts were thrown into fires, and their roasting and cracking sounds were interpreted for signs of future nuptials.  Apples and mirrors were also used in divination rites.  "Bobbing for Apples" originally began as a fortune-telling exercise and later just evolved into a party game.  (Though less popular today, apples were also tied to strings and swung from ceilings.)  Halloween was a popular time for ladies' parlor games in 19th Century Britain and the United States, many even saw the holiday as a "Woman's Holiday."

The use of the apple in Hallowtide divination practices should not be a surprise.  Apples were especially abundant in October.  When you think about it, most of the "natural elements" used to decorate around Halloween are simply what's around during that time of year.  Gourds, apples, fallen leaves, straw, all common things in an agricultural setting.  Even scarecrows are just another reflection of the agricultural cycle that was.  If there's anything truly "pagan" about Halloween, it's probably the harvest associations.  (Which makes me laugh when Christians replace Halloween with "Harvest Celebrations," because that's the most pagan of all Halloween traditions.)

Burns did mention fairies, but he failed to mention ghosts and other ghouls.  (Many early Halloween postcards actually contain leprechauns!)  While Burns didn't mention the scary as we think of it today (though fairies could be nasty business), it had always been a part of the holiday for many who celebrated Halloween.  Despite the efforts to cast Dia de los Muertos (The Mexican Day of the Dead) as a pagan celebration, it has many precursors in Catholic Europe.  All Soul's Day was used to honor fallen ancestors, perhaps due to the earlier associations on Samhain (or the association with Samhain and the dead could be a reverse projection).  As Halloween was gaining traction in the United States Spiritualism was at its speak.  Spiritualists taught that the living could talk with the dead, and it's been estimated that 20% of Americans were Spiritualists in the 19th Century.  Ghosts weren't rare visitors in homes back then, they were frequent, and would remain so up until the 1920's.  Halloween would have certainly been a great night for a seance!

As Halloween gained popularity in the early 20th Century, so did horror movies.  Four of the biggest "stars" in the 1930's were Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Wolf-Man.  As costume parties became more common place, dressing up as a favorite Universal Monster was an easy decision.  Monsters just naturally fit into late October as well.  Dracula isn't all that scary during the summer, but in the fall . . . when you can still be outside even though the sun sets at 5:00 . . . .  monsters are a natural fit.  Fairy tale witches have been associated with Halloween since the late 19th Century, probably due to their overwhelming popularity in fairy tales.  Think back to the "bad guys" in most storybooks back then, Dracula hadn't quite entered world consciousness.  While Witches were common, it took "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) to standardize the look of the Halloween witch.  Witches wore all sorts of colors pre-Wizard, but basically only black afterwards.

Surprisingly, one of the things not mentioned by Burns in his Halloween poem is the jack-o-lantern.  While it's been suggested that Jack-o-Lantern is genuinely old, there are no written references to it until 1663 when it's referred to as "Jack with the Lantern."  Old Jack with the Lantern was one of many fairy tale stories featuring the trickster figure "Jack."  According to his Lantern tale, God wouldn't accept Jack into heaven, and Satan wouldn't accept him into hell, but Lucifer was nice enough to throw a burning ember of coal Jack's way, which Jack then kept in a hollowed out turnip.  Jack was then cursed to wander the world with his glowing turnip until Judgement Day.

There might be some historical precedent for the turnip-o-lantern.    Many scholars think it was used in Catholic Ireland to represent souls stuck in purgatory on All Soul's night.  The turnip lantern could be used to honor those souls, or perhaps to guide them to a better place.  When the Irish moved to North America they began replacing the hard to carve turnip with the easier to carve pumpkin and the modern Jack O Lantern was born.  Instead of being an ancient symbol of pagandom, it's a relatively modern twist on a Catholic custom.

(Many Americans have inserted Jack-o-lanterns into the historical record before they even existed.  Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hallow" is a great example of this.  The Headless Horseman didn't throw a jack-o-lantern at poor Ichabod Crane, he only threw a pumpkin.  Despite our modern day  imaginings the story didn't even take place on Halloween!  The Dutch didn't celebrate it, but it just fits so easily into our Halloween mythology doesn't it?)

One of the great thrills about Halloween is dressing up in costume, but this is (again) a rather modern development.  There is some historical precedent for it though, remember how Hallowmas kicked off the Holiday Season?  Well, the Holiday Season was a time for masquerade balls, which of course involved masks.  Guy Fawkes day also featured masks, and holiday pranksters tended to hide their faces, either with cork or the occasional mask.  Holidays through the Hallowmas to New Year's Cycle also featured days where unconventional behavior was rewarded.  Early versions of all those holidays featured "Lords of Misrule" and the occasional cross dressing.  Social norms were thrown out the window on holidays, and Lords sometimes played peasants, and men sometimes played women.

