Friday, May 14, 2010

Know Your History

OMG! Did you know that Wicca is the oldest religion ever, in the history of ever? I know, right? Wicca was started 200,000 years ago when the first High Priestess named LilithAmbergrisFluffbucket wrote her Book of Shadows on a banana leaf with her A-thame when she escaped the first Burning Times in Atlantis! And it’s remained unchanged ever since. Seriously, I read it on the intarwebz!

Yes, I know the above paragraph is ridiculous, and it’s supposed to be. But it’s not that much different than some of the things I’ve heard in my travels in pagandom. There are people who insist that “Nine Million European Women Died!” during the Inquisition because that’s what the song “The Burning Times” said. A little research will render that fact as myth – though the numbers are still staggering (anywhere between 50,000 and 300,000 people died during the Inquisition) if you consider the population of Europe during that time.

Pagans love to live in the here & now – and that can be a good thing. But to be well rounded Witch, we need to know where we truly came from, not to devise a good story. This is not a Dungeon & Dragons campaign where we can conjure up a dramatic background for us to keep things interesting. The history of Wicca is not one where some High Priest or High Priestess was trained in Atlantis by the Fairies and passed down the knowledge since the dawn of civilization.

Let’s get the most important myth out of the way – repeat after me: “Longevity does NOT equal validity.” That’s a fancy way of saying that just because something is old doesn’t mean it is better. Wicca in its current iteration is only about 80 years old. Yes, my friends, it is not even a century old. The United States – one of the youngest of the first world countries on this planet – is more than twice as old as our religion! That doesn’t mean Wicca is worthless or invalid – far from it. Our understanding of genetics is also pretty young in comparison to other scientific disciplines, but we wouldn’t tell a geneticist that his or her work is worthless because it’s not steeped in antiquity, right? Still, we need to understand that we cannot make claims that Wicca as it is practiced today is the same stuff practiced by pagan peoples hundreds or thousands of years ago. That is simply not true.

I’m not going to go into the full history of Wicca in this article. There are authors better than I who have tackled that subject, and it’s a topic I teach new Witches in my classes. One of my favorite books is by Ronald Hutton called “Triumph of the Moon”. There are also excellent books written by authors who have LIVED and shaped the history of Wicca, such as Doreen Valiente, Margot Adler, Gerald Gardner and more. In your own library, it is not enough to have the more popular authors present – remember those who came before and read them.

Why is learning Wiccan history so important? Because in order to understand your current practice, you need to understand the evolution of the practice and how it began. Wicca might be under a century old, but the tenets it subscribes to, the concepts, the cosmology and attitudes come from wisdom gleaned over hundreds, even thousands of years. What I mean is that Wicca in its current form is relatively young when compared to some other religions, but it draws from ideas based in antiquity, worships the same Gods and Goddesses our ancestors connected with. In some ways it is a reawakening of ancient practices using a new methodology to reflect our own spiritual and social evolution.

A good pagan tends to ask “why” and “how” a lot. Why are our Circles cast this way? Why did this tool become intrinsic to our Craft? Why are these words said and what do they mean? Who wrote this chant / prayer / spell? How did this concept become incorporated into common Craft lore?

It’s one thing to practice your faith, it’s an entirely different matter to understand the rationale behind it. If you blindly cast your Circles, celebrate Sabbats & Esbats, and execute spellwork without understanding where these things come from, you are missing the core of your purpose. And, my friends, isn’t PURPOSE important when using Will and Intent to make your magick? You’re shortchanging your magickal practice and your spiritual evolution.

In addition, just going through the motions without knowing why or how it came to be makes us little more than sheeple – those folks who just bleat out the words without understanding the meaning. That’s not what a Witch is. A Witch is the master of his/her destiny and actions. Allowing someone else to dictate how you behave is giving that control away – learning about your practices in depth takes that control back.

This is why it is imperative that every Priest and Priestess of Wicca, every practitioner of the Craft, knows the history of Neo-Paganism. Learn about Eclectics as well as Traditionalists, the founding mothers and fathers of the Craft (living and non-living alike); read their books and learn what they based their ideas on, even if you don’t agree with them. Read voraciously. Don’t believe every bit of hype without verifying it (and not just on the internet either!). Most of all, be in control of your own spiritual practice. Learn your history – it can only enhance your understanding of you as a Witch in today’s world.