A Barton College student in an Intro to Religious Studies class is writing a paper on the evil side of religion. He chose to write his paper on Wicca. He contacted me to ask if he could attend a ritual or class for some immersion in real Wicca. As he learned more he realized there was NO evil side of the Wiccan religion! I was very glad that he’d already reached that conclusion before he got to my class!
His professor then urged him to write the paper debunking that stereotype and revealing the truth that Wicca was not, in fact, evil. He did attend one of my classes and ritual. He then sent me these thoughtful questions, which I’ve answered to the best of my ability. I post them here.
From the Student:
1) How does Wicca justify or explain evil, suffering, fear, pain and misfortune of the innocent in the world when the basic premise is karma?
This question must be answered by backing up to look at our paradigm and view of god/dess. The core principle that I hope you will learn through your studies is that, god/dess = love. Some folks who aren’t deists use the word interchangeably. Love is the polar opposite of fear. (and I would argue that the Abrahamic Divine polarity of Yahweh and Satan, are a manifestations of fear locked in the battle of good versus evil.)
Most folks consider hate to be the opposite of love, but I argue that hate proceeds from fear. “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” (Gandhi) We hate what we fear, and that fear, on some level, comes from a lack of love. (But that is an entire paper in itself, so I won’t digress further….)
I take a panentheistic view of god. Our paradigm is based on the polarity of goddess loving god and from their union, all creation flows. This is a honeymoon paradigm instead of a battleground paradigm. Panentheism means that we see god/dess as imminent in all of nature as well as transcendent. Immanence means that every speck of matter and all the energy of the universe are essentially the “body” of god/dess; that god/dess manifests itself as the entirety of the seen and unseen worlds. Transcendence means that there is an over-arching consciousness to the entire being of the universe/god/dess. This consciousness synergistically transcends the sum of all the parts of the universe. God/dess can be everything, yet appealed to, and worked with, as an entity in itself through ritual, prayer and magick. Ritual is a Wiccan’s devotional expression of that Divine interrelationship.
Which brings us to the two basic principles consistent across paganism: Blessedness and Interconnectedness. Blessedness: If everything is god/dess, if everything is Divine, including me and you, then all are blessed in our nature. We have all the empowerment and abilities to live a good and beneficial life. There is nothing inherently evil in any of it, or any person; the universe is inherently blessed, benevolent and neutral. Since we are all this interconnected web of existence, this Divine tapestry, we can never be separate from god/dess and have within our reach everything that we need, all knowledge, all resources we need. The path of Wicca is the mystery tradition of figuring out the mechanics of living our lives in balance, and tapped into the flow of nature, which is our Divine source.
Now, extrapolate from there. If god/dess is everything, and essentially neutral, then they are both sides of every coin, every polarity. They are darkness and light, happiness and sadness, birth and death. They are pleasure and they are suffering. They are hunger and satiety. They are all levels of consciousness and all possible aspects of existence. The point of our many lives is to grow in love and evolve through the learning of all these lessons. We evolve through all levels of consciousness by learning the lessons from challenges presented in our lives. It isn’t punitive in the same way one might think of a judgmental god doling out reward and punishment. Think of it more like an instinct; an automatic system in the mechanics of the divine universe. Sometimes the most transformational lessons hurt. Just like a parent letting hurtful lessons be learned by the child, doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Tough love, you know? It is all part of the universal experience; which is the divine experience and the human experience. You can’t appreciate one side without the other.
It happens on a universal level as well. Stars are born, go super-nova and explode, and then new stars and systems are born of that wreckage. Same with galaxies. Same with the seasons of the earth and our own lives. Everything is born, grows, matures, reproduces, declines, dies, to rest and then be reborn again in some way. (We celebrate this cycle in our “wheel of the year” sabbats.) Energy cannot be created nor destroyed; it merely changes form, yes? Matter and energy are the same thing (matter is just a denser, lower vibration of energy.) As it is in the material world, it is also the same in the spiritual world. Spring follows the winter….that is the metaphor to describe the cycle of it all. Our very universe is not linear, it is cyclical. I personally do not believe that our universe exists in a straight line back to the big bang, but that was one “spring” in an eternal cycle of bangs, growth, contractions, to rest and then bang again…. As it is, as it has always been, as it always shall be….
Our version of karma is slightly different from those in Hinduism, though many borrow their word. We have the law of three-fold return. It is like instant karma, as well as long-term karma. Consider this: you kick the dog, the dog bites you, now the dog will forever fear you, acting defensively and you should now fear the dog in return and you will continue to feel the negative effect of that kick every time you meet that dog. Flip that; You love on the dog, scratching it behind the ears and caring for him. The dog leaps into your lap and kisses your face and adores you, and will loyally defend and care of you in return the rest of his life, inspiring further love in you as well.
We believe that the three-fold law returns back to you whatever you put out into the universe amplified three times, but also effecting you on three levels, emotional, physical and spiritual. Put blessings into the world and you are greatly blessed. Put harm into the world and you are greatly harmed…. both in this life and in your following lives. Love begets love; fear begets fear.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Yoda, Star Wars.)
Your original question: How does Wicca justify or explain evil, suffering, fear, pain and misfortune of the innocent in the world when the basic premise is karma? I believe that we are all born innocent. If the divine flow of the universe is basically neutral or benevolent, and we are born with the ability to be a beneficial person, tapped into that flow, because we are all interconnected, then the potential for “good” and “evil” reside in our intentions. Good and Evil are decisions we make on what sort of energy/actions we put out into the world. This divine energy is a lot like electricity. Electricity can be used by a skilled electrician to power a toaster, life-support systems, or an electric chair. The Power can be used by a skilled Witch to manifest benefits, to heal or to harm. That is why the one major operating instruction of this faith is “If it harms none, do as you will.” Harms NONE, including yourself, and anything else in the universe. The big question to interpret becomes, what is harm? Based on our view of the cycle of life, death is not necessarily harm; death can be merciful. Suffering is harm. Causing fear in others is harm. Hate and hateful action are harm. A BIGGIE in Wicca is to never interfere with the free-will of another. That is a BIG form of harm. So, love spells to coerce someone to love you is harm. “Curses” or malevolent intentions through magick and thought are harm as much as murder, rape, domestic abuse are harm. Littering is harm to the environment! Dictating to someone who they can or cannot love would be harm in its own way because it imposes your will on another. You see how such a simple phrase could take a lifetime and a volume of “what if” scenarios to fully explore? But it is paramount that the Witch him/herself fully explore this Rede (which means guideline) and how they can best do no harm in their lives.
2) If someone does approach Wicca with evil intentions and they violate the Wiccan Reed, are they still technically considered Wiccan?
This is a complex question; therefore, I can only give you my own interpretation. In every religion there are the good, faithful folks who “get it” and do their best to live up to their standards of good conduct, occasionally falling short, and then learning from their mistakes. I would call that “human.” On the other hand, there are those suffering from imbalance who just don’t “get it” are falsely in a religion for the wrong reasons, be it control or power or ego. I can think of all sorts of public-faced Christians who are down right malevolent and not good Christians in any sense of my understanding of it. Are they not Christians at all? Or are they merely bad Christians?
So to try and answer your question, I think that if someone is claiming to be Wiccan, and walking that path actively, there is only one hard, fast, requirement: The Wiccan Rede. If they are just not interpreting that Rede the way another would, then there is nothing anyone can do about that. It is the beauty, the danger and the risk of a self-regulating religion. The universe will take care of that indiscretion eventually through karma. However, if that “Wiccan” says they do not choose to follow the Rede, as if it does not apply to them, and they do harm as a form of their religion, then they are NOT Wiccan; they are some other path of their own making. They can call themselves a Wiccan, but they are no more so than, for example, Hitler was a good Christian as he tortured and murdered millions of Jesus the Christ’s own race.
3) If Wicca spells and incarnations do produce results, how do you know the power behind the results is good or not?
I may have answered this already. The Divine flow of the universe, the power behind magickal workings, is neutral, benevolent even, and ruled by my own intent. If I do a spell intended to be beneficial, or perform a ritual with the best intentions, and do so by tapping into the benevolent Divine flow of nature to co-create that intention, then how could it be anything but “good?” I always add this caveat to the intentions of my rituals and workings: “May this be for the highest good of all involved, harming none.” This way, even if I cannot anticipate a potential harm, Divine guidance will neutralize my working, or change it to be a benefit. Because of this, magick is never guaranteed any more than prayer it guaranteed. Spells are a form of multi-sensorial prayer. Sometimes the answer to that prayer is “no.”
4) If a Wicca caters or constructs their religion according to their own desires, is it recognized by other Wiccan?
This is also the beauty, the danger and the risk of a self-regulating religion. It is also an inherent difficulty in being a part of the founding first century of a new religion. We are all muddling through and co-creating it as we go along. We are evolving together, but it is more like herding cats! All of us are independent thinkers and we are encouraged to be so. With that comes the difficulty of accepting others who may be doing things vastly differently than you do yourself. Witch wars have erupted in our community over these differences in perspective, style, form, etc. The short answer is that we SHOULD accept each other. I hope we can maintain our flexibility as we evolve and not fall into the pitfall of dogma and stricture that have twisted and derailed other faith traditions.
5) If your tradition contradicts the tradition of another Wiccan, can they both be objectively true?
What is truth? There is a saying, “One mountain; many paths.” There are many paths to the ultimate reality that drives and creates this universe. I would ask, does it matter if anyone else has the same truth as my own? From my paradigm, I derive that the point of my existence is to enjoy life, to grow, evolve, and celebrate the wonder of union with the Divine in all it’s forms. What delights and gives pleasure and fulfillment to an individual is subjective. Therefore, there may as well be as many spiritual expressions of that Divinity as there are spirits in the world! More power to them!
6) How has the history of Wicca and how it is perceived by outsiders influenced the way modern Wicca operates? IE discretionary meetings, secrecy, fear of persecution.
Yes. There is a great deal of old lore and “etiquette” in traditional Wicca concerning secrecy and privacy that is finally falling away as we emerge out of our broom closets into the light of day and a new era of pluralism. For example, most Witches take a magickal name to use in the community so that their legal name is not used by others and they can celebrate without fear of being inadvertently “outed.” For years I was only known as Sorcha, (Gaelic for Sarah) or the Lunachic in the wider community. I have fully come out of the broom closet as my sacred mission to live openly, so now I use my legal name. Though I’ve lost a lot from making that decision… and gained far more!
In the old days of Europe, legend holds that covens went to extreme lengths to hide their identities and work secretly. As the Wiccan movement came to the US in the 1960‘s, the secrecy began to fall away as it merged with the feminist and environmentalist movements, and merged with the radical social changes of that time period.
Living openly isn’t a possibility for most Wiccans yet, because even in NC today, state employees, teachers and folks living in the more rural or backwards nooks and crannies of the state are still in danger from those who are so handicapped by their ignorance and fear that hate crimes happen to anyone outside the mainstream. I once lost a job waiting tables in a restaurant because the wrong person overheard me say that I was studying Witchcraft! A customer of ours now is attempting to relocate to Greenville, because a hateful neighbor outed her as a Wiccan to the school board for whom she worked. The harrassment began in the community and her boss told her she’d have to leave because they couldn’t control the parents insistence that a Witch not teach their children English Literature. Persecution happens regularly!
The Spanish Inquisition by the catholic church murdered millions and the energetic waves are still in effect. Salem Witch trials are still remembered in the US. Anti-witchcraft laws in England were not repealed until 1952. Right this minute there are discriminatory laws against “gypsies” and those doing “divination” in Pitt county, with the purpose being to keep us from working in Pitt county. Preachers today preach hate for pagans and Wiccans, telling their congregation that we worship Satan. We have nothing to do with Satan, as that is a part of Christian mythology and we simply are apart from Christianity. They fear what they do not understand, and from their fear comes hate and intolerance. They are falling to the “dark side” of their own religion as they descend into seething, controlling, coercive politics and social stricture.
I feel that a great change is happening in our culture. We call it the awakening and it is happening across the board in all faith traditions. People are awakening to the love of the universe and they are growing up from the child-like, slave-like divine relationship with a vengeful god of the Abrahamic traditions to a more mature, co-creating relationship with their loving, divine parents. I think this is what Jesus was trying to say to his people 2000 years ago, and yet they were obviously not ready to hear it yet. We are awakening to own inner divinity, which I think is what all the Avatars (like Jesus) were heralding, and now the time has come. There is a reason that Wicca/paganism is the fastest growing religion in America today. Maybe the Mayan calendar that predicted the end of the age in 2012 was correct, and we are just entering into a new cycle of our human evolution. These are exciting times!