What's wrong with Wicca?
"What's the problem with Wicca? Why would someone not be a witch?" some young girl asked on Excite a while back. The answers came in a flood -- a trickle from conservative Christians, and a tsumnami from Neo-Pagans and other witches who could not wait but to assure her that nothing, absolutely nothing was wrong with her joining such a wonderful, life-affirming faith that not only was filled with completely wholesome, blameless people, but was completely in tune with the Earth Mother, the Sky Father, and the numberless Faeries, and would help to heal the wounded Gaea to pristine harmonious beauty... As I recall, my dissenting voice, based neither in evangelical Christianity nor in rank ignorance of the faith, was seized upon like a pack of dogs and LOL'ed and ROFL'ed into oblivion by a somewhat less-than-jovial woman whose outrage that I would even broach such a subject was matched only by her scorn. Oh, well...
Nonetheless, the question is a valid one. Why don't I regard Wicca in the same light as, perhaps, Sikhism, or even Taoism, neither of which have interested me as a path in more than a superficial way? I am an occultist, I am also a Christian, but why don't I like Wicca?
During the Sixties and Seventies, I was an enthusiastic witch. I cast spells, read everything possible on the subject, and had a number of witchy friends, with whom I now and then convened. Everything seemed OK. This was a religion unlike church, where you could eat and drink and have sex and take drugs without fear or censure, where the sensual world was a path to the spirit, instead of being a mere distraction, where you could have, not a sanitized dull Godliness, but real fun! I then took a breather, in which I studied (mostly) Ceremonial Magick, which led me to try to get a Classical education for myself, if only to keep up with the large amount of Latin and Greek I had to read. By the time I got back to it in the late Eighties and early Nineties the world had changed...Witchcraft had become Wicca, and dull as dishwater.
Fluffybunnies and unElders
There are two different kinds of people "into" the Wicca I dislike: aging Baby Boomers (who may have been witches in the Sixties sense) whom I call "unElders" and what I like to affectionately title "mallrat mystics" -- white (mostly) younger (mostly) girls (again, mostly) who see everything in the occult as being squeaky-clean and peachy-pure and their dark kindred among the Goths. Both are "fluffy".
UnElders tend to see everything in the occult as "healing". They mourn at the drop of a pointy hat. They'll mourn, not only their best friend's dying of AIDS, but their pets, the changing of the seasons, their quitting cigarettes, their houseplants, and their own lives, with the dramatics of someone going through Kubler-Roth's Five Stages of Dying. They spend long amounts of time going around the circle talking about pain and loss and suffering not only for Halloween and Candlemas (I'm using traditional English names as much as possible) but for Full Moons, Spring Equinoxes, May Days, Midsummer Nights, Lammas...no holiday too jolly not to prime up the old psychic bilge pump and have a nice long cry. This is (usually) followed by a "festive" potluck where everyone tries to outdo each other in how many orthorexic strictures they can follow at once and still make it edible. (I've even been to a few gatherings where I was told that we're going to "eat light" as our feast. Not lightly. Light as in moon.) At the same time, I'm supposed to pretend that I'm having a wonderful time, or at least an uplifting one, just as good as the old lassez-faire days of roast piglets and unending jug wine.
I can understand (at least some) of why this is an obsession. A good number of unElders have weathered the loss, not only of their youth, but of a few friends through the excesses of the era that I've just described and their aftermath. Quite a few of the unElders I've met have been through the recovery movement, if not as substance abusers, then as "children of" or as members of dysfunctional families. While a full discussion of the recovery movement is outside the scope of this essay, it's true that even though a member of a non-Christian religion might take "The Goddess" or "the Holy Guardian Angel" as their Higher Power, the usual working of the Steps calls for a thorough rethinking of the "quality" of one's faith (that is, have you been truly unselfish...like a recovering person? do you pray in the manner that an alcoholic must? Remember, this is your survival on the line...) to bring it into the context of Wilsonian/Oxford Group orthodoxy. Given the "roll your own" quality of Eclectic Wicca, it's not surprising that quite a few people hit on using the same structure of "the rooms" for Sabbat, if only because it wasn't like Christian Sunday, and it was participatory. Then, again, intellectual progressivism has a hard time with the festive spirit, if only because it defines itself as opposing a culture of consuming, and dysfunctional-family types would rather not think about holidays, thank you very much, since if you had a bad time at holidays, you would rather not dredge up the memories, and if you had a comparatively good time, it's politer not to talk about them. Without families or wanton consumption of something, all you have is, what, Lent?
The other kind of fluffy, the mallrat mystic, is mostly about her pentagram jewelry collection, whinging about Christianity, and being "white" and "green". She adores her black cat, her Book of Shadows, and telling everyone in sight that she worships the Mother Goddess, which is the Earth, and how she is only working for good, and not worshipping the Devil, or anything like that. They love spells that purport to get you a man by bathing in rose petals and visualizing yourself as being desirable, or beauty spells that tell you to bathe in something else and tell yourself you're OK, or money spells that tell you that you're rich and glamorous already. Coven of thirteen? Skyclad? Daggers? Oh, no, I don't do that (giggle, blush). (The mere idea someone might see her puppy fat, small boobs or pubic hair makes her cringe. Besides, some guys might...well, you know. And I'd have to look at them.) And anyway, it's not a dagger, it's an athame, that's pronounced ath-a-meh, and it's merely symbolic...I much prefer the Wand anyway, it's gentler magic.. (...at least that's what the book says). Oh, you have a question? Oh, tehehehehe, I don't think you're worthy to know....let me give you a little quest, and you'll know, the best way. We don't answer questions right off. (I'm 50, and have been in this business since I was about 11. She's 19, and has read one book on the subject, tops.) They dress obsessively in black, have piercings and tattoos (of pentagrams), and tend to get into unicorn and cre8tive territory too.
