In an earlier post about menstruation in skyclad ritual, I stated that, if you’re uncomfortable talking about vaginas and periods, then Wicca probably isn’t for you. That triggered some heated commentary (at least in my inbox). People get upset when you draw lines like that, marking boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. No one likes to feel excluded. I get that. I was serious—and I stand by what I said—but I was also being a tiny bit hyperbolical. It’s not that you have to love talking about vaginal bleeding (just one of my many interests). It’s that Wicca places a lot of emphasis on fertility, sexuality, and the sacred nature of the embodied. If those things make you squeamish, then you’re in for a struggle. Periods are just the beginning.
But you don’t have to be comfortable going in. You don’t have to have totally conquered all that cultural programming that tells us those things are dirty and secret. You just have to be willing to engage with those issues openly.
So that got me thinking: what are some of the real deal-breakers for Wiccan seekers? What kinds of hang-ups must someone exhibit for me to pass them over, or to gently (usually) suggest that they reconsider their interest? Here’s what I came up with:
1.You’re hung up on Christianity
It could be any religion, really, but let’s be real: it’s Christianity. Even the angry atheists (what Bernard Schweizer calls misotheists—people who often say they don’t believe in God, but really they just hate God) who periodically want me to convince them that Wicca’s gods are real (or some such) are really still just hung up on their own bad experiences as Christians, afraid that Wicca is going to remind them of everything they don’t like about “religion” or “organized religion”—by which they mean Christianity.
Paganism has a lot of traumatized ex-Christians.
But here’s the thing: Wicca (at least, my Wicca) is not a refuge for the religiously wounded. It’s okay if you are wounded, but you need to be dealing with that shit. Your interest in Wicca can’t stem from your frustration with whatever church you grew up in. If you can’t get passed that, then you’ll always find yourself comparing the two. A religion that you choose because it isn’t the religion that wounded you will probably fail you in the end. Not because it’s inadequate, but because you’re not exploring it for its own merits.
That’s like me dating someone whose most appealing quality is that he isn’t my ex. That’s called a rebound, and that shit isn’t fair to anyone. No one is surprised when those relationships fail. So why are we so offended and surprised when spiritual quests fail for the same reasons?
Wicca is not your rebound religion.
How do you know you’re still hung up on your ex-religion? You say things like, “I love that Wicca lets me be who I want to be. In my old church…[insert personal trauma].” Or maybe, “I love Wicca because I don’t want someone telling me what to do. There’s no pope to…[insert personal trauma].” I also hear a lot of, “I want to be Wiccan because my old church…[insert personal trauma].”
Let me tell you how that story ends: you find out that, actually, Wicca does have a structure, a hierarchy, and protocol. It is, in fact, an organized religion. And you freak out because you never dealt with those issues. You just ran away from them.
Wicca deserves a fair shake, on its own terms. That can’t happen if you’re using it to hide from something else. I’m sorry that your prior religious experiences were negative, but those are your issues that require your efforts to address. No Wiccan high priest or high priestess has the cure.
2. You aren’t handling your life the way you should be.
In an article published in Pentagram in1964, Robert Cochrane writes that, “Modern witchcraft could be described as an attempt by 20th century men to deny the responsibilities of the 20th century.” He laments that witchcraft is becoming a “funk-hole” in which people try to escape. Escape adulthood, escape modernity, escape responsibility, escape their problems.
Now, I think Cochrane is a little harsh here (he’s also targeting his perceived rivals, whose witchcraft, naturally, isn’t as authentic as his). I also think we collectively have some pretty fucked up ideas about what it means to be living well, functioning properly, or otherwise “together”—emotionally, financially, spiritually, etc. I’m not trying to say that your life has to be perfect or that you need to be living up to some fantastical ideal.
But you need to be conscious of your own progress. You need to be striving toward something. You need to have an adulting regiment, especially if you’re seeking a traditional form of Wicca. That means taking responsibility for yourself, tending to your own needs, not blaming others for your problems, and not shirking the responsibilities of the world.
As a high priestess, I am not your mom. I’m also not your financial advisor. I’m definitely not your doctor or your psychotherapist. Because the relationship between a high priest/ess and their initiate is an emotionally intimate one, sometimes those boundaries are a little nebulous. But if you need some kind of professional assistance, you need to find a way to meet that need, because it will get in the way of Wiccan training.
You’re not a bad person for struggling, but you will be expected to find a way to handle that struggle, whatever that means for you.
3. You want a congregation.
This applies to both seekers and would-be coven leaders. Whether you want to be part of a passive body of believers of you have gross ambitions about accruing followers, Wicca isn’t for you.
