This past year has been one full of self exploration and contemplation as I try to unpack my practice and decolonize it. I’m not going to lie. It’s not going well. My relationship with Wicca and exploration of the roots of the Western Magical tradition haven’t been kind. There is a lot that is problematic in Wicca.
I’ve already written about giving up the Tarot — which which I loved/love — because of its links to cultural appropriation.* This is just one of the many areas I’ve been looking at in the past year (or even longer if I’m honest). As I unpack the information given to me in my tradition, I see just how much of it can be incredibly problematic, especially from an outsider’s view. The question of polarity, particularly gender polarity, is hugely questionable in this day and age. I could sit here and tell you that it’s important not to get caught up in the illusions of polarity; that polarity is a tool by which the individual learns to reconcile all parts of the self, which is true, but that isn’t helpful when individuals are looking at the depiction of gender essentialism in the earlier teachings within the tradition. And that is something that needs to be unpacked and re-framed if this tradition is to live on.
In light of all the problems that are inherent in Wicca, especially from an outer circle or first degree perspective, I can’t help but wonder if Wicca should even live on. I love what Wicca has brought into my life — even the more difficult things — but I recognize that there are problems. How much of the teachings can be modified and still hold true to the essence of Wicca? Can we address the issues or in addressing them, do we erase the core of Wicca? Thorn Mooney has a thought provoking vlog on working to fix issues from within the tradition instead of just tossing it all (this is my very loose, liberal paraphrasing of her points), which really speaks to me as a practitioner but I’m not always sure how feasible it is to address all the issues and still hold the tradition intact.
There is no way around it: Wicca has piecemealed together elements from around the world, heavily inspired by Hermetics, “Celtic” (read mid/southern European), and Germanic (northern European) traditions. And within Hermetics, we also see Qabalah (the Hermetic version of the Jewish Kabbalah) and Eastern traditions (namely Hindu and Buddhist). Just reading about Gardner and Valiente makes it clear that they were both influenced by the Golden Dawn and Crowley. Yes, Valiente took Gardner to task for this, but she didn’t remove all of the Golden Dawn/Crowley elements that Gardner brought in.
Moreover, Wicca has a complex relationship with the Divine that bears some analysis. Who are the deities of Wicca? From a generalist perspective: Kernunnos (Cernunnos) seems to be commonly accepted, but different branches in Wicca seem to focus on either Aradia or Cerridwen (and there may be others).** Does that mean that these are the exclusive deities of Wicca? We talk about “all gods being one god and all goddesses being one goddess”, which allows for an almost choose your own adventure perception of Divinity in public parlance that is heavily informed by outdated colonial practices that date back to Antiquity. Some examples of this include Lugh as the “Celtic” version of Mercury or Brighid as the equivalent to Greek Athena or Roman Minerva (google it, you’ll see that it is still easy to find this type of rhetoric online). But is Brighid actually Athena? How Brighid functions within the Irish pantheon is quite different than how Athena functions in Greek culture. Brighid doesn’t have the same underpinnings of strategy and war and even “masculine” logic that are associated with Athena. (Yes, this is a simplistic view of both but for the sake of brevity…) For this and many other reasons, I wouldn’t see them as being the same at all. They are not interchangeable just because they have some commonalities. And I would argue that they are more than just cultural expressions of the same archetype, despite how that tends to be bandied about in neopagan circles.
So what then does it mean when Wiccans say “all goddesses are one goddess; all gods are one god” (which by the way, not all Wiccans believe)?
For me it means this: The Goddess is infinite in her incarnations and variations. Each and every goddess (and god) is a version of the “source” exploring its full potentiality. So Freya and Oshun and Uma are all forms of the Goddess as she stretches her limits and attempts to understand her own full nature and potential. So yes, to my mind, they are all one BUT just like you and I, each is a unique expression of its identity and works within the structures of said identity. And just like you and I, each incarnation/expression has its families and communities. I would not place Thoth alongside Kali because they are from different cultural currents and forms of exploration/expression. To me the energies of the Egyptian pantheon are quite different than those of the Hindu pantheon and so I wouldn’t just mix and match them as I see fit and expect a happy union, even though ultimately I believe that all goddesses are one goddess…***
What I think often gets misunderstood is that my practice allows for the existence of monotheism, duotheism, and polytheism in such a way that neither is mutually exclusive of the other or better than the other. Each is a way of connecting to divinity. And if you choose to work within a particular pantheon or system, to me that is tapping into a specific manifestation of the divine. My understanding of the divine as being multi-natured is not better or supreme or more enlightened. There are drawbacks to having a generalized view and there are advantages to working a more closed system. This structure works for me, but may not for another. Moreover, some (many) practitioners may not see it as the same at all. And that’s kind of awe-some in its own right. The world is complex and that’s part of its beauty.
This is MY understanding of the Divine within my tradition. It may not be shared by others within my lineage though I suspect that there are some shared similarities despite our own unique takes on it.
Of all the things I love most about my teachings, this is the realization I’ve made from said teachings that speaks to me most. When I think about what I want to let go or fight to keep, this core belief is one of the ones I want to carry forward in my practice. Outside of polarity and colonialism; outside of fertility based gender essentialism and complex group dynamics; and outside of the overall problematic nature of Wicca, I want to find ways to hold this core. I’m not sure if it means I will ultimately choose to work within a specific pantheon or try to remove the white colonial mindset/practices inherent in Wicca/Western Esoterica — or if there will be anything left after said removal — but I do want to try to find a way to work within tradition first to see if this core can be saved in a way that doesn’t smack of ethnocentrism and reductivism.
*I know many are still skeptical about the question of appropriating Rroma traditions but I feel strongly that if the community is divided, it’s important to give the community the space and time it needs to come to terms with the issue by stepping out of the conversation instead of feeding it by digging in and resisting the voices saying it’s appropriation.
**Let’s not forget that the archaeological evidence around both Kernunnos and Aradia is questionable. Wiccans posit that Cernunnos is a pan European/Gaullish version of the Horned God and the Wild Hunt. But a lot of the evidence that we trace back to him is dubious academically speaking. On the other hand, Aradia, the daughter of Diana in Leland’s Gospel of the Witches, is an Italian legend that appears to have been misrepresented by Leland. So do the Gods of Wicca actually even exist? Is there any true, stands the rigors of academic analysis, historical evidence to support the claims of a longstanding worship of these deities?
***Note that at its core, I don’t believe that this “source” is truly gendered. I believe that there is room for divinity to be any and all genders and no gender at all. I call this the Goddess in Wicca, the source from which all emerges, even the God, but these are human tools for understanding something that is infinite. I’m still grappling with what it means to need said tools and whether or not they are valid in this day and age. They were useful to me as I worked my way towards this experience and understanding of the divine, but I also respect and appreciate that times are changing and viewing the world in binary is also very limiting even if it still informs much of the Western rhetorical framework for understanding the world we live in.