My Take on Wiccanate Privilege

My Take on Wiccanate Privilege February 28, 2014

Another of the big discussions of privilege that occurred at PCon this year was regarding Wiccanate privilege. I did not attend this panel. I had decided to not write on this topic as I don’t feel particularly strongly about it. But after going through some of the various write ups of this panel, I have some thoughts.

Firstly, there is some great discussion occurring, mainly in regard to the larger ideas of what our communities are, stand for, and how they work (or don’t work) together. There are also a lot of people telling each other what counts and who counts as what. That I don’t like so much, and seems to be a big part of what people don’t like. Go figure.

Secondly, I want to say that I find PSVL utterly and completely reasonable. Now I’ve not read every post e’s written. But I think eis* ideas about polytheism and wanting to be accepted as one and as part of the wider Pagan umbrella perfectly reasonable. I think e’s doing good work to advance polytheism and Paganism.

My experience with Wiccanate privilege has been Wicca’s ubiquity. Fifteen years ago as I was seeking out feminist spiritualities I found an overwhelming amount of goddess centered, New Age writings and basic Wicca texts. There wasn’t much else in book stores or online, and I just didn’t know the right questions to ask. There’s a reason that when some one says they are a Pagan most people assume they’re Wiccan – it’s just been the most visible aspect of modern American Paganism thus far. There is a degree of Wiccanate privilege in this, but I think it’s less about privilege per se, than it is about people being willing to learn about different beliefs. It seems like the time is ripe for more flavors of religious expression to make themselves known.

I think the benefit of gatherings like PCon is that we get to see the wide variety of practices and traditions that exist under the Large Umbrella and that we can have these conversations together. The people who fall outside of Wicca and Wiccan-influenced traditions who are able to attend are expressing with their very presence that they want to be included, and those who host hospitality suites, workshops, or rituals are creating an opening to greater understanding.

The privilege I see is less of a Wiccanate privilege and one of theological discourse. In PSVL’s write up he describes being asked what polytheist means: “many gods” is his (correct) response. But then moderator Jeffrey Albaugh says that’s not enough of a descriptor. Now PSVL is perfectly able to describe himself and his practice in theological detail. He knows the difference between monist and monotheist, etc. But most people don’t and can’t. Why this hair splitting? And how can we expect 95% of Pagans to do this, when even graduate-level educated Pagans can’t agree on terms?

I think the terms themselves are fairly straight forward. What’s complicated is applying them to our lived experiences. I may be philosophically one thing, but have little actual experience of it. I may try to fit my experience into a philosophical term, or try to shove neat and tidy terms on to my not so neat and tidy experiences. (By the way, I’ve done all of those things.)

While it can be very helpful for an individual or a community to work out their theologies, most of the Pagans I have met are not interested in theological intricacies. This is not because they aren’t smart enough: I’ve found most Pagans to be incredibly well-read. But most Pagans – most people – don’t have a strong grasp of theology, because it doesn’t have immediate bearing on their practice. As a person trained in theology, I love debating the nitty-gritty details. I think it’s interesting, but I recognize that these debates are exclusionary. Theology is a specialized language.

And hell. If we get down to it, not only does there seem to be great misunderstandings about theological terms, I’m not sure we’re all on the same page about privilege. I want to be excited about the masses embracing theology. But like the discourse that occurs around privilege, I’m seeing the theological debates become clubs (and occasionally inaccurate clubs) used to bludgeon one another. I’m guessing most people just want to get on with their practice.

*Not typos! PSVL prefers Old Spivak pronouns.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Spiritscraft

    I am agreeing where I think you are leaning here. I think privilege is the wrong term to use here. We are sorting out dogmatic issues and ritual formats in a small minority group. Its fine for us to splinter off, but to compare our internal struggles to the greater issues of race, gender, sexuality, and class is out of proportion. I am not wiccan based at all. Many public rituals and community events I attend are mostly wiccan based. Yet I do not see it as privilege, because there are many events for other expressions of paganism. And even at the general events, I can find workshops and rituals that are about recon, or feri-based, or chaos magic based. Pantheacon is an excellent example, I did not attend a single wiccan based ritual or workshop, and I went to something in near every slot all weekend. At my own local Pagan Pride and similar events there is always one or two things among the wiccan based stuff that is directed towards non-wiccans.

    And the nitty gritty details of what kind of polytheist you are is really interesting, but people in ones community having different ideas of that or not knowing the difference really doesn’t represent power over one in any significant socioeconomic manner that I can identify.

