Feminism and the Dutch situation

Wiccan Rede * Spring 1984 by Merlin Sythove

During the past year we have been especially interested in the femininst movement in Holland, which has begun to make contact with the feminist variety of the craft, which has blown over from the States. This interest has culminated in an article which we are currently offering to a few feminist magazines in Holland. We thought however that it might be interesting, especially to the foreign readers of Wiccan Rede, to read something more of the situation in Holland, both concerning the feminist activities, but also the general ‘atmosphere’ and maybe to find out how much, or little, has changed in the 4½ years that we have been active. Call it the making of a balance, with special relevance to the side of female spirituality.

When Morgana and myself became interested in the Craft, Holland was virgin territory. A few isolated individuals were interested in Wicca, or active, but no evidence of covens could be found. Our first contact came via England. Books were very hard to find: one’s best bet was the second-hand section in a well-known chain of discount bookstores, or the ‘American Discount’, which specialises in English and American books. Even so all one was likely to find were primers, books for the general public, a bit like the ‘Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology’, or ‘Witches’ by Peter Haining, or the recent book ‘Witches’ by Erica Jong. For magazines, contacts, supplies like incense and weapons etc. and books which were more to the point one had to look to England or the U.S.A.

More or less prompted by our long search we decided to start the magazine in the first place, and this was apperently welcome. Wiccan rede is not a large undertaking, and it never will be, but many people now have the opportunity to become acquanted with the Craft. We still have to disappoint most people who enquire if there is a coven in their village, and especially for people living in Belgium this can be difficult, since it is such a long way to visit us. On the other hand, a firm foothold has been created in Holland, and those who are really interested and willing to put some effort into it now have acces to the Craft. Apart from the magazine we published two booklets, in Dutch, which were received very well; and a year ago we started importing incense, as a first step in our ideal of setting up an occult supplies shop or mail order business. At the moment we are staring to expand this with books, which are still difficult to find in Holland.

What has happened in the rest of Holland in this time? We have seen an increasing interest in the occult arts in general. Especially many so-called ‘sects’ have flourished, which may be due to all the publicity they received. Some new occult bookshops came into being, to supplement the two we had (one with a heavy oriental bias, the other specialising in antique and out of print material). But apart from crystal (meaning glass) balls, pendulums, Tarot cards an Indian-type incense occult supplies are still unavailable. So is the more ‘advanced’ occult literature. The Dutch occult bookscene is mainly concerned with books about UFO ‘s, the books bij Von Däniken, etc. Societies like the Theosophist or Rosecrusians have their own presses. Due to the relativilly small market many books are not only unavailable in Dutch, they are unavailable period. Ordening through one’s local bookshop may take up to 8 weeks, and of course you’ll have to know what you want!

In the alternative circuit we have seen a number of workshops and weekends being organised. Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki did a one-week workshop, called the ‘Goddes Within’ , in Amsterdam. This was advertised as being meant for women, which unfortunately resulted in a group of mainly feminists, much to their surprise! When we spoke with Dolores during the week she mentioned the fact that the people knew next to nothing about occultism, which did not help het very much. We were, and still are, very much aware of this fact, which is the main reason why things in Holland haven’t progressed as fast as they might have done in England. The main reasons for this discrepancy may be found in the fact that the Dutch people have little regard for tradition and folklore; the land is completely cultivated, and virtually no wild spots are left; and due again to the language, the bulk of relevant books are unavailable. Another workshop was given by an Indian medicine man: Archie Lame Deer. The Indian culture has many parallels with the Craft. Lauren Liebling also gave a workshop in Amsterdam, which was very much concerned with ‘female spirituality’ , and new forms of ritual and religion. Some more weekkends were given by other people in the same manner, usually concentrating on ‘female spirituality’ , group rituals etc. Lastly, we have organised two ‘open days’ for the readers of the magazine, to meet each other on some neutral ground. Many friendships have grown out of these afternoons. We have made many friends as well, who write to us or visit us regurarly, even though – in some cases- their main interest lies elswhere.

Seen as a whole the developments are certainly promising: a lot has happened, mainly in the alternative circuits (and probably even more things have taken place of which we are not aware!). On the other hand some things are still the same: people interested in joining the Craft will have to do a lot of their own, and may have to face the impossibility of their wish for geographical or financial reasons (traveling expense!). Our aim has never been to create as many covens as possible, and we still believe one dedicated person can accomplish far more than whole groups who gather just for the fun of it. Another point to be remembered is the general lack of knowledge, already noted by Dolores, which makes progress rather slow in the Low Countries. But when we consider the fact that we are talking about 4½ years, we can be optimistic for the future.

