Tag Archives: golden rule

Wicca 101: Witches, Magic, and the Art of Intention

What is it with witches and wizards? We love them, hate them, persecute them for hundreds of years, and glorify them in wondrous stories of magical worlds and flying broomsticks. In this week’s episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra explores the wizarding world of Wicca in the hopes of dispelling some common misconceptions about this rapidly growing religion.

We’ve come a long way since the witch trials of Renaissance Europe and the American colonies,  but prejudice lingers. In some parts of the world witch hunts are a daily reality, with individuals harassed, beaten, shunned and occasionally even murdered for bearing “witch-like” traits. Harry Potter is a fine and beloved fantasy around the world, but how would we treat him if he were real? Witchcraft is acceptable in the realm of fantasy, but could we make room for it in the muggle world, too?

The world has had centuries to work on religious tolerance for pagans and Wiccans, but we continue to fail in making an accommodation to their traditions. Ancient European paganism, Hebrew mysticism and Greek mythology are just some of the forebears cited by Wiccan texts and oral histories. The inclusion of a feminine divine also leads historians and archaeologists to draw a line of ancestry from ancient fertility cults to contemporary Neo-pagan traditions, of which Wicca is probably the most organized and certainly most widely recognized.

Historians in the 19th century began writing about the connection between earlier traditions and groups purportedly practicing underground magic at the time. In 1951 the United Kingdom joined the rest of Europe in repealing remaining anti-witchcraft laws, just in time for the publishing of civil servant and amateur anthropologist Gerald Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today. In his book, Gardner declared himself a practitioner of a heretofore unknown religion “Wicca,” which he dated back to the Stone Age. The religion swiftly gained momentum, with many neo-pagan traditions branching off from it in the decades that followed.

John William Waterhouse: Magic CircleThere is no single sacred text, governing body, or outlined doctrine in Wicca today, and beliefs and practices vary widely from practitioner to practitioner. But certain themes crop up repeatedly in rhetoric and at modern gatherings. Connection to the earth and nature’s rhythms is key, as is reverence for both the divine masculine and feminine, sometimes as the Goddess and God but often as a merging of creative forces in the Universe. Wiccans and pagans also tend to revere the directions (East, South, West, North and Center) and elements (Wind, Fire, Water, Earth, and Spirit), perform rituals that coincide with seasonal cycles (equinoxes, solstices, and moon phases), and believe in reincarnation.

Even more fundamental is adherence to a fundamental ethic called the Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none, do what ye will.” Essentially, the community trusts its members to make their own decisions, hold their own beliefs, and act in such a way as to harm none – self and environment included. Similar to The Golden Rule known to just about every religious tradition throughout history, The Threefold Law is prominent in Wicca, as well, and teaches that energy released into the world will return to the individual three times as powerful, for better or for worse.

Wiccan magic, often referred to as “the Craft,” is largely grounded in intention and ritual. The word “magic” stems from both the Old Persian term for “sorcerer” but also the ancient Greek word for “art.” Consider, then, that the artist, actor, or carpenter utilizes magic as much as the magician does in transforming natural resources into entirely new expressions of creativity. Just so, Wiccans harness energetic influences and elements in order to manifest certain intentions. Easier said than done, right? But at the end of the day isn’t it a lot like praying or repeating positive affirmations? More mainstream, but equally magical in essence.

What are your thoughts on Wicca and magic? Let us know in the comments section below!

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photo by: deflam

What Would Jesus Do About Islam?

 When angry mullahs and oil despots want to stir up anger against the West, "Crusade" is an inflammatory term that comes automatically to their lips. The memory of Christian knights invading the Arab world is very long. The height of the Crusades ended seven centuries ago. But it’s not history that is at stake. Embedded in the worldview of many devout Muslims is a defensive and hostile attitude toward Christianity. The burning of the bible by a mullah somewhere in Iran wouldn’t incite mob action in the West, but a single extremist in Florida with a following of less than fifty led to violence and murder in Afghanistan — deliberately fueled by the president of the country himself.

Distasteful as it is, religion remains a major element in all three Arab conflicts that the U.S. has ventured into. The memoirs of former President George Bush are rife with religious motivations. There is little doubt that when he gave speeches about a "conflict of civilizations," he meant a conflict between two religions. Such a conflict doesn’t exist, not inherently. Jesus is worshiped as the Prince of Peace; one definition of the word "Islam" is peace. But history has created its own dogmas, and when human nature wants to justify aggression, any rationale will do, including God.

This issue is facing us again because the uprisings that are revamping the Arab world include a strong Islamist influence. In some places the specter of new hostility between the Shia and Sunni is boiling up. In other places the Muslim Brotherhood has a strong voice, and almost everywhere the populace looks to their traditional leaders, the clerics, for guidance. Crowds consider Friday, the chief gathering time for the faithful going to mosques, as a significant day for protest. There is a real possibility that fundamentalist Islam will loom in the future of many states.

The direction of history will be decided by another faction, one that has proved stronger than religion in Egypt: young people who want a future in the modern world. Like the student uprisings in the West in the Sixties, a youth movement in Islam isn’t likely to seize power after expressing its discontent. In every Arab country an entrenched military, traditional clerics, and explosive extremists hold the spotlight. Protests aren’t equal to organized, empowered elites.

What’s important is that the West doesn’t repeat Bush’s doctrine of fighting for God. If we honestly asked what Jesus would do about Islam, it’s obvious that his solution wouldn’t be war. He might even apply the Golden Rule. So far, President Obama has been more Christian than his predecessor, not by applying Christian principles but by treating Muslims with common humanity, tolerance, and understanding. These uprisings are part of a global phenomenon, the rise of the dispossessed. People don’t emerge from political repression as model citizens, much less saints. They are angry and resentful, so they lash out. They have been deprived for generations of education, so they follow demagogues. They know little of the world beyond what religion tells them, so they see others through the lens of religion.


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Charter for Compassion

Do you subscribe to TED.com? If not, you really, really should. TED, which is the acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design, was started in 1984. The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives – in 18 minutes. Ted also awards the TEDPrize annually to three exceptional people. The winners each receive $100,000 for their “One Wish to Change the World”.

One of the 2008 TEDPrize Winners is Karen Armstrong for her wish:

"I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect."

The Charter for Compassion is an inspiring global endeavor to celebrate the Golden Rule – compassion, i.e. treat others as you would like to be treated. The Charter for Compassion is a COLLABORATIVE effort, meaning that anyone, from any faith, from anywhere around the world, can participate (as of November 20) and help write the Charter. Brilliant.


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