Breaking Craft Stereotypes:
To start with, I practice Wicca. I am a modern Pagan. (Or Neo-Pagan, as I prefer.) This means you can consider me Wiccan. You can most definitely consider me Pagan. But why would you assume that I have no spiritual life outside of the religion known as Wicca? Why would you assume that because I am a Pagan that I cannot be into any other practices? What part of “poly” in the word “polytheism” do you not understand? The last couple of years, I went through a period of not wanting to use the “Wicca” moniker on account of all the bullshit and fluffy nonsense that I saw among people who call themselves Wicca. Then recently, the thought occurred to me: Why should I let all of those suckers take away what I (and others) tend to call my religion?
There are some Wiccans who have no problem with some of us practicing other elements of Neo-Paganism. But there is something wrong with many others. I could go on about the problems that my membership in the Discordian Society has caused among some Wiccans who should know better. I could go on about the time one of my Wiccan friends decided to no longer talk to me because of my Chaos Magic practices. But I will keep it simple enough by discussing two of my religious affiliations which many would assume can never be practiced by the same person.
I have met more than a few Wiccans who have sneered at me when I told them that besides being a Pagan Witch for years, I have also been an ardent practitioner of the buddhadharma. After several repeats of this basic theme with few unentertaining variations, I can only say that some Pagans in general, and Wiccans in particular, really need to take a good hard and long look at themselves and their attitudes towards other religions- especially since Neo-Pagan religions are supposed to be legendary in their openness.
Some other Pagans have expressed a mild condescension towards me, as if I can not really be a Pagan Witch because of my Buddhist alignment. I have gotten all sorts of statements such as “Really? Can you really do both?” “Oh. So you’re not sure of where you stand?” “You know that Buddhism is life denying and Paganism is life affirming, right?” (Yeah, speak to me as if I don’t know my own fucking religions. And, by the way, I do know where I stand and if you insist on dealing with me by using labels and becoming so bewitched by your own preconceptions of them, then you are in a sorrier state than any of us imagined.) I am usually polite because as a dharma practitioner I have a responsibility to represent the enlightenment movement in the best way according to the situation. I usually state that anyone who thinks that Buddhism is life-denying has misunderstood the message. (You know, like how some of you Pagans feel that Christians misunderstand you all.) Buddhism is life affirming in its endemic (yes, endemic) insistence upon becoming free from suffering. Sacrificing one good thing to get another good thing is not looked highly upon in the Buddhist traditions in which I participate. (Look me up if you want to learn my lineage and school.) But I am safe to speak of Buddhism in general when I say this as well: Buddhism is about infinite life affirmation. There is no life denial among those who are becoming free and learning how to awaken from the dysfunction that holds us. Buddhism is actually open to people of other faiths sharing in the practices.
One time I remember in particular, I was at a gathering in which a new Wiccan was talking with me. We got along well enough until it was time for us to meditate. When she saw me pull out my mala (a type of Buddhist ‘rosary’) and begin to chant Chenrezik’s mantra (which is one of my oldest pre-meditation habits), she looked at me in shock (a disdaining sort of shock) and said “Oh, you’re Buddhist.” After that, she would have no more to do with me. I just continued about my business, feeling like I shouldn’t even have to bother explaining. I suppose I wasn’t pure enough in my Wicca-hood for her. (But what did I care, I had been doing what she was just starting to learn years before she probably ever knew what Wicca was.)
Allow me to compare and contrast these types of responses with what happens when fellow meditators at Buddhist centers find out about my Pagan Witch (or “Wiccan”) allegiance. I usually get the “How interesting!” type of statement. Which among Buddhists is usually genuine because they actually think it is an interesting combination. I suppose it is. But I just chalk it up to my own weird personality. A lot of them were actually able to even ask me a bit about the Pagan side of things and I was happy to explain it, from my point of view. A few even said something like “Oh you’re a Wiccan. That would fit nicely with what we are doing here.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if some of the same sort of openness could be displayed among other Pagans in general and Wiccans in particular? The problem is easily identified. It is the same problem some Christians have when dealing with other religions: Spiritual Supremacism.