    My commentary does not erase straight out privilege that people in the pagan community have over each other because race, gender (and gender expression), sexuality, class and so on. Perfect example being the privilege exerted by Z Budapest over Trans* women a few years ago at Pantheacon. That did not really have to do with what kinds of pagans people were, but rather gender expression privilege instead. Another good example is the racial privilege issues being discussed this year at Pantheacon as well.

    • Yup, exactly.

    • “there is always one or two things among the wiccan based stuff that is directed towards non-wiccans.”

      Compared to how many Wiccan or Wiccanate things available?

      I think we should also note that part of what plays into this discussion of Wiccanate privilege, whether you think that’s a thing or not, is race and gender and other things you think are real privileges. It’s largely been undiscussed, but I don’t think we should ignore how the default preferences and privileges in the larger culture affect the culture of Paganism as a whole.

      • Spiritscraft

        Maybe 6 wiccan based things and 2 non wiccan at a standard small pagan event. These are tiny local events. At Pantheacon I had my choice of several non-wiccan based events at every time slot.

        And thats not even counting the many non-wiccan at all events in my city. Of which there are plenty.

      • I am glad these discussions are happening. Clearly there is a lot of nuance to tease out. If I were a sociologist I would love to do a large scale study of this by region. I wonder if those of us in the western part of the US feel it less than those in the mid-west and eastern side?

      • yewtree

        I have done an analysis of the workshops at PantheaCon, and whilst there are more “Wiccanate” workshops overall (and I may have misclassified some things), they do appear to be reasonably evenly distributed across the slots, actually.

        Here is my spreadsheet; the summary table is at the bottom of the second tab.

  • Henry Buchy

    it might be good to see how this evolved. here’s one place to start:

    • I’m loosely informed on how this got started. I’m not saying the need to discuss this doesn’t exist. I just…. hesitate to call the overwhelming presence of Wicca a privilege.

      • Henry Buchy

        sorry, disqus hiccupped and I didn’t finish and didn’t think the above got posted. This present manifestation is two different things that combined. the theology part started way back. The wiccanate part got woven into after the Don Frew thing. Privilege gets invoked on the wiccanate thing because wicca does have the overwhelming presence in “Modern Paganism”. That started back in the mid ’70’s, in my estimation, with the American Witches Council manifesto,said to have been organized by Carl Weschcke (Llewellyn publishing) followed by a steady stream of books defining what Wicca was. Folow that with the recent popular notion that “everything started with Gardner” maybe not privilege perse but definitely the default for Modern Paganism.

        to me it appears the equation witch=wicca= majority= privilege is the common view. Folks possibly don’t know that before polytheistic reconstructions began to flourish, ordinary old style witches faced the same default. we were measured by adherence to the ideas put for in the above mentioned manifesto as to determining our ‘witchiness’. Now it’s become a different set of standards to determine ones paganess.

        • I definitely agree that Wicca has become the default setting for much of the magical and Pagan world, at least in the US. I’m glad to see that shifting – not out of an anti-Wicca stance, but because I think more representation is a good thing.

          I’m really not interested in defining who is more Pagan than anyone else. I do think the theological discussions are interesting and I do think that various groups and communities need to decided what is important for their specific groups. I mean, if we’re practicing together, is common liturgy more important or is it a set of beliefs? And so on. But for the larger ‘tent’? I just don’t know that it is.

          • Henry Buchy

            I’m not interested in defining who is more pagan or who is more witchy either. it seems to me though, it’s the larger tent idea that is contributing to less inclusion than more…

          • Hm, that idea interests me. I am naturally inclined to say that it ought to be more inclusive – not that I’m convinced I’m right! Would you mind expanding on that idea?

          • Henry Buchy

            I’ll try and perhaps i’ll take some heat for it but I don’t really care. It’s my perception but it seems that over the years the more folks try to define ‘paganism’ and even ‘witchcraft’ to be more inclusive, the less some folks feel included. I’m big on definition of terms, and I think the simpler the definition really the more inclusive it is, and if you want to expand the definition, well, that’s what adjectives are for. 🙂 I mean, for example look at the definition of polytheism in a dictionary then look at the definition on Wikipedia, heh. Another thing about definitions is the get expanded or colored with sectarian and political angles. I’ve had a lot of discussions about that aspect.
            Another thing is the idea of self defining terms. I’m all for self defining ones self, but be ‘honest’ for lack of a better term, but yanno, choose a term whose definition matches, don’t re- define the term to match ones self.

      • Spiritscraft

        I think this discussion needs to happen, but I think a group of mostly white educated folks talking about it as though it is privilege is the wrong stance. We need to talk about the pan-pagan being equated with wiccan-like and find a word that is not a social justice word. Because this isn’t a social justice issue. Can we just use a different word, like misrepresentation.

