Originally written for the Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering blog, below is an article that attempts to examine at once both the role of men in Wicca and how the sabbats of Imbolc, Ostara and Beltane relate to them.
I was asked some time ago to contribute an article to this blog on the topic of “The Role of Men in Wicca”. Since then I pondered, in the ponderous manner that is characteristic of my thinking, this topic in some detail, and from several angles. Time passed, and I was also asked, since the previous article was still yet to materialise, if I’d mind terribly writing something about Imbolc, and then Ostara.
Then Beltane rolled around and finally my ideas began to coalesce into one reasonably strong premise: The role of men in Wicca has a lot to do with Imbolc, Ostara and Beltane. “There,” I told myself, “I can write something about that”. But another incident occurred just prior to Beltane that gave me pause to consider something else, namely that there is something, orthings, that tie the former premise into a much larger and more significant premise: “The role of Men in Wicca is not an issue”.
So, how to write an article that not only has two premises but two premises that appear to contradict one another? Some may suggest “systematically”. Others may suggest “with a strong basis in contemporary research”. I know some witches to whom the liberal application of footnotes and appendices induces such bacchanalian fits of rapture and ebullience that one had best stand clear, or carry an umbrella. Personally, I’m more one for hyperbole and rambling, so I’ll stick with them.
The role of men in Wicca has been covered before by a number of people, and as far as I can tell the conclusion invariably depends upon the author’s political disposition. Like most people, I’m prone to categorisation and generalisation, but feel rather uncomfortable about being too unconditional in their use. And so it is here. The terms of the premise must be defined. I know this, because I am unlike the greater proportion of men in the world because I have been awarded a post-graduate qualification. So right off the bat the term “men” becomes divisible by the number of them that might have pursued higher education. This could go on endlessly, like Zeno’s paradox about Achilles and the tortoise (See? Now I’m just showing off) so I will opt to get over my squeamishness and say that, at least for the purposes of this article, the term “men in Wicca” means pretty much what you would expect the term to mean, that is “the male human adherents of Wicca”. I added “human” there just to avoid the inevitable “but my dog’s a Wiccan” counter-claims. The heck with that.
But, all of this blather has been avoiding the really sticky definition, which is that of “Wicca”. What does that mean? I could be annoying and say “It means all things to all men”, and that’s not too far off the mark these days. The term has been picked up and run with by many an aspiring witch and kicked around now for so many decades that its original meaning, however much some people would like to disagree on this point, is largely irrelevant to everybody except those to whom it means something in itself, which is to say the followers of Gerald Gardner, who is widely accepted as the first to coin the term in reference to a “system” of ritualised witchcraft. The thing is, there can be such a rift between what one man calls Wicca and what another calls Wicca that they would both be talking about entirely different things (there’s some parable about blind men and an elephant that fits quite nicely here). Indeed, there are some brands of Wicca that men are forbidden to claim a part in altogether.
So it’s a bit of a pickle. I could go down the “pagan” route, but it’s not true that all Wiccans are pagans. Also, to compare some pagan men with some Wiccan men would be like comparing battle-axes with bluebells, and isn’t at all useful for my purposes. Eclectic witchcraft has, it would appear at least, decided to put a stop to the confusion by embracing “Eclectic witchcraft” as a collective term in itself. However, I was asked to talk about men in Wicca, and whilst many Wiccans can be quite eclectic in their manner of practice (not least of all those famous progenitors, Gardner and Sanders) most of the “traditional” Wiccans have enough in common that I can probably make do without having to embrace “eclecticism”.
So, questions that have been asked include, “are Wiccan men submissive to the women in a group?” Or, “do Wiccan men have a problem with being primarily goddess-worshippers?” And more often than not “so, do men choose a Wiccan path to get all sky-clad and stuff with female witches?” It is sometimes implied that Wicca is something of a gynocentric path, and that men are perceived as similar to the self-castrating priests of Cybele, the Gallai, subservient to the High Priestess in all matters. I have heard of some groups who operate in a strictly gynocentric manner, and that all men, even the High Priest, are subservient to the High Priestess. I have also heard of cases where the opposite is true. I can’t speak for all men, but I would suggest that the reasons for seeking the Wiccan path must vary considerably from one man to the next. My own experience has changed as my understanding of the Craft has developed. At first one of the attractive features of Wicca to some of the other paths I had pursued was that there was an equal role for both men and women. Not even so much that there was an equal role but that equality was an essential element of practice.
