This is an excerpt from my new book, The Night Journey: witchcraft as transformation. I am sharing it because I have noticed an awful lot of activists on my Twitter feed expressing pain, rage, and exhaustion. Accordingly, I have revived a hashtag, #activistSelfCare. I didn’t do this to promote the book; I did it because I saw people in pain.
It turns out that the term ‘self care’ originated with Audre Lorde , who wrote,
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
Dark Mirror: the inner work of witchcraft
Available now from Lulu
Inner work is a name commonly given to the inner processes that happen in ritual. It can also mean the transformation of the psyche that comes about through engaging in religious ritual. However, the best kind of inner work also has an effect outside the individual and outside the circle. When rituals are focused only on self-development, they tend to be a bit too introspective. Ritual is about creating and maintaining relationships and connections – between body, mind, and spirit; with the Earth, Nature, the land, the spirit world, the community, and friends. It is about making meaning, weaving a web of symbolism, story, mythology, meaning, community, and love. Creating a community that welcomes and celebrates diversity. Creating strong and authentic identity to resist the pressures of consumerism and commercialism and capitalism. Weaving relationship with other beings: humans, animals, birds, spirits, deities.
Wiccans can be polytheist, animist, pantheist, monist, duotheist, atheist/archetypalist, or “all of the above depending on the day”. Most Pagans believe that the divine is, or deities are, immanent in the world; and that includes most Wiccans.
This theological diversity works in ritual settings as long as everyone can “translate in their head” and have a certain amount of flexibility as to practice and the wording of rituals.
Some versions of the Wheel of the Year (the eight festivals of Wicca and Druidry) can feel excluding, particularly those that focus on the God and the Goddess interacting through the cycle of the seasons. This mythological construct excludes both polytheists and LGBTQIA people. Some versions of the story are uncomfortable for feminists, as they don’t exactly promote consent culture. It is worth noting that the “cycle of the God and the Goddess” doesn’t appear in any early Gardnerian Books of Shadows (e.g. November Eve, 1949, February Eve, 1949, May Eve, 1949, August Eve, 1949). The solstices and equinoxes were added to the Wiccan year-wheel in the 1950s.
For all sorts of reasons, then, I prefer to go back to the original mythology and symbolism associated with the festivals.
It is a useful magical and intellectual exercise to examine each segment of your ritual structure, and ask yourself why you do it in the particular way that you do. Why do we sweep the circle, consecrate it with water, salt, and incense, cast it with a sword, and so on? What is the function and symbolism of each of these actions? Can they be improved – either in the sense of making them more magically effective, more reflective of reality, or more inclusive?
Wiccan ritual often uses the concepts of polarity and fertility to make magic and symbolism. These can be viewed in an exclusively heterocentric way, or in a more inclusive and diverse way. The reality of gender, sexuality, and magic suggests that the inclusive way is more reflective of the true complexity of human nature.
There is still considerable confusion over what inclusive Wicca actually is. In part, this could be because the people who are confused about it haven’t read my book, All acts of love and pleasure: inclusive Wicca (available on Kindle and in paperback), or the short guide to being an inclusive coven.
There are several activities that happen in Wicca and other Pagan traditions that might make our rituals inaccessible.
That doesn’t mean we can never do those activities: it does mean being aware of the needs of participants, preferably by asking them in advance what their needs are.
A lot of people seem to think that inclusive means “I’ve got some gay people in my coven”. That is certainly welcoming – but is it really inclusive? I think there’s a spectrum of inclusivity – so one coven might score 100% and another might score 80% – but I think we have to accept that different people will have different ideas and priorities. However, it would avoid a lot of heartbreak all round if people stated upfront how inclusive their coven actually is.
Inclusive Wicca (design by Yvonne Aburrow)
An inclusive coven ticks some or all of the following boxes:
- Understands that diversity has a place in celebration, theology and cosmology.
- Understands that gender identity, gender expression, sex/gender assigned at birth, and biological characteristics are distinct (when I say distinct, I mean noticeably different, but interpermeable and with fuzzy boundaries).
- Understands that you can make energy through polarity (tension of opposites), resonance (two similar people), or synergy (joining the energies of the whole group).
- Understands that polarity can be made by two or more people of any gender and sexual orientation, and by two or more people of the same gender, and that polarity exists on a spectrum where Person A may be yang in relation to Person B, but yin in relation to Person C.
- Understands that you can make polarity with any pair of opposite qualities (e.g. morning people and evening people, cat lovers and dog lovers, tea drinkers and coffee drinkers, air signs and earth signs, fire signs and water signs).
- Understands that fertility is not strictly biological and may refer to creativity (and that you don’t need a male body & a female body to produce fertility on a symbolic level – e.g. when blessing crops).
- Allows invocation of any gender deity onto any gender human.
- Allows gender fluidity in ritual roles & doesn’t make people stand boy/girl/boy/girl in circle.
- Does cakes & wine with reference to lover & beloved, or using two cups, or on the understanding that we all contain both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ energies, or some other inclusive variation, and can be done by two people of any gender.
- Accommodates difference (e.g. neurodivergence, dyslexia, left-handedness, aphantasia) and disability. Bonus points for embracing the social model of disability.
- Is open to other cultures and ethnicities and does not insist on a genetic basis for culture (e.g. anyone can worship gods from any culture). Bonus points for being aware of the concept of systemic racism.
- Tries to avoid cultural appropriation.
- Is accepting of kink, polyamory, and monogamy.
- Promotes consent culture.
- Welcomes members of all ages (over 18) and accommodates older members’ needs.
- Does not automatically exclude people with mental health issues.
- Accommodates different theological perspectives (animism, atheism, pantheism, polytheism, duotheism etc).
- Body-positive: does not allow fat-shaming or body-shaming.
- Is prepared to accommodate coven members who are less well-off (by not organising expensive social activities, or having a massive and expensive reading list, for example).
- Does not insist that its members reach a particular educational level or belong to a particular socio-economic class.
- Listens to the views of all the members.
- Values the contributions and ideas of all the members.
Inclusive Wicca is about being inclusive towards everyone.
There isn’t a competition over who is more oppressed, and there is no queue for liberation. We can work on small issues and large issues at the same time – I am not suggesting that all the categories mentioned in the list receive the same degree of oppression in society – they are included in the list because at some point, they have been excluded from some Wiccan circles for some reason.
Also, please note that inclusive Wicca is not a new or separate tradition; it is a tendency within existing Wiccan traditions. (Though just to confuse matters, in Australia, there actually is a tradition called Inclusive Wicca, which is unconnected to the inclusive tendency – though it may have similar goals.)
Thanks to Alder Lyncurium, Anna Hammarlund, Anya Read, Brian Paisley, Francois Schaut, Lirilin Lee, Susan Harper, for suggestions and comments on the first draft of this.
UPDATE: I have now created an inclusive Wicca website.