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Percentages of Practice

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:

50% Wiccan
40% Non-Wiccan Witchcraft*
10% Polytheist

60% Polytheist
30% Wiccan
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?


*Non-Wiccan Witchcraft for the purpose of this post means my combination of Traditional Witchcraft with the work I do as a student of Feri.
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David Salisbury is a queer, vegan, Witch and author experiencing life in our nations capital. David is Wiccan clergy within the Firefly Tradition and is High Priest of Coven of the Spiral Moon, a Firefly coven based in DC. The focal point of his spiritual practice is one of service, activism and respect. To fulfill this vocation, he is a full time employee with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization. He is the author of The Deep Heart of Witchcraft (Moon Books, 2013) and Teen Spirit Wicca (Soul Rocks, 2014).


  • Elizabeth McNally
    Elizabeth McNally Friday, 11 January 2013

    This is a very good topic. The more I have become involved in interfaith community, labels are something I have become increasingly uncomfortable with as I travel upon my spiritual journey. Personally, I view where I am on my path as a melting pot of spiritualities. A cauldron bubbling with ingredients from many paths and traditions and not quite cooked, as yet, and possibly never will be. I am comfortable with it, and unconcerned how I am viewed.
    You, however, make a valid point in regards to teaching or mentoring. I am left pondering if perhaps that would be the reason I have been unwilling to teach or mentor thus far, preferring to continue my personal pilgrimage along my the path.
    I suppose my concern with labels is becoming caught up with dogma and placing a particular path in a box with a lid on it. Most Pagans (though I have had the misfortune of running into a few fundamentalists) are open-minded, free thinkers. I hope we always remain so.

  • Michael Brazell
    Michael Brazell Friday, 11 January 2013

    I think that too often we not only get caught in labels, but we get bound to how others are defining those labels. Identifying allows us to own and to claim that part of who we are, but I feel we can get trapped in boxes. Conflict can create some measure of growth, but if our labels our limiting us they just become another form of resistance to engaging our path. Labels also keep us from exploring if we hold too tightly to them. I love engaging in blblical study and magick. I love understanding Christian paradigms and how others of all faith walks find the divine. There are others that would not open a bible not because they are not interested in learning, but simply because they "can't" because they are bound to never tread those waters because of the labels they choose to wear. The big questions to sit with would be: Is this limiting me, or is this expanding me? How am I evolving within my practice, and what am I ready to let go of?

    If your labels are causing too much crisis then put them on the shelf and revisit them. The journey is about enjoying the walk not counting every piece of gravel in the road.

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