This blogpost was inspired by this conversation on Twitter:
The snark quotient of this post may be dangerously high — you’re strongly advised to put your snark goggles on, because I have a snark hammer and I am not afraid to use it.
It started with the Hard Gards deciding that theirs was the One True Way™️. This caused a lot of other people to leave initiatory Wicca and do their own thing (quite understandable when faced with one-true-way-ism).
Wiccan theology and ritual
As I understand it (and I may be wrong), Hard Gards believe that you have to be a duotheist to be a Wiccan; that Wiccans only worship the Horned God and the Moon Goddess; and that you have to do the rituals exactly as written in the Book of Shadows. Some of this attitude seems to have seeped into Wicca more generally in the USA.
I’m from England, and lived there until 2018. I was initiated into Wicca in 1991. So I have 27 years of practicing Wicca in the UK. And I’m here to tell you that Wiccans can be polytheists, atheists, animists, duotheists, monists, Neoplatonists, and all of the above depending on the day. Also that we are creative and write new rituals as well as using the ones in the Book of Shadows.
I am not sure what rituals American Wiccans use, but I’m pretty sure they are not in my Book of Shadows, because some of the seasonal rituals that I have are very short, and it sounds like they have something more elaborate.
A lot of people use the term “oath-bound” as if it applies to written texts. I’m not going to share the contents of my Book of Shadows (or anyone else’s) with non-initiates, but people are bound by the oaths they take. Things can’t be oath-bound because they can’t take oaths, because they cannot speak. That’s just how the world works.
The threefold law
A lot of nonsense gets talked about the threefold law. The original form of the threefold law is, if someone is nice to you, be three times as nice back to them. The version that says that karma will send you back the consequences of your actions multiplied threefold was allegedly started by Monique Wilson, but either way it’s not widely accepted among Wiccan initiates.
The Wiccan Rede
If I had a dollar for every time I saw someone taking nonsense on the internet, and even in published books, about the Wiccan Rede, I could retire on the proceeds. The Wiccan Rede is “An it harm none, do what thou wilt.” It’s not “harm none” (which, as every non-Wiccan witch never tires of pointing out, is impossible), nor is it “and it harm none”, and it doesn’t get added to the end of magical workings in any initiatory Wiccan ritual that I’ve ever attended. Nor is it a long poem written in the 1970s, which may be very interesting, but it’s not part of my tradition.
“An it harm none, do what thou wilt” (modern translation: “if it harms no-one, do your will”) is based on a quote from Rabelais, a great Renaissance humanist and humorist. My interpretation is that it means that you can’t just do what you want, because there are potential harmful effects of every action, so you should think about the consequences before you act. Other people also interpret it that way.
Gender in ritual
The importance of gender in ritual probably started with the idea (quite radical in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, when Gardnerian Wicca started) that women can and should take an equal part in ritual, and that the Divine can be any gender or more than one gender (I’m not sure exactly when Doreen Valiente wrote the Dryghten prayer, but it acknowledges that the original source of all things is both male and female).
As I understand it, the original Books of Shadows compiled by Gardner did not mandate different ritual roles for different genders. It’s clear that cross-gender initiation was important to the founders of Wicca. But they also allowed for exceptions to the general rule, and so should we.
Reculing comes from the French verb “reculer”, to reverse. The concept was introduced into Wicca by Monique Wilson. It’s not called that in the UK.
In Wicca as practiced in Britain and Europe, it is possible to withdraw one’s vouch for a person who has gone off the rails, but it’s not possible to undo their initiation — and withdrawing one’s vouch is only done in cases of someone behaving very badly indeed.