Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Interview with a hedge witch: Cat La Fura talks about her practice and grove

Elspeth: Cat and I have only met recently having been in the same coven last year but at different times.   I had left this coven quite some time before Cat and she has also since left that group, inciting her to form her own grove and take on a leadership role in the Craft.  In this interview, Cat tells us all about how she formed her path and career, how she practices her craft, what the difference is between a grove and coven and what advice she has for those just beginning to discover Wicca.  With many years of experience, I hope that readers can benefit from what she has to say and enjoy her great history and experience in pathworking.

Cat: Being on a solitary exploration of the craft is a personal journey that is unique, potent and often natural. For me to explain my definition I have to describe the path that was laid before my feet and basically, how the goddess has guided me to where I am now. That is a long, organic story. For me being a teacher is drawing on these stories and teachings I’ve been so blessed to receive from the gods.

I had a haunted childhood and my first memories are of seeing the dead. Despite a haunted childhood with time I came to accept that I could see between the worlds. I’ve returned to the occult time and time again, reading and thirsting for knowledge, as a young witch I was starting witch clubs at school and reading gypsy cards before puberty. I later met with like minded brothers and sisters, some experimenting in shamanism, others in ceremonial magick and others still in witchcraft. I discovered Carlos Castaneda, Eliphas Levi, Budapest, Starhawk and Cunningham to name but a few, as well as experimenting in shamanic trance, magic mushrooms and sex magic. It was a potent time, and I was devoted to Aphrodite and Dionysus.

I then heard the calling to walk the life of a healer. I left art school and replaced paint brushes with acupuncture needles.  I left the wild drugs behind and I discovered Taoism, yoga and eastern philosophy. I kept growing on my path and the goddess came to me frequently, in dream, in vision and in child birth in her different faces. But the face she showed me the most was that of Hekate.  I started to focus on women’s health, pre and post natal care as well as supporting women through labour, and once again I found myself at the gates.  I am honoured to be asked to be teacher, but I can only teach that which I know.

E: Indeed, there is always so much to learn!  You’re not just a regular witch, you’re a hedge witch .  For the purpose of education our readers, what does it mean to be a hedge witch and do you have your own way of practising these old ways?
C: In times gone by a hedge witch was the old solitary woman who lived at the very edge of the village, just at the boundary between the village and the forest.  This is considered an ‘in-between place’ and holds great power.  She would know the teachings of the nearby animal and plant kingdom and pass this learning down her lineage.  These were the women you would consult for hexing and for healing.    

As a witch, I follow the wiccan reed of ‘harm none’.  Therefore I am a healer, not a curse or hex maker.  Having said that, I have known hedge witches who wouldn’t think twice about using a hex or curse, but personally this is not my cup of tea.  I believe everything we put out into the universe will return to us, it’s the natural law.   

I am a hedge witch because I walk ‘between the worlds’.   I use trance and sacred dreaming to walk between the veil retrieving information, speaking to the old ones or other such things that can be used on my earth walk or for others.  I also have many teachers among the plant kingdom, making me a herbalist, which I pass onto my charge.  My practice is very traditional in some ways.  For instance, I believe a degree should be a year and a day and to rush forward before you are ready can be foolish.  Also, I work within the cosmic law, following the course of moon and sun for my spell crafting. However, there are always exceptions to the rule.   I believe that following the wheel opens you up to the Old Ones, and it is they who reveal their mysteries and offer true initiation.  I think all hedge witches practice in their own ways, and its something I encourage everyone to do.  Follow the path that has already been laid at your feet.  Keep to the traditions and when you are ready and know your stuff, follow your intuition and find your own expression of the Craft.

E: I see on Facebook that you’re very ecologically minded, tell us about that.
C: I’m very much a green witch, I believe we need to reconnect with our microcosmic orbit and through this we are able with the macrocosmic orbit. I help my sisters reconnect with mother earth, recycle their waste, keep their impact to a minimum, raise pagans, celebrate the old holidays and remember the old gods. Grow their food & herbs... and give thanks for that which they take. I teach simple, old forgotten ways, but things that need to be remembered.

My work and my spirituality are heavily linked. I live the way of my craft; everything I do is in accordance with these rules. I care about this planet we live on, I grow my herbs, I rescue animals, I birth my children at home. My husband and I have been together 18 years, I performed our first hand fasting after six months, and last year we got married, and the high priestess Seline performed our hand fasting ritual at home, during Beltane, in front of our family and very close friends.

As a healer I am of service to my patient. As a witch I am of service to my family and mother earth. Now as a teacher I am of service to my sisters. Dion Fortune has influenced me greatly.

E: I’m overjoyed at how much you are caring both for the earth and others – if you could coin a Wiccan phrase or a sentence of your own to guide you through that kind of work, what would it be?
C: “To be of service” to be of service to your gods and your family, be of service to the earth and her myriad of creatures.   ‘To honour your work’, practice, be dedicated and patient, for this is the Great Work.   

