Religion and Beliefs
It is difficult to describe concepts of Deity in one chapter when entire treatises have been dedicated to this subject. What I am about to present is my personal opinion, but it contains elements of many long believed theologies.
In Magical Rites from the Crystal Well, Ed Fitch gives a very nice description of the concepts of Deity. [Notice that I use the term "Pagan" instead of "Witch" - this is because Fitch describes his concepts as those belonging to the religion of Neo-Paganism. Fitch says that a Neo-Pagan is one who has taken the best philosophies and deities from different Pagan religions, and has adapted them to a modern format. It is my theory that most deities and symbols are common to every culture, therefore, as we grow toward becoming a planetary culture, these "sub-cultural" deities (archetypes) are naturally adapting themselves into the pantheon of the religion of Witchcraft. It is for these reasons that I still consider myself to be a Witch, instead of a Neo-Pagan. By the way, one definition of Paganism is "any religion that is not Christian," so I feel that "Pagan" is a very relative term, and will often use it interchangeably.] Like many others (including myself), Fitch places Godhead at the top of the heierarchy: it is a genderless source of divine energy from which everything is born, and to which it will eventually return.
Many mythologies (upon which religions are based) have creation myths which involve the birth of deities and the origins of existence from within the depths of Chaos; some examples are the Chinese tale of P'an Ku, and the Christian story of Genesis. One of the earliest theological concepts of Codhead as a form of energy can be found in the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. The concept is that of Dharma or That Which is Beyond All Form; the center from which all of the Blessed Ones emerge. This is a genderless energy which is often interchanged with the concept of Nirvana, or state of Non-Being.
The Hermetic concept of the All is very similar to its eastern counterpart, but its intricacies give it a very interesting flavor. The All is viewed as "Infinite Living Mind", an omniscient, genderless mind without character or personality. Hermeticists teach that we (and all of existence) are but a dream in the mind of the All. This dream could last for billions of years, but once the All pulls its attention away form the dream, we will cease to exist as we know it. At this point, we do not actually die, we are merely absorbed back into the All. So we see the similarities between the All and the concept of Dharma; the difference being that one is a state of genderless non-being, and the other is a neutral concept of all-being.
Modern psychology has given us great insight into the theologies and mental mechanisms of Witchcraft, and no one has yet to contribute as much to this field as psychiatrist Carl G. Jung. In this century, religion and Deity are often viewed in terms of psychological perceptions, and I feel that Jung was the first of his time to develop a psychological concept that contained tones of religious symbolism, as opposed to taking a religious concept and making it sound psychological. Jung developed the concept of the collective unconscious, or "group mind", which I feel to be a modern view of Godhead that has directly resulted from humankind's evolution and civilization, In The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, a book of Jung's collected essays on the subject(s), he states:
"In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche..., there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited."
This concept is in many ways similar to the theologies that we have just previously discussed. Being identical in both men and women the collective unconscious can be viewed as genderless - it can also definitely be seen as a "living mind". As good and evil are both subjective, the collective unconscious is a neutral energy that remains as such until its contents are realized by the individual. I feel that by viewing the collective unconscious as Godhead, it gives one a feeling of interconnectedness and sense of personal identity that may not be easily attained in other theological systems.
Some have said that the origins of science are to be found in the ancient teachings and practices of Witchcraft. Much of our technology today would have been viewed in times past as powerful magick, or the work of the Gods. Actually, scientific aptitude was required of ancient priests and heirophants, so this theory does carry some validity. My expertise lies in the psychology and philosophies of Witchcraft, but I do want to point out the fact that Witches also recognize a scientific concept of Godhead. Energy is a neutral, genderless force from which all things are created. Matter springs from energy, and in all forms of matter are contained this same essential life force, Energy is neither created nor destroyed - it is eternal.
