Who is your dark moon goddess?

I work with two primary goddesses, Brigid and Morrigan. In my work, they form a complementary pairing. Brigid usually takes the creative and healing roles, while the Morrigan is the goddess I turn to when I need to work through more difficult situations, such as engaging my shadows. As we turn towards this dark moon after Imbolc, I am reminded of the ways both of them are necessary and important parts of my work.

Do you tend to turn to different powers or deities in different situations? Do you have a dark moon goddess?

Is “gods” part of the problem?

No, I haven’t lost my grammar marbles. I’m wondering whether the using the term “gods” contributes to some of the problems people have with the idea of deities, powers, or what-have-you.

When I was responding to M. J. Hall’s post, I tried to use the term “gods” where she did, but when I talk about my own ideas, I use terms like deities. The word “gods” presents male or masculine type deities as the norm, and female or feminine as the “other.” This is just as wrong as saying “men” when you mean “people.” It explicitly excludes half of all humans. And while the theaological questions of sex, gender, and deity are not simple, this gendered language is still exclusionary.

And while some people like Starhawk use “Goddess” to refer to an all-encompassing idea of the divine (and the divine within nature), I think that’s equally exclusionary and wrong. My partner has difficulty identifying with “Goddess.” I’m not going to cut him out, either.

More than the problems of exclusion, though, I think this gendered language persists because of patriarchy, and I wonder if the history of patriarchal monotheisms continues to shape our ideas of what “gods” might be in ways that are affecting the conversations we have.

In addition to saying deities, I also use the terms “powers” and “spirits.” I’m still sorting out what I think those things mean, and whether they’re different, but I have noticed that when I use these kinds of more open language, it expands the possibilities I can envision for what deities might be like. I don’t automatically assume that deities, spirits, or powers have to be omniscient. Or omnipresent. Or even eternal.

In some ways, I think a lot of polytheistic deities might be similar to what most Pagans would describe as nature spirits. Instead of being the spirit that epitomizes a place, though, they are anchored in a culture, or an idea, or an archetype, or a myth.

These kinds of conceptions of deity lead to entirely different possibilities for understanding power dynamics between people and “powers.” Even when we’re not explicitly discussing gendered power, I think the problems of a monotheistic masculine God as the apotheosis of patriarchal power-over continue to dog our possible conceptions of deity, especially when we continue to use limiting gendered language.

How do issues of gender and power play out in your ideas about spirits? Does it make a difference what words you use?

Rituals of change: Why women’s spirituality can really use Inanna’s story

Trigger Warning: Rape, power abuse within relationships, victim blaming

One of the biggest changes I’ve gone through in my life is re-understanding parts of my relationship with a past partner as not just difficult but fundamentally wrong. As the relationship developed, it became more and more obvious that he was taking advantage of me in oh so many ways. This culminated in intimate partner rape.

Carol P. Christ has come out with a story of her own about a relationship that involved, at the very least, abuses of power. As she relates, understanding what happened to her, in retrospect, involved a lot of changes. Most powerfully, she judged herself for “letting” this happen. She should have known better, she should have recognized it, and so on an on with the internalized victim blaming that is one of the strongest tools patriarchy has ever invented.

What helped her get out of that was ritual, a ritual of self-affirmation of a kind that has a lot of prominence in women’s spirituality because of the sad fact that so many women need it. (Yes, plenty of other people need it too, including for sexual and relationship abuse. I’m not trying to exclude them, only to speak from my own place of experience.) I love that she created her own ritual in her own words. I want to share my similar experience and suggest why the story of Inanna may be especially suited to this kind of ritual re-understanding of self.

When I wrote the “Call to Inanna,” I wrote it with many situations in mind. Almost any kind of facing the darkness and reclaiming one’s power, I thought, could be a motivation for doing this ritual. I had seen a lot of discussion of Inanna’s experiences as an archetype for women and women’s rituals, so I thought I’d create my own version of it. No big deal.

Little did I realize that this was not an accident. As I wrote that, I was in the midst of the process of understanding how wrong that past relationship was, which culminated in me being able to name the worst of it as rape.

That naming was a tremendously powerful, positive experience for me. As soon as I named it as rape, I felt different in my body. I felt safe within my own skin in a way I never had before. By realizing that what happened to me was wrong, that it happened without my consent, I was able to reclaim my rights to myself, to my body, to my ability to choose what I do, with a partner or by myself.

