When in the course of religious events, it becomes necessary for one Pagan to deconstruct the documents which have previously connected him with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal status to which Nature and the Nature’s Gods entitle him to, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind demand that he list the causes that impel the corrections.
Most hold these truths to be self evident, that no witch speaks for all, that all witches are endowed by their deity(s) with certain inalienable rights, and among these are Rational Thought, Opinion and the Pursuit of Truth. That to fairly administer these rights organizations are created amongst Pagans, deriving their just powers from the consent of those ascribing to their rules. That whenever any organization overreaches itself it is the right of the Witches to disband that organization as fast as possible, and to disavow all connection to the group that once supported them.
All kidding aside, in 1974, this was a wonderful document which was necessary to try to explain who and what Wicca was and is to those in the mainstream religions who were made nervous by these tree-hugging, flower-wearing, hippie freaks who were suddenly worshiping in the parks in the nude, and wandering around town with their ritual robes on and declaring themselves to be Witches (like that PERSON Laurie Cabot in Salem…) something like this was necessary. A brief and concise statements of what Wiccans are and what they believe.
The problem with this, like all documents of this kind, is that it is trying to be too much to too many. In 1974, when the Pagan community was small and groups like the ADF, The Covenant of the Goddess and many other large groups in America were relatively small, and many other splinter groups didn’t exist at all, and still other religions and philosophies didn’t care what the Wiccans did (like LeVey’s Church of Satan and various churches of Voodoo), these people could get away with saying things like “All Witches…” and making blanket statements.
However, recently, there are many who would either enforce these principals unilaterally on all Pagans and argue the right they have to call themselves Witches because they do not ascribe to these principals or who still think that these are somehow relevant to today’s world of Paganism.
However, as I’m going to try to show in this deconstruction, these principals are no longer relevant or even given lip service in the general NeoPagan community.
A short history lesson here would be in order. From the site, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance at http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_stat1.htm :
“Seventy three Witches formed the Council of American Witches in 1974. In April of that year, at the Spring Witchmeet in Minneapolis, MN, (1974-APR-11 to 14), they adopted the following document. At the time, Wicca and other Neopagan religions were greatly misunderstood in North America. This document helped to set the record straight.
The thirteen statements are necessarily vague. They do not precisely and completely match any one Witchcraft tradition. But they do provide an introduction to the full range of belief systems called “Wicca.”
The Council disbanded later in 1974.”
It is important for you to realize that this organization did not last one year, and that of the 73 members, they were setting themselves up to speak for ALL Wiccans and ALL witches, irregardless of the allegiance that the individual had to other groups or organizations, paths or traditions.
Unfortunately, in being vague, it made things much harder. While the overall goal of inclusiveness was laudable and meritable, it is also impossible without watering beliefs and thoughts down to a point where they are useless as a definition of who and what a group practices.
An example of this is the following statement that I start with. “All Pagans worship a God and a Goddess.” Sounds nice, but it discounts all people who follow reconstructed ancient pagan religions such as Hellenism, Asatru, and many forms of Druidry, all of whom generally worship a pantheon of deities. So it’s modified to “All Pagans worship Gods and Goddesses”, but that excludes the Dianics who effectively only worship a Goddess. So it’s further modified to “Most Pagans worship Gods and Goddesses, according to their particular tradition.” which excludes the Satanists who worship a philosophical principal rather than a specific deity. So the statement is modified to “Those who identify with us as Pagans worship Gods and Goddesses or philosophical principals, or archetypes of a Supreme Entity.”
Now, looked at from the perspective of what they were trying to do, this is a correct statement. However, because it’s so flipping vague, it’s as useless as a campaign promise if one is trying to use it to identify what a specific Pagan believes.
Ultimately, that is what happened to these principals of belief. They got watered down, and PC’d up, and corrected and changed till it’s useless as a blanket statement of belief. Let me go down this list, in the official document, and deconstruct them as they relate to our current practice.
The Council of American Witches finds it necessary to define modern Witchcraft in terms of the American experience & needs. We are not bound by traditions from other times & other cultures, & owe no allegiance to any person or power greater than the Divinity manifest through our own being.
