What you don't see anywhere nearly as often is a class called Wicca 200.
Now, I know that no sooner do I say that than somebody will tell me of their Wicca 200 class. I'm not saying that it never happens. What I'm saying is that it's nowhere near as frequent. I'll also say that it's not terribly consistent from class to class, teacher to teacher, because there isn't nearly the consensus as to what comes after Wicca 101. And in my experience, the dropout rate from attempted Wicca 200 classes is very, very high because the classes leave the students scratching their heads and asking a very important question, namely what does any of this have to do with the stuff in the first class? You see, there isn't much actual magic in Wicca 101. There's not much psychic development, just basic grounding and centering, maybe a few breathing exercises and some chants. There's not much on group dynamics, on working with a group and managing the needs of such a group. And there's certainly no push to encourage students to study primary source material. So given these deficits, it's obvious that these should be the agenda for any classes beyond Wicca 101. However, there's an intractable problem that any would-be Wicca 200 (and above) course developer faces. If such a class were to be in any way honest, then class 2, lesson 1, sentence 1 would have to be this: "OK, all of that stuff we taught you in Wicca 101? Forget it. None of it was true."
No world-wide, or even pan-Indo-European universal pre-Christian religion. No matriarchal or matrifocal golden age. No universal archetype of a triune goddess. No universal archetype of the goddess's dying and reborn consort. No nine million dead, no inquisition of witches during the middle ages at all, nor any organized conspiracy to label midwives as witches. No covens of any kind prior to the Renaissance. No Law of Contagion, no Law of Sympathy. Not always four elements, and nearly all ancient sources for elemental symbolism contradict the ones we told you in some way or other. No culture that celebrated 8 "sabbats" on the quarter and cross-quarter days. And all of those divination techniques we overviewed? Except for the ones that are Taoist, the rest were developed by Christians. (I find it a source of chronic amusement to watch teachers try to paper over this one. It is possible to teach tarot without admitting the modern tarot deck is drenched in specifically Christian symbolism, but the mental and verbal gyrations necessary are worthy of an Olympics gymnastic routine.)
And oh yeah, whisper this one if you dare to say it at all: prior to the very end of the Renaissance, almost into the Age of Science, no human witches. If you look at the oldest historical and literary references to "witches," you see that witches are described as tiny little creatures, varying in size from a grain of sand up to maybe two inches tall, invisible, that flit along on the wind and blight crops, sicken cattle, and cause women to miscarry. What's a witch, the real historical reality of what our pre-Christian ancestors meant by a witch? A bacterium, a pre-scientific theory of the spread of contagious disease. That's why the first Vatican encyclical on the subject of witches didn't condemn people who were witches or people who called themselves witches. It condemned the belief that witches exist, as part of a broad campaign against superstition.
Now, let's see you admit all of that to your students -- and then try to build something that you and they will still call Wicca.
There are four things that no Wiccan can read without becoming deeply cynical about what they were taught in Wicca 101, or in any of the equivalent textbooks over the years:
- Sir James G. Frazer, The New Golden Bough. (1922) Or for that matter any edition from 1899 on, but the unabridged second-to-last version is too much to ask anybody to read in much less than a lifetime of study. Frazer's own final 1922 edition, the abridged but completed two-volume summary, will do a perfectly good job of demonstrating the point. Frazer's book is an important one, in the sense that it had a tremendous impact on how intellectuals wrote about magic, superstition, and the origins of religion for several generations. To vastly oversimplify Frazer's book(s), he was one of the amateurs who created the modern science of anthropology as a hobby, the hobby of collecting pre-Christian legends from primitive people in hopes of recording them before the results of successful Christian evangelism erased all memory of pre-Christian religious attitudes or practices. Based on the collected notes of his fellow folklorists, Frazer created a theory to explain how religion was invented, and how it evolved alongside human technology from the most primitive origins to its perfected form in the Church of England during the Industrial Age.
- Any good criticism of Frazer, written at any time after the mid 1950s. I had the good fortune to find a used copy of the 1959 Mentor Press edition. In that edition, Theodore H. Gaster left Frazer's text alone, but added footnotes of his own. Lengthy footnotes. In them, he point-by-point demolishes every argument, every theory, every interpolation of Frazer's. In the eighty-plus years since Frazer wrote his book, there's been a lot of advances in archeology, anthropology, history, linguistics, and textual criticism. By 1959, before Wicca even reached the United States, it was possible to compare and contrast three sources: Gerald Gardner, James Frazer, and modern scholarship. In every case where Frazer contradicts later research, Gardner sides with Frazer, and nearly all of modern Witchcraft with him.
- Margaret Murray, The Witch Cult in Western Europe. (1922) Murray decided that there must have actually been some real witches, or else there wouldn't have been witch trials in the 1600s; where there's smoke, there's fire. So she came up with the idea of carefully studying the Inquisitional records to try to decide, on little evidence other than her own prejudices, which charges were actually credible, and then projected her own fantasy onto the evidence to "explain" what the Inquisitors were afraid of: a pan-European rural religion that worshiped a triune Goddess and her consort the Horned God.
- Any modern analysis of Margaret Murray's book. As I said of the Golden Bough, which was a work of the same times, there's been a lot of archeology and historical analysis since 1922, and of Margaret Murray's hypothesis nothing substantial remains. Now compare what Gardner and his followers teach to Murray and to the analysis since then. Where Murray and modern scholarship contradict each other, Wicca sides with Murray.
This is a big part of why it's so embarrassingly easy to be considered an elder in the Wiccan community. There's a turnover of about 1/3 per year. To oversimplify things, the first year we lose a lot of students because they figure out that the Craft is never going to be The Craft, or because the Pagan/Wiccan community freezes them out for being Too Weird even for the Pagans. The second year, about half of the survivors accidentally end up on the wrong side of some internal "witch war" or other, some personality conflict (or worse, thinking of a certain notorious shooting incident here in St. Louis) and drop out never to be heard from again, and there goes another third. In that third year, most of them figure out that their elders are never going to teach them the "real stuff," the really powerful ritual and magick, so they either find an elder who points them to the real historical sources or they go looking for them themselves -- at which point nearly all of the remainder realize that they've been lied to all along, and go elsewhere. A few stick around for another two, three, five, sometimes even twenty years if there's money involved, and become the Elders of the Community -- in some cases, after as little as 3 years. And how unreasonable is that, considering that if you've been in it for 3 years you were there before 90% of the community got there? Heck, that's what happened to me.
A lot of the disillusioned go off to join or found various Reconstructionist Pagan movements, determined to abandon Wicca's lies and mistakes and replace them with a foundation of valid scholarship on which to build something sound. Unfortunately, those that show any sign of succeeding, those that build anything that might be worth taking over, get zerged by the Wiccans, who insist on replacing whatever the founders of the group built with their old familiar Wiccan ways. Heck, even Isaac Bonewits tried it once; tired of Neopagan foibles, one of the earliest founders of Neopaganism tried to abandon it and create a non-Wiccan, non-Neopagan Celtic Reconstructionist path called ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF). Within two years, it got swarmed by Neopagans and Wiccans who tore down all of Isaac's carefully (if possibly equally dubiously) researched rituals and structures and replaced them with the ones they brought with them from Neopagan Witchcraft.