The Difference–Part 2

Just a Star Disk. I think it’s cool. I thought I’d share. It doesn’t have much to do with this post. Maybe soon . . .

It occurs to me that someone scrapping for an argument might think that in this series of posts I am only addressing Heathenry and Wicca because I think they are the only two forms of Paganism that matter. That’s silly.

There are Druids, Kemeticists, Hellenists, and members of larger polytheistic world religions like Hinduism(s), Voodoo, Santeria, etc. Not to mention g-zillions of tribal religions and animisms. (I know that Buddhism is a “philosophy” rather than a religion, but I always want to include it in these discussions since it is a “spirituality.”) I’m only addressing Heathenry and Wicca because I’m investigating some articles on the topic of their differences. Partly to enhance my own understanding, partly to try and dispel some misunderstandings. According to Arlie Stephens, Wiccan and author of, “Similarities and Differences Between Heathenry and Wicca”:

Wiccans (especially relative newbies) often think that all pagans are basically similar to Wiccans, with perhaps a different pantheon or some minor changes. Heathens, on the other hand, often feel like they are sharing a (neo-pagan) tent with a (Wiccan) elephant . . . they feel like they’re being constantly misunderstood and misrepresented as “Wiccans worshipping Norse gods” and consequently often refuse to accept the name “pagan” at all, treating “pagan” and “neopagan” as referring only to Wiccan-derived religions.

I was interested in those articles and the misunderstandings they brought to light because I have been a Heathen among Wiccans (both initiated and “eclectic” or “non-traditional”) for a couple of years and this approach has helped me to understand a good deal of the friction between us. I hoped it might help some of you too.

As it turns out, my suspicions have been confirmed. We simply see the world differently. We simply have a different value system. We simply have different structures for just about everything–and this makes sense given our very different histories.

Funny thing is, neither of us is wrong. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Contrary to local gossip, I never wanted to convert or change anyone. I just wanted to live my spiritual life without constant attack because I didn’t believe the way the “other team” believed; couldn’t believe most of what the “other team” espoused (since I had experienced a different reality); because I didn’t value the same things the “other team” valued and therefore could not, in good conscience, support those values; and because I was unwilling to inhabit a structure that I found untenable.[1]

And I kinda hate it that there has to be a part of me that identifies “another team,” but it is what it is.[2] If you look back to my posts about “A Place Called Community,” another article that I dissected, and “Gefrain,” you will understand that the Heathen tradition believes in “The Web of Wyrd,” which is created from the interactions we have with others. If others have wyrd (or even untended öorlog) that is incompatible with your community’s wyrd or gefrain, keeping a distance from those who would defile your luck (community spiritual energy) isn’t “exclusionist” in a negative sense; it’s self-preservation, something to which every community has a right.

I suppose our incompatibilities (locally, at least[3]) stem from the differences I started investigating yesterday: our approaches to etymology, historical research, and scholarship and our attitudes regarding tradition invention. At the core of it, it seems that it boils down to temperament; Heathens tend to be a very pragmatic folk while others tend toward the fanciful. To quote Jerry Seinfeld: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

(I’ve always suspected that this had something to do with the climate. With only a few months of sun, Northern Europeans had to get it together, pull their weight, make some choices, learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others (quickly), and hunker down for long-ass winters. Southerners had the luxury of grapes and fate rather than mead and wyrd. I like to say that karma may be a bitch, but she ain’t got nothin’ on wyrd. That shit will hunt you down of you spin it wrong.[4])

Now, I know that bad behavior among Wiccans is no more a general rule than racism is a general rule in Heathenry. See the lovely Cin’s comments from yesterday for confirmation that there are some good apples. However, I know that bad behavior is something that happens in bits and pieces across all traditions. Unfortunately. I mean, every vineyard has a few sour grapes. I don’t hold all of Wicca to blame for these phenomenon any more than I hold Heathenry responsible for neo-Nazis. But, I do know that there are circumstances which drive wedges into Pagan communities. Misunderstanding—particularly intentional misunderstanding—is on the top of my list of suspects.

Now that my inner-lawyer has spoken, this leads me to some of the differences I have noted on my own: approaches to “oneness” and declarations of “leadership” and therefore ideas of “priesthood.”

