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Monday, April 23, 2012

Into the Cauldron- Luc Fray Reporting...

[Hera and Zeus devotional]

Some weeks ago, I had accidentally come across the school Sacred Cauldron on SL search. The description interested me as it stated that it is a virtual pagan academy. Curious, I asked my editor if I could cover a story on it. When I finally got the go signal, I went on to request a short interview on Sacred Cauldron's Dean, Dean Belladonna Laveau, and two of the school's students,  Tea Tephi and Sapphire Chaosus. 

Paganism, of course, is not a religion per se, just as Monotheism isn't a religion. Both are just umbrella terms that describe different religions that have more or less similar important classifying traits. In the broadest sense, Paganism is any belief that doesn't fall under the category of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, or any other religion that self-identifies itself as Pagan. It is recognized by its celebration of organic nature and spirituality. It also recognizes equality of the sexes, and the concept that an individual can do anything that does not harm others. They value their environment as they believe that everything around them has a spirit (Animism). They believe in the sanctity of Nature. Though there is no set doctrine, generally, Pagans believe that they are equal to, and not above, everything in nature. All Life is One. Wicca is, of course, just one of the many religions under Paganism, and undoubtedly the largest and most popular.

Paganism came from the latin word pagus, which means country-dweller, a name given to the country folk who remained heathen after the cities had become Christian. Though wrongfully associated with Devil-worshipping, many pagan religions don't practice that, since Satan is a being from the Judeo-Christianity belief. According to them, the divine is female as well as male and therefore, there is a Goddess as well as a God. These deities can be found within us, as well as without us (immanent); In short, they are us. These gods and goddesses are not the same as the Muslim or Judeo-Christian God because the Gods of the major religions tend to be super-natural i.e. above nature, whereas Pagan deities are natural, symbolizing aspects of nature or human nature. Pagan cultures also believe in rebirth and reincarnation, and the unending cycle of the Seasons. Also, unlike other Monotheistic religions, Pagans do not believe in proselytism, or the attempt of converting others to their way of thinking or beliefs.

What is Sacred Cauldron all about?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: Sacred Cauldron is the Online Campus for the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, also known as http://WiccanSeminary.EDU/  On Sacred Cauldron, online students can receive the interaction and experience necessary to learn to be a Wiccan Minister in today's world.

I understand that Sacred Cauldron is based on Wiccan Seminary, an RL Pagan College. What made you venture out into the virtual world and make an academy here? Are there similarities with both schools?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: Actually, it is one school.  I am the Dean of WiccanSeminary.EDU, and Sacred Cauldron is the 3-D College campus for that school.  For about a decade, I had visions of a 3-D game world, where the school existed in real time, where students and teachers could interact with each other.  

For many years I talked to gamers, and people in the gaming industry, trying to bring my vision into reality.  I kept being pointed toward Second Life.  When one of my students offered their sim for us to bring the school inworld, I saw my vision come into reality, and I knew this was the place.  A couple of months later, Sacred Cauldron was offered for my for purchase.  I did not have the money to buy it, and so I sat down to pray for the answer.  While I was praying, a gentleman came in and donated a check for the full amount to purchase the sim.  So, I bought it;

When was Sacred Cauldron first established?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: Interestingly enough, It was founded by Lilith Tammas, December of 2010, which is the month of my Rez Date. However, I didn't become an active participant in Second Life until a full year later, when I purchased a computer strong enough to handle the graphics.   When I walked upon the sim, I recognized that she had recreated portions of what I had envisioned in my mind, and portions of our Real Life Mother Church in Seattle, Washington (also known as the ATC).  I took pictures of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, and the surrounding grounds, and made her a slide show so she could see the place she had been motivated by the Gods to recreate.

Who were the original founders of the school?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: Pete Davis, the Archpriest of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church is the founder of WiccanSeminary.EDU, and I am the founder of  Both of us were running almost identical colleges.  Due to the many programs the Mother Church organizes, Pete did not have anyone to successfully run his college.  After watching the success of, Pete asked me to merge the two schools and offered me the position of Dean of WiccanSeminary.EDU/  I agreed, and the two schools became one, with me as it's Dean.

