Reclaiming Worship

by Amber Laine Fisher

It has become very circumspect in many pagan circles to mention the word worship. To admit to worshipping the Gods earns raised eyebrows, head shaking, and nervous laughter. While we may admit to celebrating our Gods, to make any mention of praise or worship is to invite discomfort. After all, the concepts of praise and worship are owned by the Abrahamic1 faiths, and certainly Wiccans can share nothing with their Abrahamic contemporaries, right?

The concept of worship has gotten a bad rap among many Wiccans, especially those who have come to Wicca from a background of fundamentalism. For many Wiccans, the notion of worship has become confused with the concepts of self-abnegation, groveling, humility at the expense of self-respect, and fear. Praise has become similarly disparaged; many Wiccans seem to think that the Gods are not needing of our praise, and therefore we should not give it. We tell ourselves that the Gods are above such petty ego-boosting, and therefore our praise is both unnecessary and unwanted.

In order to reclaim the concepts of both worship and praise, we first need to divorce ourselves from any old and debilitating concepts of Deity that we may still harbor. If we are taught to come before God fearful and quivering, we need to release ourselves of this notion. The concept of Deity in Wicca may be awesome, immense, and even unfathomable, but we are not asked to be fearful before it. We are not asked to humble ourselves into utter mindless submission. In some respects, this is comforting, but in other respects it can be somewhat uncomfortable, for what we are asked to do can be more challenging. When gifted with responsibility and self-determination, we are required to ask difficult questions, seek out meaningful answers, and reevaluate ourselves and our communities with some regularity. But what this means is that when we stand before Deity in whatever capacity, we do so proudly, standing tall. We may bend our knees if we so desire, but it not a requirement. We are not asked to show false humility or servitude, although we are expected to be ever mindful and respectful of the magnificence of Deity.

If we aren't asked to grovel or commit ourselves to a mindset of "I'm-not-worthy", then what does it mean to worship within a Wiccan context? And if Deity is not in need of our flattery and sycophantic profusion, should we bother with offering up words of glory and praise? How is any of the congruent with the concept of an immanent Deity?

At its core, worship is simply reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power.2 Alone, it does not mean to prostrate or pose. The word itself only takes on these overtones if we allow it to, if we allow another religion—and only a fraction of another religion, at that—to define for us one of the most central concepts of any theistic religion. The very fact that Wicca embraces the concept of a Deity with whom we can have a relationship implies the need for worship—unless, of course, we are not asked to revere our Deity. This brings us to the concept of reverence. Reverence, often mistaken for mere respect, is actually a profound adoring, a deep, awed respect;3 adoration is a loving admiration. At the core of the concept of worship, then, is not false humility or self-abasement but love.

The Charge of the Goddess states, "Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you."4 The Charge of the Goddess is one of the most beloved pieces of Wiccan liturgy, and here in these two sentences we have a very direct look at the concept of Wiccan worship. The Goddess asks us to worship by rejoicing, by engaging in rituals of love and pleasure. She does not seem to be concerned with the details of the rituals, only that they are conducted in both love and pleasure.

In this context, worship is the opposite of self-abasement and prostration. Rather than groveling before a Deity, we are asked to worship by rejoicing, by finding love and pleasure within the world. And yet, taking pleasure in the world is not merely a frivolous pursuit. When we engage in joyous, rapturous activities, we are worshiping. We are adoring. We are loving Deity.

We have seen that the concept of worship cannot be separated from the concept of reverence. For many people, reverence is linked with solemnity. Religious rituals and functions are supposed to be quiet, solemn, and for many—empty. Yet this is not what the Charge says to us. We are expected to worship with both reverence and mirth. We look to the world around us, at how beautiful and complex it is, and while this may move us to awe, it should simultaneously fill us with joy. When we are both filled with wonder and joy, we are in a prime place to celebrate Deity—to worship.

