Wiccanate Privilege Discussion at Pantheacon

Wiccanate Privilege Discussion at Pantheacon February 22, 2014

One of the highlights of this year’s Pantheacon for me was the scheduled discussion about Wiccanate privilege presided over by Don Frew and PSVL. The discussion was held in a packed room in the COG/NROOGD/NWC suite. There were many “Big Name Pagans” (BNPs) there, including Starhawk, Margot Adler, Gus DiZerega, Macha Nightmare, Sabina Magliocco, Taylor Ellwood, and others, and I felt privileged to be in the room. (There were lots of other people there whose names I should know, but I did not catch, so I apologize in advance for not being able to refer to everyone by name.)

Anyway, Don Frew started out the discussion by explaining that he had written an article, “The Rudiments of Neo-Pagan Spiritual Practice”, which was published out of its intended context, and elicited a strong reaction, as it definitely was not an inclusive statement of Pagan practice. You can read some of that response in the comments at The Wild Hunt’s Pagan Community Notes and in the comments to Don’s guest post at Pointedly Pagan and at PSVL’s blog. PSVL then explained a little about devotional polytheism and Wiccanate privilege. What followed was, unfortunately, less of a discussion and more of a series of people taking turns talking. I would much rather have heard Don and PSVL respond to each person’s comments, which would have taken longer, but in my opinion would have been more productive, even if everyone didn’t get to “have their say.” The result was, I think, that a lot of people left without really understanding what PSVL and the other devotional polytheists present were talking about.

I can’t do justice to the entire session, but I do want to highlight a few points. But before I go there, I should explain two things. First, “Wiccanate” is a term coined by Johnny Rapture, and it refers to American Neo-Pagan theological ideas and liturgical forms common to large public Pagan gatherings and rituals, which are derived from Wicca, but are perceived to be “generic” or “universal” to Paganism. “Wiccan-Centric” is a related term. “Wiccanate privilege” is a phrase that has been going round in polytheist circles recently. It refers to the ways in which Wicca-inspired ritual and theology are assumed to be normative for Paganism as a whole.

Second, I am one of those Pagans who benefits from Wiccanate privilege, because my ritual and my theology are influenced by what is variously called “Neo-Wicca“, “California Eclectic Wicca”, etc. — i.e., I celebrate the eight stations of the Wheel of the Year, my mythology is inspired by Robert Graves, I am comfortable with ritual structured by a quartered circle and the four Greek elements and four Jungian functions, and my theology is pan(en)theistic and hetero-normative. Having said that, I recognize that Wiccanate privilege is real and it is problematic.

All Wiccanates are not Wiccans

The first thing I noticed in the discussion was that there is still some serious confusion about what “Wiccanate” means. The initiated Garnderians in the room heard “Wiccan” and “Wiccanate” and they seemed to think the speaker meant initiatory British Traditional Witchcraft. What polytheists mean by “Wiccan” or “Wiccanate” is not traditional initiatory Wicca, but Wicca-inspired Neo-Paganism or Neo-Wicca, what Don Frew pejoratively called “Llewellyn Craft”. You can say that only initiatory British Traditional Witchcraft is “real Wicca” until you are blue in the face. But folks, that ship has sailed. It sailed with Scott Cunningham and Llewellyn and the Internet. To most people, “Wicca” now means American Neo-Wicca, the blending of traditional Wiccan ritual forms, with spiritual feminism, Jungian psychology, and the mythology of Robert Graves.

Today, Neo-Wiccan or Wiccanate theology and ritual forms have so thoroughly interpenetrated Pagan festivals and publications that its influence is invisible to many people steeped in the culture. There are a number of reasons for this. One reason is that, decades ago, influential Pagans like Oberon Zell and Ed Fitch started referring to “Outer Court” Wiccan ritual forms as “Neo-Pagan” or just “Pagan”. At the same time, “Pagan” was starting to be used as an umbrella term to describe a variety of religions, including many that had little to do with Wicca and some which were consciously trying to distinguish themselves from Wicca, like ADF and pagan reconstructionists. This was a recipe for confusion. Continuing to insist that “Wicca” is limited to initiatory British Traditional Wicca today just contributes to the obfuscation of Wiccanate hegemony. This is why I could attend a CUUPS Imbolc ritual where the ritual leaders cast a circle, called the quarters, invoked the Lord and Lady, and even used a bessom broom to clear the ritual space, and those same leaders could emphatically state that they were not “Wiccan”, i.e., because they were not initiated.

One polytheist who took part in the Wiccanate discussion at Pantheacon (Finnchuill, I think) attempted to problematize a prayer by Thorn Coyle which closed the Pantheacon “Paganism and Privilege” panel, calling it “Wiccanate”. The prayer in question begins, “Holy Mother, in whom we live, move, and have our being …”. The Wiccans in the room promptly responded that this was Feri, not Wiccan. Setting aside the question of Wicca’s influence on Victor and Cora Anderson, the founders of Feri, this response really missed the point. Whether it is Wiccan or Feri, it is “Wiccanate” because it invokes a pantheistic universal Goddess, rather than a singular, individual goddess.

When Starhawk’s turn to speak came, she explained that she does not read blogs and, in her opinion, all these theological distinctions don’t matter, because what all Pagans can agree on is that the earth needs saving and we need to take action. This was met with applause. Part of me agrees with her about the relative importance of theology and ecology. But her statement was, itself, another manifestation of Wiccanate privilege. Starhawk seemed to assume that “Pagan” was synonymous with “earth-centered”. This is a very common mistake to make, one which Gus DiZerega has made repeatedly. In fact, I think it was Gus, who during the discussion said that the three things that Paganism brings to interfaith are (1) the earth, (2) the divine feminine, and (3) ritual. As much as this resonates with me personally, I have to recognize that this is an earth-centric Pagan perspective. And the fact is that it excludes devotional polytheists whose practice is more deity-centered than earth-centered. While traditional initiatory Wicca is not really earth-centered — British Traditional Wicca is more big-“S” Self-centric — Wiccanate Paganism is earth-centered.*

I was surprised that many of the BNPs in the room did not seem to get that. This was evident when someone attempted to correct PSVL’s intentional reference to the gathered group as “interfaith”, erroneous assuming e meant “intrafaith”.  Honestly, a big part of the confusion seemed to be a generational divide.  PSVL handled it very well, better than I would have.  I was, frankly, disappointed in my fellow Wiccanates.

Don concluded the discussion essentially inviting devotional polytheists to greater participation. This is a nicer version of a common injunction to devotional polytheists to “show up”. This assumes they have not. It’s quite possible that they have, and we have not taken account of them. As one devotional polytheist recently wrote to me, “In a way, what we are fighting against isn’t their desire to exclude us, but their desire to believe they have already achieved perfect inclusivity.” That nails it on the head for me! It’s good that we Wiccanate Pagans value inclusivity, but it kind of misses the point, because holding the value and actually being inclusive are different. Whenever it comes to Pan-Pagan gatherings and Pagan ecumenical efforts — like Pagan Pride Day — Wiccanate ritual and theology always prevails.

Consider the experience of Pagan Pride Day described by Luis Valadez (Oracle) here and here, which seems to be a common experience among devotional polytheists.  It’s a problem is that we even believe there is such a thing as a “generic Pagan prayer” or a “generic Pagan ritual.” I’ve heard this term used by Wiccans, Neo-Pagans, and devotional polytheists alike. And that statement itself is a manifestation of Wiccanate privilege — whether the statement is made by the privileged or the un-privileged. What we commonly call “generic Pagan” ritual — casting a circle, calling the quarters, invoking the God and Goddess — is not generic anything. It is Wiccanate. It is Wicca-inspired Neo-Paganism or American Neo-Wiccan Paganism. And as such, it excludes many Pagans, including devotional polytheists. When we present a so-called “generic” or “watered-down” Pagan ritual at Pagan Pride Day, we are really privileging Wiccanate Pagans.

I was pleased to hear, though, Rayna Templebee respond by identifying the privilege that was manifesting in the room at the time. She pointed out that some of the speakers had not bothered to introduce themselves (Starhawk was one), because they could assume that everyone knew them. That is a manifestation of privilege, as was the implication that their understanding of Paganism is normative.

Who Speaks for Us?

Was it appropriate for Thorn Coyle to offer a pantheistic prayer following the close of a panel discussion on privilege? As someone in the discussion pointed out, it would be quite surprising to hear Thorn offer any other prayer. But when a person offers a prayer in an interfaith context (and the “Paganism and Privilege” session was an interfaith context), what responsibilities do they have to represent the gathering as a whole when they pray? What alternatives are there to praying from one’s own tradition? Is it even possible to pray in a way that will be representative of everyone present? I think it does behoove the person praying to try to be inclusive, but it is probably impossible to pray in a way that will not exclude somebody.

At one point in the discussion, PSVL directed a question to the room as a whole; e** asked if we would not feel excluded were e to offer a prayer to Antinous at the close of an interfaith gathering. The room responded immediately and vocally with a near-unanimous, “No!” We all said we would not feel excluded. Several people said that they would want to hear PSVL’s prayer. PSVL later shared eir account of participating in the closing ritual for Pantheacon years ago in which e was invited to call one of the quarters and e did not say “hail and farewell”. The response was something less than what e had hoped for. I suspect this was probably because those gathered did not know how to respond to the call. But there is a larger point here. The people participating in the Wiccante discussion (including myself) could be gracious about wanting to hear PSVL’s prayer to Antinous because we are the beneficiaries of Wiccanate privilege. We can make room for PSVL’s prayer, because there is so much room available for us. We would not feel excluded by PSVL’s prayer, because eir prayer remains the exception to the rule. And that rule is Wiccanate Paganism. I suspect most of the people in the room would have felt differently if devotional polytheism were the norm and Wiccanate Paganism were the exception.

The problem, as I see it, is not that Thorn or anyone else would offer a pantheistic prayer in a Pagan interfaith context. No prayer can be totally inclusive. The problem is when a pantheistic prayer is offered in such a way that it seems to assume that the prayer is representative of everyone. Thorn can offer her prayer, but I think she should have prefaced it by explaining briefly that this is a prayer that she knows from her tradition and it reflects her understanding of deity.  Instead, to some people who heard it, it seemed like she was assuming that everyone knew where her prayer came from. Honestly, I never thought this before when I heard Thorn offer this prayer, but I can see now how it can be perceived as a manifestation of privilege. Thorn actually has addressed this recently here, and you should definitely read her post.  I would expect PSVL to give the same kind of explanation when e offers a prayer to Antinous at an opening ritual of Pantheacon.

Polytheistic with a Hyphen

PSVL explained to the group that “polytheism” means the worship of more than one deity. Of course, to me, this begs the question of what a “deity” is. E took the position that, if you are a polytheist and something else, like a monist or a pantheist, then you need to say so when you use the word “polytheist”. If you are a “polytheistic panentheistic monist” like Don Frew or a Jungian polytheist like Margot Adler, then don’t just call yourself a polytheist, especially when talking to other Pagans.

