Coming Home – Wiccan and Pagan Conversion

Wiccan_five_elements_1

Most religions and spiritual traditions under the Pagan umbrella never seek converts. The idea of converting or seeking members or adherents to Wicca, Druidry or other Non/Pre-Abrahamic religions is mostly considered unnecessary. “If that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without,” goes the familiar line from the Charge of the Goddess, a prayer or invocation that is used primarily by Wiccans. For most Wiccans and Pagans, the spiritual truths are within you. To join most Pagan faiths means you learn to explore and experience the spiritual dimensions on your own terms or guided by a competent Elder. When I first began this Interfaith journey my sponsor and advisor reminded me that what distinguishes Wicca from most other faiths, especially Muslim, Christian and Judaic traditions are in fact ‘faith’. Most Wiccans see their practice as experiential, rather than faith-based. We find our Spiritual nature through experiences, training and meditation or path working. For decades the typical seeker of Wicca has been adult and coming from another faith, one that belonged to their family. What Seekers in Wicca experience is more formative, an epiphany even.  But it is true that many Wiccans learn or experience their faith through books and other resources, before the more significant teachings or values are learned. Ultimately the goal is to become High Priest or Priestess, either of their own practice – what is known as a Solitary – or to be responsible for the training and advancement of their coven or group. In essence to guide other Seekers to the same position.

Wicca is highly decentralized; across separate or similar traditions with no one Leader, or Elder as the main spokesperson such as Catholics have the Pope. Men or more often women lead or are the authority of their own coven, group or community. But there are many commonalities in the Craft and there is great consensus on many esoteric matters. Wiccan study groups or covens will never take as students anyone not of legal age. If a parent’s vouching or approval is possible that can be accommodated, but usually most underage folks are gently told to read some good background backs and come back when they reach the legal age. Now a whole other side-topic would revolve around 2nd or more generations of families who are Wiccan. In some cases there are even grandchildren in Craft families. For many years, decades, some Wiccans believed that they should give their children all the information they need, but the decision to choose Wicca as their faith should be left to them. In more recent years, some proponents have spoken to the issue of parents rights and that as Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, etc have brought up their own children, for centuries, within their religion, has been given due consideration. I have personally known Wiccans of many years who have brought their children up to be Witches and in some cases, even grandchildren are introduced and learn the family religion.

But today the greatest amount of people who become practitioners of Wicca are self-converts, in a process likened to  “coming home”. Many people experience a feeling that Wicca is the spiritual realm they have looked for, perhaps for years, their lifetime even. The process of becoming Wiccan has changed through out its history and very much so in the last 2 to 3 decades. Wicca, as originally presented, was a Mystery Religion or Tradition. Little was written of the actual practices and members of covens swore oaths to defend the secrecy and the meanings and practices of the religion. So for many years it was hard to find, meet and join traditional covens. Being a religion that was not quite like the more dominant religions meant that most covens and its members were ‘underground’, that is not publicly known or displaying themselves as Witches. This changed starting in the ‘60s, as Wicca, an alternative and mysterious faith melded somewhat, into the burgeoning youth culture. Clothing, art, music and many parts of culture adopted some trappings of both ancient and modern Witchcraft. Soon many Americans and others began to see Wicca as a valid and personally empowering religious choice. And at that time a number of authors revealed their presence as Witches and wrote books. From this point onwards fairly accurate information about Wiccan practices, though not necessarily the most secret aspects were available to the public. At one point circa 1990, Witchcraft and related themed books and materials were a major industry onto itself, into many millions. With the advent of the Internet anyone can find out enough to base their own practice be a self-dedicated Wiccan. The oldest, most traditional covens still mostly remained hidden or secret, but now many people could learn enough to practice on their own. Though there are still quite a few covens descended from the original ones of the late ‘50s and ‘60s, for many years now there have not been enough to meet the demand of sincere people who want formal training and acceptance into the Craft. Thus, there is a dichotomy between the more traditionally trained Wiccans and the self-taught, mostly solitary Wiccans.  Just as one can practice prayer and ritual in the Abrahamic faiths without some sort of priest or temple, so too can Wiccans practice on their own. It is possible that half of those who consider themselves to be Wiccan are actually Solitaries, as mentioned above, surveys seem to confirm.

For those who do not join, train or study with a group, a self-initiation or self-dedication can be a powerful experience. Because of the many types and forms of Wicca, such a ritual can vary greatly. But it will usually involve some introduction to the basic practice and the tools used. A candle, a cup or bowl of water, incense and some sort to sprinkle in the water are the most basic. A prayer or dedication to the Goddess or the God and Goddess, as such or by any particular name, such as Apollo or Isis will be the body of the ritual. Wiccans, budding or otherwise generally like presentation so some people will create their own altars, with flowers, crystals, gems or other Metaphysical objects. The most important consideration for the new Wiccan is to understand that they are making a break with their established faith, and that we all live in a largely Christian world or paradigm. Training and working in the Pagan faiths or any more esoteric form of practice needs to understand and accept that.  And this applies to those who do find coven training as their path to becoming Wiccan.

In most covens, whether traditional-based or more modern and self-actualized or ‘eclectic’ covens, the process of initiation is the most important experience in the Craft. Most traditions have 3 degrees of mastery and thus 3 different initiations. The first one is the one that most corresponds to becoming or joining Wicca. The initiate is brought through the entire ritual circuit, from the creation of the sacred space to the metaphoric or otherwise meeting and challenge before the Divine Ones themselves. The initiate may gain their own set of working tools or be introduced formally to the tools belonging to the coven itself, as a way of bonding with the group at its basic level. The tools mentioned are the ones necessary for most if not all rituals. At this time the initiate will take vows and otherwise be ‘oath bound’ to the group, its tradition, and any of its secrets or practices.

Whether group or self initiated any Seeker’s path to Wicca and most other Pagan faiths begins with their own self-explorations. People that are drawn to and become Wicca generally explore and experience other religions, especially Eastern or other non-Abrahamic ones. Meditation, trance and ritual, especially from some Hindu and Buddhist traditions are common in Wicca. In some Wiccan and Pagan traditions an emphasis on reincarnation, karma and past lives is important. Many Wiccans believe that they are born and born again, into the Craft or similar, throughout many lifetimes. Coming Home is an apt term for this feeling and experience.

Thank you to Alan Toubeaux

Photo credit:

“Wiccan five elements 1” by Nyo – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons