Walking in a Wiccan Wonderland
Author: Janice Van Cleve
The market is full of all kinds of books on Wicca. They speak of Sabbats and spells, recipes and charms, and a few even go so far as to address correspondences and history. Yet rarely do they really investigate the deeper religion and mindset of Wicca. It is important, therefore, to touch if ever so briefly, on some basic concepts that underpin walking in a Wiccan Wonderland.
The human species, by its inherent nature, seems to have a proclivity for creating religions. There is something about consciousness that wants to connect to the realm of the spirit. Some say that our consciousness remembers a prior existence in a spiritual realm. Others say that our essence is spirit and our consciousness yearns to be freed from its temporary attachment to a material body. Still others say that our consciousness is aware of a spiritual plane beyond the material and that it seeks connection to it. Whatever is the impulse for creating religions, they generally fall into two groups: the supernatural and the natural.
Supernatural religions reach beyond the natural world and fabricate nonsense (literally not of the senses) , which cannot be reached by either sensory or rational means. Supernatural religions are faith based religions because the doctrines they propose often fly in the face of what our senses and reason tell us. The only way one can follow a supernatural religion is by making a leap of faith to believe in things that cannot be proven by natural means. Supernatural religions often propose a deity and a moral code of behavior. They often attempt to encompass the whole universe to answer questions such as creation, the meaning of life, and life after death and base their beliefs on a sacred scripture.
Natural religions, on the other hand, remain solidly rooted in the natural world and they are informed completely by the senses and by mental analysis. Natural religions are experience based because they depend on individual and group experiences. For this reason they are often lacking in doctrines, rigid moral codes, and answers to ineffable questions. Practices and concepts that are similar or held in common are most often based upon mutual agreement rather than upon strict hierarchical demands by some authority.
Natural religions by and large tolerate diversity because they see diversity all around them in nature and they understand that each person’s experience of nature is different. Supernatural religions, on the other hand, generally do not tolerate diversity because faith in one belief is by definition “one size fits all”. It is for this reason that supernatural religions are driven to proselytize or persecute while natural religions live and let live.
The caveat should be made here that assigning specific religions totally to either the supernatural or the natural category from their beginnings to the present day would be stretching the point. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, and a host of other religions and philosophies have displayed aspects of both categories through history, sometimes even simultaneously. However, as a generalization, understanding these two groupings is a helpful heuristic is finding the Wiccan Wonderland.
Wicca is a branch of Western European Paganism, which is a natural religion. The word “Wicca” is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning wisdom. Wiccans or witches (both come from the same root) are the wise ones. They study and explore and experience nature to develop their knowledge. They may specialize in herb lore, astrology, spells, counseling, science, philosophy, or any other branch of knowledge. That is why Wicca is sometimes called “The Craft.” It is a learned body of knowledge and skills.
Wiccans do not “believe” in their religion. They work at it and learn it until they know it. The more obscure questions of creation, the meaning of life, etc., are well outside the Wiccan experience and they are generally content to leave them there and not to offer any hypotheses about them.
One part, therefore, of walking in a Wiccan Wonderland is the constant thirst for knowledge. For this reason Wiccans are not called “the chosen people”, “the elect”, or “the saved”. Rather they are called “seekers” because they continue to seek for knowledge and to perfect their skills. Some find satisfaction in accumulating this knowledge for its own sake or in teaching it; but for many Wiccans, the purpose of knowledge and skills is to use them.
Knowledge helps us make informed choices. Living by choice is a significant part of walking in a Wiccan Wonderland. It is amazing how many things over which we really have a choice once we think about it.
For example: Nobody makes us happy or makes us sad. These reactions are how we choose to respond to a situation. Likewise we don’t have to go to this meeting or that party, eat up all our food, or send a card for a birthday or buy a gift. We can choose not to do these things. All the social rules of etiquette and manners, as well as ethics and morals, are culturally learned behaviors. A Wiccan’s only guide, besides her own experience, is the Wiccan Law, which is variously expressed as “And ye harm none, do what ye will.”
This does not, to be sure, give Wiccans free license to run riot. Choice bears consequences. We are free to choose not to go in to the office, but the boss is then empowered by our choice to fire us. We are free to drive over the speed limit, but the officer is then empowered by our choice to pull us over. We learn from our mistakes and add the knowledge gained to our experience. Of course we don’t have to reinvent the wheel by learning everything from personal experience. More often than not, we choose to go along with laws, manners, and other culturally learned behaviors because these are usually the result of the learned experience of others or they make rational sense.
