Secrecy - Learning

Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner - Scott Cunningham 1993


SECRECY HAS BEEN granted such importance in both Wicca and magic that a few words concerning it seem appropriate here. In this chapter, we’ll separately discuss each topic.

Keeping Your Wiccan Activities Secret

In the recent past, when there were far fewer members of our religion and public understanding of Pagan faiths was nonexistent in this country, Wiccans were usually quiet about their religion. The threat of broken marriages, loss of home, job, and even children was quite real. Wiccans had learned to keep their religious activities wrapped in the shadows. Only the closest of relatives or friends knew what these people did on the nights of the full moon (and the reason why they always asked for the day off after the sabbats).

These Wiccans were usually members of covens and had been sworn to secrecy during their initiations. Among the many things that they could not reveal were their magical names, the identities of other members of the coven, activities that occurred during a circle, and their group’s specific religious and magical rituals. Even if some Wiccans were willing to speak of their religion, public opinion and oaths of secrecy were stacked against them. Most Wiccans lived double lives: one related to work, PTA, fighting with the neighbors, budgeting, washing the car, and other mundane activities; the other immersed in religion and magic.

Today, the picture has somewhat changed. Every issue of Circle Network News lists a large number of positive articles concerning Wicca that have appeared in general-interest magazines and newspapers. Articles on Wiccans and Goddess-worshippers have appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Television talk shows revel in “Witch” episodes, where invited Wiccans discuss their religion.

This coverage has tremendously expanded the awareness of the existence of our religion within non-Wiccans. They may have incorrect ideas concerning Wicca, but they’ve been exposed to its existence.

Recognized Wiccans are sometimes invited to speak to church congregations to explain their religion. Many work directly with prisoners, just as do the clergy of other religions. Some Wiccan groups are recognized by the I.R.S. as tax-exempt churches (though Wicca as a whole hasn’t been granted this recognition). The U.S. Army instructs its chaplains to recognize Wicca as a legitimate alternative religion. Occasionally, articles about Wicca actually appear in the religion section of newspapers.

Still, the prevailing climate is one of confusion, doubt, and fear. Those raised to believe in one faith feel threatened when another makes its presence known; especially one as misunderstood as Wicca. Occasionally, this leads to violence and even murder.

Such reactions are the direct result of the misinformation continually being fed to an unsuspecting public. The major sources of these lies are television evangelists (who have had their day and who are now fading from existence), but many small-town preachers continue to speak of us as satanic, child-killing devils with one aim: to rule the world. Even the recent media-promulgated “New Age” has been widely discussed as a satanic threat to Christianity.

Though we know this is absurd, many non-Wiccans do not. In such a heady climate, is it best to reveal your religion to your parents, mate, children, friends, employers, landlords, and neighbors? If only to some of these, which ones? Could such a revelation create anger, fear, and misunderstanding to the point that you wished you’d never said a thing? Your mate may grow cold, your employer may let you go, your neighbors might shun you, your parents may become extremely distressed (if they subscribe to a more conventional religion), your landlord may give you thirty days’ notice, or up your rent. It’s possible.

The alternative is also possible. Telling your mate that you’re practicing a different religion may actually strengthen your bond (“Well, at least you believe in something”) or settle unresolved questions (“So that’s what you’ve been doing at midnight once a month”). An understanding employer might let you have days off for your religious practices. Your neighbors will know not to drop in on the nights of the full moon. Your landlord? Well, maybe it’s best not to tell everyone. You must carefully weigh this decision, for such a revelation could quickly affect your place of residence.

The decision of if and when to break the news to others, and to whom, must be based upon your knowledge of Wicca, your involvement in the religion (after a while, it can become rather difficult to hide), your relationships with those you might tell, the prevailing religious climate of your area, and the ease with which you can discuss such a highly personal subject as religion.

It usually isn’t necessary to make such a revelation, not even to your husband or wife. If she or he asks, you may wish to discuss it, but no one has the right to know what you do on October 31. Religious freedom is just that—freedom of religion, freedom from oppressive religions, and freedom from discussing your faith.

For thirteen years, I lived in a second-floor apartment in a rough neighborhood. The building was owned by a born-again Christian who ran a gun shop and vacuum cleaner repair business next door to the building. I saw this man on a daily basis; he was in my apartment many times, and I had met much of his family. While I lived there, I had ten magic and Wiccan books published, gave countless television, radio, and newspaper interviews, taught hundreds of classes in the general area, performed many rituals, and hosted dozens of coven meetings. I stared at the stars at night, recited incantations over the herbs and plants that I grew on my porch, meditated on thunderstorms, and in every way acted as a Wiccan.

And yet, during all those years my landlord never spoke to me about my religion. Yes, he used to write rent receipts on the back of religious tracts, but the subject simply never came up. I held my tongue, he held his, and we had a satisfying business relationship.

If I’d marched into his store one day and announced that I was a Witch, he’d have certainly sent me packing. My decision not to discuss my religion allowed me to live in a large apartment, at low rent, for a great many years during my salad days as a writer.

