For the sake of simplicity and reluctance towards feather-rufflage, many more educated pagans shy away from the label of wicca to describe their practice simply because of the ridiculous mire that surrounds the term. In a modern age of openness and understanding, why is there a need for the shroud of mystery? What’s with the exclusivity, the angst? Especially when what these pagans are practicing as their personal practice, whether as a solitary or in a coven, is pretty much wiccan anyway? Or is it?
‘Wicca’ as we have come to know it today originated in the mid 20th Century thanks to a man named Gerald B. Gardener. Gardener basically invented the religion by cobbling together a bunch of occult materials that were in vogue from a few decades earlier, and since then it has taken off during the postmodern era. The modern media has a lot to answer for as far as the spread of witchcraft and wicca is concerned. A resurgence of fascination for the occult in the 1960s and 70s did not lose momentum towards the 80s and 90s, which continued to be fed by books, films, television shows and music for it to grow to what is still struggling to be recognised as a bonafide belief system by mainstream Western society. Unfortunately for traditional hereditary wiccans, somewhere during this time many jumped aboard the bandwagon without following proper initiatory channels, and the confusing mess that is ‘Eclectic Wicca’ was born.
What many muggles may not be aware of is that as it has become more popular, wicca itself has become a sticky term which is liable to cause debate. Ask the pop culture layman what wicca is, and they will deliver you a ready answer. It’s modern witchcraft of course… you know, tarot cards and spells and stuff- nag champa choking out customers in new age stores, The Craft, Charmed, you know. Wicca. Right? Nope. Even following the lessons in Uncle Bucky’s Big Blue Book, or Cunningham’s little green one, isn’t enough qualification to make any claim to the term, no matter whether you celebrate the eight sabbats, know the Charge of the Goddess off by heart, and have the rede tattooed on your ankle.
Chastened, wannabe wiccans are forced to term themselves something else, or something modified. Neo-wiccan, Eclectic Wiccan, Pagan, Witch, Wizard! I’ve found this is not so much an issue with real life pagans, but the hang-ups seem to occur more often in the wonderful world of the WWW and its various forums, communities, and email lists.
Some pagans, witches, or whatever, discard the term due to the connotations the label has built up around itself. Let’s face it, it’s got a bit of that spangled crushed velvet, 15-year-old girls smoking weed together vibe about it. The shine of learning a religion that is supposed to be older than the rest tarnishes significantly when one learns that some crusty old nudist dude invented it in the 1950’s. There are many other issues some pagans might have with wicca in it’s fundamental form- they may reject the duotheistic approach, don’t believe in a literal interpretation of the rule of three, they reject the Eurocentric origins of the terms itself, and/or they prefer the less structured yet more practical opportunities that simply calling oneself a ‘witch’ can bring.
Other pagans have an issue with the hierarchical nature of the Wiccan religion. The idea of a high priestess or priest handing down information that’s supposed to be top-secret, and you can only have access to it if they reckon you’re ready in due course, bucks against the ideals of many people who turned to paganism to get away from dogma in the first place. (That being said, I’ve come across many Wiccans who have a staunch Catholic background which could probably explain this.) British Traditional Wicca, such as that of the Gardenerian flavour, maintains that one can only call oneself a Wiccan or indeed a witch if they have been initiated into the tradition. The religion by this tradition is strictly hereditary and hierarchical in its nature, and if you were to take to an online forum without this education you would find yourself quickly questioned on your use of labels if you were to cast them around willy-nilly, so to speak. And then there’s Alexandrian Wicca, which is a bit more freestylin’ than its Gardenerian patriarch, however both traditions maintain that one can only be called a witch (or wiccan) if you have been initiated by someone else of that tradition. However, Gardener’s claim to authority is dubious at best, and who is to say that someone waltzing along with so-called credentials to High Priestess or High Priest these days are particularly bonafide, anyway? There are no regulations that monitor or moderate the hierarchy and procedure that is supposedly so critical to calling oneself Wiccan.
One needs to remember how young this little religion actually is. Relatively speaking, wicca as we know it is in it’s infancy. People who are clinging onto their ‘right’ to be included in an exclusive club need to realise that it doesn’t matter what you’re going to call it, or what claim you’re going to stake on it, the word ran away from any control a few decades ago. It’s in the lexicon now, and people are ‘misusing’ it whether you would grant them the right, or not.
Questions need to be raised as to whether simply worshipping a gender binary or literal interpretation of poetry as rote law is actually valid, or if these assumptions and practices are simply products of their times. Social understanding has evolved a lot since then and it makes sense for budding belief systems to grow with it.
So why not claim Wicca back? Because if we don’t, we’re just going to keep confusing people. Some would argue that there is no need for unity. I somewhat agree, and I’m not one for clinging to a ‘cause’- but it’s obvious that there are some people still trying to get basic rights here. Can we relax about it? Just a little?
I agree that to lay claim to a term with any sense of integrity, you need to walk the path- step on up, do some training, some serious book learnin’, some serious practical learnin’, But I also accept that we all walk our own path. We know whether we’ve put our back into it or not- and as long as we’re only impacting our own selves, then no harm is done. An’ it harm none… if you want to read a book then go about claiming yourself as High Priestess RavenMoon Hologramshine, well, whatever. Have fun with it.
Word is, that some religions have gone through this evolution (for want of a better term!) already. Some dude called Jesus came along once and supposedly said that you don’t need a priest to act as a conduit to the Almighty, you can just sort of do it yourself. WOW! And then they invented something called the printing press and some book became a best seller and churches were like- hey- WAIT! We’re supposed to tell you what to do! Don’t go interpreting that shit yourself! Aw- shoot!
The internet has transformed avenues for spiritual understanding and growth in ways the practitioners of the occult movement in the 20th Century could never have imagined. The path is still being forged, and it is up to us if we get stuck in a rut of arguing redundant dogmatic approaches.
So, what do you think? Can Wicca grow? Should it? Do you call yourself Wiccan- and if not, why not?