        • That would be an excellent idea, if not for the fact that the way those in positions like Frew, diZerega, and others practicing Wicca, Wiccanate, and similarly-positioned religions (within the pagan community) all too often react in ways thag mirror the overculture’s privileged demographics. It’s not merely about misrepresentation –it’s also about the privileged positions and attitudes that have formed within the community.

          Anyway, SJWs don’t own that word.

          • Spiritscraft

            What privileges do they have over you? Do they affect your ability to vote, get a job, education, do they preside over the prison complex, anything that has to do with privilege? And so what if they describe paganism incorrectly, does it in any quantifiable way harm you beyond mere irritation?

          • “Gay people don’t know anything about privilege, people of colour can’t just go in the closet when it’s convenient.”

            As a gay person, and a trans person in the polytheist community, and who has never practised Wiccanate Neopaganism, your argument comes off eerily just like that. You’re basically telling people that they don’t know what they’re experiencing in the broader community.

            The Wiccanate majority has the privilege of widespread information about their existence and practises, they have the privilege of having the opportunity for community with co-religionists in just about any sufficiently large city, and they have the privilege of being seen as representative of the pagan community –just to list a few.

            It’s great that you think “privilege” should mean something –ask anyone, I’m all about words meaning things– but you seem to be missing the fact that I, and others, are putting that meaning to practise, and I’ll hazard a guess that you’re missing that because you’ve loaded that meaning with superficiality that doesn’t really comprehend how that meaning really works. I’m not talking the “social justice” fandom as it currently exists on pinheaded Internet communities –I’m talking privilege from a sociological perspective, which includes the way that privileged hierarchies form in smaller communities.

          • Spiritscraft

            Of course gay and trans issues are about privilege. And there are societal harm and effects. What I am not seeing is that there is actually polytheism being excluded at pantheacon, nor it being excluded to only bad slots. A number of polytheists are in good slots. I attended their workshops as a polytheist and had a great time. I had multiple choices at many time slots Sat and Sunday. In small towns and burbs its hard for any pagans to find community. The exciting vibrant and fulfilling workshops I attended will be in my memory for the rest of my life.

          • It’s curious that you say “…there are societal harm and effects” and there are many polytheists detailing the effects on polytheists as a result of Wiccanate privileges in pagan spaces, and you’re saying those effects don’t exist, or we misunderstand, and so on and so on. It’s been said, time and time again (usually by PSVL) that for the purposes of Pantheacon and other large events, this is less about theology than it is about ritual structure –what are the nature of these workshops, eh? And guess what? In many small towns, it’s hard for gays and Blacks to find community –you can’t use that to prove a negative.

            To say that people don’t know what they’ve experienced is to argue from a, or at least in support of the privileged position. As a gay trans man, I’m constantly told that I just don’t understand the situations that lead to being treated poorly or being discriminated against and that I’m somehow wrong about what just happened –sometimes other gays and trans men tell me that, too, and it does no, in any way, mean that I’m in the wrong.

          • Spiritscraft

            You can make this all about you, I won’t argue that you are being excluded and getting bad spots. You are. I can see that objectively looking at the schedule. But its not about polytheism. I can also see that looking at the schedule and having attended the rituals and workshops. The nature of these workshops was some were polytheist ecstatic ritual and were not wiccanate and some were educational workshops.

        • I agree with this.

  • I haven’t followed this topic very closely, but had a few thoughts on what it may mean/feel to other Pagans that there is a so called Wiccante “privilege”.

    Do other Pagan paths feel this is so because:
    -There’s a direct line back to Gerald Gardner, the proclaimed founder of modern day Wicca as we know it (and all involved with his practice, circles) that is heavily documented.
    -Groups like Circle Sanctuary (who is also the center of LLL), Covenant of the Goddess and the like are more Wiccan centered vs. Pagan centered?
    -Wicca was the first groups that were “out of the broom closet”

    I’m asking these questions, not making assumptions. Just trying to understand?

    • I know I have a problem with Wiccanate privilege because many Pan-Pagan groups who claim to be inclusive of all Pagan religions or traditions are actually Wiccanate and will shut down (often not intentionally but just through disinterest or ignoring) discussions of other Pagan religions. So they aren’t Pan-Pagan, but the idea that Wicca/Wiccanate=Pagan is so pervasive they are able to call themselves that. Even when being called out, little seems to change.

      • This is problematic. I have not experienced this first hand, but I’ve heard plenty of people express similar sentiments. It’s no wonder people want to stop playing and take their ball elsewhere.

