27.9.14

"...in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust"

Noelia Carballo photography

Although the phrase "in perfect love and perfect trust" is essentially Wiccan, I believe it can and does form a part of the general Pagan mindset. This concept is, obviously enough, based on a mutual and communal sense of love and trust. Therefore, it wouldn't even exist without a community in which it could be present. It's worth noting that these communities more often than not include a very small number of people (I'll elaborate on the reasons behind this later). Most Neopagan paths are based on small communities; the only difference between them is the name used to refer to them. So Wiccan groups and groups of witches are usually called covens, or sometimes circles. Groups that relate to the Goddess movement are also called circles. Ásatrú groups are called kindreds, Druid groups are called groves and so on. In short, every Pagan path has its own individual followers, but a lot of these followers also gather in groups to work together for many reasons. Regardless of the reasons, the actual path, geographical location or any other factor, all of these groups would not exist were it not for mutual love and trust between their members.

Since I'm Wiccan, I will explain the importance of the phrase "in perfect love and perfect trust" from the Wiccan point of view (with slightly more emphasis on trust) and I will later try to relate it to other Pagan paths. But I believe the connection will be very clear even without my explanations).

Love and Trust During the Burning Times

As I pointed out in my post "Solitaries vs. Covens", the first "witches" were probably solitaries, though this does not mean that they did not start gathering in groups in time. Most authors claim that witches did indeed flock together. According to various historical documents, laws that were passed, and general practices of the time, medieval people also believed that witches gathered in groups. One, sadly negative, fact that supports this claim is that, in the Middle Ages, suspected witches were tortured and asked to confess the names of the other people they did rituals with. Even back then, people were obviously so sure that witches gathered in groups! 

This belief has somehow been passed on from generation to generation and has become a myth, as well as a stereotypical image - the group of witches dancing around a fire or in a forest grove. Nevertheless, the many witch trials that produced huge lists of names of "witches" should be taken with a grain of salt. The poor tortured souls admitted all kinds of things under torture. There's a large possibility that they just listed the first names that came to mind when asked: "Who did you practice witchcraft with?". Because only upon giving a satisfying number of names would the torture stop. 

Yet, despite all the historical inaccuracy and lack of evidence, it wouldn't surprise me if witches did gather in groups (if not in the Middle Ages, then slightly later). This just makes sense because group work is just so much easier sometimes, especially when one's life is constantly in danger as was the case during the witch hunts. People are sociable beings by nature and being in a group makes life easier, takes a bit of weight off your shoulders, gives you support, encouragement, love and not to mention actual physical help when you need it. During the Middle Ages when the average life span was much shorter than today and each action a potential death sentence, groups stuck together much closer. Family members clung to one another and protected each other. Groups in general were of great importance because, like I said, they provided protection, among other things.

So why wouldn't witches also gather in groups? Let us say for the sake of this post that they did. There may be a lack of historical evidence, but it seems logical enough to me. So let's just go with it for now. You can be skeptical later. :) If you don't believe this at all, then just take it as a story on which I base my theory.

Anyway, as witch trials were an everyday occurrence, and people confessed to everything under torture, group, or should I say coven members, had to be very careful. Anyone could betray you at any time. In fact, anyone could wrongly accuse anyone of being a witch. I mean, innocent girls used to be accused of witchcraft because they refused to sleep with the next-door neighbor, and midwives used to be burnt at the stake because they supposedly caused complications during child-bearing. Simply put, accusing someone of witchcraft was the easiest way to get back at them, or get rid of them. So....caution was all the more necessary if you actually DID practice witchcraft. You simply couldn't trust anyone.

This is why covens are thought to have consisted of family members only, because you could only trust your family back then. Why? Well, if you were suspected of witchcraft, then all of your family members would be taken as accomplices and be dragged into the whole scandal. Group/family members stuck together no matter what. They had to completely trust all the other members because it was a matter of life and death...literally! If someone betrayed your trust, you would hang/burn at the stake for it. Also, love played a large role in this. Love among family members is natural and was even more so when the whole family lived in practically one room and depended on each other.

Later on, when the witch craze died down a bit, witches were allowed to explore new territory. And so they found kindred spirits even outside their families. This is how the first non-family based covens are thought to have been formed. Although bloodlines were no longer a criteria for accepting new members, people still felt that love and trust had to be a big part of the new groups. This is partly because a certain amount of secrecy was still necessary.

