Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Take On "Wiccanate Privilege"

Recently I had a minor tantrum because somebody went back into my Twitter timeline and favorited something I wrote about "Wiccanate privilege," namely that I don't really get behind using that language to describe it.  Based on the stuff this person was writing on her own blog I'm pretty sure she didn't look at any of the context I wrote about, because her take on the subject is that "Wiccanate privilege" is a nasty slur used by some Wiccans to insult other Wiccans.  Ugh.

Anyway, because apparently I'm now being faved and retweeted by people who have no concept of what my position on this actually is, I figured I'd hop on that awful bandwagon and explain further:  What exactly is my take on this "Wiccanate privilege" subject?  And, well, it's not that.  In fact, I'm pretty sure if the whole context had been read, it'd be clear that I am on board with talking about the thing that "Wiccanate privilege" refers to.  I'd just prefer it not be called "Wiccanate privilege."

Part One: What are people talking about when they say "Wiccanate privilege?"

A large chunk of stuff I'm reading seems to be built on the assumption that "Wiccanate" is just another way for Old Style Wiccans (people who can trace their lineage to a Gardnerian coven) to deny New Style Wiccans (people who learned from books, often solitaries) the right to call themselves "Wiccans."  New Style Wiccans have been interpreting the word "Wiccanate" to be referring to them, in other words, "There are Real WiccansTM and then there are pretenders, who we call 'Wiccanate' instead."

Spoiler alert:  That's not what it means.

Hilariously, the fact that so many New Style Wiccans have taken this and turned it into yet another "Old Style Wiccans don't accept us as Wiccans" sob story pretty much confirms why this thing people are calling "Wiccanate privilege" needs to be talked about.  Dear Wiccans, both old style and new: It's not always about you.  "Wiccanate privilege" refers to the way general Pagan communities--those that are ostensibly meant to represent Pagans of all faiths and philosophies--treat practices, beliefs, and ethics that come from Wicca as universal to all Pagans... when they aren't.  Some examples of "Wiccanate privilege" include:
  • Putting things like the Wiccan Rede of "Harm None," the threefold law, the observance of the eight Sabbats, the practice of Witchcraft, and the worship of The Goddess and The God in definitions of Paganism.
  • The ability of people who write books and create informational presentations, saying they are about "Paganism" or "Witchcraft," and then only including information about Wicca.
  • The tendency to hold festivals and observances on the Sabbats.
  • The ability of general Pagan organizations to put things like "Harm None" in their bylaws.
  • The tendency to write rituals that are based on Wiccan ritual frameworks (casting of circles, calling the quarters, calling The God and The Goddess).
  • The tendency for people at a Pagan get-together to assume that everybody in attendance is Wiccan.
And most importantly, the ability to do these things and have relatively few people pop out of the woodwork to say "Actually, this isn't an appropriate definition of Paganism/bylaw for our organization/thing to call an 'all-faith' ritual because it only applies to Wicca and not all Pagans are Wiccans."

Why "Wiccanate" instead of just "Wiccan?"  Because there are lots of Pagans out there whose practice or ethics are very similar to Wicca, but who don't want to be called Wiccans for one reason or another.  There are people whose practice is practically identical to Wicca, except they are hard polytheists (view the Gods as individuals rather than as facets of The God and The Goddess), don't believe in the Threefold Law, don't adhere to the "Harm None" ethic, and/or don't believe that New Style Wiccans should be calling themselves "Wiccan."  Calling it "Wiccanate" instead of just "Wiccan" is basically saying "Just because you aren't Wiccan doesn't mean you're off the hook."  As a descriptive term it doesn't really distinguish between Old Style Wicca and New Style Wicca.

Part Two: Why is this important?

Again, I reiterate:  It's not about in-fighting among Wiccans.  For fuck's sake.  It's like some of you can't even look beyond your own tradition for five seconds.  For those of you who skipped the Pagan 101 portion of your study (or had particularly awful training), there are Pagans out there who are not Wiccans.  Since Wicca is so common, Wiccans very easily forget that not all Pagans practice like them.  Because of this, you get many events that claim to be for Pagans of all faiths and traditions, but which are only really accommodating to Wiccans and people who practice similarly.

This isn't a small thing.  It means that a non-Wiccan Pagan who goes to a "General Pagan" event can reasonably expect that other people who attend will probably misrepresent us, define Paganism in such a way that it excludes anybody who isn't Wiccan or Wicca-inspired, lecture us about ethics that have nothing to do with our religious traditions, and insist that we shoehorn our Gods and our mythology into a Wiccan understanding (something that happened to me while I was giving a presentation on Kemetic Reconstructionism once).  It's visible whenever you find a page like this that tries to define "Paganism" using Wiccan beliefs and ethics and yet says "Wicca" exactly zero times.  It's visible whenever a Wiccan gives an interview to a non-Pagan venue while treating "Pagan" and "Wiccan" as interchangeable.  It opens the rest of us to alienation and misrepresentation even in spaces that we're told are for us.  If you notice non-Wiccan Pagans stop coming to your events, this is often why.  We don't feel welcome.

That said, derailing what people are calling "Wiccanate privilege" is in fact very important to me.  I'm sick of people saying "Pagan" when they mean "Wiccan."  I'm sick of my ethics being trashed by Wiccans in Pagan space just because "Harm None" is not a part of my belief system.  I'm sick of people assuming that a ritual that collectively calls all of the world's deities "The God" and "The Goddess" is automatically relatable to me just because my deities are "technically" included.  This is not inclusive and it's insulting to think it is.

It's not about Wiccans vs. Wiccans.  Chant that over and over again.  It's about Wiccans vs. the large number of Pagans who aren't Wiccans.  And yes, it's an important issue that affects a lot of Pagans.

Part Three:  If I'm totally on board with derailing the preference of Wicca in Pagan communities, why do I hate the phrase "Wiccanate privilege?"

As somebody who deals in privilege discourse, I think it's a mistake to attach every power critique to a brand new "____ privilege" type label, and in this case in particular it's important to recognize that being Wiccan is not itself a privileged state.  Wiccans hold a lot of power over the discourse within the Pagan community--something that needs to be controlled--but calling them "privileged" ignores that in the wider community Wicca is a minority faith and subject to all the bullshit that that entitles them.

There have been cases where this sort of thing has been used to refer to privilege within a community (like gay male privilege within the queer community or white privilege as wielded by women), but the privilege being referred to in these cases is still something that goes beyond that community, something that can't be said for this so-called Wiccanate privilege.  In my own case, it's specifically the places where my beliefs, symbols, and practices align with Wicca where I've been most often burned by Christians:  I've been asked to remove pentacles at work, but not ankhs.

That said, it's important to me that we use accurate language to describe what's going on.  Using the word "privilege" to refer to something that benefits a person literally only within one minority religious community is I feel a misuse of the word "privilege" in the social justice sense of the word.  I feel like people are using it more as provocative clickbait than anything, without really considering the ramifications that such language is going to have both for the issue itself and for privilege discourse in general (where people love finding reasons to treat the word "privilege" as a slur used by meanies).