Breaking Craft Stereotypes:
“Just because my religion gives me a cyclical view of life, doesn’t mean I’ll let you run me around in circles.”
The Wiccan “cosmology,” if you will, describing a twin axis between a double-aspected God and triple-aspected Goddess, and a deep yet seldom explored (at least by hordes of new and increasingly vocal Wiccans) four element schema cross-referenced by a yearly cyclical calendar based off of a creative interpretation of observable natural events is all a modern collective vision. Many of the things that make up this cosmology can be said to stretch back towards humanity’s self-consciously accepted “pre-history.” But this is nothing new in the history of religions. New religions often take up strands of older practices or viewpoints and synthesize them into new practices and meanings relevant for those doing task of weaving them together. Many of Wicca’s practices and certainly most of its belief structure can be correctly said to be modern developments. This is, in and of itself, the way things have always been with human spirituality and religion.
The problem is that many people don’t understand the subtleties and complexities of religious movements, especially the new religions. Many of the worst offenders tend to be the new religion’s own adherents, who seek justification in their identities by trying to prove claims of ancient lineages. The problem with Wicca in particular is due to people misunderstanding the basic premise that new religions always contain strands that may be ancient with the religions themselves being new. So people fall into the error that Wicca must either be shown to be, or defended as, ancient in order to feel any sense of validity.
Americans and other Westerners who practice Buddhism are less troubled by such problems simply because of the nascent traditions and strands of Western Buddhism having links to the historical movement of Buddhism which until fairly recently was mostly developed in various Asian nations. Lineage and traditions are emphasized, but not to the detriment of new developments and of the major Buddhist emphasis on direct insight and reflection. Thus for someone practicing dually…or one who both practices Buddhism and Wicca, my practice of Buddhism presents no comparable problems.
My practice of Wicca was always personally viewed by me as the practice of a New Religion that took inspiration from earlier forms of Pagan beliefs and practices. I didn’t much take stock in the idea that Wicca had to prove its existence further back into the past beyond the 1950’s. And in many ways any modern version of anything that calls itself “revived” is of necessity a new creation. Due to my familiarity and “membership” with a modern Celtic culture (and a decent sense of Celtic history from a Celtic viewpoint), I certainly had no illusions about Wicca being an ancient “Celtic-based” religion – as was often asserted by many misinformed Wiccans until recently. Wicca was always for me either a revived religion or a new creation. Wicca was my introduction to Neo-Paganism and though I have studied from and learned from many other forms of Neo-Paganism, Wicca has been the form I have been most comfortable with for the past ten years. Like a pair of well-worn boots, or an old friendship that remains a vital part of one’s social life, it is Wicca that will most likely remain the central focus of my Neo-Pagan practices and ideas, at least for this lifetime. (A sentiment that I also have towards my membership in the Western Buddhist movement, by the way. My adherence to Discordianism, which may or may not say anything, depending upon your perceptions, is a foregone conclusion, of course.)
I understand the tendency that all new religions are afflicted with in trying to assert some historical lineage that stretches back before their creations or syntheses. Christianity did so by using older Jewish scriptures and integrating them into a sense of a newer prophetic historical identity. (Without which the idea of Christ being the Messiah of all of humanity would lose its meaning.) Islam followed a similar course of integration within and upon the older Jewish monotheistic concepts. (Otherwise the assertion that the Prophet Mohammed is the “Seal of the Prophets” would lose its meaning.) But these are religions that I do not belong to and feel it is best left to scholars within those respective religions to reflect, study, and learn about how their own traditions have developed. Thus I will not go further discussion about them.
In this day and age, with a certain amount of availability and transparency of information, studies, and research, Wiccans can no longer try to claim with a straight face that Wicca is the “Old Religion,” no matter how old or perennial both some of our ideas and some of our gods and goddesses may be. This is why I also love Discordianism. In Discordianism there is no emphasis on trying to prove how ancient it is. (Eris Herself may be an ancient Goddess, but no Discordian worth her salt would try to convince anyone else that the modern practice and ideas of Discordianism are ancient, unless she is pulling your leg.) This is seen as an exercise in absurdity, to be done for the sake of absurdity, laughter, and for showing just how limiting and silly such mental gymnastics really are.
