Wicca in Canada

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In researching this topic of Wicca, a faith which I knew little about, I was encouraged by the first line of a response I received from FTP, editor of theWicca.ca, about the problems faced by Wiccans in Canada: “Wiccans in Canada generally have very few problems compared to Wiccans and Witches in other parts of the world…”[1]  With that said, FTP did go on to identify a few problems, reinforced by other research, that are faced by Wiccans and Witches in Canada.  The primary problem facing Wiccans in Canada is misunderstanding, such as those who have images of Wiccans as Satan worshippers, or as immoral, or as pure fantasy.  Media representation always plays a huge part in these false images.  There is, however, some more direct discrimination as well, often based on those misunderstandings.  These can be seen by discrimination in the workplace against Wiccan sabbats (annual holidays) as well as in the last vestige of anti-Witchcraft law found in section 365 of the Criminal Code.

Since potentially the largest problem facing Wicca today is misunderstanding, it is only appropriate to provide some definitions first.  “Pagan” is often used in our contemporary world as simply meaning subscribing to something other than the Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.  The word root came out of meaning “country dweller” for those who lived outside of the cities of the Roman Empire, but as Christianity rose it moved from a geographical insult to a religious one. The term then fell out of favour until the 20th century except in referring to ancient polytheistic religions.  It now tends to be used to categorize one of three groups: ancient religions, indigenous religions, and Neopagan groups, including Wicca.[2]

The term “Wicca” is narrower, but it still has some ambiguities as well.  The term “Wicca” developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s out of England under the leadership of High Priest Gerald Gardner.  Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca fall into the category of British Traditional Wicca, and some within it believe that followers of other traditions are not truly Wiccans, while others have a broader definition – much like we see in essentially every other world religion. Those who practice Wicca, as well as those who practice some other neopagan religions, are referred to as witches.[3]

One of the most popular misconceptions is that Wiccans, and witches in general, is that they are Satan-worshippers.  This arose out of the Medieval ages, and while a small minority of Wiccans do use some terms traditionally associated with Satan for The Horned God, that god simply is not the same figure as Satan.  In reality, the Wiccan view of divinity is not uniform, although most venerate both a God and a Goddess in some form.  Some take a pantheistic view: the two are both the same divinity, simply in different aspects.  Others take a duotheism, separating the two figures as polar but complementary opposites.  Still others take a hard polytheism, making their two gods part of the pantheon of pagan gods, and others take a soft polytheism, that one or more gods take(s) the form of multiple lesser gods.  A minority even take on monotheism, usually of the Goddess as in Dianic Wicca or as being genderless, and some are atheists or agnostics.[4]  This one basic question of who or what God is helps illuminate that Wicca is not a doctrinally-uniform religion.

Another misconception is that witches are immoral.  This often especially takes the form of a stereotype of sexually immorality.  While there is no heavily-formulated moral code like that of the book of Leviticus, there is a fundamental principle which is agreed upon by all Wiccans.  This is called the Wiccan Rede, and is phrased in some slightly different ways but the most common and oldest written form still surviving is “an [if] it harm none, do what ye will.”  A more modern translation would state “do what you will, so long as it harms none.”[5]  Another issue of particular interest in our modern world is that of homosexuality.  Wicca initially condemned homosexual activity in its earlier years, including under the leadership of Gardner, but is fully embracing in modern day.[6]

A third major category of misconception of Wicca is that is purely fantasy.  This is evident partly in the Canadian Criminal Code section 365 which will be discussed in more detail later in this paper.  Media again plays a huge role, in many cases making witchcraft seem like something fun and casual.  The editor of theWicca.ca, who goes by the initials FTP, states that “some might be drawn by fantastical images of magic and sorcery” which are presented largely by the media.[7]  One of the Wiccan holidays is that of Samhain, which falls on Halloween, and it serves a primary example of this.  Originating out of Celtic paganism, this holiday is a very solemn and intimate one for honouring the dead.[8]  The media coverage can especially wreak havoc on the intimacy of the holiday, as it is inevitable for news to exaggerate the pagan roots of the holiday and “there are inevitably people who are happy to fulfill this media appetite and pose for pictures wearing black robes and oversized pentacles.”[9]

For the average Canadian, these misunderstandings may not really make any difference to their lives.  If they do not know any Wiccans, then at least no harm is done.  Yet with somewhere in the range of 70,000 Wiccans in Canada, which is a very vague estimate based on the estimate that probably only about 30% of the Wiccan population would be unafraid to say so on the census,[10] there are overt acts of discrimination which do occur out of these misunderstandings.  Many employers, for instance, are happy to provide days off for Wiccan sabbats but many others are not and they have had to be settled with a Labour Board.[11]

