Although the ideas are simple it should be difficult to join a coven, difficult to qualify for Initiation, but simple to participate in it once in. Participation in Temple activities, which are basically an Outer Court version of the teachings and rituals, must be even more approachable. This doesn’t mean that we do not speak of profound or important things, but that we do so through the simplest language and with the most direct means possible and that we consider liturgy and ritual development and performance vitally important.
We also understand the importance and difficulty of character training in building the foundation for our religious service, in particular as clergy. We are not interested in a consumerist approach – the performance of ritual and the experience of it will unfold meaning to the person who has the experience, although not immediately and only with genuine effort. Consumerism reduces religion to a commodity, and ultimately to money alone, so Wiccans do not charge money for teachings nor provide simple study guides to ritual and theology as a substitute for experience and effort (a position that is part of the lore of my fraction of the community).
The experiences of meaning through effectively performed and well-thought-out ritual need to unfold over time and with repeated exposure and personal reflection. We aim to produce in ourselves a shared set of understandings about the way the spiritual intersects with the world, and a set of habits of virtue and ways of responding to it.
There’s a bunch of authorities that we can use to understand our movement’s origins and development from them: Gerald Gardner and the source material he drew from (Aliester Crowley, Geoffrey Leland, Eliphas Levi, Key of Solomon the King, Golden Dawn, and Theosophy via co-Masonry), Ronald Hutton, Janet and Stewart Farrar, and others depending on the question you’re asking; Starhawk, Pagan Way of Chicago, Monica Sjoo, Z. Budapest, and others, plus Aristotle (for the syllogism and virtue ethics), Socrates (for the Euthyphro Dialogue and others), Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripedes, Ginette Paris, James Hillman, Thomas Moore, Roberto Calasso, the Eddas…
To go back to a point I made earlier in this discussion, though – we need to think about who we are and whom we want to be in deciding which sources for lore to emphasize, and which directions to develop it in. For a Goddess-centred person Budapest, Carol Christ, and Starhawk, while a magickal and occultist person would work with Crowley, Chic and Tabitha Cicero, Brandy Williams, and a nature-centred person more with John Seed, Dolores LaChapelle, and Loren Eiseley in building their body of stories and references. Each of these bodies of lore can be powerful and transformative and inform a body of spiritual practice.
These, and many others, will be sources for our bodies of lore and the inclusion of one or two key sources is a way of distinguishing ‘families’ of lore. I also need to credit academic theories of ritual and the work of folklorists, archaeologists, and others – Wiccans have borrowed ideas widely from these academic disciplines (unfortunately holding onto older work longer than useful, as with the Great Ancient Matriarchy theories and the Theory of Pagan Survivals).
Ultimately, each of us must be the authority for ourselves. Even if we give over the authority to the Bible or Teen Witch, it is ours to surrender. And I am an authority, as a 3rd degree with thirty-plus years of experience, just not the only authority. I hope to be very clear that I am answerable to the members of my groups and the Gods, not to the larger Wicca-based Pagan milieu. I disagree with many of them about organization, and also, it seems to me, around this question of a body of lore, and the community is not of one mind, either.
All religions are not simply variations on One True Religion. And in particular, Christianity is not the gold standard – I am not a “non-Christian”, I am a Wiccan Priest. Wiccan ways cannot just borrow undigested bits and pieces of other people’s religions and end up with anything that fits together and works for us on our terms. We need to say positively who we are, and to develop our traditions and lore consciously, not just ‘organically’ (which just means ‘without thinking about it’, ‘randomly’ or “based on unspoken and unexamined assumptions”). And we also can’t, not any longer, say that there is only one Wicca and that we all have the same basic outlook – the various factions are sisters, but not the same.
Recommended Reading for Follow-up
Frankly, there are a thousand sources that I could put here – do your own research. Figure out which pantheons, which Goddesses and Gods call to you, read a few of the books from different traditions. I principally draw from several flavours of Wicca, Greek classics and ceremonial magic, as well as academic studies on ritual and sociology of religion but I could include ancient Sumer, Voodoo and Santaria, and other sources as well. But above all else do ritual and create community. The more that you do, the more that you will understand.
