ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
slightly weird about the attire and makeup of the women. One woman seemed to preside, and she told me about her powers of out-of-the-body travel in a very matter-of-fact way. They were friendly people, and I went with them to a nearby pub for beer at the end of the evening. There was much talk among them as to who was going to bring the beer to the next meeting of their coven. When we left, they all said “Blessed Be” to one another.
I liked these people. They were congenial, liberated, and I was fascinated by their talk about elves and fairies, occult lore, clairvoyance, and alleged powers of levitation and flight. They were certainly harmless, and indeed, the religion they professed had its positive ethics, emphasizing honesty, kindliness to others, and moral responsibility. Why were they Wiccans? The reasons seemed obvious. They were drawn to the rituals, secret doctrines, and nocturnal covens for much the same reasons that other people might join the Freemasons or the Eastern Star. Wicca is a lodge, an esoteric in-group with its secret greetings and passwords, all of which give its members a strong sense of community. It is not at all surprising that people living in large cities and working at humdrum jobs are drawn to such movements. In the past the same persons might well have found what they were seeking in Christian churches, but in Britain today, the parish churches are usually empty of all but a few elderly people on Sunday mornings, and fewer than ten percent attend even on Easter Sunday when, if at any time, people go to church. Wicca was a way of filling a gap.
Today Wicca flourishes in North America as well as in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, still essentially as Gardner created it based on his reading of Murray and Leland. Because there is much emphasis on priestesses and goddesses such as Diana and Aradia, many of the adherents are women, and those men who join are usually those who sympathize strongly with the feminist cause. Indeed, Wicca is itself a facet of feminism, and its rapid spread in Canada and the United States is chiefly based on its spiritual emphasis on belief in goddesses.
There is no doubt that Wicca meets a spiritual hunger. I have performed two Wiccan marriage ceremonies, devising them both myself from Gardner and Celtic lore, and am certain that fondness for colorful ritual is an important component of Wicca and a major reason for its appeal. By now Wicca has become very familiar in Europe and America, no longer the secret cult it once was, and no longer quite as esoteric. The evidence suggests that it is one of the options which people engaged on spiritual quests take up for brief times, after which they go on to Ba’hai, native American spirituality, New Age, or the most recent swami to arrive from India.