Column: The Seminary and Witchdom Balancing Act

Guest Contributor —  March 11, 2017 — 1 Comment

[A very common question asked within Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities is “How did you get here?” or better yet “How did you find this spiritual path?” People love telling and hearing the tales, and we all have them. This is mainly because our collective religions are made up of people who have adopted these paths, rather than having been born into them. While there are some second generation Pagans, they are still a minority – perhaps not for long. Either way, everyone has a story, and these stories are all unique. Today The Wild Hunt welcomes Pagan and Witch Dianne Daniels, who shares her journey and how she has come to a spiritual place where Witchcraft and Unitarian Universalism meet.]

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I’m a frequent reader of The Wild Hunt for it’s interesting and unique perspective on Pagan life, principles and learning; I’ve learned quite a bit and been introduced to different aspects of Pagan worship and study, finding perspectives with which I both agree and disagree. Reading and learning about the diverse thoughts and practices has helped me in my own journey as I weave together my Pagan and religious lives, which are not always the same thing, and as I create a unique perspective and path that is solely mine.

Why Paganism? Simply put I have an affinity for the world of Witches. I consider myself an eclectic Witch, incorporating the principles and wisdom of Witchcraft. I began my studies as a teenager, looking for something “more.” As a child, I attended the church located at the end of the block where I lived, and I enjoyed it.

However, one Sunday, I was shushed by an older lady sitting in the pew in front of me who then told my nephew and I to “stop making so much noise.” We had been patting our feet in time with the music and clapping our hands…

We never returned.

As a teenager, I discovered Wicca and the loving principles of that faith and wanted to learn as much as I could, but – and I’m dating myself here – this was long before I knew of or had access to the Internet. There was no one in my community, as far as I knew, who could be my teacher, so I was limited to books and my imagination. After about 5 years, I set aside my interest in Wicca and most religious topics on the back burner, got married, had a child, and tried to live the best life possible while not attending services. My first husband was not a church goer, and by habit, neither was I.

After the marriage ended, I found myself inspired by The Daily Word. My mother received them in the mail, and I liked the positive messages and the lack of condemnation in them. I was happy to have a practice that we could share for a while, until I remarried and relocated.

After moving to New England as an adult, I renewed my interest in Witchcraft, finding the wealth of resources now available in the form of books, online reports, videos and audio files. This is what I needed years ago when beginning my journey – information on the different practices, areas of concentration, avenues of learning.

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[Courtesy Photo D. Daniels]

I enjoyed everything that I read, listened to, and observed, but I was still unsure of my direction, and not entirely comfortable with developing a practice. I learned to cast a circle, calling to the four elements for protection and wisdom. I learned the names of the Goddesses and Gods, and became a fan of Isis and Osiris.

Several years earlier and before I knew much about her, I had been purchasing images of Isis; I was drawn to her. And, because I believe in balance, it was a natural conclusion to include Osiris, her husband, partner and consort, in my study and worship. This was not via a traditional method at all, but one that suited me in my limited knowledge and with a limited frame of reference.

Many years have now passed, I don’t have to worry about shocking my parents; they have both passed on. And, while today I am less worried about being “out of the broom closet,” I do sometimes have concerns about my path and how much I want to share. Actually, I agreed to do this article because I respect The Wild Hunt greatly, and I believe that hearing about my experience may help someone (or at least make them go “hmmm.”)

My renewed interest in Pagan spirituality, Wicca, and witchcraft finally led me to search for a teacher – someone who could assist me on my path without ordering me to leave everything else behind. I wanted someone to provide guidance, not dictate dogma. After having a couple of very interesting and revealing online discussions with my adult son, Ron, I found The Temple of Witchcraft.

I had asked my son what he wanted for his birthday, and he asked for a copy of Christopher Penczak’s book The Inner Temple of Witchcraft. He was so enthusiastic about what he had learned about the Temple and the book that I not only purchased a copy for him, but also one for myself with the companion audio CDs.

I started reading and listening, becoming familiar with Christopher through that book, which I dove into head first. I read all the chapters, did all the exercises, and felt I was making progress, but without a teacher to check in with, I didn’t know whether my experience was correct and right for me? I didn’t completely trust my own feelings, or better put I was not “leaning unto my own understanding.”

17198780_10210528367102885_1436555749_nI needed verification that I was on the right path, so I decided to enroll in the Temple’s Mystery School and follow the year and a day path of the first level of Witchcraft.

The Temple Mystery School was the solution and it wasn’t too far away; I’m in Connecticut, they are in Salem, New Hampshire. However, there is also an online option. So, the first hurdle was cleared.

After further investigation, I learned that the teachers would not require me to resign or renounce any other work that I was called to do and that they would encourage me to resolve conflicts and make the appropriate decisions myself.

Essentially, if students are able to keep their commitments to the course, they can pursue an eclectic path.

Now I’m finally working with the teacher that I’ve needed. It fulfills my desire to learn in a way that’s comfortable for me, and I’m a happy online student, It also gives me the freedom in my schedule to pursue my other interests. I am a multi-tasker!

I previously served on the Board of Directors for the Norwich Arts, a local arts education organization. I also serve my community as a Registrar of Voters, because voting is one of the most critical freedoms we have. In doing that work I honor the Ancestors who gave their blood, sweat, and tears to make it possible. Finally, and very important to me, I am the current President of my local NAACP chapter. Continuing the work of this historic organization and honoring the struggle for Civil Rights is also key part of who I am.