So let’s look at the sabbats. Imbolc, even while the days and nights are still cold, it’s generally the time when I find I catch the first whiff of Spring. Everyone knows what I mean, it’s a certain something in the air that marks the beginning of the end of Winter. For men, it’s the first stirrings of the return of the God, or god-paradigm, if you like. In Central Victoria it’s also roughly around the time when lambing season begins, which fits in well with the definition of the term “in the belly”. The snowdrops always come out at this time, so I always feel that it is rather portentous. As a man, I see it as being a return to the time of year when the god makes his presence felt most strongly, and my head-space begins to shift with it.
Ostara, the vernal equinox, is very nearly my favourite time of year. It is accompanied by a much more distinct change in the air, at least in this part of the world. One recognises the lengthening of days (even if it’s only by how long the kids think they’re allowed to play outside before coming in for dinner) but again, importantly for men, it is that quite palpable sense of power as the god returns to make his presence felt. This is entirely my point of view, and some may think that perhaps I suffer from some kind of seasonal affective disorder, but it’s nothing like that. It’s not as though the god begins to take over, it’s just that the more contemplative, darker aspect of the god throughout the Winter months changes character into the more fecund, playful and youthful aspect we see culminate at Beltane. I understand the Druids (at least the modern variety) consider these three sabbats as being one cycle, and I’m inclined to agree. It feels like a gradual build-up of male essence that begins, almost quietly, at Imbolc, and is given release at Beltane. Hail the Summer! Men of the Wiccan world, take up thy staff and well, you know…!
Some have attempted to draw me into discussions about gay or trans-gendered men on this point. To them I have but one reply – if you identify as a man then this is the time of year when you should celebrate your masculinity! Your tradition will have its own means of doing so, but really all one has to do is look around to see how that vitality should be brought into being. It’s happening everywhere. The world begins to hum, to vibrate with energy. Get outside, put your hands in the soil and feel life. Furthermore, some of you may be thinking this is all rather androcentric and I am neglecting the feminine in all this. Well, that’s true, because I’m talking about men in Wicca and I think a woman is far better qualified than I to describe how they perceive the return of the God during this part of the year. Some might even go so far as to suggest that celebrating masculinity is unnecessary because we already live in a patriarchal society where such things are not only celebrated but sensationalised. Whilst it may be true that we live in a patriarchal society, that’s a political matter and as such has nothing to do with how I practice my spiritual beliefs. I’m a firm believer in keeping politics and spirituality separate. People tend to agree with me when the spirituality in question is Islam or Christianity, but Wicca is ok? Please feel free to comment below should you happen to disagree. I feel myself drifting off-topic. Time to move on.
Just before Beltane I had cause to remind someone of some of the basic tenets of Wicca, which are not by any means secret, but are at least to my mind fundamental to correct practice. They are humility, discretion and the ability to remain silent. These ideas aren’t exclusive to Wicca, and there is a good argument to be made that they are really pretty basic common sense. But also they are what make being a man in Wicca a non-issue. Regardless of your gender I think to find fulfilment in your practice you must adhere to these basic principles. Men in Wicca must be humble, and that humility is what people often mistake as submission. Men in Wicca must employ discretion in their actions and decisions, because the ability to discern the correct path is essential to the way of a witch. Finally, it takes strength and conviction, along with humility and discretion to know when to remain silent, and when to speak out. This is not exclusively related to men, but rather all witches. So really, being a man in Wicca is a question of adhering to basic values. Know thyself! Be true to your own values and to your gods. Wicca is about celebrating all that is female and all that is male, and all that comes about when the two meet. If you are of the Wicca, being a man ceases to be an issue, it’s just simply as it must be.