Halloween wasn't the only holiday to feature dress up either.  For about fifty years the City of New York featured all kinds of costumed kids and adults on Thanksgiving (From about 1870-1932).  People would dress up on Thanksgiving and then dance for handouts while in costume.  Eventually (and partially because of the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade") the tradition was moved to Halloween.  Costumed Halloween parties had been gaining in traction since the early 1900's, so the move was a natural one.

The tradition of dressing up as something sinister was a German one and can be traced to a version of the Walpurgis Night Celebration.  Walpurgis is a holiday a lot like Halloween, full of tricks and pranks.  The song "Night on Bald Mountain" is an interpretation of Walpurgis, a night when it was said that witches celebrated the coming of Spring, often with Satan.  The German Walpurgis festival of Faschnacht featured people dressed up as witches and ghosts, this was absorbed into Halloween.

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By the early 1950's businesses began to see an opportunity to make big money with Halloween, and began to gather up the separate strands that made up the holiday and turn them into a whole.  Parties were promoted for adults, and the practice of trick or treating was turned into a national custom.  Due to the powers of TV, radio, and print, it began to feel like Halloween had always been a part of our lives.  Add the human capacity for wanting to be scared, and everything fell neatly into place.

Halloween is a pagan holiday, and a Catholic one, but mostly it's a secular one.  It represents our desire to celebrate the harvest at a seasonally appropriate time.  It plays to the joys of being young and pretending to be something we are not by dressing up.  Halloween fits nicely into our consumer culture, and allows us to play with that part of our psyche that likes to experience fear.  Halloween is a blending of folk traditions and capitalism.  Halloween doesn't endorse a particular religious view, it speaks to what's best about us as people; it allows us to build something new while paying respect to our past.


Death Takes a Holiday by David J. Skal  Bloomsbury Publishing; 2002.

Halloween:  From Pagan Ritual to Party Night by Nicholas Rogers  Oxford University Press; 2002.

The Stations of the Sun:  A History of the Ritual Year in Britain by Ronald Hutton  Oxford University Press; 2001

Monday, October 24, 2011

Drawing Down the Moon (and other things)

I'm not sure I'll ever understand the rationale behind programming at Pagan Festivals(1).  Over the weekend I got a list of workshops approved for Convocation in February.  I already knew I was presenting at "Con" several months ago, but I never know what they want me to present until later.  I tend to give them a list of workshops and then they pick three or four, perhaps a ritual too.  I think this year I gave them a list of six workshops, and they took three of them.

For the last two years I've been working on a presentation called "Vampires Don't Sparkle:  A True History of Vampires" and for the past two years I've submitted it to Convocation.  I've always thought this would be a good workshop to do at Con (probably because Michelle Belanger presents there and always draws a big crowd), but it's never been accepted.  Lecturing on the history of vampires is the kind of workshop I like presenting, because I love rambling on about history, and the topic lends its self to the occasional joke.

I've always believed (but have no proof) that the reason for "Vampires" rejection was because some people might think that I'd use the opportunity to belittle the subject matter.  Would I tell jokes?  Certainly.  Do I think the idea of people calling themselves vampires is a little silly?  Perhaps, but it's no more absurd than worshipping Jim Morrison as Dionysus.  The truth is, the literary evolution of the vampire is pretty fascinating, especially how vampires have evolved from boogeyman to sympathetic anti-hero.  As a kid I was also obsessed with monster movies, and spent a lot of time reading about vampires and werewolves, and how their myths developed.

As a presenter and writer I like to be heard and I like to be read(2).  If I'm going to take the time to create a workshop I want a lot of people to listen to it, so I try to come up with topics that will appeal to a broad spectrum of people.  That's a challenge for me, because my workshops are generally cerebral, and are often about histories, and there are a lot of people who would rather go to workshops about magic, and various other "how to" type presentations.  I get that I'm not everyone's cup of tea (or cider), so the vampire workshop was an attempt to branch out to the "Twilight" crowd, and a different (and perhaps bigger) audience.

I'm sure there are a lot of you out there thinking, "Jason, the reason everyone passes on your vampire workshop is not because of your odd sense of humor, but because it has nothing to do with Paganism."  You have a very valid point, however Convocation accepted this workshop:

Bigfoot is Real!
Yes, this isn’t a joke, Bigfoot, the legendary Sasquatch, might actually be more than just a myth.  Despite what the scientific establishment has told you, there is a lot of credible evidence pointing towards the existence of a large ape in North America.  This workshop looks at the very real evidence-physical and video-that suggests Bigfoot is no fairy tale.   You’ll enter a skeptic and leave a believer!(3)

So obviously, they accept non-Pagan workshops.  I'm not picking on Convocation here, Con is a wonderful festival, and they've always treated me very (very) well.  Hell, I'm flying back to Michigan in February just to go to it, that kind of says it all.  It's also just a few days after Pantheacon, another great big Pagan festival that I'll be at (though that one is not definite yet), so I've committed to running myself ragged for a solid week, obviously I love doing this stuff, but that doesn't mean I always understand everything involved behind the scenes.

