Shakti, Goddess Worship and Wicca

Wiccan high priestess Maxine Sanders Invoking the goddess nude, or skyclad

If you live in the English speaking world and are drawn to the Old Religion of our Ancestors, chances are you have checked out Wicca. It is the most popular Pagan tendency with a well-developed ritual system and with practicing groups open to new members within driving distance of most Americans and British, as well as a moral guideline that is hard to argue with, the Wiccan Reed.

It was “revealed” to the public in the mid-20th Century by Gerald Gardner, a British civil servant who summered near a forgotten nudist colony. Historians have since uncovered that the coven which initiated him was likely a remnant of what was thought to be a defunct quasi-masonic order. In the previous centuries a fascination with Druidry led some Masons to take their Lodges into the forest. This break with the traditional Lodge Room was followed up with the adoption of Co-Masonry, the acceptance of women. This particular Lodge became a Coven and, probably in the early 20th century, blended their other pastime of naturism with their ritual practice. This all happened in the environs of the aptly named Sandy Balls forest, in Hampshire, England. Whether the group had forgotten their origins, failed to inform Gardner, or Gardner was consciously making a false claim of antiquity, we may never know. What is clear is that its link with ancient practice is either via masonry, reconstructed from historical research, or fanciful.

Wiccan high priestess Maxine Sanders Invoking the goddess nude, or skyclad
Worshipping the Goddess: Maxine Sanders and pentagram.

It is clear that there are many similarities between the Esbat and Shabbat rituals and the opening and closing of a Masonic Lodge Meeting, details which have not escaped the Christian Fundamentalist detractors of both. Wiccans use of the terms Esbat and Shabbat also betray the fact that this practice was constructed after the Semitic intervention in Celtic spirituality. However, after the cult of Mary, this was the most important counterattack against the global war of annihilation the Abrahamic religions have been waging against the Goddess. Stripping away cultural particularisms, Wiccans worship and invoke the Lord and the Lady. This is understandable since reference to a particular pair of Gods in history is no longer as intuitively relatable to the practitioner as it was for our pre-Christian European Ancestors.

Worshiping the Lord and the Lady marks a first step in returning to the Prakriti-Purusha diad of Sanatana Dharma (“Hinduism”). Also, as soon as one abandons the Abrahamic concept of the anthropomorphic monotheistic God (regardless of its gender) one abandons the concept of complete separation and alienation of the Divine from Creation. The attributes of the Lord and Lady explored in Wicca are less metaphysical than those focused on in Sanatana Dharma, but nonetheless provide the practitioner with the archetypes which guide them to become a more holistic person, and would certainly provide child practitioners with the sense of difference between the sexes without raising the male to a spiritually superior status.

Beyond the Esbat and Shabbat rituals, some Wiccans have developed an understanding of the lost art of herbal healing and most focus on rituals designed to bring wealth, success, and love. The healing arts are not nearly as systematized and lack the diagnostic and traditional training regimen that survives in Ayurveda. The herbs available in the sub-continent of Asia are different than in Europe or for that matter in Anatolia and Central Asia, but wherever the Vedic Peoples found themselves they brought their healing knowledge with them and continued to develop and adapt their Art. Unfortunately, if Western healers had ever developed to the point of Ayurveda, in the late Middle Ages newly minted “Medical Doctors,” the Dominican Monks, and the more power hungry priests joined forces to suppress a common enemy, female traditional healers and midwives. Women were burned at the stake by the thousands for the crime of healing their neighbors.

The personal rituals focused on gaining control over one’s destiny obviously appeal to those who lack control over the same. Understandably, many of these are teenagers who usually have some combination of an artistic nature, emotional maturity, intellectual precocity, or serious personal trauma resulting in alienation from their peers and/or parents. Among the adult practitioners, it must be said, a lack of self-control also leads to an attraction to this kind of ritual. They share many of the biographical aspects of teenagers, but they also have a serious deficit in will power. This is evidenced by the strong presence of the morbidly obese at any public Wiccan event. Such rituals can indeed have an effect on the psyche but these tend to be reinforcing not transformative. Bad news for the obese.

European fertility goddess and Hindu deity Kali.
Venus of Willendorf, believed to be a fertility goddess (28,000 – 25,000 BCE), found in Austria (left) and Hindu goddess Kali (right).