What is Sacred Cauldron's mission and vision statements?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: The Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary is a nonprofit, college level post-secondary educational institution, an institution of higher learning created by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church for the purpose of establishing the highest standards of training ethics and service, and leading to the possible ordination and/or initiation of Wiccan clergy in the tradition of the Church.

How did you come up with the school's name, Sacred Cauldron?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: Lilith Tammas chose that name.  I believe her vision was to create a safe and welcoming place for all pagans to worship together in harmony.  I believe her vision was that if we all walk a sacred path, we can all fit into the cauldron together. Sort of like a Sacred Melting Pot.  It is interesting because it fits right in with Wiccan Cauldron, the name of the school store, which was created before I met Lilith.  

What's it like being Dean of Sacred Cauldron?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: Well, it's very busy.  I almost never get to venture off Sacred Cauldron.  Second Life is not a game that I get to play.  Students get used to the fact that they have to wait for me to respond to their IM's.  But, it works out wonderfully.  I love it.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to share the school in this way.  I love coming inworld to work everyday.  It's amazing to get to connect with students from all over the world, and bring them together in service to the Goddess.

Has the school ever had any problem or trouble regarding the beliefs and practices?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: Maybe years ago, when Pete first established the church, but not anymore.  The ATC is well known as the one formal Wiccan Priesthood that exists collectively worldwide, and we are respected for the work we do within the Wiccan Community. WiccanSeminary.EDU and SpiralScouts, Intl. are the two educational organizations in the church.  We are recognized by the IRS as an Umbrella institution, and we have created legal Wiccan Churches all over the US, Mexico, Canada, South America, Austrailia, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa. 

Pete spent the first 33 years of the church fighting battles that made us legal, accepted, and respected throughout the world, and we now reap the benefits of that reputation.

Do you get griefers? How do you usually handle them?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: We keep Sacred Cauldron safe for worship and study. Griefers, beggers and sexual predators are ejected and banned.

How much is the enrollment fee to be a student of Sacred Cauldron?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: There is a sliding scale, based on the student's income. Tuition is between $39 and $79 a month for full access to all your classes, based on your income.  We also have service scholarships for students that qualify.  Service Scholarships require the student to contribute as a staff member to cover their tuition costs.

We also have advanced placement for students, who have real life experience, and meet the requirements.   Advanced placement happens after the first two years of study, and experienced students are allowed to serve at the level in which they are capable.  Many adept students find that they accelerate quickly, as their individual abilities and talents are discovered through the first two years of training.

How many classes are there, and who are the teachers?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: There are currently 52 classes being offered by 11 different teachers.  Classes range from Associates to Doctorate level.  The teachers are Belladonna Yarrowroot, Kara Drachnyd, Elphabala Hoxley, Stacia Abonwood, Hyssop Moonwing, Suncrow Petrolhead, Jackalope Farspire, Shanndarra Fenwitch, Kenny Klien, and Kara Foxdale.

As of the moment, how many students and teachers does the school have?  

Dean Belladonna Laveau: There are currently 81 students enrolled in the school, and 11 teachers.

What pagan beliefs are included in the school?  

Dean Belladonna Laveau: We are WiccanSeminary.EDU, and therefore a Wiccan School.  We uphold all religions as sacred to the worshiper.  We do not teach a particular tradition, but things are based on Wicca.  All our teachers are trained third degree Wiccan Priests and Priestesses, and/or hold college degrees in their field of expertise.  We teach the sacred sciences and magical principles that support the religion of Wicca, but do not prescribe a belief system.  Our curriculum is designed to help the student discover what they believe, and to give them the knowledge base to deepen their connection to the divine.  We have students ranging from Asatru, to Christian, and many points in between.  We can all exist in harmony here, because magical principles are universal.

What is the school's central belief that unites everyone from student to teachers?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: That each person is a divine being with a holy purpose upon the earth, and that as each of us achieves our spiritual goals, we strengthen each other, and the world as a whole.  

