Tuesday, October 30, 2012 10:22 AM
Editor’s Note: A reader's recent tip reminded us
about a collection of articles from the October/November 1986 issue of Utne
Halloween, contemporary witchcraft, and feminist spirituality. In celebration
of the holiday, we’ll be posting a few of our favorites online through the 31st.
On every full moon, pagan
rituals take place on hilltops, on beaches, in open fields and in ordinary
houses. Writers, teachers, nurses, computer programmers, artists, lawyers,
poets, plumbers, and auto mechanics—women and men from many backgrounds—come
together to celebrate the mysteries of the Triple Goddess of birth, love, and
death, and of her Consort, the Hunter, who is Lord of the Dance of Life. The
religion they practice is called Witchcraft.
is a word that frightens many people and confuses many others. In the popular
imagination, Witches are ugly old hags riding broomsticks, or evil Satanists
performing obscene rites. Modern witches are thought to be members of a kooky
cult, which lacks the depth, dignity, and seriousness of purpose of a true
But Witchcraft is a
religion, perhaps the oldest religion in the West. Its origins go back before
Christianity, Judaism, Islam, before Buddhism and Hinduism. The Old Religion,
as we call it, is closer in spirit to Native American traditions or to the
shamanism of the Inuit people of the Arctic.
It is not based on dogma or a set of beliefs, nor on scriptures or a sacred
book revealed by a great man. Witchcraft takes its teachings from nature and
reads inspiration in the movements of the sun, moon, and stars, in the flight
of birds, in the slow growth of trees, and in the cycles of the seasons.
The worship of the Great
Goddess, which is at the heart of Witchcraft, underlies the beginnings of all
civilizations. Mother Goddess was carved on the walls of Paleolithic caves and
sculpted in stone as early as 25,000 B.C. In 7000 B.C., cities arose in Asia Minor that developed a rich, Goddess-centered
culture, combining agriculture, hunting, and early crafts, in which women were
leaders. From excavations done in the 1960s, we get a picture of an
egalitarian, decentralized, inventive, and peaceful society, without evidence
of human or animal sacrifice or weapons of war.
flourished in the civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece,
India, Central America,
South America, and China.
For the Mother, giant stone circles, the henges of the British
Isles, were raised. For Her the great passage graves of Iceland were
dug. In Her honor sacred dancers leaped the bulls in Crete.
Grandmother Earth sustained the soil of the North American prairies, and Great Mother
Ocean washed the coasts of Africa. Her priestesses discovered and tested the healing
herbs and learned the secrets of the human mind and body that allowed them to
ease the pain of childbirth, to heal wounds and cure diseases and to practice
magic, which I like to define as the “art of changing consciousness at will.”
In the great urban
centers, as society became more centralized, a new type of power developed: the
ability of one group of human beings to control another. War became common. And
as warfare came to shape culture, women were driven from power, and the rule of
men over women ensued. This rule brought with it the system of inheritance
through the father. This made the sexual control of women necessary to ensure
that a father’s children were truly his. In Europe, the Middle East, and India,
this move toward patriarchy was intensified by invasions from the warlike
Indo-Europeans, who venerated male sky-gods and glorified battle.
The change to patriarchy
was not an instant process. The old cultures resisted, and the transition
lasted thousands of years (from approximately 4000 to 1500 B.C.) in Europe and
the Middle East. The written myths and legends
of the Old Religion that have come down to us all date from the transitional
Yet the concept of Mother
never completely died. In India,
She survived (and still does to today) in village celebrations and in the goddesses
of Hindu worship. In Greece,
She became the goddesses of Olympus. Her
worship lived in mystery cults and folk traditions as well as in the healing
practices and rituals of the “pagans” (from the Latin, meaning “country
dweller”). The Great Mother was also Christianized as the Virgin Mary, whose
worship is especially strong to this day in Latin America.