E: What is the gender balance like in your grove?  What kind of work are you doing?
C: These days I attract more sisters than brothers who want to learn from me. I am currently working on a workshop about ‘esoteric acupuncture’. A way of activating meridians, chakras, qabbalsitic tree of life and sacred geometry as well as helping people’s ascension process. I teach my sisters the basics, but what I feel is the important stuff. How to break things down to their basic parts, their elements, how these elements affect you and your body and our planet. I also show them how I have raised my three pagan children, the oldest being 17. These are all crucial to saving our mother earth.

On a personal level to silence my mind I utilize yoga, pranayama breathing, diet and fasting, and treat the body as the ultimate tool in spiritual practice and magic. I have strong Taoist roots. And Chinese medicine with its use of elements and energetic systems of the body works in great harmony with magic.
For me being a hedge witch at the present time, is just walking my path and balancing my mundane world with my magical one. It doesn’t always have to blend; at times it needs to be kept separate. That is what I am trying to master in my life now....

The Goddess has come to me in vision and dreams many times during this journey. She calls my name. At times the journeys she takes me on are long, hard and involve much shadow work. I also work with the dying; I am honoured to be part of the passages of birth and death.  I am now devoted to the goddess Hekate and have always felt her by my side. I connect with her as midwife, cutter of the cords, keeper of the keys, shadow work and her canines.

E: I’ve always felt that the Requiem (or Wiccan funeral) is the least talked about matter in the Craft.  Why do you think that is?
C: Personally, thus far,  I have not encountered this issue.  What I have found is the witches I've spoken to  have no fear of death and hold clear vision on how they wish their Requiem to take place. We understand the cycle of life, and that life continues after the body has died.  We know the art of giving birth, the art of living life and the art of dying. In my home we get the opportunity to discuss and explore these issues in more depth, when the year wanes and we approach the harvest festivals.  Samhain offers the perfect opportunity to discuss such things.  A wonderful book I recommend on the subject is Starhawk’s The Pagan Book of Living and Dying.

E: You were also a part of the coven that I had left last year – can you tell us some more about that experience and how that’s lead you to create your own grove?
C: I perform magick, but it’s something I keep to myself and keep hidden.  I was friendly with the sisters that followed me out, but I was closer to others within the coven. Their leaving was a complete surprise to me, in my mind I had left alone, and that is how I stood for a week, but then it became a domino effect. I was actually quite mortified, and this created a very messy ending unfortunately.  I ended up leaving with several other sisters from that coven and soon found myself with  sisters asking me to teach them!

 I had a good long hard think about it and after talking with some wise council decided I could do it as I was at a stage where I needed to share the knowledge I had. I teach them to live the wheel of the year, celebrate the changing of the seasons, celebrate each Sabbat, full moon and dark moon and through this learn about the gods, their dance and their lessons.  I also teach them about their bodies, magical cooking, fasting and detoxing, how to raise pagan kids and basically just share what my life has taught me so far.  And at 42 I do have some wisdom and knowledge worth sharing. Luckily I have some wise elders who offer me good advice when I don’t have all the answers.

Soon after this, I got an email stating that the hedge witches site on Meetup was going to close down if someone didn’t take over as organizer. After consulting my sisters I decided to take it on but only with their input and support, and so our grove was born and we decided to keep our little coven closed between the three of us.  To be honest, I couldn’t take on any more into my home and life - it’s a big commitment I have made to these 2 sisters, and I want to honour it and give them my best. It’s a commitment I’ve made for one turn of the wheel.

E: That sounds both wise and realistic, I like your approach.
C: Now the grove has an interesting twist to things, but I also had three wise witches separately council me that my path was that of teacher: it was time.  So I thought I would conduct open courses to the general public, introducing them to green witchcraft ideals would be good for us, the community and mother earth. So far we do an intro to witchcraft, candle making, tarot courses, gardening bee, esoteric acupuncture, magickal food workshops and lots of fun projects to bring paganism and hedgewitchery to the general public. I hope to make contacts with those of the old traditions so that I may be able to direct seekers interested in ceremonial magick, Gardnerian or Alexandrian traditions to the right paths. I hope to network with the wider pagan community.

E: What advice would I give inexperienced witches and those first starting out?
C: Firstly, you should always be empowered by the process, if you are left feeling disempowered then move on.  The craft attracts a lot of people looking for answers.  These answers are found within yourself.  A good teacher should facilitate that sort of learning in an empowering way.

I think the most valuable guidance IS the one you receive in the very beginning: it sets you on your path and life’s journey.  Having said that, I am always grateful to learn new things and am very blessed to have some wonderful teachers appear recently from friends, old and new but the impressionable beginnings can shape a practitioner for the rest of their lives.

Don’t always believe what people tell you.  There are many pitfalls within this practice, and some can be quite dangerous.  If someone offers you an energetic diagnosis, make sure your reach out and get another, and another.  But if in the end none of it sits right with you, then trust your intuition above all else.

A high priest or priestess from a coven should not charge her initiates.  This is not how a coven should function.  A grove is a different matter entirely as students are paying for a service.  A high priest/priestess may ask support with ingredients, food, or others, but money should not exchange hands. Our belief is that it is not ethical to derive an income or profit from what is to us part of our service in the names of the Old Ones.