Okay, first problem, who are they representing? Here they state that they are representing all Witches, from those Satanic practicers who are Witches, to those Christian Witches like Madame Blatavaski and Elizabeth Claire Prophet and all the others who have been identified as witches over time, from Salem to the Christian Heretics who were killed in the inquisition. If they are not bound by other traditions and times, then they are redefining Witchcraft as they see fit, discounting several centuries of precedent and tradition.
As American Witches, we welcome & respect all life-affirming teachings & traditions, & seek to learn from all & to share our learning within our Council.
It is in this spirit of welcome & cooperation that we adopt these few principles of Wiccan belief. In seeking to be inclusive, we do not wish to open ourselves to the destruction of our group by those on self-serving power trips, or to philosophies & practices contradictory to these principles. In seeking to exclude those whose ways are contradictory to ours, we do not want to deny participation with us to any who are sincerely interested in our knowledge & beliefs, regardless of race, color, sex, age, national or cultural origins, or sexual preference.
Okay, so all non-American Witches need not apply? So the Strega practitioners and the Witches in England and Europe are not included in this document, only those Witches who are on the two American continents. And only those traditions of Witchcraft who don’t celebrate death or cycles of nature, i.e. those that celebrate life and living and gregarious existence. Bouncy, happy-happy joy-joy celebrations that only show you the good things of life, not the parts where life is hard and bad. So, apparently, in this tradition of Witchcraft (for that’s exactly what they are setting up), they don’t celebrate the Death of the God, only His Birth from the Lady, but there is the pain She goes through while giving birth and that’s bad, so He does not get born either, and She can’t wax and wane through the months, and there can’t be any dynamics due to sexes,so They should be androgynous, and ONE being since They are now the same as each other, and they don’t eat for that would harm….
And they are being exclusionary, to those who have differing opinions, thoughts, ways of belief and hierarchical structures of organization like the Gardnerians and Alexandrains.
We therefore ask only that those who seek to identify with us accept these few basic principles:
1. We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the Moon & the seasonal quarters & cross-quarters.
Okay, from a Wiccan standpoint, this is correct. However, I know of many Wiccans and Witches who don’t practice to attune themselves to any cycle, they only celebrate and thank the Gods for what they have been given. Many American Witches who I have talked to don’t celebrate the cycles of the moon or the Fire Festivals or Quarters and Cross Quarters, like they say. I know many witches who don’t celebrate any holidays at all, but who do practice magick on the nights of the Full Moon and on the New Moon, which is never mentioned at all.
What about the Circadian Rhythms of the day, the rhythm of the Tides, the rhythm of the flowers opening and closing and other rhythms that exist in nature, like that of the storm and the wind patterns? Those don’t count? How about the cycle of migration? Only the rhythm of the moon phases and Solar cycle count in this tradition? Interesting that since this is supposed to be a life-afirming tradition, many of the most important life events are not acknowledged, like the cycle of growth and harvest, the birth and death of the animals, both wild and domestic.
2. We recognize that our intelligence gives us unique responsibility toward our environment. We seek to live in harmony with Nature, in ecological balance offering fulfillment to life & consciousness within an evolutionary concept.
Would that this were true. Most “witches” I know of don’t even recycle, but we are supposed to take care of the environment. I have been to gatherings where there were 150 or more witches and I saw styrofoam cups and plates being used, trash being dropped on the ground and left, food discarded to draw bugs and insects to bother others.
First and Foremost, Witches, of any stripe, are people first. Just because there is a sentiment of environmental activism left over from the 1970’s does not mean that those who espouse these beliefs now will be environmentally conscious. After all, this is the New Millennium, a time for new things new growth, new discoveries. Let’s find new power sources like nuclear since we are using up all our natural resources like Oil and Coal. Let’s poison our atmosphere and let people do this to us, and let’s forget about Arbor Day and Earth Day completely so they fall into the “archaic holidays” group like VE Day and VJ Day and Michaelmas and Boxing Day.
(As I post this to my site, Earth Day was yesterday. I know of it only because out of the 6 email lists I’m on, one remembered it and posted a reminder to everyone else. The rest forgot about Earth Day, and others didn’t know that yesterday was all that interesting in the first place. I find this curious that those who are supposed to be the sole guardians of Nature would forget such a holiday.)
3. We acknowledge a depth of power far greater than is apparent to the average person. Because it is far greater than ordinary, it is sometimes called “supernatural,” but we see it as lying within that which is naturally potential to all.
