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TO BE WICCAN OR NOT TO BE WICCAN:


That Was The Essential Question


By Jagannatha Prakasha (Cadifor ap Colwen) 1989

For all the controversy and debate over what William Shakespeare really meant, what actually motivated him, and what his essential message was, he could perhaps better be called the Apostle Will! The range of possible interpretations for his plays rivals biblical proportions. What follows then is not an attempt to offer a definitive interpretation on any of his works, but merely an added critical contextual element which, it seems to me, is too often ignored. I should say perhaps that in this endeavor my frame of reference is a bit biased, coming as I do from a tradition which has long held mixed opinions concerning the man they often call "Lyin' Willie." That background is Welsh Traditionalist Wiccacrafte. Albeit I am not currently an active participant in the Crafte of my ancestors, I have studied it extensively, largely through the tuterlage of my Wiccan preceptor whom, due to vows of secrecy, I can only refer to as 'Old Man Witty.' His teachings on this subject shall therefore guide me in conjunction with my readings and lessons at the university [JFK U].

Going under the assumption that Shakespeare wrote all or most of the plays credited to him, he is deservedly the most celebrated of all English writers, but who he was and the nature of his 'philasophia prima' remains uncertain. As might be expected, he is oft hailed as being the virtual personification of one's own philosophy of life, regardless of what that might be. To the Pessimist, he is a Pessimist, to the Nihilist, a Nihilist. Likewise to the Wiccans he was, if not Wiccan, at least very knowledgeable and personally interested in the ancient ways. To even begin to understand him we must consider his age: 1564 to 1616.

Conditions which began long before Shakespeare's birth, erupted during his life and excercized a most profound influence on his development and beliefs. These events turned the Continent, and the Isle of Britain, upside down. At the heart of the turmoil, was what is generally known as the "Most Holy Inquisitions." Those times are still fearfully remembered as the "Burning Times" by the Wicca Note #1To think that the Wiccacrafte and its persecution exercised little or no influence on the Bard seems inconceivably naive. The Witch hunts were among the most compelling and well known events taking place during his illustrious life. If he did not know of them, if his life remained untouched by this 'sacred genocide,' Shakespeare would be comparable to a well-educated citizen of Berkeley in the sixties being completely unaware and unaffected by the U.S. war against the people of Vietnam! It simply couldn't have been. Let us then, briefly consider the Britain of his time as regards the christian assault on the Old Religion.

Due to the nature of the Burning Times (i.e. the 173 years of legal English persecution from the reign of Elizabeth I to that of George II.), there are precious few documents extant of pre-christian Euro-British religion, the Greeks somewhat excepted. Scholarship on the subject has been so tainted by christianNote #2 pressure and social influences that much of what is published is little more than church propaganda and is, therefore, largely unreliable and wholly suspect. What follows then is difficult to reference or document, and in most cases I wont even try. In order to grasp this view of Shakespeare therefore it is important to have a basic comprehension of what led up to the Burning Times and the teachings which so enraged the christian church. In this way we will see that the Wicca certainly had a most profound influence on the Bard, and that Shakespeare himself was, in a very real way, a most tragic victim of the Burning Times.

It is easy to romanticize the distant past, especially when so little historical data exists concerning it. There are some who try to make pre-christian Britain sound positively utopian. I am oft accused of being among them (!), and may herein, though that is neither my intention nor my belief. Undoubtedly it was not, at least not to the degree some would have us believe. What the Misty Isles did have however, was a Nature based religious, spiritual and cultural system which, from the scant secular evidence we have coupled with revealed Wiccan traditions, worked for the majority of people until it was brutally and systematically destroyed by vile and crude christian invaders.

The name of the religion is perhaps the first issue which should be adressed. It appears to be of Anglo-Saxon origin, though according to Old Man Witty it was given us by the Little People as a tribute, and means "Crafte of the Wise": 'wicca' meaning wisdom and 'crafte' or craftNote #3. The modern word Witch, here capitalized since it refers to a historically valid religion, is merely a bastardization of the term Wicca (Herein I spell "Christian" in small letters as an acknowledgement of the global discrimination which still, with few exceptions, refuses to acknowledge either the historicity or validity of this faith which was ancient before Moses ever left his home in Ur).

