Most say the largest enemy to modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism is Fundamentalism, and they are right. But while many look at Fundamentalists and Zealots of other faiths like Christianity as this supposed enemy, the truth is the largest enemy is Fundamentalist thinking from within Neo-Paganism and Wicca's own ranks.
Wicca and, frankly, most Neo-Pagan traditions tend to be a fairly improvisational and open group of religions. The lack of an "authority" figure is probably one of the many things that drew me to Wicca in the first place. It's a faith that pulls more from personal experience than dogma, but that doesn't seem to stop certain members of the Wiccan community from attempting to dogmatize it.
I remember reading one particular essay on the wonderful site The Witches' Voice not that long ago that literally left me fuming. It was an article that explained to me that I wasn't really a Wiccan at all. It's quite a while since I dedicated my self to the craft, and I've seen people of all ages and experience harp on about one thing or another. What this person was though, was a Zealot. I decided to look up the writer's profile, and discovered this person was exactly the kind of person I thought she'd be.
It was a person brought up in a hereditary environment, indoctrinated from youth, I doubt she ever questioned its validity. It was true because she was told it was. There was no quest for personal meaning in Wicca like there is for so many who come to the faith from the outside. Going through this person's personal website I came to realize this person was in the inevitable "Chip on their shoulder" stage of their personal journey... which while we all went through it, weakens their writing for me. Also, I have to admit, I mentally dismissed her entirely the instant she described herself as a 'Juggalette.'
I can't help but make fun of Insane Clown Posse fans, I'm sorry.
Regardless of my dislike of what is loosely described as ICP's musical repertoire, I can't help but wonder how this might effect some person coming to grips with their spirituality, to be told their choices are invalid by an arbitrary personal definition that the majority of the community doesn't even agree with. Now, I am quite comfortable in my faith, so I just took it in stride, but not every person is as secure as I am. I thought this sort of thinking had died out a while ago. Solitary practitioners used to find themselves hard pressed to be accepted by the Wiccan community, but that was twenty years ago. These days we make up the majority of Wiccans around the world, and most are eclectics to boot. But despite this, I've recently been thinking about what can best be described as Fundamentalist Wicca. I admit, it has been there for a while, but I'm rather independent in my practice, so forgive me if I will on occasion ignore what the attitudes at large are in the community.
But I'm tired of ignoring this one. There are individuals I have run across who demand that anyone who isn't a British Traditionalist Wiccan isn't a Wiccan at all. For those unaware, British Traditional Wicca includes Gardnerian Wicca, Alexandrian Wicca and the like. British Traditional Wicca is a very narrow definition for Wicca. It is a very specific structure, and does not include established groups like Dianic Wicca, Celtic Wicca, Georgian Wicca, or Raymond Buckland's Seax-Wica. That's right, according to these people that since Buckland left his Gardnerian coven he must no longer be a Wiccan.
I wonder if they still own his big blue book.
These Fundamentalist Wiccans claim that if you cannot trace yourself to a British Traditional group via a direct lineage of initiations, you are not a real Wiccan. The funny thing is that Gardnerian Wicca, where British Traditional Wicca started, was itself culled from many sources, and by today's standards would be considered an eclectic path. Likewise, if one must be directly brought into Wicca through direct initiatory lineage, why did Doreen Valiente, one of the most influential people on modern Wicca, publish a self initiation ritual in her book Witchcraft for Tomorrow?
It's a ridiculous assessment and too narrow a definition for a beautifully diverse faith. The fact is, most Wiccans came to Wicca and were not raised in it - that includes British Traditional Wiccans as well. Many come to it because it is an alternative to the Zealotry they've encountered in certain Christian groups (which, to many, will often color our perceptions of what is actually a wonderful faith). But how can we claim to be enlightened when we express the exact same exclusive fundamentalism when they arrive on our doorstep?
Too often people fall into the trap of believing that just because something is older and established it is therefore more authentic. It's why for so long many people of Wicca clung to the idea that Wicca was a direct lineage from ancient pre-Christian European faiths. Now days most of us except the radical few have accepted that modern Wicca is a 20th century invention. It's because the age of a faith is not the point - it's the connection you feel when you draw energy into a circle. That connection doesn't care what words you spoke and how many have said them before you when you started the ceremony.
I don't want to sound like I'm invalidating British Traditional Wicca. That's not it at all. If a British Traditional Path is what fulfills a particular Wiccan's spiritual needs, then that is the path for them. The point is that people should pick those paths because they work for them better rather than because they've been around longer than a tradition a person constructs on his or her own. There's plenty of room for all of us under the big tent of Wicca, and the last thing we need in the community is hostility and exclusivity. Those are poisonous to growth, and can do nothing but hurt us.
Because we should have all learned by now.