- Is the Ara Tradition a “real” religion?
- What does the Ara Tradition offer as a spiritual path and what distinguishes it from other Wiccan Traditions?
- What are some of Ara’s spiritual practices?
- What are the holy days of the Ara Tradition?
- How does the Ara Tradition view the concept of deity? Do you worship any particular Goddess or God?
- What are the Ara Tradition’s views about evil?
- What does the Ara Tradition have to offer city dwellers?
- Isn’t the Ara Tradition just for women or teenage girls? What does it have to offer men?
- Do members of the Temple of Ara practice Witchcraft? Do you cast spells and practice magic?
- How does the Ara Tradition view Initiation?
- How does the Ara Tradition view the role of Clergy?
- How has the Temple of Ara addressed the issue of fear toward Wicca and Witchcraft?
- If someone is interested in entering into this tradition, what are the steps he/she must take? What is expected of newcomers?
(Answers to each question are below)
1. Is the Ara Tradition a “real” religion?
The Temple of Ara is a legally organized religious corporation (our home state’s fancy way of saying “church”) with members throughout the world. United States Federal and state courts and agencies recognize Wicca as a religion for First Amendment purposes. Wicca has been listed in the Military Chaplains’ Guide since 1985 and the pentacle, widely recognized as a primary religious symbol for Wiccans, is available on the list of approved religious symbols for veteran headstones by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. In fact, Wicca is one of the fastest growing religions in North America, Europe and Australia. Though the Ara Tradition is a modern religious tradition, it is not only real, it is rooted in the oldest religion.
Despite these hard-won protections and indigenous roots, many Wiccans and Pagans still face discrimination and persecution from others who harbor stereotypical, and incorrect, views of Witches. Many are forced to practice their religion in secret for fear of losing their jobs or children. This is one of the many reasons that the Ara Tradition has always been a public and activist tradition. We are dedicated to fighting for the rights of Wiccans and Pagans in the courts and the media, and participating in the global Interfaith movement.
2. What does the Ara Tradition offer as a spiritual path? What distinguishes it from other Wiccan Traditions?
Many things make our Tradition unique. Our central spiritual and ethical precept is that we live in a sacred world and so we seek to live in a sacred manner. We achieve spiritual insight through living in harmony with the Earth, and with Nature, with ourselves and with each other. We work to live in accordance with the spiritual principles embodied by Creation, and to attune ourselves with the natural energies of the Earth, Moon, Sun and Universe as a means of connecting with the Sacred. Our Tradition is devoted to experiencing that divinity within the world and in ourselves, and to living lives guided it.
The Ara Tradition is the result of our deconstructing many of the traditional and often patriarchal teachings embedded in Wicca to distill a system of essential principles and practices, including core shamanic techniques. We don’t subscribe to the traditional definitions of magic as the mechanist projection of will. For us magic is about communion and co-creation with divinity. We use a divination not just to “see the future,” or even to understand one’s motivations, but to engage in dialogue with the Divine, and thus to guide us when we “make magic.”
One of the most distinguishing features of our Tradition is that we do not subscribe to the Threefold Law. As Phyllis Curott detailed in Witch Crafting: A Spiritual Guide to Making Magic, this so-called “law” is a remnant of biblical punishment and inconsistent with our cosmology. Instead the Ara Tradition has adopted an ethos rooted in the central spiritual tenet of our cosmology: that the Sacred is immanent, or present, in the world itself and therefore we seek to live in a sacred manner. The Earth itself, as an embodiment of divinity, is our guide in learning how to live in a sacred manner. Gradually, increasing numbers of Wiccans and Pagans from many traditions are beginning to agree with our Tradition’s critique and with the ethical precept to which we adhere.
3. What are some of Ara’s spiritual practices?
Above all, Ara is a spiritual practice devoted to the wisdom of the sacred Earth as our greatest spiritual teacher. Those ancient and modern practices are taught in our study programs. Many are detailed in Witch Crafting and are accessible and easy for anyone to use. As Phyllis often says, “If you work it, it will work.” Our practices include core Wiccan and shamanic practices such as creating sacred space or casting circle; honoring or calling the directions; working with the sacred elements; grounding, centering and breath; meditation; working with energy through such acts as dancing, chanting, drumming, and journeying; invoking divinity in its myriad forms or unified essence; altering consciousness to commune with the Sacred; and working with spirit guides. And, of course, working with and learning from the Earth. We also work with divination techniques to engage in dialogue with divinity and much of our current work is devoted to working with Spirits of Place.
