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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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