Grounding the Revolution, Embracing the Legends

Grounding the Revolution, Embracing the Legends July 14, 2011

Wicca is by nature a revolutionary religion. Rebellion laces it’s liturgy and mythos. According to legend, Wicca is what happened when Paganism was driven underground by a violent combination of Christianity and absolute monarchy.

I don’t know the truth about Wicca’s history and doubt anyone ever will. Yet in idle moments I find myself considering the “might have beens” and meditating on what the value of our legends are to our souls. Whatever the scholarship of our history may uncover, I find people forget that these legends and stories have value regardless of historicity. The legends of Wicca are the allegories, the morality plays, and the bardic communication of values and spirit. These stories speak to our hearts and stir them, so they deserve another look.

Ycco via CC License

At PSG this year a chat with a Wiccan elder suggested the origin of the word Wicca was tied up with the words vicar and wicker. Wicker’s root shares the meaning willow, and willows often grew near sacred wells where churches later sprang up. Vicar’s first meaning is a substitute or agent. I’m uncertain of the literal truth of this, but as mythic truth it makes good sense.

We’ve always said Wicca means to bend, to shape and what’s a better visual representation of that concept than wickerwork? We do not create the willow, nor do we change it’s fundamental structure, yet we can bend it to suit our needs. In the same way, in the void left by the outlawing of the Druid class, a grassroots priesthood sprung up as a substitute. Like the willow grows independently, so history moved forward without mercy, yet space could be shaped out for survivals of the old religion. Like a small wicker hut, a speed bump in time, legend says Wicca stubbornly clung to the old faith, even while inevitably evolving.

It’s quite striking, the sense of rebellion you find in the legends of our past, and in the Witch Trial’s records. In the 50’s, when suddenly it was legal to come out in the open, those who went public carried these sparks of rebellion with them. They went public with a vengeance. Fueled by freedom and spurred by anger, they challenged the status quo like, pardon the analogy, David confronting Goliath.

Yet that rebellious energy hasn’t always served us well over the past 60 years. Wicca as a whole has moved farther from it’s roots than I suspect even such innovators such as Gardner and Sanders would have ever expected. In some circles tradition has become a dirty word, and the legends surrounding Wicca have led to not merely a disdain for pseudohistory but for common sense practices within the religion. In many cases the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. With some folks raising 3rd generation Wiccans, we’re a bit old to be acting like rebellious adolescents.

It is the revolutionary current of Wicca that keeps the fire in my belly, yet it is the work of my hands and heart to be part of the grounding and maturing of Wicca. To maintain the traditions and honor the sacrifices of those who have gone before. To settle down and put down roots. To look at Wicca in a way that isn’t shaped by oppression or fear. To consider Wicca’s influence not only in my own life, but in the life of my community and nation. A friend of mine is working on a story about a weekly Wiccan military circle that draws about 300 participants regularly.* How overwhelmingly hopeful to see a story where we go from “fighting the Man” to being considered a valuable service to servicemembers in our military!

An iconoclast at heart, this rowdy Pagan is learning to settle down in her faith. Spending years of breaking ties with Christianity and sacrificing the sacred cows of various religions, I’m ready to build rather than break. I’m surprised to find myself returning to the legends, the Witch Trials and all the “BS” spouted by early leaders. Suddenly it no longer strikes me as unproven claims, but as the “BS” someone who was seminal to my faith believed. Why did they believe it? What worth lies in these stories? How does this legendary history feed my soul? How does it show me how to ground and mature in my faith?

I love the word Witch. It’s the name my faith was given, Witchcraft, if you believe the tales. We did not choose it for ourselves but it was thrust upon us to denote us as evil, other and unholy. I wear that label as a reminder of all that came before. Yet I can’t embrace the anarchy so many associate with it. I have no desire for that in my life. I hunger for the sacred order present in Wicca, in our cycles, traditions and even our hierarchy. I want my revolutionary heart to put down roots, and my cynical mind to embrace the legends.

I am the end result of all the years of hiding and sacrifice: a free and lawful Pagan. The public life of my religion has matured, and if that public life were a person, it would be a Sage or Crone. I think it’s time for Wicca, and Wiccans, to embrace that perspective and maturity, to abandon spiritual anarchy for  lasting communities built on tradition. The revolution was televised, and now it’s time to get to work.

*When this story breaks I’ll be sure to link to it here.


Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Pagan
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • kenneth

    Deciding “what we will be when we grow up” is exciting and yet daunting.  For a variety of reasons, very few of us want to follow in the footsteps of most Christian denominations or congregational-style religions. We don’t, for the most part, want big permanent buildings or national councils or bishops or any of that. We have decidedly mixed feelings about having a full time professional clergy caste.  At the same time, it’s clear we need to take on some more visible and responsible roles in society and to carry on like the grownups a bit more. A very interesting challenge indeed.

  • kenneth

    Deciding “what we will be when we grow up” is exciting and yet daunting.  For a variety of reasons, very few of us want to follow in the footsteps of most Christian denominations or congregational-style religions. We don’t, for the most part, want big permanent buildings or national councils or bishops or any of that. We have decidedly mixed feelings about having a full time professional clergy caste.  At the same time, it’s clear we need to take on some more visible and responsible roles in society and to carry on like the grownups a bit more. A very interesting challenge indeed.

  • I’m not a Wiccan, so take this from an Asatru outsider. 

    I do have gripes when folks mix religion and political agenda, of any stripe as I think doing so waters down both positions.  Not to mention that politics and religion make really bad bedfellows. 

    Yes, I know that Starhawk and Reclaiming has specifically done otherwise but that’s my opinionated 2 cents. 

