I’ve studied Wicca for 14 years. I am a High Priestess in my tradition. These are facts. I even have the signed degree certificate from my initiating High Priest to prove it. I also have the record of our “final exam” where I scored 22 points–and the next highest score was 13. This was when I was 17 years old and just starting my study of Wicca. My performance directly led to my High Priest’s decision to initiate me in the first place. It took another 10 years to reach my third degree. As you can see, we don’t grant degrees lightly.
But I have a secret.
It’s not much of a secret. It’s something I tell my students at some point during their training. Usually when the topic of my favorite books and authors comes up. My favorite book is “Wicca: Beliefs and Practices” by Gary Cantrell. So what’s the secret? Well, it’s one of five books I’ve read in their entirety on Wicca.
A High Priestess who has read FIVE BOOKS?! Some Craft of the Wise, right?
Let me explain.
Paganism is the religion of the country folk, the grand majority of whom throughout history could not read or write. This does not mean that country folk are not wise. Wisdom is not something learned from books. Keep in mind that I have a degree in English literature–no one likes helping me move because 75% of my boxes are full of books. Books are windows and they are tools, but the words alone do not grant wisdom. They can take you to imaginary lands or impart knowledge, both modern and archaic. Wisdom comes from what we do with knowledge and imagination. Fiction is not educational because of the words on the page, but rather what the words can demonstrate about the psyche and society. It requires intuition and interpretation and, yes, even knowledge. Any English major will tell you that a lecture on literature begins with a lesson on the culture of the time and place in which the story was written. Books lose their value if we do not then apply thought to their content.
I love books. I do actually recommend a few titles to neophytes because it’s an easy way to give them an introduction to the beliefs and practices of Wicca. As the religion of the country folk, however, clearly a pagan spirituality is about more than knowledge. It is a nature religion. Our philosophy and knowledge are gathered from nature. Just about everything there is to know about Wicca can be learned from what is around us, and because of this engaging in nature actively or passively is an integral part of a Wiccan path. We observe the duality of feminine and masculine in both animals and plants. We observe the life-giving power of the sun in the green growth around us. We observe the cyclical nature of the year by the change of seasons and wax and wane of daylight hours. We observe the power of the Moon in the tides. We ascribe very human characteristics to much of nature because we are human and that is how we understand our world–this is not wrong to do as long as we don’t lose sight that nature is still nature, not a person. Our world gives us life, and for this reason we venerate Her.
Claiming a Wiccan philosophy means nothing without action–even something as simple as sitting under a tree for a few minutes. Words are words and they can be beautiful and intelligent and powerful, but they lose their efficacy if they are never applied. It loses its meaning as a nature religion, too, if we do not turn to nature as our teacher. A Wiccan teacher is an important figure in a Witch’s life, without doubt, but too often I run into students who expect that I will give them reading assignments and tasks and, with time and a ginormous library, they will develop into a wise and knowledgable Wiccan like me. The role of the teacher, however, is not merely to impart knowledge, but most importantly to help guide the neophyte to the door they have to walk through to gain wisdom. I can talk all day long about Wiccan philosophy, but if you do not observe it in nature, or learn how to learn from nature, or apply it appropriately in your own life, then my teaching is meaningless. This is why I take an organic approach to teaching. Yes I have lessons of facts, but I like my students’ reports of their experiences guide their lessons and guide me in knowing what their needs are.
There are many wonderful books out there on Wicca. There are very few that I would refuse to put on my own bookshelf. Not a single one is going to teach you as much as going outside and looking around. My advice for anyone looking for a deeper understanding? Go outside. Breathe. Be part of the world. See what comes to you. You may be surprised how much more sense the philosophy makes.
That being said, there are a few areas I would advise you get a thorough education and not dabble with: spiritual mediumship and anything consumable, including but not limited to oils and herbs. One can be psychologically damaging if not done properly, and the other can be physically damaging (poisonous amongst other things) if ingested without knowing the full range of side effects. You can certainly learn these things from observing nature, but this requires a lot of research and experimentation which has already been done–don’t make more work for yourself and potentially make a mistake. Use nature as your teacher for Wiccan philosophy and wisdom, but when it comes to magick, use both what you learn from nature and established research to protect yourself and others.
My secret? Almost the entirety of my understanding of Wicca comes from nature. She has been the greatest teacher I have ever had, and my mentors before me were the greatest guides a Witch could have asked for. I honor their memory by passing along this nugget of truth: Wicca is living, so live.