was founded in April of 1986, shortly after we moved to the Santa Cruz mountains. We were a member coven of the Covenant of the Goddess through its Northern California Local Council. We dissolved in the Winter of 2002. Various of our members still meet in subsets to circle together, and may re-gel into new covens whose styles may be more or less like what is described here. The Dragon is dead, long live the Dragon.
When such labeling is appropriate, our circle usually classifies itself as "Celtiphilic Eclectic Erisian," though some of our members may eschew one or another of these terms in describing their own personal style. We also vary as to when and whether we refer to ourselves as Witches or Wiccan. We are certainly Pagan.
We call ourselves Celtiphilic because most of the circle members have a love of things Celtic, and this love frequently shows up in the design and pattern of our rituals, the identity of the deities called in circle, etc. Others of us, while not Celtiphobic, lean more toward other traditions (e.g. Greek, Norse, Hindu, etc.). It all seems to work out (see "Eclectic" below). At any rate, we are certainly not a strict Celtic-tradition circle: we celebrate 8 festivals rather than 4 and we do not restrict ourselves to working only with Celtic deities.
We are certainly Eclectic! We use anything that works and is comfortable for us. Favorite deities include Aphrodite, Artemis, Brigid, the Dagda, Danu, Dionysus, Epona, Eris (of course!), Ganesha, Hecate, Herne, Hestia, Kali-Ma, Laxsmi, Lugh, Manannan, Nimüe, Oestara, Pan, Persophone, Quan Yin, Robin O'Wood and Tam Lin. Sometimes, of course, we will simply call on the Mother and the Horned One.
By "Erisian" we mean that our style is not at all stiff. We allow leeway for things to go as they will in a ritual. We have a sense of humor and tend to welcome some play. This does not mean that we are totally undisciplined either: we know perfectly well that with no discipline at all, rituals tend to be ineffective. Instead, a comfortable balance is struck between mirth and reverence. We give Eris her due, knowing that if we did not, she would have it from us anyhow. The same applies to the Dark Lady.
We tend more toward extemporization than memorization for invocations. Though invocations are sometimes written out in advance, most of us use such pre-written work as a basis rather than as rote. We usually gather at the first quarter moon to work out an outline for the ritual and settle on assignments for priest/essing and quarter-calling. Sometimes we even do without these, putting the ritual together as we go along. At other times, for more formal occasions such as initiations, we do extensive preparations for elaborately detailed rituals.
Though our priest/esses are trained in the use of all magical tools, a deliberate decision has been made not to use the scourge in circle. We feel that dwelling on guilt is counter-productive, and find that the Lady gives us whatever scourging we need. We seek solutions, rather than expiation.
We celebrate the eight sabbats, full moons, some moondarks, and do solo work as well. We occasionally attend others' rituals or meetings (when invited), though some of us feel that celebrating the same sabbat more than three times is getting a bit excessive. When appropriate, actual Great Rite (as opposed to symbolic Great Rite) is performed in circle, though almost never when guests are present.
It is difficult to describe ourselves further without examples. For those who wish to know us better, we do hold non-ritual circle meetings. Our written-out rituals may be available for reading, and we have occasionally held semi-public rituals. Some of our invocations have been published in Razing the Stakes.
The circle neither has nor requires any oath of secrecy, though we do respect oaths taken elsewhere. The identities, addresses, phone numbers, etc. of circle members should, however, be treated as confidential: specific permission should be obtained from the particular circle member before any release of this type of information is made. Although some circle members are more relaxed about this than others, it is best to make sure first.
The circle does not proselytize. It is left to the individual members of the circle to decide for themselves whether and how much s/he is willing to talk about his/her religion. The three remaining of our founding members of the circle are our Elders. As you will discover later (if you haven't already), our circle's tradition is not particularly hierarchical. Elder status does not convey superior position, but rather a larger, community-oriented workload. Even our least active Elder does occasional sessions of teaching, and of giving blessings outside of our own circle’s rituals.
Each person attends the circle as an individual. Unlike some traditions, ours does not require male-female pairing or, indeed, any kind of pairing. This policy was specifically established so that no one need feel left out as a result of not having a sexual partner in the circle. Neither do we encourage or discourage any particular sexual preference.
Guests may be invited to a ritual only by the unanimous consent of those circle members intending to come to that particular ritual. This is to prevent any circle member from having to decide between doing a ritual with someone s/he doesn't want to work with, and not participating in his/her own circle's ritual. Potential guests not known to all of the circle members are usually invited to a non- ritual meeting (at the first quarter moons) so that circle members can meet them, and later make an informed decision about possible invitation to a ritual. An invitation to one ritual does not imply invitation to any subsequent ritual. After many successive attendances, however, a guest may come to be regarded as a "permanent guest" or "friend of the circle." Even though the guest's invitation seems to have become automatic, the members retain the right to choose not to invite the guest to later rituals.
