Feminism: Why Wikipedia Isn't The Alpha and Omega of Religious Studies

Author's Note: This is an article about what I, personally, believe -- and my beliefs about my beliefs. (Can't get more meta than that!) This is not an article about what all Wiccans believe, although I do believe that it is an article about what some of them believe. This is not an article about historical fact, but rather an article about religious legends, self-identification, and why religions are defined by internal forces and not external ones.

Also note that I wrote this post about two weeks before its publish date, and it is not intended to tie into this week's Narnia dust-up, although the juxtaposition is ironic in retrospect. Since I consider my beliefs no more sacrosanct than anyone else's, feel free to speak up in the comments and I'll answer anything I can.

Note that many Wiccans don't give a
toss about which "way" the star is pointed.
(It's always upside-down to
someone in the circle.)
On the very rare occasion that someone asks me my religion, and when I feel inclined to answer, I tell them that I am a Wiccan. In private, in my own thoughts and writings, I most definitely self-identify as a Wiccan. Whenever I see one of those pie-charts of religions in America, I'm right there slotted into the census data or survey data as one of the Wiccans. I'm the little pixel on the left.

One of the interesting things about being a Wiccan is that the internet will sometimes cause your brain to explode. This occurs because people write articles like this TV Tropes entry saying what Wicca is and what Wiccans believe and shoving Wicca into a very narrow box... when comparable articles on Christianity correctly note that religious identification is Very Complicated.

Why is it easy to say, as the article above does, that "The simplest definition of 'Christian' is a person who call themselves a Christian", but it's not acceptable at all to say "The simplest definition of 'Wiccan' is a person who call themselves a Wiccan"? I think it's because the majority of people writing the articles have been or known someone who is a Christian and recognizes that the religion is complex -- but their underexposure to Wiccans in real life means that they think they can rely on a few Wikipedia articles to be an expert. The problem is, religion and self-identification has always been so much more complex than a few Wiki articles.

So here are a few of my thoughts -- for what little they are worth -- on why whatever you may think you know about Wicca is probably More Complicated Than That.

Wicca was founded in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner.

It's more complicated than that.

It is true that many Wiccans believe that Wicca as a religion was founded in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner. But it is also true that many other Wiccans do not believe that Gardner was the first Wiccan. The key to this difference in beliefs is found when we look at why these different groups believe different things.

Many people who self-identify as "Wiccan" do not see Garden as a "founding" figure but rather instead see modern Wicca as having evolved over time from earlier nature religions, goddess traditions, and magic practices. In this paradigm, Gardner is an important figure in the evolution of the religion, but not the founder. He simply brought public attention to an existing religion while adding his own structures and beliefs onto the pile. According to this paradigm, Gardner was ultimately a "reformer" figure -- not unlike Martin Luther for the Christian faith.

Of course, there are Gardenarian Wiccans, just like there are Lutheran Christians, but outside of Protestant/Catholic interfaith wrangling, one isn't likely to bump into the notion that believing or not believing in the tenants of Martin Luther is the key to self-identifying as a Christian. In the same vein, there are many self-identifying Wiccans who do not view Gardner's teachings as relevant to their own lives or practices.

Many Wiccans believe that all religions evolve and change over time -- in some cases very slightly and in other cases very drastically. The breadth of these changes depend heavily on how unified the religion was when it began, how well-documented the religion was, and how strongly the religion resisted modification. A religion with a single founder who wrote down every word and prescribed damnation on anyone who changed a single precept would presumably change less over time than a religion that was defined by a few over-arching themes but which had little documentation and no internalized resistance to modifications over time.

Is modern Wicca very different from early nature religions, goddess traditions, and magic practices? Absolutely! Yet modern Christianity is very different from the early messianic traditions that shaped it as a religion. As a general rule, we recognize that Christianity has evolved over time and we do not argue that the early messianic authors whose writings have been preserved were not "Christians". Modern Christians are allowed to deviate without fuss from those early beliefs: they may believe women can teach in church and that men may have long hair without their self-identification being challenged. They may even fail to keep the Sabbath holy (and which day is the Sabbath again? Saturday or Sunday?) and may not tithe to the church and still claim the title of "Christian".

We do not, in short, argue that because modern Christianity is different from ancient messianic traditions, that therefore two names and two founders are needed: "ancient messianic traditions" for everything prior to 1940 and "Christianity" with Billy Graham as the 'founder' in the 1940s. I think we should not therefore argue that modern Wicca is so fundamentally different from early goddess traditions that therefore the entire religion was founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s, nor that one must be a follower of Gardner to self-identify as "Wiccan".

Invoking "The Burning Times" is ignorant because witch-hunts didn't target Wiccans.

It's more complicated than that.

"The Burning Times" is a euphemism for the period in history when an accusation of practicing a non-approved religion could result in the legal execution of the accused. In general, the term refers to the Catholic and Protestant witch- and heretic-hunts in Europe and the Americas, but from a world-wide perspective, "The Burning Times" have never ended: there are plenty of places on earth still where an accusation of having the 'wrong' religion can end in a person's death. As such, the term is generally used not as a specific time period but as an invocation of something to avoid.

Did the witch-hunts in Europe and the Americas have Wiccan casualties? It's hard to say. Certainly the witch-hunting manuals lay out a stated intent to find and destroy magic users and anyone who claimed to have or work with "natural" (i.e., non-divine) power, but how many of the European/American populations actually practiced magic use or were subsequently caught up in witch-hunts? An analysis of the victims leads most historians to believe that the bulk of victims self-identified as Christians, not witches. So how does this effect the conceptualization of the Burning Times within Wicca?

It's important to remember that every political or religiously motivated "witch-hunt" catches up victims who were not part of the persecuted group in question. Indeed, catching up a huge haul of innocent victims is the very nature of a witch-hunt, because full-scale witch-hunts are driven by suspicion, paranoia, and hysteria. Sometimes witch-hunts grab up their "unintended" victims on purpose: the witch-hunt is a convenient excuse to remove a rival or grab a fortune. Most of the times, however, the "unintended" victims seem to be caught up because the witch-hunt machine needs a constant influx of new victims in order to sustain public outrage and support: a witch-hunt without victims dies out very quickly, so new victims must be found.

We do not know how many "heretical Jews" murdered in the Spanish Inquisition and similar European purges were actually of Jewish descent and practicing Judaism, but it seems very likely that quite a few "converted" (i.e., Christian) Jews and non-Jews were killed in the purges. In the same vein, the McCarthy-era hunts for communists in America identified only a handful of people who actually identified as political communists; the majority of people harmed in the hunts had never identified themselves as communists but were caught up in the net anyway.

Understanding that, it should not be surprising to note that the majority of people killed during "The Burning Times" were most likely not followers of nature religions or goddess traditions or magical practitioners. However, that does not mean that none of them were. Historical research on witch-hunts is spotty because quite a bit of the research boils down to which documents to believe and which to discard, but some scholars believe that the groups most heavily targeted by witch-hunters were poor disenfranchised women, wealthy widowed women, and country medical practitioners. This last group is particularly interesting because some scholars believe that country medical practitioners were specifically targeted as witches since several hunting manuals take special note of medical remedies (often dispensed with superstitious chants and rituals). Some social historians speculate that the motivation behind these hunts was that the medical practitioner represented a potential threat to the priestly authority: Why would parishioners come to church to pray and tithe for good health when they could go to their local healer for a salve? The magical incantation that came along with the salve (because it seemed to help the last patient) was the excuse that the witch-hunters hung the conviction on.

If these medical practitioners were dispensing "magical" remedies, it's possible that they did not self-identify as Christian, given the church's official stance on natural power at that time. It's also possible that they ascribed to a nature religion or a goddess tradition -- there are theories that the popularity of Mary in the Catholic faith was a means for women to connect with a socially acceptable female divine figure, and it would not be strange to learn that some disenfranchised and persecuted women preferred a nature goddess to a sky god. On the other hand, it is just as possible -- if not more so -- that these practitioners considered the chants they dispensed as prayers to God and were faithful Christians from birth until death. These questions boil down to individuals long dead with very little surviving documentation in some cases, and so it becomes as much a matter of faith as of history.

