Wicca and Respect
Wicca. The word conjures (pun intended) an image of a young girl, probably dressed in black, almost assuredly Caucasian, wearing a large ostentatious pentacle in silver and draped in a cloak of dime store velveteen while surfing pet listing to find a black cat without that annoying rogue white paw. It probably also brings up youthful ‘phases’ of writing in a Book of Shadows, watching The Craft (but pretending not to like it) and reading whatever you can find at the local bookstore on witches while mispronouncing everything and hollering about ‘the burning times’ at the drop of a hat. It seems to me that all the images we have of Wicca are of young, beginning people who have a very childish approach to religion. Surprisingly, I don’t get these images from anti-Pagan Christians or from mocking nonbelievers. I get these images from fellow Pagans.
Wicca seems to be viewed by other Pagans as an entry-level position, so to speak. Many Pagans I speak with found Paganism through the lens of Wicca before they moved onto their current paths. What I want to highlight in this essay is that moving from Wicca to another Pagan path should not be viewed as a path …but instead as a move ‘away’. Wicca is a path of its own, with its own symbolism and mythos that is not a simple stop-by on the Pagan spiritual progression.
I came to Wicca late in the game, so to speak. My entry into the Pagan world was not through Wicca but through Hellenismos and other Reconstructionist Pagan paths. When I was researching religion after deciding to leave Christianity and finding Buddhism not working for me, the last thing I wanted was Wicca. Wicca seemed to me to be a childish sort of Paganism reserved for teenagers that had no intellectual weight. The stain of poor history put forth by early Wiccans about witch-cults and Gardner’s past seemed to be unavoidable and troubling to say the least. Reconstructionism seemed to me to offer a more intellectual and historically accurate form of worship and ritual. I had a problem, though. Every time I worshiped or performed ritual in these ways, I felt like I was running into a wall. I felt no inspiration and I felt like I was going through the motions. I was an atheist for a long time and I just felt like nothing was going to move me. Then it happened.
I decided to give Wiccan ways a try. I mean, what did I have to lose? I had read a lot on Wicca and I knew many of the basic ways they worshiped and did ritual. I built an altar with homemade items. I cast the circle, saluting the elements and the God and Goddess. The candles were beautiful, the sweet incense enticing. And it happened. I felt something. It was not some thunderstruck prophet-moment. It was just a simply joy that filled me up. I felt comfortable, beautifully involved with what I was doing and happy. I continued doing rituals and simple blessings daily at my patchwork homemade shrine and my joy continued. I felt refreshed and inspired. I felt like I had found something that truly worked for me. The writings of Gardner, Valiente, Sanders, the Farrars, and the rest were a big inspiration. I no longer took them literally, nor did I need to. I took them as a toolkit: a language, a symbolism, and a system to organize spirituality. It worked.
As I rejoiced personally in my newfound spirituality, I began to get dismayed at how Wicca was talked about and how fellow Pagans portrayed it. I was told on forums and in person that I should give up “that silly stuff” and focus on something more serious. When I talked about the God and Goddess I received frowns or eye-rolls from Recons and irritated sighs from Eclectics who told me that the BTW form of Wicca (the form I feel closest to and want to work with) was elitist and full of holes. I was constantly pointed to “better scholarship” that was meant to show me the error of my silly witchy ways. It began to get overwhelming. When I tried to explain to people that it was the ritual of Wicca that appealed to me and that the Goddess and God duality was simply a form of deity that inspired me, it didn’t seem to matter. How can it not matter?
I do not believe that other approaches to the gods are wrong. I believe that the hard polytheist Recon and the soft polytheist or pantheist Pagan can work together. I know they can for I have seen them do it. What I find puzzling is that these two groups can agree to disagree but all seem to be willing to shoot down Wiccan duotheism as a poor path. This seems unhelpful and judgmental, to say the least. If the pantheist who uses polytheism as a lens through which to see some greater truth is welcome at the table then I see no reason whatsoever that the Wiccan’s duotheism can not be welcome either.
There are serious and dedicated Wiccans out there, believe you me. I have met with them, spoke with them and learned from them. Many Wiccans practice their path with the same dedication and love that other Pagans do. Are there beginners who give a bad name to the religion? Of course there are. Think of this. How many liberal, kind, loving Christians do you know? If you’re like me, you know many. Now, do those free-thinking and loving people allow the screeching conservative faces of their religion to get them down or define their faith? No, of course not. Why can’t we in the Pagan community do the same? Many Asatru practitioners were not willing to allow racists to hijack their religion and we Wiccans are not willing to let sloppy practice and bad scholarship poison ours. You’ve dealt with your wing nuts; we’re dealing with ours.
Wiccan rituals may not be ancient. In fact, most Wiccans freely admit that they aren’t. Does it really matter? If traditional Wiccan practices give people a way in which to worship and a structure for ritual and a mythos of one’s own then I see no reason why it can’t be welcomed openly in contemporary Paganism. Wicca deserves a lot of the credit for bringing Paganism into the mainstream and popularizing earth-centered spirituality. Wicca has allowed thousands of people who felt empty and closed off from religion to find a place where their voices are heard and their experience celebrated. Wicca has been a therapeutic and restorative religion for so many. It deserves a little respect for all of this, does it not?
I am not a teenager. I am educated. I am dedicated. I respect history and scholarship. I respect the views of others and realize that my duotheism may not jive with others. I am all of this, and I am Wiccan. If Wicca was a starting point for you but you felt that it did not fulfill something in you, then that is perfectly fine. If other Pagan paths called to you or if a more Eclectic branch came out of your spiritual workings then that is great. Please, however, do not think that leaving Wicca is somehow graduating to something with more meat and less fluff. I firmly believe that religion can only give out what you put in. If a newly converted Pagan practices Wicca and only uses bad scholars, poorly written rituals and mass media portraitures of witchcraft, then what could the expected outcome be? Many of us, on the other hand, are putting in love and dedication, intelligence and devotion.
What we get out of Wicca is beautiful. Mutual respect is crucial to any religion, especially one as diverse and contemporary Paganism. Let’s try and respect the religion that did so much for modern Pagans, and does so much for thousands of practitioners today.