Bashing Wicca As A Polytheist Or Occultist Doesn’t Make You Cool And You Know Nothing About It Besides

Bashing Wicca As A Polytheist Or Occultist Doesn’t Make You Cool And You Know Nothing About It Besides June 18, 2018
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Before I begin, an analogy in the form of a story.

Most people have a vague notion of what Masonic orders are, at least enough to know that they’re initiatory bodies and have their own traditions, and you probably shouldn’t really discuss them at length without being an initiate and actual member, and if you are you shouldn’t be breaking your oaths by revealing stuff that’s for initiates only and all of this because…well, you get the picture.

Suppose once upon a time, someone decided to take the knowledge that is publicly known about Masons and create something inspired by it but very different, something which could become an easily practiced religion by just about anyone without needing to be taught, initiated, a member of any group or anything like that. And rather than calling it by a more generic or a different name, they called it “Masonism” and referred to themselves as “Masonists”–because the notion of Freemasonry is hugely popular and sells well, so why not. Years go by and people are a part of this religion but it’s fairly nebulously defined–as it’s self declared with no centralized holy texts to speak of, etc–and people do their own thing with some similar ideas shared between them and a relatively universal calendar with some variations. It’s a thriving religion, but maybe with some well-intended albeit uneducated people who occasionally open their mouths and make Masonists look foolish by stating that they’ve been around for centuries when it hasn’t been around longer than the published works back in around, say, 1980s or something or other. Either way, the end product resembles very little of the original concept of Masonry and has evolved into something quite unique yet malleable as a religious practice.

Then you actually have initiated Masons from various lodges who keep getting confused with Masonists. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do because the cat is out of the bag, the horse has left the barn, and you can’t tell a great many people to not call themselves by those names. The religion (or religions, really, quite like my own religion of Hellenism) itself is valid, but so are those Masonic organizations and traditions. The confusion is nonetheless there, and all sorts of people knee jerk against “Masonists” and don’t want to be associated with them for various reasons, and when meeting initiated Masons don’t know there’s an actual difference.

Now, replace “Mason” with “Wicca” and you have an excellent analogy as to what’s happened to it over the past couple of decades.

Understandably, there are a great number of initiated Wiccans who just refer to themselves as witches these days because the confusion is that strong. It also doesn’t help that like Masonic orders, there are numerous initiatory Wiccan traditions, most of them either directly related to or otherwise influenced by the Alexandrian or Gardnerian lines. To add to the confusion, there are people who consider themselves to be a part of the Wiccan religion as well as being an initiate of a particular line. Initiatory Wiccan traditions also have a wide variance in regards to actual religious or spiritual beliefs ranging from hard polytheists to atheism. The reality is that initiatory Wiccan traditions have far more in common as a group to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, OTO, Freemasonry, or any other initiatory tradition that has people in it of multiple faiths and backgrounds, but Wicca-the-religion is stuck in people’s consciousness, and there you have it.

So…what to do about the confusion? Is there anything that genuinely can be done? How do you educate? Should we even bother? Obviously Wicca-the-religion is essentially a fairly specific yet its own generic brand of neo-paganism, practiced by many people who claim the label for their faith proudly. You can’t walk that back, and I can guarantee not a single one of them will want to do that. And it’s pretty much only Americans who really refer to initiatory Wicca as “BTW” or “British Traditional Wicca” anyhow; if you go overseas they just refer to themselves as witches. Some people have coined the term “Wiccanate” to describe this brand of “Wicca identified neo-pagan”, and to say that initiatory Wiccans are “the only real Wiccans” is deeply problematic at this point. I personally loathe the term “Wiccanate” and the word itself reminds me of “Coffeemate”. Caffeinated witchcraft with cream, anyone?

We can only shout “Labels suck!” until we’re blue in the face, but the reality is that yeah, people use them as short hand because no one wants to recite a novel at great length every time someone asks you basic questions such as “What is your religion?” and “What do you call yourself or your tradition?” Labels exist for reasons and are widely used, and that’s just that. The problem rests in people using one label to mean one thing when someone else is using it for another, and then we’re forced to add qualifiers to those labels so we’re clear. Language, as always, evolves in order to be able to communicate more efficiently.

I have my own language to describe myself, and I typically say that I’m a Greek polytheist and a witch with a background in trad craft both Wiccan and non. I’m personally involved in two initiatory Wiccan traditions. In one of them I am not yet an initiate but am studying to become such, and in another I’m working towards third degree. So I feel that I have a fairly sound grasp on the issue, especially with my beginnings in my early teen years with my dad buying me Cunningham’s Living Wicca and Wicca: a Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.

My faith as a Greek polytheism is Hellenism, which unlike Wicca does not have magic at its center and/or as central to its practice. Certainly among us, we have witches and other various occultists but a lot of us do not practice magic. People have experienced a frustration in dealing with people who expect that as a polytheist or a pagan, magic is automatically assumed to be required or otherwise essential due to the popularity of Wicca-as-a-religion, and I certainly understand that. I think that more clear examples we have out there of all of the variants and traditions which exist out there and the people who are a part of them, the more understood all of these differences will be. We don’t need to point out what we’re not as much as we need to demonstrate what we all are.

And maybe people won’t feel the need to bash other traditions in order to distance themselves publicly from them, but hey…a witch can dream, right?

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  • As a Heathen, the Wiccan bashing has always been annoyingly childish to me. It’s more than likely angsty reaction against what people had been exposed to earlier (much like how Pagans tend to have an unfortunate habit of bashing Christianity).

    I also find people use it as a substitute for actually being able to constructively explain their religious identity, so they have to define what they are not by emphasizing the negatives.

