Wicca At The Crossroads
Article ID: 10203
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: October 30th. 2005
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As I read Witchvox, it seems to me that many of the contentious issues we face today that seem to divide our community spotlight the fact that Wicca, fifty years after its founding, is today at a crossroads from which we will map our future.
Things have changed so rapidly that a person such as me might already be considered by some to be part of the "old guard" because we began apprenticing in a coven before there was an Internet. We had to find teachers who would accept us into their groups, train us and guide us through the initiatory process. And all of this took place in small groups within the privacy of our teachers' homes. Not so long ago, there were not that many books on Wicca and Witchcraft. Today, of course, there are many authors to choose from, many of whose books are intensively researched and shed new perspectives on our history, lore and methods, and others that seem totally free of facts, insight, or wisdom. Either way, there is more to choose from, not to mention the thousands of websites, which range from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Are we simply witnessing the law of supply and demand in action? For example, years ago, I found a copy Janet and Stewart Farrar's Witches' Bible in a bookstore. I bought it, read it and have referred to it frequently. I also bought a copy of The Grimoire of Lady Sheba, Patricia Crowther's Lid Off the Cauldron, Doreen Valiente's Rebirth of Witchcraft, plus her Witchcraft for Tomorrow, Ed Fitch's Rites from the Crystal Well, Grey Cat's Deepening Witchcraft, Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon and Charles Leland's Aradia off the shelf in years past. Yet, today, these books are not commonly stocked in stores. Why? Bookstores are simply businesses that make money selling books. Perhaps what stores stock simply demonstrates an accurate reflection of what today's Pagan/Wiccan buyers want, and I guess what more customers want is what you see there.
It is we, rather than our adversaries, who influence what items stores sell. Notice that in recent years, some Christian extremists have attempted to ban or drive down sales of the Harry Potter books, alleging that they teach kids Witchcraft. Of course, we know that they don't. Even non-Pagan readers realized how silly and shrill these opponents sound, and ironically, the campaign against the books has rallied support for them and the Harry Potter books are now among the best selling books in the world. Parents are thrilled that their kids are interested in reading, even if it is a fantasy child wizard character that sparks their enthusiasm.
Nor did Christian extremist campaigns against The Da Vinci Code hurt the sales of that book either. The law of supply and demand rules the marketplace, and millions of people bought and read The Da Vinci Code, even after the spokesmen for some churches came straight out and told people not to read it. Both the Harry Potter books and The Da Vinci Code are of interest to many Wiccan readers, even though they are not Wiccan books.
That law of supply and demand also explains why bookstores carry the Left Behind series, and other books which appeal to Christian extremists. Bookstores simply sell merchandise called books.
We know that we are of mainstream interest when companies put out titles like Wicca and Witchcraft for Dummies or The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft. The corporations that produce these lines of books smell money to be made on these titles; they are not companies dedicated to publishing Wiccan books.
The fact that some of us cringe at those titles and others buy them is one of the signs that Wicca is at a crossroads. The crossroads is about our future as a movement.
As Wicca has grown more popular, the doors have opened wide, and a growing attitude reflects that we are really for anyone who wants to call themselves Wiccan. There really are no barriers to entry any more. It used to be that Wiccan groups had the expectation that people who wanted to be part of our community would at least commit to attending meetings and rituals regularly. But even that is now apparently negotiable, as people just choose to drop in at open events when they feel like it. So our vision of ourselves is changing. Solitary practitioners probably outnumber all those who belong to any groups, and that is a change in our world too. It wasn't that long ago that people who wanted to become Wiccan joined groups so that they could learn and practice with others, in person.
That was then. Change was stimulated by popular books such as Scott Cunningham's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Now the growth in the number of solitaries has fueled the appetite for more titles that make it easy for a person to teach themselves from a book.
The Internet has also made it possible for solitaries to get information without being part of a coven. There are groups that only get together in e-groups and chat rooms and use webcams to do group rituals. A lot of these people form a significant part of the crowd that turns up at regional gatherings and open events, because they still crave interaction with others, even if it is only once in a while.