Usually, after a guest has attended many rituals, that guest's degree of compatibility with the circle is established and the guest may be invited to join the circle as a member. New members are admitted only through the unanimous approval of all currently active members.
Inactive members are always welcome to return. We have not been faced with having to banish anyone, so we do not have a process for it in place.
Admission to the circle as a member is frequently celebrated in ritual, as are other transitions. Membership and initiation are not prerequisites one for the other. Membership is membership in our circle; initiation is initiation into the religion of the Craft. The two are distinct. We will frequently admit a member not yet initiated, and certain of our members may initiate non- members from time to time.
Initiation may be done by any individual priest or priestess, or any combination thereof. It is not a circle function per se, though if the individual being initiated wants the whole circle in on it, then that is certainly a possibility.
Training and initiation are matters of mutual consent between the parties involved. Training is not necessarily a circle function, though the circle may decide to sponsor workshops, seminars, etc. if its members are so inclined.
Having said that initiation and training are not strictly circle business, this does not mean that the circle has no collective opinion on such matters. An initiation is much like a college degree in that its credibility depends on the reputation and standards of those performing the ritual and on the work done by the individual initiated.
Generally there are two phases and two transitions leading to priest/esshood:
Acquaintance -- The individual becomes acquainted with the nature of the Craft (i.e. the Craft is not Satanic, the Craft is nature-oriented and life-affirming, the Craft recognizes and even emphasizes feminine deity, etc.). The individual also, perhaps after much searching, becomes acquainted with particular witches, druids, circles, traditions, organizations, etc.
Dedication -- This transition is often marked by a formal ritual. At this point the individual affirms her/his decision to make the Craft his/her religion and dedicates her/himself to learning more about the Craft. A dedication ritual should include an explicit statement to that effect. Optionally, the dedication ritual may include formal acceptance of the individual for training by a particular priest/ess.
Training -- In this phase, the individual is educated and trained in lore, tools, techniques, ethics, and other appropriate matters. We have a Seeker's Questionnaire that we use as a diagnostic tool and guide to training. At the end of training (a matter left to the discretion of the trainer), the individual should be able to:
These are really very minimum requirements; much more extensive knowledge may be required by the trainer. Different traditions have their own specific practices, particular favorite deities, etc. Even in the minimal list above, certain answers will vary from tradition to tradition.
Initiation -- This is the formal transition from training to priest/esshood. It is almost always marked by a formal ritual. Though many traditions hold that initiation may be performed only by a person already initiated in that particular tradition, it is important to recognize that such rules were made chiefly for reasons of quality control and have little to do with the nature of the transition itself. If an individual is ready for this step there is nothing inherent in the process to prevent her/him from initiating him/herself if such is deemed necessary or desirable.
There may be some individuals who feel further called to serve the community as Elders; sponsoring public rituals, performing services of Baby Blessing, Coming of Age, Handfasting, and Memorials, teaching and counseling. Further training and a ritual of ordination may be negotiated between the supervising Elder and the person seeking Elder status. As with previous training, we have an Ordination Questionnaire to assess the readiness of a candidate for ordination.
We also recognize that there is a place for training and investiture of priest/esses of particular deities in a Pagan but not Wiccan context. This again is between the Elder and the person seeking investiture. While the structure of ritual performed by such a person would not have to be Wiccan, we hold that anyone receiving an initiation, ordination or investiture from an Elder of Circle Dragonmist must adhere to a personal code of ethics compatible with the Wiccan Rede.
Some of our Elders perform Handfastings. We have several Handfasting rituals from which to draw inspiration, and a Pre-Nuptial Questionnaire which we use as a tool to guide pre-nuptial counseling so that we feel right about doing a given Handfasting.
As with any marriage, shared vision and clarity of communication is very important. There has to be give and take, understanding of Who Those Others Are, and a careful balance of kindness and brutal honesty. Maintaining such a balance just between two people can be difficult, as is demonstrated by the divorce rate in the dominant culture. When the group is of three to twelve people, with some changes of personnel over the years, it is well nigh miraculous that a group survives for 16 years.
What did us in? Problems in communication, differences in personal style, and losing the balance so that some of us were too brutal in our honesty, and some of us too kind to be honest. We lost track of who each of us was, and what the whole should be. We struggled with our difficulties for well over a year before our problems came to a head. Like a volcano, we erupted.
And as with any divorce, blame can be placed in reponse to our individual pain. But to what end? We go forth from this with sadness, but also with energy freed up to face the next phase of our lives. By Persephone and Hades, by Hecate and Aphrodite, by Quan Yin and Ho-Tai, by Freya and Artemis, by Hestia and Dagda, by Danu and Mannanan and Brigid and all of the Gods and Goddesses Who have heeded us through these years, may we go forth in clarity and peace, honesty and love. In tears I say So Mote It Be.
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© 1987- 2003 by Chris Albrecht and Elsa Die Löwin.