At the next level of Deity, Godhead is divided in two parts, Ed Fitch describes it as "The Harmonious and
Creative Duality of the God and Goddess; at this level the Absolute is objectified in its application to the masculine and feminine forces in Nature." One of the best examples that I can give is to be found in the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang. In this philosophy, Chaos (Godhead) is separated into the dark, receptive, feminine Yin, and the light, projective masculine Yang, I would like to point out that at this level, the concepts of male and female do not usually include sexual gender, they are merely energetic tendencies.
In psychological terms, this division is viewed by many Witches as the splitting of divine energy into the Anima and the Animus. Carl Jung felt that in every male, there lies an unconscious feminine side that he terms the Anima, and in every female there exists a masculine side known as the Animus, Even with this concept, the Anima and Animus are not given personality or will; the energies contained therein are simply masculine and/or feminine traits and characteristics.
Similar concepts are recognized in science as well. When energy (from which all things are created) is broken down, it divides itself into positive and negative poles. One cannot exist without the other; they are parts of a whole that are constantly seeking unity together. At the third level of this concept, the energy diversifies and becomes more highly specialized. The opposite male/female poles are further brokendown into specific, recognizable energy patterns. These patterns take on characteristics, will and personality: sexual gender is assumed. It is at this level that the Gods and Goddesses of all religions are found. In modern times, these divine forms are often called archetypes.
The concept of archetypal forms goes back for thousands of years, but it was Carl Jung that made these theories accepted in modern psychiatry. Archetypes can be loosely defined as primordial, universal images that spring from the collective unconscious. They often appear as symbols or powerful people in dreams, the meanings of which are universally recognized. One view is that Deities are people existing at an archetypal level, All facets of natural cycles can be seen as archetypes, as well as personifications such as the Father, the Hero, the Child, the Trickster, the Mother and others. These are also the same forces that have been acknowledged and worshipped for thousands of years by the religions of Witchcraft. Let's look at the archetypal forms that are most widely acknowledged in Witchcraft.
Most of the deific identifications in this religion are with the Mother and Father, Goddess and God. They were known by the names particular to their cultural locations, but now that Witches have the ability to be multi-cultural, many practitioners will work with different names or personae interchangeably. This is because Witches understand the complex facets of Deity. These beliefs are also similar to the concepts of Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetan Buddhists recognize several hundred peaceful and wrathful deities, but they are instructed to understand that each are parts of greater whole; they are all essentially the same entity.
The Goddess of Witchcraft is usually worshipped in three different aspects, each being associated with certain phases of the moon.
- The Maiden.
The Maiden is a young lady just past adolescence. She is pure and virginal - this does not mean that she has not had intercourse, it means that she has not yet married or given birth. She is often depicted as Lady of Wild Things, such as the huntress Diana, or Artemis. I think that this is because she is a young woman and is still in touch with her untamed masculine side. She is the woman-child that entices the unicorn to place its head in her lap.
The Maiden is also the goddess of love - she is Venus, Inanna, Hathor and Freya. She is the temptress, the siren; she is the dancer with the seven veils, the lover of the young kings - the Sacred Prostitute, This same goddess of fiery passion is most often additionally portrayed as a goddess of war. Many tales can be found of the young goddess who entices gods and kings alike with her beauty and eventually goes on to conquer entire nations. The Maiden is associated with the time of the new moon.
- The Mother
She is recognized at the full moon, when it appears to be pregnant and swelling. The Mother Goddess is giver of all life and the promise contained therein. Her symbolism is seen in cauldrons, ovens, caves and holey stones - her names include Isis, Mary, Hera and Cerridwen. The Mother Goddess also rules the crops and other types of vegetation; in this role she is known as Ceres, Demeter or the great Corn Mother of the American Indians. The Mother is the aspect of the Goddess that is most often recognized in group ritual.
- The Crone
Some consider this to be her darkest archetype. The Crone is the old woman who has ended her monthly cycles. Time moves differently for her, now that she is no longer bound to these lunar influences. Primitive societies considered the blood to contain great power, and a woman that eased to lose her blood was thought to be power-full. She is the Wise Old Woman, the Grandmother. She is the patroness of midwives, assisting the entry of new life into the world.
