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At virtually every occult shop in America, in towns both large and small, there's a course taught at least once a year. In the larger towns, teachers compete for chances to teach it, and it's offered year-round. It's called "Wicca 101: Introduction to Witchcraft." The curriculum is pretty well standardized, and basically covers an outline of the material from Silver Ravenwolf's book To Ride a Silver Broomstick (having recently supplanted previous books by Scott Cunningham, and by Janet & Stewart Farrar before that), sometimes with a smidgen thrown in from Starhawk's The Spiral Dance. Contrary to the impression these teachers convey, there's no material that isn't in the books. All you're really paying for is the egoboo of having someone that the occult shop owner ratifies as a powerful magick-user and witch fuss over you. It's the poor man's illusionary version of paying Stephen Hawking to coach you through Algebra 1.

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:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.
For the preface to her 1979 book An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present, Wicca co-founder Doreen Valiente put real detective work into checking up on Gerald Gardner's initiation story, in which he claimed to have been initiated by an elder woman who was one of the only remaining members of what they claimed was the last surviving witchcraft coven in England. Valiente's proof is not irrefutable, but it is suggestive; it is not unreasonable to think that Gardner is accurately presenting that part of the story. Interestingly enough, it is not necessary to claim that Rose, the witch who initiated Gardner, lied to him about these things. An elderly witch in the late 1940s would have been a young convert in the 1920s. We know that from the 1880s through the 1920s, there were wave after wave of "transcendentalist" attempts to build or rebuild alternatives to Christianity in the US and the UK. I think that an analysis of what precise mistakes were made in building the Wicca myth suggests a fairly narrow range of dates for its origin: no earlier than 1922, no later than 1948. The next generation were told that they were part of an ancient lineage that went back to the Stone Age; they uncritically passed this on to Gardner, who wrote it down, and that settled it for shallow students of Wicca for the next 50+ years. (If this theory sounds familiar, it should. It's also the plot of the marvelous art-house horror film The Wicker Man. Who knew then how true it was?)

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.

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candika
Dec. 16th, 2004 11:11 pm (UTC)
Brad, I came into Wicca from and anthropology degree. I've read every book you mentioned and a hundred more besides. I consider Wicca to be largely a response to women's sufferage and the feminist movement. I was raised a Christian but their sexism drove me nuts and as far as I was concerned Wicca was a viable, woman friendly alternative with psychology I could live with. As for the triune goddess and the reborn consort there's plenty of those around the place. I found out about those before I started getting interested in Wicca. Admittedly, I'm solitary and therefore don't have to answer to anyone for what I believe but I do identfy as Wicca and I don't like the implication that I'm stupid and I like being called a liar even less!

I also find your assumption that I condone paedophilia both humiliating and infuriating!

Since you've made it absolutely clear that you think that nothing I say will be the truth we can't really talk at all, can we?
valkyriefire
Dec. 17th, 2004 07:13 am (UTC)
I was a Feminist Dianic Wiccan until thinking for myself got me kicked out. Feminism was around long before Wicca and if you knew about feminism, you'd realize that.

Read bell hooks... seriously.

I advocate feminism, and Wicca is not feminist. Feminism is a political movement, a theory for radical change. Worship of a female divine does not feminism make. Hindus and Buddhists are not feminist in any way shape or form. Gardner did not advocate feminism. Neither did Alexander.

Feminism and paganism have things in common, but one did not stem from the other.

I have degrees in Religious Studies, Irish Studies, and Anthropology and I attended a women's college for undergraduate. However, as a feminist, you should know that touting degrees is not a particularly acceptable feminist practice. ;) It smacks of white, middle-class, intellectual privilege. Then again, I am white, middle-class, and college-educated. Goddess help me.
kallisti
Dec. 16th, 2004 11:38 pm (UTC)
from an current ADF Mother Grove member...
Well, as you might remember, I used to do the Wiccan thing myself back in the Magicknet days, but became increasingly disillusioned by it. Investing my Irish/Celtic heritage at the prompting of Erynn, a lot of the basic "facts" about Wicca in all of it's various flavours seem to be fabrications...admittedly cleaver and interesting, but fabrications none the less. I stopped calling myself a Witch/Wiccan in the early 1990s. At that point, I started considering one of two options, Church of All Worlds, or ADF. I had a friend who wanted to form a proto-nest of CAW when I moved to Montreal, but shen then moved to Toronto. I ran across Montreal's Silver Fox Grove of ADF, and rapidly became involved with them. Since then I have been involved with ADF, and I am now on my second term on the Mother Grove, currently as the Regional Druid for Canada.

