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Looking at Cunningham's Book "Wicca" 25 years later

Updated on August 25, 2016
WiccanSage profile image

A Wiccan of 25 years, Sage likes to put her background as a writer and teacher to use by helping people learn about this NeoPagan path.

Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner

A new fiction story about young Wiccans I'm working on had me dig out my old copy of Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham. The reason I chose to use this book as a springboard in the story is because it was the first books I myself ever read about Wicca. My copy is really old-- still with that original pink cover! It had been gathering dust on the bookshelf for some time now as I progressed down my path. My fiction writing endeavor prompted me to brush it off and re-read Wicca for the first time in ages. I wanted to re-evaluate it in terms of its usefulness and it’s contributions to the religion Wicca.

Scott Cunningham

Source

Brief History of the Usage of the Term 'Wicca'

 
 
Early Medieval period
'Wicca' means 'male sorcerer' (Wicce means female); word falls out of usage
1939
Gerald Gardner attempts to reconstruct ancient witch religion; Gardner calls religion ‘Witchcraft’ and practitioners ‘of the Wica’.
1950's-60's
Other Witches/covens pop up. Derivatives of Gardner's lineage are deemed British Traditional Witchcraft.
1960s
Some begin to use the term "Wicca" for "British Traditional Witchcraft" but it's still uncommon.
1988
Cunningham's book comes out, coining the term 'solitary Wicca'; "Wicca" becomes the preferred word for this religion.
 
 
Source

Since Cunningham

Cunningham's work lit a fuse. The popularity of Wicca exploded and opened the way for other authors. Wicca entered pop culture in the 1990s. Shows like Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and movies like The Craft glamourized it (and grossly misrepresented it). Now, most people—even if they don’t have a clue as to what it actually entails—have at least heard of the religion. Solitary Wiccans now outnumber coven-initiated Wiccans.

Cunningham's influence with his single book is undeniable, though now opinions on whether it was a good or a bad thing vary greatly. Some people still take Wicca as a sort of gospel; others dismiss it as a pile of fluffy drivel that only served to water down British Traditional Witchcraft.

What About You?

Have you read Cunningham's Wicca?

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Criticisms I Agree With

Wicca implies Wicca is an ancient religion

Cunningham admits Wicca has been "refined and changed" for our world (pg 4), but attempts to connect Wicca to the world's first religious beliefs. He ties Wicca to Shamanism in the first sentence (pg 3), claiming it's our spiritual roots. He claims rites and rituals of Wicca are of shamanic origin (pg 4). He refers to Wiccans as "heirs to the pre-Christian folk religions of Europe (pg 63)."

Such claims were widespread in the 70's and 80s, but the ancient witch cult theories had long been debunked by reputable historians. There is no excuse for trying to re-write history.

Promotes eclecticism to an extreme

Many argue that Cunningham's attitudes undermine things like training, experience, structure and accountability. He writes:

There is not, and can never be, one "pure" or "true" or "genuine" form of Wicca. There are no central governing agencies, no physical leaders, no universally-recognized prophets or messengers. Although specific, structured forms of Wicca certainly exist, they aren't in agreement regarding ritual, symbolism and theology (pg xi of the Preface).

For a religion to be an actual religion, there has to be some consistency and cohesiveness in beliefs and practices. Arguably there is much flexibility in non-dogmatic religions; to say there is nothing that unifies Wicca is misleading. Wicca is not just a synonym for eclectic Paganism.

I have no objections to eclecticism. Wicca in itself is a syncretic religion that draws from many sources. But Cunningham brings the impression that anything goes. He emphasizes creativity and personalization but fails to balance that view. He gets across the message that Wicca is not an exact science; he fails to explain that it's not a willy-nilly free-for-all that you make up as you go along.

Is "Wicca" for Bunnies?

In Wicca, "Fluff Bunnies" are people who lack serious or depth in approach to the religion. Some people see Cunningham as the Father of Fluff Bunnies.
In Wicca, "Fluff Bunnies" are people who lack serious or depth in approach to the religion. Some people see Cunningham as the Father of Fluff Bunnies. | Source

Criticism I Disagree With

Extreme Fluffiness

Cunningham is accused of watering down Wicca to the point where it addresses life about as seriously as a Disney Channel series. Did he go a bit overboard in trying to make Wicca less threatening? Maybe so-- but that doesn't make his work any less relevant.

He was clearly trying to present Wicca in the most positive, friendly, non-threatening light possible. When he started penning Wicca, America was gripped by the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" mass hysteria. Wicca was one of the works that began to change that perception of Witches and Pagans.

