There are plenty of arguments pro and con for traditions in Wicca. They do lend stability, continuity and in healthy hands the protection of a community. The cons are mostly what comes out of them when handled by unhealthy people: stricture, dogma clung to over reason, authoritarianism when a high priest or high priestess thinks that her word as the Goddess should continue outside of the ritual circle. My experience has led me to believe that people who address their psychological issues before assuming a mantle of spiritual leadership are rare in Wicca. I hope that my experience misleads me on that – but even so, it means that I favor solitary work over coven work. A community would be nice but as far as I can tell, only groups are available to me – pockets of people with a few similar beliefs who wants me to set aside my most powerful differentials in favor of group-think. Group-think is a path that leads away from growth.
This does not mean I eschew associating with people within traditions. I have friends who have participated in traditions for years, who love it, live it, obviously thrive in it.
But once in awhile, when discussing magical practices that we can – that aren’t oathbound – things get a little weird.
There seems to be this idea that the Laws of Tradition (or a tradition) are also the Laws of Magic/Laws of Physics.
They are not.
For example, with my upcoming rebirth ceremony, I have had to ask if this changes the astrology of my natal chart. Will I no longer be a Scorpio? Will this shed the scapegoat lining, the never-ending games of who controls who that haunts every Scorpio I’ve ever known?
The answer from a few of my tradition bound friends was: “Well, it depends on your tradition.”
I can see a tradition saying “You can’t change your name.” That’s policy –and a good one. The name changing can get pretty ridiculous, more about not liking who a person is than about assuming a full identity. Since I don’t subscribe to a separate magical persona – I am just as magical as Di Rajchel, fatshionista as I am Diana, Wiccan, or Ms. Rajchel. It’s all fluid and comes from the same store of personality, connection to the earth and love.
But to say it depends on my tradition is to say that my tradition, the covens I used to work with, determine how the celestial laws or even the laws of physics apply. Now, if you don’t believe in astrology and it’s coven policy only to use astrology as a sort of filing system, that makes sense. But to some extent I do believe that there is something to astrology, that planetary influences may not determine my fate but are the container that shapes it.
No Wiccan tradition can create laws about how that works. No tradition can write bylaws stating how the starry heavens may affect my life. They would just as well declare that gravity no longer applies to third degree initiates. You can say it, you can believe it if you want, but a tradition declaring such a law will not make it so. Religious and tradition laws are just that – laws that apply to a specific way to carry out a religious practice. It only applies to the people that wish to do things according to that tradition or religion.
Tradition is a code of behavior and an approach to ritual. It does not define the mechanics of magic. It does not dictate the rotation of the earth. The belongs to physics alone.
Yet there is this thinking that tradition does get to define things like whether a ceremonial magic ritual is allowed – not based on whether it will work, or solve a problem but based on whether it suits a tradition.
Over the years I’ve seen/heard a lot of ridiculous things in the name of magical wisdom. Druids can’t circle with Wiccans, becuse the “energies don’t mix.” Really? I have yet to go to an open circle that ended in an explosion because Wiccan and Druid energy mixed. Now the styles of ritual are very different – you pretty much have to agree to one form or another to keep from ending with a robe on fire. While I have experienced discomfort as a guest at one Druid ritual it had more to do with low blood sugar, dehydration and a very packed private home. Public rituals run by Druids I’ve attended since have gone just fine. I even had wonderful spiritual experiences. Nothing exploded because a Wiccan entered their rites.
Because my church involvement is my frame of reference, it is where I draw the parallels. Traditions have laws of conduct in addition to the Wiccan Rede (and version they use), Sabbat calendar and focal deities. Churches, similarly, have principles of worship/philosophy in addition to the ten commandments and the Be Attitudes. My old church really liked the Apostle’s Creed – which is not found in the Bible but a later creative adoption. Similarly, lots of Wiccan traditions recite the Charge of the Goddess (I don’t, I see it as something other than ritual material.) But just as the Christian denomination I once attended to only laid out the laws of my conduct and the format of their own church services, the Wiccan traditions I have participated in only defined the conduct of their coveners. Christianity does not define the conduct of Yahweh, nor does any magical tradition define the functions of the laws of physics.
I’m sure I’ll have this conversation again in the future, but I felt it necessary at this point to lay out the distinction.