I will admit that the prospect of talking about Sasquatch has me giddy with anticipation.  I can't imagine lots of people showing up for it, but I'm excited none the less.  I've been interested in monsters (and yes that includes vampires) since the second grade, back when I thought the Loch Ness Monster was possibly real, and most obviously a plesiosaur.   While my belief in Nessie has waned over the years, my desire to explore the strange, the unexplained, and the mysterious never has.  That's probably why Modern Paganism appeals to me, it does explore the strange, unexplained, and mysterious.  Modern Wicca offers a unique insight into deity absent from the rest of Western Religion, and getting closer to life's big mysteries is a continuing thread in my life.

When most of us think about Modern Wiccan Ritual, we tend to think about calling quarters, casting, a circle, and inviting deity into the circle.  Those are all magickal things in their own right, but to me the most incredible part of ritual is Drawing Down the Moon.  How many other faiths let you talk to deity? There's something incredibly powerful about the idea of being in a room with the Divine, and not just feeling the presence of the divine, but being able to talk to it, to interact with it.

For the uninitiated Drawing Down the Moon is the process of directly calling deity into a mortal vessel.  When a High Priestess (or Priest) draws down the moon she literally draws the Goddess inside of her.  Once the Goddess is there, the Priestess is absent, and the Goddess speaks through her Daughter and interacts with those around Her.  Think about that, it's truly a "holy shit" moment, a moment that's often lacking from Modern Ritual, Pagan or otherwise.

While Drawing Down the Moon is practically the most awesome think I can conceive of, it's often absent from a lot of Modern Pagan Ritual.  There are certainly groups who still make it a central part of their rites, but that seems more like the exception these days.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  Drawing Down the Moon is hard work, a lot of people aren't ready to do it, and it's not something you generally see at (open) large rituals.  It's also such an overwhelming experience for everyone involved (Priestess and circle-mates) that it's generally not a good idea to do in certain (most) circumstances.  It's something, by its very nature, that requires well trained clergy.

I had my first experience with Drawing Down the Moon thirteen years ago (?) and it was a real life-changing experience.  There were a few things that stand out about it to me.  The first were the eyes of my High Priestess/The Lady; they were alien, penetrating, powerful, and nearly drove me to tears.  They weren't the eyes of the person/High Priestess who entered the circle with me.  The second thing was that I swear She glowed, that there was an artificial light coming up through her skin, making her appear kind of like a ghost in a mostly dark room.  Inside of myself I felt like a fraud for ever believing, even if just for a second, that the Goddess wasn't real, and I realized that this was the most terrifying and exhilarating thing I'd ever witnessed in my life.

A year later I drew down the God, and did so quite unintentionally.  I was High Priesting my second ever Morrison Ritual (yes, I believe absurd things), and as it went along I was rather sure I was nailing it, it just felt right.  Of course I'd been working on getting in touch with Dionysus and Jim Morrison for the better part of two weeks:  reading nothing but Morrison poetry and Doors' biographies, eating steak (I avoid red meat as a rule), listening to copious amounts of The Doors, and consuming a healthy amount of wine.  I had done my research, but I wasn't expecting a transcendent experience.

Somewhere in the middle of that ritual I lost myself.  I was told later about the girls I kissed and the jokes I told, and I wish to high hell I could get those memories back, but apparently Dionysus decided he needed some of those.  While I was away I remember being warm, happy, and content; it was pleasurable, but not in an orgiastic sort of way, more in that "wrapped up under a warm blanket on an autumn night" kind of way.  The skeptics out there have always told me that I was drunk during my moments (twenty minutes or so) of Dionysian Possession, and I'd be lying if I said I had nothing to drink that night, but the amount I consumed was rather minuscule, at least by my standards.  So it couldn't have been just that.

Since those two incidents I've drawn down Dionysus on multiple occasions, and have also drawn down Pan a small number of times.  I've also witnessed several High Priestesses Draw Down the Lady.  Even though I've seen drawing down done a number of times (and been a part of it too), it's still a rare thing.  It's not a part of every ritual, and even when it is, it may or may not work (you can't tell deity what to do, deity does what it will).  It's one of those moments I'm constantly looking for though, as I attempt to explore those mysterious, unexplained, and strange corners of spirituality, religion, and Modern Paganism specifically.

