The advertisement looked a lot like the kind you see on the community corkboard of spiritual bookstores throughout the world. “The ART OF RITUAL,” the advertisement explained, would not just take me through the basics of the Craft but give me “real food for thought as [I] practice and learn”. It intrigued me and I replied. What made this advertisement unusual – what launched an entirely new tradition, in fact – was that it was posted on the witchhaven listserv. That class led to the formation of a cyber coven whose daughters continue even today. We teach, we study, we share sacred space.
JaguarMoon was founded in the year 2000 with the premise of teaching Wicca-based witchcraft in a manner which avoids making it sound like the only path to spiritual knowledge. We believe that spiritual learning is more of a lifetime process and our job is to provide a basic underpinning for deepening a student’s knowledge over time. Our classes provide students with a basic but thorough education in almost every aspect of being a Witch including: the history of Wicca, different forms of group structures, the Rede, ethical training, healing, visualization and meditation techniques, herbs and their uses, ritual components, creating your own rituals, the aspects of Divinity and how to incorporate them into your daily life. Along with these foundational elements, we try to instill a core of critical thinking so that our students leave with a sense of being able to discern the bullcrap from the items of value they will come across in the course of their studies.
Our secondary purpose is to expand the understanding and acceptance of virtual religious groups, specifically those with a Pagan focus. We do this in a variety of ways, including maintaining a stable cyber coven, the health of which might be measured in its longevity. We see cyberspace as a technological doorway to the astral plane. Its entrance cannot be found in a piece of computer hardware or in a software program that sits unused on your desk; cyberspace is what happens when you join the soft- and hard- ware together and then activate it. By the time our conscious minds view the products created by cyberspace, the process itself is already complete, we literally stand in a place between the worlds, one with heightened potential to be as sacred as any circle cast on the ground. We understand that the extraordinary power of ritual arises from the immanent power of the Divine inherent within ourselves, and we embrace a philosophy of transformation – of the self, of reality. Whether our tools are the athame, cutting a circle of sacred space, or a computer to access the mystical portals of the Web, we see all tools as technology. The tinkering, the arcana of our religion, is its strength; we see nothing as ‘set in stone’, immutable and unchanging.
Where we came from…
In July of 1997, Lady Mystara (a Third Degree Witch, trained in the Visions and Dreams coven) formed an online class, the Art of Ritual, which then dedicated itself as a cyber coven at Samhain. I was in that class that became ShadowMoon coven and (much to my surprise) found a home for my way of practicing in the world. While I was having many nooks and crannies of magickal knowledge filled in by the class, I was also discovering an interesting group of people to work magick with on a regular basis. Hyssop was also a first year member and she and I got to know one another well. ShadowMoon was very much a ‘make it up as we go along” group in every aspect. It was also based on British Traditional Wicca, with a large dollop of anything else that Mystara wanted to share with us (which could be exceedingly eclectic at times).
After I finished the class I became an initiate of the coven and began to assist Mystara in creating a tradition from the class/coven she had created, primarily by creating a lesson plan that organized the massive (and frequently chaotic) amount of information Mystara transmitted to the class. Based on the wheel of the year, the lesson plan provided a structure and framework for the class to hang the knowledge upon. That year was a difficult one for us because the acting High Priest, White Pine, decided to leave ShadowMoon and witchcraft entirely due to enormous pressure from his cowan wife.
The coven was stringently structured to be a hierarchical ‘triangle’ so the work White Pine had been doing fell back into Mystara’s hands, and she was overworked. Slowly she began to give up tasks to others –Phoenix, Daavoulia, and myself in particular – but not before she became ill. Her illness disrupted the class, although those of us who had been in the first class did our best to keep lessons going. It also left the coven dangerously unguided and drifting, even as we were struggling to make a reality of Mystara’s vision of hundreds of cyber covens all over the globe. To accomplish this, Mystara felt that coven members needed to be trained quickly so they could go forth and lead those daughter covens.
In the third year many sudden changes happened. Mystara was diagnosed with a rare stomach disorder in which her stomach was literally closing in upon itself, starving her to death. Despite this diagnosis, she continued to lead the coven and initiate new members on a regular basis. At Samhain, one of our earliest members announced that she was leaving ShadowMoon, primarily because she did not feel comfortable with leading a coven, which was the main focus of all coven work, and because the coven had been moving towards a more traditional (specifically Gardnerian) posture. Not long after that another early member, one of my first students in fact, also left the ShadowMoon. The parting was clean and without stress, but it left a further hole in the leadership.
Not long after Samhain I finally acquiesced to Mystara’s desire to take my Third degree initiation, and we scheduled it for the following spring as I would have to travel to her to complete the ceremony. That very night I dreamed of Grandmother Jaguar. She came to me and said, “The coven’s name is JaguarMoon” and I knew I could no longer deny the path being laid before me. The next morning I told Mystara that the 3rd would also be a hiving.
I knew I didn’t have sufficient training and I deliberately let this go to the Lord & Lady. “I promised, all those years ago, to walk the path You lay before me. All I ask is for some help so that I don’t let my future students down.” Within the next few weeks my former covensibs from ShadowMoon as well as a very good personal friend contacted me to discuss with me the possibility of my leading a coven one day, and offering to work with me if I did so. Truly the path was laid, and smoothed before me. (And I’m not one to deny the gifts of the God/dess!)
