Let’s say you’re drawing a picture of a giraffe: a four-legged ruminant mammal with horns, a superlong neck, and spots. You draw a lot of giraffes. You love giraffes; in fact you become well known for your depiction of giraffes in your giraffe blog. You even write a book or two about giraffes.
Then one day you draw a giraffe with a shorter neck. Next you draw one with shorter legs. A week later you shorten the neck even more and make its horns longer and curved. The next giraffe you draw has a few large spots instead of lots of smaller ones. Finally you draw a giraffe with pronounced udders and hooves instead of two toes.
You realize at this point that it’s not a giraffe. It’s still a four-legged ruminant mammal with horns, but definitely not a giraffe anymore, and while you can label it “giraffe” all you want, deep down you know it’s a cow. Cows are awesome and giraffes are awesome, but cows are not giraffes and giraffes are not cows.
That’s really all that happened to me. Over the years since I wrote my first book I’ve been tweaking and reinventing tiny parts of my spiritual practice and cutting out bits that didn’t work for me. Finally I looked at the picture as a whole and realized that while I’ve put together something pretty nifty, it’s really not Wicca anymore.
I say that as someone who’s always championed the idea of eclecticism, and still do. I really think that as a religion Wicca has a lot of room in it for a wide variety of beliefs and practices, but still, at some point you have to draw the line for yourself or your tradition. Staunch traditionalists have been saying this all along, albeit to a much narrower set of criteria. I’m not saying they’re right or wrong, I’m just saying that eventually your giraffe is a cow and it needs to find other cows to graze with.
Religion is the public face of a community’s spirituality. Spirituality is much more private and individualized. Religion is what people agree on when they’re in a room together partying with God; and regardless of the rules, any religion can become dogmatic even when it’s supposedly dogma-free. Does that invalidate it? Of course not. We’re lucky enough to live in an era when we have a choice what religion to practice, or none at all. We can choose our community and choose to either work within an established system or cut-and-paste with care to create something just for ourselves.
Wiccan belief is not what trips me up; it’s a problem of practice, focus, and attitude. In my ideal version of spirituality I am a mystic, not a magician. The influence of Ceremonial Magick has always kind of…well, not bothered me, but definitely not spoken to me either. Rituals based on the Wiccan framework with Circle casting in a dozen steps and Quarter calls and all of that almost always leave me bored and disconnected. So often the attention is all paid to the steps themselves that the actual center of the ritual, the part that’s supposed to do something, gets neglected. This isn’t to say great rituals don’t exist, just that even the vaguest formality is too much for me these days. Besides, I’m not afraid of being eaten by psychic oogy-boogies while I pray.
(Hardcore magical ritual is another thing altogether–I’m speaking mainly of celebratory and seasonal rituals here.)
The focus on fertility and sex in the community is also grating to me, as I’ve blogged about here before. I’m sure plenty of people would chalk that up to personal repression, and it may indeed be, but you know? I don’t care. I don’t want to pretend my chalice is a big vagina. There’s something inherently violent to me about the whole Great Rite in Token symbolism anyway, picturing the penis as a blade; my body is not a sheath. Neither is my Goddess. I understand celebrating sensuality and pleasure, but to me that’s something that can’t be done in the proper reverent frame of mind except in private.
But that’s a rant for another day. Suffice it to say that I’m a great lover of Nature and the seasons, not just the mating season. Add to that the squick factor of the traditional Wheel symbolism, and well, it just doesn’t feel right with my own approach.
That’s really the point of all this babbling–I got my Wiccan education via people like Scott Cunningham who said things like, “if it feels right, and doesn’t hurt anybody, go with it.” Jettisoning the label feels right to me. As with veganism and all the other things I believe in, I don’t expect everyone around me to do the same, or to agree with me. I’m just speaking my own truth, sharing my experiences, and trying to honor my own evolution.
Most of my life I’ve been afraid to exist outside of categories. Like a lot of people who turn to alternative mores I’ve struggled with the feeling that I never belonged anywhere–not at church, not in the cliques at school, not in my hometown, not at college, not in the Pagan community. Still, humans need to feel that sense of place and unity, and often we cling to vocabulary words that no longer define us rather than risk going it alone.
My brain keeps begging, “But…but if you’re not calling yourself Wiccan, then what are you? You need a WORD!”
I wish there was one. Pagan will have to do for now, although it’s too broad; Witch is incomplete; Goddess-worshipper is too narrow and unwieldy. Hell, if I can describe my spiritual path in 20 words or less I’ll be doing better than a lot of people. Maybe I’ll invent a term. Sylvan, 39th Priestess of the First Church of Awesome sounds pretty good.
In the meantime, what I’m working on these days is stretching, growing past my old sense of myself. In the painfully over-quoted words of Anais Nin,
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Cow, giraffe, zebra, elephant, hamster, ostrich: whatever we are, whoever we want to be, may we all risk the blossom.