Monday, September 15, 2008

An Interview with Nola

I recently gave and interview to Christopher Blackwell on Stregheria.
It is in the Mabon 2008 edition.

Stregheria, Arician Tradition
Interview with a Third Degree Priestess - By Christopher Blackwell

Men sometimes complain that in Wicca there is no real position of importance for men, that besides being outnumbered by woman, the men sometimes feel that they are not really needed.

However, there are traditions where the man's role is every bit as important as the woman's. I asked a high priestess of the Stregheria, Arician Tradition, if she might explain some of the differences between her tradition and Wicca.

Christopher: Tell us a bit about yourself and how long you have practiced this tradition.

Nola: Let's see... I'll try to keep it short. I live in New Orleans and have all my life. I've traveled quite extensively in North America, Mexico, Central America and Europe, but have yet to touch Asia, Australia, South America or Antarctica. In all my travels I have never found a place as wonderfully interesting as my hometown. It's the most European city in America and definitely has a unique vibe.

My college training is in the sciences and this scientific approach colors the way I look at things and learn. When I look at what quantum physics tells us today, I have to work really hard not to see the metaphysical connections. As Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I work for one of the largest corporations in the world, am a wife, mom and post-Katrina community leader.

I've practiced this tradition since 1995.

Christopher: I believe that I have read that this tradition predates Wicca?

Nola: Our tradition’s thoughts on this are explained on the website above.

Something I believe should be clarified here is that Wicca is essentially a 20th century name so by definition almost all groups pre-date "Wicca". Every society/civilization called their religion by different names. Our tradition is based in a family tradition. The family tradition is documented back to the 14th Century. The links go back much farther. Our tradition has been extensively researched by its leaders and practitioners. It tends to attract those who want to dig deeply into the past and its practices. The last (academic) book I read with links to my tradition was Roman Religion and The Cult of Diana at Aricia by CMC Green. This book is not about our tradition but, as a practitioner, it is easy to see the historical links to what I have been taught. Oh and one other clarification our tradition is not a Roman tradition. It is pre-Roman, pagan in the “of the countryside” meaning of the word. It both pre-dates and was influenced by the Roman religion.

There are some who believe that what is practiced today by Pagans/Heathens/Wiccans is “neo”, a recreation or a creation based research and personal expression and that there is no such thing as a link to historical pagan past or a valid family tradition. We respect the rights of others to think this way. We can only hope that others respect that we see things differently.

Christopher: You mentioned that men have a very definite place in the cycle of yearly ceremonies in your tradition?

Nola: YES. Our year is divided in half. From May Day until Shadowfest the Goddess rules and the High Priestess leads the rituals. From Shadowfest until May Day the God rules and the High Priest leads the rituals. The leaders ritually give their reign over to the other at the appointed times. But that is not to say that the God or Goddess is not present when not ruling. In the winter, under the God's rule, it is quieter, more constrictive. In the silence She whispers in our ear. In the Summer, under Her rule, He calls us outside to work and play under the Sun. The Moon weaves in and out traversing the seasons, and in the lunar rites, He is there, shining light on Her. The lunar rituals are a bit more focused on the Goddess. The Solar rituals tell the story of the God and Goddess. We always have both icons on our altar to honor the balance between them. In our rituals men and women often come together to honor and bless each other.

Our deities are in an eternal dance and we are invited to dance with them. To enter this flow, the flow of Nature, of the moon and seasons, of the waxing and waning, we come to understand ourselves better, and see how we are aligned with the Gods. Through this alignment, we find divine rapport.

Our Tradition, Arician, is meant to be practiced in groups and is best practiced with an equal number of males and females. While we can practice as a solitary we cannot practice the Ways completely on our own. We understand the wholeness of Deity but because we are human we conceive of Deity as both male and female, God and Goddess. Nature is the Great Teacher who we look to for our understanding

Christopher: Not all groups use things like the Rede or or the Rule of Three. What does your tradition use for ethics?

Nola: We take personal responsibility for our thoughts and actions. We follow The Covenant of Aradia and we have our Basic Tenets of Belief and most importantly we have The Words of Aradia.

I suppose that the Rede's most direct correlations are in Aradia's Words Concerning the Law of Return: "Every act you perform will draw to itself three times the nature of the act (affecting us on three levels: soul, mind and body.) Such is the law. This affects not only the acts of each day but reaches into the future as well. Here the law establishes that those debts must be paid."

