Rejecting Racism

Racism is a blight on our society. I want to write something… better. Something more powerful, or at least more helpful. Truth be told, I’m still learning how to be a better ally, and I’ve probably got a ways to go yet. What I do know, however, is that saying nothing, keeping silent, and doing nothing are wrong. If we don’t speak out against racism, we support it. So I’m speaking out.

Racism is wrong, and it has no place in Spectrum Gate Mysteries.

No, it’s not enough, but it’s a start. When I have something better to offer, I will put it here.

UPDATE: White people: consider reading For Our White Friends Desiring to Be Allies by Courtney Ariel

UPDATE 2: Franchesca Chescaleigh Ramsey offers some excellent tips for how to be an ally (and even more resources in the video description).

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A Ritual for Artemis Soteira

I’ve already typed and deleted five other introductions to this. Nothing is right. That, I think, summarizes everything perfectly. Nothing is right. How did this happen? How can people hate that much? How can our rights and our safety matter so little to so many? We are hurt and we are afraid. We are grieving, and we are angry, and we don’t even know how to respond. Nothing is right.

And yet we must respond. We must find a way to act, to support one another and insist on freedom and equality for everyone. I don’t pretend to know how to do that even for myself, let alone for anyone else, but I’m going to find out. I’m going to act. I’m going to make a difference. I’m going to create the world I want to live in. I hope that we take the high road, that our protests are peaceful and strong and effective. I hope our future is brighter than our present, and I will do what I can to make that happen…

…but right now it feels impossible. I feel powerless to stop a disaster, and I fear annihilation of myself and my chosen family. In moments like this, I pray to Artemis Soteira, and I invite you to join me.

In ancient Greece, people prayed to Artemis for salvation when all else seemed lost, when defeat meant total annihilation, and their last hope for survival was a savage battle and a miracle. At Marathon, the Athenians promised Artemis a goat sacrificed for every invader killed, and won a victory so staggering that they had to hold an annual festival to pay their debt to Her. Ancient historians attributed the light of the full moon shining on battles at both Marathon and Salamis, another victory against the Persians, as evidence of Artemis’s intervention. This was not just an Attic aspect of Artemis. The Hyperesians, when outnumbered by an invading army of Sicyonians, tied torches to the horns of all the goats they could find and lit them when night fell. The invaders saw the torches, and, thinking Hyperesian army was much larger, retreated. The Hyperesians attributed the victory to Artemis, believing She inspired the ploy that led to victory. These are only a few examples, and I encourage you to read more about Artemis and Her domains (Cole’s Landscapes, Gender, and Ritual Space: The Ancient Greek Experience is a great starting point).

Soteira means savior or preserver, so on Sunday night, when the full moon is bigger and brighter than it’s been since 1948, I will pray to Artemis and ask Her to help us survive the coming darkness. Others have expressed interest in doing the same, so here’s how to participate.

First, pick a place to pray. Ancient Greek prayer involves leaving an offering, and for this particular aspect of Artemis you’ll want to leave it on a raised surface – an altar, a table, a stone, or anything else so that you’re not leaving the offering directly on the ground. I’d recommend going outdoors and physically being in the moonlight if you can.

Next, speak your prayer. Tell Artemis what you want, and why you’re asking Her. You want to ‘survive’ the ‘dark times ahead’. Explain what that means. Survive how? Are you concerned for your physical well-being? Are you worried about erasure of your civil liberties? Are you afraid of economic collapse? Are you terrified of all of these? Tell Artemis what you want Her to preserve. Tell Her that you will act in your own way, but call on Her as Artemis Mounukhia and Artemis Agrotera, savior of those in dire need, and ask Her as Artemis Soteira to preserve your health, your sanity, your rights, your freedoms, and your safety.

After you’ve spoken your prayer, present your offering. If you want to give food or drink, Artemis seems to be a fan of red wine, game meat, goat meat, and drinks that look like spilled blood when you pour them on snow. Free range is more important than organic for Her, but She certainly appreciates both. Locally sourced food and drink would also be very appropriate.

Now, if you like, you can end your ritual here with your offering. This is how many modern Pagans practice, and how some ancient Greeks practiced, and it can be effective on its own. However, traditionally that initial offering given with a prayer was a votive offering, meaning that it went along with a vow. A votive offering can be anything – food, art, performance, whatever – and it comes with a vow to give something bigger and better if you get what you want. Artemis is a mistress of sacrifice, so giving Her something that is valuable to you but that you are willing to give up in order to get what you want will carry a lot of weight with Her. The point of this votive offering is to show the importance of what you’re asking, to show that you care enough to give back for what you want to get, and to prove that you are capable of following through and giving what you promise. Consider what you’re asking, and choose something to offer, both in that moment and again later on once you’ve gotten what you asked for, that you feel expresses that value.

