Sunday, February 20, 2005

Article on Ruth Barrett

I have a few reservations about this article:

To say that Ruth Barrett is a witch who performs magic in Evansville and has a new book about Wiccan traditions is an accurate but cheap way to get your attention.

It also may well turn you off to knowing more. Witches are devil worshipers, magic is sacrilegious and nobody accepts Wicca as a religion, right?

Barrett, 51, has spent most of her adult life celebrating and demystifying her nature-based faith, which is recognized by the Parliament of the World's Religions. That means dissolving the myths. The devil is a Christian concept, she notes, and thus "outside of our cosmology," which finds divinity in the cycles of life, the four seasons and four natural forces: earth, water, fire, air.

The magic? It's been a bit sensationalized.

"Anytime you send something into motion while wishing, it's magic," she says. People practice it every time they blow out the candles on a birthday cake. (It might feel more significant if each person would express a wish for the guest of honor as the candles are lit.)

"I'm not pulling a rabbit out of my hat," notes the high priestess, ordained in 1980. She and life partner Falcon River are co-founders of the Temple of Diana, a tax-exempt denomination within the Wiccan faith that is more of a female monotheism, an offshoot of the feminist movement.

Barrett contends that you don't have to be a witch to benefit from "Women's Rites, Women's Mysteries: Creating Ritual in the Dianic Wiccan Tradition" (Author House, $21.75 in paperback), her new and self-published book.

"This book was written for anybody who wants to create their own rituals for their own life," Barrett says. "It is written for women because that's what I know, and our rites of passage tend to be invisible" -- the basis for shame or concealment instead of celebration.

She is talking about menstruation and menopause, plus using terms like "old crone" and "hag" as respectful references to old women, although rituals can and should be attached to passages not associated with gender, too.

"They are for any moment that we understand as significant -- getting a divorce, starting a new career, adopting a child. When we don't intentionally mark these things as important, then we move through life without a deeper consciousness."

So a croning ritual, for a woman in her mid 50s, "acknowledges a woman's value as a woman of wisdom, and as a person to be cherished and respected." What should this, or any other, ritual involve? Barrett's book provides more concepts than directives, because "each woman's needs are different."

The croning might be a multigenerational gathering of women who recall significant events during each decade of their lives. The older women speak the most. A celebration of menstruation might prompt participants to dress in red or light red candles, or for the mother to give her daughter a ruby ring.

Raised as a Reconstructionist Jew in southern California, Barrett is concerned about the trivialization of life, particularly on television, and self-centeredness.

"We need to stop and notice the miracles in the everyday world," she says. "That helps us make better decisions about ourselves, and the continuation of humanity."

In her Evansville home is a personal altar that changes with the seasons. There is a Brigid's Cross, because the Celtic goddess's holiday is this month, plus sprouting tulips and photos to symbolize the coming of spring. Other items are a tribute to the natural forces: a cup for water, stones for earth, a candle for fire, an incense burner for air.

Regardless of the reason for celebration, a "ritual altar is created to visually focus your consciousness and energy on the ritual purpose," Barrett writes. "It is a physical space in which the ritual work will take place. The items on the altar symbolize your intention, so you must consider how the building of the altar can best reflect the purpose or nature of the ritual."

She talks about "natural magic' and "sympathetic magic," using the garden as an example. The planting of seeds can represent the intent to grow something else in your own life; the nurturing of the seedlings is a reminder to nurture the more intangible goal, too.

"You enact something that you want to see happen" in another arena.

Attitudes about paganism in general, and witchcraft in particular, have softened in the last decade, Barrett says, but the rise in political intolerance worries her.

She notes that it has only been since 1954 that witchcraft laws were repealed. "We are interested in a world where women have rights," she says of her faith, which is goddess worship and for women only. Although Barrett is a lesbian, she says the majority of participants are heterosexual.

"We are not man haters -- this is just not about them."

Why concentrate on women? "Metaphorically, people in many religions decide what the divine looks like and feels like," she says. "The fit best for me, even as a child, was a female form. To me, it was just common sense."

I suppose on a certain level, it's not that big a deal...but on another it is. There are more than just the four classical elements. But I s'pose it's in the article this way because Barrett is a Wiccan, and that's the way she learned things.

Admittedly, there's a part of me that would say, "Ah, hell, might as well just go along with the four classical elements. It's as good as any." And just at least be aware that (for example) the Celts did things very differently, with three elements (Land, Sea and Sky).


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