There are a number of approaches a Wiccan can take to learning their Craft, each with its pros and cons, but neither is necessarily more valid than the other. Whether it is Wiccan or not also does not grant validity as a spiritual practice, but there are certain defining components of Wicca, and if a spiritual practice doesn’t contain those components, it’s not Wicca. Just because it isn’t Wiccan, however, doesn’t make it any less valid or meaningful. Too often I see those who are either anxious to define themselves as Wiccans, or those who sneer derisively at someone who isn’t Wiccan, or even those who proudly proclaim that they “grew out of” Wicca. “I was Wiccan but I got over it” is a phrase I have seen more than once, usually followed by congratulatory comments that the original speaker has achieved great insight and wisdom to have been able to break out of the “Wiccan mold.” I have no objection to those who have used Wicca as a stepping stone in finding a spirituality that is meaningful to them, but the derogatory comments surprise me inasmuch that, having studied Wicca, I would have thought that they would be more sympathetic to the difficulty all Pagans, including Wiccans, face in gaining any kind of tolerance or acceptance. However, it is also unsurprising as this is a common stepping stone when people turn from more conventional religions to Paganism–most neophytes I meet usually harbor some level of anger or resentment for the faith they came from or the majority faith of their community. It’s a way of being able to sever those connections with some semblance of outward justification, though the anger may not be the real root cause of the choice to pursue a different path.
Nonetheless, there is more than one way to approach a study of Wicca. One is through conventional academic study. That is to say, the Witch spends the majority of their energy in reading books on the topic by both Pagan and non-Pagan authors about history, philosophy, practice, and so forth. Their beliefs and practices are informed by research. On the other side, you have the Wiccan whose understanding and practice are informed by intuition. Their knowledge and beliefs are developed through experience and meditation, examining the natural world around them and drawing conclusions for themselves. I have known Wiccans of both types, and it makes me smile because the intuitive Witch reinforces the idea of Wicca as a nature religion and the academic Witch reinforces the idea of Wicca as the Craft of the Wise, and both come around to the same concepts and beliefs often enough. Each supports the other.
That being said, I find its important as a priestess and teacher to encourage my students along BOTH paths. Most commonly I encounter those who have read lots of books, but they aren’t sure what to do with it and so I must encourage them to get out into nature and develop ways of incorporating their Craft into their life. More recently I have encountered a couple of intuitive Witches, which is how I myself started out, and I can see the task before me is to guide them to quality academic types of Wiccan educational materials. A well rounded Witch is one who possesses not only knowledge but also analytical critical thinking skills, capable of deep introspection.
This can be difficult to accept for some when we live in a society and culture that emphasizes the value of scientific proof. We want something we can test, i.e. a hypothesis. While I didn’t understand it when I first went to college, now I understand the wisdom in a liberal arts education that requires a study of philosophy. Logic and reasoning are not always the natural skills as we assume they are–though I consider myself an intelligent person, my reasoning abilities were challenged by my Intro to Logic course. I’d like to think they were also improved by that course. Either way, knowledge and wisdom are about more than hard physical proof. Natural philosophy has provided the basis for human thought and educational systems, including physical science. There is merit in what we can learn through observation and philosophy, and we shouldn’t forget this. This is why a collegiate study of the arts, such as literature, is still valuable, and why employers and graduate schools will seek a candidate with an arts degree for certain positions. Make no mistake, those with bachelor’s degrees in the sciences can have just as much difficulty finding a job as someone with a degree in the arts–it’s all in the skills and how you can sell it on an application/in an interview.
I wish we incorporated more formal philosophy in primary and secondary school education.
This is the Craft of the Wise. We endeavour to value ALL forms of learning and knowledge, putting it through the rigors of critical thinking, and support our Brothers and Sisters with both book learning and intuition, honesty and compassion–and always with Perfect Love and Perfect Trust.