That curiosity has led me to not just witnessing and participating in Drawing Down the Moon, it has led me to a deeper exploration of the process.  It's made me wonder what goes on when people draw down deity, where the idea that you can do something like that originated from, and the origin of the words used in the more common drawing down rites.  I decided to turn all of that wondering into a workshop, and while I might be talking about Sasquatch in February, I'm also going to be talking about Drawing Down the Moon:

Drawing Down the Moon:  The Mechanics of Invoking Deity
The ritual of "Drawing Down the Moon" has become one of the most important and essential parts of Modern Wicca, but how did the concept and ritual develop, and what is really going on when you "draw down" deity?  Mankey explores the history of the Drawing Down ceremony, focusing on its alleged origins in Ancient Greece and how the ceremony has developed in modern times.  The differences between invoking and evoking will also be discussed, and what types of energy are associated with each.  This workshop also provides information for performing your own "drawing down" ceremonies.  One of the major differences between Modern Paganism and other living religions is how close we (Pagans) get to our deities, "drawing down" is the most powerful way to celebrate that closeness.    

I haven't been so excited about a workshop in several years, so I'm glad (and relieved) that Convocation chose to accept it. (And if you are reading this and not heading to Michigan in February, it's one I hope to do in a lot of places, sit tight, and it'll be the focus of a few blog posts in the coming months.) My Pagan life is at its most perfect when I can write and talk about the things that excite me, and also experience them in ritual.

1  In a similar vein, I'll never understand why some blog posts are more popular than others.  Last week's Jesus Ween post was linked to a number of times and became my most read blog post ever.  Truthfully, I thought it was a little weak, but thanks for reading.

2  I love to be read, so if you enjoy a particular blog post, please link to it and share it.  It's not all difficult to do, and I'd really appreciate it.  

3  Yes, I do (mostly) believe in Bigfoot.  The idea that there is an eight foot ape in the Pacific Northwest is rather unbelievable, but there's enough evidence out there that the issue should at least be looked into.  Am I believer, yes, could you convince me Bigfoot isn't real?  Of course.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Defining the word (or words) "pagan"

While the comments section on DPT is usually pretty quiet, I do get a lot of comments about my blog on Facebook.*  Most of those comments are about content too, not the abundance of grammatical errors and misspellings that plague my posts.  Monday's "Jesus Ween" entry garnered quite a few comments, and I found one of them extremely interesting.  My friend Cm Barons** made an observation about the following paragraph:

"Yes Halloween is a creepy time of year, death is just in the air.  It's hard to escape dying plants, hibernating animals, frosty nights, falling leaves, and yes the ancients used to slaughter a lot of animals around November 1st.  All of those trappings are natural things, and they can't be escaped.  They all fit nicely into a cosmological Pagan worldview, but they are a part of everyone's experience, they aren't necessarily Pagan things.***"

He found that last sentence slightly under-thought, and made the argument that paganism is "a popular (democratic) experience?" and went on to say that "Halloween is the mundane celebration preliminary to All Saints Day/All Souls Day- in the same vein as Mardi Gras precedes the austerity of Lent. Both Halloween and Mardi Gras embody worldly, human festivity compared to the solemnity mandated by the church. I see 'pagan' with a much wider brush stroke."  Of course this got me to thinking about how exactly to define the word "pagan" and the word "Pagan."

When I use the word Pagan (capitol P) I'm using it to signify one specific thing:  an ambiguous but somewhat unified theory of Western Religious thought.  In my mind Modern (or Contemporary or Neo) Pagans generally share three or four characteristics.  Some Contemporary Pagans**** practice all of these things I'm going to list, some just one or two, but all are pretty recognizable as facets of today's Paganism.

Nature Religion   Pagans revere nature.  Pagan holidays aren't birthdays or death-days, they are natural times of year determined by the annual "Turn of the Wheel" (changing of the seasons).  While the level of "revering nature" varies from Pagan to Pagan; some worship nature while others simply honor yearly cycles, but it's pretty universal.

Polytheism  Calling all Pagans polytheists is rather limited, some are duotheists, and if you believe that "all gods are one god" some people might call you a monotheist, I even know a few atheist Pagans.  What makes Paganism unique, and why I use the term polytheist, is that Pagandom will generally support your experience with the gds.  If you worship Thor and I worship Pan, we aren't necessarily adversaries.  Your religious experience is just as valid as mine.  We may not worship the same gods, and we may have different concepts of what deity is, but as a community we don't invalidate someone else's experience as a result.  Contrast this with most monotheistic religions where a parishioner acknowledging a moment with deity results in puzzled stares, exile from the group, or a trip to the insane asylum.  

