Got a question? I have answers!
Q. Do I have to be Wiccan to work with you?
For weddings and individual ritual design, I primarily work with people who are not Wiccan but who honor the Earth, want to celebrate and build their community, and want to craft a ritual that expresses their unique values and beliefs. For classes, my introductory course is open to all spiritual seekers. To enter into the next levels of study, however, students must be ready to commit themselves to a Wiccan path.
Q. So, really... what's a witch?
A. There is no universally agreed upon answer to this simple and most frequently asked question. Its meaning is slippery and varies with the social context in which it’s used. We do know that there is a lot of stigma attached to the word “witch" but we’re also living in a time where more people self-identify as such.
The Anglo-Saxon root of the word “witch” likely means “to bend or to make” and it may also have roots in pre-Judeo-Christian European shamanic traditions. There are a lot of gaps in the historical record, and a lot of misinformation perpetuated in Western culture.
Some historians believe that the word “witch” was invented during the Inquisition to describe imaginary supernatural evil creatures. The first written documentation of witches are described in accounts of persecution (Ruiz, Levak) The meaning in these accounts is very clear: witches are people who utilize supernatural forces to bring harm to others for their personal financial, political, or social gain. Unfortunately, this meaning that has survived and thrived into modern times, and is seen in children’s fables, secular Halloween traditions, and the concept of the “witch doctor” in non-European cultures.
However, many use the word to connote someone who “bends reality to her will” for positive ends, guided by a strict code of ethics, rather than to bring harm to others.. . In this context, a witch is a person who lives in deep harmony with Mother Earth, with the shifts in the seasons of the year and the cycles of the moon. These witches revere the will as sacred, intending to use these skills with integrity to further the healing of Earth, people, plants, and animals.
Some scholars and practitioners see the “witches” persecuted in the European Inquisition as actual witches (as opposed to inventions of the Inquisitors) who were persecuted precisely because of their powers to heal and do good, as well as their ability to wield social and economic power in European agrarian societies.
This view of the word “witch” was further developed with the advent of the neo-Pagan movement of the 1970s in the US, and the invention and development of the religion of Wicca, some of whose practitioners call themselves witches.
Q. What is Wicca?
A. Gerald Gardner, an English adherent to esoteric beliefs and practices, is widely credited with the invention of the Wiccan religion on the 1940s.
His theory—and that of most modern Wiccans—is that this religion has its base in ancient agrarian nature-based practices in pre-Judeo-Christian Europe.
The fact that secular and Christian Western cultural holidays are still based on these agrarian observances is strong evidence for this perspective.
Wicca branched in many directions when it left England and reached the United States. Traditional British Wicca—the name given to Gerald Gardner’s type—is very formal in practice. In the United States, some branches of Wicca tend to provide more room for interpretation and improvisation.
Q. What is ritual?
A. The word ritual is likely derived from the Sanskrit word Ritu, meaning Season, and indeed rituals often honor the changing seasons. According to many definitions and common usage, ritual also refers to doing things in a prescribed way for a specific religious purpose. Ritual is used secularly as well, to describe things we do on a regular basis that provide comfort and satisfaction, like making time for our morning cup of coffee.
However, for me and many others, the word ritual describes a dynamic and essential human activity that involves three basic components:
the creation of sacred space (different from everyday space) by honoring deep values and visions;
performing work within that sacred space by articulating a clear intention for the betterment of all, and;
affirming the beauty and joy of life on this planet by igniting all five senses with song, movement, scent, color, and special foods.
When these three things are present, we have Ritual.
Rituals open portals: between this world and other realms, between one season and the next, between one phase of life and the next, between individuals, and between the past you’ve experienced and the future you’re moving toward. There is some work only rituals can accomplish–naming, marking, honoring, thanking, envisioning, and crossing through these significant doorways. Our world needs more ritual to increase mental, emotional, spiritual health and wholeness, and to heal communities and the earth.
Q. What is Feminist Wicca?
A. Feminist Wicca is where the streams of women’s spirituality (and related scholarship) and neo-Pagan Wicca practices converge. Like most human endeavors, this is one tree with many roots and multiple branches.
The term “Feminist Wicca” is associated with Z. Budapest and Dianic Wiccan tradition she originated in 1971 in Venice Beach, California. Feminist Wicca emphasizes women’s spiritual leadership, the importance of each individual’s intuition and inspiration, the political and social liberation of women and all people, and improvised (rather than structured) ritual aimed at providing experiences of empowerment for those gathered.
© Carolyn Hunt 2019
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