I’ve been a priest of Wicca for more than thirty years and have had plenty of questions of my own as well as having questions asked of me about many different aspects of my religion. This series will attempt to discuss some of those questions and what I have found as answers, or at least what appears to be important information about them.
I was, and always have been… a fan of Star Trek. The worlds of Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek) opened my imagination and gave me delicious food for thought. My favorite character was Spock, the pointy-eared Vulcan science officer aboard the Starship Enterprise. After the TV series ended, there began a ground swell of fans who wanted more of Gene’s dreams. And so a series of movies based upon the Enterprise’s famous crew were produced. In one of them, almost as an aside, there is a scene where Spock is asked by his human mother, “How do you feel?” It’s a simple enough question and one that every mother on Earth would ask they child. Spock, who was born on Vulcan and wanted very much to be all Vulcan did not have an answer to his mother’s question at the time. That’s because Vulcans always strove for their minds to ignore emotions and feelings and focus only on logic. For a Vulcan, logic was not just everything; it was the only thing worth thinking about. But I can’t help thinking Spock’s mother had posed the most important question of his like to her son. It was the logical question for him to find an answer to at a crucial time in his development as a person.
At the beginning of my book, The Spell of Making, I present a short story in which I describe a ritual done for new acolytes. In that ritual, the priestess gives the young people a short description of each of the four Elements as represented by the altars around the circle’s perimeter. When she comes to the west altar, the altar of the Element known as Water, she says, “This is the West, the altar of the Water Element, symbol of our emotions. May your waters run free and be sparkling and pure. All ideas which have been given energy must pass through this element or they have no meaning.” In other words, how something feels is what it means. For me, this revelation has been the most important piece of information I have ever been given.
How something feels is what it means.
In the movie, Spock eventually discovers this truth, though it isn’t put forth in one sentence. Nevertheless, this lesson becomes the focal point for the rest of the movie for the character known as Spock. Everything that happens from the moment his mother asks that innocent, loving question culminates in Spock understanding the true function of her inquiry. Finally, in one of the last shots in the movie, Spock asks his father to pass a message on to his mother. He says, “Tell my mother, ‘I feel fine.’”
Our feelings determine the meaning of the universe we occupy. We all know that if we feel grumpy, the world around us provides an endless number of events and energies that will reinforce our bad humor. And when we feel happy, the universe dances with joyful meaning for us. Examples to help prove the truth of that one sentence – how something feels is what it means – are everywhere. It is the reason and reasoning behind so many things I can’t begin to describe how important that information is.
It makes so much sense now why we are told to stay away from things that would make us feel bad or icky in our rituals and magic making. It is why we fiercely resent guilt or fear being used to sway the energies of masses of people and we won’t tolerate such workings to be done by our priests and priestesses on or off circle. We know, even if only at a gut level, that when something feels bad, it means bad things – usually for both us and others.
How something feels is what it means is, in many ways, the simplest path to understanding ourselves. If we can stop and quiet our minds enough, we can do as the Jedi were fond of instructing: We can search our feelings and thereby find real meaning in what often might seem like chaos and confusion.
Once meaning we can attain, know how to deal with it we will be able, hmmm? (Yeah, channeling Yoda there for a moment.)
Knowing this, it’s easy to see the importance of making our world pleasant and comfortable will make what happens around us more positive in every way. Also, it will have a positive effect on the rest of the people around us. But life isn’t just filled with feel-good moments. It’s not always easy to keep a positive attitude. Some stuff happens that naturally bums us out. When that happens, what can we do?
I know that most of the time it’s difficult to change how we feel about something or someone; reality has an ugly head it raises all too often. But let me put this whole thing a little differently. If we can change how we feel, we can change our reality. Seen from that perspective, the question is not one of how easy or difficult, because the degree of difficulty must be weighed against the value of the results if successful. Instead, the question becomes more about how to change how-and-what we are feeling.
