Friday, November 30, 2012

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 18: Then shall ye assemble in some secret place

Sources and Influences

BAM: They ye shall assemble in some secret place

Leland Aradia: Ye shall assemble in some desert place, or in a forest all together join (50-51)

Thealogy

This passage is another example of a new twist being given to the imagery of a passage from Aradia: this is not the great Sabbats of the past which Gardner romantically describes, and which are obviously meant by all the witches joining together in the forest, but a more intimate gathering is implied. The only stipulation is that it is in a secret place.
A further twist is given by the connection which Gardner was very keen to stress between the witch cult and the mystery cults of the ancient world, which he states repeatedly were known by different names, but were all about the same mysteries (Gerald Gardner: The Meaning of Witchcraft. Weiser Books, York Beach, 2004.).  Perhaps the best known were the Eleusinian and Dionysian mysteries of Greece, Mithraism of Rome (remains of a Mithras temple have been found in London), and the cult of Isis in Egypt. Elements of the mystery cults even found their way into early Christianity, and nowadays, when anyone can walk into a Christian church and stay there until the end of the service, it is hard to realise that in the early days the unbaptised would have been thrown out halfway through.
Burkert lists several characteristics of the mystery cults, which are similar to aspects of Wicca, in addition to the obvious one of secrecy (Walter Burkert: Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical (Translated by John Raffan). Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1985.).  They were initiatory: entry was by secret rites in which a kind of death and rebirth occurred. They were agrarian, for example relating to corn or Demeter (although not all rites of this type were mystery cults), another familiar element of Wicca. There was a sexual aspect to them, including genitalia among their imagery, some ritual exposure, and culminating in the cult orgies, which were orgies in the sense we would nowadays understand the term. Frequently, but not universally, the philosophy of the cults included an idea of a promised future bliss after death. Finally, their myth was characterised by tales of a suffering God. All of these find parallels in the mythology and thealogy of Wicca.
This tradition of secrecy comes down to us today through societies such as Freemasonry, and in the traditional of magical orders such as the Golden Dawn. These societies, of course, are also entered by initiation. Societies such as these could have been the inspiration for the secrecy element of Wicca, but given Gardner’s anxiety to connect witchcraft with ancient mystery cults, I think it more likely that the model of the mystery cult was at some point adopted.
This tradition of mystery, secrecy and initiation refers back once again to Apuleius: in the ‘Charge’ found in the Metamorphoses, it is Isis, whose cult was a mystery cult, who is speaking, and Lucius, the protagonist of the story, is initiated into the cult of Isis at the end of the book. This will seem strange to those who are not accustomed to the ways of mystery religions, but if you ask a Gardnerian Wiccan what happened at their initiation, you will get a similar answer to what he says:
‘Thou wouldst peradventure demand, thou studious reader, what was said and done there: verily I would tell thee if it were lawful for me to tell, thou wouldst know if it were convenient for thee to hear; but both thy ears and my tongue should incur the like pain of rash curiosity. Howbeit I will not long torment thy mind, which peradventure is somewhat religious and given to some devotion; listen therefore, and believe it to be true. Thou shalt understand that I approached near unto hell, even to the gates of Proserpine, and after that I was ravished throughout all the elements, I returned to my proper place: about midnight I saw the sun brightly shine, I saw likewise the gods celestial and the gods infernal, before whom I presented myself and worshipped them. Behold now have I told thee, which although thou hast heard, yet it is necessary that thou conceal it;...’ (Apuleius (translated by W. Adlington): The Golden Ass (The Loeb Classical Library). William Heinemann, London, 1958, book 11, 23, p. 581.)
In Witchcraft Today, Gardner quotes at length from a description of the frescoes of the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii, including a depiction of an initiation into the mysteries of Dionysos. From the point of view of understanding the Charge of the Goddess, the most relevant part is the depiction of the initiate after his initiation, to which a speech is being read. The Italian author, as quoted by Gardner, calls this speech a ‘charge’, and Gardner afterwards also refers to it as a charge. This was exactly the pre-Valiente use of the Charge in Wicca, and could have been the inspiration for that part of the Wiccan initiation ritual.
A connection between the understanding of the ‘mystery religions’ current in the first half of the twentieth century, and the sources which impacted on early Wiccan thealogy, is made by Price and Kearns (Simon Price and Emily Kearns (editors): The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003.),  who write that that understanding was of a personal religion, linking the fate of a dying and rising god, with the fate of the believer. Scholars at the time viewed mystery cults such as those of Eleusis as earlier forms of more developed mystery cults coming from the east, and this development culminated in Christianity. This view was eroded from the 1930s onwards, by the discovery that the mystery cults which appeared to come from the East, became mystery cults through contact with the Greeks. Frazer’s archetype of the dying and rising god was undermined from the 1950s, and the aspirations of the member of the cult have been redefined from a future beatitude beyond death, to the whole of the benefits the member received from the cult. This has caused Christianity to be seen as a unique phenomenon, rather than a culmination of centuries of development. It has been shown that the Mysteries were not ‘Mystery Religions,’ but a particularly way of practising the same religion as others. The discovery which most undermines Gardner’s view that all the mysteries were the same, and elements of the understanding of mysteries built into the thealogy of Wicca, is in their complexity. Several different types of mystery have been identified, and not all of them emphasised (or emphasised in equal measure) the characteristics of mysteries identified by Burkert.
It is therefore impossible to make any direct historical connection between Wicca and the ancient mysteries. It is possible to identify aspects commonly found in the mysteries which are also found in Wicca, whose presence may have been inspired by the understandings of the mysteries current at the time. For one of these reasons, secrecy, there may be more immediate reasons for their retention in Wicca.
There are of course several reasons for secrecy, both in the ancient mysteries and in Wicca. The first is that in mysteries, the primary means by which the mysteries are communicated is experience rather than belief, and if you haven’t had the experience you just will not understand it. Perhaps this is how witches know each other (and they do), because of having experiences in common. This creates a situation where these mysteries literally cannot be communicated to those who have not experienced them, without them being ‘initiated’, and so any attempt to do so would actually be futile. ‘I spent last night dancing round naked and leapt over the cauldron’, would not be a statement calculated to create understanding in the office next day. Secrecy from the prying eyes of the uninitiated is clearly what is meant by the text in Aradia.
There is a magical reason for secrecy: the great tradition of not speaking at all about a work in progress until it has come to pass. Some traditions even extend this not thinking about it, the reason for both of these is that magic is done by the formation of an idea in the mind. Often this is phrased in terms of visualising it, but I don’t think that is always necessary; what is necessary is the idea that what you want has already happened. This idea is then powered in some way – in Wicca usually by one of the means of raising energy, comparable to the various ways of reaching what is called ‘gnosis’ in chaos magic – and released from the mind into the universe. And this last bit is the reason for not talking about it. If you talk about a spell, mull it over in your head, worry about whether it will work, you are calling your thought-form back to yourself, and thus ensuring it will not work. Magic works best when you do the necessary and forget about it completely.
A last reason for secrecy in witchcraft and magical traditions is discretion: the plain fact is that people do not understand what we do, and misinterpret it, sometimes through ignorance and sometimes through malice. This silence is actually to preserve the privacy of other members of the cult. Witches with children may have problems if their witch-hood comes to the knowledge of teachers, social workers, etc. Witches with responsible jobs or in public service may be ‘managed through the door’ because people do not want a witch.
Here I have some hard words for my coreligionists: no amount of public relations work will ever achieve the public acceptance of our religion. The name alone is enough to ensure this! At all times and places the word ‘witch’ has had solely negative connotations. It is only since the 1950s that people have called themselves witches, and those people are us, in neo-Pagan Witchcraft.
The irony is that one of the things contributing to the public misconception of our religion is precisely this secrecy which has a role in protecting our co-religionists from persecution. To put it plainly: people always wonder what is being hidden when something is secret. The quotation from Apuleius makes one want to know what happened at his initiation; or to use another example, the endless speculation by anti-Catholic crusaders about what happens in the confessional is fuelled by the fact that it is secret. The example of the confessional also points to the fact that secrecy always looks ‘dodgy’: to the outsider there can be no smoke without fire and those with secrets must have something to hide.
This is a difficult situation for all concerned, and individual witches are the only people who can decide how much to reveal and to whom. To the outsider to witchcraft, who wonders why it is secret and what there is to hide there is an obvious answer (which still won’t satisfy them that we’re not eating babies): covens are often likened to families. There is a difference between what we reveal to outsiders about our family life and what actually happens. Some things in the family are not communicable to outsiders. To reveal some things to outsiders can be seen as a betrayal of the family’s unity and trust. Conversely, it is not breaking trust to reveal abuse or crime within the family to external authorities, since that trust has already been broken by the perpetrators. I feel that this is the best way in which to see secrecy in Wicca.
An additional change in emphasis is made from the Aradia quotation’s placement of the witches’ rituals, in that it specified a desert (deserted?) place, and names a forest, whereas in the Charge this place for the ritual becomes merely ‘some secret place’. In practice in Wicca there are two distinct sorts of place used as liminal places between the worlds: ones which are liminal places in and of themselves, and places which we make to be so.
Both of these kinds of places chosen for ritual are in a great tradition of human yearning towards the numinous. In the case of the first sort of place, the place which is a liminal place in its own right, Mircea Eliade writes:
‘In actual fact, the place is never “chosen” by man; it is merely discovered by him; in other words, the sacred place in some way or other reveals itself to him. The “revelation” is not necessarily effected by means of anything directly hierophantic in nature (this place, this spring, this tree); it is sometimes effected through the medium of a traditional technique originating out of and based upon a system of cosmology. One such process used to “discover” these sites was the orientatio.’ (Wendell Beane and William Doty (editors): Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader, Volume 1. Harper Colophon, New York, 1976, p. 155.) 
While some places are holy, liminal places in and of themselves (and may not by experienced as such by everyone) the other approaching, of setting aside a space as especially holy, is often used for more formal ritual. This demonstrates the change in the place for the witches to meet in the Charge: Aradia specifies a natural place such as a forest, of the first, already existing type. The Charge does not specify that the place has to be discerned a numinous by divination, or make any specification except that it be secret, enabling Wiccan ritual to be carried out pretty well anywhere. The method used in Wicca, the banishings, creating the circle guarded by the four quarters, seems to originate directly from the grimoire tradition, however is still in a great magical tradition, as seen in Varro, writing in the first century BCE about setting aside a place for augury:
‘On earth the word templum is applied to a place delimited by a particular formula for purposes of augury or auspices. The formula is not identical in every instance. On the citadel it runs:
‘”Holy ground and wilderness be mine up to where I have named them religiously.
‘”Of whatever kind that true tree is, which I believe I have stated, let my holy ground and wilderness extend to the left.
‘”Of whatever kind that true tree is, which I believe I have stated, let my holy ground and wilderness extend to the right.
‘”Between these points let there be holy ground for direction, for observance, for interpretation, as I believe I have religiously stated.”’ ( Varro: De Lingua Latina, 7,8. In John Ferguson: Greek and Roman Religion: A Sourcebook. Noyes Press, Park Ridge, New Jersey, 1980, pp. 50-51.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Something in the air

