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The Need for Balance

Michael E. Berubé writes:

Please help me understand this. Not being wiccan, I am curious why so many of Wiccans on the net insist on making a claim that they are NOT some kind of "sweetness-and-light" or FBNA [fluffy bunny new age] religion. I know you want to be taken seriously but, do you see Wicca as a bitter-and-dark (insert the oposite of Disneyland here) type religion?

The idea that two polar opposites like that are the only choices is very un-Wiccan logic in itself. I think that one of the key problems with our society is that there is a huge overemphasis on what could be termed hostile, or competitive dualism -- everything is seen as either light or dark, right or wrong, good or evil, etc.

The essence of Wiccan philosophy is holistic, or complementary dualism, wherein opposites are seen as being in dynamic balance rather than locked in combat. The One-God-One-Goddess symbolism that CRs [Celtic reconstructionists] dislike so much is an expression of that -- instead of the Christian paradigm of two deities warring over the fate of humanity, winner take all, we have two deities joined in union and in balance, and that joining gives birth to all things. In a sense, the Wiccan duality is more like a triplicity -- two poles that in joining together bring forth a third thing which is greater than the sum of its parts.

To portray Wicca as either wholly light or wholly dark, much less to claim that those are the only two things a religion can be, is to lose sight of the key to its meaning! On a metaphysical level, the Goddess and the God represent the forces of creation and destruction, birth and death, Eros and Thanatos -- and it is in the balance of those two things that all life takes place. One article that appeared in The Blade & Chalice, the pagan magazine I used to edit, put it bluntly: "Witches worship sex and death." Not the sort of statement that makes for good PR, but it conveys a very essential truth about our religion.

Would you prefer others who are ignorant of paganism (specifically Wicca) to see you in that light?

I think that trying to whitewash our religion excessively in order to allay the negative perceptions engendered by the word "Witchcraft" has, to a very large extent, brought us to the present situation about which I was complaining.

Due to the fact that Wicca is primarily a mystery religion, where the central teaching is traditionally done at an initiatory level, rather than given out to the general public, most of the early books on Wicca were not how-to manuals, but rather works aimed at the general non-Wiccan public with the aim of destroying stereotypes and improving our image. And as such they tended to (a) not go into a whole lot of depth about Wiccan cosmology, theology, etc., because those who were really interested would find all that out when they found covens and teachers of their own, and (b) went overboard to make the point that we are not a bunch of baby-killing psychopaths ("We're not like that! We're nice! Really nice! REALLY REALLY REALLY nice! We're so nice, we make Bambi's mother look like Baba Yaga! We're so nice, we make Barney the Dinosaur sound like Dennis Leary!")

Now, this was all very well and good, because it was the approach that was necessary at the time, but the problem came with the runaway popularity of Wicca, which I think a lot of the early writers had not anticipated. All of a sudden, thousands of people wanted to get involved in the Craft, but had, in most cases, no access to any kind of traditional coven. So, for the most part, they did what I did in the late 1970s, in the same situation: started practicing solitary or with a group of equally inexperienced friends, using whatever scraps of ritual they could find in the books that were available at the time.

Some eventually got lucky and found their way to the Craft community that already existed, but many others just continued flying by the seat of their pants, and some became comfortable enough doing that that they no longer had much interest in finding a traditional coven. Probably the single greatest boon to the do-it-yourselfers was the publication of The Spiral Dance, which contained a lot more detailed how-to material than any Craft book to date ever had, and was also about the first to portray self-initiation and self-training as the norm, rather than what you do until you find a real teacher or coven. To be fair, The Spiral Dance also contained a lot more in-depth analysis of the philosophical and theological aspects of the Craft than most books of its generation did, and certainly more than most eclectic Craft books before or since. But judging by the lack of depth apparent in most eclectic Wiccan writing today, too many people appear to have skipped over that to get to the "how-to" parts.

Where things became really problematic was when these people began publishing books of their own. What you began to have then was what we have now: a whole generation of wanna-be Wiccans who are not just floundering in the fog, but have practically institutionalized fog-floundering as The Way Things Are Done.

It has been said, of many different kinds of groups, that when you start believing your own PR, you're in trouble. And we now have an entire generation of people whose concept of their religion is entirely, or almost entirely, based on the Wiccan PR of the 1970s, and shares the characteristics of much of that material: a marked lack of depth, a huge overemphasis on goodness and niceness, and complete unfamiliarity with the key teachings of traditional Wicca. Now, in the case of the writers of that PR, they were perfectly familiar with the inner teachings, but deliberately chose not to write about them so as to uphold their oaths and preserve some mystery for the initiates. But in the case of the new generation of self-made Wiccans, they simply aren't aware there is anything beyond the surfaces portrayed in those early books and passed on in the later books written by people who learned from those.

Those who do have some kind of traditional lineage and training are now a minority within the Craft. And while we may heartily wish that the Fluffy Bunnies (TM) would start calling themselves something else and give us back our name, it probably isn't about to happen anytime real soon. And we who have traditional training but also do believe in teaching the Craft (parts of it, anyway) publicly have to walk a very fine line between, on the one hand, perpetuating the same simplistic understanding of Wicca that is now plaguing us, and on the other, giving away too much, which could involve either outright oathbreaking or simply detracting from people's initiatory experiences by giving away too much too soon.

Sweetness-and-light is a relative term. My outlook has always been, you can make yourself happy or you can make yourself miserable, the amount of work is the same and it is pretty much up to you to do. How do you feel about it?

I don't think I've ever known anyone whose life has been entirely happy or entirely miserable. As in most things, balance is the key here: someone whose life has been entirely peaceful and happy isn't going to have had the opportunity to develop much in the way of wisdom or inner strength, while someone whose life has been completely miserable is likely to be a first-class fuckup. It is learning the steps of the unending dance of creation and destruction, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, that allows us to learn from life, and to live it to its fullest.

Déithe duit,

Liath Cadhóit
(a.k.a Lynna Landstreet)


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