Are some Wiccan rituals not so Pagan?

There are a couple of interesting posts on the Christian origins of Wiccan rituals over at Pantheon. See Is Wicca a Christian Heresy? and The Watchtowers and Abrahamic Wicca. I’m glad this is coming from a member of the Pagan community. It echos my own surprise upon first reading the earlier Golden Dawn rituals, on how Christian they sounded in comparison to later forms of Paganism.

6 thoughts on “Are some Wiccan rituals not so Pagan?

  1. This is one of those areas where I wish people would read more Gardner. The man didn’t write about angels. He didn’t even write about calling Quarters. And when some of his downlines talk about calling quarters, they’re not necessarily talking about the elements or anything else found in the Golden Dawn materials.
    A lot of this stuff is not and was never considered “Core Wicca” by some. It was “supplemental stuff,” often suff used in a very different way than the ceremonialists who originally created the material used it. But a lot of that got lost along the way. So a lot of these kinds of critiques of Wicca tend to be at least a little strawman-ish, even if intellectually interesting for other reasons.


  2. Okay, fair call, I’ll have to bow to your reading of Gardner. I don’t know how much the author has read outside of his Pagan Reconstructionist tradition but I admit I haven’t read much Gardner myself. I would point out though that (1) Wicca can’t be completely defined by Gardner as, whatever his vast influence, he wasn’t and hasn’t been the sole voice and (2) the calling of the quarters features prominently enough in books from other authors hailing from Alexandrian and Gardnerian traditions (and here I have read various Books of Shadows, the Farrar’s, Buckland and other Wiccan luminaires). I’m not suggesting esoteric practitioners borrow Christian practices without transforming them significantly, I’m just agreeing I see clear echoes. Moreso in Golden Dawn than Wicca, but even so, upon seeing my first Wiccan ceremony I was surprised just how much it reminded me of High Church communion rites. Move further away from those sources though, towards Reconstructionist Paganism, Shamanism, Chaos Magic and the like, and those echoes fall away. If Gardner wasn’t the source though, who was? I’ve seen quotes by Dorreen Valiente where she talks of the the four “Airts”.


  3. It’s complicated. Very complicated. This is a brief overview as I understand it.
    Gardner met the New Forest coven and found an extremely tattered and mostly forgotten tradition of witchcraft. The members of the coven — all elderly (and Gardner was no spring chicken himself by this time in his life — initiated him and he joined. He wanted to get other people involve and both revive and maintain what he had learned, but realized that it was not likely to do so in its current, fragmentary form. So he augmented and supplemented what he learned with liturgical elements from other sources, including Golden Dawn material and the writings of Crowley. So yes, in a sense, Gardner did introduce much of that to Wicca. However, it was not (and still is not) considered core material, and is actually intended to be used in ways that points to that which is more central. Others (such as Sanders and Buckland) did likewise.
    When Wicca first started coming here to America, there was a bit of a crisis in that there were more people who wanted to learn than there were people to teach, and this was during a time when it was commonly accepted that one had to be taught and initiated by someone. So a few people (most notably Ed Fitch) tried to respond to this problem by creating written materials (such as the “Pagan Way” materials) that people could study and work through while waiting to find a teacher. A lot of that material also drew heavily from sources like Crowley and the Golden Dawn.
    So people began to devour this information. And then a considerable number of people started deciding that they were happy with that material and what they got out of it. So they decided to stick with that material and not seek out a teacher or coven. Or they started forming their own covens and even temples based on that material. All of which is perfectly valid and fine. Basically, eclectic/non-traditiona Wicca was born.
    I’m going to try to explain why this is all important to me and why I probably get a little too heated. When I began exploring Paganism, I quickly lost interest in eclectic Wicca. It simply wasn’t for me. I wasn’t interested in all that ceremonial stuff. So I went looking elsewhere.
    Three or four years later, I ran into a trio of Alexandrian Initiates. I got talking to them, shot off my mouth a few times, and they suggested I join a mailing list that focused on British Traditional Wicca. So I did, and I discovered a kind of Wicca very different than the one I read about. One where the ceremonial aspects were present, but were not regarded as nearly as important or central as most books I had read up to made them sound. I started discovering more discussions of psychism, mediumship, folk religion, and folk magic. I found something very different in tenor and flavor. I found an understanding of the god(s) and goddess(es) (interestingly, BTW don’t necessarily see their Lord and Lady as all encompassing of all gods and goddesses as many of their eclectic counterparts). I found a form of Wicca that I very seriously considered making my home (truth be told, I still consider it a potential outcome int he future).
    So when I see people who are, in my opinion, over-focusing on the ceremonial aspects of Wicca and worse, assuming that all forms of Wicca have been or play heavily on the ceremonial aspects it tends to bother me.
    Anyway, hopefully this better clarifies my previous comment and my overall thoughts on the topic.


  4. I seem to recall that people like George MacDonald (a Christian and an influence on the Inklings) was into ritual magick -though maybe OTO but maybe GD. … anyone know more? Anyway, if it is so, it may relate to a Christians-based esotericism for those Victorian societies.


  5. Jarred
    Thanks, fascinating to read of your British Traditional Wicca connections. Here I was thinking of your path purely in terms of Heathanism! So if I understand you correctly you’re suggesting traditional Wicca is, at least in your experience, less Golden Dawn influenced than so of that which came later? And that any Christian litergical influence that may have been trucked in via Enochian Magic and the Golden Dawn followed that path? That gives me much to ponder. I can see a need for separating between the Golden Dawn and Wiccan sides of the conversation in any case. You know what really stood out for me was your comment that “there was a bit of a crisis in that there were more people who wanted to learn than there were people to teach.” That sounds a lot like early Graeco-Roman Christianity to me as well. Popularity has its pitfalls.


  6. @Andii, seem to recall hearing some of the Inklings had Golden Dawn connections, though I can’t recall which one of them, and I think it was through friendship networks rather than direct involvement. Reading on the history of magic in medieval and early modern Europe it would seem that there was a lot of Christianized occultism in the air, both in terms of high magic and folk magic and that pure Paganism was much more underground, possibly near extinct. I get the impression that syncretistic Christopaganism was the norm and that what the likes of Gardner initiated is best thought of as Pagan revivalism. The polytheistic equivalent of a Great Awakening. Now its Christopaganism that’s on the outer rim. Maybe Jarred would have a thing or two to say about that perception?


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