If you want to use these terms, I went straight from “victim” to “survivor.” Those are loaded terms, and I haven’t even begun to engage with the wider discussion on what they mean and how to use them, but that’s how I would use them. I had been a victim in silence for years; when I spoke, I became a survivor.

Along the way, I had learned how wrong it is to blame the victim of rape. She doesn’t give consent by remaining silent. She didn’t give consent by what she wore, or did, or said, or anything else. I’d never applied those conclusions to myself, though; I continued to judge myself and to exonerate my rapist by rationalizing that when I stopped saying no, because it wasn’t doing any good, I had okayed what happened to me. Suddenly I realized that I had never given my consent, and that my feelings of shame and revulsion shouldn’t be directed at myself, but at the person who violated me, my body, and my sense of self.

As I was dealing with this, I thought I might do a ritual to reclaim myself from that experience. Suddenly I realized that I had the answer: as if dropped in my lap from the Queen of Heaven herself, I already had a ritual designed for facing the worst of a past experience, coming out of it, and reaffirming oneself afterward.

So I did. It became in some ways more than just self-affirmation; it became a rite of passage, of empowerment, from someone who had had bad things happen – had maybe “let” them happen – to someone who had had a bad thing happen, yes, but wasn’t defined by that. As I separated responsibility for the rape from myself and identified its true source, my own identity grew and blossomed into a woman with the right to own myself.

This is only my story, but the fact that rape and abuse are such staggeringly common experiences for women is why I think the story of Inanna is so prized by the women’s spirituality movement. That story certainly can be used to understand other harrowing experiences besides rape, and as a spiritual transformation all on its own, but I think a lot of women who have been through experiences like this desperately need stories to help them understand how they became a piece of meat…and then became a person again afterwards.

Missing the point of metaphor

Metaphors aren’t false or true. They’re both at once. That’s the point of metaphor.

Ok, let me back up.

I recently started following John Halstead’s blog, and while so far I have only skimmed the surface of his suggestions for a new taxonomy of Paganism, it seems like he engages with “naturalistic” Pagans a lot. Just that term seems weird to me; are most forms of Paganism not natural enough? Apparently this is at least in part an attempt by some atheist Pagans to differentiate themselves from people who actually believe deities exist.

Sometimes these folks use pagan and sometimes they use Pagan. I’m going to continue to write Pagan with a capital P because it’s important to me as part of getting Paganism recognized as a “real” religion and not just a philosophical stance.

This matters because today John and Star are both talking about a post over at Humanistic Paganism that asks “Why do people want supernatural gods?” The author, M. J. Lee, describes herself as small-p pagan. She admits that she feels animosity toward hard polytheists, and spends the piece weighing the pros and cons of believing in gods, but ultimately she derides people who believe in real gods as being too literal.

Star is understandably angry about this and questions whether a creeping evangelical atheism is starting to claim the p/Pagan label. I don’t think so, but I can completely relate to how she’s feeling. Another post I skimmed over at The Allergic Pagan was engaging with a piece at Humanistic Paganism that was similarly questioning “god talk” in Paganism. I have been quietly annoyed by that approach ever since.

See, I have a loud and insistent internal voice of skepticism. And like most people in our community, I came out of a Christian background with a lot of assumptions about what it means to be a deity, and a lot of assumptions about how people and deities interact. (To quote House, “When you talk to God, that’s prayer. When God talks to you, it’s psychosis.”) I’ve spent a lot of time processing that, and I’m not going to be able to address it all here, but I’ll try to hit a few high points.

Deities don’t have to be omnipotent and omniscient to be deities. That’s a Christian and monotheist misconception. My deities are not. In fact, it’s important to me that Pagan stories describe the relationships between people and deities quite differently. I ended up finding that a very humanistic aspect of Paganism as a functionally polytheistic religion.

But more importantly, I’ve had direct experiences of deities. This is something I continue to struggle with because of that internal skepticism. When people talk about the Goddess telling them something, or Hestia asking them to do something, it’s easy to joke about that, to edge around my own discomfort by falling back on the overculture’s stereotypes and assumptions. But I don’t have that luxury any more. I can’t weigh the values of a humanistic Paganism with no “god talk” vs the values of thinking of deities as more than myths, because at least some of them have made themselves known to me directly.