I agree, but I was a little surprised to hear PSVL except emself from this rule, and imply that “polytheism” necessarily means eir kind of polytheism, i.e. a belief in multiple gods as independent volitional beings that exist outside of us.  E had recently blogged that e had adopted the term “devotional polytheist”, which I think is a good way of distinguishing eir deity-centered polytheism from other forms of polytheism, like Jungian polytheism, for example.  I had hoped e would promote this distinction.  Instead, e claimed the right to define a word for others — which is a cardinal sin in a Pan-Pagan gathering.

There was a moving moment in the discussion when Margot Adler shared her story of coming to Paganism, when “Wicca was all there was.” She said that, if there had been a Hellenic polytheism at that time (the 1970s), she would have chosen that path, because she was always called to the Greek gods and goddesses. Margot then looked directly at PSVL, and her voice broke as she said that eir excluding “archetypal” understandings of the gods from the definition of “polytheist” makes her feel excluded and “worries” her. This stood out to me, because Margot is someone I admire greatly, and she was one of the people I quoted in my post about my Neo-Pagan theology which recently set off a mini-firestorm in the Pagan blogosphere over of my use of the word “polytheism”.

Margot happens to be the granddaughter of Alfred Adler who, together with Freud and Jung, founded psychotherapy. She considers herself a polytheist, but she is not the same kind of polytheist as PSVL. She recently wrote in her book, Vampires Are Us, “I entered into Paganism because of a love of ritual and a love of the Greek goddesses going back to childhood. And if I go back to my earliest dreams and fantasies of Paganism—the Greek goddesses that I so loved when I was twelve—I knew in the depths of my being that I didn’t want to worship them; I wanted to be them.” (emphasis original). This is the difference between deity-centered and Self-centric Paganism.

I agree with PSVL that the hyphens are necessary when we are communicating to each other what kind of polytheists and Pagans we are. However, I think that applies to devotional or deity-centered polytheists, too! Otherwise, you end up excluding nearly everybody else in the room (almost who all raised their hands to indicate they identified as “polytheist” is some sense).  This includes people like Margot Adler, for gods’ sake, who was using the term before many of us were even born!  The insistence on a definition of polytheism that excludes people like Margot Adler will always be a dead end for polytheists hoping to communicate with other Pagans.

So here was my take away from the discussion:

1.  Wiccanate privilege is real. Don’t assume that all Paganism is earth-centered.

2.  There is no generic Paganism. Don’t assume that your Paganism is anyone else’s.

3.  Embrace hyphens. Don’t assume your polytheism is anyone else’s.

Note: PSVL has summarized eir experience of the discussion here.  Go check it out!

* See Vivianne Crowley (1998), “Wicca as Nature Religion” in Pearson, J. et al (eds), Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 170-179; Jo Pearson (2000), “Wicca, Esotericism and Living Nature: Assessing Wicca as Nature Religion” in Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, Issue Number 14, November 2000.

** PSVL is a metagender person, and metagender pronouns are different from the binary gendered pronouns most people are familiar with.  For more info, see here.  Consequently, what looks like typos above is the intentional use of alternative pronouns for an individual who is not male or female.  (Sometimes I still mess up though and accidentally use binary gendered pronouns for metagender persons.  If you notice I have, let me know and I will correct it.)


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  • Eilidh Nic Sidheag

    Thanks, John – I wasn’t able to be at Pantheacon, but from that admittedly limiting perspective I find this to be the most constructive writeup of this discussion so far. I agree using adjectives to distinguish between different types of polytheism is probably helpful at this point. As someone whose polytheism is (I think) of the same type as PSVL’s, I do rather wish that “devotional” wasn’t the adjective that people seem to be choosing to characterize it, however. I see plenty of devotion in Wiccanate groups, especially those whose take on Wicca emphasizes the “all the goddesses are one goddess” strand over the archetypal strand. Using “devotional” to distinguish ourselves from them seems to mischaracterize them. I usually use “hard polytheist” to describe my experience, which works for me because of the analogy with phrases like “hard/soft atheism” and “hard/soft agnosticism” that are commonly used in religious studies circles. If that doesn’t work for those who don’t have that background, perhaps “deity-centric polytheism” is also a good solution.

    • “Radical polytheist” is another term used in religious studies, but it has some unfortunate and unintended connotations. I like deity-centered too, because it implies there are other centers. The problem, as PSVL points out in the comment above, is that this is a distinction of praxis and not theology.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Thank you for your account and reflections on the matter, John. You’ve filled in some important holes for me.

    A few things:

    1) There are a few pronouns you missed above; when you have a moment, have another read-over and I’m sure you’ll see them. 😉

    2) The contribution I had at the 2007 PantheaCon was at the closing ritual, not the opening one; and, I didn’t actually pray to Antinous for the majority of it, which was in English. I said something like: “We thank, bless, and acknowledge the powers and spirits of the North, of the strong element of earth beneath us, of the Ancestors and of memory; may you continue to bless us and be with us and support us in our return from this gathering; Ave! Gratias Agemus! Bendachta Dé ocus An-Dé foraib! Slán!” (The latter translates roughly as “Hail! We thank you! Blessings of the Gods and the Non-Gods on all of you! Be well!”) There was actually nothing Antinous-specific about it at all, because I figured that he would be irrelevant to everyone but the four or so of us out of maybe 70 who were present. But, all that I did in English was pretty standard…and yet, nothing, because I didn’t say “Hail and Farewell!”

    3) I think perhaps part of the problem, and one of the reasons why I didn’t say “devotional” when I identified as a polytheist on this occasion, is that “polytheist” is a theological term that tells of the nature of a particular form of theology, whereas “devotional” characterizes a spiritual style (and thus it wasn’t really relevant to the discussion, in my view). Many polytheist-monist-panentheists are devoted in their spirituality, so I think taking the word “devotional” as something that is just for a certain section of polytheists is rather inappropriate. I was, thus, speaking in strictly theological terms, in which polytheism means nothing but “many gods.” I’m still not sure why or how this is at all controversial, or how this is defining the term for others; the difference in understanding expressed by others is due to their having other things connected to their polytheologies, which I don’t have. What I do about that theology, i.e. how it translates into practice and into spirituality, is that I am devoted to individual deities. Other people have further aspects to their theologies rather than strictly polytheism, which (again!) I have no problem with, and thus they do different things with those theologies on a personal practice and practical spirituality level, which may thus include that they don’t worship the deities in the same ways that some of us do. Perhaps this is a further nuance that needs to be added into these discussions. But, I likewise think that this demonstrates that our religions really are quite different, and thus we can’t really think of these matters as “intrafaith” any longer, very likely.

    In any case, lots to discuss further…!?!

    • 1) Thank you for your patience. Hopefully all corrected now. (Object lesson in how hard it is to get some people to change.)

      2) Thanks for clearing that up. I made a change above.

      3) I see that. “Devotional” is not a theological distinction. Since “hard” is becoming disfavored and “radical” carries other (unintended) connotations, we need a new adjective I think.

      From my perspective, it seems you are attempting to reduce “polytheism” to its most fundamental meaning and then claim it for yourself. That will upset some people, because it can be perceived as a privileged position to take. It may be understood as saying that other forms of polytheism are derivative and thus inferior. More importantly, I think many people will feel that your sense of “polytheism” is not sufficiently fundamental to claim that privileged position. What you actually *said* in your opening statement was (I think) uncontroversial, i.e., that polytheism means “many gods”. But that leaves open the question of what “gods” are. What you went on to *imply*, which was controversial, was that “gods” necessarily means “independent volitional divine beings that exist outside of me in a real fashion.” I would agree that this is how *most* (but not all) ancient pagans understood the gods, but from a Neo-Pagan perspective, there is no reason to privilege (I’m using that word too much now) that ancient perspective over modern and post-modern ones.

      • Eilidh Nic Sidheag

        If we (people who conceive of the gods as PSVL and I do) need a term that doesn’t imply a particular understanding of what gods are, I guess “deity-centric” doesn’t really work either. “Ontological polytheism”? It’s a theological statement, at least – but perhaps too academic?

        • Keith C. McCormic

          English has a term for a powerful symbolic or unconscious “vessel” which we interpret through our cultural lenses and onto which we externalize our internal dialog – “Archetype”.

          Dating back at least to the 16th Century, this term (Greek for “first pattern”) encapsulates everything from Platonic “perfect forms” to the Jungian “collective unconscious”.

          To my mind it is the appropriate term for a belief that deities are expressions of the human psyche as opposed to external beings. By definition, a “god” is a “being” or an “entity”, whereas “archetype” can imply either a perfect original separate from the self (but of which the self is a reflection) or the internal perfection to which the self can aspire.

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        I think this is where the real disconnect between many polytheists and Wiccanate Pagans is coming from. Why does the most basic meaning of a term have to be in some way “bad”? If other people have polytheist as a part of a constellation of different theological stances (weighted and ordered however it might be for their particular blend), that’s fine, and they can use that term all they like; so, why can’t “polytheism” just on its own mean “many gods” and that’s that? Contextuality is one thing; oftentimes, when something is in close proximity to something else, that contextual difference means there is a different valence to a term, which is fine and which happens whether we like it or not (including with people–I’m different around my Thracian colleague than I am around Jason Mankey than I am around my mom…and, the gods seem to follow the same pattern!); however, complete and total relativism is something else entirely. What is preventing me from identifying as a Jedi-Mormon-Scientologist and defining those things however I want, without reference to or respect for Yoda, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or L. Ron Hubbard, if I just decide I want to call myself those things?

        If polytheist is to mean anything other than “many gods,” then it is no longer useful as a term; how many, or what the origin of the many is, or whether or not the many-ness of the gods is a factor of psychological or cultural interpretation, etc., are all things that can be clarified and sorted based on who is identifying as such and in what context. It is essential, in those cases, to then further discuss what is going on with that term, so that a label on its own doesn’t have to carry all the weight; but, if the term is used, then there is going to be a “several deities” aspect to what is understood and negotiated every time, whether that is an ontological matter or it is simply a practical matter (e.g. all gods are one, but I deal with them separately because they seem to be separate, etc.).

        By having it as my only identifier (other than “animism”), I nor anyone else are saying that we own it, or are “purer” with it, or are better at it, or anything else.

        It sounds to me, thus, that not only is the use of “devotional” a problem because it isn’t theological but instead practical (and thus I’ve not elaborated upon it or included it much in my discussions, then or now), but likewise the term “gods” is also the problem for many folks. If so, that’s fine, but it still doesn’t really invalidate anyone’s use of the term “polytheism.” That is, then, undeniably, a theological matter, and one that has to be examined and settled by each community and each individual.

        Does that make sense? I hope so…

        • Henry Buchy

          “so, why can’t “polytheism” just on its own mean “many gods” and that’s that? ”
          been saying that for years, matter of fact, it’s one of the reasons I got banned from star foster’s blog when she was the editor of this area.

    • Re: the closing ritual you took part in at 2007 Pantheacon , I would say that having a closing ritual at a pan-Pagan event that then has people invoking–or whatever term is appropriate–a direction is in itself an example of Wiccanate privilege. I can’t say that I’ve ever personally done a ritual involving such a calling on the compass points, and, as far as I know, it isn’t a part of Finnish tradition. Had I been in a such a situation I wouldn’t have known what to say if called on as you were. I’d likely have been a deer in headlights.

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus


        It’s a fair point, but one that I couldn’t dispute at the time if I had wanted to be included at all.

