Even as I typed the title for this post, I realized just how big a topic it really is. This goes into so many areas that I've come across in the past year, such as whether neopagans can use certain practices from some faiths, whether you have to be a certain gender or race or nationality to use some practice, and so on. Due to all the ways this could go, I'm going to stick to my original intention when I opened up this page to post a blog, which is to discuss a little more my choice to call myself a Wiccan.
I wrote a long post on my tumblr about this a while ago, where I describe the conversation I had with an initiated Gardnerian crone to whom I really look for guidance. When we first got acquainted, I actually didn't know that she was Gardnerian, just that she was Wiccan and believed and practiced very similar to myself, but with the added benefit of the wisdom of her years. It wasn't until I knew her for a couple years already that I heard her say she was an initiated Gardnerian, and I was like, "What?!" Because, in my experience, Gardnerians online are the ones who say you can't be a Wiccan if this, and you're not a real Wiccan if that. And actually, there are a lot of non-Wiccans, or non-initiates who say that, as well. But the books I read, and the experiences I've had with Deity, have told me that it isn't necessary to be initiated by another human being in order to follow Deity in a certain way.
I know myself. I know what my beliefs and practices are, and I know that they are not akin to traditional Wicca. Yet, there are beliefs that are Wiccan which I do hold. I was lucky enough to be able to speak to one Gardnerian initiate, and she asked me things like, "How do you do this? What do you do when you do this part of ritual? What goes through your mind? What does this thing mean to you?" And I was honest because after all these years of being told I'm wrong, dangit, I just wanted to know once and for all! And I was not told "Sorry, child, that's not Wiccan." Instead I heard surprise and pride, "That's exactly what we did in my covens, and it says a lot to me that you came upon this on your own." (These are all paraphrases, not the exact quotes.) And we discussed things that we think are characteristic of Wicca, whether it be traditional or eclectic, solitary or group. To me, a person who believes these Wiccan beliefs can call themselves a Wiccan. But people who do not have the same beliefs at all, probably should not. As I've said several times before in videos and maybe on here, I did message with a man online who told me that he is Wiccan but purposely does not follow the Wiccan Rede. Well, I personally feel that there is probably a better label out there for him than "Wiccan." I've also had a young kid message me talking about a very specific practice format he was using, involving a certain number of deities, the practitioner being a sacrifice, and so on, and claiming it was Wiccan. In fact, I assume he was asking me about this because I identify as Wiccan and he thought what he was doing was Wiccan. It didn't sound like any kind of Wicca I had ever heard of, even after doing some more research, so I asked what his sources were, and as it turns out, it wasn't a Wiccan source. He just wanted to use the label. I don't think people should use the label willy-nilly for no reason at all. But I think if your belief and practice falls within the realm, you should not be told that you cannot use a term for yourself.
Gerald Gardner may not agree with me. But I'm not Gardnerian. I don't claim to be.
(I've even had people say I can't be Wiccan if I don't follow Gardner because he started it. There are a good many examples of things evolving and moving past their initiators--pardon the word choice.)I bring this up again because I was checking old comments on one of my videos, and I found a reply from a year ago that I never saw or replied to. It's old news now, so I won't reply to it and cause more issue, but I do think it's good to talk about. Someone told me that they are a traditionalist of the sense that they believe you must be initiated and things like that, in order to properly claim the title "Wiccan." I said that I agreed with their right to believe this, which is why I never claim to be a Traditional Wiccan. That would be incorrect as I have not been initiated into a tradition. But I don't believe you have to be initiated into your own belief, and I think Deity is actually the only one(s) that needs to accept us on a certain path. I told them that I do think some people use the term for no reason (such as the examples I gave above), but that through my research and speaking with initiates, I have determined that I may call myself Wiccan based on my actual belief and practice. Their reply which I did not see until now, says that while they respect the thought I have put into this, they still don't think I have a right to use the term, and since they strongly believe this and I strongly believe what I believe, we should agree to disagree. And as most people will when they know they're being rude but don't want to be, they ended the comment with a smiley face.