  • I’m not a Wiccan, so take this from an Asatru outsider. 

    I do have gripes when folks mix religion and political agenda, of any stripe as I think doing so waters down both positions.  Not to mention that politics and religion make really bad bedfellows. 

    Yes, I know that Starhawk and Reclaiming has specifically done otherwise but that’s my opinionated 2 cents. 

  • I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum.

    I personally don’t think religion should be politicized. I’ve never “voted as a Pagan” and I never will.

    That said, I do believe in fighting for our civil rights. Which is why it inspires me that one branch of the military believes in giving their recruits what they need to be the best they can be, and that includes access to Wiccan and Heathen rituals.

  • I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum.

    I personally don’t think religion should be politicized. I’ve never “voted as a Pagan” and I never will.

    That said, I do believe in fighting for our civil rights. Which is why it inspires me that one branch of the military believes in giving their recruits what they need to be the best they can be, and that includes access to Wiccan and Heathen rituals.

  • I think you hit on a good point.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that over my time of being Wiccan (since 2003) we seem to make our social presence known with outdoor activities like “Adopt a Highway” or “Cleanup the forest” and with charitable activities like working at a soup kitchen or helping out a local Goodwill than with creating permanent physical monuments to our religion whether it be something like a statue or as sacred as a “church.”  We may erect something in the town square for the winter season, but it’s just more to let it be known we’re around and please be nice to us too.Maybe this is just out of need and lack of resources, but in a religion so focused on nature and doing good for the world, I like the mythos of this being done for reasons more closely reflected in the religion’s ideals.

  • I think you hit on a good point.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that over my time of being Wiccan (since 2003) we seem to make our social presence known with outdoor activities like “Adopt a Highway” or “Cleanup the forest” and with charitable activities like working at a soup kitchen or helping out a local Goodwill than with creating permanent physical monuments to our religion whether it be something like a statue or as sacred as a “church.”  We may erect something in the town square for the winter season, but it’s just more to let it be known we’re around and please be nice to us too.Maybe this is just out of need and lack of resources, but in a religion so focused on nature and doing good for the world, I like the mythos of this being done for reasons more closely reflected in the religion’s ideals.

  • That’s a good distinction to make. At some level, everything is political. We DO have some political agendas which derive from our being pagan, ie the right to be pagan. What we want to avoid is any orthodoxy in which you have to be a Democrat, Republican, Green Party, whatever, in order to be considered a “good” pagan.

  • That’s a good distinction to make. At some level, everything is political. We DO have some political agendas which derive from our being pagan, ie the right to be pagan. What we want to avoid is any orthodoxy in which you have to be a Democrat, Republican, Green Party, whatever, in order to be considered a “good” pagan.

  • Wicca, witch, and wicker? Not related. “Witch” and “victim”? Related. Do sit down with a good etymological dictionary (the Oxford English Dictionary is wonderful too). Don’t believe some “chat with an elder” unless language is their specialty. ;)

  • Wicca, witch, and wicker? Not related. “Witch” and “victim”? Related. Do sit down with a good etymological dictionary (the Oxford English Dictionary is wonderful too). Don’t believe some “chat with an elder” unless language is their specialty. ;)

  • Where did I say I believed this to be literal truth? Unnecessary debunking.

  • Where did I say I believed this to be literal truth? Unnecessary debunking.

  • I actually disagree… I don’t see “becoming conservative” and “settling down” as important goals of my own path. That said, I am a Chaote and not necessarily a Wiccan (though I don’t “dis”agree with Wicca, just on the emphasis on maiden-mother-crone fitting into none of those roles and not wanting to do so)

    I think everyone should live as they personally believe is best.

  • I actually disagree… I don’t see “becoming conservative” and “settling down” as important goals of my own path. That said, I am a Chaote and not necessarily a Wiccan (though I don’t “dis”agree with Wicca, just on the emphasis on maiden-mother-crone fitting into none of those roles and not wanting to do so)

    I think everyone should live as they personally believe is best.

  • Wicca and witch are not related.  Duly noted.

  • Wicca and witch are not related.  Duly noted.

  • EdthePagan

    This is a great piece, and I have always seen Wicca as syncretic and revolutionary faith, a living faith, and a evolving one.  I believe there is a growing maturity, and has been for a while. It is why it is chaffing a lot of Pagans as it is steadily standing on its own, and does not necessarily need to be part of the Pagan to stand for its rights. At the next Parliament it is my prayer that Wicca stands on its own, along with Pagan faiths, but also on its own.

    If we accept that Wicca exists (and yes I have met people and even Pagans who deny that Wicca exists as a faith) then we are able to grow. We have a story that goes back decades, and we will see a history emerge. I will be happy to see grade schools and courses written for a Pagan point of view. It will take a lifetime, just to plant the seeds. Longer to see it mature. It will be amazing to share that path with kin like yourself.

  • EdthePagan

    This is a great piece, and I have always seen Wicca as syncretic and revolutionary faith, a living faith, and a evolving one.  I believe there is a growing maturity, and has been for a while. It is why it is chaffing a lot of Pagans as it is steadily standing on its own, and does not necessarily need to be part of the Pagan to stand for its rights. At the next Parliament it is my prayer that Wicca stands on its own, along with Pagan faiths, but also on its own.

    If we accept that Wicca exists (and yes I have met people and even Pagans who deny that Wicca exists as a faith) then we are able to grow. We have a story that goes back decades, and we will see a history emerge. I will be happy to see grade schools and courses written for a Pagan point of view. It will take a lifetime, just to plant the seeds. Longer to see it mature. It will be amazing to share that path with kin like yourself.