Another reason for love and trust among coven members is that rituals, celebrations and meditations are very intimate things. Group members simply can't avoid bonding in such an environment. "Like" quickly turns to "love" and a large dose of trust is established in a short amount of time. But let us talk a bit more about the presence of love and trust in modern covens.

Some Things Just Don't Change...

All Pagan groups nowadays are based on mutual love and trust, although they don't all have a motto such as "perfect love and perfect trust". Wiccan groups actually take this as their personal slogan. In fact, it can be found in the first line of the Wiccan Rede. But why is mutual love and trust so important even now when the witch hunts are over? I'm not only talking about Wicca though, I'm talking about witches and Pagans of all paths. Well, the way I see it, there are several possible reasons.

1. Secrecy

There are still a lot of prejudices present around Paganism and witchcraft. Although nobody is going to be burned at the stake for being a Pagan/witch nowadays, some people still cling to old misconceptions of these paths. Pagans and witches have lost their jobs because of their faiths, they have had quarrels with partners, friends, family members, colleagues and even random people. In short, not everyone is equally tolerant when it comes to this. So many people still prefer to keep their practices/faith a secret. It's sometimes just much easier to keep your mouth shut and avoid conflict.

Most Pagan groups/covens insist on keeping their activities private so only a chosen few are invited to rituals and celebrations (i.e. they are not public). Group members' names are also kept secret if this is how the group prefers it. Some members possibly won't have anything against their names being mentioned in witchy/Pagan stories, and will even openly express their faith. But others might be afraid of the wrong person hearing these stories. This is also why photos of Pagan/witchy events are kept private. If a picture is public, then everyone in it usually has to give their consent.

Of course, a person who is scared of a coven/circle member blurting out their faith to a slightly less-tolerant family member/colleague/friend will attach great importance to mutual trust. After all, you have to trust someone to keep your secret.

2. The Coven as a Family

As Starhawk beautifully points out in her book The Spiral Dance: "In a strong coven, the bond is, by tradition, 'closer than family': a sharing of spirits, emotions, imaginations. 'Perfect love and perfect trust' are the goal". The old tradition of coven members being blood-related is mirrored in the modern coven being like a second family to the practitioner. Of course, when I say "coven" in this context, I'm not only referring to Wiccan/witch groups, but also to all Pagan groups. Love and trust come naturally in such an environment and are actually necessary for any deeper connection to evolve. Connections between coven members cannot merely stay physical; people have to understand each other mentally and spiritually for the system to work properly. After this synchronization happens, miracles occur during rituals, meditations and spiritual journeys. Love and trust are necessary for the group to be a family.

3. Small Groups are the Key

It's hard to establish a strong sense of love and trust in large groups. When you're with fifty people, you can't devote a lot of time to each person and you can't really get to know everyone very well. But when you're in a group with only about ten people and you meet often with them all, you get the chance to talk to everyone, really get to know them and, in time, fully understand them. I would like to quote Starhawk once more: 
"The Craft is not based on large, amorphous masses who are only superficially acquainted; nor is it based on individual gurus with their devotees and disciples. There is no hierarchical authority, no Dalai Lama, no Pope. The structure of Witchcraft is cellular, based on small circles whose members share a deep commitment to each other and the Craft."
Once again, the same can be said of any Pagan group because kindreds, groves, covens and the like all consist of a very small number of people. Like I said, love and trust are much more easily established in small groups. In addition to this, every person is significant because each member brings something special to each gathering.

Of course, there are appropriate times for large gatherings as well. These are usually the Sabbats which are, by their very nature, celebrations. It is possible for several kindreds, or groves or covens to gather in one place to celebrate one meaningful event, but the real work, the introspection, the private work is always done in small groups. This is why Esbats are always celebrated either alone, or among a selected few who you can trust and feel comfortable around.

4. Intimacy

When one works in such a small group, sees the other members often enough and does such deep work like rituals, spiritual journeys, meditations, introspections and sharings, they establish a very strong connection to everyone else in the group. People laugh and cry during rituals, they express their wishes and fears, they confess their secrets, share their problems and successes, but also listen to everything others have to say. Many intimate moments are shared at such gatherings, regardless of the Pagan path in question. It's almost impossible to reach this level of intimacy without trusting and loving the other group members. Yet intimacy is necessary for the rituals and other works to reach an even greater quality and for the individual to grow evermore through them.

