“The daytrippers would take their cotton-candy version of Wicca home, and when it had dissolved away to nothing in their hands would wonder why they hadn’t gotten the fulfillment they’d been promised. They’d feel cheated, and vaguely dissatisfied, and think … that the people claiming to get that much out of Wicca were deluded, or lying. Neither is true. The difference between that world and this is the difference between an afternoon’s idle play and years of training and study and practice. It’s a difference that lies in that which can’t be spoken of, because it can’t be put into words. But as it is in fairy tales, you only get what you give.” —Rosemary Edghill
My day job is fairly non-descript, but I sometimes pick up evening/weekend shifts at a leather and fetishwear shop, which is a lot more enjoyable than whatever it is I do to pay the big bills. A few years back, I started posting stories about the amusing and sometimes just plain odd conversations I’ve had while working there, and one night, a (very handsome) customer with an aesthetically-pleasing pentacle tattoo happened to mention it whilst shopping.
Customer: “So hey, I read your blog.”
Me: “You do?”
Customer: “I do! I enjoy it. Although I’ve noticed that you mention Paganism quite a bit. Are you involved with a particular Tradition?”
Me: “I am, actually.”
Customer: “Cool! Please tell me you’re not Gardnerian, though. Haha!”
Me: [winning smile]
Customer: [eyebrows up] “Oh, shit.”
It’s been a minute since I’ve encountered this sentiment, but back in my Pagan heyday, I smacked into it a lot — usually on listservs, occasionally in person. I wish there were some epic reason why so much antipathy exists towards Gardnerian Wicca (“And nine, nine rings were gifted to the Gardnerians, who immediately sold them on Etsy…”), but in reality, it’s just the disconcertingly human need for outside validation, coupled with the conviction (thanks, Greyface!) that nothing has merit unless it’s better than something else.
The Gardnerian trad doesn’t lend itself to public consumption, and seekers in the market for a fast-track to legitimacy sometimes develop resentments about that. Others are just unfamiliar with the history of the late-century Witchcraft Revival and fill the perceived dearth with fanciful misinformation. The latter are my favorites, especially since Wicca ain’t as trendy as it used to be, and Wiccans who once identified as More Authentic Than Gardnerians now position themselves as Real Witches who are More Authentic Than Wiccans. Cursory inspection tends to reveal that they’re still just practicing Wicca, though, even if they’ve rearranged the metaphysical furniture and hung new drapes.
Many moons ago, I was invited to a Pagan meet n’ greet at a karaoke bar, where I found myself presented to one of the Houston-area scene queens. Names were traded and hands dutifully shook, and then — she’d not seen me around before — she smiled benevolently and asked, “What questions can I answer for you?”
“Well, I don’t really have any questions,” I responded, trying to sound professional yet friendly. “I’ve been doing stuff for a while, so… um… yeah. You know?” (So much for professional.)
“Ah!” She said. “Do you practice a Tradition?”
“Yes!” I said, smiling brightly and praying that we could talk about anything else.
“Well, which one?” she asked.
So I told her. And without so much as batting a false eyelash, she replied, “My tradition is older than yours.”
“Great!” I said, because what else can you say to a statement like that? I mean, I guess I could have replied with something along the lines of, oh, I don’t know, “You are so full of shit that you could fertilize soil,” but that would have been declassé.
“Yes, ours is a very old tradition,” she continued. “It’s not Wiccan at all!”
“Cool,” I said, glancing out of the corners of my eyes for anyone who might come save me.
“Why don’t I explain it to you? It makes so much more sense than Wicca.”
“Okay. But I’m going to need a cocktail first.”
As this incident took place before I quit drinking, I flagged down the bartender, ordered the world’s driest Manhattan (“Could you just sort of clink the bottle of vermouth against the glass? Thanks.”), took a fortifying swig, and was like, “Right, then. Tell me about it.”
And she did. And… it was Wicca. Casting Circles and the Four Elements and the Triple Goddess and the Horned God and Merry Meet and Blessed Be, as described in every book on the subject since Lid Off The Cauldron. But she kept saying, “Doesn’t this make more sense than Wicca? Doesn’t this make more sense than your modern tradition?”
I told her that I could certainly see how it made sense, because I really, really didn’t want to get into a polytheistic pissing contest without backup. And there actually were some mild differences here and there, but they were superficial, designed to create an illusion of separation: “We call the Element of Air in the Southwest instead of the East, and our ritual knives have burgundy handles instead of black. Doesn’t that make more sense?”
The evening eventually came to a close, and I was able to extricate myself from the conversation without any permanent scars to my psyche. I figured this was pretty much the end of the debacle, so imagine my surprise when she emailed me the next morning, saying how nice it was to meet me, and how I was much friendlier than those other Wiccans with whom she occasionally sparred online. Maybe we could get together sometime, and I could give her [repeat: not making this up] some secret, oathbound, Gardnerian material to look through. Not that she needed it, mind you, but wouldn’t it be fun to compare notes?
In response, I thanked her for her kind words and suggested she read Lid Off The Cauldron. And I left it at that.
It’s easy to laugh in retrospect, because a) the Big Secret is that there is no secret, and b) my identity is not contingent on whether or not the Sense Fairy (or anyone else, for that matter) condones it. And you know what? Maybe she’s the Witchiest Witch Who Ever Witched, and her mastery of the Dark Arts far exceeds my own: If that’s the case, good on her. But if her practice is rooted in nothing but Not Being Wiccan… I mean, all I can say is that I hope that it gives her the validity she craves, and that she lives happily ever after.
And I also hope that anyone else she targets with her senses stands firm in the knowledge that they are valid, too.