First, the assertion that “we are all one,” is something that the Heathen would dispute, especially if it was intended to assert that the Heathen yolk him/herself to a plow shared by a devious ass. Yes, as human-kind, we are all united as citizens of a planet. We cannot unravel our wyrd so far as to never affect one another at all. However, to draw on the imagery of an old candy commercial: I’m gonna need some folks to keep their unthewful-gefrain out of my wyrd. Or at least keep it to the peripheries of my web. There are some with whom I will not weave because I do not want the consequences of their actions to vibrate my web.

But this isn’t a choice I make for my community. I actually have been the one to ply for “khesed” before “geburah”—s’cuse me while I fall back on my old system for a second.( I could see this as a parallel between “ehwaz” and “thurisaz,” respectively, but I’m still working on it.) This moves me to my second point: leadership. We work on a system of leadership by consensus. Everyone in our group must support our decisions. This can take time and patience and long discussions—ones in which all sides are heard and all participants are given say. Fortunately, we have drawn a community with like-values and this is a fairly easy process. Plus it creates a space where everyone has a chance to lead by consensus.

I am good at organizing and delegating activities and I’m kinda-OK at writing. I lead in those areas. Another member leads when it comes to youth activities. Another member leads where it comes to music. Another leads our more “shamanic” activities. Another is our leader when we have to make legal decisions. Another for financial. We choose the leader best suited for the task at hand. Leadership by consensus reflects the reciprocal relationship between all folk. Besides, we imagine leadership as a service to our community—we do not want to drain any one member by requiring him/her to be at our service at all times. Such an act would only weaken our kindred. After all, we see the leaders of the Eddas and the Sagas going to their men to build a consensus among them. If it worked for our ancestors . . .

Sadly, some people see leadership as exercising “power,” and believe that allowing others a voice compromises the leader’s “power.” At some point, this kind of leader is likely to face a discontent community hel-bent on exodus or rebellion. (There is a time and a place to exercise executive power. Thankfully, I don’t think we live in that time. Even so, a leader should know his folk well enough to make a decision that is in the best interests of his community—one which will also be supported by the folk.)

I guess this is a fine time to address the issue of “priesthood.” In Heathenry, while there is a strong connection to ancestry, there is no need for a direct lineage to support rank. After all, more than a fourteen-hundred years after the felling of the Sacred Oak, anyone claiming direct linage would be made a laughingstock. The best we Heathens hope to do is honor the ancestry we actually have. Gillette and Stead add:

Wiccan connection to the past often involves easily disproved claims of direct historical lineage. It’s emphasis is largely on esoteric experience rather than exoteric education. [Heathens’] claim to the past is acknowledged to be indirect, and relies solely on reproducing the ancient religion through historical research. Lore retrieved from esoteric sources is to be verified by historical research rather than taken on its own terms. Thus, in terms of reification, [Heathen] validity is buoyed by historical knowledge, while Wicca may often be disappointed by it.

So, for someone like me who is devoted to honoring her ancestors—particularly her female ancestors—there is a level of frustration that attends interactions with a culture that encourages its adherents to make (what I would contend are) unnecessary artificial connections to an imaginary ancestry. Most Heathens agree that it is better to honor what we have instead of fabricating what we honor.

Keep in mind that I do not think this is a “standard of practice”—but apparently, it does happen. Enough so that more than one article would talk about it as a trend.

Because position among the kindred is not based in ancestry, we have a pragmatic approach to priesthood. While Goði or Gyðia lead rituals, their leadership of rituals is not reflective of a greater level of “power,” spiritual development, or rank. Often, the decision concerning who leads ritual may depend on purely mundane criteria such as whose house the ritual is held, who knows the ritual sequence, or how well ones voice carries. This is different for some rituals. Sometimes in oracular work, it is the person with the least skill as an oracle or pathwork-leader who acts as “ceremonial chief.” This makes sense, right? In Seiðr, we allow the best magicians do the magic—the master of ceremonies is mostly there to keep things organized. This takes a certain level of skill and is to be respected as much as magical skill.