Your votive offering does not need to be the same as your offering for fulfillment. They can be related if you want, but they can also be completely different. Your offering for fulfillment doesn’t need to be a thing at all. You could offer Her goat meat and wine along with your prayer, and volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation center as your offering for fulfillment. Do a little research into Who Artemis is, and choose something that fits both Artemis Herself, and your relationship with or interest in Her. That effort in and of itself will go a long way. If you promise another offering once your wish is fulfilled, make sure to specify a time frame. How long do you want Her protection? Is there an expiration date, or some other sign that the danger has passed? Figure out those details, and include them in your vow.

Finally, follow through. When the time comes, do or give whatever you promised.

I hope that we all make it through this dark night. I will do what I can, and I invite you to join me – in prayer, in support, and in action.

Q & A: Part Two… sort of…

In a recent conversation, someone asked me the following: “I’m not familiar with Wicca, and I don’t understand what this is all about. Can you explain it?” This blog post is an attempt at answering that question.

Wicca is a tremendously broad topic on its own, so as I answer this question, I’m necessarily going to focus on certain features of Wicca. Please don’t look at this as a complete view of what Wicca is or isn’t. I’m only going to mention the most prominently relevant bits.

Traditional Wicca is a religion in which certain (and often specific) deities are approached in sacred space referred to as a circle. Rather than gather in a church or temple permanently dedicated to worship, Wiccans create a circle when they need sacred space, and then disperse it when they’re done using it. The process of creating or casting a circle typically involves at least two officiators: a priest and a priestess. Together, these officiators represent complimentary forces of creation, and this dynamic is intrinsic to the efficacy of Wiccan circle casting.

The desire to create Spectrum Gate Mysteries arose out of a discussion about how an intersexed, third-gendered, or non-gendered person could fully participate in Wicca’s binary ritual system. Some Wiccan groups attempt to accommodate a non-binary approach to sex and gender by allowing anyone to officiate as either priest or priestess according to where they feel they fit best, regardless of that person’s sex or gender identity. These groups stress that the dynamic between priestess and priest is generally creative, not specifically procreative, so the genitalia of people involved need not matter. Some people find this solution to be quite satisfying, and continue happily to practice traditional Wicca.

However, others found this accommodation profoundly underwhelming. The words “priest” and “priestess” are inherently gendered in our language, and words have power. While it’s a wonderful step forward to offer individuals the choice of which role they assume, this approach to Wicca is still telling people to choose which box they can fit in, rather than allowing them to express as they are. Furthermore, even if one were able to remove the gender from the officiator’s titles, Wicca’s circle casting system remains fundamentally binary. Even as other officiating roles are added, they appear in pairs, and their functionality has more to do with concepts of complimentary partnership than fundamental metaphysics.

Consequently, many trans* people find Traditional Wicca to be fundamentally unsatisfying. It is only natural for someone to want to see their own existence embraced and celebrated by their religion. How can someone who exists outside the gender binary, or whose experience of life tells them that a true binary does not exist, feel welcome and supported by an intrinsically binary system? A growing number of Wiccans acknowledge that non-binary dynamics exist, but they just don’t work with them, which is fine for some. Others want their own life experience to be equally represented in the spiritual and religious work they do.

This need was the seed from which Spectrum Gate Mysteries was born.

But, wait, let’s back up a minute. Why bother practicing a Wicca-based system at all? Why not just make something completely new?

I recognize that I am incredibly biased here, but, nevertheless, I believe that Traditional Wicca has a lot to offer, and I wanted that offer to be palpably accessible to people regardless of where they stand on the spectrums of sex, gender, identity, and orientation. The following are just a few elements of Traditional Wicca that we’ve maintained in Spectrum Gate Mysteries.

Circle Casting: The fundamental concept of creating a warded, consecrated space in which to practice one’s spirituality and interact with the divine is incredibly useful. Furthermore, the metaphysics of Wiccan circle casting are quite sound, if at times somewhat dramatic. A Spectrum Gate Mysteries circle is created in a very similar way to a Wiccan circle, with the most visible differences being the placement of guardians, the officiating roles, and the division of labor among officiators. Our circle casting technique was also designed with a high degree of intrinsic mutability, allowing practitioners to easily adapt to varying circumstances in attendance, materials, environment, and need.

