The word cult has a variety of meanings.
- The Longman Dictionary’s first definition of the word is simply “Formal religious veneration; worship.” In that sense, Wicca is a cult, as is Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and ever other religion on this planet.
- Cult can also be used to designate an “unorthodox” practice, but that determination is entirely based upon perspective and is useless here.
- Some Christians use the term in reference all non-Christian practices, in which case, again, Wicca would be called a cult, along with the rest of the world’s religions.
- Cult may also refer to particular intense devotion to a person, idea, or thing. Medieval historians frequently write of the cult of the Virgin Mary, for example. In my opinion, this definition does not really fit Wicca, but its pretty subjective.
- Cult also frequently carries the implication of a relatively small group of people. Academics may describe early Christianity as a cult. This definition was once applicable to Wicca, but on a whole I think the movement has gotten rather too big for that definition.
A combination of these definitions has led to the colloquial use of cult to refer to dangerous and controlling religious organizations, since these groups are almost always both small in size and intense in devotion. That Wicca is not, as it fits none of the common factors attributed to dangerous cultish behavior:
Single charismatic leader
Dangerous cults generally organize around a single person. As already discussed, Wicca has a very limited and localized hierarchy. If a High Priest or High Priestess becomes the center of attention within a coven, he or she was ill-trained for the position and we do not accept that situation as at all desirable. Our religious focus is upon the world and the gods, not mortal people.
Moreover, Wicca does not recognize divinely mandated prophets, which many cult leaders claim to be.
Isolation from family and friends
Cult members are frequently told that other cult members are the only ones that truly understand their new path or who are the only ones pure enough for one to associate with. This quickly creates a very controllable environment, as new cult members are cut off from the very people who might see the inherent dangers and attempt to intervene. While we respect a person’s choice to keep their religious beliefs a secret (when they so choose), we in no way suggest that newcomers give up old friends or break ties with their families. Religion is but one of many facets in all of our lives. With whom you worship and with whom you socialize can easily be separate groups of people. Many of us urge teenagers to even set Wicca aside until they are older if their parents object to it, as we respect parents’ rights in this matter and also value strong familiar bonds.
Control over members’ personal lives
Cult members are frequently told where they can work, how they must dress, and where they must live. Again, this is a method of control, keeping members isolated from the outside world and making them more dependent on cult leaders. No Wiccan leader should ever make these sorts of demands.
Requiring large sums of money
Cults are also frequently scams, with members required to make large “donations” or even turn over all personal property to be held in common by the cult. Covens require no money for required training, and there are no membership dues, other than perhaps a couple dollars to help defray the costs of materials such as incense and candles, as well as the purchase of basic ritual tools.
There is no legitimate way of designating Wicca as a dangerous cult, and law enforcement has no concerns about Wicca.