To say he does not address the complexities of the worlds is unfair. He writes:

We acknowledge the dark aspects of the Goddess and the God as well as the bright. All nature is composed of opposites, and this polarity is also resident within ourselves. The darkest human traits as well as the brightest are locked within our unconsciousnesses [sic]. It is only our ability to rise above destructive urges, to channel such energies into positive thoughts and actions, that separates us from the mass murderers and the sociopaths (pg 17-18).

In passages like these, he does acknowledge the duality of dark and light. The overly-positive tone of Cunningham's book has been less relevant since the decline of the SRA scares, but he was able to gain Wicca's general acceptance in the mainstream.

Lacking Depth

Cunniham's Wicca is by no means a comprehensive guide. It's like Wicca's version of kindergarten. I wouldn't say it lacks depth, though. It's a very general introduction that tries to touch on the basics without overwhelming the reader.

His target audience was beginners at a time when resources were extremely scarce. The local book stores didn't have many books on the subject at all, and there were no books focused on solitaries. Covens were few and far between, and didn't advertise. There was no internet. Some people didn't know where to begin to look. Wicca made Wicca approachable for isolated newbies.

His guide fulfilled his goal: it painted Wicca in a positive light and was a user-friendly guide.

My Current Recommendation

Wicca for Beginners: Fundamentals of Philosophy & Practice
Wicca for Beginners: Fundamentals of Philosophy & Practice

Not to take away from Cunningham or his book, this is the book I normally recommend for beginners these days. Sabin's work is a little more detailed, she's free of the "Old Religion" delusions and is more accurate than Cunningham.

 

My Rating for "Wicca"

What's Your Rating?

4.7 out of 5 stars from 3 ratings of to rate "Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner"

Why I Still Recommend "Wicca"

I once considered Cunningham's book the best introduction to Wicca, but I now think there are better books with updated information. Some reasons I continue to admire Wicca, despite its obvious flaws, include:

  • Cunningham's love for his religion shines through; there are some truly inspirational passages in there.
  • The Standing Stones Book of Shadows section gives some beautiful invocations and simple rituals for solitaries
  • Wicca does not focus on spells. It's focused on spirituality, and exploring your ethics, behavior, relationship with the world and deities through your spiritual world view
  • It emphasizes duality, whereas a lot of books (especially at the time) have focused on the divine feminine
  • Though it saccharine at times, I actually find the happy, positive tone refreshing.

Scott Cunningham passed on to the Summerlands in 1993, but his passion for his religion lives on in his work. His contribution has been invaluable in putting Wicca on the map. He introduced countless people to a path that they might have otherwise passed up. Whether one stayed on that path or not is irrelevant- we're all richer for the journey.

Learn More from Scott Cunningham

© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright

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    • blueheron profile image

      Sharon Vile 3 years ago from Odessa, MO

      I haven't read Cunningham's book--though I did read some on Wicca a number of years ago--so I don't really have any business discussing it. (Apologies!) I remember reading some stuff about needing to ackowledge and own and accept the darker aspect of ourselves--and the "darkness" we see playing out in the world--or the universe.

      The "darkness" is (I think) just the natural tendency of all things towards entropy--and, vis-a-vis life, entropy means death, destruction, and endings. But there is an opposing force towards life: complexity, complex structures, creation, a will to BE, to do creative work, to continue life, to SEE. (You can't see without an eye, so you have to build one.) So I am seeing entropy versus the will to life as the basic polarities of the universe.

      But it seems to me--and I'm still struggling with this thought--that the permanent, unchanging "everlasting life" that we like to believe in would be a thing as static and unchanging and dead as the permanent void of that I suppose we'd have if entropy were to triumph. So...life and being exist only in the interplay of the two forces--which produce the constant change and motion that are pretty much what life is. So, in a way, not to appreciate the darkness is not to love life.

      Sorry... This is one of those middle-of-the-night ramblings....

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      MysticMoonlight 3 years ago

      Hello, Sage :) Great timing, I just so happen to be reading 'Wicca' for the first time so I was delighted upon seeing this article! I discovered Cunningham about a year ago when I started studying different religions and spiritual paths. I purchased his books, 'Earth Power' and 'Earth, Air, Fire, and Water' and found them very easy to follow and read and I really appreciated how uncomplicated they are/were. Knowing basically nothing about the subject matter at the time, his simple and easy approach stuck with me and I've held a soft spot for Cunningham ever since.

      I decided to start reading 'Wicca' by Cunningham because I want to learn more about this interesting religion and thought it to be a good starting off point on the subject to get the basics and build from there. I've also purchased 'Living Wicca' to follow up with.

      I've seen the Sabin book that you've mentioned here and was curious about it as well. I'll definitely put it on my ever-growing "to read" list! I do want to read several and different perspectives, opinions, and approaches to Wicca to get a well rounded basis. There are SO many books about Wicca out there, so I really appreciate your suggestion mentioned here!

