Beliefs and Traditions for Contemporary Life
by Rowan Morgana
I have never thought of Wicca as “modern”. In fact, back in the mid-to-late 1980’s, when I first began to explore this religion – and its co-religions Paganism, Heathenism, Druidism, and various forms of Witchcraft – it was routinely called “the Old Religion”. After reading books by scholars like Margaret Murray, Merlin Stone and Monica Sj??, among others, it made perfect sense to me that the ancients revered a great goddess over all and the rise of a patriarchal society gradually changed this to where the god ruled alongside the goddess but eventually took over to the point where she was totally written out of the picture – unless you belonged to a religion like Roman Catholicism – and even then, she wasn’t a goddess – just the obedient mother of the all-powerful god. I was attracted to religions where the goddess was supreme and where women were the writers of the books and the head of the covens. Wicca and witchcraft were feminist – that’s why I started casting circles in my living room and casting my own spells. It was about feminist power. MY feminist power. And the feminist power of hundreds of women just like me. We used to gather at celebrations like The Michigan’s Womyn’s Music Festival and other festivals just like that. Wow – what a wonderful time that used to be!
While I attended many an open circle with both men and women attending and both the god and goddess being invoked, it seemed that the most powerful rituals were in small circles of women only, invoking only the goddess. What can I say? While I understand the concept of the balance between male and female, I think that there are plenty of goddesses who can stand in for typically “male” attributes – besides, I always have always thought that assigning gendered characteristics to the sexes is a tool of the patriarchy so I’m not sure why a balance between the sexes is needed in Wicca – each sex should be perfectly balanced as is. Certainly the Goddess is within her own genderless self.
So imagine my surprise – an elderly feminist witch with a vast collection of “women’s spirituality” books, “goddess spirituality” and “feminist spirituality” books – books by Starhawk, Diane Stein, Margo Adler, Zsuzsanna Budapest, Margaret G, Wallker and so many more – imagine my surprise to find out that WICCA WAS INVENTED BY A MAN.
The “Old Religion” has been around since long before invention of writing – perhaps, though, not called “wicca”. The word “wicca” itself is from the Algo-Saxon root word wicce meaning to bend or shape. And of course I have heard of “Gerald Broussau Gardner”, but not that he is “generally recognized as the ‘Father of Wicca’.” (Morgana, 2)
He is? Really?
But is he actually the “Father of Wicca”? She contradicts herself in the next sentence: “He was introduced to the New Forest Coven in southern England and was initiated into it in 1939.” (Morgana, 2). Well, that definitely says that Wicca (in some form) existed before Gardner! How can he be the father of something that already existed? What Gardner did was publish a book about Wicca in 1954, adding a bunch of other stuff (Freemasonry, ceremonial magic, the occult, etc.) to what he learned in the New Forest coven and thereby popularizing it. With people like Doreen Valiente, Alex Sanders and Sybil Leek, not to mention The Rolling Stones (and their women), Wicca became almost mainstream. But it was The Spiral Dance by Starhawk that really made Wicca – and neo-Paganism – the cornerstone of the New Age. At least – that’s how I see it. And I think many of us – Wiccan, neo-Pagans, witches of all stripes – would agree.
I am not dissing this book. It’s a beautiful book. The photographs are lovely. Morgana covers all the basic aspects of Wiccan beliefs – the Three-fold Path, for instance – the differences between Monotheism and Polytheism and Pantheism – communicating online. I was going to say that I thought things were a tad better in the old days when you could go to a bookstore or occult shop and talk to people directly but in these days of COVID-19, I guess the only places to meet are online! I am not a big fan of Facebook but luckily, Rowan Morgana has a presence not only on Facebook but also Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumbler! She is definitely a modern woman!
Her webpage is here: http://sacredhaven.ca/rowan-morgana. Do check it out, it’s a beautiful page! Right now, there’s a gorgeous Beltane slideshow you do not want to miss! Also, you’ll want to click on the various links on the page. The Book of Shadows link is especially good!
Back to Modern Wicca. As much as Wicca may be “the old Religion”, Morgana focuses on how Wicca is practiced today, in the twentieth-first century, and that’s one of the things I really like about this book. We can speculate all we like about how pagans worshiped in ancient Greece or Rome or Britain or wherever but when push comes to shove, it’s all stardust and imagination – not actual fact. This book presents real ideas for real people who want to pursue a real religion – not a fantasy.