So while almost certainly no one killed in Europe/America self-identified as a "Wiccan" (because there's no evidence to my knowledge that the word was circulated and used then as we use it today), I do not think that it is ignorant to believe that some of the people who were killed may have followed a belief system similar to what some Wiccans practice today: a belief system that worships the female divine and believes that healing can be a magical as well as a scientific process. In the same way, not every "Christian" thrown to the lions in Rome self-identified as a Christian. However, when most Christians speak of lions and persecution, we understand they are referencing a complex notion instead of a historical statement. In the same vein, when most Wiccans speak of the burning times, we should understand that they are referencing a similar complex notion rather than making a historical claim.

Having said all that, there are there Wiccans who claim that 9 million were killed in the burning times and that the vast majority of those victims were practicing witches. Historical study does not support this statement. However, not everyone who references "the Burning Times" in the abstract should be identified with this extreme fringe theory anymore than all Christians should be identified with Jack Chick tracts because religious ideals are complicated like that. 

Pentagrams have a right-side-up and a wrong-side-down.

It's more complicated than that.

Pentagrams are five-pointed stars, often contained in a circle, that many Wiccans associate with the five magical elements: earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. Some Wiccans assign specific points to each element; others do not. At some point in the past, someone who may-or-may-not-have-been a self-identified Wiccan decided that since the upper-most point was Spirit, then an "upside-down" pentagram indicated the subjection of the Spirit, and therefore the "upside-down" pentagram was a symbol for evil.

You may have noticed, however, by this point in the article that not all Wiccans believe the same things. Several Wiccans, myself included, believe there to be no "right-side-up" or "upside-down" view of the pentagram -- the star is in a circle that can roll freely and all the elemental points are always in the same relationship to the other. Indeed, this view is almost necessary if you're practicing in a circle, since the pentagram at the center of the circle is always going to be "upside-down" to someone in the circle.

So when you see an upside-down pentagram, you can't take it as read that the author/drawer/owner of the pentagram believes it to be representing anything bad or evil. 

You're not a Wiccan if you don't believe X or worship Y.

It's more complicated than that.

Remember that article above? Let's expand that quote:
The simplest definition of "Christian" is a person who call themselves a Christian, unhelpfully enough, this doesn't actually cover all Christians (looking at you, Messianic Jews), and it most certainly doesn't do anything to inform us of who is actually practicing the religion and who simply says they are. A slightly more complicated definition would be one who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ and strives to live their life in accordance with His teachings. Of course, depending on who you ask, this means different things.
I actually think that quote is a little optimistic -- I believe Robert Price self-identifies as a Christian and while he may believe in "the divinity of Christ", he makes a very compelling case for Christ not ever actually existing as a historical person, so he may not believe in "the divinity of Christ" in the same way as this article means.

Can you make a list of anything that all Christians believe in? Maybe "God" would be on that list, but I'm not completely sure. Probably some portion of the Bible could be nailed down and everyone could agree that particular book-chapter-verse was divinely inspired and completely True (with a capital T), but if the condition is that we need buy-in from every Christian ever, it's going to be a very short passage. ("Jesus wept" is right out -- Robert Price strikes again!)

The fact of the matter is that despite being a thoroughly documented religion with a rich past and enjoying status as a government-favored religion for periods of hundreds of years, there are intense and very meaningful differences between large groups of Christians over the nature of the divine, the validity of various historical texts, and the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. So why should Wicca -- a religion that some practitioners believe to have evolved from equally rich and varied sources but also almost completely undocumented and without a centralized authority figure and persecuted and outlawed for several generations be somehow less varied than the flavors of Christianity?

Some Wiccans believe in a single goddess. Some believe in a god and a goddess. Some believe in a god and goddess with a trinity nature. Some believe in a pantheon of deities. Some believe in all of these things at once. (Again, in keeping with the theme of this article: this belief is not foolish, but rather, simply Complicated.) There are atheist Wiccans. (There are even Christian Wiccans, and while I do not personally understand how that works, I believe that the majority of those so self-identified have put a great deal of thought into their chosen self-identification.) Some Wiccans believe in magic, but many do not, or at least do not practice magic themselves. Some find the writings of certain modern Wiccans to be instructive and helpful in their daily lives; others do not.

Do all Christians believe in the Trinity? Do all recognize the humanity of Jesus? Do all Christians pray every day -- or even at all? Do all Christians agree with the writings of Billy Graham or Rick Warren?

I cannot think of a single key issue around which a person must believe or summarily be stripped of their Christian self-identification, and neither can I think of a single issue on which a Wiccan self-identification irrevocably revolves. Religions, as a general rule, are more complicated than a single issue -- they tend to revolve around certain beliefs, certain memes, and certain behavioral patterns. There is often a great deal of overlap between groups within a religion, and I would argue that it's in those various overlaps that we see a religion emerge, but in terms of a single key issue that the entire religion revolves around, I can't think of a single issue that all Wiccans agree upon except maybe "Harm none." (And even that has a rather contentious debate about self-defense attached to it, not unlike the Christian controversies about injunctions against ending life and how they affect self-defense, war time situations, and capital punishments.)

Is all this so much sophistry on my part, designed to make labels seem meaningless? On the contrary, I think self-applied labels are incredibly important, which is one of the reasons why I'm arguing so strongly. It is my firmly held belief that no one can or should attempt to strip a self-identified religious label from another person.

My father is a Christian, but he doesn't believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. My mother is a Christian, and does believe in Biblical inerrancy -- except for the part about divorced people being adulterers. (Mother had a really shitty first marriage and it's funny how first-hand experience with something can leave you with a more complicated view than just The Bible Says So.) They love each other deeply and I can't imagine that they would accuse each other of not being real Christians for believing differently from one another.

And yet... the Internet is full of people -- otherwise good, thinking, intelligent people -- trying to strip the name of "Wicca" from people who self-identify as such but who fail to fit into narrow definitions of what those people think Wicca should be. And accompanying all this de-identification is so much negativity and divisiveness: I cringe every time I see someone complain about "fluffy bunny Wiccans" and "goth angst Wiccans" and a hundred other put downs and complaints about people who live differently from what the complainer would like.

And that brings me to:

It's not easy being a Wiccan. 

This one is true, although like everything else, it's more complicated than that. It's not easy to be a lot of things in this country: we're not likely to elect an openly self-identifying atheist anytime and my pentagram necklace has never got me stopped by the police or patted down at the airport in the way that certain other religious identifying symbols might do. So please don't feel like you should feel sorry for me because of my OH SO PERSECUTED religion, because that's not what I mean.

What I do mean is that Wicca is a religion that is almost entirely composed of converts from other religions. Very few Wiccans are raised Wiccan. The conversion process is frequently painful and difficult -- moving from a religion you were raised in to a religion that probably no one in your family holds or is familiar with can be very difficult. It's not surprising that many Wiccans gravitate in the early stages of their conversion process to aspects that are especially positive or negative -- and there is no need, in my opinion, to put down those who do, thereby making their religious inquiries more difficult than they already are.

So how can you help? Here's an easy guide that I recommend:
  1. Religions are defined internally by its members rather than externally by non-members. Remember not to value your own definitions over an individual's self-identification. (i.e., No one person owns the definition on Christianity or Wicca or pretty much anything else.)
  2. Religions are composed of a wide variety of views on a number of subjects. Remember that apparent inconsistencies of belief do not automatically equal deficient reasoning. (i.e., If you want to learn more, ask respectfully "How can you be a Christian and not believe in a historical Jesus?" rather than just dismissing the person as Not-A-Christian.)
  3. Religions are composed of people who self-identify with that religion for a variety of personal reasons. Remember to be sensitive to the fact that people's religious inquiries are complicated. Avoid personal attacks or attempts to de-identify people who believe differently than you would like or expect. (i.e., Avoid "You're not an X if you don't believe Y" statements.)
  4. Religions should not be codified with blanket statements of faith that do not apply to everyone within that faith. Don't repeat blanket statements of religious definitions online and do edit them to when possible. (i.e., Utilize subjective terms: some Christians believe; many Muslims believe; some Wicca traditions maintain; etc.)
  5. Religions are composed by complicated people with very different individual outlooks and personalities. Remember that self-identifying with a religion does not lead to a dearth of individual opinions. (i.e., Catholics don't worship the pope, not all Wiccans follow Gardner's writings, etc.) 
You are factually and historically wrong.

It's more complicated than that.

I strongly believe that religious statements that are published in a public forum can and should be subjected to historical analysis. It would be hypocritical for me to suggest that the existence of Jesus is fair game for historical critique or that the gospels should be subjected to literary criticism, but then turn around and say that my beliefs are sacrosanct and above critique.

