I’ve got a mixed past, to say the least. I was raised by a convert to a monotheistic faith (Islam). I grew up being told that polytheists and Pagans were evil because any God but the big one was really a devil in disguise, misleading people and giving them really kickass powers. I kind of wanted those kickass powers; I’m not going to lie. I tried interacting with the jinn while I was growing up in the Middle East, with interesting and varied results. Not all jinn are devils, they’re viewed as being much like humans in that they have free will and choose their own paths. I figured that if I dealt with goodly, God-fearing jinn I could get cool powerzzz and not have to worry about my immortal soul. Well, when I dealt with them stuff happened.
That could be a whole series of posts in and of itself – I might relay some of my experiences later. It’s a shame that I didn’t have better occult training and discipline in my early teens, or I might have developed a very powerful practice. Of course, the spirits there are far more active than they are here, largely because they’re used to being interacted with while the ones in the States are by and large used to being ignored (and often skeptical bordering on hostile to attempts at contact). People there haven’t forgotten the jinn, they’re part of every day life in many places in the Middle East, so they still mess with people fairly regularly. Fast forward to me returning to the States for college. I was supposed to experience a faith that wasn’t my own for an anthropology assignment so I went to a Pagan Coffee night. I had this fantastic revelation that these totally weren’t evil people and in fact, some of them were super-nice and super-cool and with it. I ended up taking a year-long 101 class by a very serious teacher, and then training for a year with a British Traditional coven.
I was a little too queer and weird for them (it’s been the story of my life). So since I wasn’t officially invited to join, I started doing my own rites with others in the area. I attracted a group and usually ended up leading rites. My good friend Rose became an unofficial High Priestess and I was an unofficial High Priest who really, really wished people would label her a High Priestess and let her wear the silver moon crown. I loved Wiccan practice. I loved the feel of power in casting a circle and the energy and presences I felt when calling the spirits of the quarters. I loved the deep, resonant communion that I had with the Goddess when Drawing Down the Moon. I developed a relationship with Isis early on for a lot of reasons – I was drawn to her and she had been worshiped as an All-Goddess since the days of her Hellenic and Roman followers like Lucius Apuleius, or perhaps even before that in Egypt. I integrated some Kemetic things into my rites and felt the ringing, powerful and ancient might of those practices.
There were things that were missing, though, and it took me a while to work out what they were. Every High Day seemed to revolve around us working some kind of magick and coming away with some new goody or spell, but it didn’t feel like we were giving back at all. So myself and some other members of our group started instituting the practice of offerings. We didn’t do physical offerings at first, but we would make an oath to whichever Goddess and/or God was presiding over a particular rite to do something appropriate in their name before the next Sabbat. This immediately caught on, and the results were tangible and powerful – our relationships with those deities deepened and became more manifest. We gave small amounts of our cakes and ale to the Gods and Spirits as well.
Something else that was missing was a genuine involvement with spirits and the dead. There is no specific framework for that within standard Wiccan and Wiccanate practice. I’ll admit that that confounded me. I kept trying to approach High Ceremonial Magick for evocation, but I couldn’t stand the Judeo-Christian language; it wasn’t me. I couldn’t reach back and incorporate the work I had done with the jinn; they lived elsewhere. I was too afraid to work with the dead, to be honest, so I never reached out to them other than asking deities that worked with them to intercede and aid them.
Well, Rose died. Other than completely shattering my world (she and I had a relationship that was not easily quantifiable or labelled but suffice it to say was unique and deeper than our bones and hearts) it ended up shattering our group and we all fell out of practice with one another. Other than the monumental task of hand-copying her extensive Book of Shadows for her husband, I didn’t do a lot of work but the occasional Sabbat with a tiny crowd of friends or very private Moon rites. I started reading more on Isian practice and it filled the void for me. Not all of it was Kemetic; some was Hellenic, some Roman, and some modern. I joined the Fellowship of Isis, the work and spirit of which I appreciate, but I became very frustrated with the lack of organization. It was difficult to find a functional Lyceum or Iseum that would provide the training that FoI advertises as free for all members. It was a frustrating time spiritually for me.
