Monday, August 18, 2014

The Silence of the Wiccans

This past week, I visited the Order of Our Lady of Salt (OOLS), a Wiccan group in Salt Lake City. I mentioned them in the previous blog, so go check that out before you read any further, as you need to know bit about Wicca before reading this.

Atmosphere:

OOLS meet at a pagan/New Age store in the southern part of Salt Lake called Crone's Hollow. Crone's Hollow is a lot more than I was expecting and was rather cool. The place is divided into three places. The front portion is the store with plenty of pagan and New Age nick knacks to go around: incense, statues of deities and the Virgin Mary, lots of candles, crystals, censers, pendants, decorative knives, wands, books, etc.

This leads into a coffee shop which is the middle portion of the store. The coffee shop is nice. It has some decent if not overpriced tea and lots of books on every religious subject possible. I actually found a Bible with the Hebrew and Greek texts inside and an interlinear translation of the text in English. There were chairs and couches of an eclectic style, everything from plush leather chairs formed to look like a hunting lounge, to 60's style contemporary thrown about. There was a tent in the corner made of what looked like orange satin in the corner where they read fortunes for $20 bucks a pop. In the back there was a bookshelf that had nothing but board games and a table with a chess set as well. My friend and I actually played a round of chess before the ceremony.

The back third of the store is an interesting place. It's got a hallway leading to three rooms. One of the rooms is the large ritual space (where our ceremony was held), a smaller ritual space/meditation room with a couple of lounge chairs and a large open space, and then a lecture room, set up with rows of chairs and a podium. Along the walls of that room are a bunch of paintings from local artists which were rather beautiful.

The large ritual space was a large room partitioned off by the main hallway with curtains and had golden fabric draped overhead. Just under the draped fabrics were rows of black chandeliers wrapped in purple and orange lights. I loved the look of this room. It was quite elegant.



Along the eastern wall, there was a permanent community altar which has various elements people have brought in. It's a very cool thing, and reflects the spirituality of the Salt Lake region's pagan community quite beautifully.






Also along the walls were other decorations, primarily Egyptian papyri and this much smaller altar along the southern wall. I'm not exactly sure what this altar is for.


I didn't take a picture of the main space as there wasn't a good time to do it. They had set up chairs and carpet squares in a circle, which reminded me a bit of kindergarten, in the north-west corner of the circle, they had set up an altar on what might have just been a cardboard box with a blue altar cloth covered in stars. The altar had three candles upon it, and a larger candle just in front of the altar which was already lit and remained burning before and after the service.

Overall, the atmosphere was quite incredible, far better and more elegant than I was expecting.

The People:

The people were primarily women. In fact, aside from me and my friend, there were only two other men in the whole group, both of which came late. The majority of the women were in their thirties or older. One was dressed in black robes, four were dressed in other clothing, but I will touch on that in "The Service" section. Everyone else was dressed in regular street clothing typical of Summer in Utah.

The women seemed to come from various backgrounds and have different professions. Some looked like soccer moms, some looked like hippies who would frequent health food stores, some seemed like gammer type girls, one of the guys seemed more like he'd be the type to enjoy beer and wrestling on a Friday night, still others looked like they'd be just your sweet old grandma telling you stories while they cooked dinner.

All of them were very nice to us, welcomed us right into their little circle, and were very accommodating and curious about us.

I short, lovely group of people. Nothing really negative to say about them.

The Service:

We were greeted by the lady in the black robe welcoming us and then wafting incense over us and then sprinkling us with salt water. This is a symbolic gesture to cleanse yourself before entering the sacred space. Another one of them handed us each a journal and said that we were going to be journaling as part of the ritual. Before the ritual began, a woman went around with a birch broom and swept around the circle. Many Wiccans do this symbolically to cleanse the ritual space of negative energy. Afterward, another woman came and walked around the perimeter of the circle with a stick of incense, again, this is seen to have the same purpose. While I don't believe in cleansing energy and negative energy fields (other than of course real negative energy, like negatively charged atoms) it was kind of cool to see that.

There was a short announcement of who they were and welcoming guests before they cast their circle. For the circle casting, all of us stood up and held hands in a circle around a woman. We chanted as a group, "Air my breath, and fire my spirit, earth my body, water my blood," as the girl in the middle held onto a staff and said a prayer. It was hard to hear and remember all she said, but I remember one part where she said that behind us is the past and before us the path to our future. She waived her staff in a clockwise motion and said something to the effect of the eternal spark of nature within us coils about. She then struck the ground with the bottom of her staff, we all stopped chanting and she declared, "Our circle is cast."

There were then four of the women who stood in the four cardinal points to call the four corners. Typically, they summon the four elements personified as four Watchers, sometimes called the Guardians of the Watchtowers or the Grigori. The origin of these is actually out of the Judeo-Christian tradition. These are seen as angels of great power. This comes into Wicca through ceremonial magic, which borrows from Kaballah (Jewish mysticism). Typically, the Watchers are summoned by elements associated with each cardinal direction, earth for North, air for East, fire for South, water for West. But they didn't do that in this ceremony. Instead, they represented archetypes. The woman in the East was a woman dressed in a flowing skirt and pastel colors. she held a sky blue candle and said that she was the Watcher of the East and represented the rising Sun and the dawning of new life. The woman in the South was dressed as a warrior in chain mail and a sword around her waist. She said she was the Watcher of the South and represented the hero and strength. The woman in the West was the same woman who had cast the circle. She was wearing a heavy cloak and said she represented the setting Sun and the land of the dead. The woman in the North held a bouquet and said she was the Watcher of the North who represented wisdom and intellect.

After that we all returned to our seats and they lit the three candles on the altar, one for the dead who came before us, one for the living here now, and one for those who shall come after us. They then summoned the Goddess and the God to the circle.

We were all given earplugs and told that we were going to spend time in silence meditating, journaling,or just contemplating silence. I'll cover more about this in "The Message" section.

After this, they passed out Dixie cups full of some kind of tea and sugar cookies. They held up the cups together, and the woman in the black robes said that this represented the waters of the Earth which would cleanse and nourish us. She then held up her cookie and said that it was a cake which came from the Earth and that the Earth shall sustain us and nourish us.

We then discussed what we journaled, again more on that below.

We then closed the circle by holding hands in a circle again and saying goodbye to the watchers and the girl in the center again stating a similar prayer to the one which she used to cast the circle.

In all, it was a very interesting ritual, and not one I was expecting.

The Message:

We all put earplugs in and sat in silence, journaled, or mediated. Afterward, they asked us to share what we had learned. One woman talked about how we were afraid of silence in our modern culture because we have noise everywhere and it distracts us from the uncomfortable realities inside ourselves. The big message I took from this was that we need to take more time to go in and do self reflection. That we need more time in silence to be more creative but also to face the darker parts of ourselves that scare us but often hold us back.

I actually thought this was a practical message for most people in our society to hear. We are distracted all the time by sounds and media. We can't bear not to be without it and it seems to be shortening our attention spans and overstimulating us. It's a message I think we should take to heart. Enjoy the silence, allow it to build you up.

Overall Experience:

This was actually a positive experience for me. I don't understand why Wiccans are demonized and feared. It's essentially just a bunch of people gathered together loving and worshiping the earth and reflecting upon their inner selves. They're not judgmental for the most part and don't seek converts. It's very benign and not something that should be feared. What we should fear religiously is the rise of extremists in the major world faiths, especially in Christianity and Islam, which have weapons and/or political power. They pose an infinitely greater threat to humanity than a group of women gathered together to celebrate nature and talk about their feelings.

I would definitely return to OOLS for another service.

Until next time, peace be with you.

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