The Autumn Equinox. A time when the world is in balance, when we should be finishing those tasks we have started earlier in the year so that we will be ready to undertake new tasks and interest after Samhain, the start of the New Year. But what do we have this Autumn Equinox as a world community? As a Pagan community? Do we have balance? Do we have equality? Do we have understanding?
Sadly the answer is no. Our world is struggling to survive, not only physically but also spiritually and mentally. Religious fundamentalism is threatening the very structure of individual freedom. Unfortunately I see many Pagans, Wiccans in particular, spending more time having fun and playing at witchcraft than in taking their traditions and beliefs to heart. This is not to mean that I espouse a spirituality chained to dreary seriousness. However I am asking for responsible and sensible behavior. Individuals who profess to be Wiccan, who like to play with spells to cause harm and to distribute payback disturb me. These individuals belittle our faith, not enhance it. For an example of this I have recently seen a posting titled Never Piss Off a Witch on a pagan website. This particular post, obviously done in jest, said, in part:
"I lay curses on you, you wretched fool!
You'll never find the right-sized tool!
Your breath will smell just like your pits,
On top of that, you'll grow big zits!
"You're a hateful bastard, you're oh so vile,
so I'll zap each one of your computer files!
You'll never be able to sign "online"
Nobody loves you, you rotten swine!
I'll make your cat hate you, your dog pass gas
I'll make putrid blisters grow on your ass!
I'll have all your in-laws move in to stay,
And make every day a "bad hair day!"
While the post was done in "fun" it shows a lack of understanding as well as a lack of sensitivity. Certainly we should enjoy ourselves as we worship, for the God and Goddess revel in joy and laughter, but acts done to create shock and to mimic the cartoon characterization of witches and witchcraft indicate a complete lack of awareness and understanding of what Wicca is. Wicca is a spiritual path that honors the Earth, Her animal and human children and recognizes a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, which represent the various aspects of the Divine. Wiccans also recognize a Rede, which says An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will. However I have seen of late persons who purport to be witches advertising their services to, as one ad appearing in a local paper reads:
"Casting and removal of spells. Contact with spirits. Call 24/7. Tom 800-XXX-XXXX. Credit/Debit Cards. Get your lover back."
This type of advertisement only adds to the misconception of what Wicca is and fosters the feelings that we, as a group, are charlatans.
I am also disturbed by the growing tendency to establish, either consciously or unconsciously, a leadership in the Pagan and Wiccan communities. The reawakening of Pagan thought, philosophy and teaching has occurred over a very short period of time. In an even shorter period of time a growing tendency has arisen to create a formal Pagan religion with recognized leaders to point the way, with large assemblies of the chosen gathering at various spots around the world to promote Pagan ideals and practices. Is this wrong? Not necessarily if the purpose is an honest one. Wicca for the most part is a religion of acceptance, of inclusiveness, not one of exclusionist and unbending dogma. We criticize Christian proselytes for saying that their way is the only true way. But many of us seem to fawn over Wiccan priests and priestesses who demand ritual to be done only in their way and imply that their teachings must be followed or the student is unworthy or the ritual will be worthless. What is being created is a small group of people who are attempting to become the self-proclaimed hierarchy of Wicca. In 1974 the Council of American Witches issued a statement that We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who courageously give of themselves in leadership. The Council also stated we owe no allegiance to any person or greater power than the Divinity manifest through our own being. Fame and fortune have overcome the basic tenets of our spirituality.
I am not against teachers. Far from it. We all, and I include myself need them. We need their experience and guidance. We do not, however, need to create our own form of tel-evangelism. Wicca allows us all to use what we learn to create our own forms of ritual and meaningful worship without a middleman telling us what is right and wrong. We will learn by our own methods what feels right in our heart. Spellcraft should not be used to manipulate others or to obtain personal gain by making others fail. When Wicca becomes a money making system it is no longer Wicca and no longer reflects the ethics of the Wiccan Rede. It is not wrong for a teacher to request donations or to charge a fee for a workshop, but is it right to charge others to learn the path? A possible matter for debate.
As our nation enters a new era in which we both fight religious totalitarianism as well as embrace it, we must take a step back and seriously consider our place as Pagans in the world. Evidently our government is "protecting" our freedoms by eroding them. I do not believe any of us wish to live in a society where a camera is intruding into our daily lives, where our reading preferences are subject to inspection by the FBI, where any of us may be arrested and incarcerated for indeterminate periods of time without charges being filed or being allowed to see an attorney. Are these characteristics of a free society? Do we, as Pagans, as Wiccans, need to take a stand on these issues? Or do we do what we can through ritual and prayer to set things back into balance once more?
This piece was not written to be a lecture. But we must at times take a look at our society, our culture and see what is going on around us. Wicca is a wonderful means and opportunity to do things that are good for ourselves and each other. I am afraid that the huge amount of popular "literature" out there promoting spell work and other nifty witchy stuff is creating a false sense of what we are and where we need to go. In my book, Essays in Contemporary Paganism, I wrote we honor the Goddess by refuting the fallacies that others apply toward us. I still believe that.
(This article first appeared in Witchwords, Issue One, September 2002. http://witchwords.faithweb.com)