As someone who respects history very strongly, I will freely admit that it's very possible that nature-traditions and goddess-worship didn't exist prior to the 1950s and I will freely admit that it's very possible that not a single person executed for witchcraft in Europe and the Americans considered themselves anything other than good god-fearing Christians.

A good religious outlook, in my opinion, is one that is shaped by belief and tempered by evidence. One of my beliefs is that goddess-worship and natural-traditions of some form existed prior to 1950 and that those traditions trickled down to us through a variety of oral sources. Another of my beliefs is that some small percentage -- maybe one percent, maybe less -- of people executed for witchcraft and heresy may have practiced some form of these natural-traditions. These two beliefs are so vague as to be almost unfalsifiable, but just because I cannot think of any evidence that could be presented to falsify either of these beliefs, doesn't mean that I'm not open to evidence.

However, this is not a post about historical facts -- although people are welcome to talk history in the comments if they want -- but rather it is a post about the variety of belief. This is also not a proselytization post: my intention with this post couldn't be further from wanting to convince anyone. Everyone needs to walk their own path and make their own decisions. It will be your experiences that lead you to self-identify as a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, or an atheist.

This post is merely an attempt to provide insight into a different worldview. My hope is that this post will open a few eyes to the realization that inasmuch as not everyone who claims the same self-identification as you also believes the exact same things as you all the time on every subject, well, that phenomena is true for every member of every group ever. I hope that everyone will remember that religious self-identification is more complicated than a Wikipedia article, and that forceful de-identification is something to be avoided.

Thank you for listening, and have a wonderful day. Blessed be, ya'll.


Dav said...

This is awesome.

Cupcakedoll said...

You are right.  This article is right.  It is More Complicated Than That.  And here are some random thoughts:

I considered doing a "ask me anything" on Reddit because there weren't any witchy ones, then realized everything I answered would be different from what many of my witchy friends would answer, at which point my brain broke and I gave up the idea. Every wiccan you meet will believe different stuff from every other one you meet.

Quoth my friend: "Wicca: pretending to be an ancient religion since the 1950s."  And he's the witchiest guy in the city, loves his faith like crazy and mocks it cheerfully.

Another point you could have included in bold, "Wiccans Drama just like everyone else."  A large ammount of the de-identification comes from within.  I think it comes from fiction, oddly enough-- in fiction it's often the Chosen One who can do magic, and that creeps into everyone's mindset so since most wiccans do magic they're prone to believing themselves the Chosen One, purveyer of the One True Vision without which all are heretics even if they never consciously realize it.  That's the story-colored goggles view from within, while from without people hear the word and think of Willow on Buffy, or the various YA fantasy novels with "Wiccans" in them.  Wicca is a religion that skates on the line between what's real and what's fiction in a way that other religions don't.  (except maybe the anime version of Shintoism with monster-battling mikos?)  I suspect that colors everyone's subconscious perceptions of it. 

...that wasn't quite on topic but the words just kept coming.  I can't wait to see where this thread is by the time I get back from work tonight!  Should be loads of fun!

jill heather said...

It's interesting, because as a Jew, I have certainly dealt with the "well, obviously Judaism couldn't have changed since 1BC" group. I do not agree that self-identification is sacrosanct. Jews for Jesus are not Jews, they are some sort of Christian coopting the word Jew in order to more effectively convert Jews. (I am oversimplifying a little bit here, and I know that many of them are sincere in their beliefs, but that doesn't make them Jews. You cannot redefine words totally just so you get define yourself using a word you like.)

Ana Mardoll said...

Jill, I hadn't thought about Jews for Jesus and now I'm not sure what to think in general.

I *do* think that self-identification should be relatively sacred from external de-identification, but I don't think that people should...ah...how to say? Claim to be a member of a group in order to try to convince the members of that group to join a different group or change their own group.

Then again, I'm VERY much against proselytizing in general. Perhaps I should amend my statement to say that self-identification should be sacrosanct UNLESS you start pushing it at other people? At which point the other person can say, "No, that's not what Christianity/Wicca/Judaism/Islam means to me"? I'm not sure. Thank you -- you've given me something to think about on this subject and it's possible that I'm quite wrong. Hmm.  

JohnK said...

This is a great idea for an article. It can be hard for even well-meaning people to find information on religions such as Wicca on the Internet. As you say, Wikipedia is incomplete (and extremely turgid read) and it's great to see a well-written and serious explanation from the perspective of an actual Wiccan. Would you mind if I put this into StumbleUpon?

Anthony Rosa said...

So... and this is purely for information... could you cite some of the pre-Gardner wiccans? It would help greatly in knowing this truth if I knew of some.

As one who has been told the Gardner thing, I'd love to have that corrected if it was inaccurate. So, you know, genuine, respectful question, don't take it as at all antagonistic. I'm curious, and would like to know more.

jill heather said...

I am for self-identification (if people who would be considered Jews because their mothers, or their mother's mothers, etc, are Jews do not want to be called Jews, I do not consider them Jews either), I just don't think that claiming you are X is sufficient for you to be X. I don't know enough about other religions to say what thing or things would count you out, but I am sure they exist. (Could I say I believe in Jesus as a saviour, and no other gods, and no magic, and still reasonably be called Wiccan? One of the specific things, possibly the only one, that excludes you from any sort of Judaism, except the ethnic kind, is believing that there was a saviour who came and will be returning. This is for what are presumably obvious historical reasons.)

Part of it is the fuzzy category issue, and the question of where to draw lines, but part of it is feeling that words can't just be entirely repurposed so they mean whatever you want them to mean, you need the word to make sense to the rest of the people who speak your language. I don't want to draw the category lines so close they exclude everyone, but they need to be drawn somewhere.

It's complex, and I certainly don't have the standing to talk about someone else not really being a Wiccan, or a Christian, or a Hindu, but it doesn't mean that it isn't possible.

I also do not think that every single Jew for Jesus -- or, in a more obnoxious term, Messianic Jew -- is deliberately pretending to be Jewish in order to convert people. I am sure the vast majority of them believe honestly that they are Jewish, but they really aren't, however many seders they hold.

Ana Mardoll said...

JohnK, you are welcome to link back to the article wherever you want, although I hope it's made clear within this article that this is a statement of my beliefs, and not a statement of belief for all/most/many/etc. Wiccans. :)

Anthony, the earliest published Wiccan writings that I know of would be Margaret Murray in the 1920s. Considering that people were still being jailed in the 1940s under witchcraft laws, it is probably not surprising that there are not a lot of pre-Gardner writings available. He's a famous Wiccan largely because he had a huge hand in making the religion legal in Britain.


Could I say I believe in Jesus as a saviour, and no other gods, and no magic, and still reasonably be called Wiccan?

There are most certainly Christian Wiccans who worship Jesus on their altar. Since Wicca does not require belief in any god, nor does it require a belief-in-or-practice-of magic, I would say the answer to your question is yes: if you called yourself a Wiccan + believed in Jesus + didn't practice magic or worship any other gods, there are plenty of the people in the Wiccan community that wouldn't argue with you.

Of course, there are Wiccans who WOULD argue with you, but the theme of this article is that *I* think self-identification is something that cannot and should not be stripped by external forces, not that *everyone* thinks that or agrees with me. :)

Pearl amaresu said...

I went to college with a girl who practiced a family-trad that went back to at least her great-grandmother, so I think it's safe to say that there were nature traditions before 1950. 

I also want to say that I honestly don't think it matters when your religion came into being.  I'm a Discordian myself and we freely admit that it was created in either 1958 or 1959 (the exact date isn't clear).  That doesn't mean it's not a valid religion.  It just means it's new and being new doesn't equal being bad or wrong.  I guess I've just never really understood why it's so important to some Wiccans that their religion be old and ancient.


Ana Mardoll said...

I can only speak for myself, but I know for me it's not "important" that my religion be older than Gardner, it just (in my opinion) *is* older than Gardner. So when I see people insisting that it's not, well, it's easy to get a little shirty after awhile. :)

My own beliefs actually have more in common with the early goddess traditions that some anthropologists believe existed than they do with Gardner's take on things. Other Wiccans can say the opposite: that they're more Gardnerian than ancient-goddess-tradition-ian.

Amaryllis said...