Those who held to the Old
Religion of the Goddess were called Witches, from the Anglo-Saxon root wic (wicca
is another name some use for witchcraft)—meaning “to bend or shape.” They were
shamans, healers, benders and shapers of reality, strongly tied to village and
peasant culture, linked to the land and the round of seasonal celebrations.
As the culture of Europe
changed in the 16th and 17th centuries, Catholics and
later Protestants persecuted Witches as a way of breaking down the peasants’
cultures in order to open the land to more profitable exploitation; to increase
the power of the male medical profession by driving women out of healing; and
to consolidate social control by attacking sensuality, the erotic, and the
mysterious. Torture, terror, burning, and outright lies were their tools, and
the deaths of hundreds of thousands of victims (some estimate as many as nine
million), primarily women, established the aura of fear that still surrounds
the “Witch” and the Western view of suprarational powers and abilities.
After the persecutions
ended in the 18th century came the age of unbelief. Memory of the
Craft had faded, and the hideous stereotypes that remained seemed ludicrous,
laughable, or tragic. Only in this century have Witches been able to “come out
of the broom closest,” so to speak, and counter the imagery of evil with truth.
Excerpted from Yoga Journal(May/June
1986) and reprinted in Utne Reader (Oct./Nov. 1986).
, licensed under
Thursday, July 05, 2012 10:00 AM
Starhawk, committed global justice activist and organizer, is the author or
coauthor of twelve books, including
The Spiral Dance, The Fifth Sacred
The Earth Path. Her latest is
The Empowerment Manual:
A Guide for Collaborative Groups. She is a veteran of progressive movements,
from anti-war to anti-nukes, is a highly influential voice in the revival of
earth-based spirituality and Goddess religion, and has brought many innovative
techniques of spirituality and magic to her political work. Her web site is www.starhawk.org. Starhawk was recognized as an Utne Reader Visionary in 1995.
Editor's note: This post originally appeared at Dirt Worship, Starhawk's blog on earth-based spirituality, permaculture, magic, politics, activism, and Paganism.
Jason Pitzi-Waters, of the Pagan Newswire Collective, asked
a few of us to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision that the Affordable Care
Act is constitutional. Here’s mine:
A Pagan response—or rather, this
Pagan’s response for there no universal agreement among Pagans on any issue–to
the upholding of the Affordable Care Act has two aspects: is it good for us,
individually and as a community, and is it in concert with our Pagan values.
While the Act is not as good for me,
individually or many of us as a single-payer system would be, it is definitely
an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got. Like many
other Pagan writers and teachers, I’m self-employed and have been pretty much
all my adult life. I’ve had health insurance since my mother brow-beat me into
getting it in my twenties, with the same company. While I’m pretty healthy for
my age, I’ve seen my premiums go up and up every year, to the point that they
were costing me more than my mortgage, more than my food budget, more than
anything else. Now, if I were being taxed for a single-payer system, when my
income went down my payments would go down. But with private insurance, the
price just keeps going up and up and up! When it finally reached over $1200 a
month, I started looking for other options. I tried switching companies, but
I’m now over sixty, overweight (not alone among Pagans in being so!) and with
minor but irritating health problems that somehow drove my projected premiums
up even higher! So I switched to a lower-cost plan that has a $6000 deductible.
That would keep me from losing my house should I get a serious illness, and
having lost five friends in the last five months, mostly to cancer, I can’t
ignore that possibility. I’m still trying to save up the $6000 to have ready in
the bank should I need it suddenly—because if I do get sick, I won’t be able to
travel and teach which provides the bulk of my income.
Meanwhile, I encountered the dreaded
Socialized Medicine when I was in England and needed a new asthma
inhaler. I was able to get an appointment at the local clinic in Totnes—the
same day I asked for one. I saw a doctor, who gave me a new prescription. He
very apologetically informed me that I would have to pay for it, he was so
sorry, because I’m not on National Health. I said that was okay, as an
American, I was used to it. The clinic had a pharmacy on the premises, and the
pharmacist filled the prescription, also expressing regret and embarrassment
that I had to paid. He then charged me just over 5 English pounds—less than
$10, for two inhalers, each of which costs me about $35 in the US!
