The Stones of Community

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

During Templefest 2018, at our Lammas Harvest Ritual, we enacted a micro Wheel of the Year, with the mysteries of Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha and Lammas all being incorporated into the symbolism of the event. The mysteries of the dark—Mabon, Samhain and Yule—were embodied in the concluding evening ritual called the Sabbat of the Three Stars.

At our main Lammas ritual, after the sacred fire was kindled in the round for the Imbolc section of the rite, we entered the spring and “plowed” the field of community, lifting out the stones that would impede the growth of the community “grains” and placing them outside of the circle. Together, members removed stones embodying community and personal problems from the field of consciousness, each stone based in our twelve-zodiac symbolism: Anger (Aries), Poverty (Taurus), Gossip (Gemini), Fear (Cancer), Selfishness (Leo), Illness (Virgo), Falsehood (Libra), Corruption (Scorpio), Hopelessness (Sagittarius), Blame (Capricorn), Miscommunication (Aquarius), and Delusion (Pisces). It was followed by the sowing of the seeds (Ostara), the Great Rite (Beltane) and the blood being spilled with the sacrifice in effigy of the god (Lammas). Yet all magick must be followed up by real world action, so we asked the community as a whole to continue to directly confront these issues when they arose. We can’t expect magick to work without engagement.

Yet why do we have to do this? Why do these things exist in any community, let alone ours? Shouldn’t this be peaceful? Blissful? Magickal all the time? Yes and no.

While we hold an ideal, the process in striving for the ideal is as much the teacher as any esoteric text, ritual, or meditation. Community, in all its forms, forms a cauldron of consciousness. That cauldron is like a silver mirror, reflecting whatever we bring to it, showing us ourselves in deep and unexpected ways. The community—be it a class, coven, circle, or greater esoteric order—becomes both the container for the process and the teacher. And the process is the Great Work of the perennial tradition, to find divinity within, without, and all about us.

It is easy to appear enlightened and believe you are in control of your consciousness when there is no challenge to that belief. Community puts those assumptions to the test, often by people exhibiting our subconscious shadow traits and playing roles in repeating unresolved patterns from our lives. Each gives us an opportunity to handle the situation differently with the teachings of the Craft in mind, though it is easy to fall into our older familiar patterns that do not serve our highest good. Covens for good or ill often repeat family patterns, particularly when we begin to think of our community as family or tribe. Even in esoteric orders, there is the tendency to project our issues upon mentors, teachers, and leaders, which can lead to difficulty distinguishing what is their behavior and what is our interpretation of that behavior through the lens of our previous experience.

When we dive deeper, though the experience of initiatory training and volunteering, we are signing up to enter the cauldron of community and to be taught by the community itself as a mirror. If we are not ready and willing to do that, we might want to do solitary study. Our friction is “grist to the mill” to grind our “corn” in the baking of the bread of the initiate, as taught in the Miracle of Bread. Our difficulties are the irritation that forms the luminous pearl. Our seeming enemies are the “guardians of the gate” at the doors of the underworld, forcing us to examine and release what does not serve to find our authentic power. Our conflicts are the alchemical process, within and without, to bring about the perfected stone.

People play out all sorts of games and patterns, usually unconsciously, and provide the dreaded “opportunities for personal development” that we need in our community work. Some specific communities, such as an order like the Temple of Witchcraft, consciously acknowledge that process in our training. There is also a wide array of magickal and social groups within the greater Pagan communities that don’t share this ethos, yet nonetheless provide those same challenging opportunities for us.

Spiritual ideals of perfection are just that, ideals. Perfection of the Witch is not a static thing, but an ever-shifting cycle of balance, fluctuating with the Moon, seasons, and stars. The ideal of a society of enlightened, in-tune magickal practitioners is the teacher, and the striving is the lesson. While individuals and small groups can reach deeper and wiser levels of consciousness and behavior as an inspiring model, we nonetheless remain in a body, still in the world of process, ever learning and striving.

