Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Abandoning Wicca - a Preface

Last week, Thalia noted that across the blogosphere, a number of Pagans, specifically Wiccans, are re-evaluating their beliefs, and, in some cases, walking away from them. I've got mixed emotions about this phenomenon. On the one hand, I’m always happy when people can be honest with themselves. On the other, it’s sad to witness disillusionment. On the other (I’ve got, like, five hands), it bothers me that the people who are currently “outgrowing” Wicca seem to be blaming the religion itself for not offering enough spiritual support.

The thing is, if you need your religion to pat you on the back and tell you you’re a good person and offer an incorporeal mug of hot cocoa every time you’re feeling lonely or insecure... why the hell are you practicing Witchcraft in the first place?

That bit of cattiness aside, I want to be as careful as I can when approaching this topic, a) because there are a lot of issues at play here, and it’s going to take time to properly sort them; and b) because I’d rather not offend or alienate any of my Loyal Strifemongers along the way. So I’m thinking I’m going to write a series of posts on the situation at hand (that’s four), rather than tackling the whole thing in one fell swoop.

We’ll be covering some interesting ground over the next month or so. For now, suffice it to say that the modern Witchcraft revival is a lot deeper than its perceived failings.

More to follow.


knottybynature said...

I have to say that although numbers diminish, it's about quality, not quantity, right?

I can't say that I really believe so many people 'outgrew' wicca. I would have to think that a lot of people went into it with preconceived notions, jaded aspects, and frankly, for fashion and shock value. It was much more fun in their youth to dress in black and scream, "I'm a witch!"...or maybe tye-dye, beading a drum and screaming the same thing.

As for support....double-edged sword. You've got your good and bad in every religion, but a lot of communities I've peeked in on many of those communities sporting 'witcher than thou art' individuals/groups or showcase gurus - I can see how someone honestly seeking who cannot tell the gems from the rocks would get discouraged and look elsewhere.

But I have to agree with you. If things aren't going your way and you want to pick up your toys and go home, well, maybe you shouldn't have come out to play to begin with. Religion does with concepts, beliefs, learning and growth.

It is pursued - not something you should expect to pat you on the head, powder your bottom and send you on your way.


Le Cornichon said...

These may be the same people that walked away from Christianity or other "organized" religions only to look for that "missing piece" through Wicca or other paths. I have known a few people that have denounced all belief and faith only to get into things like gaming or cosplay, it's all about the desire to get to the quiet still place of "Knowing" the Taoists refer to the "Stone that sinks continually until it comes to rest at the bottom"- what the Christians call a "personal relationship with God" or what the followers of Voudon try and achieve by being possessed by the spirits. Bliss, Nirvana, enlightenment, we are all on a perpetual journey- for IT- whatever works for one might be anathema for another, non?

Pax said...

"suffice it to say that the modern Witchcraft revival is a lot deeper than its perceived failings."

(Pax stands up and starts wavering from side to side, undulating as he raises both hands up into the air...)

"Blessed Be Sister!!! Tell it on the Tor!!"

...ahem... sorry had to get that out..

While there is the fact that terminologies and understandings of them differ... and local communities differ..

Yet any time I hear something like this I wonder...

How much did those now leaving GIVE to their Craft and their community? How well did they communicate their needs? Did they actually ask for advice, support, love they needed or did they just expect that others would somehow intuit it?

...just wondering...

Siobhan said...

First let me say that you are a TEASE!

Second, let me say that I originally came to paganism and wicca specifically because I was "promised" a power over my environment, in a time when I felt I had no control whatsoever. For a number of reasons which I won't get into here, I didn't feel that I received that power, and drifted into more and more out of control situations.

I wonder how many of those disillusioned are so because they didn't learn to throw fireballs (so to speak).

I have met deeply faithful and spiritual pagans, and ones who are only interested in either fireballs or shock value (as little pickle so wisely pointed out). I find that the latter vastly outnumber the former, but I find that true of episcopalians and jews I have met as well.

I am truly looking forward to your exploration of Wicca.

Siobhan said...

oops, it was knotty that said that about shock value. My apologies.

Jenett said...

Reader for the past few months, first time commenter... I'm really looking forward to these, as you're highlighting issues I've been thinking about a lot myself.

One thing I've been pondering is the intersection of self-responsibility with community commitments. Doesn't mean someone can't or shouldn't change religious paths, or focus, or anything else - just that being aware of how it might affect other aspects of their relationships, friendships, community spaces, etc. makes sense.

And I don't think most of us have great skills at negotiating that kind of change. (I'm including myself here, though I'm better than I used to be.) It's especially true if you have someone making choices for strong emotional reasons, but interacting with someone (or a community) that focuses a lot on logic or process: both sides tend to come away feeling like their concerns or worries are getting ignored, even when everyones' trying to act in good faith, if you don't frame the conversation in a useful way.