Despite the common belief of the masses and some current feminist claims, Wiccacrafte was never a 'feminist religion' (as that term is normally employed). The Old Religion was and is a nature based, aboriginal belief system based upon the universal role of fertility and gender interaction. As it is essentially a fertility cult, the idea that the Crafte is or ever was a 'Goddess religion' is patently absurd and denies any knowledge of Pagan religion in general and Wiccan religion in particular.

In overly simplified terms, according to the Wicca life is established and maintained on three basic principles: female, male, and their interplay. The feminine aspect is viewed as the negative polarity, the fertile Earth from which all emerges and is nurtured. The masculine is the positive pole, the seed giving Sky Father Who nurtures the Mother and all which arises from Her Sacred WombNote #4. Each is utterly dependent upon the other. This is the essential Crafte teaching, though some variation does exist.

The cycle of the year is essential to the exercise of the Old Religion and is based upon this interplay. The year begins with Samhain (November eve or Halloween). On this day the Horned One, the Great God, begins His rule of the earth. His reign continues until Beltain (May Eve) when everyone dances around His erect phallus (the May Pole) to celebrate the return of the Goddess. The Great Goddess then rules until the following Samhain. The Goddess therefore controls Midsummer (June 21), Lughnasadh (August Eve) and the Autumn Solstice (September 21). The God reigns over Yule (December 21), Imbolc (February Eve) and the Spring Solstice (March 21). It should be understood that during the Goddess' reign the God is still present and vice-versa. As the universe is based upon Their polarity, at no time is either Power alone.

Even as Shakespeare witnessed the christian usurpation of individual Wiccan liberties, so too we now are witnessing the decline of christiandom. In the past twenty years especially the christian stranglehold upon the collective throat of society has been forcibly loosened. It appears that the Reaganesque turn to conservatism which characterized the eighties is also waning [this was written in 1989]. In this position we have the opportunity and responsibility to develop the next social belief system. We can choose to create a society of science -intoxicated zombies where philosophy and personal realization have no place and where white - coated lab technicians become the new priesthood, a police state of Orwellian proportions (which seems not unlikely at the present moment), or we can reclaim the good from our Wiccan past, couple it with the positives of modern scientific understanding, and establish a truly neo-Pagan society which is environmentally sound and spiritually interconnected. With modern technology and the high level of education (or what remains of it) this generation could establish something akin to a utopia. Its up to us.

Gender interdependency is essential to the ancient and present practice of the Wiccacrafte Note #5. It was the christian church which robbed women of their equality and dignity. By Shakespeare's time women were not even allowed to appear on stage. The roles of women therefore were always played, by christian decree, by youthful [often homosexual] males. Today, as women again become equal partners in contemporary society, recognition of gender harmony is again becoming unavoidable. For too long society has existed as a bird with only one wing. The other wing, the feminine, was long ago disfigured by the christian 'church fathers.' That wing, personified as the Goddess, is now returning to vibrant health and the patriarchy is being forced to surrender a portion of its exclusivity. Today women are demanding equal respect and position. No longer will they bow before the patriarchy. However, in order to right the wrongs of society it is very important that women not repeat the mistakes of their male predecessors; they must not seek to elevate the Goddess at the expense of the God. A matriarchy would be no more balanced, no more just, than the patriarchy.

All too often we forget that women are not the only victims of christian-imposed male rule. The return of the Goddess is just as important for males as it is for women, perhaps even more so. Men have suffered, and continue to suffer terribly under the patriarchy. We are not allowed to manifest our human potentials any more than women are. With the arrival of the patriarchy we were cut off from our intuitive, loving sides. Our self-worth is determined not by the heart, by creativity nor by our capacity to love, but upon our ability to earn material compensation, to meet the financial needs of 'our' families and by our ability to be macho; to 'keep a stiff upper lip.' The Goddess, Who dwells within the heart of every man, has been exiled and we have all become incomplete. During the Bard's life these roles were being solidified and everyone, male and female alike, were becoming gender-defined slaves.