As a result, I have to allow multiple perspectives to coexist in my head and heart simultaneously. I remain skeptical of each and every contact with deity; I do not take anything on faith. And at the same time, I continue to cultivate those relationships at the same time that I understand deities as myths, and metaphors, and more. I continue to work with other deities who may be “only” myths and metaphors, and I leave those questions open, with multiple possible answers coexisting within myself.

And from that perspective, it can be damned annoying to see someone question whether I am being overly literal because other forms of religious understanding are not “enough” for me. I’m not trying to define atheists out of Paganism. I will happily do ritual with people who think deities are “only” metaphors, as long as we can all agree on the basis for the ritual and our practices within it.

But to me, M. J. Hall’s piece doesn’t look like an attempt to understand Pagans who believe in deities from their own perspective. That’s a charitable interpretation, but she’s framing the question entirely within her own understanding rather than trying to cope with what are two potentially incommensurate frames. Similarly, The Allergic Pagan’s subtitle is “My search for the sensible transcendental.” But the transcendental isn’t always sensible, by its very nature. There is no opportunity for me to answer Hall’s question by saying, “Because I know them.” There is no place for me to describe the entirely un-sensible experience of having contact with deity.

And yes, Star is also understandably upset that some people are taking small-p pagan and running with it in a way that seems designed to justify each and every thing said by the fringe Christians who want to “fight the green dragon” and deride everything from Earth Day to recycling as bizarre “pagan” rituals. The folks trying to be “humanistic pagans” may not want to be recognized as engaging in religion at all; while I can respect that, it comes across to me as undermining all the work that has been done to get Paganism, big P, recognized as a “real” religion. The Pentacle Quest, for example, is just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m not trying to be literalist or fundamentalist; since I have multiple perspectives within myself, I can certainly coexist with others who have other perspectives within the same religion, if we want. But Star is right that people who are aggressive about proselytizing a- or non-theistic understandings can seem to be trying to undermine and even deride religion, and it’s worth examining whether they are part of the same religion or of an allied philosophical movement or something else entirely.

I don’t know where M. J. Hall falls in all of that, and I’m not going to try to guess based on one snippet of writing. But what is clear to me is that she fundamentally misunderstands the idea of metaphor, and I think that’s part of the problem here. Her conclusion seems to be setting up people who believe in “real” deities as separate from people who believe in deities as metaphors. She even talks about “true or false metaphors.” That’s an incoherent phrase.

Metaphors aren’t true or false. They get their power from being both true and false, all at the same time. I don’t see deities as either “real,” powerful, interventionist beings or else “only” myths. I have seen, and continue to see, and to relate with, deities that partake of both, and may even shift back and forth. To me, this is the real challenge of being Pagan: existing in the midst of this complexity, of myths and metaphors and old stories and new stories and….

To quote my friend Hecate, it’s all real; it’s all metaphor; there’s always more. That’s where the magic happens.

How CS Lewis Taught Me Astrology

CS Lewis’ fictional descriptions helped me understand the qualities of the five classical planets because he retained pagan elements in the Medieval worldview that he studied and loved.

I have written before about why I prefer other forms of divination over astrology, but for some of my recent lessons in the Order of the White Moon, astrology became important, so I set out to become at least minimally more familiar with it. In the process of doing so, I made a strange discovery: some of my deepest visceral understanding of astrology draws on the work of Christian apologist CS Lewis.

Specifically, it comes from the final book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy, an attempt at a sort of sci-fi Christian allegory. At heart, though, Lewis is a medievalist, and like Dante, he has to make space for those virtuous pagans and their ideas that he could not bear to leave behind. (Please note that I use lowercase for classical paganism or what Bonewits described as paleo-paganisms.)

In The Discarded Image, Lewis’ book on medieval cosmology, he says, “Other ages have not had a Model so universally accepted as theirs, so imaginable, and so satisfying to the imagination.” (203) He goes on to admit: “I have made no serious effort to hide the fact that the old Model delights me as I believe it delighted our ancestors. Few constructions of the imagination seem to me to have combined splendour, sobriety, and coherence in the same degree.” (216) While he admits that there is a tiny problem in that the old cosmology was scientifically inaccurate, but being well aware of the changes in scientific ontology and epistemology around the turn of the 20th century, he feels free to use the fall of positivism as a defense for his romantic fascination.