In a hurry, but I seem to recall Ronald Hutton's Drawing Down the Moon as including an interesting section on the "cunning-folk" magical traditions in Europe and especially Britain.

Amaryllis said...

aaarrgh, wrong title: it was The Triumph of the Moon, of course!

I said I was in a hurry....

Ana Mardoll said...

Well, David, I have not said that anyone can use a word and be part of that religion. I believe that self-identification is something extremely personal and complex and internal and that it's not someone else's place to say "No, you're not X."

You give an example of everyone in Michigan claiming to be Wiccan but without any beliefs whatsoever that fall into any of the various Wiccan categories. My point is that all of Michigan *isn't* going to self-identify with Wiccan without serious soul-searching and thought. I don't know of anyone who has ever truly self-identified with a religion and yet made that self-identification choice frivolously or off the cuff.

So when someone says they are a Christian Wiccan, I believe:

a) That the designation is meaningful to them and should be respected.
b) That it's none of my business to determine how they arrived at that designation.
c) That it's not my place to dispute their designation.

I am not annoyed that people are misrepresenting Wicca online; I am, rather, distressed to see a number of people believe that they can tell other people what they can, do, and should believe in order to maintain their self-identification. (This came up recently on Slacktivist in a post about identifying one's sexual orientation, in a similar context. Self-identification is tricky.)

Words do mean things, but neither you nor I get to decide what they mean. :) For instance, what is a "Texan"? Is it someone who was born in Texas? Someone who has lived there 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? Can someone be a Texan if they just moved to the state, can't ride a horse, don't have a Texan accent, and are a registered Democrat? Can someone be a Texan if they were born there but moved out of state and never returned? Can someone be a "Texan" in spirit? I have heard the word "Texan" used in each one of these contexts, and in each case, the term made sense and was applicable to the person speaking.

Now, I rather imagine the born-and-never-left Texan might get a little shirty with the been-here-1-year-and-lives-in-the-godless-city Texan for using that term. But that's how language works -- nobody owns the definition to the word Texan and if the shoe fits and a logical argument can be construed, then that's that.

If someone who does _no_ Wiccan practices,  says they are a Wicca, are they?

Yes. There are no Board-Certified Wiccan Practices. That's just how it is, I'm afraid.

I'm not being flippant -- if it weren't for this post and for the fact that I've told him out-right, my Husband would probably have no idea that I'm a Wiccan. Religion for me is largely internal and spontaneous, and the older I get, the more okay I am with that. I don't need to prove who I am to anyone -- I don't follow Wiccan practices; I *am* Wiccan. It's as simple as that. :)

DavidCheatham said...

I am not annoyed that people are misrepresenting Wicca online; I am,
rather, distressed to see a number of people believe that they can tell
other people what they can, do, and should believe in order to maintain
their self-identification.

(I have no idea if HTML works, let's see if that's italics.) Yes, I suspected that was the issue. I agree entirely...others should not tell Wiccas what they should believe.

But at some point, I have say that Wiccans should tell other Wiccans what they believe, or at least, what they should believe to be considered Wiccans.

This might not actually be an issue to you, yet, in Wicca. It's entirely possible that the group is far outside mainstream that you have no problem with people claiming membership who really don't belong.

But I want you to ask yourself: What do you use the Wiccan designation for? Do you use it find other Wiccans? Perhaps you use it to buy supplies and tools? As I said, I'm not a Wiccan (Although I apparently reserve the right to just call myself that for no reason.;), but I believe there is commonly some assortment of ritual tools involved. Although perhaps those are just normal things made into ritual tools.

Now ask yourself: What if 'Wicca' and 'Catholic' were the same word? What if, every time you looked for somewhere to buy Wicca stuff, you ended up at a Catholic bookstore that had none of the stuff you wanted? What if every mailing list you found that called itself 'Wicca' was actually discussing transubstantiation? What if you looked for people to worship with you and all the Wiccans you found wanted you to come to Sunday's Mass?

When you are in a small group like Wicca that, to be blunt, most people are only vaguely aware, it's fine to take the position that 'anyone who calls themselves one of us is one of us. But words do matter. We are human beings, and we use words to refer to things. If people start using words in a Humpty-Dumpty style of 'they mean what I say they mean', no one can get anything done.

Right now, everyone using the word Wicca might be close enough to what you believe, or might be so small in number that you don't care, and I'm not saying you have to. But it does become an issue at some point, and the vast majority of people who are X, do have the right to somewhat draw bounds of what X really means, and say 'That person is not an X'.

There can be problems with this, too, especially when instead of the 'vast majority of X' it's 'a small minority of X', or 'the leaders of X'. Or when the bounds are too specific. Or when the system splits down the middle and you get a schism. But there are even more problems with 'Anyone can claim to be X'.

You're looking at it from self-identification. This idea of 'self-identification' is a concept I don't really understand. Arguing with people about who they really are is pointless. People know who they themselves are, and no one else does. If they want to use a label that no one else does inside their own head, whatever.

That doesn't change the fact when talking to other people, you really need to use labels that other people understand.

Ana Mardoll said...

Well, David, the answers to all your questions is that it's complicated. Yes, Wicca is different from Catholicism in a variety of ways, but you're asking me to tell you the exact differences, and it's not as simple as that. That's why the title of the post is stating that you can't learn a religion from a Wikipedia article -- you also can't learn a religion from one member of that religion. I'm sorry.

If you're really interested in learning about Wicca, I can recommend a variety of books on the topic. You can learn what SOME Wiccans believe and at the end of that research, you may find that your beliefs line up to one or more of those *various* beliefs and you may choose to self-identify as Wiccan. This isn't about calling yourself Wiccan for no reason -- that's not self-identification, because it doesn't sound like you'd actually think of yourself as Wiccan.

Similarly, if you were interested in maybe becoming a Christian, I could recommend quite a few interesting books written from a variety of viewpoints. At the end of your research, you might find that one or more of your beliefs line up with those you had read, and you might self-identify as Christian. In which case, you would be perfectly within your rights to tell someone off if they told you that you couldn't use that label because you didn't believe in the Nicene Creed. (Which holds, I believe, that Jesus has always existed and was born as god incarnate. Not all Christians believe that.)

But at some point, I have say that Wiccans should tell other Wiccans
what they believe, or at least, what they should believe to be
considered Wiccans.

Interesting, how do you propose this happen? There is no ruling body of Wicca than lays down what Wicca is or isn't. There is no ruling body of Christianity that lays down what Christianity is or isn't. That's how religions work. If religion wasn't flexible and evolving, we'd all still be worshiping the nature gods and hoping that they'd send us some rain about now. Eventually, enough people believe some slightly similar things (but not all of them at the same time) and a word is used to define that loose group of believers because humans like to categorize things.

Of course, sometimes some members of a self-identified group try to expel other members. I know a lot of Christians who will blanch at the suggestion that Mormons are Christians. But if Mormons self-identify as Christian, then I don't see why they shouldn't be considered Christian just because they believe some other stuff as well. So, no, Wiccans don't get to "tell" other Wiccans what they have to believe to be considered Wiccan any more than Christians get to say that Mormons aren't Christians because the extra beliefs based on Joseph Smith's writings offend them. That's how words work.

I am not arguing that Words Don't Mean Things. I am arguing that Words Mean More Than You Might Like and that people don't get to make religious definitions that conveniently contain all their beliefs and exclude everyone else's just because they want to play No True Scotsman.

So to answer your question:

1. Wiccans/Christians/Jews/Buddhists/etc. believe things.
2. Not all of those things are the same for all/most other Wiccans/Christians/Jews/Buddhists/etc.
3. There is no one philosophy or doctrine that determines whether or not someone is a Wiccan/Christian/Jew/Buddhist/etc.
4. If someone is calling themselves a Wiccan/Christian/Jew/Buddhist/etc., and you think they are wrong...
5. You should probably drink a nice cup of Mind My Own Business, because it's not your place to tell people what religion they do or don't belong to.

That is my point. :)

Ana Mardoll said...

Anyway, you seem to be saying that merely identifying as the group is
enough to place you in it, even if you hold no beliefs that are even
slightly similar. And the only possible objection would be dishonestly
claiming yourself as a member of the group if you didn't really think
you were.

No, I am not saying this. I have said several times that there are things that Wiccans believe, but that there is not *one* lynchpin thing that *all* Wiccans *must* believe. I have also said that someone is not going to self-identify with a group if they believe *none* of those things -- they're going to self-identify as something else. It's not like there aren't a lot of religions out there to choose from.

