opinions

Two Gardnerians, Twenty-one Opinions

Behold, dear blog reader, one of the deepest and darkest secrets of the religion of Wicca: two Gardnerians disagreeing with each other! Spooky! Scandalous! Never before seen on the interne… oh wait.

Gardnerian B wrote, “The moment we begin a relationship with deity and magic inside a ritual circle we are acting as Priestesses and Priests.”

(Gardnerian A will respond not in quotes.)

When a wizened old court magician in the middle ages in Europe drew a magic circle on the ground and a triangle outside of it, and then began to invoke the names of God in order to compel a spirit to appear within that triangle, he fit the actions described above, but he was (frequently) not a priest. A rabbi could do the same thing, and unless he was born a Kohan, he also was not a priest. Interacting with a God does not make one a priest, otherwise every female Catholic saint would have been running an abbey somewhere that was probably Ireland. While I recognize and understand the desire to validate other people’s feelings, I do not understand the need to dilute who and what we are in order to do so.

If a God wants to make someone their priest, that’s great. The God can initiate them into their knowledge and mysteries in an infinite number of ways. But our Gods do not make one a Wiccan by Themselves. A Wiccan makes a Wiccan. It’s a priesthood created and promulgated by human beings who are witches. Who initiated the first Wiccan? I don’t care. Wicca traces to the New Forest, through either Gerald Gardner, or, when we’re feeling magnanimous, Sybil Leek. If the argument that the gods initiate people into our cult is made, the argument that they do so through their priesthood is also made. It happens through us. If we were to come across a devotee of the Horned God, Lord of Death and Resurrection, we would probably snatch them up, because they’d make a great Wiccan. If they didn’t feel the need for that, we’d invite ourselves to their circles and get to know them better and, through them and their devotions, possibly our own God more, which would be great. It would not, however, make that person a member of the Wica. They’d be like a spiritual cousin, but not a brother or sister of the Art as we know it to be.

An initiation in the Gardnerian tradition, or in traditional Wicca as a whole, means jack shit when it comes to other people’s witchcraft traditions or religions, but it does have meaning when it comes to Wicca. I would never expect a Feri initiate (which has only one degree) to give any extra shit about me or what I do more than any other pagan, just because I have 3 degrees in another form of witchcraft. This isn’t Hogwarts. Wiccan degrees are not accredited. They don’t transfer from one form of witchcraft to another. Within the initiated priesthood of the Wicca, if an Alexandrian and Gardnerian pair of third degrees honor each other as such, that makes sense, because they’re both traditional Wiccan HPs. Once you leave the arena of traditional Wicca, anything goes and things are not directly translatable.

Orange-flavored candy might smell vaguely like an orange, and have perhaps a hint of its (artificial) flavor, but there’s no actual orange in there. It’s like the difference between people who insist on using actual plant products and essential oils in their condition oils and people who buy artificially scented oils and claim they’re the same thing. They’re not. The only way to find out why is to try them both. You notice a difference. The spirit of the plant is present in the one that contains the actual botanicals. In synthetics, it’s just your energy alone. I prefer the real deal, otherwise one could call orange Gatorade “Orange Juice” and people will mistakenly think that they’re the same thing. They’re not. Ostensibly so. Arguing to a carton of orange juice that orange gatorade is also orange juice is just… I mean, it sounds delicious, but it’s not true. The same goes with traditional Wicca and Wiccan-based, eclectic witchcraft.

This other idea that language changes over time based on how the populace uses it is completely true. That doesn’t make it right. Words and their meanings can be completely diluted, or changed into their opposites, as Merriam Webster has delightfully done by changing the meaning of the word “literal” to “figurative” because so many pumpkin-spice drinking white girls just “literally cannot even.” Using Wicca in a way that includes anyone who casts a circle, or even those who don’t, but generally identify with what they think our philosophy is, dilutes the name, and names have power. Plus, there’s always the possibility that the tide can turn back in the other direction, and then the word Wiccan will mean the same here in the US as it does in the UK where it was born. Let’s not disempower ourselves by giving up, even if there’s a cacophony of well-meaning, but uninformed voices out there using it incorrectly. Disagreeing with something is not judgement. It is simple disagreement based on, hopefully, knowledge.