4. What are the holy days of the Ara Tradition?
The Temple of Ara celebrates seasonal/solar and lunar holy days that help our community and each of us as individuals synchronize our minds, body and spirit to the tempo and rhythms of the natural and divine world in which we live.
The eight modern “Sabbats,” from the Greek word esbaton, meaning holy day, collectively called the Wheel of the Year, are an amalgamation of ancient and modern myths concerning the Earth and Solar cycles from Celtic, Nordic, Anglo-Saxon and Greco-Romanic sources, to name a few. In the Ara Tradition, the Sabbats are:
- Final Harvest – October 31 (Northern Hemisphere), May 1 (Southern)
- Winter Solstice – December 21 (Northern),* June 21 (Southern)*
- Imbolc – February 2 (Northern), August 1 (Southern)
- Spring Equinox March 21 (Northern),* September 21 (Southern)*
- May Day – May 1 (Northern ), October 31 (Southern )
- Summer Solstice – June 21 (Northern),* December 21 (Southern)*
- First Harvest – August 1 (Northern), February 2 (Southern)
- Autumn Equinox – September 21 (Northern),* March 21 (Southern)*
*On or about
Because the Sabbats are religious holy days to practitioners of the Ara Tradition, much like Christmas is to Christians, Yom Kippur is to Jews and Ramadan is to Muslims, a growing number of our members are taking these days off from work or school in order to celebrate.
5. How does the Ara Tradition view deity? Do you worship any particular Goddess or God?
The Temple of Ara’s primary tenet centers on Immanent and Immediate Divinity. Defined, that means we not only experience Divinity to be present in all things but we realize that all things are part of Divine energy. Our experiences lead us to conclude that “the Divine made the Tree, and is present IN the tree and is present AS the Tree.” To touch the Tree is to touch the Divine. The Divine is immediately present. Nothing is between us and Her. The whole World IS Her, made BY Her and OF Her, and by implication, there is Nothing BUT Her. Our philosophy is a holistic approach, to know that we are not separated from the Divine, but that we are always connected to it, to each other and to all things.
Because the wisdom of the Divine surrounds us in nature, and dwells within ourselves, we are not polytheists (meaning that, in our workings, we don’t rely on OR WORSHIP the use of Gods and Goddesses, or pantheons, related to a particular polytheistic religion or mythology).
We are also not deists who believe in a transcendent personified Divinity which created the universe, but which is disinterested and therefore does not interact with its creation.
However, we recognize that various Gods and Goddesses represent specific archetypical expressions of Nature and we work with them as such if we so choose. We also acknowledge that the use of Gods and Goddesses in our work can serve as potent visual cues in our practices, as signals and reminders, triggering knowledge and understanding from previous experiences and providing a framework. But never are they central to our connection to the divine.
Most of all, we don’t believe in the Divine, we experience it. The Goddess is as real as the air that we breathe, because she is the air that we breathe, the water we drink and the Earth that feeds us.
6. What are the Ara Tradition’s views about evil?
Evil does not exist in Nature. Being eaten by a tiger or having your home destroyed by a tornado are unquestionably tragic events for a person and their loved ones, but it doesn’t make the tiger or the tornado evil. The concept of evil is a human creation. Terrible and cruel actions by some humans, which are considered “evil,” are merely a symptom of our separation from the Sacred, and not something inherent.
Contrary to negative stereotypes, there is no Satan or devil-like figure in our religion; he is strictly a personification of evil belonging to the three Abrahamic faiths. This erroneous association arose out of the Inquisition and Witch Hunts of the Middle Ages where most non-Christians were falsely accused of worshiping Satan. Of the many thousands of people who were tortured or killed during this 200 year span, approximately 90% were women. The struggle that women have to obtain equal rights today stems from this period of ferocious persecution of women and Witches. We consider that pretty evil.
7. What does the Ara Tradition have to offer city dwellers?
In an era of environmental crisis that threatens our survival, the Ara Tradition provides a way of living in harmony with the Sacred, and therefore of living in harmony with the natural world. This ethos is at the heart of creating a new relationship between humanity and the Earth.
The Ara Tradition has a tremendous amount to offer those who live and work in urban and suburban environments. In fact, the Temple of Ara was founded and continues to operate in one of the largest cities in the world – New York City. Surveys show that most practitioners of the Old Religion are highly educated, urban professionals. Because our high stress lifestyles cut us off from the natural world and often separate us from the Sacred, it is in urban centers that we most need to reconnect to the Earth, to that which we instinctually know we need in order to feel good, rested, healthy, and happy. And it is in urban centers that the genius loci, the Spirits of Place, are most often neglected and in need of sacred relationship with us. The Ara Tradition offers a simple, sensible, and accessible system of techniques and practices that enable us to connect to the natural world no matter where we live.
