It would be safe to say that I’ve spent more time than your average Joe or Josie on spiritual pursuits. I’ve sold church supplies, finished a Masters degree in Religion, worshipped in synagogues, mosques, masjids and the Hare Krishna Insititute for Krishna Consciousness. I’ve prayed, worshiped and studied on this subject.
One’s personal theology can be very complicated to explain, so I am going to try to narrow this post down to two things: why I love the “Wiccan Wheel” mysteries by Jennifer David Hesse AND what I love about Christmas. And please: DON’T LET ME SCARE YOU AWAY from reading these fun light-hearted mysteries. The Wiccan part is just one element that I seem to have latched onto. You don’t have to give a hoot about Wicca to enjoy these stories! The characters and their small-town dramas are enough of a riot on their own!
First, what I like about Hesse’s books is that I can imagine myself as the main character, Keli Milanni. I don’t think it is specified in the books, but I am guessing that she is in her twenties or thirties. Keli practices Wicca in private and only shares this fact with a few people.
Now, before I lose you readers at the word “Wicca,” let me say: what I know about Wicca is very little. It immediately makes me think of movies like “The Craft,” and New Age hippie-dippie shops that sell crystals and books on chakras and astrology. However, in the context of Keli’s practice, Hesse makes Wicca and “paganism” much more approachable. Keli has a private altar with various tokens and objects that represent different elements. In this space, she creates a sacred circle where she can calmly meditate. She also casts some spells, mainly “protection” spells.
I love magic and witchcraft in the context of stories, like “Harry Potter” or Alice Hoffman’s book, “Practical Magic.” Do I actually believe in magic spells? Probably not. However, as I started writing this blog post about my beliefs, I started getting into some sticky wicket theological questions, like: why is the Christian belief in Resurrection acceptable and valid, but magical spells are not? SO: I am trying to avoid going down THAT rabbit hole, and simply moving on here to what I find appealing about Keli’s “‘Wiccan” practice.
First, I like the idea of a private altar where you can connect to God, the Goddess, the universe, or nature. Ideally, we could all worship in an empty Gothic cathedral or a tiny medieval church or under a vast starry sky in a snowy field; but if you’re like me, you will find it almost impossible to find such a private, sacred space.
Second, I like the notion of using different objects to represent the elements of earth, fire, water and air. I’m not saying that I believe there is some kind of tiny God dancing inside of a candle flame. I’m saying that it makes sense to me to honor and be in awe of the energy of fire, the ability of water to create and destroy, and to take on so many forms, and the creative power of earth to grow plants and sustain creatures.
Lastly, I am attracted to the Wiccan idea of following the seasons. This concept is almost unnecessary in modern life as I know it. I don’t follow the seasons to know when to harvest, or when to slaughter the animals. I can buy hamburgers or leafy greens from the supermarket any day I choose. I couldn’t tell you if the moon is full, or gibbous or new right now. Up until the late Middle Ages, it seems like Western society followed the seasons because the liturgical Church year laid on top of pagan celebrations of Beltane, Samhain, etc. It cannot be denied that as we modernize, we move further and further away from recognizing the seasons of our earth.
In case you think I have gone full Wicca, fear not! I’m just expanding my spiritual circle and allowing for philosophies and practices that make sense to me. I am still a Christmas fanatic.
Of course I like Christmas for all of the usual reasons. It is the time of year when we think more about generosity and giving to those who are in need physically and spiritually. It is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Christ, the Messiah, the Lord Incarnate.
Christmas is the one Christian holiday that appeals the most to my theology. I like the paradox of the Nativity scene: God, the omnipotent, is present even in the most frail, rejected and unlikely of beings: a poor newborn baby. When I think about the Nativity, I feel like it is the crux of my Christian faith: if the God of all creation is all that was and all that will be, but is also as vulnerable and human as a baby, then that is the kind of God I want to have faith in. My tiny faith in God, even faith as small as a mustard seed, can connect with and conceive of the infinite. The newborn Jesus of Nazareth is a still, small light of hope in the bleakest time of the year. Or, faith in our Creator and creation can be the small grain of hope that you need in the bleakest time of your life.
I am in awe of Charles Dickens in his creation of “A Christmas Carol.” I could expound upon this story for many reasons. The one element in particular that I love is the fact that the the Ghost of Christmas Present wears a crown of holly. He wears a wreath of living winter berries instead of a crown of thorns, which the Gospels say Jesus was forced to wear as a mockery of him being the “King of the Jews” as they led him to be crucified.
When I think of Christmas, I also think about fire in the fireplace. Since Christmas in the Western hemisphere occurs during the Winter season, it is cold enough to light a fire. Although we did not have a fireplace in my house, we spent every Christmas Eve or day at my Grandparents’ house, and they did have a fireplace.
This brings me full circle to Wicca and the Seasons and the elements of fire, water, earth and air.
I have been pretty fully invested in Christianity since my young adulthood. However, my original notion of God as “that other” force and energy and miracle of creation derived from something other than the Church. My respect for others and “God” was nurtured by the love of my parents and my extended family, and friends. I was taught about love and respect by my parents in the gardens that they mindfully cultivated for years.
This is why I was eventually drawn to Biblical passages that addressed creation and the elements, like the following, where God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Have you commanded the morning since your days began? Have you entered into the springs of the seas, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail? Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven? Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? – excerpts from Job 38
These passages deal with water, just as my memories at my Grandparents’ house on Christmas are gathered around the fire. I want to be in touch with these elements. The soil creates plants; fire warms food. Water is the most important element of life…along with oxygen. Our planet is a miracle and a wonder. I know that believing in elements doesn’t answer any moral or ethical conundrums or salve someone whose loved one is suffering from cancer, or heal violence and heartache and death. I don’t think of this kind of worship as “salvation.” It’s more like: having a private, sacred meditative practice is grounding and centering in everyday existence, and I could definitely use some of that.
Whatever you celebrate, or worship, I wish you all a blessed holiday season and I look forward to continuing my crochet journey with you in the new year. And I am personally looking forward to Jennifer David Hesse’s fourth book in the Wiccan Wheel mystery series: Samhain Secrets.
******12/19 Addition: I completely left out the Magi and the Star of Bethlehem! What an awesome part of the story! 🙂