My job as a high priestess is to teach a specialized skill set in the interest of something greater than myself, not to make people dependent on me for life. I don’t want yes-men, and there’s no place in circle for observers. If you’re here to put your feet up and follow a program, you can be on your way.And there are few things in our traditions more disgusting than coven leaders who measure their egos by the number of initiates they’ve collected, paying no mind to quality or longevity. That might matter if we were collecting tithes and saving souls, but we aren’t. We’re training witches, and witches are independent, powerful people with a sense of who they are in the world. If that isn’t something you aspire to be, then you’re going to find yourself out on your ass one way or another.
4. You think you already know everything.
A swollen ego looks good on no one. Confidence is awesome. Skill to match that confidence is even better. But there is always more to learn and you are not perfect. Real confidence includes being unthreatened by the knowledge and experience of others. Real confidence is being able to defer to more skilled people, knowing when and how to ask for feedback and support.
There are a lot of people out in the world who treat my tradition like a troop mother handing out rewards for selling cookies. You think because you’ve walked around the block a bunch of times that someone owes you a merit badge.
Being a master in another tradition doesn’t entitle you a place in a Wiccan coven. Being Internet famous doesn’t entitle you to Wiccan training. Reading every book ever printed doesn’t entitle you to anyone’s Book of Shadows. Being older than me, smarter than me, more magical than me, better read than me, or more liked than me does not entitle you to my coven.
You are owed nothing.
You must earn it. And that means first understanding that you don’t already have it.
5. You have an unhealthy relationship with sexuality.
As with all things, it’s not that you have to be perfectly at ease. You just have to be conscious of whatever hang-ups you have, and be willing to engage with them. You don’t have to define your sexuality in any particular way or have any prescribed relationship with your sexuality. But if the whole thing freaks you out and has you running in the other direction, Wicca will pose some problems.
On a related note, if you can’t respect other people’s boundaries, don’t appreciate other perspectives, or you can’t differentiate between a conversation about sexuality and an invitation for sex, you really need to look elsewhere. This is a religion where people show up armed with knives, after all.
6. You aren’t willing to struggle.
Nothing about seeking, being initiated, training, hiving, and then running a coven has been easy. Wicca is not easy. Everyone struggles and everyone makes sacrifices. Those struggles and sacrifices belong to the individual, and everyone is different. Some people have to travel great distances. Others have to confront childhood traumas. Some have to wait years for the right coven to come along. Some have to deal with balancing children and spouses, or manage personal illness, or cope with limited finances, or a demanding work schedule. And a thousand other things.
Personally, I had to begin treatment for PTSD after an abusive relationship. It was fucked up and awful—just ask my high priestess. But I had to if I wanted to stop running into the same walls over and over again. No one could fix it for me.
It’s different for everyone, but this much is true:
You will struggle. You will cry. You will feel alone. You will wonder what the fuck you’re doing. You will doubt. You will cry some more and drunk-text your covenmates in the middle of the night, who will do the same to you someday.
If you aren’t willing to do those things sometimes, Wicca is not for you.
7. You’re looking for a religion that fits you, and you make changes accordingly.
Hang on for a second. Aren’t we all looking for something that fits us?
I’m not saying that it’s unreasonable to search for a religion that suits you, or that you shouldn’t consider your own beliefs and worldviews.
If you go in with the intention to just throw things out and impose your own unfiltered, uncritical preferences based on past experiences or assumptions, you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to experience Wicca on its own terms. As a newcomer, you don’t know enough about Wicca to decide what’s essential and what isn’t. That takes time and experience.
It’s amazing to me how many people are so eager to join up with something, but only so long as they don’t have to reconsider anything about themselves. If you already had your shit just the way you wanted it, you wouldn’t be seeking. When Wicca is practiced effectively, it changes us. If you go in thinking it’s the other way around, you’re in for some hard lessons. There’s a difference between having the fluency and experience to reconsider something, and just rushing in assuming you can throw out or add whatever you want from the get-go.
8. You can’t take a joke.
My favorite Gardner quote comes from Witchcraft Today, and it reads, “…witches are consummate leg-pullers; they are taught it as part of their stock-in-trade.”
In literature and history, the witch is scary, profound, and wise. But she’s also a trickster.
Individual witches have their own personalities, but humor and trickery are almost always a key ingredient. If you need constant solemnity and ceaseless bemoaning—all stern faces and severe attitudes—then you’re better off elsewhere. If your feelings are easily hurt, you take things personally, and you can’t handle being the butt of a joke sometimes, then you’re going to spend a lot of time being offended. The ritual tool kit doesn’t include kid gloves.
Those are my personal deal-breakers. Within each, there’s some flexibility. And, of course, I always consider people as individuals. When people demonstrate sincerity, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. I know it’s uncomfortable to draw lines, but I’m finding that I have to be practical in my initial interactions with potential coven members. Giving everyone who walks through the door a shot just leads to exhaustion and pain. Every coven leader will make different choices.