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Wicca is experiencing a renaissance with millennial women today! We may wonder, why? Looking at Wicca and feminism in a historical context, especially in America, and especially its female-forward stance, it becomes obvious why.
Wicca was a feminist force starting from the 1970s as American Wiccans became frustrated with its patriarchal inner world. The inner world of a religion that supposedly worships the feminine.
This discontent built up into a large facet in the counterculture movement, as well as a number of new sects that cropped up which brought women to the forefront of Wicca. Today, the legacy of those earlier Wiccan feminists is still alive, with many witches today identifying specifically as feminist witches.
(A quick note for clarity: Please note that while not all Wiccans consider themselves witches, the two are inexorably linked when discussing both Wicca and feminism. Both groups are subjected to the same labels, same biases, and same prejudices. This is because the general public does not understand there is difference between the two.)
Now, let’s read on more about Wicca and feminism.
Wicca’s Appeal to Women
Wicca has had a great appeal to women over the ages. Practitioners of witchcraft have been principally women. The religion itself is female-centric, with emphasis on a female Goddess.
Although worship of deities varies among each Wiccan practitioner, there are sects which choose to only worship the Goddess, like the Dianic Wicca sect. They forego any male god worship at all.
At a minimum though, Wiccans honor the equality and balance between the feminine and masculine and cherish female power. It encourages women to embrace their inherent, inseparable power and to trust their intuition.
Wicca brings a breath of fresh air for many women by allowing for interpretation and individualization. It is not a closed religion which commands dogmatic rules from a patriarchal authority.
It also embraces things which are typically restrictive or taboo for women in other religions. For example, it embraces the menstrual cycle as a source of female power and fertility.
It celebrates and honors the female form as the life creating force. It explicitly acknowledges sexuality as a force for magick and creation, not something which is a point of shame or burden.
The Goddess has gifted the virtues of empathy and emotional intelligence. They are powers from the Goddess to use for powerful magickal ends.
Why Younger Women?
Wicca has been especially popular with younger women. In particular there has been a renewal in interest from women ages 18-35 who are typically classified as millennials.
Recent events in the cultural and political ethos, like #metoo, have sparked revived interest in feminist outlets. It has welcomed unapologetically embracing oneself as a women.
Political engagement has reached a peak, and often bleeds over into all aspects of life. Socially, professionally, and spiritually women want greater power. The connection between Wicca and feminism is most apparent here.
Wicca also fuses well with newly popular millennial interests like yoga, astrology, meditation, crystals, tarot cards, and more. Many millennials create their own unique blend of spirituality, combining aspects from Pagan practices, mysticism, Eastern spiritual practices, and even modern psychology and wellness.
Similarly, they are open and non-judgemental about new experiences. They tend to embrace any new spiritual practice which they feel serves them. They also tend to identify as spiritual, but not necessarily religious and so don’t fit any particular religious definition. The open-ended definition of Wicca certainly appeals to this mindset.
Furthering young women’s interest in witchcraft is that it has become more and more accepted within popular culture. Think of TV shows, like early portrayals in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Sabrina,” and later in “American Horror Story.”
It’s a common theme in movies as well, like “The Craft,” “Hocus Pocus,” and “Blair Witch Project.” In literature there’s the infamous “Harry Potter”.
Instagram witches are growing more popular, with vivid and photogenic snaps. Even celebrities are opening up about mystic tendencies. Singer Lana Del Rey placed a hex on President Donald Trump. Rapper Azealia Banks put out some tweets about her ancestors’ history and her own personal power in witchcraft.
Some may argue that witchcraft is no longer a taboo subject!
Although witchcraft has had a universal appeal to women, many men feel drawn to it as well. Although the image of a woman comes to mind when you hear the term “witch,” the term can be applied to men as well. In fact, Gerald Gardner, who is responsible for making Wicca a prominent modern religion, is just one of many prominent men in witchcraft throughout the years.
Many men in Wicca appreciate the fact that it is one of the few religions that establish women at its center. They recognize women’s equal authority, and they acknowledge that women’s marginalization in other male-dominated religions, and in society as a whole.
Many men also enjoy the emphasis on traditionally femine aspects, such as healing, building emotional intelligence, and introspection. They understand that it is necessary and desirable for men to learn these things, especially in a male-dominated society.
Misogyny exists both inside and outside Wicca. It is hurtful and destructive no matter where it occurs though.
Internally, men may feel sidelined that they are not at the center of the proceedings. They may take offence to the woman-dominated authority. Men may feel slighted about the female authority. Men may also believe that rituals and spiritual emphasis should be more on the masculine. This is because of greater societal prejudice.