Under the patriarchy, what is now being called male bonding was viewed as a moral and mental weakness (and still is in many quarters). The greatest of all 'sins' was for a man to love another man. One could be 'drinking buddies' or 'co-workers,' but honest love, physical or otherwise, was strictly condemned as weakness, as 'effeminate behavior.' With this rise of homophobia we were all severed from our hearts, torn from the arms of our Mother and Father and left utterly abandoned.

The basic Crafte view concerning homosexuality, male or female, is based on Nature. The Earth is filled and maintained by gender-based energy interactions. In order for there to be procreation a female and a male must be involved. The polarity of female and male energy therefore forms the basis of physical existence and all Crafte traditions. For this reason, under ideal circumstances, Wiccans seek an even number of men and women for their CirclesNote #6. There is, however, much more to sex than procreation.

On this point the Crafte is diametrically opposed to christian doctrine. Within the Crafte, sex is viewed as a joyous celebration of life, not just a way to continue the species. It may be freely engaged in by all, without regard to gender or other superfluous considerations. A Wiccan friend explained to me that, "relationships are the main course of life. Sex is the desert; and I enjoy a wide variety of dishes." The Crafte likewise has no problem with group sex or any other type which involves the mutual consent of adultsNote #7. This may seem appalling to many who grew up under the influence of christian puritanism, however think about it. On what basis do we legislate morality? Why has society concluded that certain parts of the human body must be hidden? Why must women cover their breasts while men need not? Why must we hide our genitalia under clothing even on days when common sense says nudity is more appropriate? Why are men and women condemned who choose to physically express their love with those of their own gender? There is no reason other than christian frigidity and control. Likewise, why are there so many sexual crimes? Why do advertisers find it beneficial to taunt our sexual passions to sell their wares? Why are sexual frustrations so common in mental illness? Why do movies receive 'PG' or 'R' ratings when they are filled with crime, violence, torture and death whereas a bit of skin, especially the penis, results in an automatic 'X' [now NR17] rating? Why does pornography sell so well? Why is it that in many video rental stores sexually explicit 'adult videos' often surpass all others despite their characteristically poor quality and lack of plot? Again, it is because of christianity which says it is better to torture an innocent person, to wage genocide against civilian populations, or to massacre aboriginal peoples, than it is to lay nude in the sun or share love with another person (not to mention oneself!) without a piece of paper and license from the government. Is this too harsh? I think not. When we honor ourselves and our bodies we honor others. When we condemn ourselves as 'vile sinners' we condemn the world.

It should be noted that not all Wiccans are this liberal in their thinking. The traditionalists are also the product of the christian reign. Furthermore, there are certain 'Wiccan Tenets' which many hold which may modify such views. Among these is the living of a balanced life. Many Wiccans argue that group sex and the like tends to lead to excess [and/or disease] and should therefore be avoided. For most of us the Crafte is relatively new and our participation in it developed out our basic questioning of society. As the years go by many of us are 'mellowing' in our opinions and practices as well, especially in the presence of diseases such as HIV. Such issues must be decided on an individual basis.

To love is natural. Sexual roles are learned, though the inclination to love is always there, even when it is suppressed. Children, male or female, learn very quickly from society what is and is not acceptable behavior. Today many women and men are declaring their independence from the oppressive patriarchy. The reemergence of the Crafte therefore is a great boon to everyone. Attempts to co-opt it by this group or that is therefore unconscionable. Men and women need the Goddess, women and men need the God. Our spiritual images and myths must reflect this reawakening if we, both female and male, are to enjoy freedom. So far as we know, no traditional people have incorporated the male and female polarities so well as the Wiccans. We therefore have much to learn from the Wise Ones and their presentation of the Goddess, as well as the Great God.

When we watch or read Shakespeare we should consider this and not understand it from a patriarchal christian perspective, but from a futuristic one of gender balance. The Wiccan way of life was already fading when the Bard wrote, and he sought to reflect those beliefs as best he could under the circumstances. We are now seeing a partial (at least) return to many of those views, and so therefore we may see the Bard as being ahead of his times, not as a product of our christian past.

