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.
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.