I do think it's everyone's right to choose what works best for them. If you personally believe that you shouldn't use a term until you are initiated into a group, that's fine. But I don't think it's okay to tell other people they cannot do something, based on your personal belief for yourself. Sounds a lot like non-pagans telling us what we need to do, doesn't it? Why the ingroup prejudice? I have a pretty good friend/acquaintance on YouTube who has made it clear to me multiple times that he personally will not ever call himself a Wiccan until he is initiated, AND that he will not accept any branch of Wicca other than Gardnerian--even those that developed directly from Gardnerian (Alexandrian, Algard, etc.)--because he personally believes Traditional Gardnerian Wicca is the only valid one. But never once has he claimed that I am not a real Wiccan or that I am doing it wrong. The fact that he personally needs a certain thing, doesn't make him think of me in a lesser way. I appreciate that so much.
And no, I don't think every traditional Wiccan is going to think I'm okay just because several of them have. Just because some initiates accept me and my right to use a term that describes my belief, does not mean they all will. That just means I would probably work better with those who care about my beliefs, and not whether a human male initiate initiated me. (No one usually mentions the fact that technically each person must be initiated by the opposite sex, but yet in many covens throughout the years there were not enough men, so women were initiated by women. So what's the important thing, being initiated? Or being initiated exactly the way Gardner said we should be?)
The fact of the matter is that practices evolve. People change things, the times change things, resources change things... Yes, some people use terms to describe something that has no tie at all to the original thing, in which case it seems like maybe you could choose a better term. But a lot of people fit Wicca who don't do it the way it was done in the 40s and 50s. Even initiates don't do things the exact same way as their predecessors. Each coven that breaks off can change the way it does things if it chooses to. Let's say hypothetically that each coven hiving off changes one thing about how they believe or practice. Then covens hiving off from there each change one more thing, so on and so on. If the branching off eventually gets so far away from the original beliefs and practices that none of it looks like Wicca anymore, are they still Wiccan based on lineage of initiation? Or are the beliefs and practices really what matters, regardless?
When you get right down to it, I honestly don't care what label I use. I have a preferred one, but it's still just words used to help describe my views. I don't care what label best helps people describe me in their own mind. However, I do care when people think they know what someone else is. So yes, we should agree to disagree. I may be bothered by the fact that deep down, you don't think I have a right to my own belief's terminology because I don't have the same resources you do. Just like it still seemed weird when a Christian friend told me, "Yeah, I respect your beliefs. I think you're going to Hell, but I respect your beliefs." "I don't think you deserve the same term I do, but I respect your beliefs." But no, we're not hurting each other by disagreeing. My path doesn't affect yours, and your path doesn't affect mine.
And yeah, okay, I frequently deal with people of completely other faiths by saying something like "I respect that belief, but I don't personally believe it." Somehow I think this is different than "I respect that you have that belief but don't think you have the right to it," or "I respect that belief but I still think you're wrong." I don't necessarily think people are wrong just because it doesn't work for me. (Some beliefs I do think are "wrong," morally, but that's another story.)
And I have known people in my personal life whose choice to use certain terms offended me, because since I know them in real life I know the supreme lack of actual knowledge or experience they put into it. So to me it's an insult to use a term having put no work into it, which I have worked for years to feel able to use. So I do understand that some traditionalists may find my use of the term the same exact kind of insult. They got initiated and I didn't so I don't deserve it. I do sympathize there, since these people do not know me personally and cannot know exactly the work I've put in. The lack of access to a coven is one thing. To me, the effort, belief, practice, knowledge, and experience are another.One day, I will approach a level of wisdom such that it will not even bother me that people really don't respect me. One day, I will not mind at all what people say, and I will not feel any need to defend myself, educate others about their misinformation and hatred, or even to give it a thought. Perhaps one day I will drop my activist standpoint and just let people judge and hate and dictate, because it really doesn't affect me. That day, it will not matter to me that people are incorrect when they think they know it all.
But, oh, readers and friends... Today is not that day. It is an ongoing process. I can feel much improvement from my stance a decade ago, and even a few years ago. But I still have far to go.