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Why I'm Not Wiccan (Or neo-Wiccan for that matter)

Author: BellaDonna Saberhagen
Posted: June 10th. 2012
Times Viewed: 6,393

Quick disclaimer: This piece is largely about my experience in my studies of Witchcraft and basically is about how I got to where I am today. It, in no way, sets out to devalue Wicca or Ceremonial Magick.

When you say, “I’m a Witch.” you’re bound to get a flurry of different responses, depending on your crowd. If you’re at a family gathering and most of your family is Christian, you might make people uncomfortable. If you’re surrounded by other Pagans, the likely assumption made by using the word Witch is that you follow the Wiccan faith. You could say that I’m not Wiccan because I was never initiated into one of the official Wiccan Traditions, but there are many who claim the title Wiccan without such initiation (or have been initiated into another form of Wicca) , those that the traditional Wiccan (i.e. Gardnerian or Alexandrian) may prefer use the term Neo-Wiccan-if they’d want to let them use the term Wiccan to describe themselves at all (I think they may be getting a bit more lax with who can use this term, but I don’t want to step on any toes. If you call yourself Wiccan, I tend to leave it at that, but I know there can be a bit of a Witch-war about who can claim the word Wiccan) .

Like many new seekers, my first exposure to neo-Paganism and magic was Wicca (or at least the Llewellyn-ized solitary version of it) . After my grandmother died in early June of 1995, my parents took me on a long road-trip vacation. We went to Connecticut, Niagara Falls, and Salem. In Salem, I visited my very first Witch shop (it’s been so long now that I don’t recall what store or even if it’s still open) and picked up my first book (one which is many people’s first foray into Wicca) Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. The funniest thing is that my mother bought me the book herself without really looking at it. Once I started actually putting things into practice and was caught – I was taken to church and all my stones were thrown away (interestingly enough, my mother never got rid of the book) .

It’s hard to buy books on Witchcraft when you have no money of your own, no car and no privacy (and the internet was not nearly so awesome and this website would not exist for over 2 more years) . My path pretty much stagnated there until college because of this. I began researching more in college, and even more once I got a job and had some money coming in. Used books on Amazon were (and admittedly still are) a lifesaver. I began to question my faith, though, and the popular 101 books just weren’t cutting the mustard anymore. I delved out of Wicca and more in Shamanism and (specifically at the time) Celtic mythology. The more I researched, the less Wicca seemed to fit. I figured maybe I just needed to try to get “more advanced books” on Wicca, maybe they’d be deeper, have more meaning. Maybe it would have had that effect on someone else, but the more “advanced” the book seemed to be, the more of the content I was unable to connect with (I’ll explain what I mean further on) . I even contacted a local-ish (it was about forty-five minutes away) coven but they wouldn’t consider me because I wouldn’t have been able to afford dues and packet fees (at the time, I had a budget of thirty-five dollars a week for gas and food; I was fresh out of college and didn’t have my footing yet) when I would have also had to factor in higher travel expenses just to attend lessons and rituals. Then came the first real crisis of faith…

I switched from soft-polytheism to hard-polytheism. Why? I could not see Hestia and Kali as the same “Great Goddess” or Pan and Tyr as the same “Great God”. They were too different, their myths too disparate. The ancients did not seem to believe all gods were one, so why did Wicca (at least, the Llewellyn-ized version) have this as one of its core beliefs? (I posed this question long before I questioned the age of Wicca itself) .

Then there was another problem, not everyone is meant to be a priest or priestess, but Wicca is a religion of clergy, stating that everyone has their own link to the gods (and there is sadly, no option to be lay-Wiccan, if you don’t become a priest/ess and move through the degree system, you may not be seen as taking your path as seriously as one who is called to be a High Priest/ess) . A Catholic man is fine with not being a priest, but he can pray to the saints, the Virgin, etc. on his own and have the big rituals be performed by his priest at his church. To me, being a priest or priestess is a full-time job, meaning that that is your vocation. You can’t be a web-designer working sixty hour weeks and still have enough time to devote to whichever god or goddess you are the priest/ess of with the same amount of devotion an ancient Pagan priest (or modern Christian clergy, for that matter) would have had.

