In religion, agency is the capacity of a person to have direct control of your own beliefs and actions. Do you take control of your beliefs, or do you allow others to tell you what to think? Do you value their experiences more than your own? Do you see yourself less sacred that others?
Though some Wiccans practice in a religious tradition that is highly dogmatic and structured, the vast majority of Wiccans have created their own religious practices. Though there may be some common threads in their practices, most choose to call themselves Wiccans because of their choice to walk together and not because of some common mandatory belief or practice. Most Wiccans understand that no one needs to compromise their faith in order to be friends and work together for the common good. The act of being part of a religion should not mean losing our individual identities, but rather finding a way to create an environment that combines our talents and skills to create something that is mutually beneficial.
Wiccans have often found that religion is important to them, but they do not like the standard choices on the menu, including those that may have been created by Wiccans that have come before them. Instead, the majority of Contemporary Wiccans today have decided to create their own religion by doing the following:
1. They create their own scripture. Every religion seems to have a holy book. In Wicca, it is called the Book of Shadows. But unlike book religions, this book is a personal creation. In it, a Wiccan collects quotes, passages, entire books, songs, poems, spells, chants, recipes, herbal remedies, rituals, whatever, that have the weight of ultimate truth for them. These may be hand-written in beautifully crafted leather bound journal, typed and tabbed in a three-hole binder for easy reference, or even placed on a computer or the internet. The choice is theirs. Sometimes groups will create a book together, but most Wiccans still copy what is written into their own book.
2. They create their own rituals. A set of sacred rituals is the structure of a religion. Sometimes Wiccans will create them in concert with other Wiccans, but often they are individual or solitary rituals. A lot of Wiccans find that the most powerful rituals are the ones that they create themselves. Even though the traditional ritual structures have evolved, Wiccans often find that it is acceptable to mix them up and be creative if something different works better for them. Though there are plenty of books being sold that provide examples of rituals, most Wiccans have learned to use them for ideas and incorporate the parts that feel right to them.
3. They re-sacralize the world around them and find a connection with everything. Not only do they find every single human sacred, but they also often find everything else a part of the Divine, seen or unseen. They find common elements taking on uncommon, miraculous powers and functions. They seek out things that move them. Is it music? Then they include incorporate chants, songs, drumming and other musical elements into their religious practices. Is it nature? Then they seek to place their religious practices where nature can be observed. Is it mythology? Then they seek to ancient stories and wisdom of their ancestors. Is it gemstones, herbs, and other natural materials? Is it the heavens above? They pay attention to what moves them and incorporates it and venerates it. They then canonize it into their personal scripture.
4. They acknowledge some version of a higher power. They often view the Divine as encompassing both masculine and feminine aspects. They connect to the Divine in the form that makes sense to them. Feminists have often chosen Wicca because they find it easier to connect to the Divine in her feminine form and call her Goddess. Others see the Divine as exemplifying some important value such as justice, strength, healing, creativity, or family. Many have relationships with a wide variety of Gods and Goddesses, some with perhaps a handful who are rather special to them, and others to one special patron.
5. They borrow from other religions. There is nothing with borrowing. If there is something they like in the Bible, the Koran, the Kama Sutra, they easily include it into their own personal religion. They find some paths very compatible to your own beliefs. They find it hard to imagine any tradition that could not be enriched by the ideas and practices of another. Some might argue that you should get an good understanding of those ideas and practices from the perspective of the religion that you borrowed from, but others would say that the ultimate truth of those ideas and practices are derived from within and how you choose to use them.
6. They find groups of like-minded friends. Call it a support group. Some may create a formal group based on the practices of a specific tradition, but often they are informal groupings. Even those based on a specific tradition will often pick and choose parts that they like, and then add or modify their own practices. These groups tend to be small and have a short lifespan as the member’s spiritual paths cross and then separate again. They realize that they do not all have to believe in the same thing to enjoy each other’s company, share their experiences, learn from each other, and create ritual together. Wiccans are generally opposed to proselytizing, or trying to convert someone to accept their views or religion, so these groups are not often advertised or known to the public. Their meetings also do not necessarily need to be formal either. For example, I find a lot of religious value in a monthly “Coffee Coven” that I host where we meet at a local restaurant and share with one another in a safe and fun environment.
They do tend to avoid some of the toxins of organized religion: exclusivity, an emphasis on life after death, a hatred of the body and sexuality, the authoritarianism of the patriarchy, an exaggeration of the sinfulness and self-disgust of human beings, a legalistic morality that is aggressive and judgmental, and the demonization and persecution of independent thinkers and other free spirits.
By creating their own religion, Wiccans do not consider themselves less religious than those that join an organized religion. The truth is, most Wiccans, whether a member of a traditional structure or not, are extremely knowledgeable and well-studied within many differing aspects and traditions of their Craft. Even “traditional” paths have vast difference among them, so what exactly is it that makes them more correct than these new religious practices? Is it Ego? Do they believe that they are uniquely special and their interpretation of the Divine is the only acceptable one? Is it insecurity? Do they justify our their beliefs by condemning others?
There is nothing wrong with being part of a pre-existing, “organized religion”, but Wiccans enjoy having the option of creating their own religion and connecting with the Divine and the world around them in much more meaningful ways than what could have been attained otherwise.