Some Pagans have gotten it into their heads that Neo-Paganism is the supreme spirituality and that anyone who isn’t into what they are doing is not as “fun” or as “advanced” as they themselves are supposed to be. In fairness, I have to say that I usually don’t see this problem among elder Pagans as much as in the newer adherents. Though a few elders have had problems with me and my Buddhism, as if by some fiat, my dedication to Buddhism makes my dedication to Wicca or any other Pagan spiritual practice (such as Discordianism) somehow less valid or secure or what-have-you. Many who know me well enough know how much bullshit that line of thinking is.
I don’t know. I think of my Paganism and my Buddhism as separate things that I love doing equally. And besides all that, isn’t Paganism supposed to be about openness to various tendencies and practices? I would never suggest to another person trained and familiar with Wicca and any of its derivatives that they couldn’t be practitioners of any other paths in addition to their Wiccan commitments…so I expect the same consideration and respect. My practice of the buddhadharma adds to my appreciation of my practice of my Wiccan-centered Paganism and vice versa. And in each ‘faith’ I have some measure of experience…more than enough to trump any naysayers and fanatics who would try to tell me that I can’t be a member of both ‘faiths’ and learn from them as profoundly as those people who stick to one ‘faith.’
Despite all of my evidence to the contrary, such naysayers have not been convinced. And why should they be. Their minds are already made up. Their single-minded dedication to whatever it is they are doing makes them so much better than I. And not only I but also to any other of those poor benighted souls who have yet to learn that whatever the latest version of one-size-fits-all Paganism they follow is really “it” and is the most fun, most advanced, most marketable….whatever.
There are Witches who will vouch for me if I ever asked them to do so. (I can usually handle myself though.) There are some other types of Pagans who have known me for years who would stick up for my ardent Pagan practices. They know me. When it comes to me personally, stick to the rule of not assuming you know a damn thing about me or my practices and how adequate or lacking they are until you actually take the time to get to know me as an individual first. In terms of the general Pagan attitude of Spiritual Supremacy, please now indulge me in some spiel:
It is the monotheist idea that one must only practice or adhere to one religion or one god or set of gods and that if any one else is doing something differently, such as adhering to more than one religion, then they are doing it wrong. In the polytheistic (or even non-theistic) worldview, one can be an adherent of as many cults, traditions, and religions as they can stand. In theory, the followers of Isis or of Dionysos could care less if some of their co-religionists also followed other religions or deities. You could yourself think that Isis is the be all end all, but you wouldn’t look down on your Isisian neighbor who also worships Eris or Diana or some deity you never heard of before. (Or a whole bunch of them.)
What is Wicca? Is it a brainwashing-cult in which one cannot be a member of any other spirituality, or have any other ideas, especially those traced to non-Wiccan sources? Are we not allowed to be all we can be? For some of us, that ‘being’ means practicing more than one system or path. I can understand those who would think that I am watering down both my buddhism and my pagan witchcraft by mixing them, but really…I don’t mix them at all. I practice both of them separately. I take care not to mix them since the only place for any insights that may take place by mixing the two religions is in my own mind. I would never suggest trying to cobble the two systems together into some watered down crap that gains no insights from either. This is also part of the polytheistic worldview, where, say, an adherent of the Isis religion practices those rituals specific to the cult and at other times they practice rituals related to other cults, not even taking care to not mix and match rituals because it comes naturally to polytheism that different systems of rituals go with different deities or religions.
You can think about it as this: I am part of the Pagan community with Wicca being the ‘region’ where I reside. That ‘region’ also consists of Discordianism, so I participate in that equally as well. I am also a part of the Buddhist community which is next door – and I have lived there at times as well. In my own ‘home,’ so to speak, there are certain personal practices I do as well, such as honoring certain deities or practicing certain rituals, which are not applicable to the communities at large around me.