I left, infuriated—not at the
National Health, but at our own rip-off system. Why should we pay two, four,
seven times as much if not to enrich somebody at our expense? Since I shifted
my insurance, and since my own trusted doctor retired, I haven’t been to see a
doctor since, except for a couple of weeks ago when I had a serious bout with
asthma after camping out in the desert. I went to the clinic at the University of California. I had to fill out a form
before I saw anyone, stating my financial qualifications to be seen. The form
informed me that the visit would like cost something in the neighborhood of
$450 dollars! But they couldn’t tell me how much, ahead of time. No one tells
you what any specific treatment costs, before you have it—yet you are expected
to pay. I know there are many preventive things I should be doing, at my
age—like keeping a watch on my blood sugar levels, but when money is short, as
it often is, I hesitate to make an appointment or sign up for tests that might
break the budget. And I think many others, Pagans and not-Pagans, are in the
So for me personally, the ACA will
help. The insurance exchanges may allow me to get a better policy at lower
cost. Some of the provisions of the act assure more justice and fairness for
everyone. And while it’s not the National Health or Canada’s public insurance, I
believe we are in a better position to push for more when we build on success
than we would be if we had to recover from failure.
I didn’t mean to write quite this
much. Do I have feelings about this? Evidently I do!
Now, as for the ethics. Our
traditions tell us that we Witches were the village healers, the wise women and
cunning men who offered herbs and treatment and magic to the sick, especially
to the poor. As such we have a special interest in assuring access to health
care for all.
I believe the core value in Pagan
ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On
that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access
to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is
partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces
beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we
shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more
and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from
pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our
collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences
of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us.
Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our
mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will
need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we
truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body
and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well
to offer one another solidarity and succor.
To sum up, universal access to health
care is consonant with our core Pagan values of interconnection and
interdependence. The Affordable Care Act is a small step toward that end,
flawed but better than no change at all. As Michael Moore has said, it should
spur us to keep working for a better, more equitable system. But I believe
we’ll do better building on a small success than we would have trying to
recover from an abject failure. I hope as Pagans we can help to lead the way.
Image by Andy Potter, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 12:53 PM
The tradition of burning witches has developed a bad reputation. In Alberta, burning witches sounds like a rather pleasant experience. In an article for Maisonneuve (not available online), Tadzio Richards writes about his family’s Danish tradition called the Heks, where trash from spring cleaning is fashioned into a witch effigy and set on fire. His grandmother calls it “an awful heathen thing we do here,” but the view of the burning waste could be quite beautiful. I just hope his family takes the environment into consideration before burning their trash.
Image of the Heks by EPO, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 25, 2008 2:33 PM
In the almost 30 years that Margot Adler has worked with National Public Radio, she has covered social, health, and political issues for All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and many other shows. During that time, she has also been a practicing Pagan, a fact not often addressed in her professional life. Adler sat down with the radio show Interfaith Voices to talk about both paganism and public radio.
Adler, author of the book Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today, says she was drawn to Paganism partly due to the inspiration she drew as a woman from ancient goddesses, but also because of her connection to the environmental movement. In the interview Adler talks about the unthinking, “anti-ecological” tendencies displayed by many people, and how Paganism can help people connect with the earth.
Saturday, December 29, 2007 12:46 PM
Never use magic to get a date. Don’t even try. It will only get you into trouble. The latest issue of New Witch (article not available online), a pagan magazine from northern California, details why lonely, witchcraft-curious neophytes shouldn’t dabble in magic for superficial reasons, like finding a date. “Magic isn’t safe,” writes the “therioshaman” named Lupa. Some people try to delve into the spirit world to escape their personal problems, but according to Lupa, advanced magic will force people to “face the scariest adversary of all—him or herself.” The single and lonely should try the interpersonal charm, and leave the magical charms to the experts.
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