Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is Wicca becoming a plug-n-play religion?

 (author's note: this was originally presented on Witchvox, posted on March 2nd, 2008.)

             “Are we ready to go with the rest of the Sabbat?” Willow asked, as she helped Morganna clean wax from candleholders.
            “Yeah, I think so – got candles, new incense, charcoal, Oakwind wants to consecrate his new athame… Starsong might be late, but no worries, we’ll cut her in.”
            “I like your Litha Sabbats, ” Willow said with a smile. “Who are we invoking?”
            “Cernunnos, natch, and Razivia, for the goddess. Hand me that toothbrush, will you?”
            “Razi-who? Never heard of that one.”
            “I got it off some website, ” Morganna said, as she scrubbed the last remnants of wax from antique candleholders.
            “Razivia – I guess I’m saying that right - also called Siwa, Polish goddess of love and fertility. It said she’s married to a god named Siebog, but Oakwind always uses Cernunnos.”
            “Huh, okay. I’m game to try a new one. Let’s give her a shot.”

            An hour later, the coven’s Litha Sabbat began. The circle was consecrated, quarters were called, and Oakwind raised his new athame as he invoked Cernunnos.
            “Hail, Cernunnos, horned one! Join us this Litha as your power flares to its fullest! Come dance with us on midsummer, and share your primal magicks. Hail, Cernunnnos, and welcome!”
            “Hail, Cernunnos, and welcome, ” the coveners dutifully repeated, as Oakwind lit a green candle.

            Then Morganna held aloft a bouquet of flowers.
            “Hail, Razivia, Goddess of love and fertility! We ask that you join us this day, as we celebrate the bright rainbow of magicks on midsummer’s day. Bless us with your presence; share with us your sacred wisdom. Hail, and welcome!”
            “Hail, Raz… Razi… uh… hail, goddess, and welcome!” the coveners said, as a yellow candle was lit. Unfamiliar with her name, they stumbled through it and eventually settled on the default title.

            How many times have witches and covens all over the world repeated this scene? Many modern witch and Wiccan observances have so diluted the essence of faith, that the validity of worship seems compromised. We do have our standards, who have become universally recognized: A great many pagans honor Cernunnos, or Herne, and have no trouble envisioning a huge, stern man in a green cloak, with antlers on his head. And Gaia, called by myriad names, is seen as a rotund, benevolent woman. Athena, Herne, Odin, Osiris, a few others, have become the ‘recognized pantheon’ of 21st century pagan worship.
            There are hundreds of deities that pagans name and honor in rituals and sabbats. As a polytheistic faith, we claim to honor many deities from many different cultures, and it is not uncommon to mix pantheons.
            But how well do we really know the deities we are invoking? When Razivia, or Siwa, heard the call, how do you suppose she reacted? Was she glad to oblige and attend? Did she feel slighted because her name was mispronounced? Was she outraged at being so grossly misrepresented?

            This scenario highlights a common trend in Neopagan and Wiccan-eclectic rituals. Well-intentioned witches find a lesser-known deity who fits the spellworking or ritual focus thy want to employ, and do as much background research on the deity as is needed to fulfill the requirements of the spell.
            “I need someone who focuses on house blessings.” 
            “Who do I know that works on breaking bad habits?”
            “What’s that name of that goddess in the water? With no hands? I need to write a spell to protect fish in a local lake.”
            The deity in question is called upon to fulfill the task at hand, and no other aspect of that deity is even considered. Wicca is becoming a ‘plug-n-play’ religion. We – I do this too – simply plug in the appropriate deity of choice, flesh out the rest of the ritual, and off we go!
            If you want a love-oriented deity, there’s Aphrodite, Ashtoreth, Freyja.
            If you need help with money, there’s Fortuna.
            Sick cat? Go see Bast.
            America has been described as the ‘melting pot’ of the world. And contemporary Wicca has become a melting pot of ancient cultures, in more ways that one. It used to be that Coven-dedicated witches would devote years to their study. Modern eclectic Wiccans have the freedom of Google and Wikipedia to do their research for them; all they have to do is spend three or four minutes in a search engine, find an article or picture vaguely appropriate, and with a drag and a right-click, their ritual is written and ready to go, their research paper is written, their Goddess icon is downloaded – and they don’t even have to really read or review what they just found!
            What was, years ago, a thriving polytheistic culture, has become whitewashed and homogenized, streamlined for our convenience. No silly details to get in the way. Wicca has become a ‘plug-and-play’ religion. The problem is, the deeper mysteries of religion are being ignored, omitted, if all we do is plug in a name and a few choice details. How can we truly call upon Fortuna to help us win the lottery, if we don’t offer her the worship and devotion she deserves? To ‘know’ a deity requires faith and devotion, a lifetime of commitment. Otherwise it’s just lip service, devoid of honesty and faith. If there is no faith, there is no religion. And if there were no religion, then where would we be?

            To look at this another way: If I have a leaky toilet, for example, I call a plumber. I look one up in the phone book, maybe check a few references, and pay him when the job is done. I don’t need to know his father’s name, what he had for dinner last night, or where he grew up. None of that is important – he’s here for a single purpose. He does the job; I pay him, end of story. Faith is irrelevant here.
            But a god is not an employee or a subcontractor. Quetzalcoatl won’t punch in and punch out and expect to get paid. We can’t assume that Freyja will come at our beck and call, even if asked nicely in ritual, as if that’s all she has to do with her time. (It has been commented that modern Christians spend hours debating WWJD – or rather, WJWD, ‘what Jesus would do,’ or ‘can do’,  as if it’s up to them to decide who issued him a uniform and a nametag!)
            If you’re going to invoke a deity into circle, at least take the time to KNOW who you are invoking - give Him or Her the honest devotion and integrity worthy of a deity. Find out what offerings would be appropriate, and give something back. If all we do with the gods is call upon them when we need something, as if they live to serve our whims, to work for us, is a gross disrespect.
            And to regard them as interchangeable figureheads, one’s as good as another - that is the ultimate arrogance.  

1 comment:

  1. This is so true. Thank you for a great posting.

    I am always a little uncomfortable at large rituals where a laundry list of deities is carted out during the invocation. I generally keep my invocations to the same few deities, mostly from one Pantheon. I never would invoke "conflicting" deities or those from a tradition I deem inappropriate. I don't think Aztec, Native American or Mayan deities would be inclined to help the descendants of violent invaders unless appropriate appeasement were performed.