Skip to comments.Wicca’s Invitation
Posted on 01/15/2010 6:49:16 AM PST by hiho hiho
Wiccas Invitation Pagan practices are meeting with an increasingly receptive audience in the Episcopal Church. Is it the consequence of an unmet need?
The following article originally appeared in Forward in Christ Magazine, and is reproduced with permission.
The monthly meditation had a playful air about it.
A crone is an old woman. A crone is a witch. A crone is a wise woman. Which one will you be, my friend? Which one I?
Wrapped around a rite for croning, the meditation embraced a history of mystical women and offered prayers to Mothering God and Eternal Wisdom. But the article was not in a new age publication or Wiccan blog: it was on the pages of the September newsletter of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
Entitled Crone Power, the meditation innocuously sat opposite a story about choosing a childrens Bible and next to a column on St. Jerome. The newsletter quickly drew the attention of Anglican bloggers, many of whom found the placement of what appeared to be a Wiccan ritual to be jarring in an official church publication. But intentionally or not, the publication and placement of the rite were reflective of a new reality: one in which practices drawn from or inspired by pagan belief, including witchcraft, are increasingly finding acceptance within the ranks of the Episcopal Church.
Croning rituals have been a part of modern day witchcraft since [English occultist] Gerald Gardner invented it in the 1950s, explains Catherine Sanders, author of Wicca's Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality. Sanders, an evangelical Christian, spent several years researching pagan practices and witnessed their incorporation into the church during the writing of her book. Sanders said that croning, the practice of honoring a woman who has gone through menopause, became more popular in the 1970s with the womens movement.
Most of the mainline denominations had people within them experimenting with pagan rituals, Sanders said. A lot of these people were searching for a way to affirm what they were going through in their lives.
While the croning ritual was notable for its prominence in a diocesan newsletter, such pagan-inspired practices are not new in the Episcopal Church. In 2005, Pennsylvania Episcopal priest Bill Melnyk was outed as a Druid (he belonged to the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) after posting a druid ritual to an Episcopal Church Womens website. Melnyk, who had taken the name Oakwyse, was forced to resign by his bishop.
Pagan influences in womens spirituality were also a prominent part of the Reimagining movement that appeared among some mainline Protestant feminists in the early 1990s. The Reimagining movement encouraged worshippers to refer to God as a feminine deity known as Sophia, loosely based on the Greek concept of the wisdom of God. Controversy eventually subsided after denominational leaders, responding to pressure from traditionalists, distanced themselves from the Reimagining liturgies.
The diocese of Washington itself has a track record of embracing mystical rites, most recently hosting a Native American smudging ceremony at the National Cathedral. During an interfaith conference, Sacred Circles: a Celebration of Womens Spirituality, smoking tobacco was offered to the spirits of the four cardinal directions.
The author of the rite that appeared in the Washington Window was herself far from the traditional images of covens and witchcraft. An older parishioner at St. Albans Church, Helma Lanyi arrived from the Roman Catholic Church ten years ago after taking issue with Catholicisms hierarchy and patriarchy.
Situated near the highest point in Washington, D.C., next to the prestigious school of the same name that educates many of Washingtons elite, St. Albans is more reflective of the reserved and upper-class mainstream of the Episcopal Church, rather than the fringe congregations that have previously entertained pagan ideas and practices. Its rector was recently elected to become the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.
I had become aware for a while that its really not cool in our society to be an older woman, Lanyi said. At one point I picked up a book on crones. That describes very much the whole pagan point of view about being an older woman.
Lanyi, a first generation immigrant from Germany, found the topic interesting. Nevertheless, it did not appeal to her as a Christian.
Im really not into Earth mother thinking, the St. Albans parishioner explained. Among other concerns that she had with pagan practices, Lanyi did not like the portrayal of female power as superior to male power. But the idea of croning seemed to resonate along with a book she had read by liberal Catholic nun Joan Chittister. Lanyi saw being older as a gift, and she had grown tired of what she saw as a cultural expectation to hide ones age.
Why is the joy of life considered to be something that it isnt part of [life] for women when they are older? Lanyi asked. I felt that God hasnt taken his concern away from me now that I am older. Why should that only be between me and God?
In her words, Lanyi wanted to be properly an old lady without being out of the picture. So she investigated croning further. Normally engaged with her work as co-chair of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship at St. Albans, Lanyi visited Wiccan websites that her daughter had found, complete with a variety of croning rituals.
It blended perfectly with my nonviolence training and interest, Lanyi said of some of her folk religion readings. Lanyi found in folk religion an element which emphasized the more female elements of being non-judgmental. The St. Albans parishioner saw those elements as being compatible with Christianity as she understood it.
