Since in my last posting I mentioned neo-pagans and Wicca I have decided to post an article I wrote several years ago and placed on my web site, Naming the Grace. The article is about Wicca and I will post it over several days.
"My place in society has become so altered. I work, I contribute, but I have become invisible." The woman, a nurse and mother whose children are grown, had just experienced a hysterectomy. Using ritual, she attempts to deal with loss and seeks direction. In a wilderness area she removes her clothes. She and a friend cover themselves with red clay rune symbols. They bury the remains of the operation in a part of her wedding dress. They perform a ritual using chants and hand motions. After the burial they both play a flute while placing a feather and crystals on the burial spot.1
Other women tell of performing rituals to deal with depression and anger because of rape. They write of rituals performed for peace or simply used as celebration. These women, as well as some men, are part of a movement referred to as the Neo-Pagan Movement. Wicca is a distinct part of the Neo-Pagan Movement.
Wicca adherents call themselves witches and generally belong to a local Wicca Coven. They worship a great Mother Goddess, and in some cases, her consort, the Horned God. Some Wicca Covens focus on feminine spirituality and admit only women; other groups admit both genders.
In many ways adherents of Wicca are a protest movement against religions which allow only male leadership.2 The movement is also attractive to women searching for a spirituality that honors the female desire to nurture, celebrate and be in community. These groups attract the romantic in all persons, that is, human awe in the presence of nature.
They also attract those who consider ritual an important part of worship. Wicca is a religion whose adherents usually start the journey with a strong desire to affirm individuals and the natural world. They desire to embrace community and creativity. Their Pagan system, however, strangely ends in a world divorced of any kind of understanding that would bind those needs together and validate them.
Wiccans base their belief structure on a theory that the first deity worshiped was female and intrinsically connected with earth and fertility. Denise Lardner Carmody in her book Women and World Religions, writes of this theory, and connects it to "ancient peoples" and their sense of the sacred which she believes they equated with "the womb of a cosmic mother."3 Likewise, many Neo-Pagan believers refer to the work of Marija Gimbutas and expound her views of a matriarchal civilization in old Europe centered around a goddess religion.
This view entails a belief in a golden age without warfare. While mainstream scholarship disputes this theory, most Wiccan groups insist on its authenticity and hold it as a basis for their religious viewpoint.4
Although Wicca devotees often sound polytheistic, believing in many gods, they are generally pantheistic or panentheistic. That is, they equate creation with deity. (Panentheism is the belief that creation is a part of God although not all of God.) The great Mother Goddess, as well as her male consort, are usually symbols of the "one" reality. Often, many different goddesses (ancient and new), are used as symbols for the Great Mother Goddess. Within this scheme some Wiccans can claim to be both polytheist and pantheist.5
Since the Goddess is the main symbol for reality or deity in the Wicca religion, understanding that symbol is perhaps the best way of understanding Wicca's belief structures. Starhawk, a Wicca devotee, in her book, The Spiral Dance:a Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of The Great Goddess, writes:
"The Goddess has infinite aspects and thousands of names--She is the reality behind many metaphors. She is reality, the manifest deity, omnipresent in all of life, in each of us. The Goddess is not separate from the world--she is the world, and all things in it: moon, earth, star, stone, seed, flowing river, wind, wave, leaf and branch, bud and blossom, fang and claw, woman and man."6
Diane Stein, a priestess in a women's spirituality group, in her book, The Women's Spirituality Book, writes of the Goddess, "Since the goddess is everyone within and all around us, the powers of divinity and creation are both individual and shared by all."7 Carol Christ, author of Diving Deep and Surfacing and Rebirth of the Goddess, evaluated the symbolism of the Goddess from other women's perspectives. She placed them in three categories and saw them all as related to women's experience. She writes:
"(1) the Goddess is divine female, a personification who can be invoked in prayer and ritual; (2) the goddess is symbol of the life, death, and rebirth energy in nature and culture, in personal and communal life; and (3) the Goddess is symbol of the affirmation of the legitimacy and beauty of female power . . . .8"
1. Barbara Sciacca, "Honoring Our bodies, Honoring Our lives," Woman Of Power, 19 Winter 1991, 63.
2.It should be noted at this point that both sociologically and theologically many radical Feminists in the mainline churches share similar world views as those involved in witchcraft. For instance, see Aida Besancon Spencer et. al., The Goddess Revival, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995); Viola Larson, "Contemporary Feminist Ethics And Theology: Sharon D. Welch, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Mary Daly" in " An Exploration: Feminist Ethics And The Principles of Orthodox Christianity" ( MA Thesis, California State University, Sacramento, 1994, 40-66.
3.Denise Lardner Carmody, Women & World Religions, second ed. 9 New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989 ), 18.
4.Vicki Noble, "Marija Gimbutas: Reclaiming the Great Goddess," Snake Power, vol. 1 (October 31 ), 1989. For interesting arguments and references refuting Gimbutas' theories see Richard Smoley, "The Old Religion," Gnois: A Journel of the Western Inner Traditions, no. 48 ( summer, 1998 ) 12.
5.Judy Harrow, "Explaining Wicca," Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions, no.48 ( Summer, 1998), 22.
6. Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of The Ancient Religion of The Great Goddess, tenth anniversary ed. 9 San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989 ), 22.
7. Diane Stein, The Women's Spirituality Book, ( St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1987 ), 2.
8.Carol P. Christ, "Why Women Need the Goddess: Phenomenological, Psychological, and Political Reflections," Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, Carol P, Christ and Judith Plaskow, eds. ( San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988 ), 278.