    • I really couldn’t give a crap about Gardnerian lineages, and the idea that Wiccans were the (or some of the) “first out of the broom closet” –well, OK, not all pagans practise witchcraft, and the term “out of the broom closet” has got to go, as it implies witchcraft, and also, that notion is proven false when one takes a look at the lives of Thomas Taylor and other pre-20th Century Hellenists.

      Wiccanate beliefs and practises are privileged because they are widely considered the “default” or “generic” form of paganism. The reality is, not all pagans “start out Wiccan”, as many people seem to believe (I certainly did not, I know others who did not), so it is not a “default paganism”. Because Wiccanate practises are not common to all religions under the “pagan umbrella” they are not in any way “generic paganism”. But at major events, you get opening and closing rituals that are Wiccanate in origin. At local Pagan Pride Days, more often than not, if any rituals are performed at all, they are Wiccanate. The overwhelming majority of books that claim to be about “Paganism in General” barely pay lip service to non-Wicanate religions, while just about everything else they describe in the book can be considered Wiccanate Neopaganism (if not outright Pop/Eclectic Wicca), and moreover, most of these books are prone to use the words “Pagan”, “Wicca/n” and “witch/craft” interchangeably, as if the concepts were one-in-the-same.

      • I didn’t start from Wicca either, now that you mention it. I got a lot out of an early Scott Cunningham book, but more the idea that I could create my own liturgy! And then I went back to wandering in the wilderness…..

      • yewtree

        Re the “hangover slot at Pantheacon”: I have done an analysis of the workshops there, and whilst there are more “Wiccanate” workshops overall (and I may have misclassified some things), they do appear to be reasonably evenly distributed, actually.

        Here is my spreadsheet; the summary table is at the bottom of the second tab.

  • “The people who fall outside of Wicca and Wiccan-influenced traditions who are able to attend are expressing with their very presence that they want to be included…”

    And that they have money, and the ability to get time off, to go. I’m pretty sure a fair amount of people who don’t attend PCon still want to be included in the ‘big umbrella’.

    • Absolutely. Which is why part of the discussion happens in person and part of it happens online (again, those with access to internet). And plenty of people don’t do either and are just living their lives.

  • Don Barks

    How about non Wiccan folks create more non Wiccan content? Because this article starts at PCon, I would observe that the diversity of events at PCon is directly related to the diversity offered by the broader community. I am certain that “Wiccan bias” is not at the root of programming choices. Remember, PCon provides the venue, but we, the community, provide the content.

    I think Sara Sawyer made some good points, and I must presume that alternatives to Wiccan presence is determined by what is offered by the community at most Pagan festivals, conferences, etc.

    • Yes! PCon, in my opinion, does a good job of reflecting the diversity of the community – and of course, there are still elements of the wider community that aren’t represented! So yes, we need to fill the voids we’re experiencing.

    • Many non-Wiccanate folks *do* create content –at Pantheacon, in books, blogs, and (yes, really!) in real-life gatherings and rituals. But this is content that is given the “hangover slots” at Pantheacon, can’t get picked up by a major pagan publishing house, is in blogs read by a relatively tiny circle of people, and rituals that don’t really get all that popular if only cos most of the pagans in the area have no clue what’s going on if the ritual host isn’t doing something Wiccanate in nature.

      This seems like common sense to you and others who suggest it, I get that, but it’s also “common sense” to us polytheists who are producing content and just can’t get a break.

      • I agree that some places are more welcoming than others to non-Wicca based (and Earth Goddess/mother) stuff than others. I think PCon is doing a better job; I suspect programming there will get more creative in the years to come, too.

        But I can’t speak to other gatherings and locations as I live under a rock. I do wonder if the west coast is more welcoming to polytheists than other parts of the US. This is merely conjecture; I’d love some sort of sociological confirmation on this.

      • Why do you think it is that polytheists ‘just can’t get a break?’ Do you think that maybe because there’s a much larger audience for Wicca? Or is it more a general fear about breaking from the norm and taking a chance on something?

      • Spiritscraft

        I just find the statement untrue. I attended a number of polytheist events that were not at hang over slots. Coru Cathabodua put on a wonderful ritual, for example. I had many choices at every slot that were not wiccan. Mostly either polytheist or fairy faith based. I am assuming you are falsely including traditional witchcraft with wiccanate, so I won’t mention those many examples, even though they are polytheist and were many and during peak slots.

