Cultural anthropologists generally agree that religions go through three distinct stages of development. As Max Weber wrote in “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, these are the stages:
1. Visionary – Someone has a vision of a better explanation of all that is; through charismatic leadership he promotes that path. Many other people with similar thoughts join, each usually following slightly different visions. Squabbling and argument and schisms ensue. If the visions are strong enough, a movement develops and moves to Stage 2.
2. Festival – The groups hold festival-style meetings offering a lot of attractive freedoms. The main freedom is that of thought, but other freedoms from socially accepted behavior are encouraged. Yes, even the Christians were sexual, excessively and immoderately–free enough that they shocked the Romans–to such an extent that men and women were not allowed to worship in the same building. In following centuries, though, they must have managed to get over it …
3. Institutional – Here the movement grows up and becomes accepted by the general population. It loses its freedoms. Now its new leaders–who are usually in it for power, not for the original vision–insist on political correctness.
Centralized power – The next step in the inexorable progression is the setting-up of positions or “offices”. The set of offices has titles and hierarchal structures such as ministers, bishops, archbishops, and so on, who are charged with keeping the doctrine “pure”. What is a church without an organization chart, anyhow? The word for bishop, episcopos–one who oversees or who takes the overview–indicates that clear sight was held to be necessary. Then, instead of a person deciding what was or was not orthodox, the office fulfilled the function. Centralized power–that’s the key.
Since time immemorial earth-centered religions have had many charismatic leaders. As founders of Wicca in the late 1960s, we dare to count ourselves among modern charismatics, perhaps comparable (shudder) to many others in the frothy time of new ideas and paths that most or all movements undergo. Many of those ideas and paths were modeled on ancient ways. We all had a clarity of vision and an energy which the movement may be losing. It seems clear that the Community is now at Stage 2, Festival, moving away from Freedom. Since the Church of Wicca is a “church”, we probably should have expected it. The question becomes: Are we going to follow the rest of Weber’s narrative, eventually, inexorably morphing into a massive institutionalized monolith?
We Frosts see signs of it, and we will fight it by encouraging independent forward-thinking charismatic movements. At the same time, since many of you seem to want the movement to grow, we must face the fact that a large percentage of the Community would like it if the movement did become institutionalized … though of course promoting their own particular favorite path over the promotion of other paths, and probably with themselves as leaders, fostering power that grows ever more centralized.
As the pagan/Wiccan community expands, it will inevitably follow the examples from history. That’s the assumption. But at the same time, the Community must keep its independent autonomous forward thinkers.
The point surely is this: If the Community criticizes its leaders into obscurity instead of listening to the vision, we are doomed. Progress will take a back seat to control, and growth will be judged by how big and fancy we build our campgrounds and temples.
Personally, I (Gavin) like the Hindu attitude: You toe the line through the early years of life, but in old age you’re allowed to venture into any spiritual path you like. Thus when people who are, for instance, hard-working householders kick at the religious orthodoxy, they are told simply, “Wait. You will have your turn at changing the rules.”
So what is the Community to do? Must it too set up a religious hierarchy with a basic orthodoxy (decreed by who knows whom?? the loudest? the richest? the meanest?) allowing for free thought in some areas but requiring that a majority of people adhere to the official line on certain basic precepts or axioms? It’s no use hoping it won’t happen, because it will. If we don’t learn the lesson of history, we will all fail.
The bottom line, perhaps: If you don’t like the thoughts articulated above, start your own letterhead. If you just sit and piss and moan, nobody can get anything done. It will all sink of its own weight and, like the worm Ouroboros, eat its own tail.
So surely our first basic axiom must be that taken from the charge to the Goddess. Here it is as it was first uttered, before it got politically correct–that is, before it got smooth below the waist:
To show that ye are free,
ye shall be naked in your rites
and afterward make the game of love.