Frankly, for this writer, the Santa Claus aspect of religion, whether within Catholicism or Paganism, has never been appealing. The Druids must have been more than mere magicians or at worst cheap hucksters promising easy answers to life’s difficult problems. However, so much of their inner teachings, passed on in oral transmission, have been lost to history, and all that remains is the folk memory of their deeds. Wicca reflects this incomplete information which explains why most practitioners give up after their teenage years when their need to relink with the Divine develops beyond love and money spells.

Pagans of all European traditions may look to Hinduism as a kind of skeleton key to unlocking the lost secrets of their own traditions. This is an area that does not disappoint. In his speech comparing Shaktism, Shaivism, and Vaishnavism, Sri Dharma Pravartaka draws attention to the areas of non-contradictory difference between these three paths within Sanatana Dharma. While each tradition has the Goddess’ Divine presence, the focus on the Divine Feminine corresponds strongly to Shaktism. Shaktism is also notable for its focus on the Divine intervention in the material world while Shaivism is more effective for gaining Self-Knowledge and Vaishnavism for God-Consciousness.

Wicca does an excellent job at initiating new spiritual seekers into building a link with Nature and her cycles and with the Divine Feminine, though barely scratching the surface of understanding her Transcendence. At a certain point spiritual seekers are best served by graduating beyond Wicca to other non-Abrahamic religious practices that have an unbroken chain to antiquity (or at least are have the rigor of Reconstructionism) and open the doors to greater connection with one’s Self and the Divine.

Peter Laigin, authorPeter Laigin is a follower of Sanatana Dharma with a keen interest in Celtic Reconstructionism.  He dreams of making a career that is reflective of his values while still using his background finance and entrepreneurship.  When he is not working on these side projects he is either cooking or hiking.

5 Replies to “Shakti, Goddess Worship and Wicca”

  1. Cool write up. Followed this link due to the title…. as I watched the very video you reference from Acharyaji this week. I think I met you in Omaha last weekend at the conference. Great to see that you\\’re writing and publishing! Namaste.

    1. Thanks Nicole,
      This is my first article on Angel’s site. I am honored to be published here. If you liked this article I’m sure you will like the one’s I’m developing. I hope to have one every two weeks.
      Namaste!

  2. Great piece; your assessment of Wicca is why I could never view the path as authentic or spiritually fulfilling. Especially for the abrahamic influences.I like your “skeleton key” comment as it sums up how I’ve been feeling lately: that I am somewhat a follower of Sanatana Dharma along an Asatru path, if that’s not too heretical. I have looked to the Vedas and the Gita for years in an effort to “round out” my spiritual quest – not in a mix and match way – but in recognizing that so much of the old Northern way was destroyed by xianity, and that Vedic spirituality was likely quite similar to the natural folkways of Europe. I also fail to identify with those who hold a “cartoonish” view of the divinities, or who want to play dress up or vikings. Most I’ve met in the Asatru community are sincere seekers, but you’ll find a few who have transplanted their old judeo-christian worldview onto their newly-adopted path, and feel that gods “bless” or “curse” them in that Santa Claus/creepy old yahweh manner (revealing their true locus of control). These folks are destined to move on to other fads before long.I look forward to reading your future articles and hope to hear your take on other European paths and how they can marry up with “the Eternal natural way”.