I think there's a lot of related issues when we start talking about "what are we looking for, anyway" - but they're sometimes harder to tease apart than the ones that are obvious when we talk about someone leaving a path/group/community or just changing their focus.

Thanks again for such thoughtful posts - and more to come!

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Siobhan, your trad didn't teach you the fireballs thingie?

Oops. Inner court secret!

Seriously, I'm looking forward to your next post. And I agree with Siobhan--you are a tease, Evn! Make with the follow-up post, already! Enquiring minds want to know!

Siobhan said...

I've mentioned this other places, but I didn't ever have a "trad" (and I do wish I had). More like a few people reading Scott Llellwyn.

Siobhan said...

Just as an FYI, as I get comments from here mailed to my gmail account, I get increasingly interesting ad-alerts. Just got one for correspondence initiation into the order of the golden dawn.

The web has EVERYTHING.

Jennifer said...

I'm not fond of people using the term "outgrew" either (way to make the rest of us sound like 16-year-old Goths, thanks).

I'm mostly a live-and-let-live, I'm-not-gonna-tell-you-what-your-path-is sort of person, and if you want to move on, if you now think no gods exist, if you'd rather say "pagan" than "Wiccan," fine. Up to you, bud.

But this is a religion where thinking for yourself is encouraged and emphasized. If you need handholding, that's what Christianity is supposedly for, and good luck to ya there.

It's a strange trend that seems to have cropped up, but hopefully that's not everyone out there.

Megan said...

All true. Bu let me ask you this: if the Craft of the Wise requires you to supply all your own wisdom, what's it good for then?

Siobhan said...

All true. Bu let me ask you this: if the Craft of the Wise requires you to supply all your own wisdom, what's it good for then?

I think the best parts of most religions are BYO -- they may give you the recipe, but you're working with your own raw ingredients.

Evn said...

Wow, you guys have been a talkative bunch today! I got swamped at work and couldn't respond, but I basked in the wonderful, insightful comments all afternoon.

I'll post the next installment... um, as soon as I get around to writing it. In the meantime, is everyone reading Carbuncle of the Sun? It's really good.

Jenett, welcome to Strifemongerhood!

Cat and Siobhan, I'm much more of a flirt than a tease. ;)

Thalia Took said...

The more I read about all this, the more I am grateful that I came to Paganism (I've always said I'm simply not organized enough to be Wiccan, though really the more I learn about Wicca the less I like it, in that it's not appropriate for me, not the least of the reasons being that on a very deep level I do not at all trust initiation) from a place of agnosticism or atheism, and I grew up in a completely a-religious household. I don't have all these expectations about what 'religion' should be, and am in fact deeply mistrustful of organized, well, anything, religion included.

I came to Paganism from a place of settling down and looking within myself and realizing, with some surprise, that hey, this stuff exists. A reluctant Pagan, I guess. So all this stuff sounds a little odd to me. But then I was never in love with Wicca to begin with. I'm trying to think why.

I'm more in love myself with history and ancient stuff, and Wicca's just too new for me? The mythology of it has never rung true? Too much re-making and trying to cram all that diversity into some sort of 'universal' myth? Unnecessary SM overtones? Some hard-core sexism on its part? That I flat-out refuse to play within a hierarchy?

As for your upcoming posts, I'll say it again, Evn: you are too polite (though I say this as someone who has never been involved in any of the "witch wars" stuff). Don't worry about offending or alienating anyone. Just speak your truth with as much compassion as you can manage.

(By the way, my wvw, quite appropriately, is: traind.)

Thalia Took said...

Hmmm. I know you admit this to be catty, but:

The thing is, if you need your religion to pat you on the back and tell you you’re a good person and offer an incorporeal mug of hot cocoa every time you’re feeling lonely or insecure... why the hell are you practicing Witchcraft in the first place?

Is not giving comfort one of the main reasons religions are invented? Is not one of the purposes of religion to affirm that we are not alone in the Void?

The God I know (heh, how Biblical) has literally patted me on the back and told me I am, after all, a Good Person, and has, also, literally, offered me incorporeal hot chocolate, because it is what I have needed to hear, and it is a way to teach me to love and be kind to myself.

Not that I mean to pick on you, Evn; I just worry that there is a lot of defensiveness about this topic. Because, after all, if prominent, thoughtful people are "abandoning" the religion (which I don't think is at all a fair choice of words), then what does that mean for the people who still follow it?

Thalia Took said...