But let's have yet another example. Suppose some serial killer ran
around killing people, using Wicca symbolism at murder scenes, and when
arrested claimed he was a Wiccan and what's what Wiccans do. Are you
asserting that it is unreasonable for other Wiccans to say 'No, murder
is not, in fact, part of the practice of Wicca.'?

It would not be appropriate to say that Bob The Serial Killer is not a Wiccan just because Bob is a serial killer. There are Christian serial killers and bombers and terrorists; they don't suddenly stop being Christians just because they murder. It would be appropriate for a community of Christians to say: "We do not condone murder and our interpretation of Christianity does not condone murder," but you don't get to say that a Christian abortion-clinic bomber isn't a Christian because he crossed the murder line.

What I'm trying to do is to get you to realize that, internally, you do have some sort of concept as to what 'Wicca' consists of. (Just like I do, but yours is much more accurate.) In fact, you actually said one, 'Harm none.'.

And this is why religion is complicated. Almost every religion includes "harm none" in some shape or form as the ideal for behavior. No one on earth can actually accomplish this ideal. To argue that someone is not a Wiccan because they cause harm is to argue No True Scotsman -- i.e., no True Wiccan causes harm. If we define Wicca that way, then NO ONE would be a Wiccan, which is why we don't.

With all due respect, I don't think this conversation is getting anywhere. I know that you're misunderstanding me quite a bit, and it's possible that I'm equally misunderstanding you. :)

Will Wildman said...

DavidCheatham: For all that you've clearly been thinking about the matter of categorisation a lot, it's kind of strange that you seem to have either skipped or rejected the concept of necessary and sufficient conditions.  Let's work with the literal Scotsman thing - you pose 'man who lives in Scotland' as the definition of a Scotsman, indicating that this is both necessary (there are no Scotsmen who are not men living in Scotland) and sufficient (a man who lives in Scotland requires no other qualifications to be a Scotsman). 

This raises the question of whether a Scotsman who temporarily moves to Germany for work ceases to be a Scotsman for the duration of his stay.  According to your definition, it does, but the Scotsman himself may disagree.  He may say he grew up in Scotland, he loves Scotland, he will one day return to Scotland and remain there the rest of his life, in the same Scottish town where his family has lived for seven hundred years.  The fact that he lives in Germany right now does not change his identity.

If we (reasonably) allow that this man remains a Scotsman, then the definition given is no longer necessary (there is at least one Scotsman who is not a man living in Scotland) although it may still be sufficient (a man you lives in Scotland requires no other qualifications to be a Scotsman).  So then we invert the situation (and change genders, because enough about dudes), such that a woman moves from Germany to Edinburgh and begins referring to herself as a Scotswoman.  The woman's neighbours find this sketchy - who says she gets to call herself a Scotswoman just because she got a flat here a month ago?  From their perspective, 'woman who lives in Scotland' may not be at all sufficient in order to identify as a Scotswoman.

So now it seems like 'person who lives is Scotland' is neither necessary nor sufficient to identify a Scot, and yet suggesting that 'living in Scotland' is completely independent of identifying Scottishness is also obviously absurd.

A rational conclusion would be to determine that there are many potential factors that might determine whether a person is Scottish or not, and the idea that you're ever going to nail it down to something so simple as 'here is a single necessary and sufficient condition that will always identify all Scots regardless of any other circumstances whatsoever' is silly.  No condition is necessary or sufficient, but a selection of various conditions in conjunction with each other may be sufficient, regardless of whether any single given condition is included.

TL;DR -  What Ana said.  Also, think harder before trying to 'teach' anyone.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you, Will!

I was trying very hard to say that with my Texan analogy, but you have a gift with words and clarifying things with logic -- your explanation was much more clear! :)

Will Wildman said...

Gah, I thought I had kept track of the thread and now I see I somehow skipped right over the Texan bit.  Now I feel kind of silly for essentially rephrasing an argument you already made.  Glad you liked my version, though.

Ana Mardoll said...

Oh, no, don't feel silly at all! Yours was incredibly well constructed (with the discussion of "necessary" and "sufficient") and it had the very important conclusion -- i.e., (a) that saying therefore Scotland residential status is nonsensical to the definition is a silly extreme to run to and (b) that therefore Scottishness is a collection of criteria with no single and necessary condition To Rule Them All. I loved it!

I'm seriously intending to print it out and use it in the next No True Scotsman argument, because it's very very good. (Assuming you don't mind me quoting you!) :)

I'm now looking back over my last post and wondering if a "Harm None" post needs writing. It's often invoked as a Wiccan "common denominator" philosophy and it... get ready... More Complicated Than That. :D

Will Wildman said...

Feel free to use it elsewhere as much as you like - that would be very cool.

I kind of wanted to add a tangential thing from mathematics afterwards, just to make it completely irresistable to folks on the internet who see themselves as champions of logic and rational thought on a crusade to eliminate wishy-washy grey areas.  Specifically, if anyone thinks that they might be able to create a list of all circumstances that allow a person to be a True Scot, then Kurt would like a word with you.  (Boiled way, way down, Gödel showed that any system of axioms so complete that it could prove all true statements about a particular set of numbers would also be guaranteed to be too complete, such that it would 'prove' things that were not true.  So they've got us coming and going.)

I wish there was a preview option here so I could see if I got that html right.

Will Wildman said...

Argh, so close.  I linked directly to the wrong part of the right page.

Brin Bellway said...

I wish there was a preview option here so I could see if I got that html right.

That's what the edit button is for.

Will Wildman said...

I am to Disqus as water to western witches.  No working account, no edit button for me.

Will Wildman said...

...Wow, speaking of needing an edit button, I actually just posted that on the thread about Wicca, didn't I?  (I actually rather like the Wicked Witch and view her as a resistance leader against the Wizard and the absolutely terrifying evil chessmaster plots of Glinda, but still, huge facepalm.)

Ana Mardoll said...

(Will, the oatcake made me laugh so hard.)

Where I was disagreeing with the article was what when Ana said, that that _no one_, not even Wicca in general, has the right to state where that line is or which side people are on. The one person who can say it is the person self-identifying as a Wicca.

A better non-religious example would be, for example, 'football fan'. Or 'liberal'.

I would very much like to meet the Governing Council Of Wicca and sit in on their deliberation as they decide what Wicca "is" and "isn't". I'd probably even dress up for the occasion.

In all seriousness, I really cannot fathom how this would work. When you say "Wiccans get to define Wicca", you seem to be claiming that religious definitions can be ruled by majority consensus. How?? If 70% of self-identified Christians met for a vote (where?? how?? when?? why??) and decided that Mormons weren't Christians, would that be enough to "de-Christian-ify" a group that clearly believes in Jesus Christ?? If the Catholics teamed up and declared that all Protestants couldn't use the term "Christian" anymore, would that be somehow valid and binding on the rest of the world? Should it be?

What are the logistics here? How would this vote occur? Where would it be registered? Why would the rest of the world -- both the cast-out Protestants and the non-Christians entirely -- consider this valid?

You bring up liberal, and that's an even BIGGER can of worms. Who owns the definition on liberal? What is The Official Liberal Position on abortion, taxes, the death penalty, immigration, prayer in schools? If someone adheres to The Official Liberal Position on abortion, taxes, the death penalty, and immigration BUT does not adhere to The Official Liberal Position on prayer in schools are they not a liberal anymore? Is it a matter of voting habits only? My husband doesn't vote via party lines -- his presidential vote varies from year to year as far as party goes. Is he changing from Liberal to Conservative each time or has he no political party whatsoever. Who do you suggest he should submit to for his party affiliation designation? My head spins.

Even something like "football fan"... I would love to hear how The Official Council Of Football Fans determines whether or not someone can be allowed to call themselves a football fan. I can't even imagine... do you have to own a beer stein? o.O

Will Wildman said...

I'm actually kind of loving the idea all All Christians or All Wiccans or All Weak Agnostics or All Manitoba Moose fans or whatever getting together to finally set down some hard and fast rules about who is really part of the group, gathering in some ginormotastic Senate-of-the-Galatic-Republic hall, only to have someone point out that before they can start voting, they have to figure out who's got voting rights.