A much more serious concern for him is that the truly classical worldview, rediscovered in the medieval period, was not Christian. He integrates his beloved Model with Christianity by, among other things, characterizing the spirits of the planets as a kind of angel, fitting them neatly into the Great Chain of Being without disrupting its hierarchical structure, following the lead of many thinkers both medieval and modern who concluded that they had found in Christianity the name of the Aristotelian Prime Mover.

The Space Trilogy reads to me as an extended series of musings on how the hybrid vigor of this revitalized (and redeemed?) medieval mythology might play out in today’s world(s). It starts out with establishing the cosmos and Earth’s place in it; the second book reimagines a new creation-redemption myth; the third brings the consequences back to Earth with a quasi-apocalyptic tale that fuses the trippy imagery of Arthur C. Clarke with the assurance of epic meaning through spiritual warfare of Frank Peretti.

Lewis was trying to work with sci-fi, but the result reads more like fantasy kludged with his contemporary technology. Since his protagonist, like himself, is a scholar of languages and liberal arts, neither of them has any interest in the science and the narrative takes pains to spare the reader any potentially boringly-detailed discussions of the technology. Much more interesting are his interpretations of the angelic beings of different orders; he dwells lovingly on the sensations of being near them and speculates about how they might exist, using all the best medieval metaphors, such as “vibrations.”

Throughout it all runs the deep certainty of the apologist and the massively kyriarchical assumptions of the utterly privileged. To me, there is also a whisper of the sense that readers can vicariously enjoy the protagonist’s place at the center of universe-shaking action in lieu of their own frustrated desires to have a more important role in the epic narrative their theology lays out for them. With all of this in mind, I should point out that That Hideous Strength, the third in the trilogy, is a deeply weird book and not one I recommend to the casual reader – but…

For me, Lewis certainly succeeded in his project to bring a deeper understanding of the Medieval cosmology to the modern mind. Near the end of That Hideous Strength, the powers that inhabit the five classical planets descend to Earth, and Lewis chronicles the effects each of them has on a core group of characters. Those accounts stuck in my mind as the most vivid ways of understanding the influences of each of these planets, much more clearly than any information gleaned from the original myths, perhaps because Lewis does write from the human perspective.

Mercury brings puns and “plays upon thoughts, paradoxes, fancies, anecdotes, theories laughingly advanced yet (on consideration) well worth taking seriously…skyrockets of metaphor and allusion.” (318) Lewis’ own allusions to the qualities of literal mercury lead to him describing how “all the fragments – needle-pointed desires, brisk merriments, lynx-eyed thoughts – went rolling to and fro like glittering drops and reunited themselves,” much as is experienced when poetry brings “the counterpoint of the mind, the mastery of doubled and trebled vision.” (319)

Lewis is more sparing in his descriptions of Venus’ effects, sparing the delicate sensibilities of his English readers. We do see that Venus brings warmth, comfort, and sweetness; good scents and a feeling of being rocked on the ocean touch “the inconsolable wound with which man is born.” (320) The effect is one of desire, but holy desire, which can never be fully satisfied in the sublunar realm.

The arrival of Mars stirs discussion of courage in terms that are the essence of British masculinity in the World Wars. The people are unafraid to die, and the martial splendor overwhelms any petty concern with dangers. Interestingly, here Lewis also alludes to Northern European mythology by syncretizing Mars with “Tyr who put his hand in the wolf-mouth.” (322)

Saturn comes next, with cold, the cold of the depths of space where even stars fizzle themselves out into the heat-death of the universe. It is the embodiment of time, “more and still more time, into freezing wastes and silence of unnameable numbers.” (323) This mastery of the depths gives Saturn a kind of immovable strength, but all its power is suffused with sorrow.

Last, in Lewis’ descent of the gods, is Jove. I get the impression that he is placed there because he is the only spirit which can overmaster Saturn, and Lewis is too much of a storyteller to leave readers on the ending without a conclusion that Saturn creates.

Lewis first describes Jove as “one whose influence tempered and almost transformed to his own quality the skill of leaping Mercury, the clearness of Mars, the subtler vibration of Venus, and even the numbing weight of Saturn.”

The further account was the first to make me understand how the adjective “jovial” was originally meant to combine kingly dignity and hearty revelry; Lewis says that under Jove’s influence, “Though you were a cripple, your walk would have become stately: though a beggar, you would have worn your rags magnanimously,” (323) and that all the characters feel as if they are at some royal festival.

