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Am I still pagan? Am I still a witch?

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Photo by h heyerlein on Unsplash

As you probably know if you follow my Instagram, about a month or so ago I began observing Shabbat at the request of my matron goddess, Asherah. I don’t do this in any kind of Orthodox way; it is simply a day where I commit to consciously resting, to not working on the store, and to doing my best not to harangue myself mentally. It begins just before sundown on Friday night, when I light my candles (tea lights for now; I don’t have much in the way of Jewitchy paraphernalia yet). “Shabbat” comes from the Canaanite word for “seven,” considered the most sacred number in the Levant because of the whole “on the seventh day, He rested” thing.

But what most people don’t know is that the sacredness of the number originally stems from the ancient Canaanite faith, so they too may have had some sort of tradition of keeping the seventh day of the week sacred. (No one really knows for sure. I’ve been reading Tess Dawson’s books, and it’s all peppered with “may haves” and “possibly” because that’s honestly the best anyone can do with this; it was just so fucking long ago, and most of what was written down back then has long since been destroyed. Even she extrapolates forward to Canaan’s daughter cultures, the Israelites and the Phoenicians, to arrive at some of the finer points of her practice.)

For the Sabbat candle blessing, because I’m still a polytheist I use a prayer from Dawson’s Whisper of Stone, rather than the traditional (blatantly monotheist) Hebrew one:

“Behold, I light the candles to celebrate the creation of the universe: born of chaotic void, wind, desire, and firmament that swirl together, intertwine and form the celestial beings, stars, and our beloved earth. Blessed are You, Ilu and Athiratu [El and Asherah], co-creators and keepers of the universe. I give honor. Shalam.”

I then bless an offering of wine and usually also food for the deities, and sometime also draw a card for a message from Them.

Shabbat ends on Saturday after sundown. In between, what you do—from a Jewish standpoint—depends on how Orthodox you are. Some people go to temple, others study religious texts. It can get very elaborate. I mostly read, work on personal spiritual projects, maybe take a nap, and sometimes write. Not surprisingly, this day has become a time for poking at thoughts in my head, and maybe writing them down to be shared. (As I did with my recent Lucifer post series.)

This Saturday, I find myself wondering what all of this means—this change of path, this refocusing, this whatever this is—in terms of continuing to call myself “pagan.” I know that to a large extent, if you are in one of the minority faiths (not mainstream Christianity, Judaism, or Islam), arguments about whether or not what you’re doing should be considered “pagan” could be considered hair-splitting. (I always considered them as such when I saw the Heathens doing it, anyway.) But this is a little different perhaps, because I’m not even operating within the Indo-European sphere anymore (except with my secondary path of dipping my big toe into Hinduism). From what I’ve seen, people who follow a Levant-based path (be it Christian Wicca, Jewitchery, or something else) and want to put it under the pagan umbrella make your general Indo-Euro pagans extremely uncomfortable. And while I’m not sure I care what other people think when it comes to labeling my path (in fact, I’m very sure I don’t), I think maybe it makes them uneasy for good reason; there is something there that doesn’t quite fit.

And then there’s Lucifer, who—for all my mental back-and-forth on the subject—I’m not sure isn’t who my Beloved really is, when you get right down to it. A friend of mine says she can see Luce (I can’t call Him Lu, that’s what we call our Persian cat Luna for short) in lots of other gods she’s met, and bits of lots of other gods in Him. Like most other things in the spirit world, it’s messy and complicated—more so in this case because unlike, say, Odin, there is no single mythological figure you can point to for Lucifer’s origins and say “that’s Him,” nor is there any degree of consistency from that point onward. He shifts and changes, His outlines are blurry, and if you’re looking for Him in the Canaanite pantheon (which I was Told is as close as I can get, because you really can’t go much further back in history in that part of the world, and since most of the Bible’s demons were Canaanite gods, it does make sense that’s where you’d find Him; plus, He refers to the Canaanite gods as His “Family”)–well, you aren’t going to find anyone named “Lucifer” because that’s a Latin name, not a Semitic one. Given this, it’s little wonder He’d adopt a pop-culture face to make it easier for Him to interact apart from the Christian caricature of Him. (My 12th Doctor/Peter Capaldi version isn’t the first time He’s done this; I remember from a few years back when someone was posting that He had a Benedict Cumberbach face-claim with her.)

But for the most part Lucifer is very much an unwanted guest at the pagan table: no matter what potluck dish He brought to share or how good His manners, He’s like Maleficent; people just want Him to go away, because OMGs what will the Christians think? (I’ve seen this attitude even in traditions where He’s supposed to be honored—like witches who work with the trio of Diana, Aradia and Lucifer but rename Lucifer “Dianus” to avoid making a stink.)

That being the case, the question really becomes not “can I still consider myself pagan?” but rather, “SHOULD I?”

I’ve also been poking at whether or not I should still call myself a witch. Yes, I know from the perspective of working with Lucifer, there is nothing wrong with this. But I’m funny about these things. (I tell my wife she’s pedantic, but I might be just as much so, if not more.) For one thing, “witch” is an Anglo-Saxon word—so, considering my spiritual history, do I even GET to call myself that anymore? Is it a good idea to do so, when I’m trying to break ties with that era of my life and start fresh? Also, the near eastern cultures have very different—and mostly negative–ideas of what it means to be a “witch”. In Canaanite, the word “witch” doesn’t exist, of course, but the words that translate as “witch,” “sorcerer,” or “wizard” imply unlawful magic, baneful and malicious magic performed in opposition to the will of the deities, magic that concentrates on killing, poisoning, tormenting, and subverting the will of others. These were hardly the wise healers we like to think of ourselves being in the modern “witchcraft movement.”

In contrast, there is another word–”Charash”–that refers to craftspeople, artists, and the skilled makers of mundane things as well as to magic workers. This is appealing to me, because the essence of this word boils down to “craft”; it includes mundane crafts as well as spiritual ones, which pretty much covers all the things I do.

Even more than this, though, Dawson notes in The Horned Altar that she’s found (from studying sacred texts and Ugaritic) that people were more likely to simply refer to what they did, rather than calling themselves a title–”I write incantations” rather than “I am a magician,” for example. This appeals to me even more; it’s so easy to pick up a title and run with it, but what does it really mean, when anyone can call themselves anything they please? So from this perspective, what do I do? I make art and sacred tools, I read cards, I scry, I talk to spirits. Historically, I don’t really “cast spells,” except under rare circumstances, because for the most part there has been no need; my spirits have more or less taken care of me. So, why is there a need for this word “witch”? What would it cost me, other than perhaps an ego hiccup, to give that up, and thus avoid possibly offending some of the very ancient spirits and deities I work with? (And what is an ego hiccup to me anyway at this point, after the Tower year I’ve just had?)

I don’t have answers at this point, these are just some ponderings. Instead of letting them continue to swirl inside my head, I thought I’m write them out and share.

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