“O” Is For Orthopraxy vs. Orthodoxy


O

“What do Wiccans believe?” 

That’s a pretty straightforward question. The answer, however, is never as straightforward.

“Ask ten different Wiccans that question and you get twelve different answers.”

Paganavebury

To some people, that’s a sign of what’s wrong with the Wiccan path when compared with other religions, faiths, or spiritual paths. For others, being unable to nail down a concise, all-encompassing answer means that Wicca is freer than a number of other systems.

Depending on who you ask,  they’ll tell you that’s more important.

My goal is to explain why there’s never a single answer to that question and it falls to the difference between what makes a religious practice an Orthodoxic one, or an Orthopraxic one.

Both of these terms come from the Greek language. Roughly translated, Orthodoxy means correct belief and Orthopraxy means correct practice.

All religions possess these two elements to some degree. I think of it as a sliding scale with orthodoxy on one end and orthopraxy on the other. The religion in question is the little slider. Depending on the system in question, it leans toward one or the other in dominance.

In other words, an Orthodoxic religion cares about what you believe while an Orthopraxic religion cares about what you do.

Belonging to an Orthodox religion means the member accepts the belief held by that religion in order to be a proper member of that religion. Christianity is an example of an orthodoxic religion. To be Christian, the person must have a specific belief and profess that belief. If they do not believe this, then they are not definably Christian.

Jesus is the only son of God, fully man and fully God, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified for the salvation of sin, resurrected on the third day, and ascended into heaven.

That is my short summation of the Nicene Creed, which is essentially what someone must say they believe in order to be recognized and to identify as a Christian. Different denominations of Christianity have their own bells and whistles, but at its core — accepting the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, died for your sins, and was resurrected is essential. All the rest seems to be things the various groups fuss over for their own preferences.

scott olsen getty images

Wicca is more Orthopraxic. Being a Wiccan isn’t a matter of professing your belief, or even having one. Some Wiccans identify religiously as agnostic. You are defined as a Wiccan if you do Wiccan things and have Wiccan experiences.

What are these “Wiccan things and Wiccan experiences”?

 

Well…

First we do — Then we say. 

Here’s why.

Our Craft’s view of our gods is not based on what we’re expected to believe, but rather in the role our gods play in our ritual and practices.

Wicca’s rituals reveal a rich cycle of interaction between our Goddess and God through the course of the year. Our practices insist that all of our seasonal rituals include an element of this interaction, but there is no orthodoxy associated with them– meaning no one is expected to believe in this mythic cycle.

Instead, these rituals serve to align the Witch with the magical, otherworldly current of power that is at the heart of our tradition — a current of power that, like an electrical current, is maintained by the interplay of positive and negative spiritual and occult “charges” maintained by our Goddess and God, however they reveal Themselves to us. They sit at the center of this current, and only by aligning ourselves with this specific current through ritual can someone experience Them.

Once one has begun to align with this current — through consistent ritual observance — one’s ritual experiences include a deepening interaction with our Lady and her Consort. At this point, the reasons for a lack of orthodoxy within our practice becomes apparent, because They reveal themselves in different ways to each Witch.

If the Witch were told beforehand what an expected experience should be, and then the God and Goddess chose a different way to reveal themselves or to let the Witch know Them, then the Witch would wrongly believe that something failed.

Incidentally, this is also why rites and rituals are kept secret — no spoilers to affect the experience. (More on Coven Secrecy HERE)

So, to answer: “What do Wiccans believe?” I’d have to say, “We believe lots of things. And we believe lots of things about those things. But mostly we do stuff to try and help us learn more about what we believe and why we believe it.”

 

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