Autonomy and Diversity

Some are not satisfied with how things are in the Wiccan community and actively work to establish a central authority, with their own particular outlook, of course, identified as the One True and Only Way. They are not satisfied with the fact that the autonomy they personally enjoy in Wicca also means that other Wiccans are free to follow their own different paths. These are the Wiccan fundamentalists who see variety as heresy. As far as they are concerned, if you're not practicing things the way they do, and don't believe things exactly the way they do, then you must be wrong and should either correct your ways or else stop calling yourself a Wiccan.

Perhaps these attitudes are carried over from earlier religious education where the idea of One True Way was key, such as in many varieties of monotheism, particularly the evangelical and literalist varieties. Often the Wiccan manifestation of the One True Way idea comes through as a literal and absolute belief in the truth of a particular teacher's work. Most often the teacher elevated to the status of never-to-be-questioned guru is Gerald Gardner, since he was the one who began the Wiccan movement in the middle of the 20th century. In the mind of many Wiccan fundamentalists, if Gardner taught it then it must be absolutely true!

Unfortunately for the literalists, Gardner has turned out to be a mere human being just like the rest of us. Some things he got right and some things he got wrong. The history of Wicca that Gardner presented, especially the part that explains what came before Gardner was initiated, has proven to be largely speculation with very little evidence to support many of its major claims. Historians aren't completely ignorant of what happened prior to the 1950s in England. We have enough evidence to know that Gardner's historical claims were not completely accurate nor were they fully supported by the evidence.

A religion's value does not depend on the literal truth of its historical claims. Many millions of people find Christianity to be meaningful despite the fact its history is not absolutely settled. Buddhists seem to still find their religion to be valuable despite the questions regarding the provable history of the religion's founders. Wicca too is a precious treasure for those who practice it even if they don't believe one hundred percent of the historical claims made by Gardner.

Some religions do consider blind obedience to authority to be a virtue that the faithful are expected to cultivate. Wicca, though, cherishes autonomy and this is in direct conflict with blind obedience. Wiccans who value blind obedience are welcome to make that a part of their religious practice but they are out of line in expecting others to abide by their dictates. Wicca does not have an Office of the Holy Inquisition and many Wiccans will actively fight against the establishment of such. And that is to be expected.

Wiccans who play the fundamentalist mind-game of proclaiming that those who do not agree with them are not "true Wiccans" deserve the same reaction that Lady Sheba got back in 1974 when she declared herself Witch Queen of America -- they should be laughed at and then ignored. Wicca is not a One True Way religion and never has been. Those who would make it into one are in for a long hard struggle that they will likely never win. Is it really worth it for them? After all, if they wanted a One True Way religion there are plenty of those out there for them to join.

Wicca is for those of us who are free-thinkers, rebels, nature-worshippers, who laugh and love and dance in the name of our Gods and Goddesses in spite of what the stiff-shirt self-declared authorities around us tell us is right and proper. Others can try to co-opt our religion and turn it into yet another fossilized dogma of right and wrong to be blindly followed on pain of excommunication or threats of torment in other lives. The witch's cat is already out of the bag and has been for some time now, and we're all enjoying the nighttime revels and the daytime ignoring of arbitrary conventions too much to just follow what someone else tells us is the One True Way.

References

  • Bonewits, Isaac. Witchcraft: A Concise Guide (Earth Religions Press, 2001)
  • Heselton, Philip. Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration (Capall Bann Publishing, 2003)
  • Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon (Oxford University Press, 1999)
  • Lamond, Frederic. Fifty Years of Wicca (Green Magic, 2004)
  • Valiente, Doreen. The Rebirth of Witchcraft (Phoenix Publishing, 1989)

Ben Gruagach is an eclectic Wiccan writer living in Oakville, Ontario, Canada with his sweetheart, two wonderful sons, and both a feline and canine companion. Look for his book, The Wiccan Mystic, which explores mystery religions and mysticism in a Wiccan context. Visit Ben's website at WitchGrotto.com.

6/15/2010 4:00:00 AM
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