One of the things I really like about this twenty-first century presentation is the “green” approach – the mindfulness of how fragile our Earth is and that “To truly love the Goddess, one must also love Earth and her many forms and beings.” (Morgana, 21). Indeed! Unless the Judeo-Christian religions, which insist that the earth and its inhabitants are for men to “subdue” and “have dominion over” it (Genesis 1:28), Wiccans revere the earth. Many are vegetarians or vegan. Other may hunt game or fish but they do so with the proper reverence that the Goddess demands; trophy hunting is an abomination. Gardening and canning your produce are also popular with Wiccans.
In Chapter Three, “Wiccan Traditions”, Morgana lists the different kinds of Wiccans and this was quite interesting. I have to admit that I had never heard of “Dragonic or Dragon Wicca”, but of course I don’t pretend to be hip to all the new trends out there! I myself am a Solitary Dianic Wiccan.
I like the chart she provides with the pros and cons of being in a coven and solitary practice. This chart is on page 40. I have longed for many years to join a coven but after being alone as long as I have, I’m no longer sure that it would work for me. Looking at the chart, I think that I am better off as a solitary. I tried to copy and paste the chart to put it into this review but the e-book format wouldn’t allow me to do that. If it was a real book, I would have been able to scan it and then insert the scanned chart into this document, thereby sharing it with you all! OH WELL! I guess you’ll just have to buy the book on Amazon.com and check it out yourselves! Sorry about that!
Chapter Four is “Wiccan Holidays”. Morgana includes the Esbats as well as the Sabbats. This is a perfect lead-in to Chapter Five, “Spiritual Practices”, in which she discusses just how Wiccans celebrate these various holidays and what tools they use, how to create an altar, and what gods and goddesses they may worship. About tools: I like that she mentions that “The most powerful tools are handmade, because they are infused with your own magickal energy” (Morgana, 61-62); with the popularity of “witch boxes” and other ready-made magical aids for the modern practitioner, it seems like the corporate world has really taken over the Wiccan world. It’s good that someone remembers that the most powerful way to produce magic is to find your tools yourself and dedicate them to the Goddess yourself.
In Chapter Five, Morgana covers every aspect of a healthy spiritual practice, from focus and concentration to visualization to casting a circle to casting a spell. She talks about the all-important Book of Shadows – my own BOS started from notes I took when I first read Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance and is now four large spiral notebooks crammed with information! – so you don’t want to miss that section which begins on page 82.
The next chapter is “Spell Work” and it has lots of fabulous spells. The first one is an “Earth Protection Spell” and even though it is written for the person who has an outside garden, it would be very simple to tweak it for the practitioner in an apartment with only a few houseplants to work with. The same goes with the “Full Moon Healing Spell” – now that we are all living under the threat of the COVID-19 virus, removing everything that is toxic from our lives is more important than ever! And of course, we could all use another “Self-Love Spell”!
The final chapter covers Rituals and Rites. Morgana includes a page of Resources and of course, her references – I found it interesting that there wasn’t one author that I had read during my first three years of learning the craft! With the very notable exception of Doreen Valiente. But we all come to the Goddess from different places, do we not? My place just happened to be feminist!
All in all, I have to say that I highly recommend this book. It’s a beautiful book. I wish I had a bound book – as opposed to having an e-book – I would like to hold it in my hands and look at the pictures and charts more closely – and I would like to place it on my bookshelf with my other Wiccan classics. The information is spot on. It’s a wonderful book for anyone who is interested in the Wiccan religion – either to practice the religion or simply because they want to know more about it – or for someone like me, who has been on this path for well over thirty-five years. So, jump on your broomstick and fly to Amazon.com and buy Modern Wicca: Beliefs and Traditions for Contemporary Life by Rowan Morgana. You’ll learn a thing or two – just like I did!
Morgana, Rowan. Modern Wicca: Beliefs and Traditions for Contemporary Life. Emeryville, CA: Rockville Press, 2020.
About the Author:
Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.
Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan but she gets along with a few of the masculine deities. She loves to cook and she is a Bills fan.
She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.