  3. While I appreciate the intent of this essay, and many of the points made, I do have some criticisms which I hope will spur further consideration of this very interesting topic, rather than be taken as criticism borne of spite.I have heard it said that for a person to write about their own religion it is the most dangerous thing, however, to be frank this essay reminds me of the danger of writing about a religion one does not practice or have intimate experience with. It is clear from the essay that the author is writing from an outside perspective, and I do not raise that as a petty swipe, but I mention it because I think it is critical to the authors\\’ fundamentally peripheral and simplistic treatment of the subject in the same way that one can often immediately identify non-masonic authors who tersely and inaccurately summarize the Masonic order.On the other hand the author is searingly accurate in some of his observations. Particularly by noting that the \\”personal rites\\” of Wicca are a particular draw to those who lack control over one\\’s own destiny. This results in the paradox that many of societies perceived \\”losers\\” are drawn to Wicca and other allied spiritual communities. Indeed, the historical study of witchcraft in general suggests that operative magic has often been the domain of individuals with the least agency, power, and education while also being the most credulous members of society. There is currently a bourgeoisie varnishing of witches, wise women, and cunning men that seems to really neglect that fact. The author emphasizes this point by noting that one can often find very overweight people at public Wiccan events, however this could actually be extended further to note that it is often the people who are chronically in psychological and social distress or dysfunction that seem to populate the ranks of the Wica. Moreover, Wicca, and witchcraft in general, seem to be a spiritual tide pool into which odd, idiosyncratic, or frankly schizotypal individuals tend to congregate. It is undoubtedly for this reason that Wicca is regarded dismissively as a frivolous and solipsistic renaissance fair religion by outsiders. Even other traditions of witchcraft (I am thinking particularly of the Cochranites here) have often regarded Gardnerians as the original fluffy bunnies by which virtually anyone can gain admittance to the witch cult of western europe. Indeed, there have been people accurately criticizing the Wiccan tradition from the very beginning, including Robert Cochrane and Cecil Williamson as two of the most articulate and compelling of those voices. However, what most critics fail to understand (I think the author can be included here) is that Gardnerian Wicca is an initiatory mystery religion as much or more than the frivolous new age monstrosity which seems to be his object of criticism. This aspect of Wicca is generally missing from the modern self-initiation forms of Wicca which radically alter the praxis of Gardner\\’s craft; much like self-initiating into the Golden Dawn or Freemasonry in the comfort of one\\’s living room. Anyway, that consideration is almost completely missing from this essay, which is precisely what reveals the authors status as an outsider writing about a subject that frankly he has not experienced it seems. You\\’ll find no greater critic of certain aspects of Wicca than I, but I can also say that my initiation was one of the most notable experiences of my life, and one that I will remember as long as I live. Some people have the same experiential impact from a Masonic initiation, and some find lifelong fulfillment in the masonic tradition though some find that they eventually hunger for something else. Ultimately, the author\\’s suggestion that people are best served by \\”graduating beyond\\” Wicca seems perhaps a bit too dismissive for my tastes, and this is coming from someone who did \\”graduate\\” beyond Wicca. Much like Masonry, there is actually tremendous depth to initiatory Wicca as a mystery tradition, and I think it is perhaps too simplistic to say that it, as a tradition, cannot offer the same degree of depth that some permutation of sanatana dharma can offer people. When we take an unvarnished view of how Hinduism is actually practiced in India we can actually find variety ranging from the largely frivolous to the deeply profound. Anyway, that was my experience during my time in India. Ultimately, nothing is as ideal as we might presume. The same is true of individual Masonic lodges or Wiccan covens. Some are silly and frivolous, and some are places were profound things happen. I think this essay would have benefited from clarifying the distinction between popularized forms of neo-Wicca as opposed to those covens still holding to traditional praxes and initiatory lineage. I suppose my final point is that the tone of this essay betrays two flaws. First, a lack of genuine interest in the subject being written about, and two, meaningful personal experience on the part of the author. I would close with one more positive comment which also builds on my other observations I hope. The author comments that the duotheistic model of Wiccan theology is a step in returning to the Purusha-Prakriti dyad of Santana dharma, and in substance I completely agree. In fact Gardner\\’s Wicca is a fascinating pastiche much like its free Masonic sire. One of the most appealing and intriguing aspects of Garderian Wicca are the overtly tantric symbols and practices. Indeed, although for most people neo-Wicca seems to be expressed as a decidedly right hand path concerned with self-help spells, initiatory Wicca is easily practiced as a more philosophical and practical left-hand path which provides all the opportunity needed for one lifetime of gnosis borne of transgressive and antinomian means. This is another reason why I suggest that it may be condescending for the author to suggest that people should categorically graduate beyond Wicca and adopt Hinduism or something. Simply put, it rings a bit arrogant and definitely too dismissive for an essay that is to be taken seriously by readers with some sophistication on the subject, and although it might be uncomfortable to offer that feedback I hope it will be useful in the author\\’s future adventures in writing about comparative religion.

  4. Shaman Bloodstone says: Reply

    A lovely essay and something that I have looked into a lot in my own Wiccan path. I like how you describe both western Paganism and Catholicism as “Santa Claus aspects of religion”. I often skim over the many books available in modern Wicca and sometimes I have to have a little giggle. Seems like millions of books are published about these instant spells for money, love, and other sorts of prosperities. I rarely see any materials or references about developing spirituality anymore. I often find myself entranced more with materials based in the various schools of Hinduism. In fact, I just got listened to The Bhagavad Gita on audiobook just last summer that sparked the flame of a more Eastern outlook into my own path. I now have an idea of an actual personal theology and connection to The Supreme Divine Great Spirit. Now in reading this, I am comforted that I am not the only one. Many blessings from this novice’s heart to yours.

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