And don’t limit yourself to books in your research. There is a great deal of music from various Pagan and folk traditions that is available – not principally modern neo-Pagan music although some is very good like Medieval Baebes, Pashta and the Pagans, The Waterboys, Jaiya, and others – but authentic living traditions’ music. WOMAD, Island Records, Realworld, and Folkways Records, as well as the field recordings in the American Library of Congress collection, are wonderful sources. Serpentine Music distributes a great deal of contemporary neo-Pagan music, mostly of the feminist folky and semi-Celtic veins.
Documentary films and anthropology field records are wonderful sources but sometimes a little difficult to dig up. For Vodoun dances, for example, Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen is an invaluable record.
Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge’s economics-based rational choice theory (A Theory of Religion 1987, 1996 and Stark and Roger Finke Acts of Faith, 2000) has great explanatory power. It normalizes religious innovation as a constant fact of society, describes church movements’ emergence from cults, sect formation, and a religious marketplace. It assumes stronger boundaries to religious groups and sharper distinction between religious ideas and others than is likely warranted.
Nancy Ammerman’s recent study of religion in daily life (Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes, 2014) examines, on the human level where we encounter the divine, institutions shaping these encounters without predetermining them. Challenging Stark, she notes “a spiritual dimension in practices and experiences that have neither magical intent nor a location outside everyday reality … fundamental recognition of a ‘more than ordinary’ dimension in life … and this sacred consciousness.”
Courtney Bender’s study of the New Age movement in Cambridge MA (The New Metaphysicals, 2010) demonstrates creation of religion and spirituality in several institutional frames and broader cultural history than rational choice theory. Sabina Magliocco’s folklore study of neo-Pagan Witchcraft as a folk tradition (Witching Culture, 2004) is very insightful about the processes for building and reinforcing the meanings in a body of lore.
James Hillman does wonderful poly-theology in A Terrible Love Of War (2004), in which he deals in depth with the relationship between Aphrodite and Ares. This is much more complicated and interesting than just a butch-femme kind of pairing and deeper than a superficial reading might lead you. If we take the gods seriously, then our relationships with them are much more powerfully transformative, but it requires some digging. As well as Hillman, I very strongly recommend Ginette Paris, whose Pagan Meditations (1986) and Pagan Grace (1990) brilliantly deal in some depth with how a life lived in tune with, in service of, one of the Greek deities would be. Meditations talks about Aphrodite, Artemis and Hestia, while Grace about Dionysus, Hermes, and Memory.
The real history, as well as the mythology, of our religious movement, is an important part of the lore. Tell the stories of the founders and Ancestors. Among the excellent sources of stories and facts are: Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon (1979), a journalistic survey of American Paganisms in the 1970s; John Carter, Sex and Rockets (1999) a fascinating biography of Jack Parsons, founder of Jet Propulsion Laboratory and important figure in the Ordo Templi Orientis; Spencer Kansa’s Wormwood Star (2011) is a biography of Parsons’ wife and magical partner, the artist Marjorie Cameron; Chas S Clifton, Her Hidden Children (2006), history of early Wicca in the United States; Philip Heselton, Wiccan Roots (2000) which looks in depth at Gerald Gardner’s circle of friends and collaborators in the birth of Wicca, and Ronald Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon (1999), the definitive history of the factors in British culture leading up to the birth of Wicca in about 1949. Joscelyn Godwin’s The Theosophical Enlightenment (1994) is a thorough history of the development of the Anglo-America occult from 1740 to 1900 and introduces us to the main authors and ideas.
I would be remis if I did not mention my own book: Samuel Wagar Creating Lore, Writing Ritual (2012), available from Amazon, and from which much of this series of posts was adapted.
Next week I’m starting to talk about Ritual and Ritual Theory