Gillette and Stead point out that:

Because of Wicca’s historical background in ceremonial magic, Wiccan rituals are generally fairly complex . . . [and have a fairly specific format]: consecrate elements, cast circle, call Quarters, sanctify ritual space with the elements, invoke Goddess (etc.), do working(s) at hand, symbolic Great Rite, wine & cakes, and close the whole thing up with a reversal of the opening process. . . . [Heathen] rituals, on the other hand, are generally simple and straightforward. For a basic devotional blot, all the pious [Heathen] would simply need is a suitable location, a little time away from the telephone, and a beverage to libate.

Stephens adds that “Wiccan circles pretty much always involve some attention to the four elements, generally seen as earth, air, fire, and water. Some Heathens may pay some ritual attention to the 4 or 6 directions, but many do not, and very few associate the directions with elements.”[5]

So, the complexity of a Wiccan ritual requires the levels of training and initiation in order to lead ceremony. Leading a Heathen ceremony requires little or no “scripting” at all. Now, Ceremonial Magic? That’s another thing. And given that CM is one of the foundations of Wicca, it makes sense that Wicca has the same level of formal scripting/memorization as Ceremonialism.

As for Heathen priestesses, some Wiccans may assume that because one is a Heathen gyðia, she also lays claims to hierarchical initiation. This assumed correspondence between Wiccan and Heathen priesthood is mistaken. You see, in initiatory Wicca (like other Ceremonial Magic societies), secrets are reserved for initiates (who commonly work through three grades of initiation). Heathenry is not initiatory, and there are no limited access to magical/seiðr secrets. Stephens points out that, “while a distinction is made between clergy and laity, and some heathen organizations have some kind of rank or status within the organization, there’s no shared idea of a progression between levels, with ever growing wisdom and spiritual insight.” For instance, in my sense of things, there are levels of training—but only as a rational sense of progression. There are some things a beginning seiðr-worker simply wouldn’t understand. And, quite simply, because of my Hermetic background, I feel that introspective work must always precede conscientious magical operation. But that’s me. Not all Heathens even work seiðr; not all seiðr-kona or seiðr-mannen perform oracle work; not all oracle-workers practice the seiðrhjallr rite. Each task requires a different level of training. But in no specific order—aside from one dictated by logic, that is. And this works for Heathens because, as Gillette and Stead point out, “there is a general trend for [Heathens] to rely more on detailed (and often esoteric) academic sources than their Wiccan cousins. . . . many [Heathens] exist whose research is on par with that of any good folklorist. . . . [while] Many Wiccans have resigned themselves to learning about their practices through books that would probably never survive a graduate student review.” This is a capitalistic publication practice the authors refer to as “witchcrap” (churning out more books than can possibly be peer reviewed, giving them the most sensational titles, giving them the most salacious covers, and allowing authors to include the most spurious of claims, unchecked).

Erh. Maybe they don’t “softball” as much as I assumed while writing Thursday’s post. Sorry. My sources are being a little rude and I may need to let them rest for the day.

I’m off to pack up food and drinks and chairs and donations and donations and donations for a (Là Fhèill Brìghde) holiday with some really rad Druids. Hide the candles, bring the extinguishers, Bridie is gonna ignite the Spring!

Wæs þu hæl!


[1] Because of my rejection of their, um, whatever, I was met with some very poor treatment in the name of religion. You’d think I was dealing with Crusaders.

[2] We cannot work together; I wish we could as peers. However, there is no sense of colleagiality.

[3] I’d like to think that there are groups that *do* work side-by-side elsewhere. I mean, my general impression is that Wiccans are nice people—they just aren’t Heathen folk. And I suspect they like it that way.

[4] The concept of “spinning” wyrd on a spindle is not original to me *or to anyone in my generation of Heathens.* It’s well over 1500 years old. Any claims that I “copied” it (or any of the North traditions) from a contemporary would be hilarious if it didn’t reek of disconcerting illiteracy.

[5] Keep in mind that Northern Europeans tended to imagine three instead of four seasons.


2 thoughts on “The Difference–Part 2

  1. Pingback: The Difference: Part 3 (Leadership and Gender) | Ehsha Apple

  2. Pingback: PBP Weeks 21: J –Jarls and Judicial Assemblies | Ehsha Apple

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