These twelve areas reflect personal and group issues that need to be addressed—and should be actively addressed in this process, internally, in relationship and in the greater community—for us to seek that ideal. Are they the only twelve issues we can face? Certainly not, but they give us a basis to learn, grow, and explore.

Anger (Aries) – When dealing with any conflict, humans can be easily angered and can direct anger both outwardly, magnifying conflict, or inwardly, causing depression. When we have disagreement or annoyance and displeasure with someone’s actions, we can react with anger. It can be an immediate response or one that starts small and builds over time. Anger often appears unconscious, something we have no control over, but once we become conscious of a reaction, or a pattern of reaction, we can then choose to respond in a more conscious way. Sometimes anger is an appropriate response. There is righteous anger over the injustices of the world both locally and globally. There is anger that helps protect us and draw boundaries in difficult situations, giving us energy to do so when we would otherwise react with fear. But when anger is not appropriate or constructive, when it violates boundaries and encourages unconscious reactions, we must become conscious of it so that we can determine the exact root of why we are angry and find a more constructive response to it. Watch your own patterns of anger and resentment and, as much as possible, learn to clear and neutralize them as they come rather than letting them linger. Energy work and healing magick can help, along with herbs and flower essences, but old-fashioned journaling and talk therapy also do wonders for this “stone” in our community relationships.

Poverty (Taurus) – We often collectively have what has been called “Pagan Poverty Consciousness.” Paganism these days tends to attract people with fewer economic opportunities because many seek Witchcraft as the magick fix for such circumstances. And sometimes it is, but often in ways we don’t realize. The magick is not always an instantaneous accumulation of wealth, but a shifting of how we relate to resources—where we spend and where we save—and a realization that our wealth comes in a range of forms. I’m always reminded of the FFFF teaching of flags, flax, fodder and frigg. It refers to the flagstones of a home, meaning your dwelling and shelter; the weaving of flax for your clothes; the fodder of food for yourself, your family, and your animals; and the frigg, or love of both romance and family. These are a part of our wealth and good fortune. With gratitude for what we have, we can build towards what we don’t have, and seek support and allies among our community. Putting your resources towards what you value, particularly community artisans, crafters, medicine makers and educators is one way. Offering support, personal and financial, to those directly in the community has grown increasingly easier with the growth of social media. Do we have to address as a collective society systematic inequality? Certainly, but we also need to address the immediate needs of our community and offer support and resources whenever and whenever we can, and if we have received, we should give back and continue the cycle of support.

Gossip (Gemini) – As communities grow, gossip is one of the seemingly small issues that often causes greater problems. Gossip is usually described as conversation or reports about others with details that are not confirmed to be true. Often the rule of thumb is to only tell “your story” of direct experience with someone or some situation and not to repeat the stories of others. But often in community, that goal can be near impossible when conveying information that is necessary or when simply being social. Today gossip is often divided into helpful or harmful gossip. Helpful gossip is the promotion of a rumor that may or may not be true, but does no harm and might further a community goal. For example, someone might share that fundraising goals were met before the official announcement or discuss rumors regarding plans for a retreat. Harmful gossip is often malicious, reciting details about another that damage their character or reputation. Sometime harmful gossip turns out to be true, but often it is mangled miscommunication, whether accidental or deliberate. Some of it stems from concern, as when someone inquires about another member of the community, and it can be hard to find the line between what is relating a story you believe to be true and what is harmful gossip. When dealing with gossip on a community level, simple confrontation of the rumor can be the best way to handle it. And while unpopular, asking who the information came from so the record can be set straight with the source of the gossip is also appropriate. While this might not work in polite society where gossip is the norm, it is the standard of right speech in an esoteric order, particularly among initiates and ministers. When someone reports they “heard” what “someone” did, always ask from whom did you hear, and who was this person who experienced this? Often there is no one really there. Reflect on the gossip you have shared, the intention behind it, and the result, regardless of the intention. Is there anything you can do to clean up your speech or prevent unwanted occurrences from occurring in the future? Reflect on the three gates – Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Even when you’ve failed to check those gates, strive to keep them in your heart and mind and upon your lips. And remember that in the end, we can only control what we think, do and say; we cannot control what is being said about us.