The Feminine Principle  Most Pagans revere a Goddess, or are open to the idea that deity is not exclusively male.  Pagan Goddesses are equal to male deities, not subservient or asexual entities like the Catholic Virgin Mary.  In addition to honoring the Divine Feminine, Pagan Circles generally see equality among the sexes.  Women can lead rituals (and in many traditions are actually above men) and participate as equals (or superiors) in 99.9% of all "Pagan" traditions.

Western Religious Tradition  Just five years ago I wouldn't have added this fourth caveat, but these days I feel it's necessary.  The majority of the stuff that makes up Modern Pagan Religious practice comes from Western Sources.  Most of us tend to worship European and Middle Eastern deities, and the nuts and bolts of ceremony are also generally European.  Many Modern Pagans attempt to recreate (or at least re-imagine) Ancient Western Paganisms, whether they are Greek, Roman, Celtic, Egyptian, or Norse.  In addition there are several groups out there who would prefer not to be under our umbrella.  Labeling Native American Traditions "Pagan" is a recipe for trouble, the same goes with Hindu traditions.  That doesn't mean Modern Pagans ignore ideas, beliefs, and deity from outside of Western Culture, it just means that those impulses are generally filtered through a Western prism.  Lots of Pagans I know worship Eastern Gods, and use Native American Ritual Techniques, but if they wanted to focus exclusively on those things they would join a Shinto Temple or petition the Lakota tribe for membership.  Paganism is highly adaptable and it's easy to add things to it, but those things are usually adapted for Contemporary Pagan use.

 Those four things are generally found in most Western Pagan Traditions, or "Pagan Religions" as I think of them.  The word "pagan" is far more complicated, and can be interpreted several different ways.  For a long time the most common definition of the word pagan read something like this "anyone who is not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew."  This definition is still used by a lot of people, and when those people stumble upon a faith outside of the Abrahamic Tradition they label it "pagan" by default.  This definition nearly matches the use of the word pagan in some anthropological circles.  Many anthropologists will label native religions as pagan, even if that religious tradition in Africa has nothing in common with one in the Philippines.

In my own writing I often use the word pagan to refer to ancient pagan religions of Europe and the Middle East.  Since most of those religions are unique unto themselves, I sometimes call them ancient paganisms.  While it's true that both the Ancient Greeks and the Vikings worshipped a multitude of gods, the similarities mostly stop there.  Those paganisms are also filtered through distinct cultural perspectives.  As a Modern Hellenic Re-constructionist I can relate to today's Asatru because we come from the same cultural background and share a common language.  Not the case two thousand years ago.

The original meaning of the word pagan means "country dweller," and comes from the Latin word "paganus."  Whether subconsciously or as a result of the word pagan's origins, a lot of people refer to old or rustic practices as pagan.  I think my friend Cm was referring to something like this.  There's nothing linking the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance explicitly to any ancient pagan religious practice, and many of the people who participate in it are devout Christians, but it's the type of think that often gets labeled as pagan regardless.  Morrison Dancing lacks a true pagan religious pedigree, but it's the kind of folk custom that people call pagan anyways.  Lots of rustic traditions get labeled as pagan even when they aren't, probably because they feel pagan.

There's a certain romance to the countryside, and people like to imagine it as an eternal, unchanging place.  That means any sort of ritual or practice in it has to come from pre-Christian sources, even if that's not actually the case.  I think as human beings we are naturally attracted to certain types of rituals and to celebrating the change of the seasons.  These rituals and acknowledgments do not necessarily have to be religious, but they are the type of thing people like to label as pagan.  Regardless of your religion, if you live in a rural area it's likely that you are going to do something to try and ensure a good harvest.  Even if your fertility ritual includes a statue of a saint or a Virgin Mary, people are often going to label it pagan.

Seasonal Celebrations are also thought of as pagan by many.  There are good reasons for this, the first holidays might have very well been seasonal celebrations, and therefore pagan ones.  Seasonal celebrations also touch on the changing of the seasons, a frequent motif in Western pagan religions.  That's why walking into a craft store in the fall feels so pagan to many of us.  Decorating with leaves, pumpkins, and other assorted gourds is not necessarily religious (a wreath made of leaves on the door does not make one a Pagan), but it just feels like it could be.  "Her house was decorated in a very pagan way," because it was covered with signs of autumn.

Pagan is often used in a derogatory way to express displeasure with a person's morality.  If you are a swinger, or in a polyamorous relationship , someone might call you a pagan even if you are a practicing Baptist.   For some, paganism is synonymous with hedonism, probably because our pagan ancestors were seen as hedonists, and it's not hard to picture crazy orgies held in honor of Dionysus and Aphrodite either.  Modern Paganism is a sexually charged religion, but that doesn't mean everyone who engages in it is polyamorous and going to "great golden copulations," though I'd be down with that if that were the case.  

