I think it was Jason Mankey, quoting his wife, who quipped that, “Hating Wicca is the new black.” Between the latest incarnation of Wicca vs. Traditional Witchcraft (minus the sassiness of Cochrane and Valiente that originally made it interesting) and “Wiccanate” privilege, the Wiccan heyday seems to be over.
It’s okay. It’s kind of a relief, actually, and more in keeping with the spirit of the witchcraft that I initially fell in love with: private, secret, mysterious. I also agree that other voices need to be heard. God, I wish every book on witchcraft that came out (even the ones billing themselves as non-Wiccan) didn’t look like a clone of every eclectic Wiccan text ever (“But we have a stang!”). I’m with you.
Nobody needs a reason to not be interested in Wicca. Some things pique our curiosity and inspire us, others don’t. I don’t feel compelled to write articles about why I’m not involved in other religious groups, because the reason should be pretty obvious: I’m not interested.
Beyond just being uninterested, there are plenty of reasons to dislike Wicca. Its structure, practices, and hierarchy aren’t for everyone. You may also just really not be into our gods, our history, our communities, and the Wiccans you’ve met over the years. That’s all fair. Hey, I’ve never been one of those “all paths up the same mountain” people, and there are religious traditions out there that I have my own problems with. Unlike several of my Patheos counterparts, I have very little interest or investment in interfaith. I don’t care if atheists think I’m reasonable, if Wiccans offer public prayers before board meetings, or if local Baptists think I’m Satanic (hint: I am). I could go my whole life comfortably without ever setting foot in a UU church again or pretending that I think all religious traditions warrant the same amount of respect and consideration.
No one needs to like everyone. I sure as hell don’t.
But what I’m starting to experience more and more in my travels through wider Pagan and witch communities is this:
“Oh, yeah, but you’re not like other Wiccans. You’re [smart/reasonable/not homophobic/not appropriating something/not elitist/well-read/actually practicing witchcraft/not a jerk/well-groomed (seriously)/whatever].”
I meet someone new or become better acquainted with an established contact, and at some point I’m told, essentially, that I’m doing Wicca differently. I also see a lot of my blogs reposted by people who go on to say things like, “I like her, even though she’s Wiccan.”
The conclusion is never that any of these positive things may be part of being Wiccan, but rather that I am an outlier. It’s really strange, and I think it says more about the other person and their experience than it does about me and my religion.
Being Wiccan has never been a hurdle for me, with regard to being reasonable, practicing effective witchcraft, reading books, or treating people like worthwhile human beings. In fact—and as I’ve written previously—it’s helped me to improve on these things, among others.
Don’t get me wrong: I know plenty of Wiccan assholes. Every group has duds (and being a vouched-for initiate doesn’t guarantee that someone is also an upstanding human being). I also know that there’s a lot of room within Wicca for entry-level assholes to become full-blown. That’s what happens when your tradition is decentralized, largely passed orally, and groups are autonomous. No one person gets to sit the Iron Throne, and if your personality and your mouth are big enough (along with your ego), it’s not that difficult to bully your local communities (online or IRL) into thinking that you’re the epitome of your tradition. Even when we say we don’t want leaders, we sure do love it when people volunteer themselves.
One of Wicca’s unique issues is that it’s actually designed to be exclusive and somewhat convoluted to outsiders. People are supposed to be unsure of what’s true or not. And there are consequences to this that initiates need to just suck up and deal with. People won’t like us. People will spread misinformation. People will misinterpret us. People will set themselves up as rivals. That’s what happens when you’re secretive, whether we’re talking about esoteric societies, religious groups, political factions, or high school cliques. Nobody likes being excluded, whatever the reason. Oaths wouldn’t have any value if they were easy to keep.
Increasingly, I don’t introduce myself as “Wiccan” in open Pagan spaces. I’ll choose “witch” or “Gardnerian” (it’s amazing how many people hate Wicca without knowing what this term means). Partially, it’s to avoid automatic accusations of cultural appropriation or self-righteous speeches about how stupid the Rede is (again, history fail). People immediately assume that I’m burning lots of white sage, worried about balancing my chakras, making off with deities outside of my tradition, forcing people into gender binaries, or maybe just too much of a wuss to curse or use blood (because that automatically makes you totally legit). I’ve met festival organizers who are really proud to not include anything Wicca-related in their workshop offerings. Ugh. Wiccans.
In other ways, my avoidance of the label is practical: it’s simply too broad. On social media, I use the traditional witchcraft hashtags because I know I stand a better chance of finding more substantial content (there’s less to wade through). I avoid Wiccan forums, public Wiccan gatherings, and popular Wiccan books. Not because I think Wicca is the problem (obviously), but because the term has come to be so inclusive that it’s basically meaningless for my purposes. For that matter, I don’t really hang out in “Pagan” spaces either, for the same reason. It’s like looking for information about the Battle of Antietam by googling “history” or “war” and then being frustrated that you can’t find anything useful.
But when we conduct poor searches, don’t critically examine our sources (which includes evaluating the character of the people we’re hanging out with), don’t do original research, and don’t get straight answers to lazy questions, the reasonable conclusion is not “well this is just stupid.”
What would happen if we stopped writing people off so arbitrarily?
So, when you meet me or any of my fellows and accidentally find yourself respecting us, consider that maybe it’s not despite our being Wiccan. Maybe Wicca is part of what makes us respectable, just like your own Craft hopefully makes you a more worthwhile person.
Consider for a moment that Wicca isn’t as stupid as you think it is.
Consider that the most easily attained information is not the most accurate.
Consider that the most visible, quick to speak, and loudest informants are not the most representative.
Consider that reasonable, engaged people have waded through these oft-cited critiques, come to thoughtful conclusions, and have implemented practices (and fostered beliefs) in response.
Consider that every group is a reflection of its organizers. Poor quality in members points to poor quality in leaders. “You are what you hang with”, says Sarah in The Craft.
Consider that you know less about Wicca than you think you do.*
There’s still plenty to personally dislike (or just be disinterested in), but you won’t be so surprised when you meet a Wiccan you actually want to hang out with.
*Which means people are actually keeping their fucking oaths. Imagine.