I have noticed a trend in the blogosphere in the past year. Many of us are trying to voice something that perhaps hasn’t had a voice before: we don’t know what to call ourselves any more. It used to be easy, we called ourselves wiccan, druid, or simply pagan, but such labels seldom fit these days. Most of us no longer follow distinct paths that can be clearly defined or we follow older cultural paths for which the names have been forgotten. Do we use witch, magician, sorcerer, spirit worker, or occultist? Why do we feel we have to have a label at all?
THE GLAMOUR OF LABELS
Labels can make us feel cool, mysterious, intelligent, trendy, lineaged… like putting on a mask or expensive clothing. Many often fall into the allure of copying titles others use simply because they sound cool. We want to fit in, we feel we have to or we won’t be respected. I see cultural labels thieved all the time because of this. The more obscure and old a label sounds, the more cool we think it is. “So and so uses this label and everyone thinks they are the coolest so if I call myself this, everyone will think I’m cool too.” This often results in an eclectic solitary using a traditional cultural label or a path label for something they don’t actually practice. Another pitfall of the glamour of labels is stringing a long line of them together with the logic that “if one label makes me sound cool than five of them in a row must be even better!” This is how we end up with the master druid initiated third degree wiccan fifth generation hereditary witch reiki master voodoo priestesses.
Labels are often taken out of context. For example, just from using the traditional Scots label spaewife for myself in my about page and blog subtitle once upon a time, it appeared on web pages used as a synonym for hedge witch or green witch and eclectic solitary bloggers started to use it for themselves. Of course, it’s not a synonym for these words and actually means seer, but research takes so much effort and it’s so much easier to appropriate a Scoto-Scandinavian label even though you’re not a seer or Scottish… or Scandinavian (insert facepalm here).
This is where getting caught up in the glamour of labels leads us sometimes; to cultural misappropriation, misunderstandings, and making ourselves look foolish.
WHY THEY DON’T ALWAYS FIT
Sometimes we find a label that really resonates with us, that describes our path as closely as we can come to. Often it’s not enough, however, or we change and the label no longer fits. We are always more than just one label. All we are and do and believe can never fit into one word and yet we try our hardest to make it so. We should really cut that out. We should stop thinking of labels as specific magical paths and more as adjectives and descriptors for our paths. It would take a lot of pressure off trying to find that one word and leave us more open to change.
WHY WE SHOULDN’T CARE
The simple answer: no one actually cares what we call ourselves so why should we? Does it help us advance in our path? Does it increase our magical powers or our experiences? If we get too caught up in trying to find the right word for our path, we can waste years over it instead of living and breathing our path exactly as it is and becomes over time as we practice it. I had to learn the hard way to put more effort into what I do and believe than trying to find a name for my path that fit. Once I stopped caring about a label for it, my practice opened up before me and I was able to live and breathe it fully without the weight of a title causing me to get stuck.
STANDING ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
Gone are the days of the set small handful of big name initiatory traditions. Magic has spread like wildfire and today there are more independent practitioners than members of lineaged traditions. Some of us outside these traditions have always felt the need to use their labels and try to match our paths as closely as possible to theirs without being initiated or trained in these traditions, but I personally think it’s a waste of time. If you’re on the outside you can never really know what the tradition is about. You can be influenced by a tradition, but it’s always more the idea and glamour of the tradition than the praxis of the actual tradition itself. In my opinion we should be looking to the big name traditions for inspiration, but still try to find our own way, our own paths.
COLOURING OUTSIDE THE LINES
Speaking as someone who was trained in a tradition and circles with some of the big name ones, it is just as important to find your own way even when you are initiated. It’s important to find that sense of self in your own personal beliefs and the daily practice of your magic. A good high priest/ess will tell you that as lovely as it is you’re being trained with them and learning the trad, it’s also important to pursue your own interests and beliefs at home away from the group. Think of training in a tradition as akin to copying the paintings of the great masters to better learn art — eventually you need to find your own style and create original paintings to truly become a master yourself.
I remember listening to a debate among a group of elderly wiccans who’d been in a coven together for decades. One admitted she didn’t think she was actually wiccan because her own beliefs and practices differed from the core of their trad. Another member then wondered if she should still be allowed to a be a member if she felt that way, but then the others spoke up and said they felt the same as her and did it matter if they weren’t wiccan at home if it was what they all did together that mattered and made up the coven and tradition? After all, weren’t they better for all their differences in belief and practice? It didn’t change the tradition, it only enriched their personal lives and spiritual paths. And so they’re still happily getting into magical mischief together.
If a group tells you you’re not allowed to pursue your own interests or other paths outside of their tradition, you may want to look really closely at that group and your membership in it. Close-mindedness, fear, and control are major red flags to avoid in a group. If they show up, it’s time to hightail it out of there. That said, if you’re a degree or tradition collector and have a habit of jumping from group to group, path to path willy nilly with no commitment — they have every right to be upset with you.
So what is a solution to our label woes? Instead of trying to wedge a square peg into a round hole (our path into someone else’s label), why not come up with our own names for our individual paths? Why not allow ourselves to use a handful of descriptors for ourselves that are all true instead of one word that doesn’t really fit? We define who we are, not anyone else. You can be in a wiccan coven and be a seiðkona too. You can be in a shamanic tradition and still be a witch. You can be a Norse reconstructionist and a thelemite. You can be a witch who practices necromancy, rootwork, and astrology and is a polytheist. You can be a witch who practices spirit work, green magic, and folk magic and is an animist. The possibilities are endless and there’s a high chance there are others out there just like you with the same influences. There are no limits, only absurdity.
Eclectic is no longer a dirty word, it is reality. Just be careful not to try to melt everything together in one big mess (avoid being that crazy master druid initiated third degree wiccan fifth generation hereditary witch reiki master voodoo priestess). Or, alternately, avoid trying to find tidy little boxes for everything you do to fit into. All our paths are mosaics composed of everything we are influenced by, believe in, and practice. It is much easier to recognize you are influenced by many beliefs and paths than to try to be all of them simultaneously. Above all, be yourself, even if what you are is currently nameless. Light your candle, light your lantern, and walk your own path proudly; lit clearly by your awareness of self.