Just because witchcraft may be a unique environment in that it emphasizes the female, it does not mean that it operates 100% independently from the outside world. The context of societal issues still affects what goes on within a Wiccan community.
Witches have observed many behaviors by male witches which show conscious or unconscious sexism. For example, if they feel overshadowed, men may attempt to steer the practice or dominate the conversation in covens.
Some men may also feel there should be a greater emphasis and appreciation on the male mysteries, like war, destruction, and death. They may believe that God and Goddess should be worshipped together, or even that the God should receive more attention. They fight the link between Wicca and feminism.
The worst offence men can make within Wicca is to use the religion for prowling. Men have joined Wiccan groups for the purposes of finding sexual partners or to fulfil certain sexual fantasies around witchcraft, its rituals, and its aesthetic.
A great example of misogyny within the witchcraft community is the story of Lori Sforza. Lori, a priestess and divinator in Salem, MA, was harassed by Christin Day, a warlock. Lori was subjected to sexist profanity, received profane voicemails, and was defamed on social media. While testifying to the harassment in court, Lori proclaimed, “I am a woman. I am not somebody’s footstool.” Lori won her case and Christin was ordered to stay away from her.
Outside of Wicca
Outside of witchcraft, the world reflects a larger patriarchy. Witches personify a core inner power. They believe in themselves, use their intuition, and exercise their voices. This is in direct contradiction to what a male-dominated society mandates. Women should be quiet. They should second guess themselves. They should not trust in their abilities. Women should be submissive and objectified. A woman who believes in herself, especially one who believes in her magickal powers, is a frightening notion because it subverts the deep-rooted male hierarchy.
Initiation and the Great Rite
Men in positions of power within Wicca have also used covens as a way to get sexual favors. They use their status, for example, to convince new inductees that a sexual rite must be performed as a part of the initiation process. Or they may try to convince women, who would otherwise be unwilling, that their sexual participation is necessary in the Great Rite.
For your own safety, sexual acts should ALWAYS be consensual. This includes acts within the context of a coven. Sexual acts are are NEVER required either for initiation or in the Great Rite. If a coven wishes to invoke sexual energies, symbolic alternatives exist for both ceremonies. And if you are interested in joining a coven, there should NEVER be an expectation of sexual performance in any form.
Although not all Wiccans are witches, the stigma of the witch trials touches them nonetheless. The witch trials are the epitome of woman’s struggle throughout history.
The word “witch” became a derogatory term after the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum (“The Hammer of Witches”) by a Catholic inquisitor Heinrich Kramer. Kramer described women as more susceptible to temptations and moral corruption, and as a result the large majority of witches persecuted during witch trials were women.
Persecuted women were what you would imagine as likely targets– healers, sages, midwives, or anyone else who practiced skills or crafts deemed to be un-Christian.
Persecuted women were also women who did not fit traditional gender norms. For example, single women, widows, or women who spent too much time in the company of other women. Or, they were women who didn’t attend church regularly, who were wealthy, or who owned land.
The church used charges of witchcraft and devil worship as cause for cruelty against these women who didn’t follow convention. As the Malleus Maleficarum states, “When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.”
Women disobeying gender norms were quickly intimidated and oppressed by the church. Women with strong natures and sharp minds were targeted. The church sought to preserve the patriarchy, keep women as subordinates, maintain their silence, and perpetuate a strict social hierarchy in which women were at the very bottom.
Many witches today identify with the women victimized by the witch trials. They feel an actual or symbolic ancestry from them, and declare to fight discrimination and injustice to women today.
Embedded throughout ancient witchcraft and modern Wicca is the iconic image of the witch. We may not think too much about her today. After all, she appears in decorations and in costumes every Halloween, exists in emojis, and frightens in films. The word “witch” is often a derogatory insult toward women.
Have you ever stopped to think about why the witch has been long-feared and still permeates our culture centuries later today?
Think for a moment about the witch’s common relatives. Broomsticks, cauldrons, potions, spellwork, darkness, inquisitions, death by burning. The witch is unexplainably powerful, so powerful in fact, that it makes others around her suspicious and nervous.
The witch is an outsider, shunned for living a lifestyle which grates against a patriarchy. She is isolated but independent. She is persecuted for having practices and beliefs which challenge the status quo.
Yet, she persists, demonstrating flexibility and strength through changing political regimes and religious persecution. It’s no wonder that the term “witch,” which represents this empowered and enduring woman, has been reclaimed as a freeing feminist term.