In life I have many interests, like poetry and photography, that have separate and distinctive modes and approaches to practice and expression. I can and often do both of these well. Likewise the rest of my life. My outlook is informed by my practice and adherence to the two religious outlooks (Pagan and Buddhist), but I take care to keep rituals and ideals separate…that’s simply how they both work effectively. I adhere to both, because -as a polytheist Pagan- why should I choose between them? I am attracted to the religious elements of both and that’s that. It’s my own personal problem because this means I have to practice more religions than one…but as a polytheist Neo-Pagan, this means I can practice as many ‘cults’ or ‘faiths’ or ‘paths’ as appeal to me…and in the company of others in each respective path I can share the respective practices and insights.
We Neo-Pagans have no jealous gods. Even within Wicca there is no evidence of jealous gods. So when any of you try to suggest to me that I am a lesser sort of practitioner or I have somehow misunderstood Wicca when all you have to go on is my allegiances to different faiths, well…you are being a bit of a smug little prig who is just as much of a Spiritual Supremacist as all those Fundy Christians you whine about incessantly. I don’t care what Silver Ravenwolf has written. I don’t care what Starhawk has written. Hell…I don’t even care what your High Priestess has said. If you feel that my adherence and practice of different religions somehow makes me less of a Wiccan or some-other-Pagan than you, you have misunderstood the term “Pagan.”
It is especially absurd for those of you Wiccans who like delving into or practicing the Kabbalah, which last time I checked, was still a part of Judaism. Yet none of you Kabbalah practitioners who also practice Wicca seem to see the irony. You don’t like it because I practice other things outside of Wicca, yet you can practice Kabbalah, Tarot, Ceremonial Magic and other non-Wiccan traditions and systems? I don’t have a problem with you doing that, so why should you have a problem with me? What is your problem? Is it that my Buddhism isn’t as “witchy” feeling as all those “spooky” occult systems from the heresy side of Judeo-Christianity? (That’s okay, I practice Chaos Magic. Is that “spooky,” “witchy,” or magical feeling enough for you?)
No one religion or path contains the whole truth about existence. I am of the opinion that there is no such thing as “the whole truth.” There are a bunch of clues and pathways to follow, each one an aspect of existence. Each one is just as true for its people as any other one is true for its people. Some of us are weirdos in that we learn more than one path and more than one “truth.” When I am casting a Wiccan circle, I don’t invoke dharma guardians. When I am practicing mandala visualizations, I don’t use Pagan deities. Each path has its own profundity and set of truths for me. It may seem like a fine balancing act to not merge the two together, but because of my relative experience in each one, it comes naturally to me. When I am Hailing Eris while practicing the Discordian irreligion, that’s another thing altogether. (And its own set of issues to be taken up in a future essay.) Perhaps I take the ideals of Polytheism to heart, and that’s the problem you have with me. You are serious in your playacting, yet you never feel secure. Thus you dislike my polycentric lifestyle and outlook because you intuit that I am not playacting. Then you transfer your feeling of insecurity onto me and judge me as not being adequate. Or it is because I don’t need to be a fundamentalist prat like you.
Just remember that the next time you are jumping around with your feathers and crystals doing quarter calls just like Ms. Bunny Author told you to do, all the while trying to pass yourself off as in-tune to both Native American wisdom and (somehow) the Ancient Celts. And as you go around town talking about how good all of us Witches are supposed to be – except for when it comes to talking shit about Christians, then anything goes – remember our own fucking Law of Return. What goes around comes around. If you look down upon me, or dislike me for not being EXACTLY LIKE YOU or for not practicing Wicca EXACTLY LIKE your BUNNY authors say, I may just return the favor.
-Irreverend Hugh, KSC
[June 12th, 2005]
In case you were wondering, Buddhism does have similar problems with the inundation of Fluff-Bunnies, though it has been able to either assimilate them into intelligent and educatable human beings -some of whom have gone on to become very good dharma practitioners- or to repel them. Buddhism does this easily because of its emphasis on sitting meditation as a core practice. Bunny-types can’t stand such a practice as it validates nothing in their preconceptions. So either they stick to it and eventually open up and learn to grow, or they leave Buddhism altogether and go towards more New Age types of paths. And sometimes, as we all know, they get into Neo-Pagan practices.
This page published by the DSSS/PMM. All Rights Reserved by the Author. Permission secured by Daven’s Journal to reproduce these articles here.