  • Ken Ra

    In the 70’s we were all Witches in the 80’s there was a great splitting. those who had failed in a Coven NewAgers filled off the serial numbers and claimed to be something else. Witches in Africa were getting press .””” self initiation “”” had lots of newbie members. The older initiatory Witches started calling themselves Wiccan. Wicca had the initiated tradition, the Coven Family and the Ritual. 70’s Wicca had the God and Goddess so feminists flocked. After time the feminists “Wicca” couldn’t cope with the God. Others dropped the Religion or the Coven or the Ritual. Wicca as a religion has the balance and cooperation of male and female from the Divine on down. Initiation is a Ritual designed to change a person saying words wont have any effect. If a person has a belief the balance and cooperation of male and female from the Divine on down then I have no problem with sharing the name Wiccan. If they are Wiccan and an Initiate I see them as a Wiccan Priest ( Novice, Priest and Elder ). Paganism is not a religion it is a Social Movement.

  • Oh, is this silliness still going on? I thought most Polytheists would have grown past that by now.

  • ikr? Some of it comes to ignorance, some of it bad experience, or even a combination of the two. I get the frustration on all sides, but often it’s just best to just do you. 🙂

  • To thine own path be true….

  • Rev SLP

    We ‘debated’ this issue 20 years ago in pagan forums. Back then the % of ‘BTWiccans’ was much higher because, despite Cunningham et al, there was not sufficient knowledge for most minors to access. Concurrently ‘honor’ vs ‘worship’ and the ‘dedication’ vs ‘initiation’ debate was prevalent. Given that a core group of ppl were in the forum daily,we decided on a set vocabulary: what each of the words meant and required strangers to define their meaning so questions could be answered or the subjects even discussed with clarity.
    I fear path-shaming existed- although the name didn’t- mostly in other forums, I had hoped 20 years and far more access to educational materials would have put 2 pf these dualities to bed. (I doubt ‘honor vs worship’ will fade,as Abrahamics can’t seem to grasp the difference.)
    None of us has the sole access to TRUTH-DEITY-GNOSIS. Accept others’ ideology as theirs, not yours by contangeon, whether you agree or not, but if there’s confusion, find mutually understandable vocabularies.

  • Agreed.

    I usually say “Wiccanesque.”

    Sounds a little more respectful, doesn’t it?

  • Carmen Park

    Personally I have found that most Wiccans I have known were only shallowly interested in their professed religion. This has been my experience. The literature available at the time I last paid any attention- the 90’s- was the most ridiculous crap imaginable. It made it seem like an item of clothing that you could put on and all your dreams would come true. Extremely sophomoric. Llewellyn- i am talking to you! That is not to say it is ok to bash anyone. But it is quite understandable considering its apparent lack of depth at times, and its profession to a total history which doesn’t really exist.

  • Mutually understandable vocabularies – why is this so hard to achieve?

  • Bashing is always unproductive, and I increasingly feel that labels are, too. As a polytheist (because I have many deities) is am constantly frustrated with the Polytheist-with-a-capital-P thing being used by people who no longer want to be called reconstructionists. So what am I supposed to call myself now? I’ll just stick to Pagan, I think. It’s nice to spend time with people who share my beliefs, but I am so grateful just to be in the company of those who honour the same gods, or even who are vaguely Pagan. If you feel that your version of Paganism is a little more correct than someone else’s you’ll find you have a lot more chance of drawing them in your direction by being friendly than by making fun of them.

  • Rev SLP

    youngsters that don’t have the knowledge to know they may be stepping on toes, and elders so tired of the verbal battles they don’t get involved, would be my guesstimate. Years ago, i’d sit back and let my students ‘do the work’ of establishing vocabulary( I won’t live forever) then join the real discussion once it was in comprehensable terms. Honesty /’I miss those discussions: some were hilarious(usually due to misconceptions); some were just under informed; but occasionally one broached subjects often overlooked by authors (or glazed over by students) like ethics and safety.
    Even less common, were those who had really good ideas but needed a sounding board to clarify them, or broached a topic from a hithertofor untried direction.

    I teach to learn- never know when someone’s silly question opens a whole new realm of possibilities, like a (consent granted) teen asking about camo shields. Yes, they do work, but don’t leave one on your car unless you *want* it totalled!

  • Yeah, I think there’s just plain polytheism, and then there’s Polytheism(tm) according to some people which for some reason only includes cultural revival/traditionalist/reconstructionism while disregarding Witches, Wiccans, Thelemites, Druids, UUs and other assorted philosophies & religions that can include polytheistic perspectives. Usually Polytheism ™ seems to involve insisting that certain concepts (like miasma) apply to anyone’s polytheistic theology or practice, which sounds me more like monotheism!

  • TR_Jessie

    Even though initiatory Wicca may have more in common with O.T.O. than generic Wicca, there’s a good chance that if you pick a random solitary Wiccan (who has been practicing for let’s say 10+ years), they’ll have read some Aleister Crowley or other classic occultism (A. E. Waite, Dion Fortune, Carl Jung, etc.). Plenty of popular Wiccan books (by Cunningham, Buckland, Grimassi, etc.) quote and make references to the occult classics. They’re recommended reading material.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    People have a right to their opinions and criticizms. telling people that they have no right to their opinion is wrong. I know wicca isnt everyones cup of tea. its not mine, theyre still pagan, yet someone left the door open for christian witches. i wonder who was the fool that left that door open? hmm. wasnt us polytheists.

  • wlinden

    As someone who has been repeatedly told, from BOTH sides, that I am not a “real” Christian, I continually boggle at how people who spend so much time denouncing Those Christians cling to precisely those aspects of self-styled-mainline Christianity I could not stomach in the first place. I would have thought they would learn something from our mistakes.