I ended up moving to Rochester, New York to be with my partner, Maur, who was a member of ADF. I knew nothing about ADF or Druidry, and just kind of listened to him talk about it and absorbed bits and pieces. I was so frustrated with the lack of community, though, that I didn’t know what to do. So, when I went to the Sirius Rising festival in 2012, I went with a purpose. I had done a week-long oracular intensive with Diana Paxson the year before, and I knew that she usually did oracular work as part of the festival. When she does her oracular seidh she goes between answering questions through raw psychic ability and consulting with entities, often at the request of the querents. The last querent had received a message about Greco-Egyptian practices, so I asked her if she could speak to Isis for me while she was “in that area”. Isis spoke through her. There were a lot of manifestations that wowed the crowd – the sunlight got brighter and a nearby radio blared, “Let the sunshine in!” and then stopped. I asked Her about community, and she told me to find take a journey to find the pieces of Her husband myself, and recreate him. I’ll spare some of the details because, but later when I asked for clarification on how to find them, She told me to go to “the Groves of the North, the mountains of the East, the deserts of the South and the forests of the West, and wherever you go, you will find Me.” She then reiterated that the first place that I should go was to the Groves of the North and the “Gods of my Childhood and Ancestors”.
Now, Norse mythology had fascinated me more than any other as a child and I greedily acquired books on the subject in those pre-internet days (before I moved to the Middle East, that is). When consulting Maur about the “Groves” that he was most familiar with (ADF) I discovered that it wasn’t specifically Celtic – there were individuals and even whole Groves committed to various Indo-European cultures – Norse, Gaulish, Hellenic, Roman, Baltic, even Vedic. So at the behest of a Kemetic Goddess worshiped across many cultures in the ancient world I joined an organization that uses a Celtic word to describe its members (Druid) so that I could worship Norse deities in a structured environment and walk the path to finding and creating a good spiritual community. Sorry not sorry, traditionalists.
I find myself still casting circles and using quarter calls when working magick. I incorporate offering and the Druidic Hallows into my magickal rites and spells as well. I still draw down the moon on occasion, but practice my High Days and much of my daily devotional in ADF’s style. I still primarily am devoted to and honor a (at least originally) African Goddess while performing modern rites descended on the one hand from High Ceremonial Magick and on the other of modern scholarly interpretation of common themes in Indo-European religious practice. I can just feel people (including my first teachers) twitching at this.
You know what? It works for me. For me, religion has always been about structured practices meant to bring about spiritual experiences and magickal connections. People who gasp and pearl-clutch about mixing traditions and how no one can ever discover anything or “advance” without following some specific, structured, and ultimately man-made dictum simply haven’t had the experiences I have. I try to be disciplined and regular and consistent in my practice, and I find that that has a whole lot more to do with successful God-talking and doing of hoodoo (as opposed to Hoodoo) and wondrous, magical, awe-inspiring, world-shaking experiences than following an initiatory ladder created by someone who has never met me. Most of those systems were created by people who weren’t as multicultural as I am – I was raised Irish Protestant/WASP/(Modern) Egyptian Sunni/American Hippy Feminist who spent days with her Scottish/Egyptian best friend and practically became family to her Indian and Pakistani friends. Most of those systems weren’t created by people in a world whose secret practices have been blown open by the internet and the marvelous sharing of consciousness altering, reality manipulating techniques from all corners of the globe. I truly feel that in this modern age, cultural context of practice is not as important as it once was mainly because it doesn’t exist anymore.
Culture and identity are changing so rapidly and wildly that what may have worked wonderfully for Upper-Middle class English people in the middle of the last century probably won’t work so well for us. That doesn’t mean to leap around wildly between traditions – take some time and dedicate yourself to things. Learn them inside and out. Grow in them. For your own sake, though, move on when you’re ready. Don’t let that fancy ritual robe be a straightjacket. The most successful witches, sorcerers, Pagans, and mystics and the ones that I admire most have that in common – dedication to practice, and practical open-mindedness. So what am I? A Witch, a Wiccan, a Druid, a Pagan, a Heathen? Any one of those fits; it depends on the rite I’m attending, who is going to be there, and what I need to accomplish. I have grown to be unashamed of my eclecticism because over time it truly has strengthened my magick and connection to the Powers and helped me to refine and find mastery over myself, and that’s what matters to me.