        The PantheaCon 2007’s opening ritual’s situation was the same, and even worse to a degree, because the person who was asked to do East was one of my former colleagues at the time, who had come all the way from Germany. He had no knowledge of Wicca at all, and had never read a book on it or had any experience with it (I did way back in the day), and so he was asked to invoke East, and he simply said “I’m afraid I don’t know the ritual.” Then Glenn Turner pretty much asked him to say what she told him to say, which was very traditionally Wiccan, and he repeated it. When he said that he didn’t know the ritual, I heard a few people gasp, or quietly go “Awww,” as if they were dealing with a mentally-deficient person.

        Since then, I’ve only been to one further opening ritual, and that was the 2008 one, which was done by CAYA Coven and Lady Yeshe Rabbit, who is a friend of mine. There, they took care of everything, and while still Wiccanate, I think it was inclusive enough for those who were present not to feel excluded, and certainly not put on the spot or “forced” to do particular things in a certain format, etc.

        • As someone who is fairly reclusive and socially awkward, I would be intensely uncomfortable being put on the spot in that way in any ritual, even if it were a type of ritual that I liked.
          The anecdote with your friend from Germany makes me wonder what the non-English speaking Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist worlds tend to think about this whole cluster of issues. I often wonder about that after thinking that the Angloblogosphere–I totally just made that word up!–is like a huge echo chamber. I wonder how discussions of the meaning of ‘polytheism’ go in other languages. Or does this sort of default to Wicca-style Paganism exist as much in Germany, France, Scandinavia, Latin America, Eastern Europe etc? I would be curious to hear more voices from those places add their two cents. There’s some thought buried in there on the privilege inherent in being an English speaker, especially a native one. It does often seem like the English-speaking Pagan world does feel like all of Paganism revolves around what it is doing and thinking.

  • Conor O’Bryan Warren

    Personally, I don’t really feel the need for a modifier for my theological understanding of the nature of divinity, my stance is polytheism (and animism I s’pose), full stop, dictionary definition. As a religious identifier I use “Hellenist” or “adherent of Hellenismos” the vast majority of the time. You either worship and/or believe in multiple gods or you don’t. So even if you believe in three gods from which all other gods emanate and you worship their emanations because, lets say those three are utterly transcendent, one is still a polytheist.

    If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, I’m calling it a duck. Calling it Anas platyrhynchos, while certainly helpful if I am in a situation that I need to let someone know it is a mallard, is entirely superfluous if I’m just going to feed ducks some stale bread at the park. It is or it isn’t.

    • ^^^ I wish I could like this comment more than once.

  • thehouseofvines

    Hey John, I just wanted to thank you for making an effort to understand and accurately represent the complex and nuanced issues involved in this. That gesture really stands out.

  • You’ve come quite far from the first post about privilege. Excellent post. Thanks for the account for those of us who could not be there.

    Oh Starhawk…..seriously? disappointed sigh.

    • What irritates me about Starhawk’s comments–aside from the general Pagan need to confuse religion with activism–is that I’d imagine almost all of the sessions at PantheaCon had nothing to do with taking action to save the earth, and yet, as far as I know, she didn’t go to any of those events and chastise them for focusing on things she deems trivial. Instead she decided to go to a panel whose subject matter she possibly took a little too personally–those with privilege often take umbrage at having that privilege pointed out to them–and tried to derail the discussion.

      • Yes, I agree. I mean, this is a woman who charges people $1000 a month for the honor of “interning” as sheepherders at her ranch in California. She’s a brilliant woman but many brilliant people make the mistake of buying their own bullshit and I think this is one example…

        • I really wish I was surprised to hear that, but such is the cynicism of our age when it comes to authority figures that I’m just not surprised by much anymore.

  • Thank you so much for this. I do read blogs (thank you Starhawk, lol), but do not attend conventions or “generic” pagan public events. Personally, I am a skeptical panentheistic soft polytheist with shamanistic and Jungian aspects. I constantly get dinged by Wiccanates for not celebrating the “right” sabbats or falling down in joy when wished a happy whatever-sabbat-I-dont’-celebrate.

  • Keith C. McCormic

    This is one of the most important reasons that I do not, and have never, identified as “pagan”. However, to be fair, “polytheism” doesn’t require hyphenation in the case of multiple deities. It is only in the case of a belief that deities are not independent beings that such clarification is necessary. From an anthropological standpoint, polytheistic societies acknowledge multiple independent godlike Powers, regardless of the underlying cosmology. Plenty of traditional polytheistic societies have a concept of “oneness” (and plenty don’t), but in those cases, the “Oneness” is rarely the focus of veneration- it’s simply a cosmological idea, not a theological practice.

    Perhaps one of the reasons that the “devotional” or “hard” polytheists are so adamantly defending “polytheist” as meaning only traditions in which the gods are real and distinct is because, from a historical perspective, that is true. I can’t think of a traditional religion in which shamans or priests to say “I ask Spirit”- no, they generally ask “the spirits”, “the ancestors”, or “the gods”. Any tradition that reduces the cosmos (or even just divinity) to a single entity is supposed to have “mono” in the title somewhere. Describing Athena, Frigga, and Amaterasu as archetypes or undifferentiated faces of a single Power is a belief in “one”, not a belief in “many”.

    To describe such a “mono” religion as “poly” is the linguistic equivalent of calling one person drinking a martini a “cocktail party”. One might as well call a rainstorm by the name “water”. It is philosophically possible to defend such a position, but it not particularly useful in most circumstances. Why then do so many people so strongly object to a small group of people (Do we call them “Person” now?) insisting on a more precise, historically-accurate use of a term (“polytheism”) that until recently had a fairly precise meaning: belief in many gods?

    Can’t we just cook up new terms for the hyphenated stuff? Polyarchetypicalist? Polyfaçadal Monist? Eclectic Jungian? I mean, monism gets to have a separate term from monotheism- why not let the people who believe in multiple, literal GODS keep the term they always had? Let’s just find a new term for people who address Unity through multiple faces.

    • One difficulty is that Neo-Pagans like Adler (not to mention non-Pagans like David Miller and James Hillman) have been using the term “polytheism” this way for over 30 years without challenge. Now devotional polytheists in the last few years start telling them they can’t. You see the problem right? Set aside the question of who is linguistically or theologically “right”, and look at the emotions involved.

      • Keith C. McCormic

        Oh, I absolutely understand the emotional weight on both sides. But to my mind we need to be guided by our awareness of privilege (my anthro is showing, I know…) in the same way that we would for an indigenous society. I seem to recall that some of those elder pagans fought for Reclaiming of traditional definitions. For instance, “Witch”- an indigenous term colonized by Christian invaders.

        It always falls to those in positions of power, prestige, or privilege to make space for those who would reclaim traditional practice by yielding the name. Adler, et all were not the first to be described as polytheists, it was a term that described a fairly specific kind of theology practiced by “others” (at the time). Now that people are becoming visible who more closely fit that definition, it is appropriate to allow the historical definition to reassert itself in the same way that “Witch” does not inherently mean an evil green lady riding a broom.

        • Except that you’re comparing replacing a pejorative and inaccurate meaning (“witch” as “evil green lady riding a broom”) with a positive meaning (“witch” as wise woman, etc.), on the one hand, and replacing one positive meaning with another (in the case of “polytheist”).

          I don’t agree that those that have power or privilege must automatically “yield the name” to those that don’t. If I decide today that Christian means believing Christ is cosmic consciousness, does that mean the Catholic church has to yield the name “Christian” to me, just because I’m the newcomer.

          • Keith C. McCormic

            Why then is interpreting “theos” in the historically correct sense considered by many to be a dangerous and/or shameful belief? The difference here is not one of equally valued meanings but a choice between one interpretation that is “safe” and one that is “dangerous”, with those in positions of privilege deciding that their definition is “safe”. It seems that people like PSVL are trying to defend and resacralize the word “theos”- a word that many today seem bound and determined to divorce from its original meaning.

            Your example of reclaiming Christ from Catholicism is flawed in that in it you are introducing a wholly new definition, not reclaiming an old one. I would be just as wrong to declare that Paganism is solely worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The example is in no way similar to a situation in which a few decades past some people redefined a word to suit their purposes and are today upset that another group insists on using the term in its original, historical context.

            In this situation, neither the “hard” polytheists nor the “hard” theists are the newcomers, rather they are the newly acknowledged. In such cases, it is the responsibility of those in positions of power and privilege to force themselves to reflect on their own appropriation of language and to yield terms back to those who use them in their original context. This was the case with “witch” and it should be the case with “theos” and “polytheism”.

            Unless we are willing to add new words to our language to accommodate new concepts while preserving the meanings in old words, we run the risk of confining our ability to conceive of concepts newer still.

            • >”our example of reclaiming Christ from Catholicism is flawed in that in it you are introducing a wholly new definition, not reclaiming an old one.”

              I could have just as well said “Christ as a mortal Jewish Messiah” and the point would still hold.

              >”This was the case with “witch” and it should be the case with “theos” and “polytheism”.”

              I don’t know if anyone in ancient times called themselves a “witch” and saw it as something positive.

            • Keith C. McCormic

              Interestingly, on your first point- I would agree that the Vatican (or rather Constantine I) co-opted the term from THOSE Christians and should give it back post-haste.

              Regarding “witch”, it is certainly a point of scholarly debate as to whether the root words were ever considered positive; and yet, it has been almost an article of faith in Wiccanate communities that the root terms were indigenously positive and later demonized by Christianity. One possible source of evidence in support of this view is the status of so-called “cunning folk” in Britain and Northern Europe. We find that such persons were valued by the commons from at least the early Medieval period through modern times. So, while the direct etymology of “witch” is debatable, the Wiccanate community is correct that at least SOME of the terms applied to magic workers were positive. Thus, their attempt to reclaim terms associated with those traditions are ethically reasonable.

  • Enjoyed this summary, a lot! Thank you for writing it.

  • mptp

    You can say that only initiatory British Traditional Witchcraft is “real
    Wicca” until you are blue in the face. But folks, that ship has sailed.

    Why is the erasure of a distinction between the two considered to be ok? (especially when we are discussing privilege – the erasure of a point of view because it has been usurped by a majority is a position of privilege

    There is quite a bit of difference between Neo-Wicca and BTW, and it’s NOT simply that the BTW practice initiation.

    Even Gardner recognized the validity of polytheism, when he flat out stated in The Meaning of Witchcraft “They
    can see no reason why each people should not worship their national gods, or
    why any­one should strive to prevent them from doing so.”

    You say that ship has sailed, yet the very criticisms you lay at the feet of Wicca in general do not apply to those of BTW in general, but only few specific named individuals with whom you have valid complaints

    I am a member of a BTW coven, and we are, for the most part, polytheists. We have our specific God and Goddess we worship in the majority of our rituals (who are not some generic All Are One), but each of us also has connections to other Deities from different locations – and we aren’t using archetypal whitewashes of them, either.

    We also don’t get involved in telling others what paganism is – we have enough on our hands with worshiping in our coven and making ends meet in our daily lives/jobs/families.

    Frankly, your claims about what the meaning of the word Wicca is could be just as easily applied to a definition of Paganism, and you can argue til you’re blue in the face that it isn’t accurate or valid, but you’d be arguing from the same basis as the BTW do when they complain about the watering down of the word Wicca.

