Before I start, I want to make one thing very clear: the following is in no way meant to lambaste the Pagan community, criticize Wicca as a religion, or to mock anyone. I am merely speaking from my own perspective which is biased, yes, but based on fifteen years' experience with Wicca and experiences with a variety of groups, traditions, and people both wonderful and not-so-very. I'm sure your experience is very different from mine. If you're happy with your religious practices, that's wonderful, keep it up!
It doesn't always work out that way.
I've always said that you should take your religion seriously, but never yourself. That's a great maxim and all, but where do you draw the line? If your religion is supposed to inform every aspect of your life, is there even a line to draw?
This is how I ended up forcing myself to attend a lot of group rituals over the last decade even though I never, ever felt entirely comfortable there. I tried a thousand times to get over myself and just go with it, but the fact is, almost every time I've been surrounded by my "people" in full religious regalia complete with tools and Iambic pentameter, the same thought kept forcing its nasty way up through my consciousness: This is ridiculous.
I was surrounded by people in pseudo-medieval costumery waving sticks and knives around, chanting badly rhymed couplets such as,
"Da dada da dada da dada da fire
da dada da dada da dada desire!
Da dada da dada da dada da Moon
da dada da dada da dada da boon!"
Who the hell says boon?
There were people around me who claimed to have animal spirits inside their bodies--one guy even tried to sniff me. Everything seemed to be about sex--in ritual tradition dictated that a penis (a knife) be lowered into a vagina (a cauldron) as symbolic of the Biggest Damn Mystery and Aren't We Lucky it's a Sexy One?
The thought of a penis as a knife, incidentally, is NOT OKAY with me. They're already used as weapons against women all over the world--why bring that symbolism into a holy temple that's supposed to be woman-loving? Yes, a knife is a tool as much as a weapon, but thrusting it into something is not what I think of when I think of peaceful uses for a knife.
Pagan traditions from hundreds of years ago demanded that I make dollies out of corn husks to lay in beds so they could be pretend-ravished by their brother-father-lovers later on that night. Couldn't we just play Dirty Barbie like everyone else?
I tried, I really did. And it wasn't a lack of belief that was the problem. I was perfectly able to go along with the idea that stones held magical energy, and that dancing around in a circle could change the world. I cast my spells and all of that. And when I was by myself, able to work quietly and take the time to gently connect to Deity on my own terms, it worked.
In small intimate groups of friends I'd known for months or years, it worked as well, but there was still a barrier between my experience and the group's. It worked best if I led the rituals, spoke the guided meditations myself--that way I didn't put so much pressure on myself to "feel something," and was able to experience a priestess's transformation, which is never the same as those in her circle, but just as important. The only time I truly felt comfortable was when I was in charge. For a long time I figured that was because I'm bossy and demanding, but I eventually realized it was the best way for me to get something out of the rite, too, and not beat myself up for feeling out of place.
I get it. I really do. The idea behind all the silliness is that we disengage the "shoulds" and "should nots" of modern society and return to a more childlike way of looking at the world, where spirits and magic are possible and cynicism gives way to wonder. It's a more visible manifestation of what Buddhists call "beginner's mind." Go back to the beginning, to when the world was still enchanted to your eyes, and speak to it as if you'd never been told it was all pretend. This is a wonderful idea, and a noble aim given how determined the world is to grind us down in stark reality and doom-and-gloom.
And for those who can manage to do that and also have transformative spiritual experiences while dressed up like cast extras from A Knight's Tale, more power to you.
In fact I envy you, because I just can't do it.
Over the past few years as I've moved slowly away from Wicca and into...well, whatever it is you'd call my thing now...I've investigated various traditions both under the Pagan umbrella and outside, and I have to say that the first thing that turns me off is the You're Joking, Right? factor. You want me to weave ribbons around a giant phallic object to celebrate...fucking? You're joking, right? You want me to drink out of the horn of a dead animal after thirty other people? You're joking, right? You want me to give offerings to that hairy skirt-wearing guy in the antlers?
There are not enough 'shrooms in the world.
Needless to say this attitude has led to a full self-imposed exile from the Pagan community. I have absolutely zero interest in festivals, Pride Days, drum circles, public Sabbats, or semi-public Esbats. If it were the right people I might give it a shot, but my tolerance for strangers is even lower than my tolerance for silly. I love spending time with the women in my wee circle, but my favorite times are when we feast together, dance together, and talk and support each other. And I still long for community, but I don't think my place is among the Pagani. I like to think that my writing, or the majority of it, has an appeal for my old people as well as a broader audience around the spiritual web, but as far as my actual practices, well, the divide between myself and my former community seems to keep growing the older I get.
For a long time I thought I was the problem, but I've come to understand that it's not my fault, or Wicca's fault--it's like any relationship. You meet, you grow together for a while, and sometimes you part company. One of you changes and the other doesn't, or you both change, but regardless, your paths may diverge for a while, perhaps for good. It's sad, yes, but it means you're both free to evolve unfettered by each other's expectations and drama.
So I still call myself a Pagan, but I'm not sure what that means at the moment. When I finally get around to writing my third nonfiction book it will most definitely not include the word "Wicca" in the title, and though my approach to spirituality is still similar to my first book, the third would be a rather different critter altogether. There are some things I just don't do anymore; they no longer serve me. That doesn't mean those things are bad or dumb or pointless. It just means they're not my way anymore.
And believe me...if I never do another Drawing Down, it'll be too soon.