Why Not Wicca

When I get asked what my religion is I almost always answer “Pagan” and move on from there. Usually the first response is “Oh, you’re Wiccan?” I also get “Oh, my mother-in-law/niece/cousin’s girlfriend/and so on is a Wiccan!” Without fail I tell them I’m not Wiccan. Part of this is a desire for clarity (I practice an American form of Traditional Witchcraft and have a Hindu devotion). Part of it is a desire not to be lumped in with Wiccans. Because, in all honesty, I’m a hater.

When I began my meandering path away from Christianity fourteen years ago, all the while delving more deeply into the Eastern Orthodox tradition, I started with feminist theology and spiritualities. Several Goddess-centric books got me all fired up: Merlin Stone’s When God Was a Woman, Tykva-Frymer Kensky’s In the Wake of the Goddesses, Jean Markale’s The Great Goddess, and Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance. The Virgin Mary (aka the Theotokos in the Eastern Orthodox churches) became ever more a focus of my thoughts and devotions. This led me to Wicca.

In 2001 most of what I could find out about Paganism on the internet or in bookstores was Wiccan. I joined a few forums, most of them filled with kind, older ladies who were in touch with their “sacred femininity” and believed that “every woman is born a witch.” I read several books; the good ones I remember were by Scott Cunningham. The best parts empowered me to take my practice into my own hands, to reach out to gods who would reach back, and to tap into the elements existing all around me. Yet, the duotheism – pervasive talk about the Lord and Lady, necessary in nearly every casting – did not make any theological sense to me. Neither did the idea that the gods were archetypes. Nor did the gender essentialism I encountered on the forums or in the fertility-based writings of what I could find about Wicca. As a queer feminist who is often the ‘masculine’ one in a relationship, and at that time in a lesbian relationship, Wicca not only did not appeal to my developing inner theologian, it didn’t resonate with my lived experience.

So I wrote off Paganism, especially Wicca.

Fast forward a few years. In a small Berkeley bookstore I discovered T Thorn Coyle’s Evolutionary Witchcraft . Now there was some theology that resonated! It too involved casting a circle, but it was not necessary. There were male and female gods – but also gods who were both, or neither, or a blur of the genders. So many other aspects of Feri made sense to my lived experience. And I finally found out that Starhawk was a Feri initiate. The pieces came together. I’ve never looked back.

Over the years little about Wicca has interested me or caused me to reassess my biases. Much of what I didn’t like about it only seemed to be confirmed. But if Jason Mankey (my fine fellow blogger over at Raise the Horns) had been writing all those years ago, I might very well have become a Wiccan. The positive aspects of Wicca – and the broader Traditional Witchcraft ‘family’ – have been becoming increasingly clear to me over the last few years. But Mankey’s love of, enthusiasm for, and clear explanations of Wicca highlight just how wrong I’ve been all these years.

Jason’s recent post, Why Wicca?, is a great starting place for some one interested in what Wicca has to offer. However, what he has highlighted are the very things that I find positive about many traditions in Paganism – including my own Feri tradition. Reading his post reminded me of the positives I found in Scott Cunningham’s books. Taking control of liturgy for myself, developing my concentration and intuition, and learning some basics about correspondences and herbalism were important first steps for me on my spiritual path.

So why not take a second look at Wicca? Well, Jason has written another post, this one from yesterday, about some of the theology that gets promulgated in popular and important books on Wicca. Two of those books are ones I read in my ‘formative’ years – and they put me off with their depictions of duotheism. But what I’m finding as I get to know more Wiccans and read more blogs by Wiccans is that the apparent duotheism is misleading and not all that accurate.

And yet. I need more theology in my craft. I also don’t want to need hierarchies, high priests or priestesses. I don’t want to focus on fertility aspects – I have found a heavy emphasis on male and female energies, aspects, and symbols in a lot of Wiccan rituals. I also find the focus on the Wheel of the Year to be problematic, as many the land and seasons in many places don’t line up with the seasonal timing found on the Wheel.

None of those things are hard and fast rules in Wicca, but overall that’s what I’ve found. At the core of my spiritual choice is that I’ve found other traditions that speak to me, that provide me with more meaty theology, and that also work. But I’ve been gaining a deeper appreciation for Wicca. I’m glad to find out that I’ve been wrong about so much of it!

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  • The Wheel of the Year as articulated in many books is more of a “guideline” than an absolute. You have to change it to fit your own regional needs. It was based on the Wheel of the Year in the British Isles initially, but that doesn’t work where we are obviously (West Coast!).

    I’ve always been a fan of the “duotheism” within many strains of Modern Wicca. I tend to think of them more as balancing polarities instead of absolute gender roles. Day and night, earth and rain, issues of sexuality and gender-identity do not simply boil down to “male” and “female.” There are many shades of grey in there, along with a few other colors.