One of the best ways, (surprise, surprise) is through the use of ritual. A perfect example of this is the ATC’s annual Spring Mysteries festival. Did you realize that the whole four day event is really one humongous ritual? Yup, it is. But, even if we just take one part of it and look at what it does, we will see that it plays heavily with our emotions, how we feel about some aspect of our lives. This is not at all unusual for worship rituals; they almost always use emotional energies to energize the people who attend them. In the case of SMF, the whole weekend is designed to make us feel differently about death and life. On the last day, when we finally drive away from the site, most of us have a different meaning for life and death than when we arrived. Our perspective has been changed by the ritual known as Spring Mysteries.
But we can’t go through four days of exhausting ritual (if you think you’re exhausted by Sunday morning, you should see the train wreck of people down at the actors’ dorm; they pour out their hearts for us, folks) every time you want to change your feelings about something. What other options do we have? Back in the May, 2012 Litha issue of Panegyria, Jennifer Gentis wrote an article (What’s with All of This Ritual?) that alluded to what is known as hermetic ritual. That is, doing a complete ritual in your mind without the usual trappings of wand, athame, broom, etc. Though it takes a great deal of practice, Hermetic ritual can be very effective and efficient.
When making a movie from a book, it is never possible (or even desirable) to work everything from the book into the movie. For instance, if the book describes the color of an article of clothing, the movie doesn’t need to have a narrative voice doing that; they can just make the costume that color. Similarly, ‘translating’ a physically enacted ritual into a hermetic one requires us to change the ritual in some ways. To do this correctly, you must understand both the physical and hermetic styles.
As I’ve described in my book, The Spell of Making, physical rituals consist of eight ‘steps.’ The first step is completely mental:
- Define and refine the purpose of the ritual.
As I explain in the book, this step is absolutely the most important part. Without a clear, complete, and correct understanding of the goal/purpose of the ritual, you won’t get what you want. Or worse: you’ll get something completely unsuitable.
Since this ‘step’ is completely in the mind, hermetic ritual requires the exact same understanding. However, in hermetic magic you never have to find the right words. All you need is the right meaning. Do you remember the instructions by Prof Lupin to Harry Potter about what was needed to produce a Patronus Charm? Harry had to think of a moment where he felt happy beyond all reason. Then he would speak the charm words that would focus the energy into Harry’s wand and BOOM!, out came the right energy to dispel the horrible creatures that embodied doom and gloom, the Dementors. Of course, when face-to-face with a Dementor, it would be difficult (to say the least) to think of something wonderfully happy. That’s why Lupin told Harry he would have to practice the spell/charm a lot.
For us, knowing how to hermetically produce a spell that would change our reality to something more positive by changing our feelings would also take a lot of practice. However, none of that practice would be wasted; we would definitely make our universe brighter and filled with more joy even if we got it right only a small percent of the time at first.
In physical rituals, the next few steps are:
- Establish the area and time.
(This is simply “here and now” in hermetic ritual.)
- Consecrate the area and everyone/everything inside.
(Again, this is you, your identity.)
- Crystalize the vision.
(This is necessary in physical ritual because you’ve got others to contend with. In hermetic ritual, you can simply remind yourself of the purpose and mentally focus on it after you’ve checked to make sure all is prepared to make the energy work.)
- Raise the energy.
(In many ways, just establishing your focus on something very positive is the start of raising the energy. In hermetic practice, it is usually very easy to ‘boost the signal’ by imagination alone. After all, we made a big deal out of the negative aspects of the event; why not make a big deal out of the positive ones?)
- Focus, direct, and release the energy.
(In hermetic practice, this is all a natural part of producing the energy.)
The last two steps in creating ritual on the physical plane are:
- Ground the stray energy.
- Return the area to the condition you found it in.
In hermetics, you would ground yourself and slowly return to the mundane world. How long it takes to successfully accomplish the whole thing is only a matter of how athletic your thinking processes are. Once again, practice is the key here. Simply withdrawing into your mind to the exclusion of most everything outside of it is something you need to practice, practice, practice. Don’t forget to provide a practice space that is heavily guarded. Eventually, you’ll be able to set up mental/sensory wards to guard you while you are ‘away,’ but don’t trust them completely when you begin learning. Just as in learning to meditate, having only momentary success at first should be considered fantastically good. Stay with it and you will get much better.
Once again, it’s clear that most magic is designed to work on the magic user, not other people or other things. But what those people and things mean to you depends entirely on how you feel about them. And that you can change.