Know and Be Silent:
The Rhetoric of Wicca
According to Catherine Beyer, the four major tenets of Wicca include “to know, to dare, to will, and to be silent” (1). Beyer describes the silence aspect in the following way:
There are several meanings attributed to this phrase. The one I find most appropriate in this day and age is that one should not brag or threaten others concerning their talents with magic . . . Others attribute the phrase to the Burning Times, and that it was a command of self-preservation--advertising otherworldly powers won one a quick trip to the stake. (1)
If one of the major tenets of Wicca advises its practitioners to be silent, what kind of rhetoric is used to describe, and in the case of Wicca, to defend, this religion? How does Wicca educate others about the religion when the practitioners are fundamentally opposed to talking openly about the religion? In an article by Selena Fox, noted Wiccan High Priestess, she writes:
Proselytizing is central to many religions, but not to Paganism. In fact, those interested in being part of a Pagan group may actually have to go through a long search process in order to connect, since most groups are private rather than public due to the climate of intolerance toward alternative spiritualities that persists in dominant society. (1)
If Wicca is a religion that is not meant to be discussed in the public sphere, how do its practitioners convey its meaning? Here we will examine how the rhetoric of Wicca, a private religion, is used on the public stage to both define and defend the religion. In our examination we will see that the rhetoric used to define Wicca emerges in two ways: first, through educational and persuasive rhetoric about the religion’s major tenets and second, through defensive rhetoric which proclaims what the religion is not. As Wicca seeks to separate itself in popular consciousness from Satanism, the Wiccan struggle becomes two-fold: Wicca must use rhetoric to clarify its fundamental beliefs while also differentiating itself from Satanic worship.
Wicca is a private religion, but it is also a quickly growing one. According to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, in 1990 there were 8000 Wiccans in the
United States. By 2001, this number had grown to 134,000
(Kosman et. al. 13). Some set the marker
even higher. According to Allen, “there
are more than 200,000 adherents of Wicca and related ‘neopagan’ faiths in the United States”
(18). It is difficult to determine the
exact number of those practicing the religion due, in part, to its private
nature and the shroud of “silence” that surrounds the religion. For fear of discrimination or retribution,
many Wiccans do not disclose their religion.