Also, to pretend one can be Wiccan but not “of the Wica” is like the idea that one can be Wiccan and not practice witchcraft. Can someone be a Christian but not “of the followers of Christ?” No. That’s silly. But here we are, doing silly things just to ensure that we’re not hurting the egos built by the uneducated masses. Why not just educate them? Why not just say, in plain English, what we said: Belief does not equal initiation. It’s good for people to hear. It makes them think. Well, it makes some of them think. Sometimes it feels like it makes most of them dig in their heels and start crying about how we’re bullies who won’t accept them, when they’re the ones co-opting the name of our priesthood, and then running around spouting inane things about it like it doesn’t taint us. I forget what it’s called when white people go to Coachella and wear traditional native feather headdresses, or when someone sets up shop in the French quarter and declares themselves a Vodou mambo, without any training, or when Rachel Dolezal did pretty much anything, but the feeling is similar. People outside of the priesthood, for various reasons, and most of them not ill-intentioned, looked at our culture, took what they like, and adopted it as their own without any of the experiences that go with them. I mean, people run around wearing the third degree sigil as jewelry, for fun, because it’s cute, and they started their own eclectic coven, so they feel entitled to it. What do you call that? Did Carl Weshke have the right to take the name of our priesthood and put “the words Wicca and Wiccan in the hands of anyone who wished to claim them”? I say you nay, sir. He was not one of us. He did not have that right. But this is AMURICUH, and Americans can ostensibly do whatever they want.

Gardnerian B: “If someone has eighteen books on their shelf with the word “Wicca” on them and they self-identify that way who am I to stop them? What purpose does that serve? Words get away from us and it’s hard to police their meanings after they do so.”

Let’s play hypotheticals. If someone has 18 books on the shelf with the word “Lukumi” or “Vodou” or “Catholic Priesthood” or even “African American” and they self-identify that way, even though they’re not initiated into the former three and clearly are not of the latter, who are you to stop them? I would think that any logical human being would disagree with them. No one is stopping anyone from doing anything, especially in America, but we don’t have to cater to the lowest common denominator among us, especially if it’s quite obviously uninformed.

Educate people. That’s the purpose it serves: education. Words get away from us, yes, and policing their meanings is up to the likes of Merriam Webster and the Oxford English dictionary, but those meanings are formed and reformed based on us, the people, and if we give up on who and what we are, we become meaningless. I refuse to contribute to our priesthood being watered down and made meaningless. It means too much to me, and if that is a crime, then lock my ass up. Me and Kim Davis can have a lively debate while we’re in the clink together 😉

*BB*

Gardnerian, A

County

 

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4 comments

  1. …loving this conversation on what it means to be Wiccan…. It seems like a lot of identity-based groups are having these conversations recently. I *do* know there’s lots of debate on who is *really* a Christian/follower of Christ too. And I’ve even come across a few (straight,cis) evangelical Christians who claim “queer” as an identity for themselves. Wicca seems to be ahead of the curve compared to these other identity conversations in that new terms/words are being used to reiterate meaning: Traditional Wicca, Gardnerian vs. neoWicca, “Wiccan-based eclectic witchcraft.” …interesting to follow…fuels my interest in wanting to do more work with Gardnerians outside the circles of eclectic witches I typically find myself in.

  2. Really enjoying this thread, as always. Question though: there seems a wide disparity between only Gardnerian initiation confers enterance into Wicca/Wica and “who am I to tell people they aren’t of the Wica”. My question falls into the middle. The term BTW which sprung up in the U.S. encompasses several traditions whose praxis (initiations, other key rites etc) and their BOSs are closely related and they are all recognized by folks like the New Wiccan Church as Wica. Is Gardnerian number 1 (now I feel like I am on a game show) suggesting that these other trades are not of the Wica? Just a curiosity.

    1. Thanks for the comment! As to your question, no, Gardnerian #1 is not saying that only Gardnerian initiation brings one into the Wica. He’s quite happy that the initiation rites have been retained and are still being used in the Alexandrian and other BTW traditions who have been properly trained and empowered to bring others into the Wica as well. There are many paths leading up the mountain of Wicca, it’s just that all of those paths spring from the same original source and are mostly made of the same materials, with the usual slight variations.

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