An important related development is the plight of the independent Pagan/Wiccan/New Age/metaphysical store. Just as far back as the early 90’s (in this metro area), there was only one Borders and one Barnes and Noble. There were a handful of independent bookstores that carried extensive lines of Wiccan, Pagan and metaphysical books, great selections of tarot decks, chalices, pentacles, candles, oils and other things we use. They also provided meeting space for Wiccan and Pagan groups and provided discrete referrals to seekers.
During the last decade or so, those two chains have gone on an aggressive expansion binge, so that now every shopping center has one or both of those stores, while several of those small, but great shops have gone under. Why? Many Wiccans and Pagans began buying from the chain stores or shopping on the web.
I have long maintained that we Wiccans and Pagans need to keep the independent retailers viable, because they served us long before the chains got interested. Our books never were more than a small fraction of the chain's merchandise mix, but in the independent stores, we were central to the mix. These independent merchants were an important part of the community link not so long ago. Today, with the rise of the web, they have a much smaller role. I, too, now buy things on the web, but I also enjoy going into real brick and mortar stores where there are other like minded people shopping, and the people who work there know what you are talking about when you are looking for something a little unusual. If you shop online, try and support the independent Pagan merchants.
I think that all of this evolution underlies the premise for debates about whether we should be incorporating and building buildings, whether we should get into the business of operating homeless shelters and soup kitchens, whether the term Christian Wiccan is an oxymoron, or whether books on Wicca really need to be rewritten for teens.
The dividing line in this debate seems to be that the people who were trained in small home-based covens will largely continue to practice that way, while those who came into Wicca as solitaries who shop and network online will largely continue to refrain from joining such groups, although a minority will seek to affiliate into small covens. It appears to me that the free floating group that just likes to party at certain Sabbat times are bigger fans of having places where they can just drop in to do that, while the home-based covens never will just throw open the doors for whoever wants to drop in.
The future of Wicca, like any other religion, depends on bringing new people into the community. We seem to be two-tiered in our growth and development, with a larger community that visits websites, comes to gatherings and open events, and a smaller community that works in small, home-based groups, but we all network outside of our usual comfort zones on occasion.
We are at a crossroads because in the beginning we only had a small group model but now popularity and technology have combined to offer larger, more open format models.
People can learn, grow, develop friendships and working partners through either approach, although the older group has a different comfort level than the newer group with different concepts of community building. It is one thing to work with a small group for an extended period of time and develop working relationships with them, and it is totally different hosting an open event and just dealing with whoever shows up. I have done both and I have mixed feelings about which is better.
On the one hand, when you have a small group that really works together well, even if there are only a half dozen of you, close connections can be formed and rituals can be profound. On the other hand, when you host a large open ritual and the better part of a hundred people show up, even when you don't personally know most of them, lots of festive atmosphere and large amounts of energy can be raised. That can be a great feeling. Right now, I have chosen to keep my work in the small home-based group setting, because I like the continuity of working with people and watching them develop, but I still love the pageantry of large special events and still attend them from time to time.
Wicca needs both approaches to continue to grow. We don't have to choose between the two. I think we are bound to continue to have differences of opinion. There is such a variety of us that I think it is natural that we will resist any major attempt to organize or become homogenized, because I think that the freedom to be different is what attracted most of us in the first place.
Obviously, since I am writing this for Witchvox, and have used the Internet to locate out of print and hard to find books, I do appreciate the new technology. It is probably inevitable that there is friction between different camps as to whether one way is better than another. People will always have opinions. However, we also have the opportunity to try different models and stick with the one that provides us with the best experience.
The fact that we are getting mentioned more in the mainstream culture, in newspaper articles, TV shows, and so on, will continue to be both good and bad. Even though no one knows or will ever know our true numbers, certainly, by any measure we are growing, otherwise no one would be paying any attention to us. There are those of us who choose to remain very private about our religious beliefs and practices, and those who will very publicly put themselves on the line to fight for our rights.
Each of us will come to our own crossroads and need to decide what we need to do. I am more optimistic than I am worried about our future, but I am keeping an eye on all sorts of developments that could affect us. This is part of our growing pains.
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