Once again I am on a week's annual leave from work, much-needed this time because of a sudden spate of busyness. I will resist with every last breath in my body the urge even to imply that this has somehow distracted me from the Great Work (define that as you will). I am getting this urge because lately I have rather been firefighting & have found it difficult to keep my eye on the bigger picture, leading to a lost sensation in the midst of the things piling in on me. I wanted a picture for this post indicating a coming-together of plans in the midst of the confusion, with undertones of there being signs of the times involved here. I had to settle for a picture of the sort of dog I would be if I was one, because when I searched for what I wanted I found loads of Christian and biblical stuff about end-times & the writing being on the wall.
The difference between them & us in this respect is that they have made up their minds that there will be a single (or rather series of) cataclysmic events at the end of time as we know it, & set out to look for the signs of what they've already decided will happen. We witches, however, expect history to progress in a more fluid, cyclical, unfinalised way, so that we can still be thoroughly surprised when the spirit of the age nips us unexpectedly.
This digression on Time is inspired by the fact that even though I'm knackered, the past few weeks have been hilarious. A long-cherished magical project has come to fruition; I really am like a little terrier with a bone, I don't seem to have it in me but I'll pull it apart. Unfortunately revealing details would reveal too much, but suffice to say that someone I have wanted out of my orbit for years is finding herself unable to escape the relentless cycle of misery she set up for other people & which has turned onto her, & may soon be leaving my orbit & moving into a situation which will show her up for the bully she is. Meanwhile everything else is also hilarious and I've had a good belly laugh literally every day for the past few weeks, surely one of the best indications that the Goddess is alive & magic afoot.
So much of the witch's work is subtle & unseen, difficult for someone like me with no patience at all: discerning the way things are going & laying foundations or planting seeds, things that it's rare to see spectacular effects to. When it does happen that we see the results the best bit is that it comes as a free gift of the universe, we are filled with the ecstasy of the Goddess & we know the full meaning of 'merry meet, merry part, & merry meet again.' And this is also the importance of feeling weighed down by the warp & weft of our lives: Robert Cochrane said that it was essential for the roebuck to enter the thicket to be transformed. It is sometimes essential for us not to see the way ahead & feel slightly overwhelmed, because the mass of events *are* the warp of our lives, & what we do in it *is* our divine work: for us literally cannot be separated out from 'mundane' (hate that word) events.
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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Prick Up Your Ears