Fear (Cancer) – Fear is always an issue for those seeking the mysteries, for the mysteries embody the unknown, and we often are trained by our society to fear the unknown. Also the mysteries embody the possibility of change, change of ourselves, of our world, and our circumstances. Ultimately, we see those changes for the better, but when you are in the midst of them and uncertain where the next plateau will be, they can trigger fears. Hard-wired into our lower soul, child-animal self is the fight or flight response, so fear can manifest as running away from circumstances, community, responsibilities, and self, or manifest as anger, aggression, and many of the other “stones” of community outlined here. Ultimately so many of them are rooted in fear, and Cancer—and the corresponding Fourth House of the Nadir of the astrology chart—is the “root” of our personal tree. It is where we come from, what anchors us in our sense of home and belonging. When we feel we don’t belong, that is quite a scary prospect. Fear is best faced head on, and when we do, we often realize our own fear magnified the event or experience beyond proportion. When we look under the metaphorical rock to seek the monster, we find something far less fearsome than what we imagined. Take the opportunity to “stalk” your fear, observing the thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and then take the time to confront the reality and root of that fear. Journal to explore where these feelings are coming from and how they happen to manifest. Talk to others whose counsel you trust, and when needed, seek professional help to work through tough emotional complexes and issues stemming deeper.

Selfishness (Leo) – The healing work of the occultist, shaman, magician and Witch carries a double-edged sword. We are often so wounded, with such low self-esteem, that we spend a lot of time building up our self-image, but if we don’t find the balance point of healthy ego, it is easy to stray into the realm of selfishness and egotistical behavior. Spend enough time telling yourself you are special and unique, you can easily forget that everyone else is too, and lose the community skills for healthy and balanced engagement with others. Particularly in the swift and far reaching powers of social media, it is easy to quickly build the ego, self-image, and a sense of support, fame, and importance though outside validation. And this is not the work of the magician, for such a boost is easily lost when that outside validation wavers. Today everyone can experience this in a way that was much more difficult to achieve many years ago—which can be a wonderful testing, honing experience of the healthy ego, and removal of the unhealthy ego—but in many ways, the standard of what is “normal” and “accepted” is shifting, and we must be aware. If we are more concerned with our own image, message, experience, pleasure, and creations, and don’t question how we engage and interface with others, we are on a road of great difficulty. If we are attached to the praise and adulation, the “fruits of our actions,” we are missing the point of our True Will and work here in the world. In community there should be a balance between self and service, and that includes an understanding of the appropriate use of selfless service. Strive to be of service to others, and to offer your help without the focus being reward, gratification, recognition, or thanks. Acknowledge your own accomplishments, but also be on guard for when that is your primary focus. Acknowledge the work of others and give thanks. Share and support whenever you can.

Illness (Virgo) – Illness comes in many forms, as afflictions of body, mind and spirit. The classic line of metaphysical healers is to look at “disease” as “dis-ease” or lack of ease or comfort in body, mind, soul, and life. We need to find alignment with ourselves and remove the blocks that prevent the easy flow of life force within and around us. Part of our work in community is looking to those who are experiencing disease and offering whatever support is appropriate, not limiting ourselves, no matter how potent, to only sending energy, but committing to also checking in on the material level, making sure people have support emotionally (by providing someone to talk to when appropriate) and physically (by helping them with getting to doctors, obtaining prescriptions, having food in the house, and accessing necessary things). Disease can be more easily faced when there is real-world support in place. Seek to “check in” often with those struggling with any form of illness. Make sure your support is known and offer not only to do “what is needed,” but offer some specific, practical things you can do, as many people don’t know what is needed or what kind of help is appropriate to ask for. If possible, offer to take someone out or to do some shopping and errands. Offer specifically to bring food or whatever you believe might be needed. But also respect boundaries should your offer to help be rejected.