And,I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in Divinity through the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California. Many outside of our communities might wonder how a Masters in Divinity can actually work with Witchcraft studies, given that many organized religions still take a dim view of Witches and of Witchcraft. But it is possible. I am doing so as a member of a beautifully open and centered religion – Unitarian Universalism.

Along with studying Witchcraft, I am 20+ year Unitarian Universalist, having found the denomination as the result of two lovely invitations from people my husband and I knew and respected. One year, we had been invited to attend a special event – a Kwanzaa service – and after that we were hooked, so to speak.

Unitarian Universalists are warm, open-hearted, and fabulous people who believe in the search for truth and meaning. We UUs, as we call ourselves, believe that no single religion has a monopoly on the truth, and that you do not have to throw away all that you are and all that you’ve learned to become a part of the UU community.

Unitarian Universalists operate via a set of Principles that include concepts like respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are all a part. We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, strive for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and support the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.cuups

The UU theological emphasis is on spiritual growth and development, and as such UUs are free to incorporate the spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions – like Wicca and Witchcraft – through the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS). This unique organization is dedicated to networking Pagan-identified Unitarian Universalists (UUs), educating people about Paganism, promoting interfaith dialogue, developing Pagan liturgies and theologies, and supporting Pagan-identified UU religious professionals.

Unitarian Universalists respect the sacred literature and important religious texts of other religions, and believe that they can co-exist if viewed within the concept of love for one’s neighbor and for oneself. This fits in beautifully with the wisdom of Witchcraft, and my studies through the Temple.

In joining the Unitarian Universalist Church, my husband and I were particularly happy with the lack of judgment found in that environment. While they do not specifically use the words “And it harm none, do what ye will,” the sentiment is definitely there.

UUs believe in creating change – in ourselves, and in the world in which  we live. Living the principles of the faith by acting, whether it be in community with others of like mind and heart, or as individuals who take intentional and sacred time to make positive change happen. The aspect of the UU faith that most closely resonated with me, and the one I quote most often when people ask why I became a UU, is about respecting the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Every person has worth – no matter if they believe as I do, or if they are following a different path. I am not the final arbiter of what is right for anyone else, only in what is right for me. As written on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s website, “…faith is a journey we take together. Religious education takes a lifetime. It happens both within and beyond a congregation’s walls.”

UUs teach environmental stewardship and build connections with nature; we add our voices and our strength to anti-racism and justice work, and we tap into the wisdom of diverse Sources to help one another learn, grow, and find grounding and connection.

All this UU teaching can include the structures, principles, and language of Witchcraft. Both sides of my faith and religious practice encourage me to keep learning and growing, and to keep encouraging and supporting my fellow human beings, whether they are students in the same system or not.

I can learn from anyone and everyone – sometimes what I learn is what not to do, and other times I learn about the strength of the human spirit, about connection and commitment, about respecting the journey of others, and about how some people keep walking when their feet and legs are tired and they just want to stop.

Pursuing a Master’s degree isn’t easy at any stage of life  and I have a new respect for those who choose to pursue advanced education. The call to be a Unitarian Universalist Minister was strong, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to make it all work. However, I searched my heart and decided that I definitely wanted to make it happen.

But only if I could honor and include all aspects of my path in its unique and multi-faceted glory.

[Photo Credit: Well Healed Woman Campaign]

Dianne Daniels [Photo Credit: Well Healed Woman Campaign]

I have been able to do so with Starr King School for the Ministry, which is a member of the Graduate Theological Union and has  “roots deep in the fertile soil of Unitarian Universalism, embracing the multireligious life and learning that will matter most in this new century.”

I’ve found encouragement and flexibility there, including advisers and professors who help to me navigate combining my Pagan studies and my UU faith into my commitment toward a Master’s degree. The process has taught me much about myself and about the path that I’m on, including both areas of study.

What am I planning to do with my degree and my work at the Temple? I intend to build bridges and help people see the parallels – to keep spreading the message that there is inherent worth in every human being, and that there are multiple paths to finding, enhancing, and honoring that worth.

For those new to the journey, I advise that you do enough research to feel comfortable with your path in whatever combinations that it might be. At the same time, don’t spend so much time “investigating” that you never actually get started. There is a wealth of information available– choose a path and begin the journey!

The wonderful thing about being human is that you can change direction should you so choose. Give your studies enough time to “stick” and if it doesn’t work, move on. For me, this process meant sticking with a year-long course commitment and focusing on that. As I have continued along, I know now that I’ve found the right place for me – one that honors all that I am, and all that I want to become.

[Do you have a unique story that you’d like to share? How did you find your path? The Wild Hunt is always looking for new guest voices, unique tales, and amazing journeys from within our collective communities. Contact our editors.]

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

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  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I can reinforce Rev Daniels’ view of the openness of UUs. I became Pagan as a result of an epiphanal experience of the Goddess in 1987. At that time I was President of a UU congregation, and I obviously had to come clean with them about what had happened to me. But not right away, when I was still in the grip of the enthusiastic ignorance of the novice. I took a year of study with an eclectic circle elsewhere in town, and then gave a service for the UUs explaining what was going on and what it meant. The UUs were understandably wary but had no evident problem with my continuing to the end of my term of office, and several were interested in where I’d gone and what had happened to me.I was lucky in finding a teacher. The organizer of that eclectic circle was a Witch I had known, dated and been a co-worker with in the previous decade. We had shared our then-divergent religious views in a friendly manner, so I knew just where to go.