    • >”Why is the erasure of a distinction between the two considered to be ok? (especially when we are discussing privilege – the erasure of a point of view because it has been usurped by a majority is a position of privilege.”

      Fair point. I’m not contesting BTW’s right to lay claim to the word “Wicca”. My point is that by over-emphasizing the distinction, we obscure the hegemony of Wicca’s influence.

      >”You say that ship has sailed, yet the very criticisms you lay at the feet of Wicca in general do not apply to those of BTW in general, but only few specific named individuals with whom you have valid complaints.”

      I agree.

      >”I am a member of a BTW coven, and we are, for the most part, polytheists. We have our specific God and Goddess we worship in the majority of our rituals (who are not some generic All Are One), but each of us also has connections to other Deities from different locations – and we aren’t using archetypal whitewashes of them, either.”

      That doesn’t surprise me. Neo-Wicca or Wiccan-inspired Paganism does tend to favor archetypal definitions though.

      >”Frankly, your claims about what the meaning of the word Wicca is could be just as easily applied to a definition of Paganism, …”

      True. Been there, done that.

      • mptp

        I totally agree with you regarding where to lay some of the blame for the spreading/diluting of the word Wicca – I know of at least one recent (last ten years) author who wanted to use the word witchcraft in the title of their book, and was told by the publisher to change it to Wicca.

        When authors were trying to publish books which say that what they experienced has to be taught in person, certain publishing houses said “that won’t sell books” … and eventually, between that issue, AND there not being enough groups to go around for all the people who wanted initiation to get it, we got The Pagan Way, which was an intentionally created work to establish, essentially, an outer court practice for those who wanted to do SOMETHING, while waiting for initiation … to the point where the authors of that work, IIRC, witnessed people trying to pass it off as ancient traditional work from a family tradition …

        I get that Paganism, if there is to be any definitions, is NOT limited to earth based fertility religions which worship a paired God and Goddess and practice magic.

        Hel, I had this very argument in 2005 with the author who had to change her book title to include Wicca instead of Witchcraft.

        What the pagan groups who aren’t Wicca-influenced do is something I don’t know much about – but I don’t tell others what those groups do or believe, because I do not know. I’ve been lucky to have exposure to Santeria, repeatedly, at a Pagan gathering I attend, and it’s not Wicca-like at all.

        And, just because I don’t do all the things which people are complaining about regarding “Wiccanate” privilege, doesn’t mean that I don’t have it – I just try like mad not to act on it.

    • Joshua Tenpenny

      The problem isn’t BTWs. The dominant force in Paganism is Wicca-derived traditions, not BTW. Some of the Wicca-derived traditions call themselves Wiccan, some who don’t. Some are fairly direct offshoots of BTW, and some are very different . People outside of Wiccan-derived trads generally are unable to accurately discern how closely any given Wiccan-derived group or practice resembles BTW, but they recognise certain things which are common in Wicca-derived traditions and routinely assumed of “all Pagans”. Some of those, like goddess-centrism and a focus on ecology, are not BTW at all, but are still often attributed to “all Pagans/Wiccans”. I don’t think anyone is more ticked off than the BTWs at “Wicca” being used as an umbrella term for Pagans, where nearly anything can be called “Wicca”.

      I am under the impression that BTW has a taboo about speaking in specific terms about their God and Goddess with non-initiates, and I think this has fostered the misconception that Wicca is largely pantheistic. In any case, the concept that “All Gods are One God” and “All Goddesses are One Goddess” is very prevalent in the Wiccan-derived traditions, and this is often near the top of the list of things that make hard polytheists profoundly uncomfortable at (Wiccan-derived) Pagan events.

      • mptp

        I don’t think anyone is more ticked off than the BTWs at “Wicca” being used as an umbrella term for Pagans, where nearly anything can be called “Wicca”.

        You’re right, but in the very article where our common beef is being addressed, BTWs are told it’s too late, we’ve lost that fight, and it’s intimated in many places discussing the larger problem (genericism being used as a definition) that BTWs are derailing when we point out the issue of the appropriation of the term, it gets as frustrating to us as being left out of the discussion/definition is for the non-generic Neopagans.

        The other problem, iirc, is that the generic outer court forms which have become so popularized, were caused by some in BTW traditions, namely Carl, et al. looking to sell books and provide _something_ for seekers.

        • Joshua Tenpenny

          I think a lot of Pagans have no idea what a sore point that is for BTWs, or how much blood and tears has gone into the “Who counts as Wiccan” debate over the years.

  • Laure Beth Lynch

    I have mostly tried to stay out of the discussion because of the mud-slinging on both sides, but I wanted to thank you for this level-headed and thoughtful summation of the issues. I am a hard, deity-centered polytheist and I tend to default to describing myself as a “hard polytheist” rather than “devotional polytheist” because the latter implies, to me, that other polytheists (believers in many gods) are not devoted, and I don’t wish to imply any such thing.

    • Joshua Tenpenny

      I prefer “hard polytheist” for the same reason. I see where folks are coming from when they say that what I would call “soft polytheism” should not be considered polytheism at all, but I really can’t get behind that. I can’t approach any kind of interfaith dialog with a soft polytheist/pantheist saying, basically, “What you believe to be ‘god’ does not technically quallify as ‘god’ so you’ve got to stop calling it that.” I can only say that what you call a ‘god’ is so different from what I call a ‘god’ that we are realistically talking about entirely different beings/concepts.

      In my experience, folk on the pantheist/soft polytheist end of things sincerely believe their “thought forms”/archetypes/etc to be what gods actually are. How can I say “Don’t call that ‘polytheism'”? They are honoring multiple gods-as-they-know-them

      The soft/hard distinction seems to one that doesn’t stigmatize either side, and one that makes sense in a larger interfaith context.

      • “I can only say that what you call a ‘god’ is so different from what I call a ‘god’ that we are realistically talking about entirely different beings/concepts.” <– this

        • Northern_Light_27

          A question: isn’t that perspective extremely etic? How is it meaningfully different than a Christian saying the same thing to a Pagan because our gods aren’t omni-?

      • Keith C. McCormic

        >>”In my experience, folk on the pantheist/soft polytheist end of things sincerely believe their “thought forms”/archetypes/etc to be what gods actually are. How can I say “Don’t call that ‘polytheism'”? They are honoring multiple gods-as-they-know-them.”<<

        It is important to recognize that "pantheism" is a distinct term from "polytheism". The most striking difference lies in the area of individuation. In pantheism, all of the various deities (and us, for that matter) are expressions/faces of a singular "God", "Deity", or "Spirit". This is not the case in polytheism, as deindividuating the Gods into "God" would reduce them from "many" to "one".

        To be fair, BOTH polytheism and pantheism are valid "theistic" beliefs in that both acknowledge the existence of at least one Power that is greater than us and not purely internal to us. It is vitally important for us to remember that pantheism is a form of monotheism, though- not a form of polytheism.

        As an aside, I feel it's worth noting that in some traditions "thoughtforms" can develop the ability to exist outside of and independent of the original imaginer, for instance the "tulpa" of Tibet.

        • Joshua Tenpenny

          This seems to leave aside what is, in my experience, one of the most prevalent concepts of deity in Paganism – the concept of multiple “gods” who are not seen as external beings with agency, but who are seen as meaningfully distinct entities/energies. An “archetypal” or “internal” conception of deity doesn’t necessitate any kind pantheism at all, and even when there is some concept of an underlying “all-one-ness” going on behind the scenes, or a tendency for similar deities get lumped together into a smaller number of deities, for the majority of Pagans it seems like the “more-than-one-ness” of deity is an essential defining part of their theology as Pagans.

          It is very different to say, “I recognize an underlying oneness of all things, but my spiritual practices focus on honoring multiple individual gods”, rather than the more classically pantheistic “I recognize the multiplicity of deity, but my spiritual practices focus on the oneness of these diverse forces.” Especially when many of our traditions emphasize practice and relationship over theology and belief, it seems more meaningful recognize people who honor multiple gods as practicing some form of polytheism, especially when they self-identify their practices or beliefs as polytheistic.

          It seems incredibly dismissive and unproductive in an interfaith context to classify as a pantheist any Pagan who honors multiple gods-as-they-understand-them but does not believe in the literal existence of external divine beings with agency, especially if you are going to then further classify them as a form of monotheism, when so many of them have gone against overwhelming societal pressure to reject monotheism.

          I’m not saying, “Oh, we’re all happy polytheists here so there is no reason for some people to feel excluded or marginalized.” No – I know why they are feeling marginalized, and I am thrilled they are finally being heard, but trying to define people out of polytheism (or Paganism) isn’t going to create meaningful inclusion or mutual understanding.

          • Keith C. McCormic

            My apologies if I have given offense, I intend none. Herein I am concerned solely with the meanings of words and their place in this ongoing controversy.

            For instance, I am having trouble parsing your sentence about “multiple ‘gods’ who are not seen as external beings with agency, but who are seen as meaningfully distinct entities/energies”. I am confused by the pairing of “entity” (from dictionary.com: “being or existence, especially when considered as distinct, independent, or self-contained”) with “energy” (“the capacity to perform work”). I’m having a hard time seeing how a “being” is different from an “entity” in the context of divinity. I dare say that few would contest the notion that gods possess energy (and perhaps, like us, are comprised thereof), but I’m failing to see dichotomy in your examples.

            Perhaps it is the animist in me ascribing the potential for volition (though not necessarily anthropomorphism) to all things.

            Regarding your point about those who believe in a theologically unfathomable oneness but honor multiple gods as individuated and self-actualized- that is just as much “polytheism” as the belief in no underlying unity. Hinduism is a perfect example of this- as I understand it, Brahman (not Brahma) is acknowledged theologically but not served or worshipped in a direct sense. The defining “poly” here is in practice, wherein the various devas are honored and petitioned separately as distinct individuals.

            Typically, pantheists place the emphasis on the unity (“God”, “Deity”, “Spirit”) and are thus monotheistic in focus, while polytheists place the emphasis on the multiplicity regardless of any cosmological concept of underlying unity. Some scholars have tried new terms to try to distinguish unity-polytheism from distinct-polytheism, but I’m not aware of any that are widely accepted.

            I also wish to respond to your concern that “It seems incredibly dismissive… to classify as a pantheist any Pagan who … does not believe in the literal existence of external divine beings with agency, especially if you are going to then further classify them as a form of monotheism”. I’m sorry if I misrepresented my understanding of the tongue. A person who does not believe in “external divine beings with agency” is not a pantheist. Such a person is, by definition, an “atheist” (“one who denies the existence of a deity or of divine beings”). If they are skeptical of the existence but open to the possibility, such a person is instead “agnostic”.

            Is there room for spiritual seekers who do not believe in divine beings? Absolutely! But part of making room in a “big tent” is insisting on clarity of language to permit and foster dialogue. More precision in our own description of our beliefs is a critical contribution to interfaith work.

            • Joshua Tenpenny

              I’m not offended. I do know, though, from personal experience, that telling Pagans that they are “really” atheists or monotheists (when they don’t identify that way) is likely to cause offense and make meaningful interfaith dialog nearly impossible.