Rituals or celebrations that are high energy, or perhaps full of happy drinking are sometimes called pagan.  One of the most influential parties in literature on my psyche is the Christmas Party hosted by Old Fezziwig in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."  Fezziwig's party doesn't really have a religious component, but it features dancing, drinking, flirting (perhaps more?), singing, and general merriment.  It's how I've always wanted my own Yule Ritual or Party to feel and look.  It's not pagan in the sense that most of us use the word, but it's the type of celebration that feels pagan.  This is the type of "pagan" my friend was writing about when he wrote "Both Halloween and Mardi Gras embody worldly, human festivity compared to the solemnity mandated by the church."  So in that sense, any celebration of joy could be looked at as pagan.  

Bigots like Janet Mefford often link homosexuality to paganism, in attempt to demonize the both of them.  To some Christians homosexual relations are "pagan" because they go against the teachings of Yahweh.  If close minded people want to call every gay person they meet a pagan I'd be happy to have the whole LGBT Community as a part of our tribe, but that's probably not fair to my gay Christian, Jewish, and Muslim friends.

So what is going on exactly when we label something or someone P/pagan?  We could be talking about an umbrella religious term, or it could signify something sexual, old, seasonal, joyous, or rustic.  I kind of like all of these definitions myself, but I try to be careful with my writing and refrain from labeling something Pagan when it's only pagan.  Sure my experiences as a Pagan contain all of those pagan elements, they are sexual, seasonal, joyous, antiquated, and rustic, I hope yours are too.  

*If you are just a reader and not a Facebook friend and want to read those comments you can add me on Facebook, is the profile.    

**A writer as well, he has a book out there somewhere if you are interested.  For the record, it's pretty good.  

***Really weird to be quoting myself.  

****While most of the community probably uses Neo-Pagan, I like to use the term Contemporary Pagan. Neo-Pagan means "New" Pagans, since we are a few generations in now, it doesn't seem appropriate anymore.  In academic circles the term "Contemporary Pagan" is gaining a lot of traction, but do as you will.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Worst Halloween Ever

Most of you who read my blog probably keep up with other blogs, and many of you have probably already come across the rebranding of Halloween as "Jesus Ween."  I'm not sure exactly sure when Jesus became a wiener dog . . . . all right that's not really it.  Jesus Ween is the latest shot in the ridiculously stupid culture war being fought by many Christians.  It's a silly effort to turn Halloween into an evangelical mission, and ruin many a Halloween by passing out Bibles instead of candy.

Like most people, I'm hardly ever exposed to Christianity.  I'm unaware of most Christian Holidays, and none of my friends on facebook post Bible verses.  Of course that's all bullshit, and the simple truth is that nearly everyone has already been exposed to Jesus and the Christian Church.  I understand the effort to evangelize (monotheism by its very nature has to be intolerant and the "only" way), but I don't know why a mostly secular (with Christian elements) holiday has to be co-opted to do so.

I know that Halloween scares the shit out of Evangelical Christians, but that's only due to their own ignorance.  About the only "Pagan" elements of Halloween are the associations with death and the date of October 31st.  After those two things there's very little Pagan left.  The tradition of trick or treating is a Christian one, as is the jack-o-lantern.  Dressing up in costumes has nothing to do with the Celtic holiday of Samhain, but because Pagans celebrated something on October 31st the assumption is that all of that day's trappings are Pagan.

I would love to claim that Halloween as it's currently constituted is an ancient Pagan holiday, but it's just not.  Heck, the modern holiday of Halloween has only really been celebrated since the late 1940's in the United States, before that the celebration of the holiday was an extremely regional thing.  While Halloween has a longer history in Great Britain, it's not by much.  I'm not in the mood to write the whole "History of Halloween" post right now, but just trust me on this.  In addition to not being all that old, Halloween is a combination of customs from All Hallow's Eve, Guy Fawkes Day, and Christmas.  (Apparently the "Holiday Season" has always blended together.)

Yes Halloween is a creepy time of year, death is just in the air.  It's hard to escape dying plants, hibernating animals, frosty nights, falling leaves, and yes the ancients used to slaughter a lot of animals around November 1st.  All of those trappings are natural things, and they can't be escaped.  They all fit nicely into a cosmological Pagan worldview, but they are a part of everyone's experience, they aren't necessarily Pagan things.

One of the founders of "Jesus Ween," a Pastor Paul, said "Halloween is not consistent with the Christian faith. Many people say they feel uncomfortable on that day. We think people should choose an alternative activity."  How is getting candy not consistent with Christian faith?  Most Christians aren't consistent on a daily basis, I can't imagine how Halloween is all that different.  A bunch of middle school children dressed up as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Disney Princesses is somehow an opening for the Prince of Darkness?  How is it all that different from most Saturday mornings in front of the TV?  Just ridiculous Christian over-reaction.

