Q&A With The Road Less Traveled: Part I

This one is for The Road Less Traveled who posed some questions after my “Interview With Maman Lee.” I’m going to have to break this down a bit since no one really wants to read an article length blog post! Plus, I rekon having this in my scholarly voice instead of the Badness you’ve all grown to know and love, will make the ride a little different road.

Let me take a minute up front to thank you for the intricately detailed and elegant set of questions you’ve posed for me. I have been modestly berating myself for working more on “fun” projects then getting to the framework of my research (I have over 27,000 words of the “innards” but none of the (sometimes tedious to develop) super-structure. Thanks to your prod in the right direction, I have churned out these posts and about 30 more pages of a much-needed exoskeleton, thereby freeing me up to dedicate the weekend to research. Being encouraged by this headway has renewed my attentiveness to the project. So, thanks.

Bear in mind that I am not Haitian, nor am I descended from Haitians; I am not a Voodooist (initiated or otherwise). I make no claims to proficiency, expertise, or secret knowledge. But I will do my best to make a response based in logic and research. Also bear in mind that in our fields there are varying opinions, to say the least. The only reason I venture to address these topics is because I was asked to, not because I feel a need to create some sort of standardization among those opinions. What follows is simply my scholarly “take” on the questions at hand.

For instance, some folks lump Witchcraft and Wicca together and have good reasons for doing so. Ethan Doyle White, for one, argues that because of “common use,” we should not differentiate between initiates of Traditional Wicca and eclectic practitioners who refer to their practices as “Wiccan” (“The Meaning of “Wicca”: A Study in Etymology, History and Pagan Politics”. The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 12 (2): Feb. 2011, 185–207). I happen to disagree. This does not diminish White’s claims or his argument. It simply means that, as a scholar, I can accept his argument as valuable while still holding to my own rationale.

Like my daddy says, “Just ‘cuz them beans give me gas don’t mean no one should eat’em.”

OK, maybe it’s not just like that but still.

This segues well into the first set of questions.

The first half of the first question TRLT asks is:

What exactly is the main difference between European Witchcraft, sorcery, and Hoodoo? Aren’t they all different forms of magic? Is there difference simply the way people who practice these different systems do things?

This is laden with many questions so let me parse them out as best I can. (I’ll address the second half of that question and questions 2-3 as we go along this week. Maybe even ending on a PBP post – what is it this week? Still R?)

As for the difference between European Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Hoodoo, there is a basic difference in cultural development. First, I must address the multifold differences in European Witchcraft alone. Not only are there differences in folk-ways across the continent, there is a distinct difference between folk magics and Wiccan-based crafts. European Witchcraft is not a homogenous model. In itself, the multifaceted set of traditions contains a number of divergent cultures. Both Norway and Italy are in Europe, yet the Vǫlur’s practice of seiðr, in the form or galdr and other shamanic practices is very different from the folk magics of, say, Sardinia. Further, today’s vala and gyda will have very different practices (based on access, technology, laws, and cultural necessity) than their ancient ancestors. What’s more, practices in Italy itself can vary greatly from the mainland to the islands.

As for the variances of traditions based on Wicca, consider Stregheria (Italy). While I have not studied Grimassi’s tradition[1] (1970s) in detail, I know that it is founded on Gardnarian paradigms. Though  Leo Martello was the first recognized author to claim an Italian “family tradition” of Witchcraft (Witchcraft: The Old Religion. 1970), Grimassi popularized the “Aradian Tradition,” inspired by English author, Charles Leland’s,  Aradia, Gospel of the Witches (1899), a literary translation of Italian folklore combined with Leland’s characteristic narrative style. Here, Leland blends Roman mythoi with Middle-Eastern apologues to create a foundation for Mediterranean system – which was then adopted as a Celtic underpinning.

Likewise Buckland’s reimagination of Pictish Craft.[2] Because we have little or nothing left of the insulated Pictish people, subjects of cultural absorption and genocide and without an extensive written culture, we have no way of authenticating the recovery of their craft. However, I am of the mind that there is no historical evidence to believe that PectiWita and Gardnerian Wicca (considering the relentless Roman invasions and ensuing cultural changes) would have anything in common at all.