I have recently found in a charity shop and been re-watching, this film of the life of the 1960s playwright Joe Orton. I saw this film years ago when I was a very young lady and am impressed at how much I remember of it (I've read the script and the life and diaries on which it is based since) and how formative it has proved to be to me since then. In some ways it comes across as so dated: I think cottaging, except as a specialised interest, may actually have had its day, for example. The 60s fashions and the whole mode of 1960s gay life seem terribly old fashioned now, because of the rapid changes in technology and lifestyle since then. Tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in eis: are there any gay men nowadays who go to Tangier for sex? I suppose one would if one liked that sort of thing: in his diaries Orton commented that the English queens who went there and went cottaging obviously couldn't do it without the smell of stale pee.
Some motifs of the film are timeless gay motifs: older man picks up younger man, initiates him to the joy of gay sex (and how good it is that in the film it is to the backdrop of the Queen's Coronation, at the point at which Zadok the Priest is sung), the younger man then develops into his own life, exceeds the older man in fame and sexual audacity, then the relationship ends, admittedly not normally as violently as this one did. This para-mythological motif runs through the film like the word 'Brighton' through a stick of rock.
The incredible side of gay life (to normal people) is also well and truly present. The effect on the actor of Orton putting his actual dead grandfather's actual false teeth into his hand instead of a prop could not be reproduced on the stage by any amount of acting ability. The friend who commented that reading 'The Swimming Pool Library' was like any conversation with me would be relatively unfazed by this film, but I would like to think that those who think that homosexuals should be very pleased that we can now have civil partnerships and live monogamous lives like heterosexuals, would still be shocked by the kind of lifestyle displayed here. My dears, even apparently 'straight' men have any amount of sex with men when their wives think they are being faithful to them. My conclusion would be that humans are not built to live the monotheistic one-God, one-sexual partner dream.
I am surprised by my reaction to an interview with Orton included on the DVD as an extra. Gary Oldman in his younger days looked like Orton (shame about him now), and because of that i tend to visualise Orton as Oldman. In the interview the real Orton comes across as much less cheeky than I would think he would, less confident, and more shifty. Oldman acted the image and the public face. Perhaps the reality was different.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Spirit of Place: Digbeth

This Italianate tower is a somewhat unlikely symbol of Birmingham: it belongs to the former St Basil's church, now home to a homeless charity.
It is one of the older parts of Birmingham and is home to a pub which os one of, if not the, oldest building in the city:
It shows its more recent industrial heritage in all sorts of ways: I love this wall:
The more recent collapse of industry made it a cheaper part of the city (before recent regeneration) so that it atttracted an arty set:


As well as a caring set:
Of course before the ideology of moving out of city centres (which has now gone the other way) people lived in Digbeth. I love this terrace of houses opposite the Polish centre:

And the walk back into the city means passing one of my favourite ruined buildings, which was operative as a pub in the past five years:







Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 17: Aside on the inward journey in the Charge


Text of the Charge
Stages of the journey inwards
Listen to the words of the Great mother, who was of old also called among men, Artemis; Astarte; Dione; Melusine, Aphrodite, Ceridwen; Diana Arianrod; Bride; and by many other names. At mine Altars the youths of Lacaedemon in Sparta made due sacrifice.
Instruction to listen.
Establishment of who it is who is speaking.
Establishment of her nature and who she has been in history.
(Outward action/delineation of subject)
Whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full. Then ye shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me who am Queen of all Witcheries. There ye shall assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet who have not won its deepest secrets. To these will I teach things that are yet unknown. And ye shall be free from slavery, and as a sign that ye be really free, ye shall be naked in your rites, and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music, and love, all in my praise.
Description of the external forms of the witches’ rituals, and their intent.
(Outward action)
For mine is ecstasy of the Spirit, and mine is also joy on earth, For my Law is Love unto all beings. Keep pure your highest Ideals. Strive ever towards it. Let naught stop you or turn you aside. For mine is the secret which opens upon the door of youth; and mine is the cup of the Wine of Life: and the Cauldron of Ceridwen; which is the Holy Grail of immortality.
What belongs to the Goddess and the correct inner disposition for the witch in seeking her.
(Aim of outer action/inner disposition)
I am the Gracious Goddess who gives the gift of Joy unto the heart of Man.
Upon Earth I give the knowledge of the Spirit Eternal; and beyond death I give peace and freedom; and reunion with those who have gone before; Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice; for behold. I am the Mother of all things; and my love is poured out upon earth.
Full revelation of the nature of the Goddess’s covenant: it is of her love alone and extends beyond death.
(The Goddess’s disposition towards us)
Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess, She in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of Heaven; whose body encircleth the Universe.
Reiteration of the instruction to listen, indicating urgency or importance, reiteration of the Goddess’s syncretic nature by introducing a new Goddess.
I who am the beauty of the green earth; and the White Moon amongst the Stars; and the mystery of the Waters; and the desire of the heart of man; l call unto thy soul; arise and come unto me.
The Goddess is tangible, calling to us in the world around us.
(Our inward disposition to the external world)
For l am the Soul of nature who giveth life to the Universe; From me all things proceed; and unto me, all things must return; Beloved of the Gods and men; thine innermost divine self shall be enfolded in the raptures of the infinite.
The Goddess is life, and we can share in her divine life.
(Inner nature of the search)
Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth; for behold; all acts of Love and Pleasure are my rituals; and therefore let there be Beauty and Strength; Power and compassion; Honour and Humility; Mirth and Reverence within you.
The Goddess’s worship is inward; the inward disposition that this creates.
(Further inward movement to inner worship)
And thou who thinkest to seek me; Know that thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou know the mystery, That if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee; Thou wilt never find it without thee.
The Goddess can only be found within.
(The end of the search: the Goddess is within)
For behold; I have been with thee from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.
The realization that we have already found her; she is found when our seeking ends.

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 16: Whenever you need anything


At mine Altars the youth of Lacedaemon in Sparta made due sacrifice.
Whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full.

Sources and Influences

Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical: At mine Altars the youth of Lacedaemon and Sparta made due sacrifice.
Whenever you have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full.