Enjoy the journey and not the final outcome.  Just like food, there are many different types of spiritual practice. Ask yourself: which do you prefer? The get there quick programs that have you initiated within 8 weeks? Programs that lack all substance but give you titles without the work? Kind of like fast food chains? Or would you prefer to sit to a three course meal with just a few special friends, enjoying and savouring every moment? Dining in some fine restaurant where there may be a waiting time to get in, but the food is divine? Of course you pay a higher price for this type of learning, for the challenges are greater? Sometimes, fast and easy isn’t what is needed to help fill your spiritual belly.

In this society we live, we want everything fast, we want it now and we don’t want to work hard to get it. Now spiritual and magical practices are treated in the same way. Homogenized and watered down to suit everyone’s palate. Let me make something clear: if you decide to dedicate yourself to the easy path, don’t expect much in return. It’s the hard path, the one that requires hard work and honest dedication that gives the greatest rewards. It’s not meant to be easy, it requires patience and practice. There is a reason that a single degree usually takes a year and a day! Some things just take time to learn.  Enjoy the journey and do not worry about the destination or the titles.

This easy style of initiations are usually run by those with no direct experience with the divine, so when that connection is missing: what is the driving force? Also, if you have not crossed that river how are you to show others how to cross it? A high priestess is a connection with the divine, a human face of the goddess... Not a facilitator, or an organizer or other mundane meaning you wish to use. If you do not have the knowledge or experience it takes to be a high priestess then do not take that title and instead call yourself an organizer or just plain witch.

E: I agree, it’s a huge title to take on.  I really enjoy organising for our sisters to meet up without all of the responsibility of being a high priestess (for readers: our sisterhood is a general gathering of friends rather than a coven and is completely separate to the grove).  Just personally, I’m not interesting in a hierarchy, however, in your situation you’re a leader and a teacher and I think you’re marvellously brave for taking that on.  That takes real guts!  There are so many teachers out there who seem to skim information off the surface – teaching is a hard thing to do.
C: Unfortunately it’s a reflection of the society we live in: people skimming the surface of things, unaware of what is driving them, looking to gratify their ego and titles... power trips and all sorts of traps any beginner would fall into... to teach is a service... teachers are of service to the seeker... and that act of generosity... the one where teacher gives freely, is an act that reaps great rewards.  But it can only reap the rewards when given freely, both monetarily and spiritually... the bond between teacher and student is karmically connected ... how can you get the very best out of it and utilize it to its full potential without trust? Love? Surrender? Can these be given after 8 weeks? How can a high priestess connect with 15 neophytes and give the guidance they deserve, with minimal interaction?  Before joining any coven ask yourself all these questions.  Traditionally you would spend a few months working and learning with the group making sure your dynamic is right.  This is imperative before taking any vow before the Old Ones.

That’s some really sound advice there.  It’s hard for people to have that outer perspective to make sure that that dynamic is right before they settle on a coven.  So many people feel that they ought to be loyal to a coven the minute that they walk into it, but you have to take a step back and think about whether that coven really suits you or not – it’s a relationship of its own.  Just like when you enter a romantic relationship you have to ask yourself: does this serve me?  If I have misgivings, what are they and why?  Be really honest with yourself about whether you have a healthy relationship with the coven that you’re entering.  Cat your guidance here is wonderful for those starting out in a coven and your path is fascinating.   I hope our readers learn a lot and find new inspiration from this interview.

You can find out more about Cat's grove here and connect on Facebook here.

Blessed Be,
)O( Elspeth.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fire and ritual: is it ever good for the environment?

Here in Australia, burning off areas of land is a natural process required to help particular flora germinate into the next season - so long as the fire is controlled.  That was certainly much easier for the Australian environment to take before the bulk of its landscape - particularly here in Victoria was deforested.  Before Europeans settled in Australia, the aboriginal people used to burn off areas of land in order to easily track down animals to eat and thus, fire was part and parcel of how the environment rejuvenated itself each year.  Seeds would benefit from this heat and then germinate in the ashen soil.  Naturally, with the environmental concerns of releasing carbon into the air that we don't need I will - on occasion - find myself guilty of just wanting a good old fashioned bon fire to celebrate a Sabbat.  So: do I post this article to make me feel better about burning a good fire and even a candle?  Maybe a little bit!  It has to make you wonder about the magick of ritual and whether we did use this over the years across cultures to 'put heat under' the germination of our seeds for our crops and trees.

A 4,000 year old fire ritual conducted in the remote village in Kerala in April this year has a positive impact on the atmosphere, soil and other environment effects, according to scientists who are now ready with their findings.

The “Athirathram” ritual held on April 4— 15 at Panjal village in Thrissur district was the focus of a detailed study by a team of scientists led by Prof V P N Nampoori, former director of the International School of Photonics, Cochin University of Science and Technology.
The scientists had focused on the fire ritual’s scientific dimensions and impact on the atmosphere, soil and its micro—organisms and other potential environmental effects.
The yagna seems to have accelerated the process of seed germination and also the microbial presence in air, water and soil in and around the region of the fire ritual is vastly diminished, according to a statement released by the Varthathe Trust, who organised the ritual.
Read more at The Hindu