Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Why Wicca Won

Wicca certainly has its share of critics in the pagan community these days. Much of that criticism seems to me justified; some of it, frankly, stems from Wicca Envy pure and simple.

In the English-speaking world, Wicca is far and away the largest and most successful of the new pagan religions. For those both within and without, it's well worth asking why.

Skyclad and the Great Rite. Face it, sex and nudity sell. We're human beings, and we find them inherently interesting.

The Wheel of the Year. Cobbled together in modern times it may well have been, but the Wheel of the Year is a brilliant creation that reaches to the very heart of what the paganisms, all of them, are all about: the past, tradition, the cycles of the natural world, and the cycles of human (and non-human) life. If the Wheel's resonances weren't so deeply true, why then has it become so omnipresent, and such a major unifying force, in the contemporary pagan world?

It's Got Magic. We all want to get what we want, and Wicca offers a way to do it. Whether literally or figuratively understood, magic is a force to be reckoned with. The tendency in contemporary secular discourse to whinge about “magical thinking” only underscores the inherent tendency of the human brain to understand, and interact with, the world in this way.

It Tells a Good Story. The old paganisms survived as witchcraft. It's not just a good story, it's a great story. (Even, in some ways, a true story.) So, Mr. Old-Time Pagan Revivalist, what happened to your religion during all those Christian centuries? Got its butt whupped and slunk off with its tail between its legs, eh? Curled up and took a nap for a while, maybe?

Sorry, a powerful story it's not.

And as for historicity: come on, when it comes to religion, myth is strictly an independent franchise.

It's Simple. Some would say simplistic, although that's not entirely just: Wicca has its share of (all too frequently hidden and unplumbed) depths. That said, you can learn the basics in a few hours, no deep knowledge required. In my more uncharitable moments, I've referred to Wicca as the “Islam of paganisms.” When it comes to spreading rapidly, though, simple is advantageous.

It's Naughty. Feeling like we don't fit in is a basic part of human experience. Wicca, paradoxically, uses this sense to create community. We get to believe that we're not just like everybody else while playing with others who, like us, are not just like everybody else. One could call this the “Island of Misfit Toys” Model of community-building.

It Gets People Up and Doing. Say what you will about Gardner (and there's certainly much to be said), he managed to get people up off their (bare) butts and doing things together: dancing, for instance.

Paganism is like sex. You can read all the books and websites you want to, but you'll never really understand it until you actually get up and do it. And—at least some of the time—that has to be with other people.

Sorry, but that's just the way it is.

It's Got a Successful Ritual Model. The single most common form of public ritual in the ancient world, animal sacrifice, is simply not practicable today. Anyone seeking to create a paganism for our day needs to come up with a substitute. Gardner is rarely credited with the brilliant innovation that did exactly this. Instead of offering the life of the sacrificial victim, we offer to the gods as They Themselves do: out of our own substance, by raising power. It is difficult to overstate the revolutionary nature of this innovation.  

It's Got the Witch. The witch has remained culturally current with an omnipresence that few other figures have managed to do. Wicca's embrace of the witch gives it a cultural currency which few (if any) other paganisms can match.

It's International. Yes, it started off in the British Isles, and—let's face it—the sacred language of the witches is English. But you don't have to be of any particular ethnic background or speak any particular language to be part of it; it's not bound to a particular time, place, or people. The Goddess Wants You.

I'm under no illusion that what I offer here is a comprehensive list, and (as a post-Wiccan myself) I would be the first to admit that Wicca has its share of shortcomings as well.

But those of us seeking a vital modern paganism for our own times would do well to examine closely the factors that have made for its meteoric rise and success over the course of the last nearly 70 years.

And to emulate them.






Last modified on
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 18 August 2015

    Let me add here that, for many of us whose ways have since gone in other directions, Wicca has been a point of entry into the pagan world. Although in many of us this has left an exaggerated sense of Wicca's failings and a bitterness about what it was not, it seems to me that a more mature reaction would be gratitude towards Wicca for having set our feet on the path in the first place.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Tuesday, 18 August 2015

    As an eclectic polytheist (small-P) post-Wiccan myself, I owe a huge debt to the "fluffy-bunny, Goddess-centric" Wicca you describe here. (I never was an initiate to a BTW coven.) Wicca (BTW, fluffy-bunny, whatever....) doesn't have to be everyone's cuppa tea, but many seem ready to not only throw out the baby with the bathwater, but to burn down the bathroom, too.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 18 August 2015

    "Throwing out the baby with the broth water," I like to say. Bwa ha ha.

    In the Old Craft neck of the woods, Wicca-bashing is a not uncommon pastime, but what Gardner achieved in Wicca has set its indelible seal on both Old Craft and on pretty much all subsequent paganism in the English-speaking world. So there we are.
    Quite an achievement, really.

    I suppose it would really have been more accurate for me to have written about "the Wiccas" here; but I thought it would be, stylistically speaking, too distracting.

    Thus does style make cowards of us all.:)

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information