Leland Aradia: Whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month, and when the moon is full, (47-49)

Thealogy

D’Este and Rankine make the essential point about the youths of Lacaedaemon in/and Sparta making due sacrifice to the Great Mother: Lacedaemon was a city in Sparta, not the other way around (Sorita d’Este and David Rankine: Wicca: Magical Beginnings. Avalonia, London, 2008.), which means the Charge begins with a huge error of geography. This line is either corrected or omitted in most published versions of the Charge, and they make the point that in the portion Gardner published in Witchcraft Today, no mention is made of Sparta.
Aidan Kelly (Aidan Kelly: Inventing Witchcraft. Thoth Publications, Loughborough, 2007.) characterises the lines about the youth of Sparta as a theologising of the scourging to follow in the ritual (see Artemis above).
The Charge can be seen as describing an inward journey undertaken by the witch in search of the Goddess (this journey is shown in the form of a table in the next blog post). Here the journey begins in a purely ‘mundane’ vein, initiating what may be called the ‘exoteric’ section of the Charge. The section quoted from Aradia gives a frequency for the meetings of the witches, bringing in the concept of need, a definite time period of once each month, and when the moon is full. In BAM Gardner has already changed it to being best to meet at the full moon, and leaves the others unchanged, which they have remained.
This implies that Wicca is a magico-religious system based on the needs of its practitioners, rather than the ritual system it has since become. The Goddess is saying ‘come to me when you need anything’, and there is no mention of the eight yearly festivals presently celebrated by Wiccans. Perhaps this was because the Wiccan ritual year was at an undeveloped stage at this time, but the frequency of meeting is much more like the monthly-or-more-frequent meetings held by Wiccans now, at which magic is worked, training is carried out, and any business is transacted, which are called Esbats, as against the eight Sabbats. It is interesting that a reference to monthly meetings occurs in Aradia, and passes over into the Charge, because the nature of these meetings seems similar to the meetings between the Sabbats postulated by Murray(Margaret Murray: The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. www.forgottenbooks.org , no place of publication, 2008.), who identified no set frequency, time, or place for these meetings, but feels that different covens may have had a set day of the week to meet. Murray is usually considered to be the source of the name Esbat.
So the origins of the Esbats in Wicca may that the name came from Murray, the nature and purpose are found in both Aradia and Murray, the frequency and time (night) in Aradia, and the phase of the moon found in Aradia, and taken over into the Charge with an alteration.
Why only once in the month? It is almost as if the Goddess is saying, ‘don’t come to me too often, don’t become too reliant on me, sort out most of your problems for yourselves, and solve them with magic only when you really need to.’ This may sound strange in a religious context: most religions want their adherents to depend entirely on their divinity, but I feel that in a Wiccan context it is precisely because of the religious context that the tradition of working magic only for real need and after taking the appropriate mundane action, has arisen. For Wiccans magic is a major mystery of our religion, and this is why it is treated with respect, and used with caution. The major power dynamic of our religion – that we should stand on our own two feet, seeking to live autonomously and guided by love in a university of infinite possibilities – in itself creates an ethic of solving problems for ourselves, rather than praying and attributing the outcome to the ‘will of God’. Finally this ethic is another way in which Wicca seeks to turn the values of the world around us on their head, mirrored in the kissing of the initiate’s feet in the First Degree initiation.
This practice of deliberately not using magic unless you absolutely have to is also the complete opposite of many magical traditions, where much store is set on practising magic, with the aim of becoming more adept. It seems almost like sacrilege to Wiccans to engage in ‘magical duels’ or practice working magic when there really isn’t a need for it. An example of a magical working in a Chaos Magic context, while not presented as a training exercise since it is based on personal values but the ‘target’ is not chosen out of personal feelings, and which would not be considered acceptable by many or most Wiccans, can be found in Chris Arkenberg’s account of his magical assault on Fox News (Chris Arkenberg: My Lovewar with Fox News. In Jason Louv (editor): Generation Hex. Disinformation, New York, 2006, pp. 203-217.). The shortcoming (or perhaps the strength) of the Wiccan approach is that personal magical development is bound to be slowed down, so that the practitioner may be relatively inexperienced.
It is better to meet when the moon is full. The ‘better’ is Gardner’s interpolation in Aradia’s instruction to meet when the moon is full, and contrary to Valiente’s trenchant comment that the witches probably met at full moon so that its light could enable their journey to the meeting (Doreen Valiente: An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. Robert Hale, London, 1973.), adds a more occult flavour to this passage. In this Gardner is drawing on the ancient identification of the moon with various Goddesses, the magical correspondences of moon phases and the idea of the time of the full moon being the time of greatest power.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Almost defining witch

As we know this word 'witch' is a slippery thing meaning different things in different contexts, but only gaining a more positive currency & use by people calling themselves witches in the 20th century. I'm sure I've commented before on the true etymology of it as coming from bend, & not from wise.
However I'm coming to a realisation that while all definitions of witch involve change in some form (I live Margot Adler's 'The Witch is the changer of definitions & relationships.'), it may in reality include a particular way of seeing. This is not to refer to some 'second sight' thing, but rather perception of what is around us.
I was talking about this with a witch friend the other night, & we realised that we had both had a similar experience before we came to witchcraft: we knew how we saw things & we stuck to this even in the face of opposition from *everyone* else. We got onto this from talking about a particular situation we're both involved in & agree on what is happening. Nobody else sees it like this, despite events proving us right time & again. My friend said that it is as if everyone else is in a huge cloud of denial.
Perhaps it's a hedge thing: because we have been or are near to the edge & are in the habit of frequenting liminal spaces we are more used to the idea that some weird shit is going to happen & less inclined to rationalise it out of existence! I was intrigued to discover that we'd both had that experience before coming to witchcraft (& I personally had a lot at stake in the situation where I stuck to my own view in the teeth of violent opposition).
So please, witches, when you know something is happening & you're being heavily leant on to see it someone else's way, hold firm. At the extreme you may even be obliged to go along with others externally, but you must keep your own view in your head. Others will try to persuade you you are mistaken, deluded or psychotic. If you are not these things confirmation will come sooner or later, but we owe it to ourselves & the universe to abide by truth. Phyliis Curott described witches in an interview as people who really listen, & if you can't trust a witch who can you trust?
(No I can't begin to explain the picture, but it seemed oddly suitable to this post)
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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 15: and by many other names.


Sources and Influences

BAM: and by many other names.