              I don’t know how to precisely describe the concept of “distinct entities/energies” which are seen as “gods” but not seen as having specific agency, or are seen as not wholly “external” to the individual, or are believed to be experienced only in a diffuse subjective way, or are seen as a philosophical construct of some kind.

              This isn’t my own belief, but it is one I’ve heard expressed fairly often among Pagans. At least, it is the sentiment I often hear expressed in response when I describe my more “person-like” understanding of gods as beings one can have two way communication with, who can and do affect this world, who enjoy and benefit from being given tangible gifts, and who insist on certain behaviors from the people they work with.

              I said “energies” because it is one of the ways I hear other Pagans describe their gods. Not as beings, but as forces. What I meant by “entities/energies” was to refer to the belief in distinct gods regardless of whether they are seen as beings or “processes” or “forces” or something else less tangible than the term “being” would imply.

              I’m not talking about people who “deny the existence of a deity or of divine beings”. I’m talking about people who firmly believe in and worship deities, but whose concept of what “deities” are differs radically from that of most hard polytheists.

              Clarity of language is a valid goal, but I cannot support telling people that what they worship as gods fails to meet some theological definition of god, and therefore disqualifies them from being considered polytheists.

              I come at this from the perspective of someone who was repeatedly told by Christians in an interfaith context – using the same “clarity of language” argument – that what I worship and call “gods” couldn’t be theologically considered “gods” because they are not omniscient or omnipotent, or because they are not all good or perfect or appropriate as moral exemplars. And because I did not believe in anything that fits their definition of a “god”, they considered me to be most appropriately classified as an atheist.


              If someone sincerely believes in what they consider to be gods, I don’t think we can meaningfully classify them as an atheist, no matter if they are severely mistaken in their understanding of the nature of those gods, and no matter if there are other gods (or other types of gods) which they don’t believe in. Even if the gods they don’t believe in are more “real” or vastly more godlike than the gods that they do believe in, even if what they worship as gods aren’t “really” gods of any sort, they are not atheists unless THEY believe that what they honor as gods are not really gods or do not really exist.

              Pushing definitions like that on people is not “insisting on clarity of language” and it does not in any way foster dialog in an interfaith context, no matter which side does it.

            • Keith C. McCormic

              I guess that’s where I get confused. Nobody here is talking about the “Three Omnis” as a prerequisite for godhood or anything.

              I have no intent to push definitions, rather I’m simply stating existing, non-theological definitions. I’m not one to judge a Power to be “not a deity” because it doesn’t raise the dead or something. Indeed, I’m not here to tell anyone what they believe.

              At no time did I point a finger at a specific individual and state that said person believes X and is therefore a Y.

              All I did was list a few descriptions of beliefs that some people espouse and encourage us all to use the standardized English language terms when describing our beliefs. If we can’t even agree to use a standardized lexicon, how can we even have interfaith dialogue at all?

            • Eilidh Nic Sidheag

              Two problems with calling for standardized English:

              1) Standardized English is not neutral – it is the dialect of the privileged.

              2) Lexicons don’t record the connotations a word or phrase has – but the reactions that cause people to feel included or excluded are usually precisely based on those connotations.

              The way to better dialogue is to try to learn to understand each other’s dialects, not to insist that everyone has to speak the same one.

            • Keith C. McCormic

              A valid point.

              The difficulty in this case seems to be the use of a term recently (in this case, less than a half century) redefined by those in authority in a fashion that excludes those who fit the textbook definition of said term. The end result of this renaming is apparently surprise and anger from those in authority when the marginalized express frustration at not being taken seriously.

              An interesting analog can be found in the terms “doctor” and “physician”, which the American Medical Association (AMA) has attempted to redefine as purely allopathic and thus claim entirely for itself (at least regarding medicine) in spite of longstanding traditions of healing from around the world. The dominance of allopathy in the West is only a century or two old, even less if you consider that techniques like homeopathy were common medical practices until the early 20th Century. As such, the AMA has been forced to give these terms back again and again to accommodate other recognized healing traditions, for instance Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The AMA still tries to marginalize such physicians, but they can’t use the word “doctor” to do it.

            • Eilidh Nic Sidheag

              My point was that an argument that relies on the “dictionary” or “textbook” definition is inevitably an argument that relies on a privileged interpretation. I don’t think it’s a constructive way forward.

            • Keith C. McCormic

              Fair point, yet dialog between disparate groups requires a “lingua franca” in the absence of such a dictionary. While a dictionary does represent a form of privilege, that privilege is not always applicable to the matter under discussion. In the case of intrafaith discussions of Pagan and Paganate religions, dictionaries are not exclusive nor exclusionary. Anyone who is able to be involved in these kinds of interfaith dialog can have access to a dictionary if they want it.

              To my mind, it is less problematic and risky to agree to use a relatively neutral (in this case) dictionary as opposed to spending the next several years in a tooth-and-nail battle to define a lingua franca. Worse still, such a lingua franca would almost certainly be controlled by the people who already wield privilege in the large Paganate community.

              Personally, I’d take a third party who doesn’t care about our disagreements over a new set of definitions that will most likely benefit those in power and further marginalize those without it.

            • Standard English dictionaries do not typically take account of theological terminology used in the last 100 years. “Polytheism” is a good example of this. There are probably theological dictionaries that would be more appropriate to these discussions.

            • Keith C. McCormic

              Do you have any that you could recommend? Perhaps it would help if we could get people to agree on a particular theological dictionary. It could be very useful for interfaith dialog without prejudicing intrafaith work within a particular belief system.

            • Northern_Light_27

              “A person who does not believe in “external divine beings with agency” is not a pantheist. Such a person is, by definition, an “atheist” (“one who denies the existence of a deity or of divine beings”). If they are skeptical of the existence but open to the possibility, such a person is
              instead “agnostic”.”

              Except not, though. Atheism-theism and agnosis-gnosis are two completely different axes, not one sliding scale that goes from atheist to theist with agnostic somewhere in the middle. You can be an agnostic theist (I am) or even a gnostic atheist (the most obnoxious ones are, even if it doesn’t make any sense), or of course a gnostic theist or an agnostic atheist (most atheists). What drives me absolutely batty about the whole polytheism discussion is that an awful lot of things “hard” polytheists say come awfully close to knowledge claims, some are even full-on knowledge claims, and that’s where I get off the train. I believe in some kind of divine something, which I generally regard and experience as differentiated and multiple. There have been times I have had ritual experiences of it as singular in a way in which we, the participants, are also singular with it, but on a day-to-day operating procedure I always treat them as multiple and separate. What I do NOT do, however, is make knowledge claims about them. I have no idea what the ultimate nature of those/that which I experience actually is, and I have no way of gaining that knowledge with certainty. Even the most in-depth, ecstatic spiritual experience is only going to give me how that deity presents itself to me, not what it’s like when it’s not interacting with people. So sure, independent physically existing beings with agency are a possibility, but some facet of our brains that are shared across a culture is also a possibility. Hel, if you want to go there, advanced aliens are a possibility, even if an unpalatable one.

              It’s bonkers to me to call someone whose actual practice is “experience divinity as differentiated and many, treat and honor them as separate” an atheist if he’s inclined to think they’re internal to his head (as DuQuette said, “you have no idea how big your head is”), and someone with the same practice a polytheist if they do think they exist outside their heads since we have no way of knowing which of these people are correct– or, indeed, if either of them have the right answer. By this standard I’m not a polytheist, either, since I don’t think knowledge claims are plausible. Those offerings I’ve made to different specific gods? Totally don’t count unless I discard the possibility that the gods aren’t really there and I’m just doing honor to ancestors and culture (even if that’s a perfectly worthy thing on its own and wholly within the canon of the religion). Do we not see that we’re taking the onus off practice and putting it squarely, 100%, on belief? Why in the world do we want to base our distinctions completely on belief, the shakiest of all ground to build on?

            • Keith C. McCormic

              I can absolutely empathize with the difficulty of accepting someone’s knowledge claims and how ANNOYING that can get! Very good point.

              I’m not trying to defend anybody’s claim to know “the TRUTH” about anything or Anyone. That’s a completely separate discussion and one that a great many people need to have. Heck, even the “aliens” thing needs to be held as a valid attempt to explain one’s experiences- aliens doesn’t necessarily just mean those little grey dudes with big eyes who fly around in spaceships. Whether or not I believe in it doesn’t mean that the hypothesis doesn’t deserve space for consideration and a name of its own.

              My concern in this discussion, though, is that we need to have a shared understanding of basic terms and that the least destructive and divisive (if still difficult and painful) way of getting there is to use a dictionary (from an uninterested party like Websters) as the starting point. For instance, while you are correct that today “agnostic” is not always used as a middle ground on the theist/atheist spectrum, the earliest attributed uses of the word were specifically to describe individuals who were open to the idea of higher Power(s) but felt that spiritual truths (as opposed to material ones) were unknowable. This is derivative of the long-established (centuries-old) use of “gnosis” in English to mean specifically “spiritual knowledge” (hence “Gnosticism”). So while “gnostic atheist” derives correctly from Greek, it becomes difficult to interpret (and almost oxymoronic) in English.

              So we are left with the question of how language (as used today in Pagan contexts) strengthens or weakens the power of Wiccanate and “New Age” privilege. To my mind, the evidence shows that a lack of definitional rigor puts too much authority in the hands of an elite few. Not having some kind of standardization is also causing massive misunderstandings and bad blood amongst us plebeians. The main alternative, creating new shared meanings from scratch is even worse because it would likely calcify (and could even exacerbate) the existing privilege of those in power.

            • Northern_Light_27

              “For instance, while you are correct that today “agnostic” is not always
              used as a middle ground on the theist/atheist spectrum, the earliest
              attributed uses of the word were specifically to describe individuals
              who were open to the idea of higher Power(s) but felt that spiritual
              truths (as opposed to material ones) were unknowable.”

              There’s an enormous difference between the modern usage of agnostic to mean a fencepost-sitting, “gosh, could go either way, don’t really know for sure” kind of stance and saying that spiritual truths are unknowable, period, to anyone. I’m using the term in its original context, the people who situate it as the middle-point of a theist-atheist dichotomy are the ones who aren’t. You can believe or not believe, but belief doesn’t necessarily come with knowledge. Like I said, most atheists will say that they don’t *know* there are no gods, but they incline toward that position in the same way that I don’t know there *are* gods, but incline toward that position. That’s making a claim of belief, not one of knowledge. People can say they believe or disbelieve *and* they know they’re right (and I completely agree, it’s bizarre when an atheist does that), but to police other people’s usage of terms based on the idea that they *know* the other person’s beliefs are wrong goes beyond annoying (and I’d like to see proof, please).

              But to use definitions put out by monotheists that are especially resistant to new usage isn’t the answer.

            • Keith C. McCormic

              Good point about “belief” versus “knowledge”, well said.

              Do you have a suggestion for how we arrive at a shared language? I’ll grant that using Webster’s or something is not ideal, but I haven’t heard any suggestions that would be more neutral. We can’t simply keep muddling along like we are now and in order to address the inherent advantages of the privileged in language control, we need a neutral solution.

        • M. Jay Lee

          >It is important to recognize that “pantheism” is a distinct term from “polytheism”. The most striking difference lies in the area of individuation. In pantheism, all of the various deities (and us, for that matter) are expressions/faces of a singular “God”, “Deity”, or “Spirit”. This is not the case in polytheism, as deindividuating the Gods into “God” would reduce them from “many” to “one”.