The vividness and human perspective of these interpretations was what helped most as I was trying to make sense of different planets’ roles in astrology, so I can honestly say that Lewis, bless his Christian medievalist heart, was the first to teach me astrology, and his lessons remain with me today.

This sort of connection through preservation of earlier knowledge is an example of how Neo-Paganism can justifiably count paleo-paganism among its spiritual ancestors; what it means today is what we have to create for ourselves – not even the stars can tell us that.

Gender essentialism has no place in Wicca

Since Wicca tends to view the divine through the lens of dual deities, one masculine, one feminine, one of the unfortunate tendencies in some oversimplified approaches to Wicca exaggerates that dualism and applies it to everything in the world. Whole lists get made of dualisms, with each pair having a “God-associated” and a “Goddess-associated” member. You know: rationality is masculine, emotion is feminine; deduction is masculine, intuition is feminine; aggression is masculine, passivity is feminine; and so on, until the whole world has little pink-or-blue tags attached to it. This isn’t an understanding of the world consonant with the relationship of God and Goddess; it’s denying the complex realities of sex, and gender, and sexuality, and divinity, and the world itself. The God has his passivity, and the Goddess can be ruthless; the God has deep emotions, and the Goddess can be as aggressive as you can imagine – and then some.

Worst of all, for a religion that tells the myth of creation through the act of divine love and sexuality between God and Goddess, to say that each gender has only one kind of sexuality which is the same for everyone is to deny the beauty and wonder of what brought creation into being and breathes life into it at every moment. The relationship of God and Goddess is complex, ever-changing yet always present, and is worked out in myriad roles and situations. Claiming to have the whole truth of that mystery, and expecting others to adhere to your narrowness, is a kind of denial that verges on deliberate spiritual blindness, within Wicca.

Daily practice and being in relationship

Hecate has another great post up about living in relationship with a specific piece of land. When I commented that this, like a relationship with another person, takes effort, Hecate expanded on that and linked it with the importance of daily practice. She says that both are important, but it’s hard to believe that either alone is sufficient. In fact, I think ideally the two grow to be more intertwined over time. I know I’m not the only Wiccan who has fantasized about having my own little garden altar where I can do my devotions (in the good weather) and at least spend some time grounding myself and observing the seasons (in bad weather). I think that’s more than a romantic fantasy; or, more precisely, it is the kind of romantic fantasy that shows I am not just in love with the divine, but that I want to meet my love where he, she, and they are, in nature. And, as Hecate says, I don’t just love an abstraction, but a specific place, a specific spirit, a specific manifestation of the divine.

For now, though, I do my daily practice at home, because I’m sure I can get there every day. I trust that the God and Goddess come to meet me where I am, too. But I work on developing my relationship with them in many ways, and going out to meet them when I can, and doing it regularly, is the natural counterpoint.

One of the benefits of that effort is giving deity a chance to show itself to me in ways I wouldn’t expect or call on, if I were only willing to interact with the divine on my terms, in my usual practice. Yes, we call the quarters and invoke the God and Goddess, but one of the ways you know those invitations are effective is that, just like your human guests, the personalities that show up aren’t solely what you imagine. More importantly, for Wicca to be truly nature-based, we have to recognize that even when we cast our circles, we’re doing so in the midst of a living, breathing, spiritual fabric of being. The immanent wells up to meet us, we’re not just calling the transcendent down. Letting that welling-up happen, creating space and time for it, welcoming it, is one of the benefits of being in relationship with the land.

I refuse to live in fear

Since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, there has been the inevitable “but it’s eeeevil and will make your kids into witches and Satanists!” nonsense from conservative Christians. In one such bit of scaremongering, I ran across this little gem: “My greatest concern is that godly fear that protects mankind from dabbling in the spirit world is being taken away…” Wait, let me get that right – you think that fear is the way your god keeps you safe? By making you too afraid to do something?

Fear is a useful thing sometimes, I admit. It’s especially useful when it’s your subconscious’ way of telling you that something is just not right. Before you have time to process that that tree just moved like a giant cat is getting ready to jump down on you and eat you, you start moving away. But fear isn’t in and of itself a good thing. And it’s not a good way to prevent people from doing something. It might be useful for, say, animals to be slightly afraid of fire so they don’t burn themselves, or small children to be slightly afraid of the deep end of the pool so they don’t drown. But those boundaries get pushed, especially when we grow up.