Apuleius Metamorphoses: ...manifested alone and under one form of all the gods and goddesses. (11.5)

Thealogy

‘By many other names’ means of course that the Great Mother of the Charge is known by many different names, but both the names used here, and the fact that the Goddess has many names, have significance for Wiccans.
The occult Law of Names (Philip Bonewits: Real Magic. Sphere Books, London, 1974.)  indicates that the knowledge of something’s true name means gaining control over it. In an everyday magical sense this can mean the correct diagnosis of the problem for which you seek a remedy. There is no point casting a spell for, say, a whole new career to solve your money problems, when working some overtime would solve them. If the nature of the problem is not apparent, a divination will often reveal it.
However when it comes to Gods and Goddesses the significance of names refers rather to knowing their true nature: invoking Discordia for a love spell would not get you very far. The idea of a Great Mother does not actually need to contradict the idea of individual cults of Goddesses with other names, whether or not these are seen as part of the greater whole or individual personalities. For example in Hinduism, where honour may be paid to many divinities or to one without excluding the existence of others, these many aspects may still be seen as expressions of the one (Kim Knott: Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.).   This may be contrasted with Vodou, which is often seen by westerners as polytheistic, but in reality there is only one God, who is not seen as involved in the daily occurrences of humans’ lives, and so the work is done with spirits rather than the God, or even Gods (Karen McCarthy Brown: Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1991.).  Neither of these views is exactly the same as that given by Gardner in The Meaning of Witchcraft, in which he wrote that the witches believe that there is a Supreme Deity or Prime Mover, to which he refers as ‘It’, which is not known to us, either because It does not wish to be known, or that we are not sufficiently evolved to do so. He writes that the Supreme Deity has therefore appointed ‘under-Gods’, which are the tribal gods of various human societies. He names ancient Egyptian Gods as these, and even Yahweh of the Hebrews, and states that the witches believe each people should worship its own Gods (Gerald Gardner: The Meaning of Witchcraft. Weiser Books, York Beach, 2004.).
Conversely he also sees the cult of a single Goddess under many names as the one universal factor in human religious belief and practise, who seems to be much more involved in human life than is implied in the words above:
‘When you enquire the reasons for these resemblances [between the religious ideas which come naturally to people], at the bottom you always find the Cult of the Great Mother of all Living, the Moon Goddess. We may know her best as Ishtar of Babylon, but she was worshipped under many names in the various countries where she ruled; Attar, in Mesopotamis; Ather, in Arabia; Astar, in Abyssinia; Atargatis in Syria, and Astarte or Artemis in Greece. For she is the force which expresses itself in the giving and taking (or receiving again) of life, and she is also the “love force”...
‘She is the Great Mother of All, the giver of fertility and the power of reproduction. All life comes from her; all life-giving crops and fruits, animals and people are her children. She is the Bringer and the Taker Away, the Goddess of Life, Death and Rebirth; but all in a sweetly loving way. Laughingly she has been described as “The Mother who lovingly spanks and kisses her children.”’ (Ibid. p. 111)

The fact remains that in the Charge, without excluding the possibility that she can be called by many other names, a number of specific names are used for the Great Mother. I do not believe that the particular choice of Goddesses for naming in this key ritual element of Wicca to be a random selection of Goddesses. Because this is such a key ritual I believe that the Goddess names selected reflect the thealogy of Wicca, and express Wicca’s nature as a religious movement. Whether or not Gardner believed that he and his collaborators were continuing an old religion, resurrecting an old religion, or creating a new one, I do not believe the choice of names here to be a case of, as Elliot Rose puts it in his imaginative creation of a witch religion, ‘Gods with Persian names and Greek bodies would prove, on examination, to have thoroughly Bloomsbury minds...’ (Elliot Rose: A Razor for a Goat. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1989, p. 201.).  Rather I believe both that the selection of names indicates key elements of Wicca.
However there are a number of difficulties in identifying these elements. The first is that I realised I personally knew next to nothing about these Goddesses, which, recalling the difficulty the coven members of the 1950s had in pronouncing the names, makes me wonder how many other Pagans are in a similar situation. None of them is my personal Goddess, so I have not had cause to find out about them, and it is certainly true that the Goddesses’ large geographical spread mean that their names alone can be alienating.
The second difficulty is that the Pagan revival which followed the middle of the twentieth century means that it is difficult to know how a person of Gardner’s age and education would have understood these divinities, because we are seeing them through the filter of subsequent publishing be people who actually believe and work with ancient Gods and Goddesses. The catalogue of his library is of doubtful help here, since it has obviously been added to since his death, suffice to say it inclines more towards esoteric subjects than to solid academic works on the classics, history and comparative mythology of these Goddesses.
A third difficulty is that the origin of most of these Goddesses is in the ancient world, which causes difficulties of interpretation. ‘History began at Sumer’, indeed, but it cannot therefore be assumed that the whole history has been revealed, or that conclusions can be drawn from it. The Greeks and Romans in particular left a vast range of literary as well as artefactual evidence, which in some cases is doubtful of interpretation, and sometimes the most ‘popular’ interpretation of a passage or artefact is considered wrong by others.
The principle I therefore have followed in writing about the Goddesses named in the Charge was to try to find elements in their mythology connected to witchcraft or magic, elements which would underline key aspects of Wiccan thealogy as I understand it to have existed in the early days, and elements which I believe would have appealed to Gardner because of his apparent interest in them. These criteria are far from perfect, but may help to answer the key questions of: Why these Goddesses individually? Why these Goddesses corporately? And why not other Goddesses who may appear to have been more obvious choices?
There is a development of thealogy evident between the BAM and final versions of the Charges, in the choice of Goddess names. BAM only names five Goddesses: Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, and Aphrodite, whereas the final version of the Charge includes four more: Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Ceridwen, Diana, Arianrhod, and Bride. The additions, apart from Diana, are ‘Celtic’ Goddesses originating in Irish or Welsh mythology. The inclusion of Diana could have been prompted by her traditional association with night flying, or to obtain some sort of consistency with using Aradia as a source.
The inclusion of Celtic Goddesses is indicative of one of the historical streams which contributed to the right historical circumstances for the birth of Neo-Paganism, and from its inception have influenced Wicca: a romanticised view of the life of the Celtic language group of people. From the time of the Industrial Revolution (Information on the Celtic Revivals is taken from David Clarke and Andy Roberts: Twilight of the Celtic Gods. Blandford, London, 1995.)  a mourning for the passing of a traditional way of life was complemented by a romantic yearning for the inhabitants of Britain, who were seen as Celts, and who were perceived as having been ousted by the invading Anglo-Saxons. In this movement – known as the Celtic Twilight – efforts were made to collect surviving remnants of a vanishing civilisation, which was seen romantically as being spiritual, pure, and closer to the land. Clarke and Roberts write that it is actually to this movement that we know most of what we think we know about the Celts today. They comment further that actual facts about the ancient Celts are few, and that the idea of Celtic heritage is a modern creation, aimed at reconnecting people with their past when life becomes difficult. They comment that there was another Celtic revival in the turbulent days of the 1960s.
Robert Graves’s book The White Goddess, published in 1948, could have been the inspiration for the inclusion of these Goddesses in the later versions of the Charge. The four extra Goddesses included in the final version of the Charge are also included in Valiente’s verse version, so it could be that ‘Celtic’ mythology was an interest of hers. It is clear, however, that Gardner himself had an involvement and interest in Druidry, attending the annual ceremony at Stonehenge, for example, from 1946 (Philip Heselton: Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration. Capall Bann, Milverton, 2003. ).
There are several characteristics running as undercurrents through these Goddesses’ mythologies, none of which applies to them all, but may contribute to some understanding of these Goddesses as a group.
The first is conflict with monotheisms, found in Artemis, Astarte, Diana, and Bride (I include Bride because of the persisting legend that the Goddess was canonised by the church because her worship could not be stopped). The cult of Artemis famously came into conflict with the early Christians, and the account in Acts makes it plain that the people of Ephesus wanted to keep her (this conflict also applies to Diana). Astarte was present at the conflict between the proponents of what became Judaism as we know it today, and those who preferred the ‘old ways’. Diana was also present at another conflict with the church, when it was decreed that those who thought they rode with her by night should stop thinking so.
It has often been commented on the extent to which Wicca seeks in its own life to counter the values of the surrounding society, by such practises as ritual nudity, etc, and the inclusion of these Goddesses points to a further element of countercultural thinking: Wicca turns conventional religion so much on its head that the High Priestess kisses the candidate’s feet at initiations, and our Goddesses have always been present at conflict with monotheisms. A clear case of continuing to make cakes for the Queen of Heaven.
The second underlying current in these Goddesses’ mythologies is that of water: Gardner later wrote of the connection of the Goddess with water, which is the source of all living things:
‘A persistent connection will be noted between the Great Mother and water, or the sea. Venus arises from the sea. The moon goddess is associated with the sea, perhaps because of the tides. Shells are symbols of the Great Mother. Binah, the Supernal Mother of the Qabalists, is called the Great Sea. We know today that in actual fact the waters of the warm Palaeozoic seas were the womb of evolving life for the first living things upon earth. (Gardner, op. cit., p.54)’