Is there anything else that you'd like to add that I've not asked about?

Dean Belladonna Laveau: Unlike most online schools, our curriculum is experiential. You receive your text and turn in your assignments online.   However, students complete many of these assignments in Second Life, by serving the pagan community upon the Sim.  This experience is to prepare you for real life Wiccan Ministry.  Everything we do here is as close to real life as possible, so that students can apply what they are learning in their own life and local communities.  

This is not a role-playing sim, and we do not support role-playing games here.

Our Freshman curriculum allows you to begin your studies at any time.  In the first two years of study, you learn the magical principles that we all operate under, and you take a deep journey into your self, to discover who you are as an immortal being, and your purpose for incarnating on the planet at this time.  

Students, who graduate to Bachelor level studies, find themselves learning to minister to the community by facilitating rituals in Second Life, and sometimes in Real life, as opportunities present themselves.  They also learn spiritual counseling through divination and healing classes.

Master level classes instruct students how to teach Wicca to others.  Teaching magic is far different from other educational programs.  We address the spiral curriculum upon which Wicca operates, as well as other structural concepts that outline the Wiccan Path.  Students learn to teach through first supporting a teacher, then creating free, public classes, which are taught under supervision.

Doctorate level classes involve the student deciding upon their "Great Work", and performing it under supervision.  Students submit monthly reports and have a supervising High Priest/ess to call if they have questions, or problems with their ministry.  

Students earn College degrees in Wiccan Ministry from their online training, which can be used to get a job as a Chaplain in prisons, hospitals, etc.  We also meet the requirements of the Department of Defense, for the military Chaplaincy program.  

Initiation is available to students willing and able to travel to one of the many gatherings that are held throughout the year in the US.  Initiation requires real life training, in addition to the online work, and is arranged in addition to your online studies with your supervising High Priest/ess.

[full room devotional]

How did you get to know about Sacred Cauldron?
TeaTephi: I found Sacred Cauldron Online while I was looking for a college that gave courses in Wicca and esoteric studies.

Sapphire Chaosus: I learned about Sacred Cauldron from my Brother and we are now both students and enjoy it very much.

What's it like being a student of Sacred Cauldron?

TeaTephi: Being a student is very engaging and we are kept very busy with studies and assignments. The work is enjoyable and challenging. What is best of all is being able to interact with fellow students and be part of such a wonderful group of people.

Sapphire Chaosus:  It is a lot of fun being a student of Sacred Cauldron. Lady Bella has a lot of knowledge and has some really good teachers that really know what they are talking about. It is a very good environment and makes you feel at home.

Which classes are you currently enrolled in?

TeaTephi: I am a Freshman.

Sapphire Chaosus: I am in Ritual 101, Wicca 101/102/103, Wicca 106, and about to do Magic 120.

What are usually the subjects tackled in these classes? How are they conducted? 

TeaTephi: Classes are conducted like any class that I have attended in real life. We listen to lectures, are shown slides, Power Point presentations and often we have show and tell which is enhanced with SL because of the huge choice of items and costumes from which to build what we need for class.

Sapphire Chaosus: Well depending on the class depends on the subject. With Ritual 101 we get to learn how to meditate, also learn how to do Quarter Calls and Circle Casting. With Wicca 106 we learn all about the 8 Sabbaths during the year. Wicca 101/102/103 teaches us about the Chakras and all the colors that are also associated with it. 

Do you also get tests and exams? How are they done? 

TeaTephi: Assignments are listed online, as are tests and we can see what we have finished and what our grades are easily. It is very organized.

Sapphire Chaosus: There are some tests and exams on the website that you just have to go in and take. Some can be hard others are not. 

What subjects are you particularly good at?

TeaTephi: I seem to be doing very well at all I am given so far. The subject matter in general is very interesting and being able to explore the metaphysical world in depth like this is wonderful.

Sapphire Chaosus: Well I am still learning a lot about the whole Wiccan Tradition, so I am not really that good at any of the subjects yet but I am working hard to learn as much as I can.