So it was that in May of 2000, JaguarMoon was born. I was given my Third Degree Initiation and Hived from ShadowMoon as a single entity on May 6th. On May 8th, Ash, Hyssop, Estrella and I met on IRC and consecrated the new coven. Ash was the Air that brought humor and inspiration, Estrella the Fiery spark of warmth and will, Hyssop brought Watery grace and intuitive understanding, and I balanced us with the strength of Earth. JaguarMoon was the Spiritual being we birthed and it was thrice wonderful!
From the beginning we were determined to do things differently than ShadowMoon did. We wanted structure without rules, strength without restrictions, and a balanced philosophy that supported us as people in the world, not apart from it. Specifically, we felt that it was a bad idea to Dedicate students into the coven at the start of the class year. Instead we decided to treat the students like coven mates, but to not formally bond them through a ritual. So students took part in rituals, often taking roles and calling quarters right from the start, and they learned what it was like to work with others, without having to form a bond that might have to be broken at the end of the year. We also felt that some of the lessons we were taught weren’t suitable for beginning students (like Qabala and Tantra) so we eliminated them from the lessons and added Astrology and deeper Tarot work as compensation. Most importantly, we decided that creating a Tradition was not our focus. If JaguarMoon existed alone, then that was a good thing. If we ever had members who wished to hive then that would be good as well, but we weren’t going to force leadership on coven members – they would come to it by themselves.
In June 2006 we hived off our daughter coven, Southern Cross Coven, which followed our teaching tradition, but operated entirely in the Southern hemisphere. Sadly, the coven is defunct. Several of our former students and members have formed their own groups and are teaching. Although they are not formally ‘daughter’ groups, we are proud that they are carrying the knowledge they gained forward. (And prouder still that they remain in touch.)
Where we are now…
JaguarMoon continues to be an entirely virtual teaching coven following the path of American Eclectic Wicca (AEW). AEW is sometimes used to refer to a broad range of individuals or groups that base their philosophy, rituals, and practices on the published works of modern American Witches like Scott Cunningham and Starhawk. American Eclectics frequently take the position that Wicca is a completely modern religion created by Gerald Gardner but that the beliefs and practices of Wicca are rooted within historical teachings. In general, American Eclectics emphasize spontaneity and a strong sense of `use what works, discard what doesn’t.’
In JaguarMoon we believe that Oaths, Lineage, Initiations, and Traditions are very important for the strength of the connections we form with one another. We may not have a lineage in a traditional sense, but we intend to go forward creating our own branching Tradition. To that end, we prefer structure to chaos, writing down what works and using it again, making changes as needed (preferably by consensus), and have a strong preference for keeping an eye on what we will evolve into rather than making it up as we go along.
We follow the Wheel of the Year and celebrate both Dark and Full moon rituals. Like witches in physical space, we raise energy, cast spells, and shift our consciousness into other realms. We acknowledge the essential duality of the God/dess. However we, study Him and Her in five aspects throughout the year: the Maiden and Youth in the Spring, the Mother and Lover in the Summer, the Crone and Sage in the Fall, and in the Winter we focus on the Dark God and Goddess and the Warrior (which has no specific gender). We celebrate the Mysteries of birth and death, marriage, initiation, and coming of age through our rituals and invite our students to participate when appropriate.
Our coven structure is a wheel, which morphs in and out of a snowflake shape with the inclusion of the students. At the center is the High Priestess, the coven members are linked directly to her, and with one another; students are linked to their mentor and (loosely) to one another. Our students are treated like coven members as much as we can create, giving them a strong, clear sense of what it is like to work in a group setting. This participation is a hallmark of ours, one we are proud of.
The goal of each class is simply this: To help the solitary student develop his or her own concept and practice of Witchcraft.
We believe that there is an enormous amount of information available about Witchcraft and that the true difficulty in learning is to separate what is useful from what is not. Our philosophy is that there is no One True Way, but there are established concepts that have been proven time after time. Classes are taught in a highly interactive manner, there is no ‘grade’ given in The Art of Ritual — one’s own will to know defines your success. Comprised of readings and discussion questions, lessons are assigned weekly, with time for group discussion and (where applicable) practical applications. We encourage our students to share experiences and knowledge as they each work their way through the lesson. Each class will take one to two months to complete, with a few exceptions. Students work with a mentor, someone who will be there to ask questions of or to bounce ideas off of as they progress through the lessons.
We start with the basics, the foundation elements: creating a book of shadows, building an altar, and defining our expectations. We believe the book of shadows is vital for showing progression and take its creation seriously. Equally important is the creation of sacred space, hence the altar. Students will spend time here daily, so it is a central focus for our practice. With the foundation established, the Class moves on to study the other core elements of witchcraft: meditation, visualization, and energy work.
Where we are going…
We are changing and evolving, growing and transforming. I have no gift of clear sight when looking into the future and have a difficult time trying to place limitations on what we can become. Words limit as well as free, and so all I will say is this: JaguarMoon has the potential to become a living Tradition, with children and branches and I devoutly hope that we reach that point in our evolution.