8. Isn’t the Ara Tradition just for women and teenage girls? What does Ara have to offer men?
Although the majority of practitioners of the Ara Tradition are currently women, we are delighted that an increasing number of men are joining our community and there are both Priestesses and Priests of the Ara Tradition.
Phyllis Curott uses Taoist wisdom in explaining why the Ara Tradition often places emphasis on the Divine Feminine and upon the importance of women’s contribution to the development of our spiritual tradition: If a tree has always grown bent in one direction and you wish it to grow straight, for a time you bend it in the opposite direction. After thousands of years of suppression of the Divine Feminine and women, the Tradition seeks to restore both to their appropriate positions of respect and honor.
Consequently, many women have found an empowering spiritual home in the Ara Tradition because it honors the Divine as feminine, not just masculine, and has always offered women critical and respected roles as spiritual leaders. Yet, the return of the Divine Feminine offers men an opportunity to rediscover lost and neglected parts of themselves. The Ara Tradition also provides expressions of the Divine Masculine that have been as neglected as the Divine Feminine, such as the Dancing, Erotic and Playful deities. The Ara Tradition offer both women and men new ways of looking at the vast spectrum of divinity from feminine to masculine, and beyond gender, within themselves and in the world.
Like their adult counterparts, teens are empowered when they look into the mirror and see the face of the Goddess and God and the acknowledgement of Nature as divinity incarnate. Teens have been on the front lines in the struggle for religious freedom, including their right to wear religious symbols to school. And as members of the Ara Tradition have children of their own, Ara continues to create family rituals and age-specific practices so that they may pass on their spiritual tenets to future generations.
9. Do members of the Temple of Ara practice Witchcraft? Do you cast spells and practice magic?
The Ara Tradition is an international innovative and pioneering Earth-centered spiritual tradition that traces its roots to the Minoan and Gardnerian traditions of Wicca as well as the early core shamanic work of Dr. Michael Harner. Wicca, Witchcraft, Paganism and the Old Religion are all commonly used labels that have specific etymologies, histories and traditions and that are also broadly used to refer this rapidly growing revival of the indigenous, shamanic, earth-centered spiritual traditions of our European ancestors.
The word Witch is the phonetic spelling of the old Anglo-Saxon word wicce, which meant a wise one or shaman. Witch may also have its roots in the Old Norse word vitke, meaning a priestess, seer or shaman. Ara defines a Witch as “someone who is paying attention, who is aware of the Divine Presence in all things”* including her- or himself and who has mastered the ancient techniques that enable anyone to experience communion with the Divine and live in harmony with Nature. Just as Jews were persecuted and maligned but did not abandon their religion or its name, many of us use the word “Witch” to reclaim our ancestral religion and to challenge the culture’s distorted images and misogyny.
The Ara Tradition defines magic as a dynamic process by which we co-create with deity once we have been awakened by and attuned to our connection to the innate divinity of the living Universe. According to Phyllis Curott, a leading theologian in the Ara Tradition, “Most people know intuitively that when you fall in love, the world is full of magic. What they don’t know is that when you discover the Universe is full of magic, you fall in love with the world.”*
Likewise, to the Ara Tradition, spells are divinely inspired forms of personal, creative, religious rituals that help us co-create reality with the Sacred. Spellcasting is actually a form of religious ritual very similar to prayer. The primary difference is that while prayers are viewed as beseeching aid or intervention of an external divinity by those feeling powerless and seeking a needed change or result, spells draw upon our own indwelling divine energy, as well as our interconnection with the greater Divine, to manifest our gifts, goals, and desires in the world as well as to facilitate healing, blessings and transformation for the benefit of others and the world – and acting in accord to ground our spells in material reality.
10. How does the Ara Tradition view Initiation?
The Temple of Ara offers initiation experiences unique to our Tradition. In keeping with our practice of deconstructing, we looked to the initiation ceremonies of indigenous shamanic cultures and ancient mystery schools to find the core principles and practices that resonated with our values. And so we have devised initiation experiences that are cathartic rites of passage, acknowledging transformations of birth, death and rebirth. But Initiation is not the end of the metamorphosis; rather it is a catalyst, the beginning step in a new spiritual journey.
