Thursday, December 13, 2007

Is "Wicca" Meaningless?

About six months ago we addressed quite a large group. We asked how many considered themselves to be Wiccans. About 75 percent put their hands up. Then we went into more individual beliefs; here there was scant agreement on anything. About 50 percent of those who identified themselves as Wiccans went along with the Wiccan Rede,
If it harm none, do what you will.
When we asked whether Wicca was a religion of Nature, a lesser percentage agreed. Was it a natural spirituality, as contrasted with a religion? Was the Ultimate Deity a goddess? Could a Christian be a Wiccan? In fact, how many actually used Christian god-esses as their personal pantheon? Surprisingly (to us), more than 10 percent agreed, that that was in fact what they did. A couple of bold souls said they were eclectic and didn't follow any orthodox or conventional path, nor address any named deity. Yes, we think that's a dark-night symptom.
This whole thing was a sad disappointment to us. When we first started using "Wicca" in 1968 to name the spiritual path on which we were then embarking, we defined a clear spiritual and mundane path--or so we thought. It was a surprise to us when so many usurped the word Wicca and used it to describe their own path whether or not that path resembled in any way the one we had articulated.
Seax Wicca may have been the next clearly defined Wiccan path. When Gardnerian Witchcraft and Alexandrian Witchcraft became Gardnerian Wicca and Alexandrian Wicca in 1974, they had no clearly defined spiritual path--magic, yes; rote ritual, yes; spirituality, questionable--because most of them had broken away from their original roots.
There's a stage young people go through, sensing somehow, "Not this!" or "Anything but this!" Many such breakaways eventually find an alternative way; some do not. Remember St. Jimmy Buffett's song about Domino College?
Make your parents hate you! Be a big disgrace.
Go to Domino College and fall flat on your face!
It's that feeling : Spook the family. "I'm not like you people--thank God!"
So what is a Wiccan? Let's look at an interesting definition, for which we are indebted to the Unitarian Universalist Association.*
We ... covenant to afffirm and promote :
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our (covens);
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our (covens) and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

For us Celtic Wiccans who believe in the Web of the Wyrd, this feels like a good start. Certainly few would quibble with its ideas. Do we believe in democracy within our coven groups? Quite frankly, we're confused and don't know. Practices should vary from group to group, of course. But do we have any common ground? There is an old Sufi saying,**
There are people who have religion and do not think;
There are people who think and do not practice a religion.
We like to think that people on the Wiccan path can have a religion and can think--both. Perhaps that is what separates us from the marching morons who don't think about anything but being in with their peer group and warding off the random blows of a hateful deity while hell awaits.
So tell us, please, what you think. Is "Wicca" an overworked noun that has lost its meaning? Should it be dumped in favor of a more accurate label for whatever we're all doing? Or can we resurrect it and find even a few universal concepts with which we all are comfortable?
Yes, we are old fogies, but we ain't set in our ways. If we wanted to complain about the negative changes we see, we could go on ad infinitum.
If you smell something scorching, somebody's thinking.
Blessed be those who seek. Gavin and Yvonne

* Singing the Living Tradition
** The Mathnawi, 1466 CE


Shadowhawk said...

I dont think Wicca is meaningless. I think it needsa definate overhaul. Traditionalist, ecclectic , we all have power to bring some respectability back to it. To much Harry Potter, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Charmed have made Wicca fashionable. Wicca isnt fashion, its a way of relating to God and Godess in a natural yet dualist way. As far as wiccan traditionsand spirituality there are some traditions with varying degrees of real spiritual merit such as Victor Andersons Feri Tradition. I like a question you asked Isaac Bonewits in your Druidism for the New Age Video, Basically you asked what were the differences between druidry and wicca/witchcraft. I liked Isaacs answer, he said that different groups have different emphasis's.Some on activism, some on small group worship, some on spell casting. Which to me thats all great but it to me detracts from what Wicca and the Witchcraft movement was when it first started. Back to the Feri Tradition, if you can get ahold of a copy i recommend these 2 books.. Thorns of the Blood Rose by Victor.. And 50 years in the Feri Tradition by Cora Anderson.Personally i want to see Wicca restored as a vibrant NON COMMWERCIALIZED form of pagan worship. Also i may not be blogging for getting ready to go see my mother, she recently had surgery to remove a colon cancer, she ended up going back into surgery 5 days ago because of complications. Hope that You Yvonne and Bronwynn all have a great Yule time together. As i do for everyone else who posts to this blog..