And this:
If the Craft of the Wise requires you to supply all your own wisdom, what's it good for then?

is practically a koan. What's it good for then? Exactly everything. You have always had to supply or find your own wisdom. That's the point!

harmonyfb said...

if you need your religion to pat you on the back and tell you you’re a good person and offer an incorporeal mug of hot cocoa every time you’re feeling lonely or insecure... why the hell are you practicing Witchcraft in the first place?

::snort:: That's what went through my head.

But snark aside, it's been my experience that a lot of people who are not suited to Wicca will begin practicing it simply because of its availability. My own coven has had about half a dozen people who professed their desire to become Wiccan and subsequently (during the course of their training) realized that what they really wanted was a less-conservative form of Christianity.

I imagine that a number of the people 'outgrowing' Wicca were simply unsuited for it in the first place. (Not all, of course, one's spiritual needs can change over time, and it's appropriate to change one's practice to suit.)

if the Craft of the Wise requires you to supply all your own wisdom, what's it good for then?

What it's good for is a framework within which we may seek the Divine. In my experience, that solitary learning and seeking is part and parcel of the faith. While some of us may choose to walk along with others (in coven worship, or at larger public celebrations), ultimately we have to do the work ourselves and not depend on others to feed it to us.

Megan said...

is practically a koan

Thalia, you are too kind, I'm blushing here ;)

Koans don't have answers, but in contemplating them you stumble across the answers to other things. Siobhan called the Craft a recipe, and Harmony called it a framework. That was what I was getting at - if we agree that the Craft's purpose isn't to offer knowledge as such, then what do we see it offering instead? A method, a cosmology, a vision? My thanks to those who have offered their interpretations, and I'm still interested in hearing others.

What Harmony said - neo-paganism often functions as a halfway house for disillusioned Christians. We offer them acceptance and a more inviting vision of spirituality before seeing them off down the road to, say, Unitarian Universalism. On even numbered days I see no harm in this; on odd numbered days I'm just tired of hearing them bitch.

At the same time, very much what Thalia said - and you're right to call it defensiveness, I think. Occasional moral support, from the gods or from each other, is a legitimate human need, and the scorn we heap on those who give voice to it says more about us. And unless we insist that none of those who are leaving were ever really as thoughtful and committed as many of them clearly were, we can't dismiss out of hand their finding of something lacking.

Pitch313 said...

I wonder about the nature of conversion. About adherents who come to Wicca or other Neo-Pagan Trads fro some other religion or spirituality.

Does this make some converts "brittle" in their commitments. Maybe because they are looking or hoping for something that's not actually present within Wicca.

To be honest, I am not a convert to Neo-Paganism, even though the scope of my commitments has grwon and changed over the years. I mean, we do change Trads and covens and Deities and such.

But I'm so thoroughly Neo-Pagan that I have trouble imagining anybody giving it up. The Goddess...lets you go...don't really get it...

Yewtree said...

I'm an initiated Wiccan, and I'll be one till I die, and maybe in my next life too.

I'm also a Unitarian.

One issue I have with wicca (the kind out of books with no tradition to back it up) is the duotheism - y'know, the idea that there's The God and The Goddess, and they're heterosexual. (see extended critique of this view here: Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Paganisms: part 1 and part 2.)

I can see how it would be difficult to find community in non-initated wicca but in initiatory Wicca, there is community. It's not meant to be a non-initiatory religion.

So why am I also a Unitarian? Because I share their values, and I share a lot of their beliefs, and I like having a community nearby. Extended reflection on this here: Unitarian and Wiccan (though mainly written for a Unitarian audience - I might do another one for a Wiccan audience).

harmonyfb said...

...we can't dismiss out of hand their finding of something lacking.

Well, the problem I have isn't that folks find something lacking - no religion is all things to all people, after all - but that some people feel it necessary to denigrate Wicca simply because they have changed course.

When words like 'outgrowing' are used, the implication is that the previous faith is childish. (This isn't something that's peculiar to folks leaving Wicca, I see it in converts from Christianity all the time.)

but in initiatory Wicca, there is community

My coven has been incredibly supportive for nearly 20 years, helping one another with personal as well as religious issues. But that support is focused on one another, not on those outside the coven.

In the larger community there isn't a formal support structure, and it's no surprise, given Wicca's congregational model. (Founded on small closed groups which provide support and training for their own members, instead of an open model where inter-congregational or extra-congregational support/counseling, might be expected.)

knottybynature said...

"I wonder how many of those disillusioned are so because they didn't learn to throw fireballs (so to speak)."

What, my d10s are no good here?! Arugh.

Kidding aside, I want my hot cocoa. Now.


I use the word (Wicca) for outsiders to describe myself. It sounds nicer than 'pagan' in the bible belt and beats having to explain myself to people who only faintly give a crap. Cuts down time and cuts out a lot of akward questions.