To an outsider, Druidic practice — at least the kind I engage in — probably doesn’t seem all that different from Wicca. The unfamiliar eye and ear catches the strangeness, the exoticism of Pagan practice: multiple deity names, altar images, incense, drums. They may see a difference between a Wiccan circle and a heathen sumbel, but not dramatically so, and not in a way they can name, finger, analyze. It is Other: strange, appealing and ultimately the same in that Otherness. Differentiation only comes with familiarity.
Like many Pagans, I had a quasi-Wiccan practice for years. If you go back far enough, however, I worshiped the Gods (Greek, since that was the pantheon I was exposed to, as many children are) from a very young age, long before learning about Wicca. As a child, I prayed to Artemis, to Demeter, with simple offerings of things I found. I was open to the Gods’ messages as they spoke. There was no ritual, no implements set aside, no incantations, only a child’s devotion in the face of the multiverse.
That changed when I was 12, when I discovered books on modern Witchcraft in the library — what we now call Wicca, although that’s a specially-created polite-for-company term. “This must be the way,” I mused, and tried to remake that simple practice. Enter energy-working, magic, ritual with implements cobbled together from a child’s means. I didn’t know in my heart why I really needed an athame, but the books said I did and the reasons behind it, so I found one. I adopted the ritual circle and the usual accouterments, leading a coven of fellow children in an improvised practice.
In my later teens, my interest in feminism led me to Dianic Wicce, which I followed through early college and still maintain an interest in. I dabbled in Reclaiming-style Witchcraft, inspirational and artistic — and still my soul felt unfulfilled. I knew what I was seeking, you see, but couldn’t seem to find it in the feast offered to me.
I speak of my own experience, mind you, and don’t mean to denigrate anyone else’s practice. That needs to be said.
In the end, I found Wicca to be too much about power, with a decided lack of devotion. Magic, and not relationship. People worship Gods not out of love, but out of the gifts they desire: calling to Aphrodite for love, for example, or Athena for help in their studies, but having little other relationship or devotion outside that request. The same, too, with plants and stones, read according to a checklist of properties and use-value — not the immanent value that they have, that the Gods have, that we all have.
Because so much of popular Wicca concerns itself with the fulfillment of desire, it seems hollow to me. Is the sacred just the fulfillment of desire? If so, how is it different than a lottery ticket or the flashing lights of consumerism? Are the Gods — and the fairies, to go along with the popular conception of them — some kind of wish-fulfilling magic rock?
Or, to put it simply: Isn’t the value of a gift the relationship it reflects? If there is no relationship other than a correspondence chart, what is its value? Is there anything in the universe worth more than your own desire? What happens when all your desires are fulfilled? Are you a better person?
if there is one thing I simply cannot stand, it’s having people value me only in terms of what I can do for them rather than my unique self. I imagine, from my own small perspective, that the Gods feel the same way.
It’s not a gift for a gift, as the heathens say. If I give you a gift, it’s to show my love and appreciation for the unique being you are, whether human, divine or my cat with her brand-new scratch pad.
Granted, you can’t expect the Gods to reciprocate if they feel they’re not getting anything in return; that’s simply mooching. But I see a troubling escape-hatch for that problem, too: People regard the Gods not as spiritual being(s), but as psychological archetypes existing only within themselves. Ergo, they are only asking themselves for a gift, a la The Secret. I find this philosophy sometimes in Dianic Wicce as well: the Goddess as sort of a divine juno, the in-dwelling spirit of Woman.
Frankly, I find the situation perplexing, although somewhat understandable. In an atheistic, science-driven world, what conceptual place do we leave for irrational belief? It must be justified, stripped of its mystic heart, turned into some kind of psychological explanation.
I choose instead to follow faith, seeing it not opposed to science but simply different. They don’t dwell in the same conceptual worlds. The lack of agreement between those two worlds leads to confusion, hesitancy, insecurity — painful things that I open myself to during my exploration of the sacred, the mystery of the Other.
A painful question: Would I love my Gods even if I fell upon hard times, if they gave me nothing more than my basic life?
I’d like to think I would, although I’d probably be lamenting like Job. That is one Biblical story I find interesting for its human element, by the way (although it paints Yahweh as a royal jerk): the love of a man for his god even when the chips are inexplicably down.
To fall to your knees for a favor is slavery. To fall to your knees in the ardor of love is devotion — and the heart of spiritual ecstasy.