So the connection of the Goddesses named in the Charge with water is connected to the aspect of fertility, in all its meanings, also found throughout Wiccan thealogy and elsewhere in the Charge.
A third element is that many of these Goddesses have disputed origins, origins which have been marked by syncretism with other divinities, and mythologies which have taken different forms in different places and times (Artemis, Astarte, Aphrodite, Diana, Bride). I believe this not only points to an underlying belief that there was an ancient Great Mother, but that it may point to a mutability of appearance leading to a transformation of substance, important in a religion where a key function is the creation by the individual witch of what they want or need.
The importance of magical transformation (the fourth element) to Wiccan mythology of the Goddess is made explicit in the myths of Dione (nominally a female transformation of Zeus), Melusine, Ceridwen, and Arianrhod. The Goddess of the witches is therefore a Goddess of transformation, both inner and outer, and of magic.
The fifth underlying element is that it is not entirely clear whether all these Goddesses actually started out their mythological life as Goddesses (Melusine, Arianrhod, Ceridwen), but are clearly named as such here, pointing to the Wiccan mystery that men and women not only are in the image of divinity, but can both personify and become them. Through the enactment rituals of Wicca, witches actually live out the life cycles of their divinities, sharing in something of their divinities’ natures, in token of the mystery that there is nothing in me which is not of the Gods.
The sixth element, fertility and sexual love, with its concomitant of motherhood, is actually present in the mythology of all the Goddesses in one way or another, and so therefore may be said to be the one element in these Goddesses’ mythologies which ties them together, and could have been the inspiration for the selection of these Goddess names in the early days of Wicca the fertility cult. These are the words of the Great Mother, and so Goddesses seem to have been chosen for naming, whose legends include some aspect of fertility, sexual love of motherhood.
More surprising, perhaps, is the non-inclusion of other Goddesses traditionally associated with witchcraft, such as Hecate. There is a very rich body of English folklore on witches, found in Shakespeare and other playwrights. Briggs, writing about the images of witches in the theatre from Shakespeare onwards, comments on the remarkable consistency of the witch image presented, and points out – in a link back to the Charge – all of the features of the classical witch, ointments, glamours, transformations, are already present in Apuleius (K. M. Briggs: Pale Hecate’s Team. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1962.) . These playwrights, however, are not keen to give a positive image to the witch, which may explain the lack of reference to classical witch deities. Certainly, comparing Hecate’s mythology to those of the Goddesses who are named, it become less surprising, even though some of the Goddesses both took on some of her features and became syncretised with her at later dates. Hecate’s literary and folkloric appearances are almost all connected with negative magic. Medea, while ultimately a tragic figure, is pictured in no kind light when she is calling upon Hecate, but as the stereotypical evil witch. Hecate’s authentic cult in the ancient world was too marked by images of graves, crossroads, and the howling of dogs. I feel Hecate’s presence is just too ‘dark’ to sit easily with the other Goddesses here, or with the whole tone of Wicca (although she’s a wonderful Goddess when you get to know her).
So I feel there are certain things that these Goddesses have in common, which could be the explanation for the selection of Goddess names here, although the in the absence of any evidence it is impossible to conclude this firmly. These common strands to their mythologies are common strands in Wiccan thealogy and ritual, and these strands seem to create a divine ‘milieu’ for Wicca, which would exclude divinities traditionally associated with Witchcraft, and may explain their non-inclusion.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Spirit of place: New Street Station

I'm writing this on the way to Stafford, which means catching a train at Birmingham New Street. This journey enables seeing the iron horse sculptures which stretch between Birmingham and Wolverhampton: unfortunately the one on its own looks a bit odd & people often don't believe it's there at New Street. I remember them as a feature of my childhood, but am astounded to discover they were only put up in 1987 so I wasn't that small. The station is the second busiest in Britain outside London & manages to be the least popular (52% satisfation rate!). We have to face it that it is a dive: one of Birmingham's less successful 1960s rebuilds, with the result it's been fiddled with endlessly since then, having a major makeover at the moment. The second picture shows the alternative entrance, which I remember new. What on earth possessed them to make it white? Presumably it would be technically possible to keep it clean, but that has plainly not happened. On the other hand the original 1960s signal box is listed, has been done up at presumably great trouble & expense, & is therefore looking good.
Despite its grotty image New Street Station means to me tha gateway to the city. In recollected childhood train journeys we came out into the shopping centre (this must have been pre1983 because my father was still alive) and passed the Japanese shop & Habitat. Both shops later relocated away from there & both have now closed, but this marked a transition for me from the insularity of the Black Country in which I grew up (it's not for nothing that Birmingham City fans sing 'Your mum is your dad's sister', ironically to the tune of Go West, at Wolves fans) to the anonymity and relative sophistication of city living. This seems to be a common experience among young gays, perhaps less so now, & perhaps depending on where you grow up, but it is necessary with the horses to flee from everything that denies our personal sovereignty & freedom.
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Friday, November 16, 2012

