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On the last episode of the radio show I co-host with my partner, the popular topic of labels within Paganism came up and we spent a few minutes talking about what we thought of it all. Although neither of us seemed to care much about using singular labels for our path, it did prompt us to think about labels in terms of percentages. What started as a funny way to talk about self-identification turned into some pretty deep introspection for me.
The thing is, human beings are very complex. Although we might resonate with one philosophy or practice, I don't know of very many people who follow just that one thing and only that one thing. This fact can bring about a good sense of personal satisfaction, knowing that we don't have to strive to fit into the boxes set before us. But it also challenges us to look deeper at what we believe and why we believe it. Even if we feel we fit within one system entirely, there are still aspects of culture and upbringing that shape us into very unique individuals.
I'll use myself as an example. Growing up Wiccan for most of my life, I've always been pretty comfortable with that term. In the areas I've lived its always been a fairly friendly term socially. I never received that much persecution because of it. It described my belief system as well as my personal practice quite nicely.
Moving into my twenties, I began to incorporate things into my practice that shaped my religious work in such a way that made it slightly less Wiccan. Each new thing I would incorporate made me feel like I was moving into slightly more "Witch" or slightly more "polytheist" territory. As my understanding of gender and self-identity changed, I grew uncomfortable with an entirely dualistic approach. And in truth, I never felt all that dualistic to begin with. For awhile I thought that maybe I was just more Dianic in how I viewed the gods than I thought.
More confusion came when I realized that even though my belief systems and personal sense of ethics were changing, my personal practice remained the same. Not only was my practice staying put, but I still absolutely loved my practice both as a covener and on my own. So essentially I found myself in the strange position of having a non-dualist belief in the gods and not connecting with the traditional values that I grew up with in Wicca, but still having a personal practice, public ritual practice, and teaching system that remained very much Wiccan. I had gone from considering myself "100% Wiccan" with no deviation to something like the below:
40% Non-Wiccan Witchcraft*
10% Non-Wiccan Witchcraft
My question then became: how Wiccan does my belief and practice have to be for me to continue to self-identify as Wiccan? Should the percentage be simply the majority, or must it be a vast majority? How much water does belief hold?
I'm still asking myself those questions, along with the question of whether or not it even matters. I'm more inclined to think it does if only for the other people I work with in my community. If students come to my tradition looking for a Wiccan teacher who teaches Wicca or a Witch teacher who teaches Witchcraft, shouldn't they have a right to know which they're approaching?
We like to think that words don't matter, that people will just understand us based on shared values and the conversations we have with one another. Words (especially labels) can be a helpful teacher if we let them be. In my own way, I've learned a lot about what the future of my faith might look like based on analyzing the percentages of my practice and belief. Those of you who study Kabbalah know that there can be great value in breaking down every little detail of a thing to gain a better understanding of the bigger picture.
What do you think? Is there value in breaking down our layers of practice and belief, or is it all equally arbitrary?