Nature, tradition, and ancestors

I am very keen on rejecting, resisting, and repudiating the infiltration and co-opting of Paganism by the far right, and so I found Amy Hale’s article on The Pagan and Occult Fascist Connection and How to Fix It a very useful resource, particularly the questions at the end. I would encourage you to read the article, and use these questions as journaling prompts.

So here are my answers to those questions for initiatory Wicca (in some cases, I have previously written blogposts on these topics, so I will link to those).

Question how the idea of “tradition” is being used in your practice.

As far as I am concerned, tradition is not fixed and immutable, it is fluid and evolving. It should evolve to meet the needs of practitioners, not be set in stone. We should be in dialogue with tradition, but we should also be very clear that tradition should serve humans, and not the other way around.

Is the tradition in question the province of an elite? Is it characterized as supra-rational?

Authority in matters of tradition should rest with the community, not with an elite. I believe this is the case with Wicca in general, and it is certainly the case with inclusive Wicca, where we developed our definition of inclusiveness as a community.

I had to look up supra-rational (it means “transcending the rationalbased on or involving factors not to be comprehended by reason alone”). I think the Wiccan tradition is focused on mystery, which does transcend the rational. Some more conservative Wiccans use their definition of deity as a justification for exclusive ritual practices and rigid notions of tradition; but many in the community have now adapted to a more fluid model of gender and more flexible ritual practices.

Are these traditions perceived of as belonging to only one group of people? How are they defined?

I am assuming that by “group of people”, we mean an ethnic or national group. Although Wicca originated in Britain, it is now a global phenomenon which has moved beyond English-speaking countries, and has been adapted to its new locales, so I think we can safely answer no to this question. I would want to protect Wicca from any rigidity or exclusivity introduced by its spread to more conservative cultures.

How do you distinguish between borrowing and appropriation?

I have written extensively on the topic of cultural appropriation, and my suggested distinction between appropriation and borrowing is outlined in this 2013 post, What is cultural appropriation?

What sorts of language do we use around people, culture, transmission and geography?

I would say this varies from one coven to the next, one author to the next. Some early Wiccan writers did talk about right-wing notions such as essentialist views of ethnic groups and perennialist views of spirituality and religion, but more recent authors have avoided this kind of talk, and in some cases repudiated it. Initiatory Wicca is transmitted via initiation. We do tend to be cautious about whom to initiate, but that is because our rituals can be powerful, and require a high level of trust.

Is a practice being promoted as “appropriate for certain types of people” or are there suggestions about restrictions on the basis of heritage or birthplace?

I have never seen anything like this stated explicitly in initiatory Wicca, and inclusive Wicca explicitly states that all ethnic groups are welcome. However, we still have work to do as a community in ensuring that we do not perpetuate Eurocentric stereotypes, structures of whiteness, colonialism, or ideas about what practices are appropriate for certain types of people.

How do we talk about and understand cultural context in relation to our spiritual practices?

I always try to make people aware of cultural appropriation and avoid völkisch concepts. I also repudiate any suggestion that a predilection for a particular culture is based on genetic make-up. Culture is not transmitted genetically.

How do particular groups or individuals use phrases like “our ancestors” in relation to place and practice?

There does not seem to be much talk about ancestors in Wicca. We talk about the Mighty Dead (Wiccans who have passed on). We talk about Beloved Dead (a phrase borrowed from the Reclaiming tradition). Some of us borrow the terms ancestor of spirit, ancestor of blood, and ancestor of place from Druidry. I also speak of queer ancestors.

How can we promote inclusivity within the concept of ancestor practice?

Ensure that we are not just talking about genetic ancestors. Talk about ancestors of spirit – people from the past who inspire us. Include queer ancestors. Acknowledge that some of our ancestors did toxic things. If we live on stolen land, acknowledge that fact.

What is “nature” to you and what does it mean to “be in touch with it”?

Nature is more diverse than our wildest imaginings. It is not a rigid structure or a “great chain of being” or a hierarchy. It is creative and wild and constantly moving and changing. It’s not bunnies, rainbows, and dolphins, but it’s not all fierce competition and struggle either.

Being in touch with nature necessitates acknowledging all of that, and living sustainably. Eco-spirituality is about acknowledging that we are part of nature, not in dominion over it. It’s about being embodied and aware of the nature all around us.

What informs your ideas about “the natural”?

Science, art, folklore, and mythology. I try to keep up-to-date with scientific insights (especially on LGBTQ+ topics). I think we need the creative and playful approach to Nature represented by art, folklore, and mythology (and we need to resist fascism in these fields too). But we also need to be open to the wonder inspired by scientific discoveries about the universe and the natural world.

7 thoughts on “Nature, tradition, and ancestors

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