SecondComingOfBast said...

I view it as a nature religion, and I feel the goddess and the god manifest throughout nature, including it's life forms. I personally adhere to the Rede and try my best to observe the Sabbats and Esbats. I believe in the practice of magic (but I am lazy as hell when it comes to actually practicing it). From that point on, I feel it's up to the individual, and individual covens, to develop their own paths. If they adhere to the things I said above, then they can legitimately call themselves Wiccans, in my opinion.

When it comes to democracy within a coven, I think that's problematic. I would say that the best way to exercise democracy in the context of coven ritual and belief, etc., is with your feet, not your hands. If you can adhere to a tradition, walk on in, if not, walk out and find something else.

I have my own beliefs that might not be considered "traditional". I believe that all aspects of deity are aspects of the "Goddess" and the "God", yet at the same time I feel each aspect takes on it's own individual reality, and so is a unique god/dess in it's own right.

I have mixed views about the commercialization, as it is a mixed blessing. I will focus here on the negative aspects.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are initially drawn to it, but can't seem to leave their baggage behind. That's why you have so many Christian Wiccans.

By the same token, you also have those who bring other aspects of "damnation, hellfire, and brimstone". In my view, there are way too many Wiccans that are turning the Goddess into one from whom they most spend their time "warding off the random blows of a hateful deity while hell awaits".

In their case, however, hell isn't some vague lake of fire and suffering in an eternal afterlife of misery, but the threat of the earth becoming a living hell if we don't all throw ourselves blindly in with the global warming crowd and their absurd histrionics.

There are a few other things in the UU definition that I have a problem with.

"The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all" is pie-in-the sky, and unattainable in this or any lifetime.

Part of human existence is geared toward competition, conflict, and destruction. Always has been that way. Always will be that way. Yes, it can be moderated to a point, but only to a point. Human beings are naturally competitive and combative. It is a part of our genetic make-up, ever since the time we were a little glob of sperm trying our damndest to be the one sperm out of tens of thousands of others to be the one to swim it's way up to the egg.

People have been trying to sublimate that natural tendency since the days of the Pax Romana, and all other attempts to end it will end with the same result.

Well, now that I've probably pissed everybody off, let me say Happy Yule, and Blessed Be.

Sorry to hear about your mom, Shadowhawk. Good luck.

Hayley said...

I dont want to say that Wicca has become meaningless, but it has become incredibly, incredibly generic.

I don't even know if I can call myself Wiccan - I've been wanting to learn for 2 years and find myself lost in a sea of commercalist goals and conflicting ideas and people who squabble about everything and can't agree on anything theologically.

perhaps interested-to-be-Wiccan would be a better term. But as someone struggling on the outside looking in I can't seem to sift through what might be worth reading, and what is just absolute bunk and nonsense. For every "wiccan" I find who recommends one book, I find three who claim it to be antithetical to wicca.

The term has become embraced by so many people with so many different motives that the only thing I can tell you when I see the word wiccan means-

1. They will believe/reference talk about some system of magic.
2. They believe in a goddess.

That's honestly the only similarities I see. Hopefully I don't sound too much like an idiot in this.

Shadowhawk said...

No actually alot of people are in the same boat as you..they see so many conflicting things.. makes it harder for some to step thru that doorway. But like they say dont throw the baby out with the bathwater.. Learn for yourself .. Dont let others influence you..thereare some good people involved in the Modern Wiccan/Witchcraft movement.. Good luck to you

Unknown said...

Hayley, I completely understand your confusion on what to study or read. I know way back in the day, there were only a few traditions known, and the groups that were out there were pretty strict in their studying. I kind of miss the discipline that was required to reach even first degree. Nowadays, it seems like anyone can pick up a book, read a few pages and declare themselves High Priestess of the Glowing Moonbeam Tribe of the Goddess Aradia without doing any real work to achieve it. That just irritates the crap out of me, because even after all these years, I think calling oneself "Lord" or "Lady" anything is a bit presumptuous.

Anyway, yeah, . . . . Hayley, where are you located? There are good teachers to be found. Sometimes it's a little tough, but it's worth digging through the muck to find the diamonds.

Hayley said...

Shadowhawk and fenix-

Thank you for the advice.

I'm located in Central North Carolina (forgive me for not being more specific - I get edgy about that though with people I don't know or on public postings).
I'm more than willing to drive anywhere in Central NC - perhaps up to an hour each way if the group was worth it. (I'd prefer less but such is life).

And I agree with you fenix- about folks just randomly claiming titles. On one hand I want structure, but I will admit there are a couple points where I diverge from what little I have been told is "traditional" (mostly this involves the whole skyclad thing...) and I'm worried that that means I won't fit into a group that does have structure.

That said,
I know a number of members of a (the?) general pagan group in my city- and feel that while they are perhaps some of the most awesome people I've met here - dont get me wrong, they're not what i'm looking for.

I've also searched witchVox's listing of covens in the area, and have had no luck finding something that appears to be at least Wiccan non-ecclectic of almost any tradition that is also willing to teach someone else new (emailed 1-2 of the groups I found there to no avail)

I may well be going about the search entirely the wrong way.

wushih said...

I had to wait a couple of days before responding to this most excellent post from the Frosts. I have never actually fit in with any structured group of people which is probably why, over the years, more than a few people have bitchily announced that "Greenleaf Coven is not Wiccan".

Maybe not. But that is those people's problem, not ours. We encourage people to think for themselves and I have found that thinking is not always encouraged. Or easy. I have problems with people who simply change from the Big Daddy in the Sky to the Big Mommy in the Sky.

As a practicing pantheist and zennist (yeah huh), I find that naming the undifferentiated absolute is just limiting it. And the undifferentiated absolute doesn't have a bunch of rules of behavior for all of us to follow. Maybe we are supposed to figure all that out by ourselves. I think I know how to behave without having the Ten Commandments - or whatever - posted on every wall or statue.

Some people have also bitchily announced that I am an atheist. If not believing in the BDintheSky or the BMintheSky is atheism, then so be it. I do think the earth is alive (and very likely sentient in a way that we can't understand yet) and can be considered our mother and that, when we die, we are reabsorbed and recycled. I also think (here we go) that the universe and multiverse is alive and the same thing happens to us just on a much larger scale. I don't mind standing in a circle and singing about the earth and spirituality. That's cool.

So when I mention the Mother, it's not a goddess, it's the Great Big Everything. Maybe I'm not Wiccan any more but I still think I'm Pagan. Ooops, more labels. Sorry.

Unknown said...

I completely understand about not wanting to put exact locations up on the 'net! We're a little different in that we began as an educational coven (educating the public on Wicca and Paganism), so everyone knows where we are and who we are.

Anyhoo, don't know if you have access to the Frosts' books or Ray Buckland's books, but there is some good stuff in there, some might even say "traditional!" As for worshipping skyclad, if you're not comfortable with it, I don't think anyone should be forced into it. Something not a lot of skyclad covens recognize is that Gardner was a "naturalist (i.e. nudist)," and liked getting naked for any ol' excuse. Granted, there's nothing quite like skipping through the woods with the wind and sun on your skin and not being concerned with anyone thinking you're bad for being skyclad. However, because of the societal views on nudity, even my outspoken, liberal children freak at the thought of seeing mom wander through the house without clothes on. And, of course, as Wu Shih likes to point out, we do have three generations of people in ritual these days.

Shadowhawk, be careful on your trip and let us know when you get back.

Shadowhawk said...

