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.
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.
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 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.