As for the Ritual format of ADF, it is definitely *not* Wiccan, and if anything, there is a strong anti-Wiccan flavour to ADF's training and culture these days. BUt you are correct about the dubiousness of ADF's foundation "mythology" of the Pan-Indo European culture/religion. This was something I had beaten out of me by my girlfriend of the time who was completing a degree in anthropology. The whole Indo-European cultural concept is at it's heart based upon racist notions, a shares a heritage with the Nazi's Ayrian myth. As such, ADF should abandon the whole "PIE" concept, and become more encompasing in their role as a public pagan church. It is silly to say that, for example, Greek and Norse paleopagan faith have more in common than Greek and Egyptian do..considering the fact that Greece and Egypt spent more time at war and conquoring each other and thus cross-fertlizing cultural and religious ideas, while Greeks and Norse had virtually no direct contact.

As we get more people with current training in anthropology, that PIE mythology base will be eliminated, and ADF will have to decide what it will base itself upon, or admit that we won't ever know exactly what The Ancients did and why in their religious practices, and simply take the best guesses of the scientists as inspiration for a current day, pagan religion.

Disclaimer:
Of course, this is all In My Own Humble Opinion, and probably doesn't reflect the mainstream of through in ADF currently.

ttyl
Farrell J. McGovern
Regional Druid for Canada,
Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship

p.s. Marisol, my girlfirend Anthropologist-in-training and I wrote a paper about what was wrong with PIE and why ADF should abandon it. Let me know if you are interested in it, and I will post it to my LJ.
bradhicks
Dec. 17th, 2004 11:27 am (UTC)
Re: from an current ADF Mother Grove member...
Oh, hi Farrell, I didn't recognize you. I sort of halfway wondered where you ended up after the WCC thing.

The year that Isaac founded ADF he did the rounds of the Pagan festivals, including the Pagan Spirit Gathering that I attended that year. One of the things that he specifically said was that since there was no archaeological, historical, or folkloric evidence for pre-Christian casting of a magical circle with quarter callings and so on, it was at the top of his list of things that simply had to go if anyone was going to try to found a druidic reconstructionist movement. He promised that you would never see quarter callings or a circle casting at an ADF event!

A few years ago when I was vending on the Pagan festival circuit, some other vendors persuaded me to take in an ADF regional gathering up in Michigan. There were three major rituals on the schedule. Two, the opening ceremony and the main ritual, were in the form of circle castings with quarter calls. The other was a sembel, or however it's spelled, which was still in the form of a circle and conducted deosil ... but structured as a particularly emotionally abusive fraternity drinking game. (I never thought to see buzz-cut 20-something guys clustered around a reluctant drinker, bullying them to slam a whole oversize cup of some liquor, chanting "Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug!" at a Pagan event. That crossed so many of my lines I've never forgiven the people involved; were I not a guest among them I would have intervened to stop them.) I discretely let myself out of all three rituals as early on as I could do so and remain polite.
Re: from an current ADF Mother Grove member... - ulbh - Dec. 19th, 2004 09:24 am (UTC) - Expand
zunger
Dec. 17th, 2004 12:24 am (UTC)
Sigh. I'd say that's depressingly accurate. Nor is it unique to paganism; the "Jewish Renewal movement" was an attempt to get people as involved in the design and underlying structure of their religion as, e.g., the most serious (non-Wiccan) pagans were several years ago - only more so, since this actually has a few thousand years of backing material for it, and the renewal group isn't shy about studying other traditions as well and mining them for content.