Wiccans seek to live in harmony with nature. The green earth is the Body of the Mother and the rain giving sky is the celestial Form of the Father. If life is to continue, the Wiccans understand fully, both Parents are absolutely essential. Even as half the year, depending on where you live, is ruled by light and warmth, so too the Goddess takes preeminence in the summer cycle. Similarly, the God is in the ascendancy during the cold winter months, the other half of the year. Life then is the interplay and foreplay of the Mother and Father.

Within the family tradition of Welsh Traditionalist Wiccacrafte into which I am initiated, and all other traditional forms I am aware of, the male and female polarities are always equally honored Note #8. Old Man Witty once commented, concerning certain sexist Neo-Wiccan groups, that "Wicca is a fertility cult. You can't have fertility and leave out the women or the men. If either one is missing, its not the Crafte of the Wise, its the crafte of the self deceived. A Witch is a Witch female or male" Note #9.

Our images of the Goddess and the God are based much more than we would care to admit on the old christian presentation of Them. Due in good measure to christianity, some Neo-Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans would have us believe that the Crafte, and all other indigenous traditions, were concerned exclusively or primarily with the feminine aspect of nature. T.M. Luhrmann has noted however that whereas in England one is hard pressed to find a 'feminist coven,' they are quite prevalent in the United States Note #10. This indicates that 'feminist Wicca is largely an invention of the feminist elements within the neo-Pagan movement, not the out-flowing of traditional Wiccan or Pagan views or beliefs.

Despite the fact that some prominent feminists and other Neo-Wiccan authors are now rejecting the literary and anthropological works of people such as Murray, Gardner, Buckland and Leek, in many ways these authors and reclaimers of the Old Religion, despite their obvious weaknesses, are closer to the heart of the Crafte than many Neo-Wiccans care to admit. As the English Wiccan Sybil Leek Note #11 has observed, "For trouble in Witchcraft we have to look not at Britain, where I know the traditions of Witchcraft as the Old Religion will be safe for many more years, but right here in the United States. For this is the only country that has gone into making up as many versions of witchcraft as there are states. Of the several thousand covens in the United States at the moment, there are about forty that I know of that practice what I would call good old-fashioned witchcraft. Of these, there are equal numbers who practice Gardnerian witchcraft Note #12 and Celtic magic" Note #13.

The current fallacious view that the Wiccan God is nothing more than a sex toy of the Great Goddess underestimates the diversity and insight of the Old Religion, not to mention its essential premises. It also confines its reemergence to a minority status, that being specifically to the domain of 'post modern feminism.' To hail the Goddess while ignoring the God, or placing Him in a subservient role, not only excludes most men from reclaiming the ancestral Faith, it also restricts women from receiving what the Crafte conceptions of the Lord has to offer them. While creativity resides at the heart of the Crafte, and while dogmatism finds no welcome there, if the essential nature of the movement is removed what remains is something other than the Crafte. This is not say it has no value, but simply that it is not Wicca, even as christianity without Jesus would not be christianity. As the neo-Pagan NROOGD (New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn) has explained, "A Witch above all worships the Triple Goddess and her Consort, The Horned God, in one form or another. A Witch works Magick within a definite code of ethics. A Witch acknowledges and uses the male-female polarity in his/her rites" Note #14. Here, as almost everywhere in the Crafte and often in the neo-Crafte, the absolute necessity of the God is stated.

When considering the Crafte and its conceptions of the Lady and the Lord, the christian allegations of 'devil worship' are often overlooked as religious excesses on the part of the medieval church. It is often concluded that the whole affair was fabricated due to religious and political considerations and exaggerations. Yet this allegation, more than any other, is what finally led to the Witch trials and the brutal persecution of the Old Religion by the new. It was not the Wiccan Goddess which outraged the christians, but the oft-Horned God. The allegations must have originally been based upon fact, albeit facts which were misunderstood and/or threatening to the christian hierarchy. As with the God, the very existence of male Witches was often denied or minimized in order to make the Crafte look like nothing more than a "social club for disenfranchised, bored housewives" Note #15.


End Page One

Go to: Part Two of: To be Wiccan or not to be Wiccan, that was the Question

Go to: The Roam'n Church Presents: Spirituality for a New Age

Go to: The Roam'n Church Presents: Reaching for the One

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