The Four Doctors

This is a follow-up to my post The Three Doctors. Again, it’s not a Doctor Who post.

I’ve got a PhD in particle physics, am a doctor by courtesy with Universal Life Church, and also a doctor by courtesy with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Why would I want another?

The issue is being able to perform weddings. The ULC is widely known, and is not regarded as a “real” church. I’ve performed weddings with my ULC credentials, and it hasn’t been a problem. But there’s one region nearby where those credentials would not be recognized: New York City.

I don’t know any Wiccans in New York City, at least not personally, nor anyone else who might choose me as an officiant for a NYC wedding. (There’s one exception, but I’ve already officiated at his wedding in a ceremony outside NYC.) I don’t anticipate ever needing to do so.

Still, I wanted to have that option. It’s a minor matter, but I’d like to make my ministry credentials as complete as I can.

So I got my fourth “doctorate”, this time with American Marriage Ministries:

AMM certificates

The ULC and AMM are similar in that they both offer free ordinations on-line. Neither is more valid in places like Tennessee that don’t recognize ministerial credentials from on-line sources. The difference is that AMM focuses on marriages; their ordination packet contains lots of useful information on counseling couples and performing ceremonies.

More importantly for me, they include any special instructions needed to have their ordinations recognized in places with special regulations, such as NYC. I followed their directions, jumped through the hoops, and received the following in the mail today. There is a subtle error on the certificate issued by the Office of the County Clerk in the City of New York. See if you can spot it.

NYC Certificate of Marriage Officiant Registration blurred

Oh well. But it’s still official: If you want to get married at the top of the Empire State Building, I can officiate.

This means that my full alphabet soup of titles is now:

Doctor Doctor Doctor Doctor William Glenn Seligman, B.S., M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., D.ULC, D.FSM, D.AMM, PBK

Despite all this, my cat treats me in the same way. I suppose I have to expect the same from everyone else.

The Witches of Drustvar

I’ve played in World of Warcraft (WoW) since before its formal beginning; that is, I played in WoW beta test in 2004.

When you start either a Human or a Dwarf character in WoW, you quickly learn about flying between the Human capital of Stormwind and the Dwarf capital of Ironforge. Your character flies on the back of a gryphon from one city to another. You get to see the landscape as you travel above zones that, at the start of your character’s adventures in the game, are too dangerous for you to enter. One of those zones is the Burning Steppes, and within the Burning Steppes is a site called the Altar of Storms.

In the first WoW beta test, as I flew over the Altar of Storms, I saw a giant pentacle inscribed on the ground. As a Wiccan, I couldn’t help but be curious. During the beta test I never got to a high enough level to visit the location.

The full World of Warcraft was released in November 2004. When I took the gryphon between Stormwind and Ironforge, I saw the pentacle in the Altar of Storms was gone. It was replaced by a more abstract design. I never knew the reason for the change. Did anyone complain? I don’t know.

That was the only connection between World of Warcraft and Wicca over the years I played the game… until now.

In August 2018 Blizzard Entertainment released the latest expansion to World of Warcraft, Battle For Azeroth. One of the new zones added to the game is Drustvar. In Drustvar, there are witches.

The entire zone has general autumnal/Halloween feel to it, and these witches follow suit. They are entirely evil. They form an organization called the Heartsbane Coven. Their goal is to terrorize the people of Drustvar through curses and magic. They generally take one of two forms: a classic bent-over Halloween witch (vaguely resembling Laurie Cabot on a bad hair day), or an ethereal beautiful-but-deadly creature.

When your character interacts with these witches, they will always attack and try to kill your avatar. They say phrases like “The Coven will slay you all!” The non-player characters (NPCs) in Drustvar, like the NPCs throughout World of Warcraft, have random phrases they say when you click on them; in Drustvar, these phrases include “Death to the coven!” or “Death to all witches!”

I’m part of a community of gamers who play WoW. I was warned by one of them about Drustvar before I sent my character there. In context of the game, a player has no choice but to send their character to Drustvar and encounter these witches, since there are some long-term goals that can only be realized by doing so.

You can guess that, as a Wiccan and a Witch, this bothers me.

It’s not as if the designers of WoW are isolated from the world in some way. There are tons of pop culture references throughout the game. I wouldn’t expect them to know about Wicca explicitly, but they’d certainly know about Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In today’s media culture, it’s hard to avoid knowing that Witchcraft is a “thing” and that some people take it seriously.

If the WoW designers knew this, they ignored it. They went full-on “Satanic panic”. They reinforced that message with frequent anti-witch sentiments when you click your mouse on a character in Drustvar.

There nothing much that can be done. I’m certainly not the only Wiccan who plays World of Warcraft (there’s at least a couple in my gaming community), but I get the impression that our reaction is to put up with it.

I’m also aware that there many other similar issues associated with marginalized groups that deserve more attention than a computer game: gender discrimination, racial inequality, LGBTQ+ acceptance, believing assault survivors, and so on. The Witches of Drustvar are meaningless compared to the real-world violence and discrimination experienced by millions in this country and throughout the nations that play World of Warcraft.

So I can whine, but that’s it. It’s less than a first-world problem. Is there such a thing as a zeroth-world problem?

In case you’re wondering, I have not yet sent my Orc character through the zone of Nazmir to encounter the loa Bwonsamdi. I understand he gets fairer treatment than the witches do. Perhaps he deserves it!

It’s been a long time

Once again, I’m in an introspective mood as I contemplate my history in the Craft.

It’s been forty-three years since I took out a copy of Real Magic from the reserved stacks of the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Without that book, I never would have engaged with paganism in my later years.

It’s been twenty-eight years since a friend of mine loaned me her copy of The Spiral Dance. Without that book, I would never have started searching for a Wiccan group.

It’s been twenty-seven years since Deborah Lipp allowed me to come into her home to attend classes on Wicca.

It’s been nineteen years since my High Priestess kissed me on the forehead and gave me permission to start teaching my own Wiccan Grove.

Over the past nineteen years, Acorn Garden has been a continuously functioning group (with the exception of a six-month sabbatical I took in 2005). People have come and gone, and a few have come and stayed. I did my best to teach them what I could.

It’s only now, after nineteen years of effort, that I’m just starting to work with my students on the magical issues for which I started my own group in the first place.

In some ways, it feels like I’m not even half-way towards teaching what I want to share. Do I have another nineteen years of teaching in me? I’m sure I’ll know by 2037.

Or perhaps it’s not a matter of teaching everything. It may be enough to prepare my students to move forward, learning for themselves, teaching their own students, hopefully not repeating my mistakes, and making some new and interesting mistakes of their own.

In the meantime, I give thanks for the blessings of Hecate and Hermes, and for allowing me to walk in their footsteps. Blessed Be!

A Witch Does Passover – 2018

The seder on Friday night was grand. It had all the usual elements: Good food, good people, and everyone wincing at the sound of my singing voice. (I can’t sing, but I never let that stop me.)

One major topic of conversation at this seder focused on the Wicked Son: why do people make a forced distinction between themselves and the rest of the world.

My usual notes:

– There’s always a debate on how well-cooked people like their roasts. I’d prefer an internal temperature of 140 degrees; rare-meat lovers would prefer 125. We settled on 135 so everyone could complain.

– The supermarket butcher told me, “You don’t have to order the roast in advance; we’ll have it.” He was well-meaning, but he didn’t consider that I might come in to get the roast just after the start of the butchers’ lunch hour. I had to hang around the supermarket for 45 minutes on shopping day. Always ask them to prepare the order in advance.

– I’d planned the seder to server 9 people, though only 7 could make it. There were barely enough latkes for 7. For the next large seder, get two boxes of potato pancake mix, perhaps using three envelopes.

– While we’re on the subject of latkes: Don’t forget that the latkes will get darker when I heat them up in the oven. They don’t have to come out of the frying pan fully brown.

– There weren’t as many matzoh balls from one box of the matzoh-ball mix as I would have wanted. Next time consider getting two boxes of mix, again perhaps using three envelopes.

– Make sure the oven is turned on when you bake the apple kugel. We had to hang around for additional half-hour after I noticed that it wasn’t heating. We spent the extra time and chatted with each other, so the time wasn’t wasted, but it did make for very late evening.

– “Behold this matzoh. It’s a symbol of our land. You can eat it at a seder. You can hold it in your hand. Amen.”

My Silver Jubilee

Something occurred to me recently: it’s my quadranscentennial. I’ve been involved with Wicca for 25 years.

Of course, that’s not a record by any measure. What do Craft Elders call someone who’s been Wiccan for 25 years? Answer: “The new kid.”

I’m almost overwhelmed by the journey my life has taken: From my first reading of “The Spiral Dance” and visiting Deborah Lipp’s home, to running Acorn Garden as a High Priest of the Wicca; from struggling with a proton structure-function analysis to being Doctor Doctor Doctor Seligman; from walking into my first LARP to… well, World of Warcraft today.

Some things have not changed: I’m still single, though more experienced and with better stories than I had then; I’m still financially comfortable, and immensely grateful for it; still love SF and comic stories, though I now listen to the former on audiobooks and watch the latter on movies and TV.

My transitions are not yet done. There’s more work to do. I’ve set some goals for myself that seem as far from where I am now than expertise in the Craft seemed to be in 1991.

It’s been a fun journey. I’ll see where it takes me next.

The Three Doctors

No, this isn’t a Doctor Who post!

I’ve performed seven weddings so far. My rate for starting successful marriages is: Three couples are still together, two marriages ended because one of the partners passed on, and two divorces. That’s roughly the national average. Note that, in order to maintain my average, Deborah Lipp is forbidden to die.

My spiritual qualification for performing weddings is that I’m a High Priest of the Wicca, in the Gardnerian Tradition. My legal qualification is that I’m ordained in the Universal Life Church (ULC).

I’m far from the only Wiccan to use the ULC as a religious organization for performing weddings. Pagans and Wiccans have been doing this for decades. Isaac Bonewits joined the ULC in the 60s.

This has been a matter of necessity, rather than a matter of choice. The resources for jumping through the hoops to get legal recognition for a religious organization are beyond the means of most pagans, especially since many pagan groups (including Wiccans) are “living-room worshipers” with few members in the “congregation.”

I happened to mention this to Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, a major figure in the Neopagan religious movement. He was not sympathetic about the difficulties in obtaining ordination in a legally-recognized religious group. He pointed out that everyone knows what the ULC is. He asked me if I thought that ULC religious credentials proved that you were qualified to offer spiritual and religious guidance. I told him the truth: no, no one does. The current qualification for being ordained by the ULC is to hit a button on their web site.

He asked me where I thought my spiritual and religious qualifications came from. I thought a moment. I answered that I’d spent years offering spiritual instruction as a teacher of my Wiccan group, Acorn Garden, and in Hermes Council. As part of my religious training I had to do service offering help and outreach, and I’d chosen the Bergen County Rape Crisis Center; I did volunteer work for them for two years.

He then asked, if I felt that these qualified me to represent myself publicly as an officer in a religion, why don’t I get myself ordained by a recognized religion instead of what’s widely regarded as a tax dodge? Why not be serious about my religious credentials? Why not prove that I’m capable of pastoral counseling?

I answered that I didn’t know how to go about doing this. He pointed out two pagan organizations that offer serious ordination: the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and the Church of All Worlds (CAW).

Oberon was right, of course. I looked into both groups. The basic requirement for joining CoG is be vouched for by two existing CoG members. I don’t know anyone from CoG in my general circle of pagan friends.

CAW has just resurrected itself after being dormant for a few years. I looked at their web site, and while there is a path to ordination, it appears that part of the process is that I’d have to identify my Wiccan group Acorn Garden as a CAW Nest. I’m not prepared to go that far. Probably it’s just pride; it’s not as if there’s an important practical different between the theologies of Wicca and CAW, and even their religious practices would seem almost the same to someone who wasn’t a pagan.

That raises an issue that I did not discuss with Oberon: with either CoG or CAW, I’d be working to get ordained by their institution, only to drop the association as soon as I had the ordination certificate in my hot little hands to run off and practice Gardnerian Wicca. That seems disingenuous to me. I’d be using them to achieve a legal goal, instead of what the ordination’s purpose is supposed to be: a commitment to provide counseling within the context of that tradition.

At this point, getting myself seriously ordained is on my bucket list, but it’s not high on my list of priorities. I don’t see a path that allows me to do this and still be truthful and honest to both myself and the organization that’s granting me the ordination.

Now I’m going to set aside the “serious” part: Why did I title this post “The Three Doctors”?

When you join the ULC, you are permitted to designate yourself with any title you feel is appropriate: Minister, Reverend, Holiness, etc. I picked “Doctor.”

Of course, I already have a Ph.D. in particle physics (awarded by a respected and accredited institution, Columbia University, which goes back to what Oberon said; sigh). I was already Doctor Seligman, though I don’t normally use that honorific. Combining the ordination with my scholarly credentials made me Doctor Doctor Seligman.

This is not without its pitfalls. When I fill out a marriage license, I put my religious title of “Doctor” on a form. One of the marriages I performed was for a couple who needed to be legally married by a deadline in order for the wife to be covered by her husband’s insurance. After they submitted the marriage license to the county clerk’s office, it was held up because the clerk didn’t understand the honorific “Doctor” on a marriage license, and the couple missed the deadline.

I apologized to them for what had happened, but they didn’t blame me. They pointed out that if they’d been Baptists, “Doctor” would have appeared on the license anyway. The problem was the clerk’s ignorance, not my choice of title.

As I’ve said, serious ordination eludes me. But non-serious ones are still available: May you be touched by his Noodly Appendage

Again, I can choose my title as an ordained member of this religion. Again, I choose the title “Doctor.” I am therefore:

Doctor Doctor Doctor William Glenn Seligman, B.S., M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., D.ULC, D.FSM, PBK

Please just call me Bill. There is no need to bow.