The bluntest form of modern discrimination in Canada is one remaining vestige of anti-witchcraft law within the Criminal Code.  Section 265 states:

Every one who fraudulently
(a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
(b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
(c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,
is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.[12]

On first glance, this may not seem like it is opposing witchcraft religions.  Strictly speaking, it is opposing the fraudulent claim to be a practitioner of witchcraft.  However, upon closer examination, there are problems with this law for those who adhere to Wicca and similar magic-practicing religions.  There is arguably an inherent assumption that those practicing witchcraft are frauds, challenging the genuine nature of those religions.  There is also the issue of redundancy: what does this law accomplish – other than discrimination against witchcraft – that is not done by other fraud laws?  An analogous law would specify that if a Christian televangelist healer accepted money and then the healing didn’t work, the healer is responsible.  It could be argued whether this should also be illegal or not, but as it is right now, there is no such law other than general fraud laws and it is a clear double-standard.[13]

My next instinct upon reading the law was to falsely assume that there is no way that it is still being enforced.  While it is not a common charge, at least three cases did occur in 2010.  One involves a Brampton man accused of fraudulently collecting payment for undefined services, and the wording of the article from CityTV itself reveals the anti-witchcraft bias.  The title of the article is “Brampton Man Arrested for Witchcraft” – not “Brampton Man Arrested for Fraud.” The article then says “the problem isn’t the religion – it’s the fraud” contrary to the strong impression provided by the article’s own title. [14]  The other fact of note is the redundancy of the charges, as mentioned previously. He has also been charged with fraud under $5,000, so there is really no justification behind the additional prohibition on practicing witchcraft. While two other cases found do not show quite as strong of a media bias, it is still telling that the articles are titled with the charge of witchcraft rather than the other charges in each case.[15] These examples show the problem both with the existence of the discriminatory law, and of the media coverage.

In summary, it is true that Canada is one of the best nations in the world for Wiccans and other Witches to live in.  Yet just because the discrimination is not as overt as in other nations, that does not mean a complete lack of problems for Canada’s Witches.  Witches are horribly misunderstood, and the media only increases the problem.  They face discrimination in their workplaces and even in the Criminal Code.  We should be encouraged by the trend toward equality for the Wiccan tradition and for other pagan traditions, but we also must not allow this trend to stall or stop entirely.

Bibliography

“Brampton Man Arrested for Practicing Witchcraft.” CityNews Toronto. September 15, 2010. http://www.citytv.com/toronto/citynews/news/local/article/93396–brampton-man-arrested-for-practicing-witchcraft (accessed March 6, 2011).

Cherry, Tamara. “Man Charged with Pretending to Practise Witchcraft.” The Toronto Sun. April 2, 2010. http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2010/04/02/13450106.html (accessed March 7, 2011).

“Criminal Code.” Department of Justice. February 9, 2011. http://laws.justice.gc.ca/PDF/Readability/C-46.pdf (accessed March 7, 2011).

FTP. “New Form Letter and Facebook Group to Repeal CC s.365.” TheWicca.ca: Wicca from a Canadian Perspective. March 8, 2010. http://forums.thewicca.ca/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=409 (accessed March 7, 2011).

FTP, editor of theWicca.ca, interview by Ryan Robinson. (February 28, 2011).

“Paganism.” Wikipedia. February 28, 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pagan (accessed March 6, 2011).

Robinson, B. A. “How many Wiccans are there? Estimates for the U.S., Canada, etc.” Religious Tolerance. December 28, 2009. http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_nbr3.htm (accessed March 6, 2011).

“Samhain.” Wikipedia. February 17, 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhain (accessed March 7, 2011).

“Street Beat – Apr 2 – Man Charged with Witchcraft.” CityNews Toronto. April 2, 2010. http://www.citytv.com/toronto/citynews/news/local/article/73710–street-beat-apr-2-man-charged-with-witchcraft (accessed March 7, 2011).

“Wicca.” Wikipedia. March 5, 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicca (accessed March 6, 2011).

“Wiccan Rede.” Wikipedia. January 19, 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiccan_Rede (accessed March 6, 2011).

 


[1] FTP (2011)

[2] Paganism (2011)

[3] Wicca (2011)

[4] Wicca (2011)

[5] Wiccan Rede (2011)

[6] Wicca (2011)

[7] FTP (2011)

[8] Samhain (2011), FTP (2011)

[9] FTP (2011)

[10] Robinson (2009)

[11] FTP (2011)

[12] Criminal Code (2011)

[13] FTP (2010)

[14] Brampton Man Arrested for Practicing Witchcraft (2010)

[15] Cherry (2010); Street Beat – Apr 2 – Man Charged with Witchcraft (2010)

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.