5. The Coven Mind

In their book Progressive Witchcraft, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone speak about the role of the collective unconscious (a term Carl Gustav Jung, the famous psychiatrist coined and elaborated on in many of his works) and its role in forming something they call the Coven Mind. The theory of the collective unconscious basically states that all people, no matter their age, race, sex, geographical location and even temporal existence share a level of consciousness (or rather unconsciousness) with everyone else all over the world and in all time periods. According to Jung, this underlying consciousness is the same in all living beings. It is inherited and implemented in our minds. This is why archetypes exist; people all over the world and in all periods of time have had the same perception of certain archetypal figures. Mothers, fathers, good forces (angels, heroes etc.), evil forces (demons, dragons etc.) ...these are only some examples of archetypes that have existed in all cultures and within all people's minds but have taken on different names in time. Yet, their characteristics remain the same. Here's what Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone have to say on this subject:
"According to Jung, we are all psychologically connected on a level known as the Collective Unconscious. In occult practice this is believed to directly interface with the different levels of reality that make up spiritual and magical cosmology, such as the elemental, Underworld, Astral Realm, and so on. We are unaware of the Collective Unconscious in everyday waking consciousness, although we may enter it to a certain degree during dream or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep."
With regard to the phrase "perfect love and perfect trust", they say that it is "an important ideal within modern witchcraft: that coven members have unconditional love for one another resulting from the formation of the Coven Mind". The Coven Mind is a sort of miniature version of the collective unconscious; it enables members of a coven/kindred/grove/circle to share emotions, thoughts, impulses, intuitions and so on. In this sense, it helps to harmonize all the members of the group and aids them in their ritual work. Love and trust among members of the group only strengthen the Coven Mind additionally, but they also sometimes stem from the Coven Mind. Of course, sharing such a deep connection, or practically a mind with a group enables mutual love and trust to blossom.
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Rituals of any kind are intimate occasions which bring all those present so much closer. Love and trust are simply needed for everyone to feel comfortable and be in sync. This is why love and trust have practically become a precondition for entering Pagan groups. For instance, those who wish to be initiated into Wicca and become a part of a (relatively) traditional coven have to pass through at least a year of training. The traditional rule is that a person can be initiated into the Craft only after spending a year and a day with the coven and thus experiencing the whole Wheel of the Year. During such a long time, the newcomer is not only welcomed into the coven, but also develops trust and love for the other coven members, as they do for him/her. Upon initiation, the initiate has to say a password in order to be let into the circle. And guess what that password is? "Perfect love and perfect trust". So every initiate enters the circle and coven in perfect love and perfect trust". Why are they perfect? Because they are unbreakable, they are deeper than your mundane love and trust, they are not only physical, but also spiritual.

Although this password doesn't exist in all Pagan traditions, love and trust are inherent. Groups expect anybody entering the ritual space to enter with pure, positive intentions, a positive attitude and in complete trust. 

Speaking from personal experience, small groups really are the best. You somehow lose yourself and others in large groups, the synchronicity somehow evaporates and you end up performing a ritual that is only a ritual in name. In a small group, your experience the ritual fully, you develop a Coven Mind and really develop a sense of trust and love.

I would just like to elaborate more on trust and why it is so important. Rituals, be they devotional or magical, are personal. They involve working with energy, entities (deities mostly) and make a person vulnerable. Nobody wants to work with a group they do not trust because the group as a whole determines what energies/entities will be called into the ritual space. When you are in such a vulnerable state you are open to all influences, both the good and the bad. A secure, quality, loving and trustworthy group ensures you that only positive energy will be present and that you won't be influenced in a negative way. They actually protect you, as you protect them. Everything is reciprocal. You give love and trust, and you get it back. Simple as that.

All in all, I believe that trust and love are crucial in any group work of a spiritual nature. Even if you didn't see this up to now, hopefully you will pay more attention to it in the future. Believe me, it will lead to more intimate and quality rituals, beautiful experiences and wonderful friendships!

Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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