But there's an underlying problem in it, and it's the same as one of the big problems with Wicca. R. Zalman Schechter - one of the core founders of the Renewal movement - is a very intelligent man, with an enormous background in Judaism and in a wide range of cultures, religions and literatures. I've sat and discussed these sorts of things with him before; he's got a lot of interesting things to say. But his followers are coming, by and large, from the Reform movement, or otherwise from secular backgrounds, and 99% of them don't have the extremely hardcore background and years of study that can make this sort of analysis and development meaningful. Instead, they're following the outer forms of the renewal movement, singing songs and dancing and so on, but without any of the depth. So on Yom Kippur, when R. Zalman is at an orthodox synagogue, where are his followers? When they actually need that sort of depth in their lives, they only have hollow rituals to fall back to.

This is the same curse that seems to have hit paganism. A program of developing one's own religious beliefs requires a lot of work and a serious interest; R. Zalman, like the serious pagans and others of the same ilk, needs graduate research assistants, not followers.

But since these religions hold the promise of rebellion, or something different from what people are used to, or some subconscious vindication of a need to be right when other people are wrong, people start looking for the "Wicca 101" versions. And if the groups are willing to provide that - like with Silver RavenWolf and so on - then it turns into an enormous mass.

There may be one consolation, though. When I was an undergrad in physics, we discovered that our department had an 88% attrition rate; out of every 100 students who declared, about 12 graduated in the department. After a lot of analysis, mentoring programs, and so on, we came to the conclusion that this didn't mean that we were losing 9 out of 10 students; it just meant that 9 out of 10 students probably shouldn't have come there in the first place. People show up; hopefully they'll get something out of it, learn things, discover new interests. But the fact that only a small fraction are really cut out to make it their life's work isn't necessarily a bad thing at all.

So, despite the hordes of Wicca-in-a-box'ers, I still have some faith that the really serious people - of whom I still know several - can and will do something very productive.

I just tend to send away anyone who points too much at Wicca. Possibly with an admonition to read Frazer. Unabridged. :)
syzygy
Dec. 17th, 2004 12:50 am (UTC)
I've often complained that there there are no 200 or 300 courses in any so-called New Age religion/etc. Once I've aquainted myself with the basic information in a subject, after that it's mainly repitition of the basics with a few scraps of new information.

Of course it's been awhile since this was prominent in my thoughts, so I don't remember exactly what I was complaining about.

There are occasionally 500 and 600 courses (unofficially) but these often seem to have more to do with obscure information and hype, less to do with actual spiritual accomplishment.

I have basically come to the conclusion that there are few good teachers, and I should consider Providence (so to speak) to be my primary teacher.

Meanwhile my view of Wicca is that it falls prey to the usual disease which afflicts such large bodies, the ill health of organized religion. I appreciate that it's out there so that heathens can begin to be counted, but I wouldn't want to be a part of it myself.

I must say, though, that although the tarot may be drenched in Christian symbolism, that doesn't make it originally Christian. After all, even Christianity isn't all originally Christian; it adopted a great deal of Hellenism, mystery religions, local religion, and so on as you know. The tarot seems to have emerged from this syncretic stream, but whether Christianity was the most influential ingredient is at the very least not certain, and possibly unlikely. Of course as you also know the tarot isn't actually that old, though number symbolism is a different story.

Idealization of others in religious and related spheres is always risky. To paraphrase Blake, if I don't construct my own system I'll become a slave to someone else's. That idealization provides to the object so many benefits that it's much too tempting. Authentic wisdom is so rare, so hardwon, and I believe even great individuals don't have it constantly--it's much easier to fake it, and more satisfying for many all around. But I find that this is nearly universal, I've come to expect it, and I'm not shocked when I see it occur. It's sad for the people who follow such leaders, but I don't think a passive person with poor judgement who really just seeks to have their life laid out for them would benefit so much from a real teacher either. And as far of the leaders go, they spend their lives working for monopoly money, though I'm agnostic concerning the consequences of that. So there isn't much to get upset about, on the general level.
lysystratae
Dec. 17th, 2004 03:47 am (UTC)
All in all, you've just summed up most of why I ignore my so-called peers and remain a solitary little hedgewitch, lol... anyone who doesnt want to admit we're making it up as we go along is a fool...
pope_guilty
Dec. 17th, 2004 09:45 am (UTC)
I've never understood why coming at stuff from an ancient perspective is somehow better than making up new shit, provided it works.