(You could argue that Halloween teaches gluttony and greed, allegedly two behaviors that are at odds with traditional Christianity.  However, it's hard to look at the Tea Party and not see greed.  If Christianity was truly "anti-greed" there would be more Evangelicals taking part in the current "Occupy" movement, but I digress.)

At its heart Halloween is a harvest celebration, that's why people decorate with scarecrows and bob for apples.  Yes, there are classical looking witches on Halloween, and kids dressed up as vampires, but those things are not necessarily Pagan or even anti-Christian, they are simply literary creations.  People enjoy dressing up as things that scare them, they aren't honoring them.  If you are going to take those things away, or argue that they are anti-Christian, you have to get rid of every fairy tale, with the exception of those in the Bible.

One of the most ridiculous things about Jesus Ween is that passing out Bibles to children instead of candy can only lead to ill will.  What kid is going to be excited about getting a King James Bible instead of a Snickers bar?  "Look Mommy, a Bible!"  I'd rather have the rock from the Charlie Brown Halloween Special so I could throw it at the guy's house who gave me the Bible so I could add it to my Father's rock garden, he always likes new rocks.  Pissing off converts is no way to attract new followers.

None of the attacks on Halloween this year are especially new.  "Hell Houses," haunted houses featuring immoral behavior and people ending up in hell, have been popular for two decades now.  I'd hate for anyone to have any fun!  Let's just focus on negative shit and ruin some childhoods.  "My parents took me out for candy."  "My parents took me to a hell house where I had to listen to some Slayer."  Tell me which kid is going to have more emotional scarring when we are done?  The one who had to listen to Reign in Blood or the one who got candy?

Happy Halloween to Everyone.  Wake me up for the next round of the culture wars when that most Pagan of all holidays rolls around-Christmas.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Little Bit About History

This past Friday I was lucky enough to lecture at one of our local bookstores about the History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft.  It's a talk I've been doing off and on for ten years, and one that has constantly evolved over those ten years.  If you had asked me in 2001 if Gerald Gardner had been initiated into a coven I would have said "no," if you ask me now I'll give you an emphatic "yes."  While I still don't think Modern Wicca is more than 110 years old, I do think that there could be generally "old" elements within it.  The more I research "magic" the more I'm amazed at how resilient and widespread it was (and is).

I think there's a pre-conceived notion that most of us have about magic.  People tend to think of it as something rare, and something that needs a religious context to work, both assertions are entirely wrong.  Magic can be extremely effective (and popular) without a religious context.  Despite what the history books tell you, people practiced magic in Old Europe and the New World with regularity, and not everyone who practiced it was considered a witch or burnt at the stake.  Most practitioners allowed magic and Christianity to blend together without any thought that such blending might be "wrong."

The "Grimoire" (or "High Magic") tradition was equally strong.  The history of magic books can be traced back 1200 years, and books of magic existed at the height of the "Witch Trials" (though in fairness many were burned back then, but they always managed to stay in print).  In the 19th Century books full of magic became best sellers, just like schlock like "The Secret" is a bestseller today.  My point is that magic has always been popular and seen as important, but magic is not Witchcraft.

A friend of mine likes to constantly make the argument that Witchcraft is a part of the Western Magickal Tradition, a tradition that extends from the Ancient Greeks to the present day.  I agree with that statement to a large extent, but I wouldn't call the development of that tradition a continual one, instead it's moved along with starts and stops, and a nugget of wisdom from the year 300 CE might fall off the grid for 1600 years before being picked up again.  Modern Paganism is certainly related to Classical Paganism, we worship many of the same gods, celebrate some of the same holidays, but it's all generally done through a modern world-view and a mixing and matching of various cultures and beliefs.*  (Take me for example, I love Greek Gods, but I tend to celebrate Celtic and Norse holidays, all of those things are "old," but the context is completely different.)

During my workshop I was asked about the "Egyptian Papyri," and why they were so similar to Modern Witchcraft.  I have to admit the question caught me a bit off guard because I was unfamiliar with the idea of the "Egyptian Papyri."  According to the questioner these papyri contained traces of a magickal system that was similar to Modern Witchcraft, utilizing circles, four quarters (with color correspondences equal to those used by most Modern Pagans), and calls to deity.  That's certainly possible, I'm not sure it's related to Modern Wicca.

The question caught me off guard because the question was framed incorrectly.  The papyrus fragments the questioner meant to ask me about are more accurately known as the "Greek Magical Papyri" (though many of them were in fact written in Egypt), and yes they did sometimes contain four quarters, circles, and calls to deity, but they were different from Modern Witchcraft in how they approached the gods.  The GMP generally call deity into circle to manipulate it, to get something out of it, to control it.  Modern Witchcraft calls to deity for assistance sometimes, but it doesn't seek to order it around.  The GMP are also not a cohesive body of work, consisting mainly of fragments-some from books and isolated spells.  They don't represent a cohesive approach to magic, let alone religion.  These papyri might have certainly influenced Modern Witchcraft, but only after they were rediscovered, it seems unlikely that they were passed down for generations.