Allied to them, and usually shopping in the same mall stores, is the darkbunny. If a fluffybunny is white, green and soft, a darkbunny is black, red, has fangs and is covered in black leather. They're as obsessively into evil as a fluffy is into good, having gotten through "The Satanic Bible" or the Necronomicon (or a few Anne Rice novels, it's all the same to a fluff), which allows them to carry a book as a prop, look threatening, and act like they pwn the place. They'd love to be a vampyre or a werewolf (even though they're vegetarian), fantasize about lying around in some luxurious library sipping absinthe and green Chartreuse (even though they're below drinking age and couldn't afford it anyway), and they'd really, really love to conjure a demon to physical form (though they're not sure what they'd do with it). What they want is to play Vampire: The Masquerade where everyone gets to be Toreadors. They, too, like freaking out mundaines, but in a different way: by being the kind of person Jack Chick warns us about, they're actually daring someone to call them baby-killers, so they can laugh quite openly in their faces.
Don't know much about history...
Part of what Mallrat Mystics want is a past. Any past. American public schools don't routinely teach European history, preferring to teach Social Studies, a kind of catch-all of civics, geography, sociology, cultural studies and a smattering of American history, meant less to teach facts but to impart moral lessons aimed at producing model citizens. This means that what history they're taught is typically from the Civil War (or even the turn of the last century) onwards, dealing (in conservative states and districts) with "patriotic pabulum", as historian Sean Wilentz put it, or a politically correct "blame America" curriculum where every dead white European male is shown to be less important than some black, native, or woman who got there first. What they probably will learn about ancient cultures at all will probably be from either Bible study courses (red states) or from books titled something like "Human Cultures and Peoples" where they'll learn that ancient Egyptians were of the same stock as Benin Africans, and that modern African-American culture is derived, in part, from that of Egypt, and that Greek and Roman culture was mostly "stolen" from the Egyptians. This leaves the heavy lifting of explaining, for instance, that the Roman Empire was effectively over in the West sometime between the Sack of Rome (410) and the death of Boethius (529) and the news that Christianity underwent the Protestant Reformation about the same time as the Italian Renaissance for a specialized college course, which few will take. This is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg: since "cultural studies" units don't discuss things like, say, Plato's philosophy or Medieval universities (not to mention the Western spiritual and esoteric tradition), it's easy to come away with the idea that the only thing that Western civilization was good for was making fast ships and colonialism, that contemplative thought was the monopoly of Asians east of Suez and below the Great Wall, that Science and Faith have always been at war (with a monolithic Catholic church taking both sides against the Truth) and that since the historical record has been whitewashed by the authorities, Fluffies can write in their own stories without anyone telling them no.
The vacuum is filled by Silver Ravenwolf, who'll assert that Pennsylvania Dutch hexmeisters not only worship the Triple Goddess, but believe in Yogic chakra theory, in between long diatribes against Christianity, and instructions not to trust your parents but to trust implicitly anyone who calls themselves a witch, and by Edain McCoy, who will tell you that Ancient Celts worshipped the potato goddess of female fertility, that witch-friendly Queen Elizabeth organized teams of witches to cast spells to benefit the Spanish Armada, and there was a cult of Kele-De, where young women were "free to take lovers as they chose" in the tenth century, or Scott Cunningham, whose whitewashing of Wicca into a "life-affirming" religion totally obliterates witchcraft's acknowlegement of sex and death. And this is only the Llewellyn writers, which are the most usual books found in Barnes and Noble. If they decide to web-surf, they can be told that witches were universally young girls, lesbians, mothers, old women, pretty, ugly-but-respected, beggars, Queens, healers, proto-scientists, too spiritual for science, respected village leaders, town misfits, wealthy, despising wealth, supported by everyone, never took gifts...and always, they were right.
A way out?
A good leadership of Wiccans old enough to steer them away from excess, push them towards a rudimentary sense of community, and get them on the Great Work of self-transcendance would be useful, but meanwhile, the unElder crowd continues to waffle: you see, the reason why they're not real Elders, even though many of them are pushing their sixties, is because they're stuck in the Sixties...or to be precise, the Eighties backlash to the Sixties. Because they had the traumatic experience of having (or not having) Norman Rockwell-perfect parenting during the Fifties, and didn't get the Endless Summer of grooviness promised in their late teens, they're not finished grieving their youth...which unfits them for being leaders for the fluffs.
Those that do want to step up to the plate often don't want to enough: I can remember one friend of mine, 'Gaian', who approached me because I wanted to start a naturalist study group (that is, going on hikes, observing nature, taking samples and studying biology) with a few young folks (mostly boys) who I met on a local BBS. Gaian wanted to have a session where he spoke of the "spiritual dimension" of nature study, in which we would explore "neo-pagan and native ways of relating" that the "narrow scientific approach" neglected. It turned out that s/he wanted to go out into the woods (s/he's transgendered) in a dress and full makeup, do a little drum circle, and start asking pointed questions about substance abuse in their families, whether they'd ever experienced sexual abuse, and their sexual and gender orientation in order to try to recruit for his coven/codependency group. I said I'd be happy to host just such a meeting, as long as I had another adult present with an opposing view -- perhaps someone experienced in Creation Science? -- and have the meeting at some neutral point, perhaps at the library's meeting room. At which s/he left, evidently uninterested. I realize that the guy (well, he's got a penis) has an agenda as a guy-who's-really-a-celibate-lesbian-feminist, but why can't he leave off the face paint and the Indian cotton skirt, put on something gender-neutral, and give a lecture on why getting out and seeing the world matters?
If this is what passes for leadership, is there any hope for the future?