AND Concerning Freedom: "Freedom allows the mind body & spirit to be free of shame, guilt and restrictions… Freedom to act as you desire, harming no one by your deeds is the gift of Freedom."

But there are Words Concerning Nature, the Earth, Life, Death, Rebirth, The Gods, The Goddess, The God, Worship, Elements, The Astral plane, Magick, Christianity, Love, Sexuality, Marriage and others. The Words on each subject are few but when we take them and listen to the fact that Nature is the Great Teacher and integrate these with our mythos and celebrations around the wheel of the year, we can learn endless lessons.

Christopher: Do you use different seasonal celebrations than Wicca?

Nola: Yes and no. We all honor and revere Nature and Nature plays a huge part in defining the seasonal rituals. Our solar seasonal rituals fall at the standard pagan times for solar ritual. We have an established and integrated mythos that weaves through the seasons and differs slightly from the standard mythos associated with Wicca.

We have consorted deities, and they move through the year as one would expect: She gives birth to her child and lover at Winter Solstice. He grows, gains strength and proves himself, as the Sun waxes (Lupercus – Feb 2). They both mature (Spring Equinox). They come together at Lady's Day in May, and by Summer Equinox they wed, so that the Great Mother can bring forth the God’s gift of harvest (Aug 1). Later in that harvest, He is slain (the Slain God – Autumn Equinox) and departs to the Underworld; She mourns him, and follows, to understand the mystery of Death. She does not die, but goes before the Lord of Shadows and great mysteries are shared (Shadowfest – Oct). They couple, and bring forth the ever-reborn Child of Promise at the Winter Solstice. We also celebrate lunar rituals at each full moon.

Christopher: Does one have to have a particular ancestral background to be a member?

Nola: No. I freely admit that I was personally surprised to find what I had been looking for in an Italian tradition. I am not of Italian ancestry. In the New World many, if not most, are adopted or "Initiated" into our Tradition by a Priest or Priestess who can trace their Initiation to a particular blood-line.

Many traditions have the concept of reincarnation. Reincarnation is about your soul's path, not your genetics. Genetics help teach us the lessons we need to learn and can provide important links to our past. But our soul is not bound by the limitations of the physical. To paraphrase Aradia’s Words on Life: We are spiritual beings having a physical experience.

Christopher: Does becoming a member mean joining a group?

Nola: Eventually yes. What it means most is being willing to start fresh. Everyone comes to a tradition with experience and history. Some come with unpleasant baggage from other traditions. Some come with a wealth of positive experiences that may be different from what we practice. One must first find a teacher who will work with them. One studies with a teacher, or on a list with teachers (teachers are second degree and up.) One becomes a member by being initiated into the Tradition by a Priest or Priestess after having dedicated to our ways and completed a course of study. As a Mystery Tradition we can only be taught by a Priest or Priestess and yes, this does mean joining the "group". Stregheria is meant to be a complete system practiced in groups. So anything other than group participation takes us a step away from the Tradition - a Tradition we are sworn to keep.

Times as they are demand compromise. Our group practices as solitaries, remembering the group rites, and come together from all over the country to gather and circle as we can. Meanwhile, we stay linked via a Yahoo group and phone calls.

Christopher: How can our readers learn more?

Nola: Students of our Ways start with Raven Grimassi's books on Italian Witchcraft. Please be aware that what is published is more of an "outer court" introduction to Stregheria. The initiate Ways are taught by the teacher, and they DO differ from the books.

Christopher: What else would you like our readers to know about this tradition?

Nola: In a world where many enjoy doing their "own thing," our Tradition offers structure: it is a complete system, wherein everything has a purpose and reason. We can look across our mythos’ Wheel of the Year and see how we have come to this point. Our deities are consorted, so we never have to wonder who to invoke with whom. They rule realms - the earth, the heavens (sun & moon) and the Universe (stellar realm). Our Guardians watch over and guard us. Like Wiccans, our Tradition recognizes elementals and nature spirits. Our color associations are different, our tools are similar. It is rich and complete and works. It is a tradition that acknowledges, respects, and *requires* the contributions of male and female equally. It is a participatory system. One has to "do it" and not just read about it to know it. It does require a commitment and effort. It has been my experience that one cannot be a partial Streghe. One either is or is not. Over time and with practice the system lives within us, allowing us to perceive more clearly all that we endeavor.

Christopher: Thank you for your time and information.

Nola: Christopher, You are most welcome. It has been my pleasure.

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