We have been Wiccans, now, for thirty years. We met at a Sabbat, fell in love, were handfasted, and have two children — a young woman of sixteen and a boy of nine — both of whom are also Wiccans. After training within a coven for several years, we "hived off" and formed our own coven, which has been in continual existence in [location removed by request] for over two decades.
To us, Wicca (Witchcraft, Paganism, Neo-paganism) is a part of our spiritual lives. It's not just something we do, it filters through our very being. The love of the God and Goddess fills us with happiness, joy, peace, and contentment. When things don't go well in our lives, we can turn to our spirituality and the love of the God and Goddess to comfort us. We thank Them in our prayers and in our play.
Too often, others try to define us. Sometimes, people of other religions even tell us what we, as Wiccans, are "supposed" to believe. We just wish them well and go on our way. Our beliefs are our own. We don't want to force them on others (although we will be glad to share), nor do we want others to force their beliefs on us.
Some people believe that spirituality should not change. Perhaps they are correct, but even if the nature of the Divine doesn't change, as we grow and mature throughout our lives our understanding of the spiritual realms needs to change and evolve. For it not to do so would turn our spirituality into dogma and rules rather than the communion and freedom we currently have. Again, we are not asking anyone to agree with us or follow our beliefs. We are just sharing what we feel. Each person should make up his or her own mind as to how to follow a spiritual path.
It would seem odd, then, for people who follow Wicca — one of the oldest spiritual traditions on Earth (and please, let us not debate the issue; if you prefer, call it an attempted re-creation of ancient religious traditions) — to describe their beliefs as "evolving." But we consider every day as being something new. Our understanding of the Divine evolves as we evolve. When we learn new things which are in harmony with our beliefs, we add them to our system. If a fact comes up which is contrary to our beliefs, we have to resolve the conflict. We believe that Wicca, not being associated with a single, hierarchic authority, can and should change to better meet the needs of its followers over time.
The hazard in being willing to adopt the new is that the additions can sweep over the traditions, taking us far away from the original vision of Wicca we have followed. While there is nothing wrong with that, it seems to us that if you create a new tradition — even if it evolved from an earlier, different tradition — it would be fair to understand that you are following practices and beliefs that are not part of the original set of beliefs and practices. Perhaps a re-naming of the neo-tradition would be called for.
For those of us who do not want to evolve away from the past but still want to incorporate what is new within the current paradigm, one of the key things to do is simply remember the past. This can certainly be done with the help of history books and books on myth and legend. But there is another past which is important, too: the personal past.
THE PERSONAL PAST
Most people think of history as being something which took place a long time ago. Here in the US, that vision is usually of a bunch of guys doing something which later becomes recognized as important: Discovering the Americas; Signing the Magna Carta; Winning WWII. Now that is history!
But there is another type of history most people don't recognize. In our personal past on the macro level, we (my wife and I) have experienced the assassination of President Kennedy; The War in Viet Nam; The importance of protests; The resignation of President Nixon; The impeachment of President Clinton; Wars in the Middle East; Landings on the Moon; Etc. Our grandparents, in their personal past, remember World War I; The stock market crash; Reading about the first flight by the Wright brothers shortly after it took place; Etc.
More important to us, however, is the micro level of our personal past. This is composed of our personal experiences and development. How we felt when a lover left us or when a close relative died; Our emotional response to major events in society; What it felt like when we succeeded or failed at some personal project; Etc.
As time passes, we often forget the powerful impact on us that comes from both levels of our personal past. If our Wiccan tradition changes too much we may forget where it came from — its roots, its heart, its soul. Perhaps one of the most important things we can do is again represented by a single word: remember. And there is no better time to do this remembering than at Hallowmas or Halloween.
As part of our tradition, we tell stories of what it was like in our personal pasts. Often, the elders of the coven will go back through their personal notebooks to get better recall of past events. Some rememberings are happy and have people laughing with glee. Others are bittersweet.
There is a large bookstore near where we live. They have an entire row with "New Age" books. It has been the habit of my wife and I to start at different ends of this section of books and work toward the middle. When we meet there we share our finds, if any, and determine if there was anything we actually wanted to buy and bring home.
As I was working my way down from the beginning of the alphabet, I heard my wife audibly sigh. I looked over to see her waving me to come to where she was standing. “This must be a real discovery,” I thought, “to have her break our regular bookstore pattern.”
As I neared her I could see that she held a hardbound book. It was black and had silver-stamping for decoration and the title. Two steps more and I saw the title. “Oh, my,” I said quietly, in both surprise and pleasure.