Wiccans need to remember that we need to balance Mirth and Reverence. What I see is a lot of reverence or willingness to revere any writer who agrees with the premises of the reader or practitioner. We need not take ourselves so seriously to the point of trying to establish any historical validity beyond the modern birth of Wicca in the 1950’s. There is no need to prove that we have any connection to any of the victims of the Great Witch Hunts of the early modern period. Especially since none of those victims were Wiccans in any meaningful sense of that word. They were not even “proto-Wiccans.” What the Witch Hunts can do that would be more useful for us, is to raise our awareness of intolerance and of what happens when some human beings attack and oppress other human beings for perceived or real differences. Besides that, there are very real struggles going on these days for Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans to have their religions respected with all the legal and social rights that other more established religious communities enjoy. Focusing on these real world and ongoing struggles is much better for us. Not only should we think about where we come from but we should also make better the lives of those who will come after us in the future.
In this Mirth, and understanding that we no longer need to prove historical validity stretching back in time to beyond modern human civilizations, we don’t have to go the other extreme and accept every new fad or newly marketed thing that calls itself Wiccan as Wiccan. Of the many things we need not accept, one of them is the marketing of the things known as “power beads” or “karma beads” which are as popular among many self-identified Wiccans as they are among many other so-called “alternative” spiritualities. As mentioned briefly above, I also practice Buddhism and that practice is more often than not my “public” religious affiliation (since I prefer to keep my Wiccan practices and viewpoints in my personal life, except for online such as this article). Those things marketed as “power/karma beads” highly resemble what Buddhists call a “mala.” Malas are sort of like the Buddhist equivalent of Catholic rosaries. They are religious tools, as sacred and distinctive to Buddhism as are Wiccan implements such as athames or chalices are to Wiccans. When I first started seeing the power/karma beads on various people, I would often ask the wearers if they were Buddhist. I would get all sorts of answers such as “Why would you think I was Buddhist?” Upon explaining that these beads resembled Buddhist malas down to the least detail, most wearers would respond with something like “So? How would you know? Buddhists don’t have the monopoly on malas.” This line of reasoning was not highly thought of by me, since I never wear anything resembling religious icons or jewelry without first knowing what the damned things mean and where they come from. As a Buddhist, the wearing of mala beads for “power” or “karma” or any other silly marketed superstition is mildly insulting. It is as insulting to me as if I would see a non-Wiccan use a pentacle for any equivalent silly marketing trick or as a consumerist fashion statement.
Silly flakiness of the above sort should not be accepted. While I do support your right to wear what you want and do as you wish, you must remember that what you wear and what you do communicates certain things to others. Thus you had better know what it is you are communicating. This issue of “malas” is not the only issue, it is just what touches upon my life at this moment. It also illuminates a lot of what is going on among those self-identified Wiccans (and other “alternative” religion sorts). In our quest for social validity, matched with our refusal to feel any need to fabricate historical identities that don’t really exist, we need not accept every new fad or fashion statement that some confused people insist upon inclusion as a general Wiccan trend or practice.
We need no “official” or “traditional” Wiccan clothing or garb, whether in ritual or not. Unless some groups eventually develop something we all may like to live with. We need no jewelry or any of the other outward signs of religious affiliation mirroring the ubiquitous crosses that many Christians wear. We need not have to prove ourselves to be as historically or traditionally valid as some of the older and more popular religions. We only need to show that our religion is valid in its own right because it is alive here and now.
I realize that the above was a romp through many issues that are related to the specific issue of Wicca being valid without proving our religion is as ancient as other faiths. The phrase that comes to mind is the title of this article. “Wicca. A New Religion of the Old Gods.” This can help us as a starting point as to how we conceive of ourselves in a conscious community identity and as to how we present ourselves to others who may be curious as to just what we believe, how we believe, and what we do. This is much more of a fruitful exercise than some of the tortured attempts of certain obstinate Wiccans who insist upon using any spurious data or information to mislead others into thinking that Wicca is ancient. Just because our Gods are ancient (even though many of our ideas and approaches to them probably are not) does not mean our religion need be. And it also restores the credit to where it is due: possibly to our Gods for the inspiration and definitely to many of early Wicca’s founders such as Gardner and others for opening up to that inspiration.
-October 16th, 2005 by Irreverend Hugh, KSC
(Ten years of Wicca, more years of Buddhism, and Eris knows how many years in Discordianism. I am told that this would mean something to some people.)
This page published by the DSSS/PMM. Copyright ©2005. All Rights Reserved by the Author. Permission to share is granted only if this notice is included and the article above is kept intact. Previous permission is necessary before reposting or reprinting anywhere. Permission secured by Daven’s Journal to reproduce these articles here.
Originally posted 2013-11-07 20:28:54. Republished by Blog Post Promoter