Tuesday, March 15, 2005

On 'Wicca' and 'witchcraft'

I use the words Wicca and witchcraft synonymously. Many don't. Wicca, it is claimed, refers to a lineage popularized in England by Gerald Gardner in the 1940s. Some Gardnerian Wiccans claim that you have to belong to that lineage in order to call yourself Wiccan. More broadly, some Wiccans claim that to be Wiccan you have to be initiated into a standing coven. Others claim that Wiccans properly worship the Goddess and the God, often called the Lady and the Lord, and that a recognition of gendered duality in the godhead is characteristic of Wicca. By any of these definitions, I am not a Wiccan.

However, Starhawk calls Wicca the archaic name of her spiritual tradition, a tradition she also calls Witchcraft. The word Wicca may mean "craft of the wise," or it may be derivative of the old English for "bend" - thus, a witch is one who bends or shapes reality. Following Starhawk, I use Wicca in this broader sense. Wicca in this sense is a tradition only broadly speaking. There is no unbroken lineage, no practices passed down among families or clans. Rather, the Wicca we practice today refers to a (likely mythic) past; it is part of the mythos of Wicca that we image the practice as something very old. The viability of Wicca as a spiritual practice doesn't depend on its myths' being true in an historical sense. We tell creation stories, for example, to shift consciousness and to reach past the conscious, talking, reasoning self. The stories are suggestions of a worldview. Their power depends not on their veracity. We Wiccans, or witches, claim similarity and solidarity with other wisdom traditions, including other earth-based spiritual practices, such as those of native peoples; shamanism; gnostic Christianity; Voodou and other traditions arising from African peoples; Sufiism; Buddhism; Taoism; et. al.

Later I will discuss in detail which beliefs I think are characteristic of Wicca. For now, the important point is that I use the term Wicca broadly, although that usage is controversial, to mean the same thing as Witchcraft. I call myself Wiccan, pagan, and witch.