The decision of whether to inform others of your Wiccanhood must be a personal one. However, I’ll give you a bit of advice: many people simply don’t care what you believe or who you invoke. They have no interest in the subject.

Some Wiccans decide to tell the world that they’re Wiccans (or “Witches”) purely for shock value, to attract attention, make money, and to gratify their egos. This is the worst reason for revealing your religion to others.

Magical Secrecy

Virtually everything said above also pertains to the practice of magic, but other factors are pertinent only to this subject. Magic, as the projection of natural energies to manifest needed changes, is a vital part of Wicca. Within the circle we send energy to our planet, assist in healing the sick, protect ourselves, draw love into our lives, and plant the seeds for many changes.

Magic can be a daily activity. Many Wiccans practice folk magic—the creation of charms and enchanted herbal mixtures as well as the use of stones and other natural, energy-filled objects to create needed change. These changes may be minor or, at times, quite major. Folk magic usually isn’t practiced inside the circle itself. This section will discuss secrecy for both ritual and folk magic.

It’s commonly believed that secrecy is absolutely essential for successful magic. Don’t speak of your magical workings, we’re told. Don’t tell your friends of your interest in magic, let alone discuss the candle ritual that you performed last night. Be still, we’re told. Talk not. Let the power cook.

A few reasons are given for this magical secrecy. Some say that speaking of your magical operations disperses the energies that you’ve put into them. Others state that nonmagicians who hear of your rituals will, by simply disbelieving in magic, unconsciously send energies that will block your spell’s manifestation. A few Wiccans will state that secrecy about one’s magical proclivities was once a necessity for saving one’s neck. (This is certainly true.) For some, secrecy heightens the mysterious quality of magic. Others give no reason, but simply repeat the old code: “Be silent.”

Is this superstition? Perhaps. Magic is still a somewhat uncertain practice. After all, we’re using energies that even physicists haven’t yet been able to locate or identify. We may have seen the effectiveness of our magical rituals. We may have even told a few close friends about these rituals prior to their manifestations, with no ill effects. But soon, the secrecy issue could creep back into our consciousness.

“Should I talk about these things?” some will ask. “After all, that book stated that loose lips sink spells. A Wiccan I know does rituals all the time, but she only tells me about them after they’ve taken effect. And I’m sure that there are lots of Wiccans who never breathe a word about their magical rites.”

Doubt soon clouds the solitary Wiccan’s mind. Soon, she or he makes no mention of magic to others, even others of like mind. Secrecy has once again been conferred on the process.

This is unfortunate and unnecessary. True magic is limitless. Speaking of a ritual to others doesn’t disperse its energies. On the contrary, it gives you another opportunity to quickly send more power toward your magical goal.

Disbelief also isn’t a satisfactory reason for magical secrecy. The disbelief of others has as much effect on magic as does an unschooled person’s doubt that a calculator can add two and two to equal four. The calculator will work, regardless of the observer’s doubt. So, too, will magic. Properly performed, magic will be effective. If energy is raised within the body, programmed with intent, and projected toward its goal with the proper force and visualization, it will be effective.

This manifestation may not occur overnight. Many repetitions of the magical ritual may be necessary, but they’re usually effective if the Wiccan knows how to use this process.

Secrecy concerning magical rites is quite limiting and, indeed, can reduce their effectiveness. This is a bizarre statement, so I’d better explain. If a person truly feels that secrecy is necessary to perform an effective rite of magic, she or he has accepted a limitation concerning magic’s effectiveness. Acceptance of any form of limitation in magic reduces the Wiccan’s ability to raise and send energy, for it breeds doubt within the Wiccan’s mind that magic isn’t an all-powerful force that, correctly performed by properly experienced people, can truly manifest wondrous, positive changes.

Limitations (such as secrecy) are harmful to the effective practice of magic—both ritual and folk. If we accept one limitation, we may accept others that we either read in books or hear from others. (Examples include: You can’t perform a positive ritual during the waning moon. You must check the lunar phase prior to performing any ritual. If you incorrectly time it, the ritual will flop. You have to have every single ingredient listed in a folk magic spell, for substitution of one item for another will render it void. There are many others—all are absurd.)

The third reason often proffered for magical secrecy—that it’s a tradition handed down from earlier times when secrecy was necessary to save one’s neck—is at least historically accurate. Fortunately, speaking of magical rituals to close friends today isn’t likely to cause you to be hanged. The last rationale—that secrecy increases the mysterious nature of magic—may be necessary for some in the beginning of their magical experiences. They should soon lose the need for such mental stage-settings.

Secrecy, then, isn’t a necessary part of magic. It’s no guarantee of magical success and may block your magic. This doesn’t mean that you should walk around wearing a green button that states, “I did a money ritual last night!” It also doesn’t mean that you must discuss your magical affairs with others, especially if you’re working on intensely private matters.

It’s perfectly fine to keep quiet concerning your magical activities—so long as your motivations aren’t limiting. If you don’t wish to discuss your magical activities with others, don’t. Not because some Wiccan wrote that you shouldn’t, but because you don’t want to.

Secrecy concerning magic is filled with superstition that has no place in the lives of solitary Wiccans.