How old usually do you have to be to enroll in the school? Do they have minimum requirements for a student to enter?
Sapphire Chaosus: You have to be at least 18 and you can either pay for your classes, contribute to the school or volunteer on SL to become a student. 

Do you think Magic is real? And are there such things as bad magic and good magic? What makes them different, and do you have classmates who are into bad magic?

TeaTephi: I have never heard of 'Good Magic' and 'Bad Magic'.  There are people who practice all kinds of skills and some are good at it and some are bad at their chosen skills. As for Magic and whether my personal opinion of it as being real or not, the 3 dimensional world we live in is defined as real unless you are speaking with a particle physicist in which case you find the term "reality or real" is wide open to discussion.  

I wonder if you are thinking about Black Magic and White Magic. There are some very good books on the subject - one of which is by Migene Gonzalez- Wippler who points out that everyone practices  magic. She says, "We all practice magic at one time or another in our lives. Each time we will something to happen and it does, each time we achieve a goal or see a dream come true, we are using magic. The happy wife in the suburbs, a successful self-made man a famous movie star, we are all unconscious practitioners of magic."

Sapphire Chaosus: Yes there is magic and the difference between good and bad magic is the intent behind it and I am not sure if there are any students that are into the bad magic.

What other practices do you do in the campus?

TeaTephi: We have meditations and daily spiritual devotions, rituals, fairs, parties and friendly gatherings while we study or just hang out.

[Stacia Teaching Ritual]

Have you ever had any trouble from other people who have different beliefs?  If so, how do you handle their reactions and criticisms?

TeaTephi: Yes, I have been told as a Catholic I am destined to hell unless I profess to have seen the light. Of course that is simply the opinion of a group of people who get joy from their own presbyterian church's beliefs. Wisdom is knowing that the only person's reactions and emotions we should handle are our own. I am very happy within myself and am enjoying my chosen subject greatly. 

Sapphire Chaosus: Well I have not had any problems with this but if there was someone with different beliefs then I would accept it because everyone has their own beliefs and comments. Everyone should respect others beliefs and not give anyone problems.

Do you also get a diploma or just a certificate? 

TeaTephi: Gosh, I need to ask BellaDonna; I would love a certificate to hang up.
Sapphire Chaosus: You get a college degree in Wiccan Ministry.

Once you graduate, what's in store next for you? What do you do with your learnings? Do you become a teacher too?

TeaTephi: I have a deep desire to teach and also to minister to people. 
Sapphire Chaosus: Well that is up to you. You can either keep going up higher in the degrees or you can stop. You can become a teacher if you wish but you will have to do more to do so. It is all up to the person on what they want to do.

Would you mind sharing a particular experience in the campus that struck you or made a big impact in your life?
TeaTephi: Daily devotionals is probably the most powerful thing anyone can do. It is proven that being grateful in life is very powerful for our well being. Having 5 to 10 things for which I am grateful each day, and expressing them in an  inworld setting or at home in my sacred space if I cannot make daily devotional is the single most life changing thing I have ever done.

Sapphire Chaosus: Well once I started with Sacred Cauldron I started to get memories of my past lives and remembering things that I did not even know I knew. It has helped me to strive for better things. 

What is the reason you've decided to be here in Sacred Cauldron?

TeaTephi: I decided from my research that Sacred Cauldron offers the most comprehensive education in Wicca that I have found. It is both online and in Sl and I must say that being able to personally interact with people from all over the world here in one sacred place common to us all is extraordinary and very precious.

Sapphire Chaosus: I have decided to be at Sacred Cauldron because I want to learn more and follow the path that has been put in front of me. 

Is there anything else that you'd like to add that I've not asked?

TeaTephi: Are you happy?  - Yes - very :)))

Sapphire Chaosus: We all love the school and want to see it succeed.

For more information about Sacred Cauldron and Wiccan Seminary, visit their official website WiccanSeminary.EDU/ and contact Belladonna Laveau (Belladonna Yarrowroot), Sapphire Chaosus (Nodoca Sharfberg), and Tea Tephi in-world.  You can also find them through the following slurl:


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