          As a pantheist, I don’t think your characterization of pantheism is accurate. Pantheism is not the same thing as soft polytheism and it is not monotheism. Pantheism is not the belief that there is a single God, Deity, or Spirit. It is the belief that all of Nature is God, that Nature is a sacred Being, equivalent to God. But Nature is not a single thing, but a nested Holon, with many different layers of organization. Nature is Many and One.

          Pantheistic pagans may attend to different aspects of Nature at different times and places as I do believe the ancients themselves did. When I look at ancient polytheism, I see a lot that resonates with modern pantheism.

          • Keith C. McCormic

            Well said.

            The key distinction as I see it is in the focus. Many polytheistic or animistic religions contain a unification in their cosmology- it’s just not important in practice. As I understand Shinto, for instance, “kami” is both a statement of composition and a status. Yet there is little theology exploring the vast, primordial oneness as the religion’s focus is on right relationship with all of the Kami as expressed in the here-and-now.

            I suspect, though I can’t confirm, that the rub here is a conflict that has “mono” pantheists and archetypicalists on one side and polytheists on the other, with “poly” pantheists (who are polytheistic in practice) caught somewhere in the middle. In this case, to return to the privilege discussion at hand- it appears that the “mono” pantheists and archetypicalists enjoy the position of privilege and are attempting (and have tried for decades) to redefine a long-established religious identity in a way that marginalizes people.

            It’s one thing to say, “I believe in something like X” and “I believe in X”. The first is an attempt to explain something new (at least to the speaker) in relative terms. The second is to lay claim, which is dangerous- especially from a position of privilege.

            For instance, it is perfectly okay for me to say “my music is inspired by Hip-Hop” and not okay for me to claim that “I make Hip-Hop music”. Okay, I don’t really make any music like that, but the latter statement is marginalizing because it claims that I am a part of the cultural heritage from which Hip-Hop arose. Race aside (there are legitimate white Hip-Hop artists), I completely lack the context and shared experiences that define Hip-Hop. Thus, by claiming their term for myself and representing my music as “Hip-Hop”, I dilute and potentially devalue the real thing- especially if I’m actually singing a different style of music.

        • I think it would be better to say that pantheism is a form of monism. Most of the pan-theists I encounter are not theistic at all.

          • Keith C. McCormic

            A valid point in many cases, though it might be fair to let the theist pantheists keep their term.

  • Autumn Pulstar

    Not introducing yourself when speaking on a panel is not privilege – it’s ego.

    • When everyone actually does know who you are without your self-introduction, that is privilege.

    • Or it could be…shyness and social anxiety?

      But as John noted below, that wasn’t the case here. It /was/ privilege.

  • Alley Valkyrie

    I must disagree with the following:

    “Setting aside the question of Wicca’s influence on Victor and Cora Anderson, the founders of Feri, this response really missed the point. Whether it is Wiccan or Feri, it is “Wiccanate” because it invokes a pantheistic universal Goddess, rather than a singular, individual goddess.”

    While I obviously don’t speak for everyone involved with Feri and/or everyone who uses that prayer, the “Holy Mother” invocation as I use it and as it was taught to me invokes a very specific deity, not a “pantheistic universal Goddess”. I can understand how the prayer can be misinterpreted as such, and again I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there who may take such a view, but as a blanket statement its really an inaccurate assumption.

    • Oh, I just assumed it was pantheistic. I really know nothing about Feri, and it shows.

      • Henry Buchy

        for what it’s worth, the first lines from the prayer Thorn used didn’t originate with Victor but with one of his initiates.
        Thing with feri is it doesn’t pigeon hole into any specific theological ‘ism’, in a way that it is either/or.

        • Alley Valkyrie

          Oher than the word “Mother”, the first line originates from St. Paul…

          • Henry Buchy

            St. Paul got it from Epimenides…

            • Do you happen to have a source for that?

            • Henry Buchy

              cretica. don’t know if you’ll find it but here’s an excerpt:
              “They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one
              The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
              But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
              For in thee we live and move and have our being.”
              it’s the source also of the epimenides “paradox”, heh

            • Henry Buchy

              imagine pantheistic tones from a 6 b.c.e polytheist

            • Lilith

              Did you know the Episcopalians use that “…in whom we live, move and have our being” line too? It’s in the Book of Common Prayer.

            • Epimenides’ prayer was a prayer to *Zeus*.

              Good write up on the issue and event, John.

            • yewtree

              Here is a blogpost thatI wrote about that “in whom we live, move and have our being” line.


  • > because it invokes a pantheistic universal Goddess, rather than a singular, individual goddess.

    Then many Hindu prayers are “Wiccanate”?

    Seriously, there are big problems with applying this label to any tradition that isn’t directly, historically influenced by Wicca (and the ways in which Feri is and isn’t are complicated due to historical reasons — some lines got a big shot of Wicca, some got none). People hear the Holy Mother as similar to Wiccan theology because they’re familiar with Wicca, not because the theologies are the same.

    Not to mention the larger problem, which is that the label “Wiccanate” erases the diversity of practice and opinion among the traditions it’s being applied to, and it does so without nuance, because it’s largely being applied by people who are not part of those traditions.

    Thus the inherent problems with calling people by labels that they don’t use themselves.

    I agree that the dominance of Wiccan-influenced eclectic Paganism creates some problematic assumptions and behaviors that need to be addressed with education. But this neologism just adds to the confusion and does some of the same kind of damage that polytheists have been complaining has been done to them (erasure of diversity and individuality).

    • That’s a good point. “Wiccan-influenced eclectic Paganism” is just a mouthful and “Wiccanate” is catchy. But I see the problem with applying it to Feri. I wonder why Feri practitioners seem to have been able to integrate with “Wiccan-influenced eclectic Paganism” better than those who now complain about “Wiccanate” Paganism.

      • It probably helps that the majority of us consider ourselves to be witches and that our lines can be so different from each other to begin with; the forms don’t matter so much as long as whatever you’re using works! And, as I mentioned, some lines of Feri look a lot like Wicca.

        • Joshua Tenpenny

          “And, as I mentioned, some lines of Feri look a lot like Wicca.”

          This is a really important point, and one that I think is being overlooked.

          Feri – as a tradition which has many compatibilities with Wicca-derived traditions – is going to benefit from the “Wiccanate privilege” despite not being Wiccan-derived. Likewise, certain selected Hindu practices, used in a Pagan context, are going to benefit from that “Wiccanate privilege” when they happen to be compatible with the mainline Wiccan-derived theology and practices, like those around a “pantheistic universal Goddess”. Certain selected practices derived from Native American spiritual traditions and other indigenous traditions are also highly compatible, and therefore privileged in the Pagan community.

          It has little to do with where the practices come from. Things that resemble the mainline practices are going to be much more well received than those that contradict or are radically different than them. It doesn’t mean they are bad – it just means they have an easier time at being accepted/valued/heard in the Pagan community, and non-Wiccans who practice them are less likely to notice all the ways in which the less-similar, less-compatible traditions are not accepted/valued/heard.

          If your tradition honors a specific deity, but refers to that deity in group prayer with terms like “Holy Mother” and in no way says or does anything to substantially differentiate from a pantheistic universal goddess, you will benefit from Wiccanate privilege, so long as you don’t expect anyone to notice or care that you aren’t referring to a pantheistic universal goddess.

          For the people who strongly object to their deities being assumed to be archetypes or universal pantheistic beings, and the people whose rituals and prayers make it clear they are not referring to archetypes or universal pantheistic beings, “Wiccanate privilege” means they are not going to get the same acceptance, inclusion, understanding, or accommodation as people in more “Wiccan-compatible” traditions.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            I’m sorry, I really disagree with this.

            Going back to Christine’s comment “some” lines of Feri look a lot like Wicca. What’s unsaid there, but I will stress, is that other lines of Feri really don’t look like Wicca at all. Not all of Feri has “many compatibilities” with Wicca-derived traditions. I do strongly object to my deities being assumed to be archetypes or pantheistic beings… thats why I corrected John Halstead on that point. I sure as hell don’t always get the same “acceptance, inclusion, understanding, or accommodation” as people in more Wiccan-compatible traditions. I could write a whole book about the frustrating-to-nasty encounters that I’ve had with Wiccans over the years about issues that they’ve had with my practice. Big, thick, wordy book.

            • Joshua Tenpenny

              Still, the ones that have those compatibilities will benefit from those compatibilities. Those practitioners who are willing to understate their incompatibilities or have their incompatibilities overlooked will benefit.

              It isn’t a binary of “these groups are sufficiently Wiccan and accepted” and “those groups are not Wiccan enough and marginalized.” There are a whole bunch of loosely defined qualities that make a tradition palatable to mainstream Paganism, and each of those that you don’t have is going to make inclusion more challenging.

              Any tradition identifying as a form of “witchcraft” and using the pentacle as an important religious symbol is going to significant benefits from their similarities to mainline Wiccan-derived traditions, which is blatantly obvious to all of the Pagans who find the pentacle entirely irrelevant to their variety of Paganism or don’t do anything that could meaningfully be described as “witchcraft” or “magic”.

              Off the top of my head, here are an assortment of other things which give your tradition “privilege” in Paganism:

              You can meaningfully speak of honoring “the Goddess” (regardless of what exactly that means).
              Any meaningful “Maiden/Mother/Crone” or “Horned Hunter God” or “Dying & Reborn” agricultural god symbolism in your primary deities.
              An agricultural/seasonal cycle similar to that of Northern Europe.
              “Casting circle”, “invoking elements” or “calling quarters” to begin a ritual or create sacred space. Rituals which focus on “raising energy” for some purpose.
              Gods people have heard of, preferably Greek, Roman, Celtic, Egyptian, or Norse, or at least from a historically documented tradition, rather than primarily from personal inspiration or modern sources.
              Gods with pronounceable names, and roles/identities which can be meaningfully explained in a few words. Ideally no more than a dozen gods or “important” spirits.
              An emphasis on some type of male/female spiritual duality.
              Rituals which work well for a group of five to twenty people.
              Rituals which can be meaningfully participated in by a large group of people with little knowledge of your tradition.
              Low barrier to entry – Few restrictions on who may practice. No requirement of initiation. Can be usefully learned from books or minimal face-to-face instruction.
              A spiritual focus on ecology or “honoring the earth”.
              A “non-hierarchical” structure, without strict rules of belief or practice. Flexibility with regard to how things are done and what people believe.
              Liberal politics.

              This is in no way a comprehensive list. Each of things that your tradition has, you probably don’t notice the benefits of, but each one you don’t have, you are pretty likely to be aware of the circumstances in which it can be a problem. (That is how privilege works.)

              Feri has some significant strikes against it – unusual gods, for instance, and a radically different understanding of the symbolism of the pentacle. BTW has strikes against it also. They’ve got a fairly high barrier to entry, and are often considered too rigid or exclusive.