I mean, honestly, that's like using the telegraph despite having a brand new computer with a T3 line hooked up to it. Sure, there's some style involved with the telegraph, but there's little other reason to use it.
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trainerjonathan
Dec. 17th, 2004 07:02 am (UTC)
I guess I just don't really see this as a serious condemnation. In my mind of course the founding myths of a religion are factually false.

The point about centralized hierarchy, well, doesn't every informal group, from high-school cliques to, as you say, the Baptist convention, pretty much do this anyway? Why is that actually strange?

Your previous points to prove that Wicca is not law abiding also, in context, seem technically true but not serious. According to you, Wicca tries to be open minded and occasionally takes it to far, tolerating actual criminality. At least as far as their willingness to hand-fast goes, this seems to me to be more of a case of stupid laws don't deserve to be obeyed.

I've never specifically called myself a Wiccan, though I have read The Spiral Dance and Ride a Silver Broomstick. Still, I don't see this series as a particularly serious condemnation.
jholloway
Dec. 20th, 2004 02:24 am (UTC)
I guess I just don't really see this as a serious condemnation. In my mind of course the founding myths of a religion are factually false.

I agree completely -- I think that the only thing that makes this trait more irritating in Wiccans than in, say, Anglicans is that Anglican bishops occasionally go around saying that they're not sure the story of the Bible happened as reported, whereas there isn't much of a public voice of Wiccans saying "yeah, it's all just for color." Mind you, sooner or later every Wiccan who isn't some kind of a dolt comes to this conclusion and either moves on or accepts it. But publicly they're still wed to the "ancient secret religion nobody ever heard of" thing.
valkyriefire
Dec. 17th, 2004 07:06 am (UTC)
Not sure I agree
Knowing enough about the Inqisition and witch trials in Europe, no 9 million. Having read the Malleus Maleficiarum which ended up becoming the manual of hunting witches I've come to the personal conclusion that the witch trials were more about finding a politically expedient community to persecute. Disenfranchised people are always a good pick, hence the poor, the old, the unmarried, and most always women.

I view these trials, especially heinous in Germany (big shocker there) were more about warring between emerging Protestant ideology with old time Catholocism. Yes, men got killed. Overwhelmingly, the victims were women, though. They had less power and protection.

Does the number - 200,000 or 2,000,000 really make a difference?

I have no problems admitting I'm reconstructing my faith. Then again, I've got a strong background in religion from childhood on. My undergrad degrees are in Relgious Studies, Irish Studies and Anthropology.

I realize that we have no definitive proof of an Old Europe matriarchal culture. That's why responsible books call certain communities matrifocal, because even with the patriarchal bias (ooo, she said the scary word - assemble the troops!), there is enough archaeological evidence to comfortably, scientifically theorize that communities like Catal Hyuk and Crete were matrifocal. Matrifocal is very different from matriarchal.

Of course worship of a female divine and respect given to roles for women does not guarantee a non-patriarchal society, especially when one gets over the idea that "rule of the fathers" must be both denotation and connotation. My understanding of patriarchy is the idea that someone must be better than someone else - heirarchy.

However, I've studied quite intimately ancient Irish Celtic society (learned Ancient Irish and first hand translated documents to compare with their previous translations). They were very respectful toward women (women had more equality under the law, economically, and socially than women do today), and still had slaves. So it was a classist and somewhat racist society, therefore heirarchical. They DID have triune Goddesses, but no concept of Maiden, Mother, or Crone. They DID celebrate most of the 8 sabbats, as did the Norse, they simply did it based on their acutal seasons, not predescribed ones. Most of the names for the sabbats come from the Celtic celebrations. I've seen the documents, and you're welcome to challenge it. They're in the archives at University College Cork. My Ancient Irish books are available to you as well.

