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Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

          The following article appeared in issue #8 of Web of Wyrd magazine.

                                      by Carol Neist

          It has always bothered me that there seems to be an abnormally large
          lunatic fringe in Wicca; people who threaten others with curses from a
          "Council of Witches"; people who claim qualifications they haven't
          got; people who are so fundamentalist in outlook they put Fred Nile to
          shame. For despite the comments of Hawkeye (WOW #6) and Khaled's
          letter (WOW #5), there is, I believe, a strongly fundamentalist
          element within Wicca. It seems to be found mainly amongst those who,
          in Hawkeye's words, "believe in the objective reality of faery", and
          those who see the Gardnerian Book of Shadows as Holy Writ. Now I have
          no objection to people believing in anything they want to, but if they
          try to tell me that my more psychological approach (to say nothing of
          my cynicism regarding the aforementioned Holy Writ) is wrong, I
          naturally question whether I want to be classed under the same banner.

          Whilst I wholeheartedly concur with the premise that worship is a
          private matter between the practitioner and his/her deity, in actual
          practice it just ain't so, even in Wicca. "You have to do it our way,
          or you aren't one of us", seems to be a common attitude. The argument
          that formal teaching or a recognised clergy would destroy the right of
          each individual to approach the divine in her/his own way therefore,
          just doesn't hold water, since as things stand at present, a prac-
          titioner who doesn't agree with the mainstream viewpoint will very
          quickly find him/herself on the outer anyway. The "free form eclec-
          tism" touted by Peregrin (WOW #6) just doesn't happen outside the
          books, as far as I can tell. 

          I'm certainly not suggesting that we ought to rush out and set up
          seminaries and parish councils, but I do think we have to accept the
          fact that we do already have a de facto clergy, largely self-appoin-
          ted, most of whom have no training in counselling or teaching. Like it
          or not, if you are leading a group of any kind, no matter how informal
          or unstructured, you are going to need both those skills. It's all
          very well for Michelin (WOW #6) to compare coven leaders to parents
          who "receive little or no training beyone that which they received
          in the family in which they grew up". It's actually a sad fact of life
          that we were all fucked up by our natural parents, thus creating the
          need for us to clear away the shit through spiritual practice. I don't
          want to be stuffed around by any more amateurs, thank you very much -
          my family of origin did a pretty good job already!

          It's obvious that hierarchic structures don't work, but what do we do
          instead? What we've got at present isn't really working either, and in
          many cases it is, in fact, very hierarchic anyway! It's a really hard
          one, and I don't think there are any easy answers. But, sadly, we have
          a situation where unsuspecting neophytes run the risk of being conned,
          robbed, threatened or subjected to various power trips, and even those
          of us who condemn such behaviour run the risk of being tarred with the
          same brush in the eyes of the public.


          Whilst Pagan organisations (such as the Pagan Federation, Pagan
          Alliance or Church of All Worlds) could be an excellent clearing house
          for people seeking groups, and groups seeking members, who is to
          decide which groups are "kosher"? Supposing a bright-eyed bushy-tailed
          tyro from Upper Woop Woop approaches an organisation, and asks to be
          put in touch with the nearest Wiccan coven. The organisation knows
          damned well that the only coven within coo-ee of Upper Woop Woop is
          run by a couple of dickheads who shouldn't be in charge of a street
          stall, let alone the vulnerable psyches of others. What do they do? If
          this particular pair of dickheads are paid up members of said organ-
          isation, how can enquiries not be passed on to them? It really isn't
          possible without some sort of formal screening system, to keep the
          lunatic fringe out of an umbrella organisation, especially when some
          of them are already well established in the Craft.

          Of course many people don't see teaching as a relevant function of the
          coven. But new members are going to look to the leaders for guidance,
          even if only at an unconscious level. Everyone who starts a spritual
          practice does so because they see life to be a mess, and they need to
          know how to get out of that mess. Personally, I think teaching is very
          important, and I will seek teaching on Love and Trust wherever it is
          offered. Over the last couple of years, I have found it mainly within
          Tibetan Buddhism. Similar to the Craft in many ways, the practice is
          more structured and the teachers have all been practitioners for
          twenty years or more. None of the teachers attempts to dominate the
          students; in fact they go to a lot of trouble to discourage guru-trip-
          ping. Teaching is offered by a variety of visiting teachers, so
          students get a range of opinions and practices, and they can ask for
          specific teaching as they need it. I've seen less power-tripping and
          ego-flaunting in this movement than in any other; they really do go
          along with the premise, "an it harm none do what you will". Their
          methods, having been tested for over a thousand years of unbroken
          lineage, really do work: I learnt more about magic from those guys in
          a month than I learnt in five years with the Rosicrucians and some
          twenty-odd years of private and group Craft-style practice. It isn't
          surprising that Tibetan Buddhism is currently said to be the fastest
          growing "new" religion in the west. Incidentally, I thought Hawkeye's
          comments on Eastern religions a bit sweeping: I know little of Taoism,
          but the Hindu and Buddhist faiths don't claim to be based on Absolute
          Truth. Rather, they are based on the belief that there is an Absolute
          Truth and that it is possible for the individual, without mediation
          from Priest or Guru, to find it. Quite a different proposition.

          All any teacher or group leader can do is point out ways and means;
          it's up to the individual to find her/his own way to the Divine, call
          it Goddess, Christ, Krishna, Bliss-Void or whatever. But finding
          suitable friends is the first step along the path - you really can't
          do it all by yourself. Whether you go in for counselling, therapy or
          spiritual training, the idea is the same - find someone who's been
          there already, and who knows how to give you a hand over the rocky
          bits. It is this which lies at the basis of the guru/disciple relat-
          ionship, not, as some would have it, a need to dominate or be domin-
          ated. The system is, like any other, open to abuse, but we only have
          to look around and see the same abuses and worse within the Craft,
          despite its supposed "free form eclectism". (Good phrase that, thanks

          I still believe that the Craft is a beautiful path in theory, and
          could be so in practice, were it not for the large numbers of near-
          sighted people presuming to lead the blind. However, perhaps I'm
          expecting too much - maybe the Craft really is just a celbratory
          religion which offers a U-beaut party eight times a year and a chance
          to run around starkers once a month. Perhaps I am expecting too much
          in asking that it provide tools, teaching and example for personal
          growth as well? Nevertheless, this is what many people, including me,
          seek in a spritual discipline. I would like to think that somewhere,
          somehow, sometime, I might find it in Wicca.


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