Thats what Jesus came for, working together and everyone is equal, Lanyi claimed. Jesus came not to go against all of that [folk religion], the same way he didnt go against the Jewish religion, Jesus came to affirm our nature.
But whereas Lanyi found value in folk religion, some of the Wiccan croning rituals themselves were wild and over the top.
I couldnt see asking people to do that in my living room, the elderly German laughed. She decided that authoring her own rite was the best way to proceed.
I pretty much made it up, that ritual doesnt exist anywhere as I know it, Lanyi explained. I thought it was a little like baptism rituals, this idea of asking questions: what are you seeking, what do you want?
She wrote her ritual a little bit tongue in cheek, she admitted. Then, last year, Lanyi gathered seven friends and performed the rite. They stood in a circle, one lighting a candle and placing it on a center table. They took turns reading the poem Woman's Work, by Maya Angelou, as a sign of solidarity with all women. Then they invited the newest crone-to-be into the circle.
What we read in these Wiccan rituals that my daughter shared with me, they used dirt or soil, and that didnt make sense, so we used a hand-woven stole, Lanyi added. She recalled the rite in her article:
She [the new crone] tells us of the phases of her life up until now. The others ask her: "What is it you are seeking for this phase of your life as a crone?"
She answers: "I seek wisdom." We say in unison: "Mothering God, grant her Crone Wisdom."
We ask: "Beside wisdom, what is it you are seeking?" She answers: "I seek judgment." We reply: "Mothering God, grant her Crone Judgment."
Finally we ask: "Besides wisdom and judgment, what is it you are seeking?" She says: "I seek Joy." We respond: "Mothering God, grant her Crone Joy."
We take turns anointing her forehead with special oil and present her with a stole, or wreath, inviting her to go forth into the world and share her Crone power.
We pray: Eternal Wisdom, source of our being and center of all our longing, In you our sister has lived to a strong age: A woman of dignity and wit, in loving insight now a blessed crone. May the phase into which she has entered bear the marks of your spirit. May she ever be borne up by the fierce and tender love of friends and by You, most intimate friend; and clothed in your light, grow in grace as she advances in years, For your love's sake.
I wanted to indicate that this was now a passage, now a part of life, Lanyi said. It meant a lot to us, most of us were of that age.
An Unmet Need
After years of researching Wicca, Sanders has empathy for women like Lanyi that have looked to pagan ritual.
There definitely is a hunger, Sanders explained. The author observed that croning rituals tend to draw older women, while younger women seek rituals involving nature. Many times, the rituals grew out of desire to be recognized or acknowledged.
Older women have a lot of wisdom, and they do have a special place in our society, Sanders said. But the fact that our society has this view that women need to make themselves better (through things like plastic surgery), thats the result of sin and the fall.
A lot of these women are looking to affirm something that they dont think is being met, Saunders said. Quoting author Arthur Lindsley of the C.S. Lewis Institute, Sanders surmises that sometimes people are interested in neopaganism because of the unpaid bills of the church.
One example that Sanders cites is the churchs lack of a response to miscarriage or stillbirth. While the Episcopal Church has historically offered no rite acknowledging these traumas, Wicca does.
The problem that exists with a lot of these pagan rituals is that they dont bring the redeeming life of Jesus into them, Sanders said. Theyre all about the participants, and that is where the problem lies.
For such needs to be properly addressed within the Christian Church, rites made for them have to be about what Christians believe, Sanders says. It has to focus on Jesus and what he did for humankind.
The evangelical author notes that many of the pagan rituals do not focus on a personal God, since they presuppose a god revealed or contained only in natural forces.
As Christians, we just go so much further than that, Sanders says. Its perfectly fine to have a service of worship to praise Him for His creation. There can be a certain need for churches to do more of this thing, but not pagan rituals that stop short of praising God and that step outside of Christian theology.
Additionally, Sanders has concerns about feminized language that can be found in such rituals, including Lanyis croning rite.
Lanyi said that the Washington Window editor did come back to me to ask if I could make it more Christian. In her published meditation, Lanyi backed the feminized wording with references to Christian women in the Celtic tradition such as Hild, Ita, and Brigid. She also cited the 14th century writer Julian of Norwich, who described God as a Mother. Lanyi labels all these Christian women crones, along with Catholic school pioneer Mother Seton and Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
In calling God Mother, the thing that is confusing for pagans or Wiccans is that we are part of that but in Christianity, we are not part of God, he is wholly separate, Sanders explained. She noted that mothers give birth, a trait ascribed to the goddess in the mainline Reimagining movement. In contrast, Scripture does not describe God as possessing reproductive organs or giving birth, traits common in depictions of pagan deities.
