Contemplative Wicca

Reflections on Contemplative Practices for Pagans

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Teresa Chupp
  • Chicago, IL: 
    IPG Academic
    , November
     2018.
     144 pages.
     $13.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781911597094.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

At the beginning of  Contemplative Wicca, Teresa Chupp argues that a lack of “real Pagan theology” means that Wicca lacks coherence and its practitioners lack the satisfaction that they would receive if they drew on “coherent theology.” If Wicca offered a “basic statement of belief,  [that] would go far in establishing Paganism as a real, legitimate religion to outsiders” (1–3). At this point, Chupp has already demonstrated several levels of misunderstanding. For one thing, although she uses “Wicca” and “Paganism” interchangeably, the two terms are no more synonymous than are “English” and “British.” Wicca is the largest manifestation of modern Pagan religion in the United Kingdom and North America, but not so in Eastern Europe, for example.

Second, Wicca has its theological thinkers—Starhawk (Miriam Simos), for example—but to the average practitioner, “belief” is a far less meaningful word than “relationship.” In this respect, Wicca shares with older indigenous spiritual traditions a focus on one’s actions and  one’s relationships with other beings, human and nonhuman, rather than on intellectual theology and dogma. Nor do Wiccans “worship” Nature in the sense that the deities of monotheistic faiths require worship. It its telling that her citation for Wicca’s lack of theology is sixteen years old; much has happened since that date.

That said, Chupp does credit “Traditional Wicca” (her term, used to differentiate it from “Contemplative Wicca”) and contemporary Paganism generally with viewing human society as “collaborative rather than hierarchical … part of nature [that] cannot be separated from it (4).  And she does approve of the ritual “wheel of the year” with eight major festivals that “celebrates the turning of the seasons and the oneness of all creation”(5). What she discards are “ecstatic practice … drumming, dancing, music and so forth” and polytheism, which, she claims, is merely “ritually expedient”(5–7). Despite Paganism’s oneness with nature, “if Pagans can separate monotheism from its historically associated results of hierarchy and persecution, perhaps there can be greater acceptance of monotheism in the Pagan community” (9). Elsewhere, she argues that polytheism leads to “tribalism and divisiveness,” whereas monotheism might (some day) produce universal harmony (9).

That distinction made, the rest of the book contains chapters on society, ethics, prayer, and the soul, much in the tradition of Unitarianism and/or a sort of nondenominational Western mysticism. At this point, the author no longer tries to form any connection with “Traditional Wicca,” except to note that “Wicca has a long history of solitary practitioners—those who live and practice alone. This is very similar to the Christian hermit tradition” (101).

The historic Unitarian movement against orthodox Christianity rejected trinitarian theology, the divinity of Jesus, the Eucharist, atonement,  original sin, biblical inerrancy, and so on, to the point where today many Unitarian Universalists are completely non-theistic. They do, however, typically meet on Sunday, sit in rows to receive spiritual instruction, and call their institution a “church.”

Chupp lays out an equally transformative path for Wicca, but she never answers the question of why? Why not label “Contemplative Wicca” as Unitarian Universalism, with which it would be a good fit, or even some sort of neo-Vedenta or Perennial Philosophy? Nothing in her book represents a significant break with those schools except perhaps the attention she pays to the sacred year of eight solar festivals. One could ask then if “Wicca” as a descriptor has become so widespread, with its connotation of edgy self-empowerment,  that it is the religious flavor of the month, or of the decade. Will “Wicca” in the title lead the prospective reader to pluck it from the shelf or to click “Add to Shopping Cart” where “Unitarian” would not?

About the Reviewer(s): 

Chas S. Clifton is an Independent Scholar from Colorado. He is the Editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

Date of Review: 
December 29, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Teresa Chupp has practiced Wicca as a solitary and in various covens since 1989. She holds an MA in Theology from the Graduate Theological Union, and an MA in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside.

Comments

Teresa Chupp

I agree with Clifton that the terms Pagan and Wiccan are not synonymous, and so I use the two terms according to their meanings, and not in the manner he suggests.  

I also agree with Clifton that most Pagans abhor dogma, so they eschew theological work and focus instead on ritual.  I, however, do not share this dislike of applying rational thought to one’s spiritual beliefs, and do theology to form a system of meaning for life.  I make it clear in on pp. 14-15, and 114 of my book that creating dogma is not a goal of my theology; besides, since God is so entirely ineffable, it seems best to make as few prescriptive statements as possible, and simply continue to seek God in prayer. 

I agree, also, that there are pagan theologians, just not very many.  I point out in my book (see pp. v and 1) that some have begun to construct pagan theologies, and that a Pagan seminary has been offering theology degrees since the 1990s.  Much Pagan literature, though, remains how-to ritual books.  Clifton mentions Starhawk as a theological thinker, but, although she has made a tremendous contribution to Pagan thought and practice, she is an artist, not a theologian. 

Although it is true that the Abrahamic gods require worship of their followers, the God I know does not; one prays in order to align oneself with It.

I am gratified to see that Clifton noticed that the preponderance of my theology follows the Western mystical tradition, particularly since the main thrust of the book is to propose a Wiccan contemplative theology.  He is also correct to point out that I retain the Wiccan liturgical year as part of my theology.  He neglects, however, to acknowledge that my spirituality is nature-based, though, which is crucial.  These last two points are core features of my theology, and what make it Pagan, rather than something else.

To Clifton’s question “why”, I respond “why not”.  Why not propose a Wiccan contemplative theology, as I have done?  As outrageous as it may seem, some of us prefer contemplative to ecstatic practice, and find monotheism more logically appealing than polytheism.  As regrettable as it is, most Pagans would agree with Clifton, and would consider my theology to be heretical, and I have been told it is.  Nevertheless, this theological position deserves to be articulated as much as any other, and heresy, at least among anti-dogmatic Pagans, is entirely a matter of opinion.   

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