The name of the book was The Grimoire of Lady Sheba.
We quickly bought it and took it home.
This is a book that changed our lives and, we think, changed Wicca. To understand just how important this book is, you have to go back to when it was first published in 1972. This was a time before people such as Silver Ravenwolf, Scott Cunningham, Gerina Dunwich, Z. Budapest, and other authors were writing. In fact, if you wanted to learn about Witchcraft, you were limited to scare tactics from small Christian publishers, the credulous writings of Montague Summers, laughable fictions, and a very few modern, realistic books.
These latter included titles by Gerald Gardner, Sybil Leek, and others that were about Alex Sanders. Each one was filled with bits and pieces, but none of them presented a coherent, whole system. It was into this milieu that The Grimoire of Lady Sheba exploded, an epiphany of information and how-to, no-nonsense instruction.
In the history of modern Wicca, several books can be pointed to as being important. The Grimoire of Lady Sheba is as important as any of them and more important than most. It truly is a piece of history, coming out at the right time and the right place to influence generations. And we were now able to hold it in our hands once again.
The Grimoire of Lady Sheba was the first complete grimoire that was ever published. It has two parts, the grimoire itself and "Lady Sheba's Book of Shadows." The first part gives the entire theory of Wicca and magic, including information on raising power, the magical tools, formulas for incenses and oils, and even magical dances. The second part begins with a set of Wiccan laws. Now, almost thirty years after the original publication of this book, many covens consider rules or laws to be archaic and outdated. But for the last half-century they were seen as vital to the development of Wicca.
They describe "who does what" in a coven, the relationship of the gods to humans and the necessity for keeping your own, personal, handwritten Book of Shadows. One of these laws that will interest many is number 57: "And our oppressors know well: 'Ye may not be a Witch alone.'" This came from a time when the notion of a Solitary Witch was unheard of and to practice Wicca required a coven structure. Obviously, this has changed greatly, making this point outdated. But it shows where we were, making this book a vital historic reference.
Since the focus was on covens, it was inevitable that people in close proximity and having such intimate trust would get into disagreements. Thus, many of the comments in this section deal with coven protocols and problem resolution. This makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in group dynamics.
One method of dealing punishment is through the use of the scourge. This points to a direct relationship between the Wicca described in this book and that of Gerald Gardner. Indeed, some have suggested that this book copies some or all of Gardnerian Wicca. If so, this book becomes even more valuable as a revelation of the previously held secrets of the Gardnerian system (although much of the initiations were revealed in Gardner’s novel, High Magic’s Aid).
In this section of the Book of Shadows are complete explanations of opening the circle, the initiations into the three degrees, the "Great Rite," invocations, incantations, and rites for the eight Sabbats.
It is that last section which really brought on the memories. Here were the original rituals used by thousands of covens all over the world. For years, our previous copy of this book was passed around to people wanting to use these rituals as the basis for their own rites. Somehow, during those many sharings, our copy of the book was lost. It was long out of print so we could not replace it. Now, our old friend, appropriately printed on recycled paper, has returned.
To honor its return, this Hallowmas our coven is going to use the ritual directly from the book. It is still powerful and evocative. Listen (say it out loud) to just part of the invocation of the Horned God:
By the flame that burneth bright,
O Horned One!
We call Thy name into the night,
O Ancient One!
Thee we invoke, by the Moon-led sea,
By the standing stone and the twisted tree.
Thee we invoke, where gather Thine own,
By the nameless shore, forgotten and lone.
Come where the round of the dance is trod,
Horn and Hoof of the Goat Foot God!
By moonlit meadow, on dusky hill,
When the haunted wood is hushed and still,
Come to the charm of the chanted prayer,
As the Moon bewitches the midnight air.
Evoke thy powers that potent bide,
In shining stream and the secret tide.
During the ritual, the spirits of our departed kin are invited to share in the rite, including the dances, games, and cakes and wine that are part of the Hallowmas festivities.
We invite covens all over the world to do the same. For one night, Hallows 2001, October 31, practice the ritual as given in The Grimoire of Lady Sheba. Let us remember the past both recent and long ago. Let the children of the God and Goddess come together, just once, in a spirit of uniting the past and the present as we move toward our futures.
Editor’s note: Lord Green Man and Lady Diana BirdSong are two people who live in an urban area. They have practiced Wicca for three decades, have their own coven, and have several daughter covens. They do not want their real names or the location of their covens revealed because they fear the possibility of losing their jobs as high school teachers.Quotes used by permission.