Lately, I was asked for advice by a new witch in Southern California who asked for advice on attending a Pagan convention. Here is what I wrote:
Cameras: Bring your camera, if you like, but do not take pictures of anyone without getting their permission first and do not take pictures at a dance or a ritual without first getting permission from the Organizer. Any good Organizer will make an announcement re pictures before the ritual starts. If they don't, ask them what they rules are, in case anyone wants to take a picture of you. Some Organizers are better than others, and you have to take care of yourself, here.
That's your call. Some of us have names that are private and others that are public and these are entirely different. The Goddess might have another name for you, which she might not tell you until you meet her on the other side...who knows? At that point, we may be told all the names you have ever had, and that could take a while.
Superstition vs Metaphysics
No one has power over you unless you give it to them. Names, hair, curses, etc have no power except in superstition. I think it's sweet, and very special, too, to have a name that just between you and Her, but I don't see it as a requirement, nor do I agree with the Priestess who taught that you have to "protect yourself" against the use of your "true name". Mysteries are all well and good, but some of these traditions date back to times when we had to protect one another, and many have more to do with secret societies in the 18th & 19th centuries (and Gerald Gardner's love of play acting) then they do with real metaphysics. For more on this see Ronald Hutton's book "The Triumph of the Moon". This is real Pagan history by real Pagan scholar, yea verily. The rest of what is written about the Craft is often charming, but it's mostly wish fulfillment. Not history, but fantasy. Trust not the Pagan book that hath not detailed footnotes and complete bibliography! Worthy Authors Useth Only First Sources, damnit. Too many modern "Pagan writers" are lazy and just quote each other and this shoddy scholarship does no one any good.
Please have your magical and social boundaries well in place before you get to the Con (or any Pagan event, for that matter). There is a lot of energy about, and you'll need to center and clear every day, both morning and evening. Lavender or any kind of citrus oil is good for this, if you don't like using sage. Some people who go there do not have good boundaries themselves (thankfully, these are becoming a minority now - most of the Pagans who attend these days actually have jobs and most are functional adults - what a concept). In any case, put your shields up, Mr. Spock, and keep 'em up the whole time. Get to know people a bit before you trust them. Don't go by what they say - trust your gut and watch what they do and who they hang out with.
Recording the Journey
I recommend that you take a spiral bound notebook and record your impressions. List who you meet and where and why you think there is or is not a connection between you. Just makes notes at the end of each day - don't bother to write it all up pretty until later (and then, only if you want to). The notes you make are a useful guide for you later, so don't let your Inner Critic/Editor play with this until later. Significance and form will be apparent to you later on. Most of what we learn, we learn in hindsight yes? In my opinion, hindsight is just as powerful as second sight and a lot more reliable.
When you meet someone, listen more than you talk. Pay attention to their Shadow sides (and yours!) and see where you can find the positive aspects with them, and the light they connect to that is within you. Think in terms of archetypes when you meet people and tell your own story of that weekend as a Quest - that might help you get both inside (feeling) and outside (judgment) which is what you need to get everything you can out of the experience. Witches' work on the boundaries, as you know, and this is partly what we mean when we talk about walking between worlds. If you want to really get out of your head, trying drawing this journey, as well. Don't worry about making art, just play with colors, symbols and stick figures. Make a Map of your road that weekend and see where it leads you. Seeing patterns and connections is a great deal of Witchcraft. Now, I'm going to be a bit blunt and rather harsh here - I hope you are OK with that. If not, you have every right to say so. Here goes: This isn't High School. It's not about being liked by the cool kids or finding a place to belong or standing out from the crowd for being "wrong" somehow. You are the cool kid, and you belong here by virtue of the fact that the Goddess picked you for her own. Remember that and honor it. Attend any function as a centered, friendly being who treats others with courtesy and kindness. Don't be overly impressed by authors, titles or experience. How long someone has been in the Craft or who initiated them, is not as important as what they have learned in that time and how they treat themselves and others. For the record: I'm not all that impressive, either, just another Witch on her journey. Most of what I've learned, I've learned by falling on my ass, getting up, and going on. Like I always say, "You get a great view from a glass house". If you put me on a pedestal by virtue of these letters, then you are setting me up to fall off one day, yes? So don't do that :-) In any case, some people go to these things for the first time as needy puppy dogs who desperately want a home, others as pompous Pooh Bahs who dress only to impress...either way, it's not an energy that invites healthy people to know them better.