“…so you better be good, for goodness’ sake.” It sounds like they are saying that Witches are automatically better than others because we believe in the Supernatural. But the Supernatural can be considered to be String Physics, Ghosts, UFO’s, ESP, and many other forms of NewAge feel-good stuff that was around for a long time previous to this document coming out. Not good for a document that is supposed to bring calmness to those who hate and fear.
Also the supernatural is inclusive of demons and familiars, imps and dark, evil creatures. It includes the belief that kissing the stone in Blarney Castle will make you have a Silver Tongue, and that putting a horseshoe with 7 holes over your door will keep you safe from Satan coming in your domain. All this is called Superstition, but superstition is part and parcel of the Supernatural.
4. We conceive of the Creative Power in the Universe as manifesting through polarity – as masculine & feminine – & that this same creative Power lives in all people, & functions through the interaction of the masculine & feminine. We value neither above the other, knowing each to be supportive of the other. We value sexuality as pleasure, as the symbol & embodiment of Life, & as one of the sources of energies used in magickal practices &religious worship.
Which means the Dianics are not practicing American Witchcraft at all, since they have the male energy reduced to a point where it’s almost nonexistent, and the Satanic Witches out there are not practicing American Witchcraft at all since they don’t have a female deity to go with Satan, and those pesky Gardnerians and Alexandrians who laud the Goddess and only in passing refer to the God aren’t practicing American Witchcraft either. And don’t forget the Voodoo hoguns and mombos that don’t even have deities, but who do have the loa.
Oh, and you Animists who are witches, you can’t be since all divinity and creation comes from the polarity of male and female. Oh, and you earthworms, you can’t be doing what you are doing since you have to have male and female, you can’t do the both-sexes-in-one-body thing anymore. And all you plants that reproduce by asexual fission, gotta stop that….
5. We recognize both outer worlds & inner, or psychological worlds sometimes known as the Spiritual World. the Collective Unconscious & Inner Planes, etc. & we see in the interaction of these two dimensions the basis for paranormal phenomena & magickal exercises. We neglect neither dimension for the other, seeing both as necessary for our fulfillment.
Good in theory, but lousy in practice once again. Let me illustrate.
I teach a class in Astral Projection. I share it with anyone who wishes to take it. So far I have had about 20 people take it, but very few of those taking it were able to conceptualize some of the basic principals of these otherworlds. One student I had did not like the fact that on the Astral plane (one of these outer planes) that he would see what he chose to see, and that it would conform to his expectations. He didn’t want a world that was that fluid.
And in my experiences, I find that if you go to a gathering and say that you have been trained in Witchcraft on one of these outer planes by the Gods, and you get your information from the Collective Unconscious, and then demonstrate that you do so, not only will you be reviled, but you will probably be counted as a loon. I had one person accuse me of being a nut because of this. But she acknowledges that it exists, just no one can use it, especially not someone calling themselves a witch.
6. We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge & wisdom, & acknowledgment for those who have courageously given of themselves in leadership.
…which is why when an acknowledged Elder and Teacher goes into a public forum with new practitioners present, and answers a question that has been asked by one of these new practitioners, they are IMMEDIATELY attacked by the entire group as being “one true wayist” and hidebound. That’s respect, boy. This is of course in direct opposition to many Craft principals that say “listen to those who know more than you” (in effect).
7. We see religion, magick, & wisdom-in-living as being united in the way one views the world & lives within it – a world view & philosophy of life, which we identify as Witchcraft or the Wiccan Way.
Okay, this is the first specific mention of Wicca in this document. As such, it now is a Wiccan document instead of a Witchcraft document, and NOW I have a major problem with it. You see, up till now they were describing a new version of Witchcraft, but now that they have declared this “The Wiccan Way”, they are defining a new version of Wicca, and speaking for ALL Wiccans at this point.
Now, add into this the bare fact that there are many Wiccans who don’t use magick at all, and many witches who are without religion (remember, Witchcraft is not a religion, it’s a craft), and many Wiccans who are not very wise in their day to day lives at all, and I think my objection to this point is obvious.
One of the major problems is that while all of this SHOULD be a way of life, it rarely is. The practitioners who ascribe to this document don’t seem to want to follow the tenets laid down in it except to give lip service to those tenets.