Realize that all books, all writings have a bias in them - yours, mine, Burroughs, etc. You can certainly pick and choose whose bias you're going to point out and whose you're going to suppress, but a thesis that does not make.

Right or wrong, I think you've left out information, stressed other information, and deliberately mislead readers to make your point (which seems to stem from a personal dislike of religion in general, not just Wicca). This is what you have accused Wiccans and Christians of doing.

Bottom line for me is: Faith is faith. Dogmatic or cynical, faith is a liminal concept that wraps itself around a lot of other aspects of a person; their psychology, education, intellect, personality, etc. People are going to believe what they believe, regardless of how much that pisses you off or pisses me off. Most of the time, it has little to nothing to do with the facts. Only a rare few will continually challenge their beliefs.

So what you've managed to do is re-establish the beliefs of those who think Wicca is evil, hypocritical hooey and reconfirm to Wiccans that theirs is a persecuted faith. I don't think you've managed to engage the reader for any real change, discussion, or thoughtful reflection. Then again, I'm not certain that's what you're trying to do. Inflammatory rhetoric is easy, even when it's intellectual in nature, and it gets readers.
drooling_ferret
Dec. 17th, 2004 07:45 am (UTC)
Re: Not sure I agree
This doesn't have much to do with the progression of your comment, but I wanted to address this:

Bottom line for me is: Faith is faith. Dogmatic or cynical, faith is a liminal concept that wraps itself around a lot of other aspects of a person; their psychology, education, intellect, personality, etc. People are going to believe what they believe, regardless of how much that pisses you off or pisses me off. Most of the time, it has little to nothing to do with the facts. Only a rare few will continually challenge their beliefs.

Why do you think that is? (This question is intended as nothing more than an actual request for your, apparently, educated opinion and any supporting facts you'd like to include.)
Re: Not sure I agree - lysystratae - Dec. 17th, 2004 11:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Not sure I agree - valkyriefire - Dec. 20th, 2004 10:02 am (UTC) - Expand
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Re: Not sure I agree - jholloway - Dec. 20th, 2004 02:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Re: Built on Sandy Ground - bradhicks - Dec. 17th, 2004 11:07 am (UTC) - Expand
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nancylebov
Dec. 17th, 2004 07:44 am (UTC)
I'm a fairly non-observant neo-pagan. My motto (not original with me) is that I get my religion from the same place my ancestors did--from my imagination! (As a Daoist/Spinozan/immanitist, I consider imagination to be at least somewhat deeply embedded in the universe, so imaginary is *not* equivalent to arbitrary blather.)

I've never taken a Wicca 101 course, so I don't know if they're typically as bad as you say. Would any here who've taken such a course care to speak up?

One thing I do respect about paganism/wicca is the invention of a ritual structure that both satisfies people and allows for moderate improvisation. The cast cicle/call quarters/do something/thank and dismiss quarter/take down circle pattern is somewhat silly. (Why would pritimive agriculturalists do a philosophical concept like the four elements? What are the watchtowers watching for? Why don't we do ritual based in things like money and government which affect our lives at least as much as the agricultural year?) However, it's obviously not easy to come up with a good ritual structure, or else there'd be more of them.

In re Christian-derived divination systems: is this true of runes?
aprilstarchild
Dec. 19th, 2004 04:56 pm (UTC)
I think Wicca 101 classes aren't crappy when they're taught by a specific tradition.

I took mine from a Reclaiming group and learned a lot. It wasn't all ripped directly out of Starhawk's books either (although obviously they were heavily influenced by them and The Spiral Dance was required reading).

The local Reclaiming group also has a LOT of other classes as well. There's the "Elements" aka 101 class offered several times a year, but there are also progressively trickier upper-level classes. Most of them deal with inner work, trance, etc.