Relevance to Nature: All living things, including us, are dependent upon the natural resources of our planet. Maintaining and supporting a spiritual connection to the natural world helps us understand the consequences of how we use those resources. Consequently, Spectrum Gate Mysteries is designed to function within the context of natural tides and cycles, such as seasons and lunar phases. There is no standard recipe for how to recognize or celebrate those cycles. Instead, we learn about their affect – how they impact ritual and other spiritual work – then allow individuals to decide what methods of working with them are most appropriate for their area, their group, and their goal. All that said, technology and urban life are a reality of today’s world. Keeping Spectrum Gate Mysteries connected to nature doesn’t mean ignoring the impact of humanity. We believe that the interaction between humanity and nature is extremely important, and we support developments of science, technology and modernization that work with nature rather than against it.

Initiation and Elevations: Both Traditional Wicca and Spectrum Gate Mysteries are initiatory traditions, meaning one must be initiated into them by a qualified individual in order to become a practitioner. For all that an initiatory system can be limiting – one cannot simply learn either tradition from a book, but must find a person to train them through the system. Despite the inconvenience (or, rather, as a direct result of it), there are two major benefits to an initiatory system.

The first major benefit is the elevations themselves. The rituals that a person undergoes to attain each elevation can produce profound insight and tremendous spiritual growth for a properly prepared seeker. These rituals are kept secret (they are, in fact, the only oathbound material in Spectrum Gate Mysteries) in order to allow the seeker to experience them without any expectation or assumption of what they will be or how they will function. This element of approaching the unknown is intrinsic to their effectiveness.

The second major benefit of an initiatory system is the training curriculum. As in Traditional Wicca, Specturm Gate Mysteries ranks provide a framework for teaching students. There is a set of formal curriculum which must be mastered before the next elevation is attempted, and this merely sets the foundation for a tremendous quantity of experiential and inquiry based learning. The result is a cohesive and holistic education in our ritual system, with a sufficient understanding of the fundamentals to apply that knowledge to other systems, traditions, and modes of worship.

However, Spectrum Gate Mysteries does not share Traditional Wicca’s three degree system. Our ranks are similar in some ways, but very different in others. The most notable difference involves the Traveler rank, which is our counterpart to Traditional Wicca’s Third Degree Initiate.

A Traditional Wiccan Third Degree Initiate (a.k.a. Elder or Elder High Priestess/Priest) is expected to have all knowledge necessary to establish and run a Traditional Wiccan coven. This includes everything from teaching students to scheduling meetings to making sure the covenstead (the place where people gather for ritual) has all necessary supplies. A Spectrum Gate Mysteries Traveler, on the other hand, is expected to specialize. We see Traveler as a path of service, both to the divine and to one’s community. Therefore, we offer three paths to becoming a Traveler: Teacher, Leader, and Adept. A Wanderer (our counterpart to the Traditional Wiccan Second Degree Initiate, a.k.a. High Priestess/Priest) must determine what type of service they wish to offer the community. They will then specialize in that specific area, and their training will build upon and expand from it.

There are two major reasons we chose to restructure our rank system in this way. The first, simply put, is that not everyone who can teach can lead, not everyone who can lead can teach, and people who can neither teach nor lead can still offer something of value to their community. The second reason we encourage specialization in our ranks is that it highlights the essential nature of a coven: multiple people working together. A coven doesn’t function because one Elder makes it work. A coven functions because multiple people with complimentary talents come together to contribute to a community. Spectrum Gate Mysteries covens are meant to be run by multiple Travelers working together: a Leader or Leaders to determine coven policy and organize meetings, Teachers training students, and Adepts providing specialized skills and helping the coven and the tradition grow and adapt over time.

I hope this has helped people understand what Spectrum Gate Mysteries is all about, even if they aren’t very familiar with Wicca or Traditional Wicca. Please remember that this post is nowhere near a comprehensive explanation of either Traditional Wicca or Spectrum Gate Mysteries. I did my best to highlight the most significant parts, and I’m always happy to answer more questions.

Q & A: Part One

I’m going to be doing a series of question and answer style posts to give people a bit more information about Spectrum Gate Mysteries. If you have a question you’d like to see answered here, submit it in a comment, or use the contact form. This first set of questions came from my personal Facebook page.

 

Q: What Deities do you work with?