8. Calling oneself “Witch” does not make a Witch – but neither does heredity itself, or the collecting of titles, degrees & initiations. A Witch seeks to control the forces within herself/himself that makes life possible in order to live wisely & well, without harm to others, & in harmony with Nature.
I’ll grant you from the outset that this is absolutely true. Titles, degrees and someone calling you a witch does not make you one. Living a magickal life and trying to control yourself does. BUT, that includes living a life you are comfortable living, according to your moral structure that you have developed. If that means harming others in the process, then you are the only one who will pay those consequences, and there will be consequences.
In a document like this, morals should not be laid out except as an adjunct to the original document. If this was supposed to be an inclusive document outlining the beliefs to those who were not Wiccan, then it should be explicitly stated that Wiccans follow the Rede and the Threefold Law. But, no, it’s not in here anyplace. They are saying “Witches do this” and “Witches do that” and “Witches don’t harm anyone…”, giving subtle acknowledgment that Witchcraft and Wicca are different since they don’t say that all Witches follow the rede and Law, but try to sneak it in the back door like this.
And I think that 90% of the problems with fluffyness which started with Cunningham can be traced directly or indirectly to this document. This is neither fish nor fowl, and it is not a document outlining the beliefs of Wiccans, and it does not outline the beliefs of Witches either. It is a document that tries to outline the beliefs of WICCAN Witches, and they try to be so uber-inclusive that they make multiple assumptions that cannot be upheld whatsoever. Once again, this is trying to be everything to everyone, and failing at that when they should have been everything to ONE group, instead of making vast generalizations.
9. We acknowledge that it is the affirmation & fulfillment of life, in a continuation of evolution & development of consciousness, that gives meaning to the Universe we know, & to our personal role within it.
In other words, it is growing and fulfilling oneself that gives meaning to life. Totally discounting those who gain fulfillment in the a question of things, the gaining of money, the love of a child and/or spouse, ONLY the quest for self-improvement gives meaning. One can’t have a lifetime where they take it easy and have fun and take a vacation, one must study and learn if one is a Witch.
10. Our only animosity toward Christianity, or toward any other religion or philosophy-of-life, is to the extent that its institutions have claimed to be “the one true right & only was” & have sought to deny freedom to others & to suppress other ways of religious practices & belief.
Ah, if only this were true.
I’m giving a challenge to everyone reading this. Go into a “Wiccan” chat room, and say that Christianity is a good religion. I give you 20 minutes before you leave that same chat room in tears.
See, this is one of those statements that are wonderful in the ideal, but when you add people into the mix, it totally gets trashed and messed up. I have heard Wiccans, Witches and Pagans go on for hours about the faults and flaws of Christianity, and many other religions, but mostly Christianity. Nitpicks about how many children one passage of the Bible says this person had, when another section says that this person had 10 times the number of children. Heck, there is a document floating around AOL that is something like 50 pages long delineating all the contradictions found in the Bible. Not one word about the moral structure, not one word about how the people who practice Judaism and Christianity see this book, but all the little nitpicky contradictions of Christianity.
And I dare you to ask about “The Burning Times” in that same chat room. You will get thousands of responses about how Christianity murdered millions of Witches and Wiccans and Pagans simply because they were available. It’s one of the most common Pagan Myths out there, and many have put up pages and pages of documentary evidence decrying this “fact” but very few Wiccans seem to want to pay attention to it. They would rather be misunderstood and picked on.
Then there are those who declare that their version of Wicca or Witchcraft is “the one true and only way” to practice, discounting that there are many out there who don’t practice that way. This document is one example of this. The Council of American Witches were trying to declare that no one who is a witch fails to practice as laid down in this document. However, there are many examples of failure to live up to this standard in the Wiccan community, much less the Witch community.
11. As American Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the Craft, the origins of various terms, the legitimacy of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with our present, & our future.
Would that this were so. Try to go into the same Wiccan chat room, with reams of evidence that for every 3000 people killed by the Inquisition, 2999 of them were Christians, and that odd one left was an insane person who was simply disliked and watch the fur fly. Not threatened? Then why are sites like Why Wiccans Suck so totally and soundly reviled? This is a site that presents the facts about Wicca in such a way as to leave no “wiggle room” for justification, but whenever it is mentioned on any public list, it gets dismissed, reviled, cut down, insulted and generally disrespected. I put up and this page because I think that the facts in it are needed to be read by everyone, and for the most part, people ignore that the facts laid out in it even happened. It’s like a Jewish person saying that the Holocoust killed 2 Billion Jews in the time it happened, and that all of them were women and none of them did anything other than breathe. It distorts true facts and spits on the graves of those who suffered and died for what they believed in.