This is also a problem endemic of the modern movement, we don’t want to be organized enough to have paid clergy, but we want to be a recognized religion…and every Wiccan can be recognized as clergy whether they’ve read one book and performed a self-initiation (at least in Neo-Wicca) or spent years studying in a coven and have finally earned the rank of High Priest/ess. I have seen very few examples of people calling themselves Priest/ess that have actually devoted enough time and work to their gods or to servicing their local Pagan communities to be worthy of the title (not that there are none, those that run festivals and Pagan outreach programs are great examples, but here in Central PA, the real priest/ess is hard to find) .

The next problem came in defining Witchcraft and what magic should be considered part of Witchcraft and what magic is not part of Witchcraft. This is where the problem of the “more advanced” books being harder for me to connect with comes in. The more “advanced” a book seemed to be, the more it took its magickal style from Ceremonial Magick that owes much of its content to the Quabalah, Christian Mysticism, Islamic Mysticism and the Enochian works of John Dee (Enochian being the language of angels) . First case and point, The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram: I left Christianity for a reason; I had no connection with the Judeo-Christian god, so I saw no reason that I should be calling on His name for protection (if I were Yahweh, I wouldn’t appreciate any of my names, titles, or honorifics being used to protect someone who isn’t giving me their fair share of worship) . Similarly, I see no reason to invoke St. Michael the Archangel (or angels in general; the excuse that all cultures have similar spirits so you can call them angels is bullpoo. All native tribes of this land currently fall under the umbrella term “Native American” but you wouldn’t call a member of the Sioux nation “Cherokee” just because that’s what you’re used to and know, so I don’t think a faerie or other spirit would like to be addressed as an angel if it is not one…or vice versa) to aid in vanquishing malevolent entities when, quite likely, the Catholic that sees me (a Pagan Witch) as a malevolent entity would be praying for him to vanquish me.

All of this influence came into England (where Wicca formed) after the Roman conversion of all its empire to Christianity; so if Witchcraft were truly older than the Middle Ages, if it were truly the “old religion”, then these bits had to have been inserted later and weren’t part of the original Mysteries (in my later, more scholarly understanding of history, this is because the Middle East – where this form of mysticism comes from- is not of the Indo-European migration, so there is very little cultural over-lap save post conversion and even more so post crusades) , and John Dee didn’t create (or be given knowledge of, if you prefer to think him divinely inspired) Enochian until the 16th century during the reign of Elizabeth I.

There was also a conflict in how to deal with spirits. My fiancé’s teacher is a Thelemite. His idea of enlisting the aid of a Gnome is to use a quartz to summon it and then bind it to his will (this is much the case in many practices within Ceremonial Magick, but they generally work with things you need to bind in such a manner – but in this case it seemed like bringing a gun to a knife-fight) ; I was too embarrassed to say anything at the time against this “teacher” (after-all, I’d never had training) , but what I wanted to say was, “why not summon him using a plain rock –that says ‘Gnome’ to me more than a quartz would- and then give him the quartz in exchange for his service?” This illustrates the intrinsic difference in how I believed Witches should interact with spirits and how practitioners of Ceremonial Magick interact with them.

Ceremonial Magick doesn’t speak to me at all and the more I tried to use it, the less my magic actually worked. My magic worked much better when I just did something simple and let it go with that, but since I was getting more “advanced” in my path (I was actually gawked at by someone at Central PA Pagan Pride in 2005 for not being “old” but having been on my path for a decade already) , I thought that’s all that was left for me to master and I kept falling short of it. It took a long time for me to realize that that kind of magic (k) just wasn’t going to work for me. I have been trying to purge a lot of the influence from Ceremonial Magick from my craft and this essay originally went over a good bit of that, but, it got to be WAY too long, so that will be a future essay topic.