Obviously God is not human, he is wholly other, Sanders said. In calling God father, thats what Jesus did. He didnt call God his mother or she, he called him he.
Sanders says that the draw toward such feminized depictions of God sometimes comes from the personal history of the practitioner.
You have these women that are very hurt, upset because of a relationship with their father, but Christianity says God can heal you of past hurts through the redeeming love of Christ, Sanders said. During the course of her research, Sanders also found that difficult marriages or encounters with a pastor that were unsatisfactory could also leave a woman wounded and drawn to Wicca.
A Service of Remembrance
Some churches are taking notice of the need for spiritual acknowledgement of events like miscarriage. At the Falls Church, an Anglican parish in suburban Washington, D.C., the pastoral care staff worked on a liturgy of remembrance for a special All Saints Day service. Sensing a need for women who had experienced losses through miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, or early childhood death, the 275-year-old parish began the service in 2008.
It wasnt about us, it was all about the redeeming work of Christ, Sanders said. The subject of the ceremony was to remember the children and what happened to the parents there, but it was all focused on God and deeply rooted in Scripture.
It was very much about glorifying God, the author said. It marked the loss, but it pointed to Jesus Christ. The special All Saints Day service proved extremely popular, with the sanctuary reaching full capacity. The pastoral care staff plans to repeat the service this year.
Rev. Nicholas Lubelfeld, an Episcopal Priest on staff at the Falls Church, explained a distinction between the churchs All Saints service and pagan rituals.
Its one thing to try to conform our lives to Gods will; its another thing to try to shoehorn God into our goals and aspirations, Lubelfeld said. The priest said that the difference was between prayer through Jesus Christ and bringing God into play into our plans.
Whos agenda is it? Lubelfeld asked. My need is what I bring to God, but I dont try to shoehorn him into my plan -- magic has as its aim the securing of a particular end; prayer has the end of bringing our hopes and fears to God.
It would be good for churches to consider ways to honor who God created us to be, the things we are experiencing, Sanders said. But San ders added that if rituals do not point to Jesus, they dont have a place in the church.
The Gospel is the best answer for those people, Sanders said. As a result of sin, we dont honor women the way we should, and therefore they are reaching out. These are people that are in our midst that are hurting, and if it means reading up on these rituals, that will help us understand where they are coming from.
In modern 21st century America, we think we know what we need, and thats a dangerous place to be in, Sanders said. We need to constantly glorify him.
Since publication of her croning rite, Lanyi has received a subdued response.
Im aware that this may be not entirely what people are used to, Lanyi said. Women my age have come to me and said, I loved your article-- but not a lot. Im not sure if they know what to think of it.
Fair tales for adults.
The hilarious part is that this wiccan thing was patched together out of whole cloth by weirdo cultists like Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner (Google them and take a good look at their photos, yipe!) to get large numbers of women to take their clothes off and have sex with them.
Did it work?
You just summed up the last 20,000 years of religious history in one sentence.
At least the Wiccans have the guts to correctly call their female clergy “priestesses”.
It did. All cult leaders want a harem (unless they prefer children).
>> The hilarious part is that this wiccan thing was patched together out of whole cloth by weirdo cultists like Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner [...] to get large numbers of women to take their clothes off and have sex with them.
Haha. Then, in this respect, I suppose its preferable to suicide bombing as a method to meet “willing” women. Though, I doubt the wiccan women are virgins ... and, I’ve been thinking lately that the 72-virgins of Muslim lore may be dudes (maybe that’s where deceased World of Warcraft players go).
Well, since all the Christians left the Episcopal church and became either Anglicans or Catholics, those that remain might as well go whole hog into whatever doctrines they like.
I suppose, very relatively speaking, that the at least theoretically “mainstream” leftist wackos now in the Episcopal church would want ecumenism with Wiccans. Their “progressives” probably want ecumenism with Satanists and human sacrifice pagans.
Not sure I want to see a naked crone...hehe
“(maybe thats where deceased World of Warcraft players go).”
Lol! So true, so true. WoW = D&D for computer geeks.
Thought you'd get a kick out of this. Jesus came to affirm our nature!
Which of these things is not like the others?
Yeah. I think that’s from the book of 2 Fads 6:66.
The list has turned away from observing what goes on in TEC, but this was an interesting item.
Thanks to markomalley; kalee for the ping.
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Pagans do, as pagans are...
Doesn't surprise me at all. You kick out (the real, biblical) Jesus, and you will invite in other spirits...
Other than reaching out to needy women, I DON’T SEE AT ALL how the Fall’s Church liturgy has anything at all to do with Wicca, or Pagan ceremonies.
Fall’s Church is a very solidly orthodox Anglican congregation, and I am sure has ZERO toleration for anything Wiccan or Pagan.
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