I have read Why Wiccans Suck multiple times, I am good friends with the author of all that content, and I have seen some of the emails the author gets from the site. All I can say is that all these people that are writing the site owner must not be Wiccan or Witches if they are this threatened by someone posting facts that are contradictory to what they KNOW, present or otherwise. And they completely ignore that this “Principal” even exists if they are this concerned with proving how wrong 4nongoths is.
12. We do not accept the concept of “absolute evil,” nor do we worship any entity known as “Satan” or “the Devil” as defined by Christian Tradition. We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor do we accept the concept that personal benefits can only be derived by denial to another.
But Theistic Satanists actually do acknowledge a deity of Satan, and worship him. Why then do these people deny that Theistic Satanists are not Witches (even though they practice the same craft) and denounce them at the same time? I think that at the time, they were trying really hard to be acceptable to the mainstream religions, and wanted to distance themselves from all things dark and ugly no matter the cost. And in this case, the cost was HALF of their religion, becoming nothing more than fluffy bunnies, sunshine, lollypops, light and rainbows. It became Christianity with a Goddess, nothing more.
That’s also completely discounting the Zoroastrians who DO acknowledge an “absolute evil” and an “absolute good” deity. They are, after all, where the whole concept came from.
What about those who are in the Golden Dawn? How about the practitioners of the Kaballah? Both those systems of magick (arguably witchcraft) use a world view and a spiritual world view that acknowledges a supreme good power and a supreme evil power, otherwise how could one call upon good beings (helpers of the good god) and demons to do their bidding? The same holds true of those who practice Thelmea or Enochian. All these magickal systems use a spiritual aspect that gives credence to an all good deity and an all evil one as well.
Plus, if there is no acknowledgment of a deity of this nature, why go to such extremes to distance themselves from such a deity? Why be afraid of being lumped in with the Satanists, since there is no acknowledgment of that deity existing? It would be like me not being afraid of being lumped into the group of gajo (outsider) since to my perspective, I’m not an outsider, the Gypsies are.
13. We work within Nature for that which is contributory to our health & well-being.
The American Council of Witches, 1994
So, I can count on one hand the number of Witches who actually do go out and use natural substitutes for common daily items, like using Kosher salt for table salt (as opposed to sea salt which has just as many additives) or using Fructose instead of refined white sugar, buying recycled materials instead of new things, or reading books out of a library instead of buying the newest Llewellyn offering off the shelves which kills trees. How many of you reading this essay go and buy Asodopholous and take it every day like you should to keep your insides clean? How many of you have house plants that purify your air? How many of you look for herbal remedies to common ailments, or do you simply buy the Tylenol (TM) and Excedrin (TM) off the shelves? How about using cedar and bay to repel the roaches, or do you get the poisons and chemicals that you have to put up with in addition to all the rest of your environmental poisons?
See, this entire document is a wonderful standard to espouse, but an impossible one to attain for any length of time. I know that I would have a hard time trying to live up to it, but any failure means that one is not a “true” whatever this document says (be that witch, Wiccan or other, I’m still confused).
They are nice guidelines, but almost all Witches don’t fit neatly into this mold, and the Wiccans that are supposed to be being spoken for (“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees!”) don’t even espouse these beliefs.
I’m sorry, but these may have had some meaning when they were initially put together, but within the space of months, I don’t think anyone even looked at them anymore. Now, the only reason you know of them is because some fluffy posted it someplace and tried to get it back into circulation, or one of those who were on the Council of Witches (like Raymond Buckland) has put it in their book and you read it. No one follows these, no one looks at them, no one thinks these principals through.
It is my considered opinion that these Principals of Belief are old, outdated, immaterial, irrelevant, archaic and based on “facts” that were dubious at the time when they were written. They are too vague to be of any use for us as modern NeoPagans, Wiccans and Witches. They should be filed right next to our copies of “The White Goddess”, “The Golden Bough”, “The Witch Cult in Western Europe” and “The Grimoire of Lady Sheba” as a good reference on how the Craft and Wicca USED to be, and as an example of how far we have grown in 30 years.