A: The short answer to this is that we work with Whomever we need to work with. Part of Spectrum Gate Mysteries curriculum is designed to teach people how to interact with ancient deities respectfully. This means learning about Their lore, history, and customs, and treating Their past with reverence as we interact with Them in a modern setting. When determining Whom to petition in circle, each group considers the needs and inclinations of its members, as well as the work or celebration called for by the occasion. Divination helps determine Who would be most helpful towards the group’s goal, Who would be willing to participate in the ritual, and Who actively wants to participate.

Initiation in Spectrum Gate Mysteries does not necessarily dedicate the initiate to the service of a particular deity. Instead, neophytes are challenged to find their own Call of Service, which may or may not involve a specific deity.

The Lord and Lady of the Witches are the Oathkeepers of Spectrum Gate Mysteries: oaths are sworn before Them, but not to Them, and it is They who enforce the oaths.

We acknowledge that a significant portion of what we do and what we teach comes from Wicca. To express our gratitude towards the Lady and Lord of the Witches for letting us use and modify Their system, we keep a token for each of Them on our altar. Practitioners are welcome to work with the Lord and Lady of the Witches in circle as needed, but that would be done as it is with any other deity; this is not the point of the tokens. The tokens serve to remind us of our history, and thank Them for what we’ve inherited.

 

Q: What holidays do you celebrate?

A: We celebrate whatever we want or need to celebrate. We teach our students about the eight Wiccan Sabbats, and try to provide as many different interpretations of them as possible. We also encourage practitioners to explore ancient holidays and festivals, find divine meaning in modern holidays, and create their own holidays. Each group determines exactly what and/or Who they want to celebrate, when they want to celebrate, and how they will celebrate.

 

Q: When do you hold circles? Are they tied to lunar cycles, as in Wicca, or do you follow a different pattern?

A: We circle when we need to circle. We teach our students about the lunar cycles, and remain conscientious of what affect those cycles might have on the work we do and the deities we work with. However, ultimately the phase of the moon is just one factor among many that we consider when deciding when to circle, what to do, and Whom to do it with. Of all factors, we consider need to be most important. Spectrum Gate Mysteries exists to help us connect with the Gods in a shared experience. When that’s what we need, we circle.

Hello and Welcome!

Hello! Thank you for visiting our site! Since you’re here, let me give you a little background on Spectrum Gate Mysteries and how it came to be.

At many points in my life, I’ve struggled with the entire concept of gender. I have no gender-related dysphoria, however, so I missed connecting with the genderqueer community for a surprisingly long time, and my spiritual community made it very easy to go about my business as a cis-woman. I didn’t much care for traditional gender roles or expectations, but neither did they, so it worked out well enough for about 14 years.

However, little more than a month after my third degree elevation in Blue Star Wicca, I tumbled head first into the genderqueer community. All of the binaries and polarities that used to make so much sense to me suddenly seemed woefully inadequate. I went first to my tradition, to see if Blue Star might have a solution for the dissonance I was experiencing, but I found nothing that satisfied the need I perceived, both in myself and in others.

Now, before I continue, I want to make it clear that I love the Blue Star Tradition. They are still my ‘trad’, like a second family, and always will be. I’ve seen Blue Star folk be there for each other in ways that are incredibly inspiring, and for all that the system and the community are as imperfect as any other, I am still proud to call myself a member of Blue Star.

Nevertheless, what I was seeking could not be found within Blue Star, so I did what third degrees do, and set about creating it. The first few months consisted entirely of theory crafting. I spoke to as many genderqueer and trans* people as I could find about their experiences of spirituality, and what they might want in a religious ritual system. I also talked with spiritworkers and clergy from other traditions about what works and doesn’t work in a system as a whole. I used all of this, along with more than a decade of experience in interacting with other Neopagan traditions, to adapt the Blue Star ritual and initiatory system, creating something that is clearly derived from and related to Blue Star, yet at the same time entirely new.

With invaluable help from both of my partners, by December of 2015 we had a ritual system ready for field testing. After a few successful circles in the new system (which we simply called Spectrum at the time), we felt ready to be a little more public about what we were doing.

The response was immediate and incredibly positive. In fact, this website exists precisely because so many people wanted to know what we were doing and how it all works. Over time I plan to update it with as much information as is appropriate to have publicly posted online.

Almost immediately after ‘going public’ about Spectrum Gate Mysteries, a core group of people emerged who wanted to practice the system as part of a dedicated group – a coven. Thus, one week ago today the Coven of the Spectrum Gate was officially founded with a lovely Ostara ritual. We are excited to be working together, and eager to share what we create with anyone else who needs it.