Preparation for Initiation can take several years of challenging, transformative work. Participants are required to complete certain recommended workshops and self-study in order to prepare for the intense, psychological and spiritual changes that can manifest both during and after the Initiation itself. Initiation is a very personal experience and for some it will lead to an ongoing commitment to the Temple of Ara as their spiritual home and community. For others, it will serve as a rite of personal transformation as they continue on their own, unique quest.
The view of the Ara Tradition is that Initiation is a personal choice made at a pivotal juncture in an individual’s spiritual journey. The Ara Tradition recognizes that the events of life may, in fact, “initiate” one. But Rites of Initiation are usually facilitated by a community (such as the Temple) and thus there is no Rite of Self-Initiation“ in the Ara Tradition. “Self-dedication” is a more apt term for the ritual performed alone and designed to formally dedicate oneself to a particular spiritual path. A model Rite of Self-Dedication to the Ara Tradition, which may be personalized, is provided in WitchCrafting. Only persons who have successfully undergone the Ara Initiation rites may call themselves an Initiate of our Tradition.
11. How does the Ara Tradition view the role of clergy?
Because each individual can encounter and cultivate a relationship with the Divine without the need for an intermediary, Wicca has often been referred to as a religion of clergy. While communion with the Divine often happens spontaneously, such a relationship can also be cultivated through the use of spiritual practices which requires training, skill and right motivation. One of the primary roles of Ara clergy is the teaching of these practices. Ara Priestesses and Priests are guides who, leading by example, share their experiences and wisdom with those who are committed to learning and being in harmonious relationship with the Divine.
Ara clergy fulfill other important roles within the community and in the broader culture. Ara clergy create and conduct personal rites of passage including births, comings of age, Initiations, marriages, crossing over rites and funerals. Ara Priestesses and Priests may also provide spiritual counseling and facilitation of healing mind, body and spirit. Ara clergy also conduct public rites, celebrations and Sabbats and conduct workshops, lectures, and online classes.
Ara clergy have a long history as public advocates on behalf of the Wiccan, Pagan and indigenous communities, have played critical roles in religious freedom efforts. They work with guiding institutions and organizations devoted to critical issues such as the environment, women and interreligious relations. Consequently, Ara Priestesses and Priests are frequently called upon to speak at public events and to the media.
Because it is a public declaration of readiness and responsibility, the Temple of Ara only bestows the title of Priestess and Priest on those who have undergone special training and have demonstrated, through experience and commitment, a willingness and ability to undertake the serious responsibilities of guiding others on their spiritual quests and to nurture and cultivate her or his local community. In addition to leading and guiding local communities, Ara Clergy oversee the administrative workings of the Temple.
The Temple bestows the title of Elder High Priestesses and High Priests on those clergy who have proven, through deep and continued service to the Temple, a willingness and ability to take on the serious responsibility of upholding the Temple’s standards. Ara clergy that have reached Elder status are instrumental in guiding the spiritual development of the Ara Tradition as a whole and have worked diligently to build their own local communities.
12. How has the Temple of Ara addressed the issue of fear towards Wicca and Witchcraft?
The fear that many have of Wicca and Witchcraft is based on lies and hundreds of years of distortion. Truth is the antidote. Rather than stick a label on myself right away, we find that people respond well when we explain that we are practicing a modern revival of the indigenous tradtions of our European ancestors, similar in principles and practices to that of Native Americans and other indigenous traditions. They relax, they open up, they listen, they’re fascinated. That’s the essence of magic—transforming something negative into something positive.
Temple of Ara and has been in the public eye for over 25 years and have been portrayed by a variety of local, national and international media. With rare exceptions, our experiences have been largely positive. Our main goal of this media work has been to fix the distorted lens with truth about what our religion really is and what our true values are. We’re very grateful that the Elders, and so many of our community have been willing to be public long before most of the Wiccan and Pagan communities. It helped pave the way for acceptance in “mainstream” culture, and hopefully someday the message we try to share will have a positive impact on that culture.
13. If someone is interested in participating in the Ara Tradition, what are the steps one must take? What is expected of newcomers?
Phyllis Curott’s book, WitchCrafting, is the most accessible resource for learning about the views and practices of the Ara Tradition. There is no mysterious path that one must take to become involved with our community; our doors are open to all. In addition to our regular holiday celebrations that are open to the public, the Temple offers classes, weekend intensives, and other learning opportunities, including online courses for those without a local teacher. To find out more about our events and learning opportunities, click HERE.
We only have one expectation for newcomers – and elders alike! – that they be prepared to know oneself and to undertake this journey with an open heart.
* Excerpts from Phyllis Curott, Witch Crafting: A Spiritual Guide to Making Magic, (Broadway Books, 2001)