I refuse to remain an unreasoning animal or a small child, to be threatened and frightened and controlled by those bigger and meaner than I am. I refuse to worship a deity who behaves like a bigger version of an abusive parent. I choose to grow up, to listen to both my emotion and my reason, and to cultivate holy love, holy joy, and, yes, holy awe, instead of a “godly fear.” I refuse to live in fear.

One of the things I value about Wicca is the way my relationship with the God and Goddess is one of love and respect, not one of fear and fear-based worship. The deities can be frickin’ scary sometimes, I will freely admit – anybody who looks at Gaia as just love and care hasn’t seen much of the real world, as in carnivores feeding themselves. The Morrigan is not someone to mess around with. One of the reasons I don’t do more with Northern traditions is that I have a hard time relating to Thor without getting overwhelmed with fear. And that’s not the way Wiccans worship. I worship because I love the divine, and I am sure that, even with the ravages of all the scary, difficult, painful, things we have to deal with in life, the divine loves me.

In fact, my relationship with the divine is what frees me from fear; God and Goddess are with me always, going through what I go through, and helping me have what I need to deal with it. The Morrigan is there when I need to draw on somebody with a lot more warrior in her, and understanding that, not just being afraid of it, is part of me taking responsibility for my own life and relationships with others, including deity. But mostly, my worship is about cultivating the love that underlies all of that, even the Morrigan’s warriorship. The love that brought the world into being, that makes it keep going, the love that enfolds all of us now and when we die.

I will not live in fear, because living in fear is not fully living. I will live in love, and face even my fears with love.

Polytheism and Judaism

Jonathan Zasloff at the Reality-Based Community has a lovely piece up this morning reflecting on a place where the Psalms refer to the God of the Jews as being “among the gods.” It certainly puts a different spin on the idea that monotheism meant “only one God exists.” There are multiple places in the Jewish scriptures where the existence of other gods is explicitly noted. Jews aren’t told that other gods don’t exist, only that they shouldn’t worship them. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” as the commandment goes.

It’s only many hundreds of years later that the idea develops that only one God exists and all others are “false gods” or evil spirits masquerading as gods. (I’m not even going to get into the discussion of why people would say that an immortal, invisible being with supernatural powers isn’t a god. Ditto the saints.) The same problem faced Islam when it arose in the midst of polytheistic Arabia, so much so that Islam’s definitive statement of faith starts out, “There is no god but God.”

I think it’s interesting to note that monotheism isn’t necessarily a natural idea for humans, and it certainly didn’t sweep away that old-fashioned polytheism in one fell swoop thousands of years ago.

Review: Ann Moura, Green Witchcraft I and III

Moura, Ann (Aoumiel).Green Witchcraft: folk magic, fairy lore, & herb craft. Llewellyn, 1996. Paperback, 274 pages.
Moura, Ann (Aoumiel). Green Witchcraft III: the manual. Llewellyn, 2000. Paperback, 238 pages.

This is another double review, which is even more appropriate in this case because the two books are intended to be read together. I am able to review these because they were generously lent to me by a friend (thank you!), which is why I don’t have access to book II of the series. Some of what’s in II is mentioned in the others, and overall that doesn’t look to be an impossible barrier to me reviewing the series. If anyone has II and thinks it should totally change my assessment, please, chime in!

At the time the first book was written, Moura was a high school history teacher, with a master’s in history. This is relevant both because she mentions it about herself and because her views on Witchcraft are heavily influenced by her personal interpretation of history. The first book she wrote, Dancing Shadows: the roots of western religious beliefs, was her historical account of religious development; I have not been able to get it, but her book Origins of Modern Witchcraft: the evolution of a world religion was apparently developed in large part as a revision. I’ll be reviewing Origins of Modern Witchcraft next, so let me leave most of the discussion of her view of history to that post. What needs to be said here is that Moura has an historian’s drive to construct coherent narratives including all the information that she thinks is important. A perfect example of this tendency, I think, can be found in her description of herself as a third-generation witch in a family tradition.

