Yeah, yeah. I know what you might be thinking. Maybe that this title is a call to arms of some sort; a cry for a healthy dollop of Vedic thinking and philosophy to be slapped into the Craft. But no, that’s not it. Or perhaps you might think I’m taking a principled stand again men in ten-gallon hats slappin’ iron and squaring off on the main street of some dusty Texas burg, spittin’ tobacco juice and itching to see who can draw and fire faster in this town that ain’t big enough for both of ’em. OK, corral those thoughts (yeah, I wrote it; whatcha gonna do about it, pilgrim).
What I’m getting at is the element of the West, water. And to be uncharacteristically frank, there’s too much watering down of Wicca. It’s been watered down enough that one could drink it with some scones on a lazy English afternoon.
Think of a dog. Maybe a beloved family pet you had growing up, or one you have now. Imagine those things that come to mind—a dog is playful, loyal, loving. It protects, loves unconditionally, and becomes part of the family. Now expand that idea outwards. If we include wolves in the ‘dog’ category we bring in new associations—a pack animal; a hunter; a stalker of the night, but not something that curls up at your feet—or helps you herd your sheep. Expand it further, to encompass all the animals of the Canidae family—jackals, hyenas, foxes, coyotes and others. Our concept of what a dog is, if we broaden it this much, starts to become meaningless. Sure, there are similarities—all are quadrupeds, for example—but vast differences separate a fox, hyena, coyote and Pomeranian. At some point, by making the mental category ‘dog’ too broad we lose the ideas of playful, loyal and protective pets and family members. After all, no one trusts a dingo with their baby. We might decide that a dog is whatever we say it is, but the category has become so diluted and so expansive that it starts to become meaningless in any productive, communicative sense. Try and mate a fox and dingo and see what happens. It gets worse when you decide that ‘dog’ means ‘pet’ and therefore includes ‘cat’, ‘parrot’, ‘rabbit’ and ‘goldfish’.
You can see where I’m going with this.
When Wicca first came into the public consciousness it was quite specific—an initiatory priesthood that venerated a specific Goddess and a specific God. It gathered in small groups; practiced rites that followed a pretty specific structure; and held pretty specific teachings (even if they weren’t as clearly defined and dogmatic as those found in certain other religions). It didn’t take long for different streams to arise, such as the Gardnerian, Alexandrian and Tubal Cain / Cochrane paradigms, yet each of these shared, at their hearts, the same basic concepts of initiatory priesthood of a lunar Goddess and her Horned Consort. Simply put, that’s what Wicca was / is. The Gards, Lexies, and Cochranites (for lack of a better term) were different breeds of the same animal, but not different species. Even when Wicca began to spread out it still maintained these core concepts. When people couldn’t locate a coven to join there was enough info out there that clever, thinking individuals and groups could assemble a workable system based on the GAC paradigm, just as they had done with the Golden Dawn system after Crowley, Regardie, Fortune and the rest had written their books.
Then came the 60s and North American counter-culture, when Wicca’s core conceptual structure was altered. From Z Budapest, Starhawk, Martello et al it became politicized; through Buckland and Cunningham it was simplified—watered down enough that it ceased to reflect the original image it had held. Of course everything grows and changes, but in a rush to be as accessible as possible Wicca was watered down into a general paganish gruel—easy to digest and suitable as spiritual invalid food. Where it had been a specific species within the genus witchcraft, in the family of neo-paganism, in the order of paganism it instead was expanded by too many to try and be too much. The idea that “Wicca is whatever you want it to be” was bandied about, becoming in and of itself a credo of banality and a broad, hazy and ill-defined trend—the computational lingusitics of new pagan religions. As Brooks and Russell wrote in A New History of Witchcraft, “pop-culture witchcraft is sufficiently vague in structure and content to qualify more as a ‘lifestyle’ than a ‘religion”. It didn’t start out that way.
Now it’s not my intention to disparage the spirituality or experiences of a tremendous number of modern neo-pagan, self-professed Wiccans. Rather, I would ask them to consider Christianity (stop snarling and do it)—at what point does a self-professed Christian cease to be such when s/he does away with ideas like sin, scripture, salvation, sacrament or even Christ? Can one be a Muslim while rejecting the Qur’an, the hadith, the shahadah, and denying belief in Allah? I would say no. And is there harm in a Muslim saying that his or her beliefs are Islamic, and not Christian? No. And the reverse is true as well. There is no harm in forging one’s own spiritual path, but there is no strength is diluting the language and practice of one group to make it into bite-sized chunks that are bland and suited for every palate.
You can only dilute something so much before it is no longer what it was when you began. I’ve heard many a self-proclaimed Wiccan speak of the Goddess in terms that make one think of Jesus in drag—they haven’t erased the old files of their spiritual computers, and are not seeking Wicca, but rather a Christianity they find more palatable. They seek something they can call their own, but make in their own image. The clouds of Heaven replaced with rolling, forested hills and the fires of Hell with some poorly-understood bastardization of Hindu concepts of karma. The scourge brandishing Lord of Death and Resurrection becomes as gentle as a lamb. He becomes the carrot-munching huntable, but never the ravenous hunter.
Wicca, by its very nature, has always been subversive, counter-cultural and niche. It doesn’t exist to proselytize, expand at a rapid rate or seek the status of a world religion—it stands at the gates of defeated and dead but oh-so-popular dogmas and yells ‘fuck you!’ There is a reason many come to trad Wicca through rebelliousness, and why many trad Wiccans aren’t pure haters of subversive figures like Crowley, or Georgia O’Keefe. Wicca is a tailored suit, meant to fit some, but shapeless on others, and has never been ‘one size fits all’. As people fear and disparage their bodies, Wicca calls for ritual nudity. When society diminishes Woman, Wicca elevates her to priestess-hood. It doesn’t pat your head and say ‘there, there’; it says, “get up, wipe your nose and soldier on!” It has no Devil on which to blame one’s failings; no original sin to blame for the world’s. When people say that it is whatever they wish, it’s exactly that—they wish. It is not a path that needs to adapt to the follower, or to alter itself for public acceptance. It does not need public acceptance or legal recognition; nor does it need representation in ecumenical council or Goddess fish on the bumper. Wicca is for the few, not because it is elitist but because few are the ones who can and will approach it on its own terms. It is a demanding path and a rigorous one because it challenges not just social mores but also the ego of its practitioners. Where is the challenge to ourselves and our compatriots when we do little more than cross off the Christian letterhead and scrawl ‘Wicca’ in its place? If you’re calling something Wicca, but you’ve done away with its Gods, ritual structure, sacred tools and teachings, practices and personal challenges then you may have a viable system for you, but you don’t have Wicca.
Wicca is a fire in the blood. It is not water in the veins, and to my way of thinking, trying to make it so misses the entire point. After all, the witches of Leland’s Aradia didn’t spend their time turning the other cheek to tyrannical political and religious hegemony. Why, then, should we allow a raging torrent of a spiritual path to become a trickle because some are too afraid to let their feet get wet? Galadriel may be willing to diminish and go into the West. I, for one, am not.