Reclaiming also has Witchcamps which are intensives, a week long, with a central theme and then several clusters working on different things related to the theme.
(no subject) - jholloway - Dec. 20th, 2004 06:06 am (UTC) - Expand
sunfell
Dec. 17th, 2004 08:08 am (UTC)
Interesting post, Brad.

I tried to teach '200' and advanced courses during my active time as a Wiccan, and ran afoul of the 100-course 'teachers' who were angry that I told the students to throw out everything they'd learned from any Llewellyn book. Teaching from Llewellyns, and insisting the the fallacies of 'the burning times' etc. was their stock in trade, and my insistence on learning science, math, physics, sociology, etc, etc, was making their pliable students question everything.

Because of that, and the wannabe Wiccan leaders who just wanted ass kissers, and Playgans who just wanted to dress up and dance in pretty circles, I decided that I needed to go in another direction. I think of myself as an AntagoGnostic TechMage today- not wanting to throw that spark of Divinity out with the 'bathwater', but definitely approaching concepts with my BS detectors set to "High".

Sunfell
thesecondcircle
Dec. 17th, 2004 09:08 am (UTC)
Hmmmm. I don't know that I agree with you entirely (on any of your four essays, although part two matched my experience the closest), but I have noticed a much lower frequency of 200 level classes. There is one here in town that's held regularly, and if I had the time I might take it to see what it covers.

What's interesting to me is that I'm obviously not familiar with standard 101 course curricula. I wrote my book as a 200-level (to get people past the bored-beginner's hump) but I didn't assume that readers would believe any of what you listed. Is that tired old history still taught to new seekers? On the other hand, I'm Pagan more than Wiccan and so is my book.
(Deleted comment)
bradhicks
Dec. 17th, 2004 10:52 am (UTC)
Re: Be more accurate Brad
You're not disagreeing with me here, so far as I can tell. I didn't go into detail about the history of Christian ceremonial magick because this isn't a column about Christian ceremonial magick. Had I gone into detail about the magical ritual practices of Wicca, yes, I would have said that they virtually all are taken from Christian ceremonial magick, from which the specifically religious symbolism was filed off and replaced, by people who I strongly suspect didn't really understand either set of symbols very well when they did it. Nor am I going to deny that there's a rich archeological record of curse tablets and other occult magical practices going at least as far back as the bronze age.

What makes Wicca's claims of continuity with that tradition so severely bogus, though, is that none of those people called themselves Witches or Wicces or however you want to spell it, and that the history of how their tradition supposedly inherited and learned these practices is blatantly at odds with historical fact. And virtually all of the elders of the community either know this or have been exposed to it and would know it if they weren't in such denial. And yet, Wicca 101 gets taught the same way to the masses with every new generation. Gardner's High Magic's Aid gets supplanted by Buckland's Witchcraft from the Inside, which gets supplanted by the Farrars' The Witches Bible Compleat (which has yet to be improved upon, in my opinion), which gets supplanted by Scott Cunningham's Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner, which gets supplanted by Ravenwolf's To Ride a Silver Broomstick, which is presumably itself overdue for yet another basically identical replacement, yet another book rehashing the same material as the last four or more Wicca 101 books, as Llewellyn or some other publisher sets out to take yet another author and make them the witchcraft celebrity of the year. But the Gods forbid that any of those books should contradict the historical errors of any of their predecessors; that would give the whole game away.
(Deleted comment)
Re: Be more accurate Brad - mercyorbemoaned - Dec. 17th, 2004 07:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Be more accurate Brad - seshen - Dec. 18th, 2004 05:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Worth about . . . oh . . . $0.02 - felax - Dec. 18th, 2004 07:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
metonymy
Dec. 17th, 2004 01:36 pm (UTC)
"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."

What about the traditions of witches and soothsayers in ancient Greece and Rome? There were specific laws throughout Roman history - particularly at the start of the Augustan age - outlawing witchcraft and instructing that the books of soothsayers - books of prophecy, like the Sybilline books - be burned.

