Title: “Subversive Witches and Mother Goddesses:” Essentialism, Feminism, and Queerness in Wiccan Communities
Presenter: Carly Sherman - PhD Sociology
The search for community and a sense of belonging is important to many people who identify as religious. Wicca is one religion that has garnered a reputation as progressive and inclusive and as such attracts many people who feel marginalized or excluded by mainstream religions, such as women, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans or non-binary individuals. Through ethnographic participant-observation with a Wiccan group and qualitative interviews with both Wiccans and non-Wiccan Pagans, I complicate this reputation, demonstrating that despite anti-patriarchal, feminist, and inclusive aspects of the religion, other elements of Wiccan theology and ritual can nevertheless exclude and re-traumatize vulnerable populations. In this article I have three goals: 1) to give an account of Wiccan ritual, history, and theology against evidence of progressive politics and gender essentialism and sexism, 2) to advance a typology of strategies Wiccans use to navigate these inconsistencies in their religion, and 3) explain the source of these contradictions. This research highlights the role symbolic forms can play in constraining people even as they are looked to as sources of liberation, and the strategies people use to deal with unanticipated marginalization. In doing so, I illustrate how individuals interact with symbolic forms, draw on these in strategies of meaning-making and identity construction, and (re)produce culture in interaction within groups.
Carly is a second year PhD student in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests are broadly related to gender and sexuality, new religious movements, and cultural sociology, particularly as it relates to identity formation and subcultures.