In denial

A friend sent me this local dating ad:
We are two guys (24 and 28) and although we are both straight, we want to 'do stuff' together, but we are both worried that this makes us gay and so we've decided that to make things less wierd we'll need a girl present. So if you're of the female persuasion and you'd like to watch two guys getting it on (albeit in a very inexperienced and awkward way) then please get in touch. :)
Source: http://birmingham.craigslist.co.uk/stp/3390722343.html
This is just so hilarious & wrong on every level! I tried to get my friend to apply to be the woman. I'm more inclined to ask them if they want a gay man to help them with it!! I feel the word 'albeit' indicates a certain braininess about them, I'm just dying to know what they look like!
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Eric Gill

I have been sitting on this post for some time. It was prompted by a book I have bought recently, but I was undecided whether to illustrate it with Gill's engraving of the domestic hose (best not: if you don't know it google it & see. *I* call it art, but I do see that others may disagree), or the cover of his Trousers & the Most Precious Ornament. Then just now I was in the gents' at Moor Street Station (I'm writing this on a train which may possibly get me to Kidderminster before the new year), & as I was shaking my most precious ornament I caught sight of the sign in the photo & heard Susun Weed say, 'it's time!' Never mind herbs & stuff - that woman sounds like she must smoke 60 a day...
I have loose boxers on today & I like to think Gill would be pleased by the way they allow both comfort & allow the genitals to hang as it naturally does. He used to wear a loose home-woven artist's smock with nothing underneath, frequently lifted this to urinate while talking to visitors, and yet is maybe not best remembered for his strong feelings about clothing:
'[Gill's] Victorian primness is aroused by [...] Modern body-fitting clothing, particularly for men. Man's clothing now is depressing, drab, and uniform across all classes and professions and "his undergarments are worse; they might even be called foul". The modern male's penis is "tucked away and all sideways, dishonoured, neglected, ridiculed and ridiculous - no longer the virile member and man's most precious ornament".'
(This is a quotation from Malcolm Yorke's book 'Eric Gill: Man of Flesh & Spirit', & I'm ashamed to say I've so neglected my normally immaculate referencing that I neglected to note the page number when I saved this as a draft on my blackberry several days ago. It's not that helpful to tell you that it's on the page marked with a pink post-it in my copy, but that's all I can remember at the moment).
He is also not best remembered for his Victorian primness, but it's interesting that Yorke can see primness in him. He may be best remembered as a letterer or gorgeous lettering, sculptor of numinous sculpture with a strong ethic of authenticity & the dignity of work, and as a dirty old man. This last aspect only came to the fore from the 1980s, & particularly after the publication of Fiona McCarthy's biography of him, turning his status as sculptor of the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral into that of being an embarrassment to the Catholic Church. Not necessarily to the whole of that august body of course: far be it from me to point out that he wouldn't be the first person to receive their patronage who had sex with underage girls, even his own daughter, & a monk of Farnborough Abbey told me gleefully years ago that they made the mistake of having McCarthy's book as a refectory book, & when they got to the bit about the experiment with the dog, the monk who was reading stopped in the middle of the sentence, went, 'Oh my God', turned over several pages & carried on reading, looking sickly green.
What made me think of this again was that I have been reading some reminiscences of him by David Kindersley & have discovered that he was far more out of step with the Catholic church than I thought he was. I knew that despite the prestigious Westminster commission he did have controversy with the church in his lifetime. He described becoming Catholic as being 'fucked by Christ' & did a wildly controversial engraving of a woman, mostly covered by her long hair, being intimate with Jesus on the cross. Kindersley has explained for me how he could have fitted in in a body which isn't known for its good taste or artiness: he obviously didn't & perhaps this is why he spent so much time in para-religious communities of his own making, away from priests messing up the mass in tawdry mass-produced city churches.
In fact I wonder what he was doing being a Catholic at all, albeit it is difficult to envision what life would have been for someone of his mindset at the time. The sacralisation of sex & freedom of sexual experiment would make him far more one of us than any sort of Christian. For many years he always had two women on the go (married to one of them) & would have sex with both of them every day. I wouldn't have a problem with that as long as it was consensual; I would have a major problem with him having sex with his own underage daughter, & also with sex with a dog. I think one of the things Gill does is cause discomfort in us: he so far left the norms of his own age that he even leaves the norms of our more 'permissive' age behind, which makes it difficult for us to engage with him. Plainly having two women on the go would not be illegal, sex with your underage daughter would be. I'm sure there are places where having two women on the go is illegal even now, so I feel pursuing the legal explanation for my discomfort would be to hide behind someone else's authority.
Similarly there have been cultures & times where it has been the norm for parents to have sex with their children, but he didn't live in one. There are still people who would have great difficulty with, say, my lifestyle, so even the social norms thing falls down.
What can one say about him? I'm frankly at a loss either to censure him, suggest a solution to his Catholic discomfiture, or reach a final conclusion about him. Perhaps you have to be the sort of person who has this sort of effect on other people to be the sort of person who produces his numinous sculpture & lettering. Of course the search for authenticity can lead any of us to places where we or others would probably prefer we didn't go... But I don't feel he would really be a witch in the sense that we mean it today, even though he may even count among the many people who were feeling their way towards our tradition prior to Gerald Gardner & others' synthesis of many disparate ingredients into the Wicca we know today which over the succeeding decades became the Witchcraft we know today. The difference is this: he carried his sexual experimentation to a level that would not be acceptable to our (or any, that I know of) community. In fact I believe that his sexual excesses in incest, bestiality & paedophilia may even necessarily be ruled out by our ethic of Will, since this ethic includes the idea of my True Will, which of necessity cannot conflict with anyone else's if it be True. It is not possible for a dog to tell us that it wants sex with us, therefore we cannot know its true will, & imposing a sexual act on it means an assumption that it is part of its will.
Gill himself once commented, when he was in the house of a man with a large collection of pornography, that if it hadn't been for Catholicism he would have been like that; his implication being that the graces made available to him by his Catholicism prevented him from being worse then he was. I would argue that it could work the other way (bearing in mind the scandalous history of the church's sheltering of sexual abusers): our lack of a mechanism for forgiveness could have made him better, by giving a greater importance to each individual act, with *no* way to undo it. The Catholic's ability (yes, I know this is an abuse of their system, but the fact remains the abuse is possible) to do whatever they please on Friday, have it absolved on Saturday & be in a state of grace for Mass on Sunday is dangerous because it invites trouble.
As to how a sexual abuser & predator could also be a prolific & numinous artist, I don't have an answer to this conundrum. The Christian answer would be that we are all in the image of God yet all fallen, we as Witches have to fall back on an explanation either founded in our lack of will, or in some 'karmic' stuff going on, although this explanation makes me really intensely uncomfortable. At the last analysis I can enjoy Gill's art & sympathise with some of his theories, without having to accept all of him. G*ddess forbid, that would imply that I am him & he is me without the necessary separation necessary to enact my Will.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Witch as Soothsayer