I'm just curious. Are you limiting your analysis to western Europe? Or just ignorant of ancient history?

(Found this post on some random surfing; bristled, because I'm writing a term paper with a large section on ancient beliefs about magic.)
bradhicks
Dec. 17th, 2004 01:49 pm (UTC)
Um, when it comes to discussing witchcraft, yes I am. The word "witch" is Anglo-Saxon. See my earlier remarks about curse tablets and other occult practices; yes I am aware that there were outlawed magical practices before the 1600s. But prior to the 1600s, the word "witch" had a very specific meaning, that is to say, it meant a species of malevolent fairy or pixie.
(no subject) - valkyriekaren - Dec. 18th, 2004 03:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jholloway - Dec. 20th, 2004 02:37 am (UTC) - Expand
naath
Dec. 17th, 2004 01:50 pm (UTC)
Oh and of course in adition to anything you might have to say about religeon. I'm a physicist, and guess what? Every few years they say 'now remember what we told you last year... well, it was all lies'.
Pratchett, Cohen and Stewart refer to this phenomenon in the book 'Science of the Discworld' as 'lies to children'. It happens in almost every area of everything. Ever.

There's allways a deeper mystery and you never ever try to explain *everything* to the new guy. I don't know much about wiccan theology so we'll stick to physics, if you tried to explain to an 11 year old in their first secondary school physics class that atoms are really composed of subatomic particles all of which are *also* waves and you don't know where they are and that underlying this is (possibly) a bunch of vibrating n-dimensional membranes where n is either 10 or 11 but we don't know which yet... I guess that'd explain things to them then. But no. There's a lot of work before you get there (and I'm a third year undergrad and we're not quite at the leading edge of science yet) but the first thing you can do is explain about atoms being the 'smallest parts' of elements and then you can explain about neutrons, protons and electrons, then you put electrons into shells so you can do chemistry, then you get to quantum mechanics - which pretty much develops as the ideas did historically, only much faster.

I assume that with most religeons if you are going to study hard enough to become a 'priest(ess)' you have to understand the beliefe system etc. etc. etc. but obviously not every believer has a deep understanding of everything just as not every Christian has read the bible let alone actually understood most of it. It I was explaining a religeon I'd definately start with the easy bits and then move into deeper interpretations. Telling actuall lies like 'this is how it was in the 5th century BC' or 'and then they burned 9 million people' (what 9 million people? That's probably more than the population of Europe at the time!) or 'and then they burned witches at Salem' (no they didn't, they pressed and hung some people after some stupid girls slandered them...) that's bad, but everyone else tells similar stories. I mean, are we expected to *believe* the absolute truth of Genesis 1? Are we expected to believe the absolute truth of the Labours of Herakles? Every religeon has its myths, they had to be invented at some point by someone.
mercyorbemoaned
Dec. 17th, 2004 07:16 pm (UTC)
Completely OT, but a refusal to accept this concept is one of reasons modern education is in such disarray. People don't want to lie to children anymore - or to put it in a different way, they don't want to act based in the knowledge that a child's conception of reality is so radically different from an adult's that you cannot tell her the "truth," at least not if you ever want her to be able to understand anything.
(no subject) - naath - Dec. 18th, 2004 09:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mercyorbemoaned - Dec. 18th, 2004 10:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - naath - Dec. 18th, 2004 02:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
valkyriekaren
Dec. 18th, 2004 03:42 pm (UTC)
I'd add to the required reading list the marvellous Instruments of Darkness: Witchcarft in England 1550-1750, which discusses in depths the history of the "wotch craze" and the activities of the Inquisition.

There is important work to be done on witchcraft, but it isn't in the area of what is and isn't "magic(k)"; it's in the area of why, for so many years, the Church was interested in the activities of so-called witches (possibly because after the Crusades, and their failure to put down Islam, they needed another tangible enemy?), and in the economic reasons for the persecution of marginalised sectors of society, including the poor and old, who documentary evidence shows are the individuals most regularly accused of "witchcraft".
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