This claim is not a “grandmother myth” as is commonly ridiculed among contemporary Wiccans who in the post-Hutton era have generally made peace with the recent formalization of their practice. Moura describes being taught about “The Power” by her mother and grandmother as she was growing up, and about their fascination with spiritism and their expertise in herbal matters and folk magics. Her mother and grandmother identified themselves as Catholics – as nearly everyone in the Brazil of her childhood did – but that Catholicism seemed to be primarily a veneer over the everyday beliefs and practices that formed the core of their spiritual experience. This is a fascinating description of the kind of folk magic that many Wiccans see as one of their primary linkages in their “spiritual heritage” from pre-Christian religions. But I would not go so far as to characterize it as a “family tradition.”

Moura says, touchingly, that her mother admired her ability to step away from the constraints and expectations of society and to dissociate herself from a Christian veneer (I, p31), but what Moura is presenting here is not a family tradition now opened to outsiders, but her individual fusion of family folk magic, her own historical interpretations of religious practices, and a heavy dose of theory and practices common to contemporary eclectic Wicca. In places, Moura does a sort of compare/contrast between her family’s traditions and generalized eclectic Wicca – such as her rules of “The Power” (I, p11, and at the start of each chapter of III) as compared to the Rede and Law of Return. Unfortunately, in other places, she presents her fusion as a fait accompli, and only an educated reader could tell which pieces came from what sources. At times, this verges on misattribution, as when Moura presents Valiente’s “Witches’ Rune” as simply “traditional.” (III, p196) She clearly feels slighted by the Gardnerian focus on lineage and initiation, especially as denigrating “fam trad” kinds of practice as illegitimate. (I, p75) Moura says up front that she feels free to adopt what works for her and discard what doesn’t, but also claims to be presenting the sources of her information for readers to make an informed judgment. (I, p2, p4) The first claim is true, but the second doesn’t hold up under examination; on the contrary, Moura clearly has an agenda that motivates some of the hidden choices she makes.

In fact, the reader gets the sense that part of Moura’s driving purpose in writing is her anger over her interpretation of history. She is angry that the earth-based religions of indigenous peoples were swept away by power-hungry invaders. She talks about “Aryans,” and this perhaps drives her desire to identify her family as having specifically “Celtic-Iberian” descent. (I, “About the Author,” facing title page, and elsewhere. Everyone loves a Celt, right, and we know they’re not the mean Aryans?) She is angry about how the Church and those in power treated women, especially women who were a little herb-wise or were midwives and presented a challenge to the power structure. This anger has a way of coming out oddly, as in the start of the chapter about herbs. I actually flipped back to the chapter heading after getting one page into it, wondering if I had misread the chapter title – the first page was entirely an angry description verging on a rant about women being disenfranchised. (I, p46) She slides seamlessly into an angry description of fundamentalist Christians trying to suppress Wicca and Paganism today – a topic about which I think and write fervently, as readers know! – and then makes a bewildering transition into the uses of herbs. For someone who wants to share in Moura’s righteous indignation, this probably makes perfect sense, but to me the tone comes off as too harsh, as well as simply sloppy thinking.

In fact, all of this anger might help make sense of Moura’s most baffling quasi-historical allusion – the very title of her style of practice. She emphasizes repeatedly that she is doing “Green” Witchcraft, not just because she wants to associate herself with ideas about fairies and nature but because she says that there are three “levels” of …. something. I can’t find exactly what these levels are levels of, but she’s very clear that “green” is the “base.” She goes on to identify the ” ‘higher’ ” (her quotes) levels as “Red,” associated with “the Warrior,” and “Blue and White,” associated with “Lawgiver” and “Ruler,” respectively. (I, p5ff) She specifically indicates that the upper layers were added onto to existing practices when “Aryan” societies created their power structures. This may make more sense after I finish her history book, but I’m wondering if she created this idea as her adaptation of Georges Dumezil‘s trifunctional hypothesis. (This hypothesis has received greater attention in the Pagan community thanks in part to Bonewits’ adoption of it as a way for ADF to echo the organizational princples of Indo-European society…but that’s another discussion.) It seems that Moura has adapted the trifunctional hypothesis, and then for various reasons including her sense of identification with the oppressed throughout history, has consciously tried to make her approach a celebration of the “green,” that is, the peasant farmer type of imagined religion.