As children parents and peers, pastors and professors condition us, to follow a whole laundry list of rules. Later as we grow up and are exposed to a broader set of experiences, we begin to question some of the things we were taught and we begin to make up our own minds. When we decide that something we were taught is not true or no longer serves us, we intentionally get rid of it.
Conversely, when we figure out something new that does seem to serve us, we intentionally adopt it. By the same token, when a Wiccan finds a practical application of Wicca in her life that suits her needs, she dumps old mindsets and habits that get in the way and adopts the new application.
One of the basic new applications made by Wiccans is the rearrangement of time. Time is an artificial construct. Hours, days, and months are completely arbitrary. The natural structure of time is the seasons. So another part of walking in a Wiccan Wonderland is structuring our lives around the seasonal calendar.
This is a tough one because schools, jobs, and modern social institutions are formed around measuring time by clocks and Gregorian calendars. But let’s think about it. The most holy Christian holiday is Easter but Roman and Orthodox Catholics celebrate it on two different days. The Jews have Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, Passover and a whole host of other holidays that the mainstream does not. Professions have their own calendars, too.
Politicians follow three seasons of the year – legislating, blaming, and fund raising. Accountants have four seasons, which correspond to their quarterly reports. If all these people can rearrange time according to their needs, certainly Wiccans can organize their time around the eight Sabbats of the year.
If a Wiccan seriously applies the eight Sabbats to her daily life, she goes a long way toward walking in a Wiccan Wonderland. The eight Sabbats occur in the natural world. We feel the quickening of spring at Candlemas and we see the daffodils at Spring Equinox. We know the warming of Beltane in our hearts and all around us. We experience the long light of Summer Solstice, the late summer flowers at Lammas, and the falling leaves at Autumn Equinox. At Samhain we feel the nip and chill of winter and at Winter Solstice we rest in quiet peace – to the degree we can escape the commercial madness artificially created by the American material culture around us.
The natural seasons reflect the accomplishment of our wills – our intentions. We set our intentions each year at Candlemas. Through the year, we grow in our enjoyment of life, our appreciation of new sensations, filling our seeking with new knowledge, and intentionally pursuing our goals. Then in autumn we take stock, fulfill our debts, forgive our injuries, and look back in satisfaction at what we accomplished even if we did not complete all the grand plans we made.
Then at Samhain we release it all. We die. We surrender to the inevitable ending of all things. We close the book. We put away the score sheet. That tally is done. We empty ourselves and become completely free. In winter we lie in quiet and peace, carrying no baggage from the past nor imposing any requirements on the future. We don’t have to. We know – as opposed to having faith – we know as Wiccans that we will be reborn and that new possibilities and opportunities await us when Candlemas comes round again. We know that we will grow in the Craft from new knowledge and new skills.
Christians speak of new life, new zest, and new possibilities when they are “born again” – and they only get born again once! We Pagans get to do it every year!
Wiccans bring home this cycle of the year with daily prayer. Daily prayer is key to walking in a Wiccan Wonderland. We begin by grounding and centering ourselves in alignment with the four elementals – Air, Fire, Water, and Earth – and their corresponding directions – East, South, West, and North. This in itself is a powerful renewing and rewarding practice. It is a statement that we are here and we know where we are. It is a statement that we intentionally take a position in the spiritual realm and in that position we claim access to the forces of spirit that operate there.
After grounding and centering, it is useful to express first gratitude for the blessings and accomplishments appropriate to that direction. For example, I am a writer. I thank the East for any writing I accomplished the day before, for ideas that popped into my head, for emails that I wrote, letters to the editor or to legislatures that I sent. In the South, I express gratitude for the instances in which I showed courage, where I stood my ground, or for journeys I made safely. In the West, I am thankful for friends and relationships, for a date the night before, and for nice things people have said to me. In the North, I am thankful for healing of the various aches and pains that my aging body seems to acquire in increasing frequency, for money that has come to me, and for the material things that provide me comfort and enjoyment. Many of these thank you’s are for things I asked for in prayers the day before. After thanking, I ask for things I want this day. Asking – receiving – thanking is a daily loop that helps me remain conscious of the spirit realm while I am working in this material realm. This daily loop also replicates in a micro way the macro pattern of the seasons.
In conclusion, walking in a Wiccan Wonderland can be summarized as living intentionally, full in the knowledge of who we are, of what we want, of what we’re doing, and of what is happening around us. Walking in a Wiccan Wonderland is making conscious choices and taking full responsibility for them. It is a land of ever renewing seasons – ever knowing, ever growing, ever changing, ever lasting.