Warning this is quite a long post!
I have been reading around the internet on various message boards and other places with Pagan focus, of late and what I keep coming across is the attitude of ‘you’re doing it wrong’ or ‘you shouldn’t be doing this’, or ‘you can’t do it that way’, or ‘you can only do it this way’. And you know what, this bugs me, a lot. It makes me roll my eyes and wonder why and how Some people can be so closed minded that they are unable to put themselves in others shoes, or unable to conceive that, actually there may be a different way of doing it, and that that different way, while not working for them may well work for another.
The other reason this makes me roll my eyes and bash my head against the wall is the fact that within Modern Paganism there is no central authority or liturgy or governance or papal throne to tell us how it is, it doesn’t exist, zip, narda, nothing, thus those that are stating that you should or shouldn’t are actually going about it all wrong or in the word of so many other Pagans out there.. ‘YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG’
Of course with no central authority, liturgy, governance or Papal Throne there is no doing it wrong, instead there is doing what feels right. Now if you join up with a group, grove or coven of a particular tradition there will be rules and indeed a central type authority even a coven Book of Shadows which will need to be adhered to. Of course you will have permitted to adhere to these rules and authority by the initial step of joining said group, grove, or coven. It is a social contract thing. However if you are a solitary or, you no longer wish to belong to or take part in that group, the rules etc of that group no longer apply.
Paganism in its many forms is after all a religion of assent. That is you assent to be a part of that religion or spirituality or group and for as long as you associated with that religion, spirituality or group you identify yourself that way. I.e. I am a ‘insert tradition here’ Wiccan, because I am a member of this ‘insert tradition here’ Wiccan group. Whereas if you stop associating with that group, you no longer identify with whatever religion or spirituality it was. Ie, I used to be a Wiccan of ‘insert tradition here’ but I left and now I am a Buddhist. In the example the person is no longer assenting to be Wiccan of whatever tradition but instead assenting to be Buddhist. Ostensibly with communities of assent a person chooses to belong or not to belong.
So back to the should and should nots, one of the other ways of defining what something actually means, cause you know the hugest flameings happen around terminologies and authority, *this is me once again rolling eyes* is majority consensus, that is, what most of the people agree to, be it this statement x or that interpretation of x.. For example.. Wiccan Witch Wicca Witchcraft. As far as I can tell there is a group of people out there getting their panties in a bunch over these terms and how they are to be used and not be used, and there are a bunch of people out there who use these terms interchangeably and there are some people in-between. A sliding scale if you will.
Language like many things in this world is quite fluid and living. English is a living language thus prone to change, and change of meaning, for example, arse! Now about 8 years ago, when hanging out with a group of friends, when the comment arse! was said, it meant that an error had occurred , someone had forgotten to bring their wallet, or someone had dropped their phone, it was said when misfortune occurred. However when a new friend was introduced into the group she had a new meaning for the word. How she used it was that whenever anyone said arse, it meant that they had spotted a tight perky look worthy specimen of arse and that we should all look at it. Quite a different meaning from the original one of misfortune. As you may be able to guess the transition of arse from one of denoting misfortune to one of sight to behold, was a very quick one, and one that expanded out beyond the core group of friends to that of associates and acquaintances and occasionally hangers on. It is also interesting to note that this new usage, while it continued for a couple of years did eventually fall into disuse, actually the word arse itself also pretty much fell into disuse.. arr younglings so fickle.
Right then back to Wiccan Witch Wicca Witchcraft. When a person is first starting out or discovering this path of Magic and Paganism, they are bombarded with a variety of words, which at first glance seem to denote the same thing, namely Wicca and Witchcraft, but sometimes Pagan and Paganism, or Druid and Heathen, etc etc. These seem at first glance to be the same, especially Wicca and Witchcraft, in fact, some of the literature and books can be quite misleading, I mean to say that guy Gardner, who wrote the first book used both Wicca and Witchcraft and it seemed that he was using them to denote the same thing. And now there are a whole bunch of these other books using the word Wicca and Witchcraft seemely as an interchangeable word. Also when I surf onto the internet and go onto Pagan message boards, or text achieves, often the Wiccan and Witchcraft stuff is on the same page. (Go use the Google oracle and find out) And given that my friends do not react with such disbelief when I say Wiccan, as they do when I say Witch, I might be more incline to use the word Wicca, Are you getting a picture here? You should be, in fact I bet many of you older Pagans out there have memories of similar instances, where they used the word interchangeably partly because you didn’t know any better and partly because you were still figuring it out, and partly because it was the most common word in use of the day…
See now I believe that the main reason that I always referred to myself as a Witch, was because way back when I first started out, I very quickly became unimpressed with those that referred to themselves as Wiccan, and many of the books that were available in New Zealand were lacking something and because I felt this magical path as being something much more serious than those oddly dressed, bawdy, uninformed, non-thinking Wiccans over there I would be a Witch thank you very much, and that would be Witch with a capital W.. Recently I have attached Priestess to that title but that is a whole nother story
After a while I did settle on the title of Witch and have never really changed it. Eventually I came to the understanding that Wiccans were part of a tradition of some sort, and Witch’s where solitary, along the way I can remember understanding it Wiccan as a religion and Witchcraft as a practice, also that Wicca was the religion that all Witches practiced. A lower case w referred to historical witches, and a Capital W referred to Modern Witches, and several variation on those ideas, understandings and terms. All very complicated when you first start out, and it did take some years to understand, to feel the difference and to be comfortable with how I labelled myself.
