“And that’s why you should learn to pick your battles.” –Jenny Lawson
“I’m Wicca adjacent.” –Mat Auryn
“What is this?” a customer asked, holding up a small, black strap with a leather loop snapped to the front.
“That’s a belt holster for a flogger,” I explained.
I trotted over to the Great Wall o’ Smacky Things across from the register and picked out a flogger for him to inspect.
“Oh, okay,” he said. “You mean a whip.”
Immediately, my hackles went through the roof. I did not, in fact, mean a whip, nor did I appreciate being “corrected” on the nuanced subject of impact play in my own store. But I also had to keep in mind that this dude would probably never be in a situation where knowing the difference between a flogger and a whip would matter. And while education is part of my job, providing him with clarification wouldn’t do any good — worst case scenario, it’d rub him the wrong way, and he’d storm out without making a purchase, grumbling about the customer always being right.
The whole exchange reminded me of a comparable but more affable incident, when my friend Jackson (a valued soldier in my loyal army of spicy accountants) dropped by the store a few months ago. He’d been working through some stuff and needed a little guidance, and while he normally doesn’t put much stock in the metaphysical, he figured it couldn’t hurt to ask me for a reading.
I was totes amenable, so I pulled out my Anatomy of a Witch Oracle deck and threw some cards for him, which seemed to help. And a week later, he came back in with his boyfriend and was like, “Thumper gave me the most amazing tarot reading!”
And I was like, “Oh, it actually wasn’t tarot. It was an oracle deck.” And he nodded enthusiastically and was like, “I’ve never had a tarot reading before, but seriously, you just nailed it with your tarot cards.”
And y’all, honestly, I feel kind of guilty about how irrationally angry that made me. But at the same time, this was Jackson’s only experience with divination. The word “tarot” is a frame of reference for him: In his mind, a reading involving little pieces of paper with drawings on them equals tarot. And unless he makes an unexpected deep dive into the occult, any and all variations of cartomancy will remain lumped under the tarot banner.
And that is okay, regardless of whether or not it makes the veins in my forehead stand out.
Although that anecdote made me think of another encounter, this time with one of my favorite customers, who has a long, profitable history of knocking back a few cocktails at happy hour, then going on shopping sprees before closing the local bars. I adore him.
So he bounced in one night, full of good spirits and disposable income, and as I was ringing him up, he
slurred stated, “I love your TikToks about working here!”
“Aww, thanks!” I said.
“I really like your witchy videos too,” he continued. “Are you, like… what’s it called… Wiccan?”
I froze for a second. I could say that yes, I was Wiccan, but what I think Wicca is and what other people think Wicca is are often two very different things, and I didn’t want to mislead him. But initiatory Wicca is only one facet of my occult practice — wait, should I explain the divergence of non-initiatory Wicca from initiatory Wicca? I should definitely let him know that not all witches are Wiccan, and I should probably tell him that even though I am at least partially Wiccan, a lot of the witchcraft I get into isn’t Wiccan in origin, and how am I going to tie Discordianism into all of this? Okay, we’ll start with a brief history of the Modern Witchcraft Revival, followed by a rundown of Chaos Magical Theory, and then…
A few more seconds ticked by, at which point I realized he was still waiting for an answer.
“So… you’re Wiccan?” he asked again.
I smiled brightly. “Something like that,” I said.
“Cool!” he replied. “Also, how much are these rugby shorts?”
Again, the key here was frame of reference. This guy is, at best, a Christmas/Easter agnostic, and any information he happens to have about Wicca probably comes from the occasional Buffy rerun or National Geographic article. Like a big chunk of the population at large, he knows that Wicca has something to do with witchcraft, but he has not desire nor need to look any further into it. Based on my response, he was like, “Okay, so not exactly Wicca, but close enough to where I can map it contextually in my head. Rock.”
And that, as they say, was that.
I will freely admit that I have not always handled similar conversations this effectively. Like, someone will go, “What does your pendant mean?” and I’ll go, “Well, in 1939, a retired British civil servant named Gerald Gardner met a group of people who called themselves witches…” and ten minutes later, their eyes have glazed over, and they’ve made a mental note to never, ever reply to my texts.
The point of all this is that if you practice any kind of witchcraft, and you’re at all open about it, someone will eventually, inevitably assume that you’re Wiccan. And how you navigate that interaction will say a lot about you, both as a person and a practitioner.
So here’s my advice, regardless of your opinion of Wicca in general. If someone outside of the greater Pagan community asks if you’re Wiccan:
- Stick to yes/no answers. (“Yes, I’m Wiccan,” or “No, I’m not Wiccan.”)
- If they respond to either answer with, “Oh, okay,” you can let it go and move onto other topics.
- If they ask what the difference is between Wicca and whatever it is you do, just say, “Wicca is a religion practiced by some witches, although I’m not one of them.”
- After which you can answer any enquiries they have about your practice, based on your comfort level and willingness to share.
And y’all, believe me, I know that in witchcraft spaces, there’s a lot of
manufactured outrage about the very existence of Wicca. And I know how frustrating it can be to have the things that make up core aspects of our identities confused with other, entirely unrelated things: I’m over here waving my whips and tarot cards in solidarity.
But outside of subcultural echo chambers, people usually don’t have strong feelings about Wicca one way or another — if someone asks if we’re Wiccan, in most cases, what they’re actually doing is making an effort to understand. And we can meet that effort with hostility and offense, or we can offer polite explication in return, accepting that we ultimately can’t control what anyone thinks about Wicca or witchcraft, but we do have some say as to what they think about us.
Or, y’know. Something like that.