Falsehood (Libra) – Akin to gossip, but more direct, falsehood must be squashed whenever we encounter it. We must endeavor to speak the truth whenever possible, and whenever in conversation with another we are confronted with something we know to be false, we should speak up simply with the words “That isn’t true” or “I don’t believe that to be true.” Perhaps even more challenging, we must be open when someone says that to us, as we often pass lies off as the truth unknowingly. And we must be on guard and separate out those who unknowingly and unconsciously pass on falsehoods from those who do so knowingly and maliciously for their own purposes. We must also encounter our own inner experiences of the false, and how we often try to convince ourselves of things that are not true, things like dreams, hopes, or fears that are not rooted in reality. Witches need to be sober in our experience of all our realities, and neither believe or disbelieve too easily, but approach things with both openness and skepticism, allowing the reality of the situation to come to light. Part of divesting ourselves of our falsehood is to look at the stories we identify with, and how those stories shape us, but how they might not necessarily be true. We can use stories, but when the role we play in the story hinders our ability to see our true self, they no longer become useful tools, but part of our imbalance. Roles and archetypes can be tools for navigating the stories of our life, but none of us is pure in our archetypal expression. All of us are challenged and flawed. All of us make mistakes. We must see the reality of our situation. Our test is to embrace the reality of what is truthful, to move forward toward what we wish to manifest.

Corruption (Scorpio) – Corruption is literally the process of unholy transformation. While often confused with decay, the natural breakdown cycle of transformation, corruption is when the core purpose, intention, or True Will is subverted and debased. It can happen in both conscious and unconscious ways. Unfortunately for us, some people consciously choose selfishness to the point of harm to others, or they choose to exercise power in ways that are destructive to the greater community for personal gain. Others don’t realize they are doing it, and don’t hold malicious intent, but because they are limited in their awareness, they often create the same results. Many choose poorly due to a sense of insecurity, but that is no excuse. Corruption must be encountered, exposed, and uprooted whenever you face it in community. The first step is drawing a boundary between what is and isn’t acceptable. The next is to speak truth to the one causing harm. If both these steps do not result in the necessary change, then the next step is uprooting the violator from your particular garden, realizing we don’t always have the individual authority to extend beyond the places where we fully participate, and that to have greater effect, we need to engage others. While we do so, we must be on guard to not accept hearsay, gossip, or “spectral evidence” (common in the Witchcraft Trials, and sadly still common with accusations of cursing and hexing, though admittedly there is a lot more cursing and hexing going on overtly in today’s Paganism). A huge part of rooting out corruption is looking in the mirror, for many we will hail as the most corrupt often express traits we see in ourselves. The first uprooting we must do is in ourselves, and we must do it with clarity, compassion, and consensus tempered by truth, not mob rule of fear and anger. If the esoteric order, the community, is like a garden, when all else fails, one must pull weeds. While many weeds are the Witch’s Allies, if one threatens to take over and destroy the garden, it must be pulled, not with malice, but with clarity. A place can be set for those weeds to grow, and ultimately, I see a blend between wildness and strict order, letting the wild weeds move around in appropriate places. But those that overrun threaten the whole and need to be dealt with. It doesn’t mean the weed, or the corrupt person, will never be a part of community, only that the current circumstances do not favor their participation until appropriate behavior and balance are found and enacted.