The opinion one has about “European Witchcraft,” it seems to me, hinges upon one’s opinion of Gardnerian British Traditional Witchcraft and the ensuing conglomeration of neo-Pagan Reconstruction movements. Those who agree that Gardnerian Wicca, and those that emulated it, are derived from uninterrupted (or even authentically recovered) customs, methods, and mythologies reaching back to antiquity will be of a mind that is very different from the opinion of those who believe that Gardner borrowed  heavily from Crowley and The Golden Dawn to recreate a manufactured tradition (perhaps driven by his desire to have extramarital sex). Of course, I don’t want to represent a falsehood here – there are opinions in between.[3]

Like mine.

I’ve mentioned a few in these posts: (“It Must Be. . .Wikipedia,” “ Dead Horses . . .,” and “Wannabethans” – likely others as well).

And then again, there is a sizable difference between Wicca as an initiatory system and Wicca as an eclectic set of practices. Initiatory Wicca, limited to a select number of vetted lineages, is not even the same as Wicca which does not have its foundation in one of these lines. Also see here.

It’s a lot like apostolic succession for the Papacy.

Of course, we should recognize solitaries and eclectics who choose to refer to their practice as “Wiccan” as legitimate. Some do not. It’s a matter of personal politics. The Bad Witch doesn’t have a dog in that fight.

Of course, there’s the possibility that there is a tradition surviving in Europe that has nothing to do with mainstream “Traditional Witchcraft.” If they exist aside from Teutonic Shamanism, I don’t know anything about them and cannot give you any information.

Being The Bad Gydia, I can tell you that the rituals of seiðr have little or nothing in common with Wicca when it comes to ritual. What is common among them is repetition (of musical chanting of a sort and drumming) to achieve the states of altered consciousness wherein Magic is performed. Other than that, most of the things practiced in contemporary Heathenism are derived from Wicca in effort to be “friendly,” not because they are authentic to Germanic practices.

My opinions regarding these concessions is beside the point.

So to answer whether the “difference [is] simply [in] the way people who practice these different systems do things,” I would say, “yes” and “no.”

The way things are done is certainly different; but nothing I would call simple. The way things are done speaks not just to a practical difference, but to a difference in philosophy.

For instance, in Wicca (and Western European Sorcery) the wand and the athame are decidedly phallic. In many Western Esoteric traditions, the phallus is venerated as the source of creative power.[4] The “wand-carrier” or völva is, by definition, a woman. As a matter of fact, it was expressly forbidden for Norsemen to “assume” female magical powers. This is not to say that they could not practice magic at all, which eventually became the case after the influx of Christianity (it’s very complicated), but that men were forbidden to perform magic. For this reason, I have to believe that the “imagination” of the “source of power for their workings” is different.

In my panentheistic belief system, all power comes from “God” or “The Almighty” or “The Creator” or whatever one calls the supreme and eternal animating force of the cosmos. The issue remains that, even if we all believe this tenet, we may all define this divine presence differently. Exactly where the source of power is derived is above my pay grade.

Alas, I am only qualified to speak to my own belief.

There’s so much more to come.

B, Q, 93 for now – TBW

[1] Grimassi, Raven. The Book of the Holy Strega (1981) and Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe, previously titled Ways of the Strega (1994). Consider also Stregheria.com – “The Home of Authentic Italian Witchcraft.”

[2] Buckland, Raymond. Scottish Witchcraft: The History & Magick of the Picts. Llewellyn Worldwide, 1991.

[3] If you are interested in more information, you might look at this one that argues that all of Gardner’s credentials are fabricated. Or this one that offers around 80 (I quit counting) other articles that criticize Wicca, Gardner, and Wiccan Witches – accompanied by  the claim that too many Wiccan initiates censor any and all criticism of their movement. And then there’s this guy (who, I openly admit, I did not watch yet but plan to) who has a four part YouTube criticism of Wicca. While most of the reviewers use unnecessarily crude language, I do not suggest we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

[4] It happens to be one of my main projects to use Norse traditions to recover a system of female power not based in phallic influence (or the “lack” thereof).