Seconds later, the infinite regression loop causes a spacetime implosion, at the centre of which is found a single page, which is clearly a divine gift because no matter how many times we turn it over it still says "The definition of a true member of our group is on the other side of this page."

Ana Mardoll said...

It does sort of feel like a cartoon episode, doesn't it?

Of course, in Real Life, the "current" Christians, Wiccans, Weak Agnostics, and Manitoba Moose fans would get grandfathered in. It reminds me of when someone decides we need to license hairdressers or funeral home directors or dog groomers with a test + fee, but those who already hold that job get automatic entrance. So essentially it becomes a "we were here first privilege".

Back to the Scotswoman thing, in the case where the woman had longed all her life to be a Scotswoman and didn't self-identify as a German, one wonders if the other Germans (or other Scots!) could forcibly place her in the German group on the basis of her birthplace.

This is not merely hypothetical, given the rash of Who Is A REAL American we saw in the last presidential race. If you had the wrong skin color or the wrong birthplace or the wrong political ideology, certain members of the country felt that hey You Weren't An American. You might legally be an American, but you had no right to the self-identification of same because a group voted that you didn't get to call yourself that if you didn't worship the Founding Fathers and weren't a Christian and didn't vote for... Well, you get the picture.

Ana Mardoll said...

USAnian sounds about right (yooz-an-nee-an) on the tongue, but I agree the spelling is unfortunate. Really, the Founding Fathers dropped the ball on the whole naming thing.

chris the cynic said...

Not if the Mormons expelled all the other Christians first - it's all down to the quick-draw now!

It's the schism of 1054 all over again.

And it has been so long since I had to pull out that reference that I misremembered it by 12 years. It's a good thing I checked first.


Can we have a giant council to vote on definitions? It sounds like a lot of fun. And then at the end we can each declare that all the rest are heretics and we alone preserve the true path.

Ana Mardoll said...

It's the schism of 1054 all over again.

And even worse, because we still call Eastern Orthodox Christians "Christians"! So it's not just a matter of declaring the other side wrong/heretics, we have to ensure that they (and everyone else) stop using that word for themselves! o.O

Can we have a giant council to vote on definitions? It sounds like a lot of fun. And then at the end we can each declare that all the rest are heretics and we alone preserve the true path.

I like the idea -- very Lilliputian-Gulliver's-Travels-Jonathan-Swift. Only Little-Enders are Lilliputians, ya'll.

Ana Mardoll said...

Chris, two thoughts:

1. I actually have an Invisible Pink Unicorn symbol necklace, so thank you.
2. Your post made me laugh so hard I had tears in my eyes. Why are you not publishing all this in a book for me to buy?? (That last point goes to you, too, Will. I really want a copy of "Will Demonstrates Logical Fallacies In Clear English".)

I'm wondering... could there be another version of invisibility that also encompasses insubstantiality... or, how do you say... such that two things (invisible unicorn + pink mist) could occupy the same space without matter displacement? This would, of course, fly in the face of physical laws, but it would also explain invisibility nicely because...

I *think* things are visible because light bounces off them? Is that right? If something was entirely insubstantial, light couldn't bounce off... right?

I've gone all cross-eyed.

chris the cynic said...

As I recall, I saw that episode of Star Trek. Actually, on second thought, there were at least two such episodes in The Next Generation alone. In one two main characters (Geordie and Ro?) and a Romulan are made insubstantial. (They were out of phase or some such, see also Stargate SG-1.) There was another one that existed for the sole purpose of answering the question "Why doesn't the federation have a cloaking device?" In it they found a ship that came back into phase when it was halfway inside of an asteroid. Not a good thing to have happen to you.

Two things that were not, I think, covered, were how the out of phase people could see (since the light wouldn't smack into their retinas) and why they didn't fall through the floor.

Surely a unicorn that was insubstantial would be unable to use senses of any kind, for the light would not meet its eyes, vibrations would not shake its eardrums, particles of whatnot would not interact with its nose, nothing would touch its tongue, or indeed any other part of its body. Also, I think it would fall straight through the earth, end up on the exact opposite side 42 minutes later, and then fall through the earth again. (Unless it was immune to gravity, in which case ... there it goes.)

So I say we give the insubstantial unicorn the ability to fly. Not with wings or anything, though I have long thought that crossbreeding unicorns and Pegasides is a completely reasonable thing to do, but rather in a superman sort of way that defies the laws of physics entirely. Also the insubstantial unicorn should have psychic senses to make up for the lack of physical interaction.

Would an insubstantial thing be able to be hugged by other insubstantial things? Should I bring up the book Sophie's World?

Ana Mardoll said...

In it they found a ship that came back into phase when it was halfway inside of an asteroid. Not a good thing to have happen to you.

I loved that one. Probably because it was dark and painted the Federation in a bad light. I like dark twists on things. :P

And that's a good point that if something is insubstantial to light, it's insubstantial to a lot of other, more important things. :(

I like the hovering idea, but I'm still not sure that works when something is insubstantial...

chris the cynic said...

So two things, the first, which I should have said the first time, is that's a wonderful thing to say about a book. I would love to write a book. I've wanted to be a novelist for ages and thought about writing a book of essayish things for years as well. I don't know what I'd write though. I'd guess that more than half of what I write is stealing from clearly copyighted stuff (What if Nicolae Carpatia had been cremated? This is how Edward feels about his hello being called musical.)

Deconstructions also make me occasionally wonder what my fiction says about me. Myers and Jenkins don't think their characters are aweful people, if I ever do write something will I read a review and suddenly realize, "Wow, I'm an ass." (Actually, I think my reaction would be more like, "Oh my god! Someone read my book!")

Ok, thing two, color is a very difficult topic. I have an orange towel that my computer is currently sitting on top of. Is it really orange? Since I see orange that means that it reflects/emits/whatevers orange. So that must mean that it captures not-orange. Maybe it's a not-orange towel. What if there were an identical towel that never knew light. Could it be said to be orange if orange light never came off of it?

What if there were a towel that produced light in the wavelength of orange, but whenever anyone or anything looked at it the person/thing suddenly became unable to see? Orange? Not orange?

What if instead of there being a color threespace there's a color fourspace and we just can't see the fourth variable (klup, from the "Hue, Saturation, Lightness, Klup" model of color) and thus think things are completely the same when actually they're as different as purple and green.

What if there were a color, right in the middle of the area we call violet, that people can't see? Do we call it violet? (Wait, you already said this didn't you?)

[Other questions]?

Ana Mardoll said...

Do you ever wonder (I do) that maybe how Green looks to you is different from how Green looks to EVERYONE ELSE, but since it's consistent, you'd never know? Like, you and I both agree that grass is green, but what does that mean? How do you describe a color without using other colors? Green to me is... well... green! But what if it's different to you?

I know a guy who swears that grass looks orange to him. He says he can perceive some shades of green, but the shade of green that grass usually is looks orange to him. I can't even fathom how that would work or how you would figure that out. And if ALL green looked orange to him and ALL orange looked green... he'd never know.

(This is the most marijuana-y conversation in the history of history, I swear.)

Re: Writing. I seriously like your fictional stuff, Chris. I'm kind of like you in that fan fiction is easier for me to write than straight-up "from scratch" fiction. So may I suggest fan ficcing something Public Domain, like fairy tales or anything pre-1700s? You can always dial it forward to be set in any time period, but as long as you claim it's inspired by Much Ado About Nothing, you're safe from legal repercussions. :D

Heck, I just wish someone would re-write Much Ado About Nothing. Claudio is a real jerk and someone needs to fix that. I'm serious.

chris the cynic said...

My previous post seems to be appearing and disappearing at random. That's strange.

Do you ever wonder (I do) that maybe how Green looks to you is different from how Green looks to EVERYONE ELSE, but since it's consistent, you'd never know? Like, you and I both agree that grass is green, but what does that mean? How do you describe a color without using other colors? Green to me is... well... green! But what if it's different to you?

Yes. Yes I do. In high school a discussion about this led to someone (I don't remember who) theorizing that maybe everyone has the same favorite color, they just don't know it because for one person it will be things that are agreed to be green, so they'll say their favorite color is green, and another person will see the same color when looking at things agreed to be purple, so they'll say that their favorite color is purple.

There's just no way to communicate it, I think we need to call in a mind viewer (non-jerky-Edward?) to see if we both see the same thing when we look at the same thing.

I cannot conceive of what things look like to people with Red-Green colorblindness. (Probably other forms of color blindness as well.) I try, believe me I try, but it is beyond my imagination.

