Sunday, August 20, 2006

Essentially Wiccan

As stated in a previous post, historically pagans were simply those people who lived on, with and from the land and honored and celebrated the spirits they perceived as dwelling within. Pagans lived on every continent around the Earth and modern religious movements draw on the ancient myths and spiritual traditions as the basis for their beliefs and practices. While Neo-Pagan faiths share a number of similarities, each has its own unique approach to ritual, deity and nature worship. Paganism is an umbrella term that encompasses many faiths, one of which is Wicca.

Wicca is a modern religion that began with Gerald Gardner, an Englishman who claimed that he was an initiate of a secret but widespread witch-cult of early modern Europe that had survived and provided all of the key religious beliefs and ideals and the distinctive ritual structures found in Wicca. While his historical interpretation is now much criticised, there is no disputing that Gardner was instrumental in paving the way for the development, dissemination and acceptance of Wicca throughout the world.

Wicca is non-proselytizing and free from dogmatic requirements. It is a life-affirming, not death-dealing faith, although most Wiccans accept reincarnation. While most Wiccans practice magick, a few do not and do not identify as witches. Similarly, most Wiccans, though not all, call themselves Pagans. Wicca's practitioners revere the Goddess and God as the creators of the universe - as tangible, conscious beings - and different traditions recognize and worship different pantheons. Some recognize multiple pantheons; some recognize only the Goddess. There is tremendous diversity among Wiccan beliefs, owing to its relative newness and to the philosophical openness Wiccans tend to embrace. Most Wiccans observe eight religious holidays, Sabbats, and the Full Moons, Esbats, based on natural cycles of the year. Each separate tradition has its own set of myths, religious objects, rituals, and laws, many of which bear little resemblance to those of other present-day religions.

Wicca isn't an organized religion in the sense that Christianity is organized, but national groups do exist within the U.S. for purposes of protecting Wiccans from legal, literary and physical abuse. In the 1970's Wicca was recognized by the federal government as a legitimate religion, although, as we've seen in recent years, Christian fundamentalists are challenging this status.

Wiccans are women and men of every profession, cultural background and religious upbringing. For many, Wicca is the only religion they've found that encourages love for the Earth and its inhabitants (human, animal, vegetable and mineral) and that promotes the practice of magick to transform their lives into positive experiences. Women, especially, are drawn to it because of its acceptance of the feminine aspect of divinity - the Goddess. For Wiccans, theirs is the only religion that allows a truly intimate link with deity.

My personal experience of Wicca as a spiritual path puts me firmly in this category. I enjoy the connection to nature and spirit as one and the same. Wicca requires me to taking responsibility for the outcome of my actions, including my spiritual ones, and allows me to direct my personal will while discovering a higher purpose for myself - a divine Will. Along with the freedom it gives me to adopt a spiritual path of my own choosing, I appreciate Wicca's returned emphasis on Goddess worship. It represents something of a feminist liberation after feeling the after-effects of the Judeo-Christian suppression of the feminine divine and the second-class status women have been handed by more dominant religious institutions. It is important for me to be able to identify with a religion that tells me that I have power and am divine. I also count myself among certain Wiccans who are reclaiming the word witch, who are not ashamed to admit that what we are practicing is witchcraft. Although I sometimes enjoy the ceremony of a high ritual, my day-to-day approach to the craft is more about finding a personal connection to deity and to living my life in a way that is in harmony with nature, with the spirit of the world around me, and that celebrates and acknowledges my place within the web that connects us all.

(Okay, I'm pretty sure that was more than 300 words! My apologies and thanks to Sojourner for having me as a guest blogger this week.)

*This article was posted by Nixie of Blogickal! while she was a guest blogger here. When I switched over to the new Blogger system on 9/12/06, the byline was changed by Blogger. I want to give credit where credit is due.


Bernulf said...

699 words, according to my word count checker...but still a good description of your path :)

Would you say that witchcraft is itself a religion? The reason I ask is in your last paragraph, you mention that you count yourself as one among Wiccans who are reclaiming this I'm curious about whether this means that you identify witchcraft as a religion within itself; or as a function served within different cultures and societies, and that Wiccans are adopting witchcraft as a function within Wiccan culture?

Sojourner said...

But who's counting, right Bjorn? :)

Nixie B said...

Since Mike couldn't post on this topic, I figured I'd just use his non-used words. ;)

Bjorn, to answer your question, witchcraft is simply the practice of working magick. It does get a bit complicated because some people who practice witchcraft do not consider themselves to be Wiccan and some Wiccans do not practice Witchcraft. A number of people I know who are studying witchcraft or practicing on their own do not go so far as to accept the religious mantle of Wicca. Wicca is a religion.

Just like some people may consider themselves spiritual and adopt certain philosophies (Buddhism or Kabbalah, to use a couple of popular examples) into their way of thinking and acting, they don't necessarily consider themselves to be religious at all and don't identify themselves as having those particular religious affiliations.

For a while, I studied witchcraft and considered myself a witch but did not yet consider myself Wiccan. Perhaps it had to do with my left-over distaste for organized religion that came from seeing hypocritical family members profess to be such good Christians. Anyway, I've recognized that my spiritual path is bigger than sitting alone in my apartment reading books and practicing magick, so I now consider myself Wiccan.

The reason I say that I, and others, reclaim the words witch and witchcraft is that these words have grown to have a very negative association over the past few centuries. Look at the witch trials. People have some crazy ideas about witches and we want to dispell the erroneous myths that persist about us by reclaiming those words for good purposes. Witches were once respected as the wise ones in their communities - healing the sick, acting as midwives, providing spiritual guidance. We just want to be accepted on that basis.

Wiccans and witches are suffering some very real discrimination and persecution right here in contemporary America. It's not easy to be out of the broom closet. I'm just fortunate that I live in a very progressive environment where I don't have to fear for life and limb for being what I am.

Mike said...

Ok Nixie, since I posted this evening, I think you have to retract 438 of your words. :)

Great post! (Yours too, Bjorn!) I found them both very educational.