Now thats really is the curx of it all, labelling yourself, because not only is Modern Paganism a religion and spirituality of assent, it is also one of self-labelling. And given that there is no central authority, liturgy, governance or papal throne, you can pretty much label yourself anything you want moonbeam starflower. *cough* As an aside to this the understanding of the labels have also changed over the last 60 years or so. This was pointed out to me by a good friend Grail. Way back in the 50’s and 60s, a person gave themselves the title of Witch and then went and joined a coven, and studied hard, (i guess you could add here became Wiccan?). Now days, however, you do not call yourself a Witch or Wiccan until you have joined your coven or studied for at least several years. It is reversed, people scoff at others who have deemed themselves Wiccan or Witches and are only just starting out and I wonder if it’s because of the change from a strong group or coven emphasis, to a strong emphasis on the individual. But alas that is also whole nother story.
Back to this self-labelling thing. Often the label that you start off with changes and grows as your understanding of your magical path also grows and deepens. Some may start of as referring themselves as Wiccan, and then a few years down the track they opt for Pagan, as they are no longer practicing as much or no longer feel the calling they once did. Others change and add titles and labels such as, priest, priestess, high priestess,
Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Traditional Wiccan, Hedge Witch, Urban Witch, traditionalist, cabalists.. Gosh they are quite endless as well as the many woven paths that are available to a magic worker or spiritual explorer.. or plan old Pagan. Some even come to the conclusion that it is not the label that is important but how one lives one’s life. Although a label can help in finding information such as books and webpages, and it can also give you a direction that to head in , one that you are perhaps being called to.
In practical terms, and what this post is all about, when a newby arrives on your blog or message board, and uses the word Wiccan, and you have decided that to you, a Wiccan is a tradition and that you must be initiated etc etc or however you use the word.. do not jump down their throat about it, and come across with the almightily authority on high, cause it is your way and only your way is correct, because as mentioned before “YOUR DOING IT WRONG” and you end up doing a couple of things.
1/ You end up looking like a completely close-minded, egotistical, bigoted, idiotic, prat.. CEBIT.. and 2/ You will end up not just sending the original enquirer fleeing for the hills, but a bunch of other people like me who have been around for a while, know what they know and are happy for the most part to share that, and also understand that what they know might not be knowing for others. And frankly having someone else shove their interpretation of every word down your throat is really off putting. There are better ways of dealing with this.
So ask yourself, is the original enquirer asking a honest question, but have used terminology that you do not agree with? So perhaps they have come up said the dreaded ‘I’m a solitary Wiccan, and I wanted to know if I can include roman pantheon in my daily devotions?’ Quite often these questions are short and lacking on context but still there is no reason to flay them alive, instead it would be more useful to engage them in further discussion with the added bonus of non judgemental information about the roman pantheon and not to tromp all over this persons beliefs with your big cauldron of goo.. The phrases, ‘how I see it’ or ‘in my opinion’, or variations on that would be much more likely to be read, by your original poster, and others who also come along to ready what you have written. Who knows it might even spark an interesting thread about the original topic and has now morphed into a deeper discussion or into a completely different direction.
So remember folks There is no central authority, liturgy, governance, or Papal Throne within Modern Paganism, this means that everyone has the right to believe whatever it is that they believe even if we do not believe it. And starting out a conversation with “YOUR DOING IT WRONG” or shouldn’t and should, will get you nowhere and just make you look stupid.
And finally, if what you are doing , what you believe and what you practice speaks to you in the centre of your heart, and makes it sing, you are so doing it right, no matter what anyone else says.