Titles & Such
In my Path, (which is a Green Tradition with Taoist leanings) there is no such thing as a "High" bloody anything. We are all equal before one another and before the God and Goddess. Different ones may lead a Circle at different times, but that depends on what we want the ritual to accomplish, and who's gifts and experience are best brought to bear in that circumstance. We stand on our own two feet in this spiritual practice and we look each other in the eye. And if anyone wants to put you back down on your knees, you should bend down just long to pick up your bag, and then go out and find another teacher. On the other hand, show respect towards everyone. Practice courtesy at all times to all people, including those who don't deserve it. A polite "no" is still a "no", and it means you won't have to go back and apologise for anything else, later on. Finally, the three best rules I know are these: 1) Show up 2) Pay attention 3) Tell the truth.
Tools and such
The trappings such as stones, athames - all the tools, clothes, colors and incense, et al, are there to help you focus. What energy they have comes mainly from you. What meaning they have comes mostly from you. Any Witch worth her wand can do magic without all the tools and with only her two hands and heart, and this whenever she wants to. The secret to ritual is focus and connection. Tools are nice, but never mistake them for the real magic, which is inside. Remember Starhawk's definition of magic?. Change the inside, and the outside changes, as well. You'll notice that it dovetails with the definition of recovery. I've always liked that. I hope you can make it :-) It will be nice to meet you. Sia These note below are from earlier letters - she is having trouble finding a teacher. -------------------------- Hi, The first thing you might do is visit The Witches' Voice. The second thing is to contact our Networking Coordinator, Scoutghost: <firstname.lastname@example.org> She can help you find people in your area and get started. The newsletter will, hopefully, give you some insights, as well. Also, check out the other parts of the website, including our links page, the community calendar pages, and the essays page. Be careful who you study with. Trust your gut and don't do anything you don't want to do. Any good Priestess will have her entire life in good order and balance. If she can't pay her bills or be nice to her kids, how good do you think her magic is? So use good judgment. Only 1 out of every 25 Pagans you meet will be people you'll want to know. Only 1 out of 100 will be true Tribe for you, so hang in there, go to Goddess Conferences (like PantheaCon) and you will meet the people you are supposed to meet. Best of luck on your journey :-) Sia P.S. One last thing: When I teach, I tell my students to read these books before they read any others: Wyrd Sisters
Lords & Ladies
These are all by Terry Pratchett. Read them in order, please. They are fiction and I'm quite serious in using them as teaching tools. Other books will tell you what they think Witches' do. Terry knows what Witches are. later, Sia ----------------- That last note seemed to hit the mark. She wrote back: dear sia...
i am sitting here at work this morning, no one is in the office yet, and i receive your email. i believe spirit is here as i was moved to tears upon reading your email. finally an answer! my husband asked me last night if i had received any answer yet and sadly to say i had to tell him no (he knows of my search). so when he calls me this morning i get to share some good news with him! i loved what you said about a teacher - because my previous teacher, spirit bless her, had some things that just didn't seem quite right and i could not ignore them any more - and your email confirms that. Based on what she had read before, I gave her these suggestions Other books & tapes.
Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss. She's in the Pantheaon of "best teachers" along with Terry, but read Terry first. You'll see why later on. Also, her wonderful book "Why People Don't Heal & How They Can" as well as her books on Spiritual Alchemy. When it comes to magic, the power is within you, the tools only focus it. If there is spiritual or emotional static, then you need to clean that out as much as you can. It's a lifetime process, so don't get discouraged. Do you drive and have a tape deck? In that case, I recommend her tapes of her books. You can get where you are going on both senses of that word. If you are recovering from a dysfunctional family or this very dysfunctional culture, then read anything by John Bradshaw, especially "The Family". It's Imbolc and we are all cleaning our closets, both spiritually and physically. John will help you do that. Enjoy talking to Scoutghost. She is a delightful woman and if she doesn't know something, she'll tell you that and help you look. P.S. When it comes to Ritual, I agree with R.J. Stweart when he says that the simpler a ritual is, the more powerful it is. Use all the Witchcraft books as a guide, if you like, but build the altar that's meaningful to you and include pictures, toys and anything else you like. As a friend of mine says, sometimes the best prayer, is just to go outside and say "Thank you". I also recommend keeping a Gratitude List and updating it at the Pagan holidays. Better yet, update it on your worst days. Part of being a Witch is keeping perspective. This Path isn't about Command and Control. It's about Consciousness and Connection. And that's why a balanced life is the key. Going to work myself, now. Take care. Sia