Also ultraviolet. People can see it in theory, but the lenses of their eyes block it, artificial lenses don't (or didn't at one point) so suddenly people with lens replacements can see something the rest of us can't but there's no gap on the color wheel for it, where does it fit in? And what we see is such a small part of the spectrum, imagine all the other colors we can't see. Except, I can't imagine them, for they are beyond imagining (at least for me.)

I want to see the missing colors.

Ana Mardoll said...

1. I LOVE the "same favorite color" theory. That's gonna keep me awake tonight with it's awesomeness.

2. This brings up a tangential point. I found out in college that some people major in Tolkien languages and Klingon and stuff because there is actually a small need for Klingon interpreters in the mental health profession: some of the patients can only communicate in these fictional languages. What would Edward hear, if he listened to their thoughts? Does Edward serve as a universal translator, too?

3. The "missing colors" thing makes me thing of Levine's (otherwise execrable, or at least *I* didn't enjoy it) "Fairest" -- the main character is ugly with dull black hair, but it turns out that a fantasy race of gnomes can see a color that no one else does... AND it's the most beautiful thing in the world to them... AND that's the color of the girl's hair. So she's beautiful, but not to humans, just to gnomes.

Will Wildman said...

So upon rereading and not imagining a prefix where there wasn't one, yes, Ana, you are correct about what causes things to have colour. I am getting very sloppy about what I write here, it seems.

Brin Bellway said...

Ana: This is the most marijuana-y conversation in the history of history, I swear.

Really? I find that almost any conversation that goes on for a decent amount of time (maybe 40+ minutes?) ends up like this.

chris: I want to see the missing colors.

Totally. Unless it would induce Lovecraft-style madness and/or my brain slowly dribbling out my ears. In those cases, I'm better off with what I've got.

Will: I want to see a genderflipped version called Much Ado About Something. If you know Victorian slang, this is hilarious.

Shouldn't that be Elizabethan?
You mean there are people who don't know that?

Ana Mardoll said...

S'alright about the prefix. :D

I LOVE the unintentional world peace side-effect of the color perspective machine. That would be an awesome sci fi thing, even as a Douglas Adams aside. :)

I'm assuming Something is, well, a male something? :P There's a literary theory that the name is a double-joke on Nothing/Noting (Note-ing, i.e., taking note) because of the pronunciation similarity. Since much of the action is propelled by "taking note" (eavesdropping) on other people, it's therefore much ado about nothing (i.e., Hero wasn't cheating) and much ado about noting (i.e., the action is propelled by eavesdropping). I like the joke.

Ana Mardoll said...

Eclectic Wiccans _outnumber_ other Wiccans, so it's pretty absurd for anyone to claim they aren't really Wiccans.

I wanted to address this, too. Eclectic Wiccan essentially means "doesn't really fit into any other Wiccan category". They're round pegs in a world of square holes. And they do not necessarily hold anything in common with other Eclectic Wiccans. So if your argument hinges on the fact that Eclectic Wiccans, being the largest group of Wiccans, get to define Wicca... well, we're in a load of trouble for a Happy Category World. :P

(I guess we'll put them on the wikipedia page "Wiccans Who Would Prefer Not To Categorise Wiccans On A Wikipedia Page"?)

Also, most Eclectic Wiccans don't call themselves that. They would fit more in the description that Will gives here. "Eclectic" is a catch-all name for "Wiccans that don't categorize themselves" but it's not a name that many/most self-identify with. So I can say "there are Eclectic Wiccans" but not "Jason is an Eclectic Wiccan" because Jason is more likely to just call himself "Wiccan" and reject other attempts at sub-categorization.

Ana Mardoll said...

Now I want to know what Mao is, but I dare not make you explain it because I don't want you to violate your religious beliefs. Does it spread by word of mouth?? :)

chris the cynic said...

Now I want to know what Mao is, but I dare not make you explain it because I don't want you to violate your religious beliefs. Does it spread by word of mouth?? :)

It sort of spreads by word of mouth. It's somewhat more complicated than even that. It spreads by being played. Even then you don't exactly explain the rules, which would make it hard for me to teach anyone because it kind of takes a group of people who already know.

Usually what's done is that a new player is started with an analogy, "It's like Crazy Eights," or Uno if you prefer. That's enough to get going, and the other rules are learned by observation (and getting penalties for breaking them.) Someone might have a rule explained to them upon breaking it, or might just learn that they had broken it and and move on. One rule in particular stands out in my memory where a new player would definitely get an explanation when it came up for them because if they didn't the game would grind to a halt.

The only way I'd consider writing the rules for public consumption would be in the form of a story, but somehow I doubt that one could make it into an interesting story. If I could come up with a way for the fate of the world to rest upon the outcome of a high stakes Mao game, then that might work, but I have yet to figure out how to make a Mao game high stakes, it doesn't lend itself to betting. (The direction of play can reverse and jump around , so just keeping everyone in to the same degree would be quite difficult, also the pace doesn't lend itself to stopping to put in your chips. One could theoretically add a rule where you pause play to bet.)

Mind you the same could be said of chess, which has plenty of high stakes fictional versions, but I'd prefer if it were more like poker where you had people upping their bet or bowing out in the middle of a hand, just because it would seem to make the individual rules seem more important because you could make an otherwise boring rule be the reason someone folding. (Mao also doesn't have rules governing the idea of folding, but if you added betting and the ability to raise you would also have to add the ability to fold.)


So, yeah, I'd love to teach you, but it's not likely to happen. That said, if you should come up to Maine with six decks of cards, some friends, and a lot of patience, I'll see what I can do.

Ana Mardoll said...

David, I'm sorry that you feel I'm misunderstanding you. I know it's very frustrating when you spend a lot of time pouring your thoughts into words and then people misunderstand you, so I do apologize for that.

I feel like you are suggesting that I make up my own terms for different Wiccan groups and if I make my case strong enough and charismatically enough, then everyone will adopt my definitions and the category wars will be over.

I'm afraid I can't do this at least in part because I don't feel right telling people hope to categorize themselves. Even if I did, the point I am making is that self-identification is personal and emotional.

Not all Wiccans want to be called Traditional or Gardnerian or Eclectic or Dianic. That is, essentially, the point of this article: that if someone says they are X, no one, not the in-group or the out-group gets to say, "No, you are not X, you are Y." That safety of self-identification is true even if Y is a modification on X.

That is my point of view: that self-identification should not be argued with.

Ana Mardoll said...

Will, I will say in David's defense that *I* started the "you're misunderstanding me on purpose" accusation several posts back when I was frustrated. So I'll accept responsibility for opening that particular can of worms. You're right that it's not a helpful response and I shouldn't have done it. :)

DavidCheatham said...

There *are* Wiccans who say "You're not Wiccan" but there are also non-Wiccans who say it too. My blog post meant to address both groups with the same point, but I guess somewhere along the way I miscommunicated my intention. o.O

Well, that's probably because you really need totally different responses to those groups.

The response to non-Wiccans should be: Shut the hell up. (Although possibly nicer, see below.)

The response to other Wiccans should be: If you feel that your belief system requires certain specific beliefs, that I, and _most other_ Wiccans, don't believe it requires, then you probably should just admit you're a subset of Wicca, invent a term for that, and call your set of beliefs that, instead of arguing over the general term.

Even if we could logically define out Wicca and Christianity and tables, I don't really see the benefit over the current method.

Because, despite the fact I said that people not in a religion don't get to define it, people not in a religion really do want a _general idea_ of what a religion believes. This is a multicultural society, and part of multiculturalism is leaning 'This is what this culture thinks', and trying, in what is usually a stupid and poorly-thought-out way, to make accommodations for that. That is actually people _being nice_, not attempting to define anything. (And that isn't even counting the whole 'Wicca is Satanism' nonsense. It's nice to be able to say 'No, here, just read Wikipedia'.)

Religions usually have core beliefs generally stated where others can see it. Not so others can idiotically say 'You're not a member of that religion', but so they can refrain from offering Jews pork or whatever.

You might think 'Wicca doesn't need that'...but it's not really optional in this world. If you go around calling yourselves a word, people will want to know what the words means. You (the royal you, as in 'Wiccans') get to define what it means, but you still have tell others that meaning, or at least some sort of vague explanation of that meaning.

