In a recent conversation, someone asked me the following: “I’m not familiar with Wicca, and I don’t understand what this is all about. Can you explain it?” This blog post is an attempt at answering that question.
Wicca is a tremendously broad topic on its own, so as I answer this question, I’m necessarily going to focus on certain features of Wicca. Please don’t look at this as a complete view of what Wicca is or isn’t. I’m only going to mention the most prominently relevant bits.
Traditional Wicca is a religion in which certain (and often specific) deities are approached in sacred space referred to as a circle. Rather than gather in a church or temple permanently dedicated to worship, Wiccans create a circle when they need sacred space, and then disperse it when they’re done using it. The process of creating or casting a circle typically involves at least two officiators: a priest and a priestess. Together, these officiators represent complimentary forces of creation, and this dynamic is intrinsic to the efficacy of Wiccan circle casting.
The desire to create Spectrum Gate Mysteries arose out of a discussion about how an intersexed, third-gendered, or non-gendered person could fully participate in Wicca’s binary ritual system. Some Wiccan groups attempt to accommodate a non-binary approach to sex and gender by allowing anyone to officiate as either priest or priestess according to where they feel they fit best, regardless of that person’s sex or gender identity. These groups stress that the dynamic between priestess and priest is generally creative, not specifically procreative, so the genitalia of people involved need not matter. Some people find this solution to be quite satisfying, and continue happily to practice traditional Wicca.
However, others found this accommodation profoundly underwhelming. The words “priest” and “priestess” are inherently gendered in our language, and words have power. While it’s a wonderful step forward to offer individuals the choice of which role they assume, this approach to Wicca is still telling people to choose which box they can fit in, rather than allowing them to express as they are. Furthermore, even if one were able to remove the gender from the officiator’s titles, Wicca’s circle casting system remains fundamentally binary. Even as other officiating roles are added, they appear in pairs, and their functionality has more to do with concepts of complimentary partnership than fundamental metaphysics.
Consequently, many trans* people find Traditional Wicca to be fundamentally unsatisfying. It is only natural for someone to want to see their own existence embraced and celebrated by their religion. How can someone who exists outside the gender binary, or whose experience of life tells them that a true binary does not exist, feel welcome and supported by an intrinsically binary system? A growing number of Wiccans acknowledge that non-binary dynamics exist, but they just don’t work with them, which is fine for some. Others want their own life experience to be equally represented in the spiritual and religious work they do.
This need was the seed from which Spectrum Gate Mysteries was born.
But, wait, let’s back up a minute. Why bother practicing a Wicca-based system at all? Why not just make something completely new?
I recognize that I am incredibly biased here, but, nevertheless, I believe that Traditional Wicca has a lot to offer, and I wanted that offer to be palpably accessible to people regardless of where they stand on the spectrums of sex, gender, identity, and orientation. The following are just a few elements of Traditional Wicca that we’ve maintained in Spectrum Gate Mysteries.
Circle Casting: The fundamental concept of creating a warded, consecrated space in which to practice one’s spirituality and interact with the divine is incredibly useful. Furthermore, the metaphysics of Wiccan circle casting are quite sound, if at times somewhat dramatic. A Spectrum Gate Mysteries circle is created in a very similar way to a Wiccan circle, with the most visible differences being the placement of guardians, the officiating roles, and the division of labor among officiators. Our circle casting technique was also designed with a high degree of intrinsic mutability, allowing practitioners to easily adapt to varying circumstances in attendance, materials, environment, and need.
Relevance to Nature: All living things, including us, are dependent upon the natural resources of our planet. Maintaining and supporting a spiritual connection to the natural world helps us understand the consequences of how we use those resources. Consequently, Spectrum Gate Mysteries is designed to function within the context of natural tides and cycles, such as seasons and lunar phases. There is no standard recipe for how to recognize or celebrate those cycles. Instead, we learn about their affect – how they impact ritual and other spiritual work – then allow individuals to decide what methods of working with them are most appropriate for their area, their group, and their goal. All that said, technology and urban life are a reality of today’s world. Keeping Spectrum Gate Mysteries connected to nature doesn’t mean ignoring the impact of humanity. We believe that the interaction between humanity and nature is extremely important, and we support developments of science, technology and modernization that work with nature rather than against it.
Initiation and Elevations: Both Traditional Wicca and Spectrum Gate Mysteries are initiatory traditions, meaning one must be initiated into them by a qualified individual in order to become a practitioner. For all that an initiatory system can be limiting – one cannot simply learn either tradition from a book, but must find a person to train them through the system. Despite the inconvenience (or, rather, as a direct result of it), there are two major benefits to an initiatory system.
The first major benefit is the elevations themselves. The rituals that a person undergoes to attain each elevation can produce profound insight and tremendous spiritual growth for a properly prepared seeker. These rituals are kept secret (they are, in fact, the only oathbound material in Spectrum Gate Mysteries) in order to allow the seeker to experience them without any expectation or assumption of what they will be or how they will function. This element of approaching the unknown is intrinsic to their effectiveness.
The second major benefit of an initiatory system is the training curriculum. As in Traditional Wicca, Specturm Gate Mysteries ranks provide a framework for teaching students. There is a set of formal curriculum which must be mastered before the next elevation is attempted, and this merely sets the foundation for a tremendous quantity of experiential and inquiry based learning. The result is a cohesive and holistic education in our ritual system, with a sufficient understanding of the fundamentals to apply that knowledge to other systems, traditions, and modes of worship.
However, Spectrum Gate Mysteries does not share Traditional Wicca’s three degree system. Our ranks are similar in some ways, but very different in others. The most notable difference involves the Traveler rank, which is our counterpart to Traditional Wicca’s Third Degree Initiate.
A Traditional Wiccan Third Degree Initiate (a.k.a. Elder or Elder High Priestess/Priest) is expected to have all knowledge necessary to establish and run a Traditional Wiccan coven. This includes everything from teaching students to scheduling meetings to making sure the covenstead (the place where people gather for ritual) has all necessary supplies. A Spectrum Gate Mysteries Traveler, on the other hand, is expected to specialize. We see Traveler as a path of service, both to the divine and to one’s community. Therefore, we offer three paths to becoming a Traveler: Teacher, Leader, and Adept. A Wanderer (our counterpart to the Traditional Wiccan Second Degree Initiate, a.k.a. High Priestess/Priest) must determine what type of service they wish to offer the community. They will then specialize in that specific area, and their training will build upon and expand from it.
There are two major reasons we chose to restructure our rank system in this way. The first, simply put, is that not everyone who can teach can lead, not everyone who can lead can teach, and people who can neither teach nor lead can still offer something of value to their community. The second reason we encourage specialization in our ranks is that it highlights the essential nature of a coven: multiple people working together. A coven doesn’t function because one Elder makes it work. A coven functions because multiple people with complimentary talents come together to contribute to a community. Spectrum Gate Mysteries covens are meant to be run by multiple Travelers working together: a Leader or Leaders to determine coven policy and organize meetings, Teachers training students, and Adepts providing specialized skills and helping the coven and the tradition grow and adapt over time.
I hope this has helped people understand what Spectrum Gate Mysteries is all about, even if they aren’t very familiar with Wicca or Traditional Wicca. Please remember that this post is nowhere near a comprehensive explanation of either Traditional Wicca or Spectrum Gate Mysteries. I did my best to highlight the most significant parts, and I’m always happy to answer more questions.