Is Wicca a Dangerous Cult? Facts About the Wiccan Religion
Is Wicca Dangerous?
There are many websites that call Wicca a “cult." A lot of people visit religious message boards to ask about the nature of Wicca—often either they or a family member are interested in trying it, but they have heard terrible things about it from others. Unfortunately, much of this content is misinformed and does not adequately represent this religion. Long story short, Wicca is a religion that welcomes and accepts any and all practitioners; it is a path that incorporates flexibility, inclusion, and acceptance in how it is practiced. In this piece, I will break down the definition of a cult and compare Wicca and its practices to those of an actual "cult."
Definition of a "Cult"
When we’re talking about labels, I like to turn to the dictionary first for clarification. So, I looked up the listing in Dictionary.com:
cult [kuhlt] Noun
- a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
- an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers.
- the object of such devotion.
- a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
- Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.
“Cult” is actually the sociological term synonymous with “religion”. It has no negative or positive connotations. It’s a neutral term.
Therefore, yes—in a sociological sense, Wicca is a cult. All Pagan religions are cults. Judaism is a cult. All denominations of Christianity (including non-denominational Christianity) are cults. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology—they are all cults in a sociological sense.
The word 'cult' is more often used, however, when people are referring to the ‘Destructive Cults’. There is no doubt that there are, and have been, cults in which members are in danger, or they are a direct threat to the public. Some famous ones that made headlines include the Manson Family, the Branch Davidians and the Heaven’s Gate.
The question then becomes: Does the Wiccan religion qualify as one of these 'Destructive Cults'?
Let’s have a look at expert evaluations of the characteristics of a dangerous cult, as defined by the International Cultic Studies Association, and compare them to Wicca.
Follow the Leader
Characteristics of Wicca
Excessive zealotry/unquestioning commitment to leader and his teachings (whether leader is alive or dead)
While Wicca's founder, Gerald Gardner, is respected as 'a' leader, he is not considered 'the' leader. Wicca has no messiah, no prophets, no figure of ultimate authority. Wicca has changed considerably since Gardner.
Leadership dictates how members should think, act, feel, and how they should live their lives.
There are no universal laws/rules in Wicca about how to live or how to think. In fact, a common criticism in Wicca is that we can't all agree on our own religion's beliefs.
No accountability of leadership (leader is ultimate authority at all times in organization; no other board or religious authorities can question or override).
Wiccan groups and individuals practice autonomously, without any overhead church or organization directing beliefs and practices. Most Wiccans don't even belong to a group. Some groups may create their own organizational structure and/or heirarchy, which has no power outside that group.
Goals or Missions
Characteristics of Wicca
Recruiting new members, even using deception, is a primary goal.
Wicca does not seek converts. In fact we more often discourage hasty conversions, no matter how excited a person is about Wicca, urging people to read, learn and think through their own beliefs first. Wiccan covens and groups turn away people for membership if they feel people would not be a good fit for the already established group.
Making money is a primary goal.
Wicca has no overhead organization that demands money. Groups may chip in for their own supplies that they all use. Larger, open groups may ask for donations to cover expenses of events, such as renting a space or paying for permits. But most Wiccans are solitaries and never required to join a group, attend an event or make a donation.
Group promotes the ideas that the ends justify whatever means it deems necessary to carry out a ‘mission’.
There is no overall mission to our religion, other than for members to find spiritual fulfillment in it if they can. Wicca is not a religion of moral absolutes. We promote ethical behavior in the form of people acting responsibly, being accountable and using their heads in any given situation.
Characteristics of Wicca
Members are controlled through doubt, guilt, shame, peer pressure.
Since most members are solitaries who practice autonomously, this isn't even possible for most Wiccans. Covens and groups generally make decisions democratically or by consensus.
Mind-altering practices are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts.
There are no Wiccan practices required in excess at all. We use chanting and meditation for various reasons—relaxation, celebration, spiritual exploration—but considering we're allowed to find and make up our own, there is no agenda of suppression involved.
Questions, doubt and dissent are discouraged and/or punished.
Wicca actually encourages questions and encourages people to explore doubts, even if it brings them to the conclusion that Wicca is not for them.
Fosters us-vs-them mentality. “Us” is the group; “them” is everyone else in society.
Wiccans do not see our religions as the only way, or the only right way, or that there is any problem with not being Wiccan.
Many Wiccans Practice Solo
Characteristics of Wicca
Membership requirements in terms of time, efforts and money to be dedicated to the group are exhaustive and excessive.
Wicca doesn't require membership at all. Joining a group is entirely voluntary. Groups generally meet once per week to once per month; hardly excessive.
Members are encouraged or required to live with the group, or only socialize with group members.
It's extremely rare to find a group of Wiccans who live together. There is no overhead authority directing a Wiccan's socialization.
Group attempts to isolate members, encouraging cutting ties with family, friends, changing activities or even jobs.
Most Wiccans are solitary in their practice. Groups don't live together. There is no isolation. Most Wiccans will even go to family and friends for their religious holidays or rites of passage, even if it's a different religions.
Most loyal members are unable to imagine life outside of group and fear leaving.
There is no fear of leaving Wicca. Wiccans are encouraged to leave Wicca if they don't feel it's fulfilling. Many Wiccans maintain friendships with ex-Wiccans.
Why Do Some People Claim the Wiccan Religion Is a Dangerous Cult?
- Ignorance. There are some people who are very misinformed on what Wicca is, and what it's about. They don't bother to do the research, or they've done research in very poor, biased sources.
- Because their own religious authorities told them it is. Many people have learned from leaders in their own religion that Wicca is a cult. Many Christian websites in particular will target Wicca and call it a cult. Ironically, they discourage honest research and critical thinking about Wicca and pressure their own followers into simply accepting their authority on the matter (which are actually characteristics of a cult).
- Because Wicca is different from their own religion. There are sadly some people who assume that any religion with teachings different from their own must make it a dangerous cult. Ironically, that very "us vs. them " mentality is also one of the characteristics of a cult.
It's horrible when people spread misinformation and propaganda, but it happens. This is why I'm so glad that Wicca is a religion that does encourage us to read and explore and think for ourselves. The beauty of it is, you don't just have to take my word for it. Do a little research on your own, read some books about Wicca, go attend a Wiccan gathering, talk to some Wiccans, and you'll find that our religion doesn't qualify as an oppressive, thought-controlling institution. Disagree with us all you will, it's your right; but at least disagree with what our religion actually is.
Wiccan Chants: Prayers of Religious Celebration
The Pentagram: What Does It Really Mean?
The pentagram is the primary Wiccan symbol, which probably helps contribute to some misunderstanding. This symbol is probably not what you think it is—you may be surprised to find out where it comes from and how it's been used through the ages.
For clarification, read Wicca for Beginners: What is a Pentagram or Pentacle?.
What's Your Opinion About the Wiccan Religion?
What do you think about the Wiccan Religion's "dangerous cult" status?
© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright