Day 2: Those Upsetting Words

One thing I do really appreciate about Roderick’s program is the type of ‘building blocks’ he’s chosen for the first series of days. On day 1 he gave us an exercise that acquaints us with the basic cornerstone of the whole religion. For the next week or so, though, it’s really just questioning why we are doing this and how comfortable we are with certain aspects. I love this approach. Easing may be harder, but it’s much more comfortable than just diving right into the frigid lake. Well done, Roderick.

When I was thirteen or fourteen and just discovering Wicca, some of the common words–Wicca, Pagan, Occult, Athame, Boline, Cauldron, etc–were strange to me. I had connotations that weren’t necessarily kind or accurate. I didn’t know it then, but I was struggling with the language of Wicca, and the way it used a lot of words was not always in line with how I had been taught to use them. There really is a comfort level that has to be acquired with some of the language so that the abstraction the language creates does not interfere with the experience.

As a person who has decided to study a branch of language, the fact that Roderick addresses the concept–and does it so early–is downright shocking. The fact is that the sign and the signifier are erroneously one and the same to many. But, as Roderick says:

To Wiccans, a word is not reality itself. For example, the word ‘apple’ is not itself an apple. You can hear the word and understand it intellectually. However, in order to know an apple you must hold it in your hands, smell it, and take a big juicy bite.

Language can facilitate understanding between two parties, but it cannot replace direct experience. And this religion or spirituality is about personal experience. We are each our own priest. We are expected to discover first hand, not to receive a dissemination. It is an incredibly elegant point.

Exercise:

As you walk the Wiccan path, you will eventually have your own experiences of direct mystical contact with the divine. But before that happens, it is understandable and natural that you might struggle with the language of Wicca, which often flies in the face of convention and social norm. As a practice today, take a look at the list of words that follow

Wicca Ritual Pagan
Witchcraft
Magic
Spell
Power Occult
Earth-Religion

Regarding each of these words, explore the following questions:

  • What is my comfort level in using each word?
  • How do I understand each word?
  • How do I imagine that each word impacts other people who are not involved with Wicca?

Wicca
In my understanding, Wicca is a religious/spiritual practice in which direct experience, particularly with nature, is privileged over all else. We are expected to seek out the divine outside and within ourselves. We are our own ministers, we are our own priests. And because of this, we are accountable to our own selves. So we strive to maintain the connections, but if we do let them drop, we know we’ve got only ourselves to blame and only ourselves.

I think Wicca is largely unique in this incorporation of self-reliance and responsibility. If it isn’t unique in the incorporation, it surely is in the extent. From what I’ve seen, its the only one that puts the agent of change in the hands of the practitioner. By this, of course, I mean magic. Other religions have you petition an exterior divine being in prayer. Others have you meditate on an issue. Only Wicca grants you the tools to effect change. Wiccans recognize this actively shape their own destinies.

As I’ve touched on before, Wicca is also a very new religion, and as such, it is unorganized and highly plastic. Moreover, it could easily be argued that the many forms the religion now takes are leagues removed from any practiced in post-war Britain. Sometimes I think that this aspect is forgotten both within and outside the group.

I think that people unfamiliar with Wicca confuse it with malicious (or worse…silly) Hollywood witches and sensationalism. My comfort level in using the word is probably about a 6. I’m very comfortable using it amongst those in the know, but I’d likely say I was ‘spiritual’ or something amongst the general populace.

Witchcraft
There was a time in my life when I saw “Wicca” and “Witchcraft” as largely synonymous. Indeed, I once saw “Witch” as a word of power. I no longer feel that way. I think people drawn to the sensational aspects of the religion prefer to use the Witch word. I find those people silly, superficial, and even exploitative.

I also have issues with the historical usage. To me, Wicca is a new philosophy that shares very little with the “Witchcraft” of meeting with the Dark Man, signing your name in his book, causing crops to wither, etc. Throughout much of history, to be accused as a witch meant something very specific and very negative. Because of this, I sincerely doubt that any possible practitioners of any indigenous religion would have called themselves witches.

My comfort level in using the word? Meh, probably about an 8 or 9. I think the world-at-large recognizes a lot of the connotations I’ve discussed.

Power
In a Wiccan context, this means that state of being one with everything and being able to tap and move that connection. Its moving the energy, really. Comfort level? Probably about a 10, though I think others might think I was talking about having power over something.

Ritual
To me, a ritual is a ‘working’ full of symbols. It’s usually longer than you’d think…I like to think of them as ‘top heavy,’ all this preparation to get you in the mindset, to focus your intent. My comfort level is about a 10. I think ‘ritual’ means ‘ritual’ in pretty much every belief system.

Magic
This is where unicorns come from! Nah…I think it’s that web of connection infusing everything. My comfort level is roughly an 8. I’m pretty sure that most people in and out of Wicca cling to the unicorn aspect a bit too much, which is sad. That’s just “useless wand waving.” (Thanks to JK Rowling for that infinitely useful phrase!)

Occult
Bah, it just means ‘hidden’ or ‘secret.’ It’s even used in medical terms. I can’t say I use it much to refer to my practices…I don’t consider them hidden even though I take pains not to be ridiculously overt about them. To me, occult is more late 19th/early 20th century Rosicrucian revival/Order of the Golden Dawn/Aleister Crowley stuff than anything else. It’s the rough foundation of what we’ve got now. It’s another one of those showy words that I think the “Witch” crowd is fond of. My level of comfort is probably about a 6.

Pagan
Now here’s where I know I’ve made a drastic change from my upbringing. Pagan was practically a dirty word to my grandma-, but I find it warm and comforting. Sort of like “Hippie.” I know to most it means ‘non-Christian’ or worse…but it just conjures image of a cool, hip, granola-munching earth-momma to me. Someone who trys to respect the earth and those who live on it. Comfort level? Probably a 9.

Spell
Sort of like the act of using the power in my book. I’ve grown to dislike the word (again with the showy shock connotations), but not as much as I have ‘Witch.’ Perhaps an 8?

Earth-Religion
What I hope my granola-munching Pagan practices. Again, a lot of earth reverence, working with the seasons, etc. My comfort level’s probably about a 15 on that scale of 1-10

How do my responses match up with Roderick’s definitions?
Pretty close, I’ve got to say. I think I’ve got a better one for Wicca, though. 🙂

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