Hopelessness (Sagittarius) – Hope is one of the things that community, and magick, offers to us. We find support, and even when things are not well for us, we can hold the hope that the cycle will turn once again, and with it, our fortunes. Through magick, we hold not only the hope, but also the knowledge and experience to turn our own wheel of fate and manifest the next step on our path to move out of the mire of hopelessness, even though it is not always easy. Part of the sister-brother-otherhood of a magickal order, and of the very Aquarian Age we seek to embody as the greater wheel turns, is the support of others. While fiercely individual as Witches, we are also part of something greater. The unique separateness held in a community of interconnective oneness is the paradoxical mystery of Aquarius and the Witch Soul, and sometimes we err on the side of our independence and individuality and don’t reach out when we need help. To banish hopelessness from our own fields, we need to reach out, and to the best of our ability, ask for what we need from others in our community. To banish hopelessness from the field of the collective community, we must be mindful, and upon recognizing the hopeless feelings of those around us, reach out and offer support to the best of our ability. While we can’t take responsibility for the health and happiness of another, we can offer support in dark times and help those around us get the support they need, be it personal, magickal, or medical.

Blame (Capricorn) – Casting blame is not taking responsibility for that which comes from you. When something does not go according to plan, we must take responsibility for it and make the efforts to change or shift it. While sometimes more than one person is responsible for something happening (or more likely, not happening), we cannot shift the entire responsibility to the other in the hopes of avoiding scorn or judgement. We cannot scapegoat another for our part. Life is often easier when we claim responsibility and are empowered by ourselves and others in community to rectify our mistakes. We must evaluate our responsibilities and make sure we are living up to them.

Miscommunication (Aquarius) – People misspeak. I misspeak. You misspeak. We think we are being clear and we are not, as we all make assumptions and have different styles of communication. Mercury, the planet of communication and the personal mind, can be in any of the twelve signs, creating twelve different styles of communication, and can occupy any of the twelve houses of the sky, creating 144 different possible manifestations. Little wonder someone else’s communication style can be alien to our own. When you think you are being misunderstood, ask questions and try again. If you think you are misunderstanding, ask questions for clarification. Find ways to bridge the gap of understanding.

Delusion (Pisces) – Delusion is one of the easiest traps for the Witch to fall into, for so much of what we do is hard to believe. We experience a lot of things considered delusional by the mainstream world. We speak to gods and spirits, faeries and angels, and engage in the casting of magickal spells. Psychologists have a specific term for a type of delusional thinking called “magical thinking.” When you read any description of it, it is easy to see that most Witches do engage in such a paradigm, yet where is the line between empowerment and problem? Many psychologists would consider it a primitive and non-scientific view, yet it informs almost all indigenous traditions and mystical religions. Witches going for therapy must be careful to find a therapist who is open to their spiritual views and will not automatically assume talk of spells indicates a psychosis. Yet, we all know Witches who do cross that line. They become overpowered by their experiences and can’t distinguish the lines between objective and subjective experiences. They over-identify with deities and spirits, losing personal identity and becoming confused when people don’t treat them as such. Their psychic abilities take such dominance that they look at subjective perception as objective reality for everyone, and even as their experience becomes more inaccurate and clouded, they insist upon its reality. In the world of author Terry Prachett’s Witches, we say they have “gone cackling.” Cackling was described as going mad and losing your center, either through loneliness, work pressure, or a sense of superiority. In Wintersmith, Pratchett describes how cackling leads to “poisoned spinning-wheels and gingerbread cottages,” what we recognize as the typical behaviors of the fairy tale wicked witch. To prevent this, Pratchett’s Witches visit with each other, have tea and gossip, and look out for the signs of cackling. Checking in with peers and mentors and being open to the fact you might be delusional is what keep delusion at bay. We are all a little crazy, but the important part is to be healthy and functional, as well as helpful and healing, in any magickal thinking we have.

If all those participating in our Temple kept these ideas in mind as we progress together in the Cauldron of Community, we will build a healthy parcel in the terrestrial realm of Witchdom and be better partners not only to our allies in the flesh, but also to those who dwell in the worlds of spirit!

Temple of Witchcraft