I am especially flummoxed by this approach when Moura first seems to invert the traditional hierarchy – that is, to value women’s and the indigenous/poor/peasant class’s approaches to religion over the high muckety-muck power-holding rulers and priests’ approach – and then feels free to incorporate anything she pleases from sources including Gardnerian Wicca (itself extremely high-muckety-muck), as above, or as in her strange runes-and-pentagram sigil on p136 of book I. She says that “Green customs” do “not involve set litany, stylized prayers or rituals,” and then goes on to spend over half her book providing extremely detailed ritual scripts. (I, p7) Someone who wants to sympathize with Moura’s down-with-the-powerful ire would probably find these works a freeing affirmation of individual power and confirming one’s right to be a kitchen Witch (or whatever else one pleases), but as an attempt at a coherent system, the inconsistencies bother me greatly.

Book I is definitely a book of basics. The materials presented on fairies, herbs, and correspondences are simple resources as are found in any other introductory work. The ritual scripts are more than half of the pages, and the choices made in presenting these are quite baffling, especially because the scripts are extremely repetitive. The same opening, the same Cakes and Wine, the same closing, word-for-word, are reprinted multiple times, more than nine times for some of the material! If someone wants a book to be able to work out of as a word-for-word script, without flipping from “general opening” to “Yule ritual” and back to “general closing,” I guess this would be a good choice, but the way the scripts are written with so much descriptive material in between words, it doesn’t seem like the books would be useful for that. Frankly, this is part of a pattern of bad editing, with wild swings in topics and plenty of repetitive material that makes these books much lower quality than they could be. In part, I think that reflects on Llewellyn as a publisher as much as Moura as an author.

Book III is subtitled “The Manual,” but that led me to think it might be a more formalized Book of Shadows kind of presentation. Not at all! It is set up as a series of eight “classes,” for which the reader needs book I, “the textbook,” to refer to. Again, I have to question both Moura and Llewellyn on this practice – I’m not sure Moura had enough material for a new book, and if she did, this organization isn’t the best way to present it. It comes across, quite frankly, as a low-effort way of getting another book onto shelves which will also encourage purchases of the first one. The text frequently reads as if it was transcribed from lectures, and since Moura says explicitly that this is a “handbook…based upon the classes I teach periodically at a local shop,” I am tempted to think that’s exactly what happened. (III, p xi) She also says that the eight classes are structured to correspond with the eight Sabbats, but the haphazard organization of material doesn’t seem to reflect a coherent vision like that, and no explanation of the correspondences is made. (III, p xii) This material would have been better off presented as ten or twelve classes with specific topics for each, rather than splitting divination across two classes (one specifically on Ogham), and compressing the entire range of topics about relating to aspects of the God and Goddess and about structuring one’s own ritual calendar into a single class. The sloppy editing shows up here, too, as nothing about “Elixir preparations” is ever mentioned in Class 6. Book III also opens with a discussion of wands on the flyleaf, with no further reference anywhere else in the book. Was this stuck in just as it was going to press? What happened here?

One final topical matter: Moura includes material on both the Elder Futhark (although she calls them simply runes, and doesn’t describe why she’s willing to use these quintessentially “Aryan” symbols) and the Irish Ogham alphabets. Runes come up in both I and III, although in I, p102, her table of explanations is of the most rudimentary kind, without the names of runes or any pointers for the reader to expand her knowledge further through other resources. When she covers the topic again in book III, on p77, she gives the names of the runes, but also includes the “blank rune,” expanding the set to 25, without explaining the inconsistency between this and her previous system. Paxson’s discussion of why the “blank rune” is inconsistent with the set is excellent; I’ll get to that when I review Paxson, but suggest that any interested readers start there instead. Her discussion of Ogham is elaborate and totally unlike anything else I’ve ever seen; I have not explored Ogham in the way I’ve explored runes, so I’m not qualified to discuss whether this is an invention on her part, but it seems odd, to say the least.

The best thing about these books is that they do present the perspective of a solitary Witch with over 30 years’ experience in finding and creating her own path. Moura does explicitly encourage readers to explore and find what works for them; she does not make the mistake of presenting her way as the only way. In particular, book III presents an excellent discussion of three “styles” of practice: Witchcraft as folk magics added to the practitioner’s existing, traditional religions beliefs; Witchcraft as a connection with natural powers without any specific deity beliefs; and Witchcraft as the use of magic within a worldview including the Goddess and God of nature. (III, p6) The rest of the book also provides plenty of options for a non-deity-based approach, which would be more comforting for those new to WItchcraft and not sure about the specific theaologies of different types.

(Sorry that this turned out longer than I intended! I’m trying to provide enough detail for readers to make their own evaluations, not just rely on my personal reaction.)