              Conversations on privilege often run the risk of starting some kind of a fight over who is more marginalized than who, or demonizing the people who benefit from their compatibility with mainstream or privileged beliefs and practices. But no one is 100% privileged or 100% marginalized. If we work to reduce the bias against beliefs and practices which don’t fit the mainline Pagan assumptions, and open a more productive dialog about inclusivity and diversity, it benefits more than just the one group who is currently raising the issue. It creates space for all of these differences to be meaningfully addressed.

            • Alley Valkyrie

              “Still the ones that have those compatibilities will benefit from those compatibilities.” Yes. Agreed. But again, lets not ignore the other side of that. Those who do not have those compatibilities WILL NOT benefit in those situations. In a sense you and I are arguing the same thing here. This is not a binary, there is a wide range, and a lot of that wide range exists within Feri itself. To simply say that Feri benefits from Wiccanate privilege dismisses, overlooks, and misinterprets a whole lot of what is Feri.

              “Feri has some significant strikes against it – unusual gods, for instance, and a radically different understanding of the symbolism of the pentacle”. There are many more strikes than that, and most of the ones that come to mind for me are even bigger than what you listed. Feri’s rejection of “threefold” ethical concepts, the idea that the Gods are real and actual (not archetypes), and the lack of emphasis on polarity or duality, and not calling “elements” or “directions” are often quite incompatible. We also have the same strikes that you listed for BTW..a high barrier to entry and exclusivity.

              As I said in another discussion on this topic, I think we need to be looking at the Wiccanate privilege issue in terms of intersectionality. I also think that some folks need to be REALLY REALLY CAREFUL in not perpetrating the same behavior that they accuse the Wiccanate majority of. There’s a whole lot of that going on lately. Nothing screams of unreflected hypocrisy more than folks whose beef with the larger community can be summed up as “we’re sick of the Wiccanate majority telling us what they think we believe and what they think our religion looks like and how similar they think our religion is to theirs” who are now DOING THE EXACT SAME THING TO OTHERS. The posts on TWH’s article about this issue is the perfect example of this behavior.

            • Joshua Tenpenny

              “In a sense you and I are arguing the same thing here.”
              Yes, I agree. The recognition of the actual diversity within Paganism is so much broader than just polytheism/pantheism. I think this is all part of the growing process of the Pagan movement though, and thoughtful, open-hearted discussion (especially involving folks in leadership positions) can bring great progress.
              “Nothing screams of unreflected hypocrisy more than folks whose beef with the larger community can be summed up as “we’re sick of the Wiccanate majority telling us what they think we believe and what they think our religion looks like and how similar they think our religion is to theirs” who are now DOING THE EXACT SAME THING TO OTHERS.”

              Yes. Exactly this. Which is why I am not at all happy about the attempts to press a limiting definition of polytheism on people, or declare large numbers of Pagans monotheist or atheist against their will.
              This isn’t just an abstract academic discussion of theology. This is about drawing lines between and through communities. It can be useful to draw lines to make clear the distinctions between things, but it needs to be done in a way that honors people’s own understanding of what they practice and believe, and does not set up these heavily weighted dichotomies.

            • yewtree

              As a polytheist Wiccan, I find myself marginalised by all these assumptions that Wicca is monist, or duotheist, or panentheist. Marginalised by by both Wiccans who assume it, and non-Wiccans who assume it. “Oh you’re Wiccan, you can’t be polytheist because your tradition isn’t.” Gardner never made any definitive theological pronouncements (and anyway traditions can evolve) and there are many polytheist, animist, and non-theist Wiccans.

            • Yeah, I think we’ve left polytheistic Wiccans out of this entire discussion. Thanks for drawing attention to that.

            • Franklin_Evans

              I’m coming rather late to this thread. I watched Alley make her argument on a Wild Hunt thread, and I agree with every one of her main points. Reading this thread and this particular context I cannot help but comment on your “list” of things that give a tradition “privilege” in Paganism.

              It’s the worst concatenation of non sequitur I’ve ever seen in discussing Paganism. I scrolled down expecting to see someone beat me to that criticism. It is so vague it fits nicely into the Twainian “lies, damn lies and statistics” metaphor. It can be made to mean anything one wants it to mean.

              I started my path when Wicca was nine-tenths of the elephant in the American room, with Druidry working hard to breathe. I joined neither. I made enemies amongst the first Wiccans I encountered (for which I claim exactly half the blame). I toyed with the idea of starting my own group. Your list in nearly its entirety describes my path, and I remain an outsider — with lessons learned and some maturity, I’m an invited outsider — to Wicca in all of its forms and variations. I can imagine some seeing me as a pet of the privileged — I would take that as a very serious caution, if I hadn’t already taken steps to toe a very strong, ethical line there. But by the same token, I reject out of hand any implication of guilt by association. I am not Wiccan, I shall never be Wiccan, and the best anyone can get from me is a laugh in the face for any attempt to contradict that.

              If there’s one Pagan in the crowd who can say all that, how many more can there be who can say enough of it to be counted as glaring exceptions to your list?

            • Two points.

              First, I don’t want to put words in Joshua’s mouth, but Wiccanate is not synonymous with Wiccan. If your Paganism shares most of the characteristics Joshua listed, it may not be Wiccan per se, but it will benefit from Wiccanate privilege.

              Second, having a privilege or bring privileged in a certain way does not make you or anyone guilty of anything. The question in whether we are aware of the privilege and how we use it. I dare say that until you have had much interaction with Pagans who don’t share any of the characteristics Joshua listed, it’s very difficult to see the privilege at issue.

          • mptp

            In your last paragraph, that would directly apply to BTW, who have a specific God and Goddess, to Whom BTW often refer as “The Lord and Lady” or “The God and Goddess” but are not further identified outside of an initiates’ circle.

            Now, the likelihood of a BTW initiate calling on Them in a public/interfaith pagan gathering? Don’t know.

            But they aren’t archetypes or universal pantheistic beings, so it’s likely BTWs are not going to get the same acceptance, inclusion, understanding, or accommodation as people in more “Wiccan-compatible” traditions, either, even though those groups are aping BTW outer court (Pagan Way) systems.

            Can’t win for losing, it seems.

            • yewtree

              Many Gardnerian Wiccans see “The Lord and Lady” as two patron deities among many.

          • >”It has little to do with where the practices come from. Things that resemble the mainline practices are going to be much more well received than those that contradict or are radically different than them.”

            I should have said it this way, rather than calling Feri “Wiccanate”.

      • Henry Buchy

        In general, as I mentioned in a thread elsewhere, one of the teachings is the gods are real, not metaphors or personifications.
        speaking for myself, as a feri witch, I can integrate with just about any religion, mainly due to being an animist, where polytheism tends to be implied. So I can relate to any god or gods in a devotional context, whether it be wiccan or not. For me, that’s the core tenet of feri, to be able to relate to any spirits or any gods.

        I had trouble way back with evangelists. I could have done any number of wardings or protections. Instead I prayed to jesus to call off his followers and leave me alone. It worked.heh. I mean ‘theology” is the study of god(s). That’s what I do. if I believe in many gods then I want to know about as many I as I can.

  • H Kenneth Porter

    I’ve run into the notion of Wicca = Pagan at our local festival (Beltania) a lot. I do love it, though, when a discussion or group conversation evokes “The Goddess,” and I ask, “which goddess?” The incredulous looks given are wonderful!

  • Carolina Gonzalez

    What an excellent article! Those of us who come from the African Diaspora traditions and identify as Pagans are often completely invisible to the community. I have been a Spiritual Worker and a Pagan for almost a quarter of a century, and the influence of Wicca in my path is zero. Yes, there is a privilege.

  • mptp

    British Traditional Wicca is more big-”S” Self-centric

    I’d like to discuss this concept more, but not in a place where we are discussing issues of privilege, because even I feel that would be a distraction from the privilege discussion.

    • Message me on Facebook. I’d love to talk.

    • yewtree

      In the UK, “traditional witchcraft” refers to Cochrane-derived traditions. It makes no sense outside of North America to talk about “British traditional witchcraft / Wicca”.

      In the UK, as far as witchcraft goes, there’s Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca; there’s the various Cochrane-derived traditions; some Reclaiming people, a very few Feri people.

      There is “eclectic Paganism” which does not seem to organise very many rituals, generally preferring to meet in pub moots. (It is mostly Wiccanate, but I wish it wasn’t. However, that cat is well and truly out of the bag.)

      There is Druidry (OBOD and BDO, mainly).

      There are lots of Heathens, and some other reconstructionist polytheists.

      There is also the Unitarian Earth Spirit Network (equivalent of CUUPs) but it is not very well known outside of Unitarianism.

      • mptp

        In re: your first paragraph, this very situation where generic paganism in the US is either Wicca-derived, but doesn’t call itself that, or does call itself Wicca, is the reason why we have to use the term BTW for initiated Wicca, because, as the blogger noted, the ship had sailed for restricting the word Wicca to just initiated lineages which trace back to New Forest.

        Yes, on your side of the pond, it’s different. But we are, in this discussion, dealing with what may be a uniquely American issue.

        I’ve been told (and seen a commenter say it on a talk page on Wikipedia) that BTW means British Traditional Witchcraft over where you are, and Cochranite groups and similar, and that Wicca still means the lineaged initiatory groups.

        Descriptivism, not prescriptivism, seems to have become the accepted linguistic control on our side for this topic, and originally came from people complaining that they should be allowed to call themselves Wicca if they felt like it – ignoring the potential mess they set up by saying anyone can call themselves and what they do, Wicca …

        • yewtree

          There is plenty of non-initiated generic Wicca-lite here in the UK, too. We use the term “initiatory Wicca” to refer to what you call “BTW”. It is just that I have to translate in my head every time I see or hear the term “BTW”.

          The phenomenon of having to translate in your head is probably not unfamiliar to most polytheists 🙂

          I think that the situation in the US is exacerbated by one particular tradition which used to be quite hard-line about what constituted “proper” Wicca, and that is why there are so many other Wiccan traditions (Blue Star, Central Valley, Kingstone, etc etc etc) which just do not exist in the UK.

          • mptp

            Regarding Central Valley, my understanding, even from hard-line Gardnerians, is that when some Gardnerians got out to California, they found people practicing similarly, with no link to the American Gardnerians, with an oral tradition that it had come over from England with a war bride.

            Additionally, CVW is an umbrella title which includesbut is not limited to, Kingstone.

            I get that there’s Gardnerian and Alexandrian over there, and that’s pretty much it for Wicca, but that you have a multitude of other traditional lines. The ways those other lines sprung up for you all is analogous to how the branches of Wicca sprung up here, just on a shorter timescale.

            • yewtree

              Ah, thanks for the clarification.

              I am very confused by all the Wiccan traditions over there.

  • Rayna Templebee

    Thank you for an excellent summary of a complicated discussion. I left discouraged that there was so much unacknowledged privilege floating about. But I think conversations like the one you have started will help greatly.

    • Thank you for your contribution to the conversation. I wish the issues you raised would have been addressed more directly by others as well.

  • Shauna Aura Knight

    Thank you for the review of this session. I admit, the conversation makes my head spin. The comment threads moreso. Actually, one reason I’ve not engaged in the debate on other blogs is the really nasty, angry, hateful blog posts, or the reasonable blog posts with nasty comment threads. I have found I just don’t have the emotional space for things like that.

