That gay Pagan group my friend Sphinx and I started way back in the day had a bit of a revolving cast, but a few core members stuck around for the duration. One of them came to us from the greater Pagan community — he’d been kind of intellectually bullied by some of the self-proclaimed elders, and as a result, he tended to doubt his self-worth, especially when he compared himself to those of us who had backgrounds in established Witchcraft traditions.
We did our best to reassure him that we were all equals; that we were building something new together, and his contributions were just as crucial as everyone else’s. And over time, his confidence grew, which was a joy to see. Unfortunately, his need for comparison grew along with it, and he started talking trash about Wiccans. How they were ever so beneath him.
This was pre-sobriety, so my own ego was largely unchecked, and I took his comments personally. It all came to head one evening, when he was once again grousing about the inferiority of Wiccans, and I interrupted with, “You do know I’m Wiccan, right?”
At which point he patted me on the knee and said, “Oh, you know I don’t think of you as Wiccan.”
“When you say that,” I replied, “I hear a straight person saying, ‘I don’t think of you as gay.'”
That actually got through to him. He stopped making snide remarks about Wicca, and eventually, we were able to develop a real friendship. But it’s an incident I used to think about a lot, especially once I got into recovery and had to examine my own resentments. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating that fear was at the root of almost all of them.
In the case of the guy above, he’d been conditioned to believe that he wasn’t as good of a Witch as the people around him: Ergo, he constantly worried what other Pagans thought of him. And even though he ended up in a situation where he was accepted and valued exactly as he was, he didn’t know how to accept himself without posturing as inherently better than someone else. Because whether he was aware of it or not, he, too, was motivated by fear.
I’ve also mentioned before that whenever I publish an article with “Wicca” in the title, someone immediately leaves a comment complaining about Wicca — it’s very “tell me you didn’t read the post without telling me you didn’t read the post,” and it will probably happen with this post, too. And while it doesn’t particularly bother me when people do that, I can’t help noting that fear is the source of their reactions.
Maybe they deride the Threefold Law at every opportunity, because they’re secretly afraid they’re breaking it. (Click here for a whole treatise on that subject.) Or maybe they’ve based their personal practice on Wicca and are apprehensive about that coming to light, so they throw shade haphazardly to pull focus away from it. (Here’s a short video that works well as an analogy.)
Or maybe they’re just afraid that the very existence of Wicca might invalidate their own take on Witchcraft.
I know how weird that sounds, but in the late 90s and early 2000s, it was a verifiable thing. Eclectic Wicca was pretty much the default in Paganism at the time, and people would get real twitchy whenever they found out that British Traditional Wicca was still around. What if they were doing things that weren’t British Traditional? What would that mean for their bootstrap traditions? Were they even practicing Wicca “correctly”?
There were a lot of What Ifs scorched into a lot of psyches, and the general response was to both minimize and villainize the beinghood of BTW: “Yes, there are a few Gardnerians left, but they’re horrible people who will corrupt you with their revolting, obsolete ways. Steer clear of those heretics if you know what’s good for you.”
My friend Mel once told me about attending a local Pagan event, where some random dude chugged one libation too many and had a full-blown crisis of faith.
“What if there’s more to all of this?” he slurred to his entirely unamused High Priestess. “What if Gardnerians have something we don’t?”
According to Mel, his HPS switched into imperious mode, scolding him for his disloyalty and freethinking. And when she dismissed him and stepped away to find a less troublesome conversation, Mel quietly slid over, slipped the dude her number, and told him to call if he ever wanted to speak with a Gardnerian.
Dude never called, which wasn’t really a shocker. But it was unsettling to be reminded how many Witches out there are coerced into fearing the things they don’t understand — like Wicca — by spiritual “leaders” who themselves are entirely under the sway of their own insecurities.
It’s a moot point, of course: By the late double-aughts, Wicca had gone out of fashion, so people who’d been happily practicing Wicca up until then suddenly burned their Scott Cunningham books and started identifying as anything else. I remember “pellar” being popular for awhile.
But Wiccan? OMG, of course I’m not Wiccan! Wicca sucks. I hate Wicca. Terrible.
I’m too scared of your rejection to say otherwise.