Wicca is an ecstatic religion. Our worship is not meant to be stagnant, stoic, or solemn. We are not asked to prostrate ourselves in order to glorify Deity. We are asked to seek out joy and love, to harness mirth and reverence and to give ourselves over to the rapture that overcomes us when we are engaged in the activities we love most. When we make love with a partner, swim in the waters of the ocean, or kiss and coddle our children, we are worshiping Deity. The more love we spread and the more love we experience, the more we come into intimate contact with the Goddess who has charged us to rejoice, to seek out beauty, compassion, and mirth.

Many people, notably those belonging to religions with a heavily transcendent view of Deity, have scoffed at this concept of worship. They claim that we are commanded to worship God merely because God is worthy of our praise, and that we do it purely for the glory of God. They maintain that our happiness, our fulfillment and our spiritual evolution have nothing to do with worship—or rather, these things are not the reason for worship. Worship is, for these people, completely for God, and not for us.

At first glance, it could be very tempting to say that the exact opposite is true in Wicca. Wiccan theology has largely abandoned the concept that Deity needs our worship—at least by the colloquial definition of worship. Most Wiccans would contend that Wiccans worship because it brings us closer to Deity, and because it aids in our own spiritual evolution. In this view, worship is not for Deity but for us. Deity would be happy or complete with or without our praise and adoration.

However, there is something incongruent with the realities of immanence and manifest Deity in the above view. The universe is constantly changing, never remaining the same. Winds blow, stars die, galaxies are born. This changing universe is filled with the spirit of Deity—in fact, it is all part of the vast and awesome body of Deity. As the universe changes, and it ebbs and tides and fluctuates, so too does Deity. Deity is never stagnant or stoic.

Human beings contribute to the changing of Deity inasmuch as we contribute to the changing of our world. We do good; we do evil. All of our actions and thoughts influence changes in Deity, however minute. When we create good, when we heal our communities and spread joy and happiness, we change the essence of Deity for the better. If we are truly serious about the concept of Deity as immanent, then we cannot separate Deity from the ecology, from human interaction, from the natural processes moving everywhere around us. Therefore, when we reverently care for the ecology, or heal each other, or promote kindness, we are loving and adoring Deity. We are worshiping.

So is it accurate to say that worship is purely for the good of the Wiccan in our faith? Perhaps it would be more accurate to imply that worship is for the self and Deity, for they cannot be truly separated. What is good5 for humanity is good for Deity. What is joyous and pleasurable and conducted in love is worship to the Goddess. We worship on our knees in our gardens, on our feet while we spin under the stars, on our backs when we lay with our lovers. When we give ourselves over fully to the influence of Deity and are able to find the sacred in the mundane and open ourselves to awe, we are learning to live worshipful lives. Reclaiming the idea of worship means understanding that we worship in our joy, we worship in our communion with Deity in its many different forms. It is not shameful to admit that we revere or adore each other, and it is a blessing to be able to extend our love of each other to loving and worshiping Deity.

1 The term Abrahamic is used to identify the faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth edition, 1995.

4 Ibid

4 Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente

5 The idea of what is "good" is, of course, somewhat esoteric. Whether or not certain ideas, such as imperialism, space exploration, or population control, for example, are "good" is certainly up for debate. For the purposes of this paper, I will assume that what is good for humanity is not damaging to either the ecology or the universe, as ultimately, anything otherwise would have long term negative effects on humanity.

Crafting Mag ic

Some people feel magic is completely separate from any spiritual pursuit, and some consider it an integral part of Wiccan spirituality. Whatever their personal philosophy on how and why magic works and what its role is in Wicca, eventually most Wiccans find themselves wanting to work magic in one form or another.

Books on spells and magic abound in Pagan literature, most of which are grimoires (books of prewritten spells and incantations) or lists of correspondences of herbs, colors, symbols, and Deities. While prewritten spells and rituals can work quite well, creating your own will ultimately produce better results, as you have invested your energy and desire in every step of the process.

Magic isn't a rote practice made up of stale incantations and lighting the proper number of candles at the proper hour. It is a dynamic, organic process that can engage your creativity. Here, then, is a short primer in crafting magic, written from a Wiccan spiritual perspective.

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