      I'm so glad that you wrote this. Again, the timing couldn't have been better! I absolutely loved the poetic excerpt from 'Wicca' that you've included in this article. So beautiful, it made me pause and smile! Thank you! :)

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Hi Blueheron, thanks for commenting. You make some good points. I'll actually pull from the book Wicca and let Cunningham give you his point of view: "'Good' and "Evil" are often identical in nature, depending on one's viewpoint." Cunningham doesn't deny a dark side; he makes a point that it's there, but it's a choice to focus on the light, on the positive, or to channel the dark to use it productively.

      I personally do not believe in light or dark being inherent-- I simply think these are different perspectives we have on very natural qualities; constructs of the mind. I am with Cunningham, though, when he says what we choose to do with anything, how we choose to look at the world, etc., is a choice.

      Thanks for your comments! (By the way, you double-posted this so I'm going to delete the second one since it was identical).

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Hi Mystic, that's serendipity in action. I love that. I'm glad you found use in the article and I agree, the video was beautifully done. Thank you so much for your comments.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 3 years ago from Prescott Valley

      Very well done review! This isn't my topic of choice, but I do read a heck of a lot and know a well-written review when I see one. Nice job!

    • blueheron profile image

      Sharon Vile 3 years ago from Odessa, MO

      Wiccan, my computer is an old clunker--and I hit the "submit comment" button about ten times to get the comment to post.

      Yes, I can see your point that dark and light are "constructs of the mind." Castenada got a few things right, even if he wasn't the world's most honest and ethical guy... His idea of meditation as "silencing the internal dialogue" has long appealed to me: Get the mind to shut up and many things are not the way your mind has constructed them to be.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'll pass this on to my son. Thanks for the review!

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Great, Billybuc. Thanks for doing that. Glad I could be helpful.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      No problem on the double ;-) it happens. I just didn't want you to get a notice that I rejected your comment without realizing it was a double! I am so with you on living in the moment-- practicing mindfulness is a major interest of mine as well. Recent studies show that people mindful of the moment are happier and more content with life. And you would think that meant that living in the moment makes you more content than people who think about worries or have too many fears; but even people who think ahead about their favorite fantases or think back on their favorite memories don't tend to be as happy as people who allow themselves to live in the now. It's amazing the reports coming back from the research on the benefits.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Thanks so much, VVanNess (really cute name!). I really appreciate the compliment, and the comment.

    • SM OBrien profile image

      Sharon OBrien 3 years ago

      Recently, I dug through my "101" stuff to prepare for a class I was giving and of course this was on the top of the pile. I agree with your assessments here. I have to say that, considering the time of the release, Cunningham probably did about as much as he could without stepping on toes or scaring off the curious. Your comparison to a kindergarten class book is apt. It became digestible to those who really had no idea about Paganism on the whole. He also states in his works that one should read, read, read and use discernment in what they read. For the current day seeker, there is much to be found online (good and bad) so this type of book may seem unnecessary to some. I still recommend it as a starting point for those with no background. Another great hub - voted up :)

    • Lily Luna profile image

      Lorri Woodmansee 3 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      Very insightful hub on Cunningham and brings back memories. I read a couple of his books in the beginning of my journey with Wicca. I tend to be more of a Christopher Penczak and Konstantinos fan myself but at the time, these gentleman were not writing about the subject. Cunningham was a pretty gentle soul and I agree with the previous commenter, his book was necessary for the time.

    • catgypsy profile image

      catgypsy 3 years ago from the South

      I never read that particular book, but many many others. It is strange how it can be seen in so many different ways by so many people. Great article on this and his book!

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Hi SM; I remember back then, Wicca was unheard of by most people. I had a hard time finding sources, and I lived in NYC-- I can't imagine what someone living in a small town in the Bible belt might have gone through where even asking around could be risky. At the time Cunningham's book served our community well. Now, I agree with you-- people need to read, read, read; learn to use discretion, to question claims and sources, and learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. No author or book should be looked at as a definitive source. Thanks for the comment!

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Thanks Lily Luna-- yes, slim pickings there for a while. And very little could be found in mainstream bookstores, usually for other books of the time, like Starhawk's The Spiral Dance or Ray Buckland's Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft were things you'd have to go to an occult store to look for. Thanks for commenting.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Thanks Catgypsy. I think it's one of those works that, love it or hate it or anywhere in between, you have to acknowledge it's influence and it's place in the development of history. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Very informative. I never read that particular book but still learned more about Wicca

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Thank you Nadine May, for your comments. I'm glad you found the review helpful.

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