Aside from my “feelings”, I do have something to back me up. Aleister Crowley was a big name in the early twentieth century’s Ceremonial Magick scene (still is, really) . He belonged to several magickal lodges, founded his own and was widely published on the topic. What I say next does not diminish his contribution to the modern occult movement (just as my finding Jack Kerouac chauvinistic does not diminish the value of his writing) . Crowley liked attention, and for him there was no such thing as bad publicity. He named himself “The Beast” (most likely used to evoke the concept of the monster in the Book of Revelations) , and his antics got him named by the British media as “the wickedest man in the world”.

Now take into consideration what loaded words Witch and Witchcraft were in the early-mid twentieth century, people took them to be even worse than they do now. For example: the German film Haexen (originally released in the 1920s) . It was still widely believed, as the film shows, that Witches fly to Hell on the Sabbat to commune with the Devil and kiss his butt (literally-the film shows this) ; this film was supposed to be about the history of witchcraft. Since Crowley loved the wrong kind of attention, if he thought that Ceremonial Magick had ANYTHING to do with Witchcraft, he would have grabbed onto that word (despite illegality, he wouldn’t have cared, many of the acts he did were considered illegal at that time –such as sexual “deviance” and drug use) , used it to death, and held it so tight Gardner would have had to pry it out of his cold dead hands. But to the best of my knowledge, Crowley never used the word Witch to describe himself, nor Witchcraft to describe his magick; and he would have, if it were even the slightest bit true (if only for shock value) .

I see Witchcraft as the earliest offshoot of Shamanism. There is major over-lap, but there is certainly more dealing with gods themselves in addition to spirits and would be just as much out for one’s own well-being and gain as for that of the community. The magic of Witchery should involve calling spirits, placating them and sending them off to create the changes required (in addition to the making of charms and using spells –spellwork just isn’t as…ceremonial as some make it out to be) ; this, of course, involves great care in creating and maintaining relationships with the spirits and your gods, you don’t get something for nothing. The use of herbs, dance, trance, sacred smokes (whether as incense or to actually smoke) , drums, rattles (music in general) are all used to a greater extent than should anything taken from Ceremonial Magick. For me, this is where the true Witchery is hiding, and most books on Wicca (or Neo-Wicca) leave a good portion of this out in favor of Ceremonial Magick (this makes sense only when one considers Gardner’s past magickal pedigree) .

When I first started having my issues relating to Wicca, I thought Wicca had to change. I was wrong, of course, Wicca should stay as it is; I’m just not Wiccan. However, I am a Witch, no matter what Silver Ravenwolf says in Book of Shadows (I will quickly note here that the edition of Solitary Witch that I have read is from 2003, and she may have updated some of her information in more recent printings) : “if one calls themselves a Wiccan or a Witch, he or she is an adherent of the Wiccan religion…If a person practices magick, but does not follow the religion of the Craft, its rules, etc., then he or she is definitely not a Witch ” (interestingly enough she also says “he or she is a Witch who practices an earth-centered religion” which is true enough for me, but Wicca does not equal all earth-centered religions, nor all forms of religious Witchcraft) . I wish there were more of a separation in the terminology. Many a book I’ve gotten labeled just Witchcraft that ended up being on Wicca (or neo-Wicca, for the most part) ; there are more books on non-Wiccan witchcraft being published, but they were very hard to find out about in my early searches such books. Beyond that, I don’t care much for people assuming that because I use one label that I must automatically ascribe to another.

I’m not Wiccan for initiatory and theological reasons. I don’t follow its magickal path because most of its magick has very little to do with what I see as Witchcraft. Is Wicca (and neo-Wicca) a valid religion? Certainly. Do they practice magick? Yes. But neither the religion nor its magickal path describes my religion or my craft. My path has had many twists and turns over the last seventeen years, but I’ve always come back to three words to describe myself: Celtic, Pagan, Witch.

Low Magick by Lon Milo Dququette

Advanced Wicca by Patricia Telesco

Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham

Secrets of a Witch's Coven by Morwyn

A Grimoire of Shadows by Ed Fitch

Solitary Witch by Silver Ravenwolf

The Witches' Book of the Dead by Christian Day


BellaDonna Saberhagen

Location: Sunbury, Pennsylvania


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