The word soothsayer is not related to 'soothe', rather it means 'one who says the truth.' The always-fruitful study of etymology means I have found out only today that sooth had overtones of guilt, of being the (guilty) one.
All this is extremely pertinent to this post, given a run-in I had with someone yesterday: this is definitely a witch-figure post. Westboro Baptist church believe that one of the marks of a true Christian is that everyone will hate him, & they seem to be succeeding in making sure that literally everyone hates them. The Witch figure is one of fear & hatred, certainly, but one of the things we do is speak the truth. We carry on speaking it & refuse to be deflected from it until it is heard. When people attempt to cover the truth up, to lie, to dissemble, we keep on holding up a big sign saying 'this is the truth.'
I would recommend Tim Field's book, Bully in Sight, for a non-magical approach to the art of soothsaying. Our motivation to soothsay as magical people is slightly different: so much of magic is making things so because I say they are. I have therefore to make sure that my word has the authority & conviction necessary to effect this change, & I can only do this by my own conviction & speaking from an undivided heart.
'I think I might want this' is not enough: this is the difference between desire & will, bound up for us with truth as we know it. Didn't someone say, 'the truth will make you free?'
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Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 14: Bride

Bride;
Sources and Influences
BAM: - (not present in BAM version of the Charge)
Thealogy
Bride is the Celtic Goddess Brigit/Brigid, whose name comes from the Celtic word brig, meaning power or authority, so the Goddess's name means High One or Exalted One. She has a long history of conflation with other figures, being paralleled by the Northern British divinity Brigantia, also sometimes identified with the Roman Goddess Minerva, with her connections with craft and healing, and finally is supposed to have acquired a Christianised identity as Saint Brigid. (Miranda Green: Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers. British Museum Press, London, 1997.)  There is no agreement on these various identities, and Green warns against reading aspects of her role as a saint into her identity as a Pagan Goddess.
Brigit was one of several occurrences of triple figures in Celtic myth, being a guardian of childbirth, mother, and goddess of prosperity, patroness of poets, smiths, and doctors. At Imbolc a fowl would be sacrificed to her by being buried alive at the confluence of three waters. (Miranda Green: Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. Routledge, London, 1989.) 
St Brigid of Kildare (c.452 – c.524) was abbess of a double monastery of monks and nuns, in a church which was influenced by pre-Christian Celtic culture. At this monastery the nuns kept a perpetual flame burning in the enclosure, and legend has it that after her death St Brigid returned every twentieth night to tend the flame herself. Burns feels that this legend may have its origin in the myths of the Goddess Brigid, acknowledges that there are further aspects of her cult influenced by pre-Christian Goddess mythology, and feels that these two strands are difficult to disentangle. ( Paul Burns (editor): Butler's Lives of the Saints: February. Burns and Oates, Tunbridge Wells, 1998.)
The modern Pagan myth of Brigit is perhaps best summarised by Barbara Walker: Brigit was a triple Goddess of the Celtic empire of Brigantia, the 'Three Blessed Ladies of Britain' or 'Three Mothers', who governed healing and smithing. At Kildare her nineteen priestesses (mirroring the nineteen years of the Celtic 'Great Year') kept a perpetual fire burning. Walker identifies an early shrine at Brigeto in Illyricum, from whence she was taken to Ireland by the Gaelic Celts. Her popularity was such that it could not be uprooted and the Christians were forced to canonise her, and place her feast on the 1st February, the Pagan feast of Bride, and Walker parallels her with St Bridget of Sweden, who was another Christianisation of the same Goddess. ( Barbara G Walker: The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1983.)
Brigid is connected with the pre-Christian festival of Imbolc, but there is no evidence extant as to its origins or early celebration. There is speculation that the festival is connected either to milking of sheep or to purification. Hutton writes that it was only later connected with Brigid, and feels that there is not enough evidence to reach firm conclusions on Brigid's ancient cult, but that there is much room for imaginative constructions. There is no record of plaiting Brigid's crosses before the eighteenth century, nor for the laying of straw dolls in 'Brigid's beds'. Whenever they started such customs were known only to the Irish and areas of strong Irish influence, such as the Isle of Man and the Hebrides, and celebrations on this day show further conflation with the Christian saint.( Ronald Hutton: The Stations of the Sun. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996.)  An interesting occurrence of her name in the folklore of the Hebrides as late as the nineteenth century is found in a familiar folk-spell collected by Alexander Carmichael, which is perhaps more familiar in its earlier form with Wode instead of Bride:
Bride went out
In the morning early,
With a pair of horses;
One broke his leg,
With much ado,
That was apart,
She put bone to bone,
She put flesh to flesh,
She put sinew to sinew,
She put vein to vein;
As she healed that
May I heal this. 
(Alexander Carmichael (edited by C. J. Moore): Charms of the Gaels. Floris Books, Edinburgh, 1992.)

The modern Wiccan ritual for Imbolc is unusual for Wicca in that the Goddess is not drawn down into the High Priestess, but rather the God drawn down into the High Priest; a corn dolly – the 'biddy' – is laid into Brigid's bed; three of the women of the coven take the roles of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. The Farrars write that the ritual for Imbolc is a fertility rite, welcoming the Spring.( Janet and Stewart Farrar: A Witches' Bible.  Robert Hale, London, 1984.) 
The chief significance of Bride here may therefore be the simple fact that she has a shadowy past, murky origins, a history of conflation with other triple Goddesses, and may be one of the Goddesses 'Christianised' as a Saint. All of this makes her a perfect Goddess to be incorporated into Wiccan thealogy, since this bare account incorporates most of the aspects of this thealogy in one sentence. One proviso here must be that it is important to note that the titles of Maiden, Mother and Crone date only from Graves in the twentieth century (this history is covered in part 5 of this commentary) so that while the history in this part seems to invite an interpretation as evidence for an ancient cult who worshipped their Goddess as Maiden Mother and Crone, the evidence would not support this conclusion. This invitation to misinterpretation, however, illustrates perfectly another aspect of the modern witchcraft milieu: that out of murky ingredients we create things anew, creating both future and a recreated past in the process. The Maiden, Mother and Crone may be seen as representative of this process of creation, birth, growth, death, and rebirth, the central mystery of life.