The Crone is also the goddess of judgments, so it is not surprising to find that she is the goddess of death as well as birth. The goddess Kali of the Hindus is a good example of Goddess in her death aspect; entire cults (such as the Thuggee) were devoted to the worship of the goddess of death and transformation.
Crossroads are sacred to the Crone, and Witches often leave small cakes there at the dark of the moon in her honor, Also known as Hecate she is depicted riding with her hounds through the dark, cold night. The Crone is associated with the waning moon, when its crescent grows smaller in the sky.
In most theologies of the religions of Witchcraft, the God is divided into two aspects. These aspects are usually either those of a young king and an old king, or of two brothers.
- The Old King
The Old King is known by the names of Zeus, Anu, Jehovah, Saturn, Cernunnos (Horned One) and others. He is age, wisdom and calm authority, giving balance to the Goddess. He is also primal sexuality that radiates from secret places: he is the experienced lover. His aura is that of a powerful, gentle masculinity, for he has been through many seasons and understands the meanings of their cycles. The Old King is often associated with the fall and winter seasons.
- The Young King
As the Old King tires in his years, a challenger emerges to take his place - thus enters the Young King. He is known as Ra, Apollo, Adonis, Pan, Jesus, Horus; his names are many. He is sometimes portrayed as the trickster figure - the entertainer. He is the young god who courts the Maiden: he is the shining promise, the slayer of the dragon. He is the young Bacchus, filled with wine and revelry. To the Young King are ascribed the spring and summer seasons.
The concept of gods as rivaling brothers is a fairly common one. Originally, the true heir in a family is not necessarily the first born, it is the son born to a half-sister of the father. Whether it is apparent or not, quite often this is the cause of animosity between the two siblings. Something I would also like to point out is that with many of the deities, the aspects that I have described are often interchangeable with one another. This is particularly the case with the Young King aspect.
In most mythologies, the Old King (or Old God) will have more than one son, and tasks will be assigned by the father to determine who will be heir to the throne, thereby creating the aspect of the Competing Brothers. In other mythologies, the rivalry occurs over the attentions of a young maiden or goddess, One of the best known examples of this Brother aspect is the story of the Egyptian gods Set and Osiris, and the strife that was generated between them.
There are numerous aspects of the God and Goddess; the ones that I have covered here are a basic framework that most Witches adapt in the creation of their personal theologies. For a better understanding of the aspects of Deity and archetypal symbolism, I would recommend that the student peruse Jung's The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.
The ethical system of the religion of Witchcraft is very basic. There is one basic tenet, known as the Wiccan Rede:
"An it harm none, do what thou wilt."
This means that you may do whatever you desire as long as it doesn't harm anyone, including yourself, Along with this tenet, there is an unspoken understanding that you should never interfere with another being's free will. Plants, animals and stones are all asked a Witch's permission before being employed in any task. Some feel that because positive and negative/good and evil are relative concepts, the religion of Witchcraft must have no true ethical or moral foundation, but this is quite the contrary - Witches also teach a belief in the universal laws of Karma.
Karma is an ancient concept that is also taught in the eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. The word
Karma means "deed" in Sanskrit, and it is a concept that teaches that our present or future influences are a direct consequence of our past or or present deeds. In Hinduism, there are three types of Karma: agami-karma (present deeds which affect the future), prarabdha-karma (present influences that are the result of past deeds), and sanchita-karma (accumulated karma that has not yet been put into effect). Cycles of Karma might be played out over many lifetimes.
To the Buddhists (Zen included), Karma is seen as a universal law of cause and effect, They also believe that Karma is created in three different ways. Karma by mouth is created by the spoken word, Many societies believe that great change can be affected by words or phrases spoken aloud. The second type is Karma of the body, which is the same as the general Hindu concept of Karma by act.