    • I absolutely agree about the Wheel of the Year needing to be modified. I don’t think that was articulated well 14 yrs ago. Some Feri go by a more strict Wheel and others put strong emphasis on finding your own rhythm. Thankfully, WA and the British Isles line up, more or less!

      See, I’m NOT a fan of duotheism. It has many many issues – both theoretically via theology, and also practical when that theology gets lived out. Spectrum is a better word than polarity. I’m not entirely adverse to poles (as there is much benefit from Shakti/Shiva or dark/light), but even night/day has twilights of varying lengths. Too often duotheism prescribes stricter gender and sex roles than are necessary or helpful. Plus, to be truly polytheistic and duotheist, one would have to conclude that the gods are but forms (or archetypes) of One God and One Goddess. It gets messy.

      However, I really liked your duotheism post, as it brought to my attention things that I’ve been noticing but not articulating. I’m glad to be expanding my understanding of Wicca. I like being a snob, but it’s not really useful if it’s snobbery based on ignorance. 😉

      • yewtree

        I have been critiquing duotheism, and the assumption that all Wiccans are duotheist, for about a decade now 🙂

        And I have never been a duotheist.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      Not just shakes of grey, but color, and texture, and scent, and shakes of other senses and sensibilities that can’t be put onto a scale and measured on a line from here to there or this and that.

  • Treeshrew

    I also have serious issues with gender essentialism and fetishisation of fertility and reproduction, male/female energies and all that malarkey in some forms of Wicca and Paganism generally. It’s the biggest thing that turned me off OBOD Druidry since they have a lot of Wiccan overlap due to Nichols and Gardner being BFFs.

    I don’t have a problem with other people doing all those things (well, I kind of do when childbirth is sacralised and problems of overpopulation ignored but that’s a different story) but like you found, it just doesn’t resonate with my life, experiences and ideas.

    Interesting that you don’t mention the mythic history that has built up around Wicca as an ‘ancient religion’ complete with ‘burning times’ and the like. Is that less emphasised in US-based Wicca?

    • I don’t know if the mythic history is overly emphasized, because I really don’t run in Wiccan circles. I think Americans as a whole might be more willing to throw out ‘tradition’ than others, but that’s a sweeping generalization with nothing but being American to back it up. 😉 However, Wicca isn’t the only trad that harbors less than realistic ideas about itself.

      • Treeshrew

        Oh, absolutely, nor was I trying to imply that it was! I always think it’s a shame though when people feel the need to make up stories or forge ‘ancient’ texts in order to feel legitimate. Many types of Druidry are hardly any better what with Iolo Morganwg’s forgeries and all.

        Wicca just tends to be the most well-known for that sort of thing I think. Although, I must add that lots of Wiccans I have spoken to online are happy to admit that it is a modern religion largely invented by Gardner and co. I respect that.

  • Kayt Rivermoon

    I find myself nodding my head in agreement over much of what you say. I am an Eclectic Witch, Druid and Pagan–but I have “outgrown” Wicca. I found the male/female duality emphasized more in “Traditional” groups (as in one has to have a coven “balanced” male/female in number…Yeah RIGHT :D) Being an SF fan, it just made =Sense= that the Great Mystery/Creator(-trix, -ing) would also have Other and YES as possible gender configurations. Also probably some we have no words for yet. As for fertility, there are many kinds of that–Through art, writing, stories, ritual creation. And…Climate ? Try observing the Wheel of the Year in Tucson, Arizona !
    What do you do ? What people on Earth have always done–You adapt. A Monsoon (Summer thunderstorm) ritual for Lughnassad, for example
    Thanks also for bringing Evolutionary Witchcraft to my attention. My Hps was and is a Starhawk devotee, and we were trained as “Dianic Eclectics”. Gonna have to check that out !

  • As a self-identified Celtic witch who practices traditional witchcraft, I agree with many of your points. Though I do follow the wheel of the year, I just couldn’t relate to how many rituals the god & goddess were put into nor could I relate to the hierarchal aspects of Wicca. Coming from Christianity I felt the need to be initiated by a hp & hps just didn’t fit my belief system.

  • Hestia

    Great article! When I was excommunicated from my former religion, I looked into Wicca but was put off by the fact that it is a recognized religion and it seemed way too organized for me, which was the last thing I wanted after coming from a faith that was highly structured and loaded with expectations. Now I explain to people that I am Pagan or have a Pagan belief system if they assume I am Wiccan, which is often when they find out I identify as a witch.

  • so you are not a hater? lol I too found could not attach to pure wiccan ways, however, life is sweeter and best enjoyed when we don’t attach. Just observe and watch as the next life offering sails along. It’s truly a blessed life. Good post, enjoyed your view, bought Evolutionary Witchcraft last week, looking forward to cracking it’s spine this weekend. BB

    • I guess I’m realizing that I’m not quite a hater after all!
      I really hope you enjoy Evolutionary Witchcraft.