If you don't, well, there are Wiccans who think that 'The only Wiccans are one with a connection traced back to Gardner', or 'The only Wiccans are ones in a coven' or whatever reason they're arguing you're not one of them. And they will happily go on Wikipedia and put that there, or tell a reporter that, or get it written into a book about Wicca, etc, etc.

The best rebuttal to that is you saying 'No, she's talking about a specific kind of Wicca named X Wicca. She does not speak for all Wiccans, in fact, she doesn't even speak for most of them.'.

aravind said...

To butt in, this article really reminds me of a conversation I had in high school:

Him: So what religion are you?
Me: I'm pantheist.
Him: What now?
Me: Um, have you heard of Wicca. It's vaguely similar to that.
Him: So you worship the four elements.
Me: Um, I don't think Wiccans do that. They're more interested in Celtic and Germanic deities in my experience.
Him: No, they worship the four elements.
Me: Um, I think it's more complicated than that.
Him: No, you clearly worship the four elements.
Me: ...

aravind said...

(And, yes, I'm sorry, I was vastly and ignorantly simplifying both pantheism and Wicca and to some extent even misrepresenting them by throwing them together as similar things. I've learned a lot since then).

Ana Mardoll said...

@aravind, oh no, I completely understand. It's the nature of those conversations -- "What religion are you" is sort of the religious version of "How are you today". It's like, do you want the real answer which is complicated and likely way outside the scope of your interest, or do you want the quick answer which is vastly inaccurate but will allow you to politely move on with life? :)

Inquisitive Raven said...

So you're a fan of Wicked, are you?

Will Wildman said...

I did like Wicked (referring here to the book, which I also thought suffered from Modern Literogenic Failure Syndrome; every possible moment of triumph of any kind, no matter how small or brief, must be subverted) but apart from that I was also thoroughly convinced by someone's analysis of the famous movie. Glinda in Wicked is variously compassionate, selfish, or apathetic; Glinda in the best-known movie is a sadistic glittering tyrant.

king david said...

Its all about the alapha and the omega...the father of humans.

chris the cynic said...

Really? I find that almost any conversation that goes on for a decent amount of time (maybe 40+ minutes?) ends up like this.

I find that, too, actually. But I'm weird like that. Good to know I'm not alone. :D

Clearly you both need to come down (up? sideways? laterally? leftward? thingy?) to Maine because while that used to be the case with me, I haven't had many conversations lasting that long in person in a long time.

chris the cynic said...

Oddly enough, the closest I ever came to experiencing a feeling of sacrilege or blasphemy or whatever it is in religion when there's a nigh unspeakable violation was when I read a wikipedia page. Not a religion related one though, it was "Mao (card game)".

You're not supposed to write the rules. You don't write the rules. That's not a rule, it's beyond a rule. Rules can be broken, the fact that you don't write the rules of Mao is an imperative, it's a necessity, it is the way things are. You don't write the rules. I have no problem with someone writing a copy to themselves that they keep in a hidden place, but a catalog of rules and variations in public is just wrong. No, that's not it. It is WRONG.

It's strange to have such strong feelings about a card game, but it may be the closest I've ever come to why, for example, members of mystery religions would be horrified to find their rituals written out.

[I thought that I posted this at least a half an hour ago. Now I'm off to read what's been said since then.]

Will Wildman said...

Shouldn't that be Elizabethan?

Crossed wires again - thank you for the correction, 'something' was the Elizabethan slang; I swapped in Victorian because to them basically everything was a potential euphemism for Parts.

I'm assuming Something is, well, a male something?

Just as Nothing was the term for a female something, yeah. Trust Shakespeare to manage triple-wordplay in a four-word title. Nothing/Noting/"Nothing"*winkwink*.

Will Wildman said...

Sorry, no, I think we've still got some major sticking points.

And Will Wildman, I don't disagree at all. The issue that I'm having is that the German's woman's new neighbors in Scotland _do_ have the right to say 'She's not a Scotwoman', and Ana is, from what I understand, arguing that Scotwoman is a concept of self-identity and no one has the right to tell anyone that they aren't a Scotwoman. No even people with no connection to Scotland whatsoever.

The neighbours get to say she's not a Scotswoman? Why? Because they are Scots? According to whose authority? Their own? A mass vote? If a German falls in Edinburgh and there's no one around with a 'Mac' in their surname, do they make a Scot? What if the woman speaks to her neighbours and says that her great-grandfather was a proud Scot and she always loved hearing the stories about his life that had been passed down and she's been working hard her whole life to save up enough to move to this land, which she intends to adopt as much as possible because its history and culture stand for the values that are important to her? Then is she a Scotswoman, if the neighbours are convinced? Does she only become a Scotswoman once the neighbours are convinced, or was she a Scot beforehand and they just didn't realise it? Was she a Scot before she moved, or was her identity only validated once she crossed the appropriate border?

What if it turns out that her grandfather lied and really just vacationed in Scotland once, but his blown-up stories still had the same inspirational effect? What if the story is true but the neighbours still reject her? What if the only reason the neighbours reject her is that they're anti-German bigots; can we get their veto invalidated on count of partiality? What if her upstairs neighbours recognise her as a Scot but her downstairs neighbours don't, does she exist in a state of both Scot and non-Scot until someone fries an oatcake and the waveform collapses?

The problem here is that you're continuing to argue as though there is or could conceivably be an objective register in the celestial bureaucracy that says "Yes, this person is X and is not Y". Every situation is enormously subjective, and every claim to a label serves two purposes: meaning to self and identification to others. The effect of identification is going to come in about as many variants as there are people on the planet. The meaning to self has a single expert source. Self-identification gets to be the trump for the simple reason that the alternatives are functionally impossible.

The woman says she's a Scot, one neighbour says yes, another says no. There is no objective truth of the matter, so while it may be something interesting to discuss with the woman about why she views herself that way, I'm not seeing a lot to gain from trying to reach a verdict.

(And this is just for who gets to be Scottish. I think there's enough to go on without diving into political partisans.)

Will Wildman said...

Mormons wouldn't be allowed to call themselves Christians
Not if the Mormons expelled all the other Christians first - it's all down to the quick-draw now!

Very good and relevant points on how ownership of a tag can be used and misused to influence seemingly unrelated issues on a purely emotional level.

I've known South Americans to be irritated by US citizens implicitly claiming total ownership of the tag 'American' as well, so it goes both ways on that count. I tend to think that it would be best to have a different term that specified US people, because I like specifics, but I have yet to find a good one (USian seems all wrong). A substantial portion of Canadian identity is about being Not American, of course, so we tend to be happy to let y'all have it. Except those Canadians who idolise the USA. Maybe they're really Americans underneath a veneer of maple?

There was actually a campaign in Canada a few years back in which the Liberal leader, Martin, tried to play the 'I'm A Real Canadian, My Opponent Is Not' strategy on Harper. Harper is now PM (sigh), and the Real Canadian has left politics. So yeah. Appealing to being a Real Canadian does not galvanise the left.

Will Wildman said...

I *think* things are visible because light bounces off them? Is that right? If something was entirely insubstantial, light couldn't bounce off... right?
Things are invisible if light goes through them. The combination of light being absorbed or reflected determines what colour something is. So something that absorbs all light is black, and something that absorbs all light except orange (which it reflects) looks orange to us.

Do you ever wonder (I do) that maybe how Green looks to you is different from how Green looks to EVERYONE ELSE, but since it's consistent, you'd never know? Like, you and I both agree that grass is green, but what does that mean? How do you describe a color without using other colors? Green to me is... well... green! But what if it's different to you?
I wonder exactly this. Somewhere along the way I came up with the idea of a device that would cause a person to 'see' colours the way someone else does, 'the neurochromatic transducer'. I like to imagine it would usher in an unexpected age of world peace.

This also causes me to facepalm when people say "This thing isn't blue, it just looks blue because of an optical illusion!" (I heard this said about the sky on the Discover channel. What.) Incidentally, the veins in your wrist look blue due to a fascinating combination of light being partly absorbed and partly passing through the skin before reflecting off the veins. If said veins were directly viewed, they would appear red, but with flesh in the way, they don't. (I'm not sure how this varies for people with darker skin.)

Heck, I just wish someone would re-write Much Ado About Nothing. Claudio is a real jerk and someone needs to fix that. I'm serious.

I want to see a genderflipped version called Much Ado About Something. If you know Victorian slang, this is hilarious.

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