I do believe that something like Modern Wicca would have eventually emerged in the early part of the Modern Era had Christianity not suppressed Classical Pagan Religions.  A move towards a more monotheistic paganism had been developing for centuries, and more syncretic ways of thinking were beginning to set in, gods and goddesses were merging in certain areas, and paganism was starting to coalesce as one large religion, not several smaller ones.  This process though would have taken many hundreds of years though, the more monotheistic schools of pagan thought were occupied almost exclusively by educated elites and not the rank and file of the Roman Empire.  While a philosopher in Athens might have seen Mithra, Jesus, Apollo, and Sol Invictus as the same god, it's doubtful whether the average farmer in the field would have felt the same way.

If anything the GMP have more in common with traditions in Renaissance Magic where powerful forces were called upon and forced to do certain things.  Christian Magicians in the Renaissance commonly called upon angels and demons to perform certain tasks.  When I call Kokopelli to circle I might ask him for assistance in the love making department, but I certainly don't tell him to do it for me.  Those are seriously different ways of doing ritual and working with higher powers.

Every once in a while I attempt to join an online Pagan community, and then find myself getting thrown out of it for doubting the existence of "Fam-Trad" Witchcraft.  For the record, a "fam-trad" is a family tradition passed down in secret for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.  Generally fam-tradders characterize their traditions as both religious and magical.  The latter part of that argument I don't necessarily doubt.  It's certainly possible that a family might pass down a certain magical point of view for generations, but I find it hard to believe that belief in a Mother Goddess and Horned God came down in those beliefs.  I have trouble swallowing the idea that these fam-tradders would have used the words Witch or Witchcraft.  Until the 19th Century it just wasn't a positive word, if you lived in 1701 you just wouldn't have thought of yourself as a "witch," the word was loaded, and loaded in a bad way.

At the same time, I don't think all of those people are lying either.  I think folk magic traditions are extremely compatible with Modern Witchcraft, and that the compatibility has led people to believe they've been doing it their whole lives.  It's sort of a self-delusion, not a malicious lie.  No one is intentionally trying to mislead anyone, it's just that someone has already misled themselves.  "My grandmother played with dried herbs and did spells, she must have been a witch, therefore I was in a traditional family witchcraft group."

When I was in the second grade I had warts, like a lot of little kids.  No matter what we tried they would not go away.  I used Compound W and would burn those little suckers until they were gone, in a matter of days they'd be back.  After trying for two years to get rid of them, a friend of my father's gave him something called the "Moon Trick."  The Moon Trick had to be done in the light of a full moon, and you had to bathe your warts in moonlight while saying some very witchy words.  My dad led me through the Moon Trick, and within a week my warts were gone.  My dad was not a witch, I'm not in a family tradition, but you can see how one could delude to themselves into thinking they were.  My dad and I used magic because it's something people do sometimes, it didn't make me a seven year old witch.

So while Modern Witchcraft has a foot in the Western Magical Tradition and Folk Magic has survived for generations, that doesn't mean Wicca is a genuinely old religion.  If Modern Witchcraft was actually 1500 years old, it would have been the best kept secret of all time.  Can you imagine not having a paper trail for 1500 years?  In all of that time not one person broke an oath and handed over a Book of Shadows?  Truly, it would be the most incredible thing ever.  People can't keep an affair private, just imagine thousands, if not millions, of people keeping a religion secret for over a thousand years.

Within fifteen years of Gerald Gardner first going public as a Witch, parts of his Book of Shadows were published and available to anyone willing to track them down.  He hadn't even been dead for ten years when most of his BoS was published by a mainstream publisher.  It seems amazing to me that something could be kept hidden for 500 years and then get completely outed in the matter of a decade.  It certainly casts into doubt any claim that Wicca is hundreds of years old.  

Why do people persist in believing that Modern Pagan Witchcraft is hundreds of years old?  Probably because it is a romantic notion, one that is extremely appealing to many people.  I find comfort in the idea that some of the magical parts of it date back centuries.  Christians refuse to recognize the historial Jesus because the idea of their savior as just a man isn't as magical.  The idea of a relatively modern Witchcraft bothers some people because they tend to equate age with legitimacy.  Yes, Modern Pagan Witchcraft, has a long, distinguished history, and it's influences are a tangled web, but as a complete system and religion, it's (probably) pretty new.

Yes, my Reconstructionist Friends I know you are mostly different, however I doubt very many of you are sacrificing goats.