7 comments on “Q&A With The Road Less Traveled: Part I

  1. I’m confused by the bit about men practicing but not performing magic in Norse culture. What I *thought* I had sorted out was that engaging in seiðr was unmanly (made one ergi, in the same way that receptive homo-sex would), but that galdr was permissible. I think this is probably based in a feeling that the possibility of spirit possession in seiðr was very dangerous for men. MANN MUSS KIP RIJID KONTROL *BZZZZT* *CRACK*

    This is way out of my field and I didn’t keep sources. But I know you did 😉

    • Right. I see.
      You have to keep in mind that most of the sources we have are postChristian and therefore all wrapped up with the bzzzt crack-ing.
      My sources show that it was inappropriate for men to try to “create” – which is groovy in comparison to the idea that it is semen that is the reproductive force in The Great PuttingStuffWhereItNeedsToGo.
      I promise to post about it later. It’s the crux of the helix thing. I’m crazy excited about the stuffs I’m finding and wish you were going to be in Bham to discuss it next week. 😦

  2. (Let’s take next week offline, something may be workable). Follow the helical roe\ad! Follow the helical road! Follow the, follow the , follow …

  3. Yayyyyyy, thank you for the article, it provided a better understanding for me in the differences of practices, and pointed out the philosophy and cultural development behind these practices can and often times are different (where the power comes from, how it is used etc …), which really helps clear up a lot of things. And I love how to state clearly that the article is your opinions and respect the difference of opinions about these topics. too many people I have read and come across (especially when I was still getting a lot of my info from publishers like Llewellyn) spend so much of their time trying to prove their theories right and others wrong :).

    Just out of curiosity, what is your view on Non-Wiccan witchcraft, and the community of witches commonly referred to as traditional witches? Some draw their traditions from witch trial manuscripts, some draw from family practice and lineage, and some draw from fairy tales, folk tales and general folklore (That’s me). Are they part and parcel of the contemporary pagan movement, or something different in and of itself that may overlap with contemporary paganism and witchcraft, but still carry great differences and is a distinct category? Also, would practices of seiðr fall and branches of European folk magicks fall under the category of traditional witchcraft, or are they themselves distinct categories as well? Or do these systems all have overlaps and it can be at times hard to distinguish distinct boundaries? (I’m really sorry with bombarding you with questions :S, answer as many as you can :P)

    Once again, thank you for your article and I wait with bated breath for more to come 😛

    Dark Blessings,

    The Road Less Travelled By 🙂

    • Ha! I’m going to have to change my blog-name to “A Wonderful Conversation With The Road Less Traveled!” I’m having too much fun. I love the great questions – I love being challenged! I’m glad you are pleased with the results. Part 2 is coming up in a second.

    • I’m confused. Traditional Witchcraft usually refers to initiatory Wicca, right?

      As for non-Wiccan Witches? My view is that there are potentially as many ways of practicing as there are practitioners. As long as the Witch in question is being honest with herself (and any who depend upon her honesty), being introspective, and not meddling in realms of power where she ought not – I figure it’s all good.

      In “Wannabethans” I argued that non-Wiccans often observe distinctly Wiccan practices without knowing they are Wiccan and that non-initiatory-Wiccans call themselves Wiccans without knowing that there is a difference. I don’t take issue with what folks call themselves – I just think everyone should be knowledgeable and be able to justify their beliefs as well as their designations.

      I teach Cultural Diversity and include an assignment where my (predominantly Southern Baptist) students have to investigate a non-Judeo-Christian religion. At the end of the assignment, I *always* have a student say that s/he gained a stronger understanding of and appreciation for Christianity by learning about other religions. I am a strong proponent of the phrase: “Knowledge is power.” I think information makes Christians better Christians; I think information makes Pagans better Pagans.

      And, yes, I’d say that non-Wiccan Witches are part of the contemporary pagan movement, but I don’t know that I’d say “parcel.” I don’t think that there is anything standardized about Pagan practices. But I’d also be hard pressed to say that non-Wiccan Witchcrafts are a “distinct category.”

      I actually kinda hate it that the only amalgamated definition we have for non-Wiccan Witchcraft is a definition based in what it is not: non-Wiccan. From a Lacanian perspective, this is disempowering – “lack.” If you have another term, I’d love to hear it! I’d be a big fan of coming up with a new, holistic, empowering term. Sadly, Traditional Witchcraft and British Witchcraft connote Gardnerian Wicca.

      So, given all that, I would say seiðr is not a European folk magic in that it is a sort of sorcery. When I get to the sorcery post, I’ll illustrate how I see the difference. (For now see my posts on “High and Low Magic.” I’d agree with those who say folk magics are low magic while sorcery is high magic.) Of course all religious systems “have overlaps and it can be at times hard to distinguish distinct boundaries.” I’d even say this is even true of Abrahamic religions and Eastern philosophical traditions. Don’t you think?

  4. […] I’ve learned from Maman Lee a few months back. And having been pressed by The Road Less Traveled to reeeeealy articulate the difference in several traditions—some of which are my own, some of which I didn’t understand nearly as well as I did after being […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s