All are Equal
There seems to be an ongoing battle between traditional Wiccans and neo-Wiccans (and the same can be said of many other Pagan and Heathen paths) as to who practices the “true form” of the religion. But I think that this is an exercise in futility as the man who created Wicca, Gerald Gardner, did not seem to have a problem with the contemporisation of Wicca.
Wicca draws its basis from religions of the past but also from lore about witches and witchcraft. Gardner described Wicca as being based on covens with each coven being autonomous. In other words, if there was dissent within a coven Gardner allowed for the dissenting parties to separate and form new covens.To me this represents a way of dealing with conflict and of encouraging diversity; thus reinforcing the ideal that there is no central authority that can and should dictate matters of practice.
Gardner also insisted that there were other witches out there who had been practicing before he was initiated, thus acknowledging that there were many paths – a direct consequence of this was that it left the door open for others to come forward as witches or Wiccans.
Gardner’s old laws also clearly make it acceptable for variety in the way covens and practitioners do things. The result of all this was that Gardner essentially gave away the right to exclusive ownership over the label Wicca – for his groups and those “descended” from them. He thus ensured autonomy – although some still argue that only a few select groups should have the right to call themselves Wiccan.
The truth is that there is no central Wiccan authority, and lineage or membership in specific groups is not a requirement in order to be Wiccan. There are the “Wiccan fundamentalists” who see diversity as heresy, but I think that this attitude flows from earlier religious teaching where the idea of One True Way was key.
A religion’s value does not, and should not, depend on historical claims.
Some religions do consider blind obedience to authority to be a virtue. Wicca, and Paganism in general, though, cherish autonomy, and no Pagan should be slave to blind obedience. Wiccans who play the game of proclaiming that those who do not agree with them are not true Wiccans should be ignored. History demonstrates how ancient religions in Europe differed. For example, religious cults in Olympia in Greece were not quite the same as in Athens. One community’s understanding of a deity did not have to be the same as that of another community’s.
Pagan religions are religions of practice and religions of experience – what one does is more important than what one believes. Paganism is not creedal, and it is far more important having a practice that works and that is meaningful than it is to have everyone marching at the same tune.
Paganism will continue to evolve and redefine itself, and one should not forget that changes in perception and consciousness are individual in nature, and it is up to each of us to speak up for the future of Paganism, a future I believe that lies in embracing both modern and ancient ideas and ideals.
However, individuality does not mean that Pagans cannot unite for certain common causes – education, training, legal, social and political reasons for example.
We can only benefit from sharing our resources with each other. Paganism is a religion and spirituality made up of individuals and individualists, but it is foremost a community – or should be.