    What I’m grateful for is hearing about a panel discussion that begins to discuss the challenges and that tried to do so in a really respectful way…and your review of that panel similarly was trying to articulate what went on in a respectful way. Call me an optimist, but I have to believe there’s a way through this conversation that doesn’t require woad and spears 🙂

    For my part, I’m a pantheist/archetypist. Some days I am not even sure that the Pagan label fits, but it’s the closest thing I have. I offer public rituals, and I work to make space for many ways of experiencing the divine. I think that I do a good job of that, but there’s a limit of course. I can’t be inclusive to everyone, to every theology. As much as possible I try to keep out of the theological negotiations.

    Generally in my rituals, I’m trying to get people to the divine, whatever that looks like for them. I’m not trying to tell them what race the divine is, what they are wearing, if they are a duotheistic gender binary god and goddess or a polythestic deity or an archetype, or a larger pantheistic divine, or the divine within…I’m just there to get people out of their own way, to entrance them so that they can have an experience of that divine.

    But at the end of the day, I have to acknowledge that the ritual work I offer is probably not ritual work that’s going to call to a Hellenic or Celtic reconstructionist or another type of hard/devotional polytheist. Largely, it’s ritual work that’s going to appeal more to people on the pantheistic side. Similarly, though I make space for the idea of the personal divine–the idea that the divine might be our most expanded selves, our very best selves–even that really isn’t going to make space for atheistic or humanist Pagans.

    I also acknowledge that the way I do rituals takes the basic form from Reclaiming, which comes from Feri, which shares a lot of the same ritual “shape” as Wicca–ie, circle is cast, elements are called. The word seems to be Wiccanate; I’ve called it “post-Wicca.” I use that form not for any particular theological reasons; I use it because it’s what the majority expects, and thus, it’s easy. However, I’m beginning to rethink that. Lots of food for thought.

    • Thanks Shauna. Your ritual style definitely works for me. I especially appreciate how you create space with your words for those present to have their own experience, rather than dictating a ready-made experience for anyone. But then, I’m an archetypal/pantheistic/humanistic Pagan. I’d like to think that at least some polytheists would be able to get something out of your rituals, so long as they understood the difference between your ecstatic ritual and their own devotional ritual.

      PS, my next post should be about your workshop.

      • Shauna Aura Knight

        Very cool! I don’t know that anyone’s ever blogged about one of my workshops before. That’s kind of thrilling.

        And I appreciate what you said. I do work really, really hard to make my rituals inclusive for a lot of people, specifically, I’ve tried to make space for people with different learning modalities, different physical abilities, people across spectrum of genders and sexualities. I suppose the Wiccanate privilege panel (and all the polytheistic discussion) reminds me that, even though I try to make my rituals inclusive and accessible, it can only go so far.

        I can confirm that you’re right that some polytheists get something out of my rituals. I’ve had Reconstructionists of a few different types, humanists, and even a few Christian mystics and shamanic practitioners who don’t identify as Pagan come to my rituals and get something out of them.

        Actually–the trance technique I use where I have a group of people sing a tone while people sing and speak over them is something that I developed at a book launch. I was supposed to read a Brigid poem, but that sounded boring. And I wanted to get people chanting. But, this was at the end of 1.5 hours of talky talky readings, and it wasn’t in the context of a ritual. Many of the audience identified as spiritual/not religious or New Age or Pagan, but the group was too diverse to do a “ritual” per se. And “ritual” wasn’t necessary. I just wanted to get them singing, and so I utilized that trance technique to get them out of thinky headspace. I sang my Brigid poem over the toning, and then got the group chanting together.

        So I suppose for me, it really is less about religion. I think that art and spirituality have a huge crossover–artwork can cause a “religious” experience, a transformative experience. Whatever you want to call it. That’s always what I’m going for. I don’t care if you call it God or artwork or Cernunnos or whatnot 😀

        The challenge I’ve put up for myself for the coming year is how to make more space for the non Wiccanate folks. It may not be space at my ritual, but it’s something I’m thinking about more.

  • Helmsman Of-Inepu

    Thanks for the report, John.
    The availability of information on the net is a big factor in this. If someone was interested in ‘paganism’ in the past, Wiccanite was the default that they’d find, and it might take a long time, if ever, to learn that there were other options that may or may not fit better. If someone moved on, they at least knew what the Wiccanite majority was talking about. I suspect most of the Wiccanite BNP’s and festival organizers still expect that everyone has the same grounding.
    Now there’s an increasing number of people that go straight into some other path directly, or pass through a Wiccanish practice for a couple weeks in school before finding something else that suits them. To these people, the generic ‘pagan’ rituals and assumptions lack the comforting familiarity, and they don’t bring everyone together anymore.

  • Tracie Holladay

    You know what I’m getting from all this?

    True, real inclusivity is almost impossible. Therefore, pagans of all stripes are going to have to learn how to set boundaries, how to use those boundaries to establish a firm identity, and to learn how to exclude/focus.

    Pagans must get to know the word “no” and start using it.

    My husband is Asatru. His rites are not inclusive. A Wiccan or other polytheist might not feel comfortable at his blot, not if they expect his blot to be run the way they do a circle or some other ritual. BUT…the thing is, one should know from the outset that when one attends his blots, what you’re going to get is a blot. If you’re unhappy with that, then don’t go to his blot. Do not expect him to change his religious rituals for you. He’s not there for that. He’s there to worship the Holy Powers in the way that, to the best of his knowledge, his folk did.

    Some people would say “that’s mean” but it’s not mean. There’s nothing mean or cruel or intolerant about it. It’s just being what he is – an Asatru man.

  • TadhgMor

    This is a good write up, better than some others I’ve seen.

    I would note on the usage of polytheist, that it is common among different groups to assume their polytheism as the historical norm. DiZerega has promoted monism repeatedly as a norm (based on extremely flawed historical sources and a problematic methodology). In response a number of “hard” (PSVL dislikes the term, though I still find it useful since devotional also has vagaries) polytheists have made the same counter assumption, that distinct individual polytheism is the historical norm (I would argue this is the case, and there is no good evidence to counter it outside of small intellectual classes in places like Greece and India). I think there is a subconscious desire to have at least one term where we can be normative, rather than constantly adding modifiers to suit outside expectations. I agree though, it can be seen as problematic, though for my part when someone says “polytheism” I tend to assume they are following historic norms for the usage of that word. Which is probably in error, since most of when I see it these days it’s being used by monists, pantheists, and eclectics.

  • Hi John, I would like to share your words with my (pagan) friends who don’t speak english at all, because I consider this is an important subject.
    Is it possible to translate exerpts of your post in french and publish them on my blog? (with your name + original link to the post)

  • yewtree

    Thanks for posting this report. I have just read PSVL’s write-up of the discussion, too.

    I am a polytheist Gardnerian Wiccan. I think the deities are distinct from each other. As to what deities actually are, I am agnostic. They have identity and personality, certainly. I do not use monist descriptions that lump a lot of different deities together.

    I do think there is an underlying energy in the universe, but I don’t think it has a personality. I am happy to refer to that as the Divine, but I don’t use it as a replacement or a catch-all term for deities.

    So I wouldn’t want to see only one usage of the term ‘polytheist’ become normative. Wouldn’t that be replacing Wiccanate prvilege with hard polytheist privilege?

    I would prefer to see everyone describing what their beliefs actually are. The labels don’t quite fit. Probably because deities and spirits are rather elusive and refuse to be put in rigid categories.

  • Carole Elizabeth Ballard

    Wiccanate! What an awful word…. argh…
    Having been in Wicca for thirty years, this is not a word I will be using in my craft.

  • Living The Wheel

    I wish I had come and found this post before I posted the other day on my own blog about why I don’t claim to be “A ‘P’agan” with a capital ‘P’. Because this pretty much explains why I try to remain separate, and why I consider the greater ‘P’agan hive to be a very uninviting place for anyone that isn’t wiccan (and I realize the term now is Wiccanate) because they are a bit like the Borg from Star Trek. They will just assimilate everyone and forget that anything else may exist. I consider them toxic without knowing it and I don’t want to be lumped in with them. I’m even currently working on a definition page for what the “Great ‘P’agan Hive” is to me, but I think this explains it!

  • Tracie Holladay

    With regard to this: “There is no generic Paganism. Don’t assume that your Paganism is anyone else’s.”

    I wish people like Gus di Zerega understood this. I get so tired of people like him acting like they’re the pagan Pope and they can determine what is and is not pagan orthodoxy. I refuse to acknowledge ANYONE as a pagan Pope, or anything even remotely resembling that. If I wanted a Pope, I’d be a Roman Catholic. NO THANKS.

    EVERY PERSON who has ever written a book or been one of those “celebrity pagans” needs to get the living hell over themselves and stop acting as if they are the determiners of what paganism is or is not, and whether or not this or that person is a “real pagan.”

    :screams it from the top of the Sun Trust building downtown:


    Whew. Glad I got that off my chest.

  • Tracie Holladay

    Here’s a question no one has asked: is always being as inclusive as possible always the best route to take? Is there ever a time when drawing a boundary and setting limitations might actually be a better idea or ritual practice? “No” is a very powerful word, and for those with a runic turn of mind, this is expressed in the rune Nauthiz. Has anyone thought of this?

  • Tracie Holladay

    RE Starhawk’s comment: “…what all Pagans can agree on is that the earth needs saving and we need to take action.”

    No, the earth doesn’t need saving. As anyone who knows natural history would realize, and as anyone who has been watching Cosmos would realize (especially after this past Sunday’s episode), the earth has been through periods wherein most of the life on it has been wiped out, in mass extinctions. In some of these periods, over 90% of all life on earth vanished – but life found a way to come back and flourish. Bear in mind that the forms of life changed as conditions on earth changed – sometimes conditions favored a certain type of life form and not others. When conditions changed for whatever reasons, some forms of life were better suited to those conditions and others were not. When conditions became hostile to a certain type of life form, they died out, and I’m sure they didn’t take it personally.

    But the earth has remained and endured.

    As Dr Tyson mentioned not only on Cosmos this past week, but in several talks and lectures he’s given that are all viewable on YouTube, the earth and the wider universe are completely indifferent to our needs for our survival. In fact, in a lot of ways, the earth and the universe are constantly trying to kill us – what with things like earthquakes and hurricanes and ice ages and heat and killer asteroids, etc etc etc. In the face of this fact and the fact that there have been mass extinctions in the past (and more than one) I find myself wondering how pagans can talk about how conditions are so perfect for the flourishing of life. Conditions are also perfect for death and destruction as well. If conditions in the universe shift in such a way that a huge asteroid smacks into the earth and creates a dust cloud so huge that it blocks out our sun and results in the death of our food plants and thus seriously compromises our whole food chain, that asteroid is not going to care about us. And the earth will respond in such a way that is indifferent to us – “Gaia” is not going to adjust “her” response to said asteroid in such a way as to make sure humans don’t suffer negative consequences. Whatever happens, happens – whether it’s to humanity’s benefits or not.

    I find Starhawk’s comment and ideas along those lines to be terribly androcentric, as if we are some kind of collective savior. That kind of thinking also completely disregards the occasionally destructive reality of the nature of the earth we live on and the universe we’re part of. It seems to me paganism would do well to bear in mind the things Dr Tyson and other scientists have been teaching us.