Something Wiccan This Way Came
“To attain knowledge, add things every day; to attain wisdom, remove things every day.” – Lao Zi
Many contemporary Pagans have the tendency to default to “Wiccan mode” when it comes to their practices, but ironically enough while Wiccan concepts, language, practices, structure and cosmology are utilised, if not exploited, many Pagans still refuse to acknowledge that Wicca has acted, and still acts, as the main gateway for most other Pagan religions.
Wicca is often used as a catch-all religious and spiritual culture for contemporary Paganism (I exclude Nordic and some Reconstructionist religions), but not only has this resulted in the exclusion of the abundant diversity of the modern Pagan movement, but it also continues to feed the misconception that Wicca is generic.
In fact the term Wicca/Wiccan has become so nonspecific that in many cases when a person identifies themselves as Pagan, the first reaction from outsiders is: “So you are Wiccan?”
SPECIFIC NOT GENERIC
“Realise that everything connects to everything else.” – Leonardo DaVinci
Cultural appropriation is a term usually used when a dominant culture borrows elements from a different, usually minority culture, in a way that does not honour the culture being borrowed from. And in many ways that is what much of Paganism has done with Wicca.
Cultural mixing, appropriation, etc, is natural and unavoidable in most religions and spirituality as without it cultures cannot evolve, but like most cultures that deny acts of appropriation, many contemporary Pagans suffer from the same denial syndrome.
In fact the term Paganism should not refer to a religion – at best it refers to a religious community of sorts, and if contemporary Paganism has any kind of common culture it is thanks to, and based on Wiccan elements.
But Wicca itself has been commandeered, and what people within and without contemporary Paganism understand to be Wicca is often not Wiccan at all.
Early on eclectic Paganism was just that, people borrowed and did whatever they felt worked, but they also did not claim to be any of the things they borrowed from, and recognised the fact that they were eclectic. Yet at some point a trend began in which anything that had the slightest smattering of “Wiccan elements” became Wiccan instead of simply being eclectic Paganism.
I think the misunderstanding of what constitute Wicca comes from the misconception among many contemporary Pagans that all “ancient witches” practiced the same Craft – ignoring the fact that traditions differed not only from culture to culture, but from area to area within the same country.
Traditional Wicca itself is not a mishmash of various “witch traditions”, in fact it can be said to be unique to the particular practices of a very particular area. The practices Gerald Gardner encountered were very particular to the New Forest area in England, and thus Wicca refers to witchcraft practiced in that specific area.
The term Wicca actually identifies a very small group consisting of Gardner’s line as well as two to three other lines – one of them being Sybil Leek’s line, the Alex Sanders line, and possibly the line that formed Central Valley Wicca (a particular group of Wicca which “trace” their roots to a group of Wiccan practitioners who brought their practice from England to the Central Valley of California at some point in the early 1960s).
These New Forest practices are what make up British Traditional Wicca, not to be confused with British Traditional Witchcraft. Thus tradition in Wicca refers to the lines that exist within Wicca, not some imaginary interconnection among the various Crafts practiced by English witches or with witches from other cultures and countries.
In short, Wiccans are people who belong to practices that stem from New Forest, and it is an initiatory religious tradition. If someone’s practices come from elsewhere and are not related to this “New Forest tradition”, it is not Wiccan – it may, however, be neo-Wiccan, eclectic Wiccan or another form of Witchcraft.
Eclectic Wicca and neo-Wicca tend to be one percent Wiccan and 99% “make-it-up-as-I-go-along”, and here Pagans and Pagan authors are to blame for the misunderstanding by offering newcomers to Paganism some watered-down, feel-good version of nature-worship. These authors tend to take out everything from Wicca that they do not agree with and call it “Wicca; meanwhile the readers will themselves will take out whatever they do not like, or understand, and then walk away, and later teach, a completely distorted concept of what Wicca actually involves.
According to these authors, and their followers, we all know that Wicca applies universally to everything, so everything must surely apply universally to Wicca, too! That is why “Wicca” now has unicorns, dragons, faeries, and other mythological creatures (which exist and are friendly and helpful). So get your “Wiccan” I-Ching set, your “Wiccan” totem pole, your “Wiccan” crystals; your “Wiccan” ankh, your Wiccan karma wheel, etc, and place them neatly on your altar to Athena or Bast or Kali or Hekate, or any other god or goddess as the fancy takes you. And voila, you are “Wiccan”.
And then contemporary Pagans have the gall to blame Wiccans for the watering down of Paganism.
I am not saying that eclectism is unacceptable – I myself am an eclectic contemporary Pagan, but I find that often eclecticism has just become a convenient and misguiding label for cultural (mis-)appropriation. If you are eclectic be so and say so.
Also, Wicca has nothing to with anything Celtic – Celtic refers to a culture and not a bloodline and being a descendant of the Celts does not make anyone Celtic. Despite the impression which one might get on the internet and from books, early Wiccan elders were not of Celtic descent; in fact they tended to be from Teutonic Northern European backgrounds. But Wiccans know this. “Wiccans”, however, don’t.
Though sometimes used interchangeably, Wicca and Witchcraft are not the same thing. The confusion comes, understandably, because both practitioners of Wicca and practitioners of Witchcraft refer to themselves as Witches. Also, while Wicca is a religion, Witchcraft or The Craft requires no belief in specific gods or goddesses and is not a specific spiritual or religious path.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
Some Pagans have in the past said that Pagans need a more inclusive non-Wiccan language when speaking about Paganism. However, this is unlikely to ever happen.
The term “all-inclusive Pagan-language” is an oxymoron in itself. In Paganism nothing is all-inclusive.
The use of the term Paganism covers such an enormous range of diverse religions that a unified language is unlikely as not all Pagans are polytheist, we are not all earth-centred; we are not all goddess-worshipers; we are not all Witches; some of us follow European-based ancient religions many others don’t; some cast circles, some call four quarters or use four elements; some of us are syncretic, some are eclectic and some traditional. Even Pagan mythologies, cosmologies, “sacred texts”, symbols, value systems, etc, vary so greatly that most have little in common.
What most contemporary Pagan paths, however, do have in common is Wicca and the Wiccan language, and perhaps, and seeing that much of contemporary Paganism, especially western European-centred paths have borrowed so heavily from Wicca, we should simply acknowledge that most contemporary Pagans who practice Witchcraft are de facto neo-Wiccans… But I have a problem with that label.
I believe that contemporary Paganism needs to be “de-Wiccanised” to allow other Pagans to realise how diverse they really are. A good start to this process, for example, would be to encourage practitioners of contemporary Pagan Witchcraft to identify as such rather than lumping them together as “Wiccan”.
Meanwhile, start acknowledging that Wicca has birthed much of what is now understood to be contemporary Paganism, and start studying, practising and emphasising our diversity – while also celebrating our connections.