[NOTE: This was a post to the Witchhaven list by its moderator, Raven Scott, in reply to a thread titled, "What is a Wiccan?"]
Wicca as a Mystery Tradition, a Religious Path, *did not exist* before Gardner. In the Witch Wars of years ago, the issue wasn't Who was Wiccan, that was *never* an issue then as it was understood that only the Gardnerians and the Alexandrians were Wiccan... it was Who was a Witch. That was the battle cry.
It was a nasty war and I'm very glad that I wasn't on hand to witness or participate in it, because as far as my kindred would have been concerned I'd have been considered a traitor. Witchcraft existed long before GBG and they had no exclusive rights to the term Witch. But to the term Wicca when used to describe a specific set of religious beliefs and practices? *sigh* By definition, by right of first usage in that fashion... yes, the Gardnerian is right. It is theirs. No, Gerald did not create the word, it was in use in his original coven... they described themselves as being "of the Wicca" and by his initiation into the New Forest Coven, so was he. Gerald called the religion he crafted Wicca, the Craft of the Wise. His lineal decendants, after he died, called themselves Gardnerian in honor of him, but they are still Wiccan, they are still "of the Wicca" and so too are any of those who are in direct initiatory descent.
Does this mean that all of those who have come after, who have not had initiation into one of the branches from that particular tree, cannot claim to be Wiccan? Some would say yes, and I suppose they're technically correct, but I'm uncomfortable with that kind of position. It puts me in mind too much of the Catholic Church trying to keep Christianity to itself. It didn't work for them and it's not going to work for those who could rightly, but oh so rudely, claim to be the "true Wiccans". The Catholic Church will *always* be the Catholic Church, but they're not the only Christians on the block now and they've been forced to acknowledge it.
Common usage is changing the definition of what Wicca is. Like it or not, it's happening. And without the consent of those to whom it belonged. The Federal Government has put a whole lot of pagan religions under the umbrella of Wicca, though rightfully some of them are not even close. And this has been a good thing, a wonderful thing, for all of those who are in our military service and who need the protections afforded to recognized religions. So there is very positive benifits from this adoption of the name of a specific religion.
A great many people have picked up the works of Starhawk, Cunningham and other American authors and found within those pages thoughts and images that sing to the very core of them. They recognize a homecoming and leap to embrace it by the only name they know, because that is the name it is spoken of in those books... Wicca.
"But you're not Wiccan!" some hearts would cry. "You don't know the Mysteries, you don't practice the rites, you don't believe as we do, you are not initiated into our kindred." And those hearts are speaking truth, their truths, and it is hurtful to them to see the name of something that means so very much to them, the very name of their religion, being used as a lable for something they don't recognize. Some of those hearts get angry at this "theft". Can you blame them? And they speak out and harshly in defense of what they hold dear. Can you really find it in your heart to blame them? Honestly?
And yet... what of those other hearts? The ones that leaped in recognition of something they had no name for until they read the books? Are they thieves, murderers, assassins, poisoners of what is sacred to others? No. There simply isn't another name that they can choose that tells the same tale, gives the same song, lifts the heart as the one they have found. They have become, in their heart of hearts, Wiccan and we cannot say them "nay, you are not" without attempting to harm them, by stripping them of their self-image, their cherished beliefs, the foundation below their feet. They too are Wiccan.
Oh, not the Wiccan of the British Traditionalists, but a newer Wicca, a different Wicca. Sharing similarities but forging their own path, creating their own rituals, discovering their own Mysteries, making their own Traditions or working without one as they will. To try to stop them, to try to take back a name that was once understood to mean *only* a specific path, is to attempt to stop the tide. It won't work. It's too late for that. It was too late when one of the more widely published authors told his readers that no one could define Wicca. And they believe him and joyfully adopted the name that he offered them and immediately went to work to make it theirs.
So, what is to be done? How do we, this generation, avoid a repeat of that very messy Witch War? We redefine ourselves. We create the lables that clearly tell where the differences lie and we embrace them and promote them, honoring those differences as well as those things we hold in common.
That means we give respect to those on the Wiccan path, Traditionalist and Eclectic, Covened and Solitary. We allow each its voice and the right to hold opinions that differ from our own. Recognize that no one is, or even can be, lesser or greater when each is different. We are apples and oranges... or rather oranges and tangerines. Peel away the skin and that which is within is juicy and delicious but will definitely not taste the same. So too with the many forms of Wicca.