  • Barefoot Pagan

    I’ve been reading about this topic for several days now, and I thought I’d deposit my two cents. Having entered the Pagan realm as a Wiccan, I did so because of the plethora of information available at the time, back in 2002-03. Yahoo groups were going full blast, and there were dozens upon dozens of Wiccan groups.

    I continue to identify as a Wiccan, but my practice today bears little resemblance to that of my early Wiccan life. As more and more Pagans from all types of paths took to the Internet, if you are paying attention, you can’t help being influenced by these other paths.

    As a solitary, I’ll admit to never having been at a gathering of Pagans or witches. Probably the only time I’ve ever knowingly been in the presence of another Pagan has been at a metaphysical shop. So I can’t speak to what gets put out as “gospel” at such events. But I suspect that it’s much like the Internet, where no two Pagans believe exactly alike.

    My impression is there is so much diversity under the Pagan “umbrella,” that I believe that no one can possibly judge another person. All I think you can do is what I read about such a gathering doing. Offer a plethora of choices, and let those who are rather like minded gather at the setting they find most comfortable.

    Sometimes I think that controversies that emerge from gatherings such as PCon are rather manufactured, so as to create a buzz, making the gathering seem possibly more cutting edge or important than it might have actually been.

    • I wouldn’t say that PCon manufactures anything. What comes up there is very organic. I think PCon tries to not to be controversial! But I do think that bloggers grab onto a topic and run with it.

      That said, some people have *very* strong feelings about what they perceive as Wiccanate privilege. Me, I’m not bothered by it so much. And I still wonder if it’s more of an issue in certain geographical centers than others.

      • Barefoot Pagan

        Yeah, I was probably overstating when I said they “manufactured” controversy. I was first made aware of PCon when the whole genetic women situation arose from the Z Budapest group in 2012. My perception is that there was some sort of issue that has arisen ever since then. I agree that the organizers of PCon don’t intend for issues to arise, it’s probably the result of having such a diverse group of people in one place at one time.

        Honestly, I’ve found that the less I follow these issues, the better off my mental wellbeing is with regard to Paganism or Wicca. For some time now, it seemed that Wicca was the whipping boy for Pagans, who painted Wicca as Paganism 101. Now, here comes the idea that Wicca is too influential in Pagan circles.

        There are many times that I pine for those days back in 2003 when my spiritual world was dominated by the dulcet tones of Scott Cunningham’s take on Wicca. My Wiccan path was so soothing in those days. Of course, had I stopped there, I would never been introduced to Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone’s take on Progressive Witchcraft, which dominates my current spiritual landscape.

        Anyway, thanks for the forum to explore all these ideas!

        • What happen with Z. Budapest needed to happen, and I am grateful for the wonderful activists there who decided to attend to that issue. There is nothing manufactured about the fact that Z was being horribly transphobic.

          • The trans crowd can take a seat next to the cisgendered men who are the target of Z’s phobias and rantings on a daily basis. The woman is just plain odious.

          • yewtree

            Unfortunately TERFs (trans-excluding radical feminists) can’t tell the difference between transgender people and cisgender men. Odious, as you say.

        • yewtree

          Just to point out that the term Progressive Witchcraft, and the movement that went with it, was started by Tam Campbell and Karin Rainbird.

  • stuchan

    I happen to be one of the (probably) few who does take an interest in theology, and can definitely parse the difference between monism and monotheism (or Duotheism, for that matter). For me, having come from a strictly fundamentalist Christian religious background, the concern with theology is one which has continued with me from my Christian days, following me through from my interest in ritual magick and into my more properly “Pagan” days. The explicit and implicit tensions inherent in the fundamentalist Christian mindset made theology a vital topic in my mind – because I struggled continually with how to make sense of it all. Now, as a Pagan, I have returned to a close scrutiny of theology for similar reasons – how to make sense of polytheism on its own terms, casting aside both the fundamentalist materialism which prevails among so many, and also its churchified kissing cousin.

    One big mistake people will make, though – and an understandable one, from a psychological perspective – is to think that they can put the universe firmly into a specific box. In my analysis, this is simply a habit of mind left over from monotheist theology, in which doctrine is the be-all. We will all be best served to rediscover the ability to use a “fuzzier” logic exemplified so well by our ancient predecessors in places like Alexandria – faced with a multicultural melange, they saw no trouble in creating hybrids. Something could be both/and, and not merely quod sic vel non. I hope that, assuming Paganism retains at least somewhat of a multigenerational lineage of practice, succeeding generations of thinkers will be more able to dodge the binary thinking so typical of mainstream religious debate.

    As Robert Anton Wilson was so anxious to remind us, it’s never a good idea to mistake the map for the territory.