Home > Uncategorized > What is Wicca II: Praxis in the Body

What is Wicca II: Praxis in the Body

I realize I wrote on this topic already, about how all Wiccans are Pagans but not all Pagans are Wiccans. This whole “What is Wicca” question has been really gnawing at me lately. I occasionally get letters from people who find me on Witchvox or through Witchful Thinking and want to know about Wicca. I’m working with a gentleman right now who is writing a book about how we come to our spirituality, and is devoting a whole chapter to Wicca. I realized that, as I’d been practicing for awhile now, I couldn’t adequately explain which part of my activities were Wiccan and which were simply Pagan. A lot of practitioners who are Wiccan use the words interchangeably, while Pagans of other denominations get offended if you call their activities Wiccan.

I just finished the book Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual by Nikki Bado-Fralick. She’s a professor of Religious Studies, and examines her own initiation into a decidedly Wiccan coven as a scholar and a practitioner. The first part of her book is an academic criticism about the way that religious scholars examine religion. She argues that the kind of objectivity they have doesn’t really allow them to understand the people they are studying, and is ethnocentric to say the least. It’s an interesting topic if you are in the field of religion, or want to know what’s going on there, but the real meat was in the later chapters.

In one section she says:

The immediate (but controlled) exposure to the sensual, tactile dimension of Wiccan religious experiences begins to counteract the idea that religion is only–or even primarily–about belief systems, sets of abstract concepts, or texts. It marks the beginning of a kind of paradigm shift, moving the student into a frame within which practice (i.e., practice that centrally includes the physical body as the doer of the learning) emerges as equally important to belief or intellectual knowledge. In this respect, learning how to drive a car has one immediate and useful advantage over learning how to be a Witch. Driving a car is easily identified as a practice that engages both body and mind. Generally speaking, you don’t believe in cars, you drive them. Thus is counterintuitive to an understanding of religions in which belief is primary and practices are secondary, if noticed at all….The idea that religion might be rooted in somatic experiences, that it might be about practices, about things done with the body as well as the mind, is often a difficult and apparently troubleing concept for my students. For most of them, religion clearly functions as an identifying label rather than as a doing. (78-79)

So what Bado-Fralick is saying is that Wicca isn’t a label or an idea, but a collection of practices and things you do with the body. If that’s the case, then I should amend my previous statement in this post a few months ago. Perhaps Wicca is not believing in a Goddess and God, but in doing ritual for a Goddess and God. They say that Wiccans don’t believe in the Gods because they’ve experienced them (It’s like saying you don’t believe in cars, or you don’t believe in table.). It’s not believing in the Wiccan Rede, but in acting on it.

This is a huge paradigm shift. Most of our culture is based on monotheistic and reductionist ideas (looking for the one best, making the most money, go to a general practitioner etc). Your school system, for example, has decided that the one best way for students to learn is audio/visual. The idea is that if you hear and see something, you’ll remember it. So perhaps the teacher will show you on the board how to do a math problem, and talk about how to do it, and then the student is supposed to remember from there on out. Yet studies show that about 75% of us are kinesthetic learners. That is, we learn through the body. As a tentative and ill-supported connection, I think that the reason the school/authority chose audio/visual styles as their basis of teaching is because the education system comes out of Christian theology, which has historically been uncomfortable with the human body.

Descartes said "I think, therefore I am" because he couldn't trust his sensual experiences in his own body, couldn't tell if he was asleep or awake, and we've been split from our bodies ever since.

I think the reason Paganism and Wicca in particular are among the fastest growing world religions is because they are comfortable with the body, indeed revel in it. The body learns by doing, just ask a dancer or an athlete to tell you about muscle memory. Like our ancestors before the mind/body split of Descartes, instead of asking “what should we believe?” we ask “what should we do?”. Spellwork and ritual are an answer to that question that don’t necessarily require an answer to the first question. That’s why we can get together to do ritual, but we don’t have to understand the Gods in the same way. And if you find you don’t believe as the ritualists do, you simply don’t do the ritual. Just like how I don’t believe in the philosophies of the Pledge of Allegiance, so I don’t stand or put my hand over my heart–that is, I don’t participate in the ritual.

In my own tradition, there are ritual acts done with the body that didn’t make sense to me when I read them, yet when I saw them performed and participated, they became full of meaning. Suddenly there was context, inflection and energy behind the actions. But I couldn’t explain to you what those actions actually mean–it takes so much verbiage that it sort of ruins the affect. Better to just perform the action in the right context and have another gather their own meaning and belief from it. That’s part of the Mystery.

If praxis is the difference between Wicca and other religions, then what’s the difference between Wicca and Paganism? Is that where differing beliefs lie? Pagans do believe certain things, but their practices vary wildly to reflect the different nuances of ideas. As a point of unification, if we can understand the practices we share, maybe we can find some more ways to get along, rather than argue about what is some label and what isn’t.

What do you think?

  1. February 12, 2010 at 2:35 am

    Religion–which is our response to our experience of immanent Divinity–is is lived out, given expression, and communicated in symbolic terms. Some sets of symbols are verbal (including sagas, lore, legends, myths, belief systems, doctrines, teachings, etc.) Other symbol sets are composed of actions (ritual, liturgy, movement, and the likes). Still other symbol types include codes of behaviour (taboos, prescriptions, ethical principles). Most religions incorporate some combination of these symbolic types–indeed, it has been argued that, anthropoligically, ritual precedes belief systems. This would seem to make sense.

    The point being that for any religion–Christianity, Wicca, Asatru, whatever–belief alone may not be definitive.

  2. March 3, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    One of the “problems” in Western thought is what to do with the body. Once the self comes into being, we stop referring to ourselves as bodies: notice even the word “somebody” has been replaced by “someone” in popular usage, as if we constantly existed in a suspended state of the third-person which we observe, as guardians, rather than participants. We are very much bodies, and we should simply refer to ourselves as such, as this stuff that we are, and leave it at that. The self is a delusion when it refers to “oneself.” In the strictest sense, that does not exist. The self is only present in the other. There, it is quite real, and goes very far beyond the body.

  3. Karl McNeil
    July 31, 2010 at 4:03 am

    So… what I hear your saying is that Wiccan is a set of practices/rituals and paganism is perhaps something wider (including practices AND BELIEFS), that may well incorporate Wicca as a subset… Wicca then is a particular form of pagan practice, with paganism as the larger concept of the two?…

    • July 31, 2010 at 8:02 pm

      I think many would argue that Paganism shares very few beliefs among members. Wicca is specific behaviors, for example: using a black handled knife to draw the circle, drawing pentagrams at the quarters, calling the watchtowers, etc. Paganism may use some of these behaviors, but does not require them, for example, Pagans often but not always draw a circle with or without a knife. But Wicca is a subset of Paganism, yes. Paganism is an umbrella term, if you will.

  4. Ten Nebula
    January 9, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Peace and light, Jamie

    I enjoy your blog site.
    I hope all is unfolding in your life in ease, joy, harmony, and abundance!!!
    Have a great 2011!!!

    Bright blessings,

    Ten Nebula

  5. Shadow Finar
    February 12, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    I’m just barely getting into Wicca, and have started to read your blogs. i’ve learned a lot from them so far, and am now trying to understand all the symbols and their meanings. and this leads to me a question. at the top of the page you have an image of a chalice, a pentagram, and an athema. is there any special meaning when the three are put together like that? or is it just a random collage type thing?

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