Having been an eclectic for a very long time, I finally chose Wicca as my path. But going from being eclectic to being Wiccan has made me contemplate a lot of what a tradition is and what it means to be a part of one. Why is being a part of a tradition worthwhile? Here are some of my thoughts on the pros and cons of being a part of a tradition.
Pros for being a part of a tradition:
1.) A tradition offers a structured support group. Delving into spirituality brings up issues for a lot of people and it’s good to have support. You have other people around who have walked the same path and have had similar experiences. While people won’t have had exactly the same experience, similar experiences can help guide you through what you’re experiencing on your own path to deity. It essentially makes your life easier and a little clearer.
2.) A tradition has a set syllabus. You’re learning things in a tried and true order which gives you the best experience of learning what can be powerful, difficult and confusing material. In an established tradition people have worked on the syllabus over time and have refined it. They can help direct you toward your goals and give you the tools you need to search on your own.
3.) A tradition provides a lineage, which I know some of you will pooh pooh, but there really is a good reason for having a lineage. Having a lineage gives you credibility. If people know that you learned from credible sources, who in their turn learned from credible sources, they know that you know what you’re doing. You become a much more trustworthy member of the community. You’re also standing with numerous other initiates who have come before you…think of the potential behind that! A lineage gives you unity. When you belong to a tradition, you can travel halfway across the world and still go to a familiar ritual. Religion in a large part is about comfort. How often do you feel uncomfortable when attending a ritual in a different religion or tradition? When you belong to a tradition, the tradition’s lineage gives you access to other members all over the place. I know I can go to Europe and find other Blue Star people to worship with! How awesome is that?
4.) One of the things that strikes me about groups just starting up (and who often have some idea about what they’re doing), is that they really have to struggle with figuring out how to go about things. Established traditions have tried things and figured out what works and what doesn’t; essentially you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In traditions, there have probably been a few generations who have already figured these things out, so you don’t have to. This give you the freedom ti learn a good fundamental basis to work on, and then if you like, use this knowledge and experience to work things your way, without reinvention of material that has been there all along.
5.) If you find a tradition that you trust, generally speaking you can trust its initiates, which is important because you don’t have to vet them. You’re not walking into a situation with someone that you don’t know at all. It essentially gives you a qualified clergy. In Paganism, we don’t have a central authority. For example, in the Catholic world, the Pope is the head of the church and oversees all church issues. If something is going wrong (technically speaking), the pope has dominion over dealing with it. In Paganism, you don’t really have that, so how can you figure out if a priest or priestess is a good one? This is not to say that bad apples don’t pop up, but…it’s at least a little less likely.
6.) An established tradition has a body of clergy, so if you don’t like one priest or priestess, but like the tradition, there are others out there. There are several priestess in Blue Star that I don’t want to work with for personal reasons, but that’s OK, I’m not stuck with them because there are many more out there.
Cons of being in a Tradition:
1.) By nature, traditions are staid. They look down on people who rebel against their teachings. People who look to forge new paths are not tolerated very well. Traditions have worked out what works for them, they don’t like change, even if it’s productive. You can break tradition, but you will most likely get flack for it. Still, after initiation, you are a free agent, and can do as you like.
2.) One bad apple can really spoil the whole bunch. If the tradition misses the fact that they have a bad priest or priestess, (either morally or as just a bad teacher), that person can initiate a whole lineage of people improperly trained or with dubious morals antithetical to the rest of the tradition. Which of course causes much upset and confusion down the line when other people in the tradition meet up with them and realize what’s going on. This in turn causes a lot of drama. (And aren’t Wiccans known for their drama?)
3. Traditional often equals fundamental, and fundamentalists are never lovely to be around. I don’t feel this one needs much elaboration.
4. It seems that a lot of people who become a part of a tradition, do so not for their spiritual selves, but for the “power” that such a structured hierarchy brings. The high priestess of a coven usually has the final say in all things and this can bring about much abuse of power. This can also engender a certain “snobby elitism” towards the rest of the Pagan community that most people I know, can’t stand, neither can I for that matter.
Wicca seems like it has become the dinosaur of the Pagan world. I avoided Wicca for a long time partly do to the fact that I saw it as being the fundamental side of Paganism and having left Christianity, I wanted to avoid that at all costs. It took finding a Wiccan who not only knew what he was doing, but who was responsible and drama free, that I was able to see past some of Wicca’s bad and even obnoxious reputation.
When I’m in circle with my Blue Star coven, we do ritual nearly weekly and we do it the same way each time. Each action causes a reaction and another action. We change details for what we are doing (esbats vs. sabbats, ect.), but the main part of the ritual stays the same. The idea behind this is that if you do something the same way so many times, you don’t have to consciously think about it and your subconscious can come out. I personally find Blue Star ritual to be both beautiful, moving and practical. It’s not the most elaborate ritual I’ve ever seen, nor is it the longest, but it creates a circle with power and great respect for deity behind it. As an eclectic, I always had trouble with ritual (and have gone through a number of just terribly done rituals), so after having been in ritual several times with Blue Star people, I was more easily seduced away from my eclectic practices. If this was what a tradition was about, than I wanted to be a part of it!
When I decided to ask for dedication, it was also because I agreed with the ideas behind the tradition. I never would have started this process towards initiation if I hadn’t agreed with Blue Star practices and principles. The idea of becoming a part of a tradition was a big deal to me. While I never felt that being a part of a tradition was vital to me as an eclectic, the older I get, the more I appreciate the resources and support that a tradition can offer.
So why do you join a tradition where the ideas and practices behind it are clearly laid out, if you don’t agree with it? One of the things that still bothers me about Wicca, are the people in it.
I was discussing this with another coven member and as she pointed out to me, “why worry about everyone else in the tradition? Why not enjoy the people we have and the way we do things?”. And to a certain extent, she’s right. There’s no point in worrying about the stupidity of other people. But then, what’s the point of being in a tradition anyway if you can’t depend on everyone else in it? As I pointed out above, that’s part of the point of a tradition! Why go to all this bother and work if everyone else in the tradition isn’t there to support you in it?
Even as a dedicant who is nowhere near my own initiation, I’ve already had a few run ins with other people in the tradition that have left a sour taste in my mouth. It’s also been pointed out to me that I don’t always bring up “positive issues”, even if they are valid ones. Which I take as diplomatic speak for the fact that people see me as a Negative Nancy. But there’s so many reasons that I avoided Wicca for as long as I did and even though I’m glad that I’ve come to it and have found joy in my own small, fledgling coven, there are still so many issues out there that I can’t ignore.
While I know that a lot of people see Wiccan’s as being elitist snobs, as an insider these days, I sort of get it. Wicca in general has worked for years to put together a religion that gets things done that a lot of eclectics can’t manage without years of study and training. But if Wicca and it’s traditions can’t get their acts together, how can they possibly survive and do they deserve to? That would be a blog for another day…