Wicca and the Shallow End

It’s been a long time since I posted anything here, and I don’t know, I guess I’ve just been in the thick of things. I’ve also been sorting through the memory files as I’ve been embarking on this journey, thinking a lot about the past.

This has comprised of digging deep into history, not only my own; but also the history of modern witchcraft in general.

One of the tasks I have been set is to dive deeper into thoughts on the concept of ‘Wicca’, especially in terms of how I originally conceived of it compared to how I feel now, especially given the additional research I have been doing into the history of British Traditional Witchcraft, as it has come to be known. I’ve read a number of books in the past few months and viewed and re-viewed several documentaries and this has given a much deeper set of lenses from which I can view this nebulous topic of… WICCA. And of course, my pursuit of knowledge is ongoing. And the to-read pile is tottering…

One of the things I have noticed about Wicca is how it can be one of those things that people think they know and have quite defined opinions on it. Here are some examples of statements I have seen from people on the topic of ‘Wicca’.

  • Wiccans are defined by their adherence to the threefold law, they are quite literal about it, and they are anti-cursing, hexing or any kind of baneful magic.
  • Wicca is basic and was a great ‘starting point’ but many practitioners claim they have ‘moved on’.
  • Wicca is culturally appropriative, and everything in it is stolen.
  • Wicca is very ceremonial, and different to folk magic or more nature based practices.
  • Wicca was entirely invented by Gerald Gardner, who was a nudist who just wanted to look at naked women.

It goes without saying that I could address all of these points to counter them, but other, more experienced voices have done it better than me, so I won’t be doing that right here, right now. Perhaps once I become a bit more learned, I could probably expand on some of these items as time goes on, but if there is something I have learned about writing blogs, is that I had a tendency in the past to pontificate about topics I didn’t have a f&*king clue about, or at least, very limited knowledge.

Me, blogging about witchcraft in the 2000s.

In short, I wouldn’t be pursuing this current stream of learning, if I believed, or if I still believed, these things. Because yes… some of these opinions were notions I held as fact.

I have been reading about paganism, Wicca and witchcraft for around 20 years now. I have not been practicing for all of that time, but my first solid actions that could be defined as regular practice and stepping into community happened in 2006. But even back then I thought I had a pretty good grip on what Wicca was. I had skimmed over some books that my friends had in the late 90s, and the first book I purchased for myself beyond borrowing the miscellaneous witchcraft-lite books from the public library, was Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham. The books I found around this time period didn’t exactly grab me, but there was still something there that intrigued and inspired me enough to step into community to find more. My first teacher was someone with little more experience than me, who used similar materials, including an adapted version of a course that could be described as a masterclass in eclectic New Age flavoured Wicca, which can be found, I have since discovered, for free via email correspondence from Uncle Festers, an occult store based in Melbourne. The course comes complete with a do-it-yourself initiation at the end. Our subsequent coven was a direct product of the eclectic self-initiatory Wicca boom of the 90s, much to the sometimes amazement, and sometimes horror, of the local community.

The shallow end has it’s delights…

As a result of the information I was getting, and the rhetoric prevalent online at the time, what we were doing was Wicca, but not; Wicca was already achieving a tarnished reputation as ‘hierarchical’ and maybe even dogmatic; if you weren’t initiated into a lineaged coven – you weren’t, really, Wiccan. This was confusing, and I was quick to cover my tracks. Well maybe what I was doing with my beloved coven wasn’t Wicca. It was supposedly better, different. More progressive. Eclectic? Yes. But maybe – more inclusive? I had stilted, ill-informed conversations about what the tradition of our group actually was. Our individual practices were so eclectic and broad – there is so much information out there, and it is possible to weave something new. Little did we realise what we were doing was essentially Wicca-lite. And the still waters ran much, much, deeper. But when you are in your 20s, and you’ve read at least ten books so now you officially KNOW EVERYTHING, we weren’t about to admit (or realise) that. A few years later, I was dabbling in materials available from authors and teachers online, and none of it seemed to be Wicca (which was… good? Because I was ‘NOT WICCAN’) – even though both the teachers and the heritage of the tools from the traditions they preached from, most certainly owed a lot to the original progenitors of modern witchcraft.

If your initial education was a bit scrappy and lacked depth or weight, it is easy to see how a decade or two of playing in the shallow end of the pool can leave one feeling like something is missing. I wasn’t getting the full picture of what Wicca was about – an experiential religion cannot be conveyed in a book or correspondence course.

To resurrect or perhaps rectify my existing knowledge about Wicca, to compliment my practical training, I have been focusing a lot of my reading on writings from Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Patricia Crowther, Vivanne Crowley, and Janet and Stewart Farrar. I have also been reading more recent works such as Philip Heselton’s biography of Gerald Gardner; Witchfather which is in two parts. To my surprise, I found the life story of the quirky colonial gentleman quite riveting. He was clearly a figure who was totally outside of the box his whole life, and once he discovered witchcraft in retirement, it became his remaining life’s work to spread it far and wide. The biography gave me a new appreciation for the history of the craft, and it made me realise; simply reading someone’s name a few times in a few books, and being familiar with their portrait, is not enough to know of their character or influence.

Another thing I have since learned, is that there is a great tradition worldwide, and especially locally, of individuals seizing materials and using it to go on and carve their own community, their own version of Wicca and/or witchcraft. After all, the Godds take care of much of what we do, and I would never swap my journey out, or the people I met along the way, for anything. There was a lot of beauty in the wyrd that we were weaving, whether we were seen as ‘legitimate’, or not.

My overall takeaway has been a reinforcement of what I put as the tagline for this blog; it doesn’t matter how long you have been practicing, you are always a seeker and the path is indeed crooked. I still don’t feel like an expert, or that I know ‘enough’ to say for sure what my thoughts are on anything at all, as I know these things are fluid, not fixed. We grow and evolve, like our traditions and communities necessarily do – or they perish. And there is something wild and beautiful in that.

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