Thanks Fenix.. just found out last night that she ended up getting 2 units of blood. They are giving her insulin, since they took her spleen in the first surgery her body is way out of balance. Being her oldest son i have worried and cryed and paced, havent really slept good either. But i know she will be Ok.. I leave Sunday .. could be gone about 4 to 6 weeks. Then ill be back.. blogging and just being a Pagan menace to society

Chas S. Clifton said...

Minor historical note: Charles Cardell and the Coven of Atho were using "Wicca" in the late 1950s. He was Gardner's rival in everything, including terminology. There is an article upcoming in The Cauldron about Atho, I understand.

Anonymous said...


Just wandering about.
Wicca? first time I saw it was in a crossword ad back around 1978/79 for a book by these US authors.
While I was waiting for my book to be delivered a prominant UK Witch wrote an article about the "King of the Evil Witches".

Having done a bit of websurfing lately I find that Mr Bowers was very uptight about the upstart "Wica" cult of Mr Gardners (although from other sources the term of GBG's was Wice). And these two gents can be traced to meeting in 1952.

Other such public material indicates JoBear suffered a loss of popular standing for his support of a certain couple starting a Wicca school.
Stepping back through that and stolen articles like:

We can see how the "Wica" has developed although hopefully someone has some site references to
the rest of the US. has a few pointers.

Anyway I don't want to be "Rosalie doing her washing at the river" (reference to the book I have)

I used to call myself "Wicca" but these days too many folk get their self-identity all worked up. For me it's just a word, I know what I do, and that's more important. The lore may be hidden but the magic can't die.
And "...harm none..." is so misused and misunderstood, especially by those that would take to the pulpit and use it for there own fear. Not realise just how much damage they do by empowering the shadows of their followers. The book I brought...It ain't all white light and kissing fairies.

Know the Rules.
And in Knowing them, know when to break them.
(and live with the sh^& when you get it wrong :p )

As for stuff from 1968?
That would be me :) vintage '68. A fine year. 23 sept. just aftr 4 about lat 42S, for those that follow such things.

Hello and thanks for a very interesting life, to Gavin and Yvonne.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Scott Dodson said...

I know this is a very old post, but since I crossed it, I wanted to make a quick post because It is as valid as it was when the question was originally asked.

I definitely feel tat Wicca will ever be meaningless in it's true aspect due to the work of such great people as the Frost's, and others who see true understanding such as Raven Grimassi. The true essence of Wicca will be held by many who have learned and understand the true meaning of the word through the Frost's teachings.

I myself learned from them, beginning about 1992-93. It was then that I realized who I was, that I was not a nut case, I found my place in the world...I finally had a structured belief that actually made sense to me for the first time in my life. What I learned from them resounded within me strongly, all I was ever told that was crazy, all that went on with me on an inner personal level allowed me to understand who I was, and that there was real truth hidden behind everything I "knew" was false, such as orthodox beliefs.

I had my first encounter with the "New" Wicca in the mid 90's, it totally confused the hell out of me, I immediately knew it was heading down the wrong path due to those who would simply read a book and wahlah...they were in position to teach and guide others without ever having to actually develop themselves spiritually. I was stunned to see these people claiming to be high Priest/ess when they couldn't even do a simple meditation, they had no understanding of anything other that what they learned from the confusing Gardarian beliefs. So, I had to accept the fact that we are all on a different path, love them anyway, they are on a different level of their own personal development, though it does anger me and I get as pissed as I do as I would with othodox beliefs of ignorance such as Christianity, I bring it back to accept it. Concerning the question of this blog post, it is sad to see what has happened, but there are only few who will ever understand on a higher level, it is now a fad for many young people, it's the cool thing to do. But as they grow older it will stick with them, maybe they will grow and come back with more understanding. No matter, the true meaning of Wicca will never be lost because of people like the Frost's, the impact that they have had on true Wicca, in opening the path to so many people in the world, the true meaning of WIcca...what I call real Witchcraft, will live on forever. So "No, Wicca will never be meaningless." :-)