Various musings on: tribal support for individualized worship and magic; Pagan fundamentalism; why arguing makes magic wimpy; and the power of forgoing labels.
I'm a witch but, oddly enough, many of my students do not call themselves "Wiccan," "witch," or "Pagan." They're more likely to say, "I'm just myself" or "I do my own thing."
They do tend to be eclectic. A lot of us, for example, are involved in African-based traditions.
But I don't define myself as an eclectic Pagan, because it would be a pleonasm in my case.
Mind you, if eclectic Pagan expresses your truth, I hope you use the term. But the phrase, by its definition, keeps me from stating my truth. I come from a family tradition and a mindset of old fashioned witchcraft in which witchcraft is innately eclectic.
My reasoning: Culture is innately eclectic. The natural environment (of which magic is part) is innately eclectic. Monoculture, whether agricultural or magical, will likely leach away great power and individuality.
An example of innate diversity: Gods visit me, regardless of Their nationality.
If Gods are kind enough to visit, I'm gonna hang out with Them (except for the meanies).
When Wicca started becoming standardized, with a set liturgy and set belief system, I was puzzled. Mystically inclined, I didn't understand how anything so individual could be standardized. It took the life out of it for me.
I still call myself Wiccan, but not with the current meaning. "Wicca" used to be interchangeable with "witchcraft" in some circles. The current use of the two terms to differentiate two different systems is fine but, at the age of 64, I've seen meanings of given words in the pagan community constantly change. If I kept changing my vocabulary according to the incessant changes, I'd have no time to get anything else done. :-)
Joking aside, new definitions that become a trend are often so restrictive that they are unusable in expressing my personal reality. For example, they might overly categorize so that their very placement in a sentence crowds out expression of real commonalities. Or an au courant definition might be based in polarized thought—fine if you like it, but usually tangential to my reality, which tend to be neither polarized nor even on a spectrum between two so-called opposites.
In family traditions, the term witchcraft is often unused. For example, they might call themselves healers, root doctors, or odd lyrical terms that, while known in the subculture, never make it into books. I am comfortable with that lack. The work itself should be what consumes my time, not uber-worry about defining it.
Too often, nowadays, a tradition's focus is on identifying oneself as part of that tradition (and as not part of another, which is perfect example of the new polarized definitions that spring up.)
Identifying oneself as a witch, pagan, or the like can be empowering. Labels have mystical impact. Labels are also needed, practically speaking. For example, you can google an online forum in your field of interest. But some traditions don't go further than identification. Identification just becomes stronger and stronger until it is the sum total. That is a trap for the ego, setting the stage for enormous arrogance: Deep down, the practitioner knows that there's no underpinnings to the identification. So they start lashing out at people who actually work at a practice.
Moving on: When somebody screams that someone else has no power, or is doing it wrong, what I often hear is "I cannot see their power. I'm too stupid to realize that there might be power I cannot see."
I used to be that stupid! Every shaman's magic is so unique as to be possibly invisible to other shamans. Let me tell you a story about my coming to respect magical diversity.
Decades back, when I was an oh-so-powerful young priestess, a friend invited me to a small circle. His wife, a new priestess, led the ritual. She called the gods, cast circle, etc. After a cone was raised and sent, everyone except me and one other person exclaimed that tremendous power had been unleashed.
I was totally puzzled and mouthed to the other silent participant, "What power? I didn't see any power!" He surreptitiously nodded in agreement.
I was secure that I, being so very very powerful, expected more from a working than these people who clearly had no knowledge of real power.
Some time later, I circled with just my friend and his wife. They were very happy about the ritual, which I again thought lacked substance.
One day, I got to circle alone with my friend, a long time practitioner. I thought we did a tremendously strong working. He, however, thought it was so-so. Now I was even more puzzled.
So shortly thereafter, I sat down alone with his wife, and we raised cone. Then I asked her, "Show me the cone that you're looking at."
She pointed to a completely different cone than the one I was tracking. Hers had been unseen to me, just as mine had been unseen to her husband.
What a lesson for me! When I judge somebody's power as less than mine, I might not be seeing their full power! Differences of opinions can come from lack of observation!
I'm not suggesting that whatever anyone does is magically safe or morally acceptable. We need to speak our minds about wrongdoing and support others toward safe practices.
But too often, criticism comes from fear-based ego, not legitimate concern.
Uproars often focus on minor infractions, imaginary trespasses, or wrongly-presumed motives.
I am very ol school. Witchcraft used to be a compilation of whatever worked for the individual. Furious arguments about the one right way of power suppress power, by being intimidating, invalidating, and usually outright mean.
People complaining about wimpy traditions might not realize that such fury helped make those traditions wimpy. In other words, many Pagan arguments are based on "I know the only right way," aka fundamentalism; dogma and fundamentalism squelch vitality.
I'm grateful for the explorers who study with me.
As it was in the old days, we each have our own Gods and cultural preferences in terms of worship and ritual. We are theist or non-theist. Calling ourselves one thing or another is great, but it is a non-issue when it comes to being a tribe and supporting each others' uniqueness.
A tribe does not need group-think. As Unitarian Universalists like to say, “We need not think alike to love alike.” My students and I are fellow seekers, mystics, and doers. We're looking for the heart of magic and the heart of life. We each have our own beliefs about—and experiences of—what constitutes the core of reality, but that adds to our shared journey, which transcends all our differences.
Busy engaging in magic, power, and life, we have less time for labeling ourselves or telling anyone what is supposedly right. We're living our own lives as is right for each of us, and helping each other find ways to do that. I am blessed, because that is what I need in community.
I shared these musings for the old-fashioned Pagans who need the support of knowing there are others like them.