Starhawk and The Spiral Dance
Starhawk was an influential feminist Wiccan in the 1970s. She is known for her bestselling book “The Spiral Dance.” Starhawk was a firm believer in the power of the term “witch.” She felt the word should be reclaimed and Wiccans should summon the formidable influence of the witch in politics and activism.
The Spiral Dance helped the expansion of Wicca in the United States, accelerated the trend toward solitary practice, spread the idea of feminist spirituality, and bring awareness to concerns like sexual violence, ecology, and reaching men in activism.
Wiccans vary widely in their specific interpretations of deities. Wiccans may have different theological tendencies. Deities can be actual beings that exist, or they can just be archetypes or personifications of energies, qualities, and natural forces.
Wicca has what’s termed a “divine polarity” in Wicca where both male and female deities can be present. These opposing forces represent the cycle of life and death, creation and destruction, and the passing of the seasons. They are similar to other polarities you may see in other traditions like yin and yang. Although the forces are opposite, both are equally powerful. Both forces are required to maintain balance in the universe.
Based on their feminist interpretations, Wiccans can have a variety of faiths ranging from complete atheism, to monotheism (Dianic Wiccans) to duotheists (worsipping both Goddess and God with equal power).
There are some feminist sects of Wicca. A particularly well known sect is Dianic Wicca. This sect was formed in the 1970s. It is named for Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting and the moon. Dianic Wiccans span multiple smaller sects and traditions but in general they are feminist, matriarchal, and generally worship only goddesses.
Zsuzsanna Budapest, who wrote the “Feminist Book of Shadows,” created a Dianic linage which has women-only covens. This lineage also rejects worship of the God, and only worships goddesses. Individual goddesses are viewed as smaller facets or aspects of the Goddess, so worshipping one goddess is also worship of the single Goddess. It embraced goddesses from every civilization, not just the Roman pantheon.
The Budapest Dianics believe that the Goddess is the source of all existence, and that the state of women determines the state of the world. Covens often conduct meditative rituals to enhance confidence and recover after traumatic events like domestic violence, rape, incest, and other abuse. Covens also strive to celebrate women, honor the female form, and combat discrimination and injustice.
A notable feature of the Budapest Dianic lineage is that while the majority of Wiccan sects have a non-harm principle (Wiccan Rede), Budapest Dianics believe that harming the perpetrators of crimes against women is justified. Dianics both accept and encourage hexing, binding, and other offensive magick techniques against these criminals.
McFarland Dianic is another variant of Dianic Wicca. It is named after Morgan McFarland and is another feminist Wiccan tradition. However, it has its own unique doctrine separate from Budapest Dianic sects. McFarland Dianic covens limit priesthood to women only, although they may accept male witches at the discretion of that coven’s High Priestess.
Gay and Lesbian Acceptance
Traditional witchcraft has an emphasis on fertility, the cycle of life, and the natural, sexual relations between men and women. There is also a great significance on the duality of male and female, and the balance they provide each other. Where does this leave gay and lesbian witches?
For lesbians, since Wicca is a female-forward path, the embrace of same-sex relationships has been a bit easier. It is easier to encourage empowered female sexual expression free from male influence in the lesbian community.
As a result, many covens seek to include lesbian members like the Dianic sect. There are also exclusively lesbian covens. For such covens, the link between Wicca and feminism is essential and it defines their faith.
For gay men, recognition is elusive due to the woman-centric nature of witchcraft. Some gay men have felt prejudice and exclusion. Leo Martello was a large voice for gay representation and identity within Wicca. He formed the Witches’ Liberation Movement and the Witches Anti-Defamation League in the 1970s.
Gender Binary Assumptions
Some feel that Wicca has a large emphasis on a binary gender in a world which welcomes gender fluidity. In fact, the more traditional Wicca sects have been criticized that their conventional gender characterizations are inflexible and outdated.
They say that the traditional definitions are not accepting to genderqueer, nonbinary, and transgender individuals. New generations of witches are attempting to discover what “masculine” and “feminine” within Wicca means in an era of the gender identity spectrum.
Some things new witches are considering are:
- What does masculine and feminine mean with respect to the Goddess and the God?
- Why are the masculine and feminine deities separate?
- Why are male and female opposing and balancing forces?
- Is the notion of the feminine or masculine divine related to sex at birth?
- What language should we use to describe the Goddess and the God?
- What titles and pronouns should be used?
- Does female-centric thought currently encompass transgender women?
- How does female emphasis and the notion of the female divine include non-binary individuals?
- Are our traditional characterizations of the God and Goddess, the male and female, even relevant today?