It is the third type of Karma that provides one with an interesting interpretation of cause and effect; this is karma by mind, or karma by thought, In this interpretation, a simple thought may have the ability to change the course of the future, Here the student should note that there are two different types of thoughts - random, halfhearted thoughts and directed thoughts. In the Buddhist concepts of Karma, karma by mind is created by thought with intent, or directed thought. Witchcraft not only teaches the belief that Karma is created by all of these methods; it also teaches that Karma returns threefold. This concept provides a very strong deterrent against negative deeds.
Religions whose doctrines teach a belief in Karma also include the concept of reincarnation - Witchcraft is no exception. Reincarnation is needed for the process of Karma to fulfill its purpose; reincarnation is also necessary for the soul to fulfill its life experience. In societies that exist under the structures of a caste system, the belief in reincarnation is often politically motivated and encouraged to prevent the uprising of lower castes. Because there is no caste system attached to the religion of Witchcraft, the Witch may ascribe to any of the several theories of reincarnation in existence today. One theory is that reincarnation occurs interspecially. Hindus, Buddhists and most African tribes believe that the soul can reincarnate in many different forms. In African societies, human reincarnation in sub-human (or non-human) form is more common a perception than is reincarnation from human to human.
Buddhists believe that there are many mansions of the soul, and in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, instructions are given for the assistance of the exit of the deceased person's soul through the crown of the body, thus preventing its rebirth into a non-human realm. For example, if the "consciousness-principle" should make its departure through the ear of the deceased, it is believed that they shall be reborn into a world where song and music comprise the quality of existence - the world of the Gandharvas. Among the purposes of the mantra "Om-Ma-ni-Pad-me-Hung" is to end the cycle of rebirth and attain Nirvana through its repetition. To quote a footnote from the Evans-Wentz edition:
"...also it is said that the om closes the door of rebirth among the gods, ma, among the asuras (or titans);
ni among mankind, pay, among sub-human creatures, me among pretas (or unhappy ghosts), and hung,
among the inhabitants of Hell."
(Keep in mind that the Buddhist concept of Hell is not a permanent form of damnation; it is simply another plane of existence.) The Buddhist belief in reincarnation is so strong and sure that the Tibetans employ an astrologer to cast a horoscope upon the time of death to determine when and where the deceased will be reborn, and what sort of life they will be incarnated into.
Another theory of reincarnation is that of human-to-human, animal-to-animal, plant-to-plant, etc,. In some
primitive societies, it is believed that a child is an incarnation of its ancestor; a more global belief is that we may reincarnate into any human race or gender. Often we will feel a pull toward a certain culture or geography, even though our ancestry does not originate from that area. This is because our essence has lived there before. Animals reincarnate as well, and Witches believe that even though an animal may not reincarnate immediately after death, it may choose to share the body of a willing host.
A third concept of reincarnation is that of dispersion and reassembly of consciousness. Upon death, the soul
breaks into a plethora of fragments which are reintegrated into everything simultaneously. All at once, we become a blade of grass, a cloud, and a stone in a babbling brook - we are everything. Then, just as a bird intuitively knows how to build its nest, the soul will reassemble itself and reincarnate into a single being again. Buddhists believe that personality and ego do not reincarnate - they feel that these things disintegrate into sparks which combine with other sparks to form a new personality. It is the will, or life force, and its karma that survive.
The theory of dispersion and reassembly may even be interpreted scientifically. We are composed of energy, and when we die this energy is dispersed back to its origins (Godhead). It is then formed back into matter, along with energy from other sources. It has also been discovered through genetic computations that it is possible at some point to have the same genetic combination occur more than once, which could also be considered as a type of reincarnation.
These ideas comprise the basic theologies of the religion of Witchcraft. The Wiccan Rede, combined with the concepts of karma, reincarnation and free will create a strong ethical and moral system by which to live. The Witches' concept of Godhead and its natural divisions gives us a clear understanding of what we are communicating with when we -connect with Deity. As my thoughts are often good but never organized, I am certain that I will cover points that I may have missed as the lessons continue.
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