Especially of interest to us is the development of feminism and its concern with ‘female spirituality’ , as it is called here, as it is expressed in a series of publications, newspaper articles and reports, magazines and workshops. A few individuals are responsible for the surge of publications, for example Denise Dijk, Ph.D. in Theology, who wrote a thesis on the Goddes Movement in America; and a female cultural psychologist who wrote a thesis called ‘The Pact Between Witch and Devil’ , which dealt with the socio-economic and religious circumstances leading to the burning times, seen from a more feminist viewpoint.

Shouldn’t we be happy with this development? Yes, and no. Yes, because many women hear for the first time that the Judeo-Christian religion is not the only choice they have. They start te re-eveluate their own religious feelings, experiment with different forms of religion and ritual, and in the process usually discover many things of which they had not been aware. No, on the other hand, for a number of reasons. The first, and most important reason is, that the whole movement is tied hand and foot to the feminist movement. The feminist movement is, seen by an outsider like myself, quite active on a political level. it tries to publicise important matters, such as the exploitation of women through advertising and pornography. It works towards equal rights as far as jobs and payment are concerned, points out discrimination, and so on. And even, following the example of Greenham Common in England, the idea of a ‘human chain’ or circle around various cruise missile bases was staged, not to mention numerous peace camps, rally’s and demonstrations. Unfortunately, the feminist movement makes a quite radical impression on the general public. Many spokeswomen of the movement, as seen on TV for instance, appear in suit, shirt and tie, with short hair, and so create an image with which will not all women want to associate. Also the lesbian leanings of many of the active leaders of the movement are no secret. I think the feminists may be doing a good job fighting for the rights of women, but in the process they may overlook the development of the female qualities, in women, but also in men. Characteristic is a research result that pops into my mind, indicating that many men become impotent when their wives become interesting in feminism.

This is the general atmosphere in which ‘female spirituality’ is presented, usually captioned in bold characters by ‘Witches are back’ or words to that effect. To give an impression of the heavy bias which is apparent in the articles and reports: Denise Dijk, when speaking of the ‘history’ of wichcraft, starts off with “In 1971….”. She then continues to relate the activities of Z. Budapest, and the Goddess Movement in America. The general gist of her thesis (which she wrote in the course of her studies in theology, and for which the method of ‘active participation’ was used) is that Z. Budapest, with others, “created their own theology, in which the Goddess is the main deity”. In spite of her ‘active participation’ she seems to have missed the God althogether, not to mention the Craft, and important people like Gardner and others. Her thesis was used as the basis of numerous newspaper articles and interviews, and Denise Dijk gave many lectures on this subject. The list of recommended books usually speaks for itself as well; books by Gardner, Sybil Leek, Raymond Buckland, Stewart Farrar, Doreen Valiente and many others are conspiciously absent.

Another misconception which is widely broadcast at the moment is that ‘witches’ were exclusevely women, and some sort of medieval feminists at that. The word ‘witch’ seems to hold some attraction for todays feminist, and is used on many occasions. Feminist bookstores are called ‘The Witches Cauldron’ , feminist restaurants have suggestive names, etc. May feminists seem to be more interested in the myths surrounding the ‘witch’ , and ‘matriarchy’ , and would be very surprised to find out that many ‘witches’ were men, or that a modern form of witchcraft exists. Very few articles manage to mention that the so-called Goddess movement is only a small part, and quite radical at that, of the neo-pagan movement. And those articles appear in the small feminist magazines, certainly not in newspapers!

One could ask: why are we so concerned with these misconceptions? Why stick to our own trade, and leave public opinion well enough alone? This is a valid question, which we have to concider as well. The main reason why we are still concerned, is that we believe that the Craft, or more accurately ‘witchcraft’ seen as an exclusively feminist/women’s activity, does not do our ideals much justice. We believe that only a fraction of the women who are interested in some form of ‘women’s spirituality’ care to join the feminist legions. Proof of this is the attempt to break open the position of the priest in the church, and to get women accepted for that position as well. In some cases this has already succeeded. Many things are changing in the Dutch church province, and the women want to have a bigger slice of the action. This is one of the reasons why the Pope is planning a visit to Holland next year.

We believe that the present link between ‘female spirituality’ , the word ‘witch’and feminism is preventing many women from taking a closer look at the craft, for obvious -and wrong- reasons. As started earlier, we are working towards a change in this respect, although our means are limited. We have always made a point of presenting a honest, but above all ‘understandable’ picture of the Craft, and we eschew sensationalism. This means newspapers, TV and radio are out (the end result is beyond one’s control), and we have to work through the letters and articles sent to magazines. to be sure this is a slow method, but then the fast road isn’t always the safest! We hope, however, to present the Craft in a more objective light. maybe we’ll be able to get a few points across wich are very important t Wicca, like polarity and the working balance between male and female. We still believe that a sudden change in the position of women should be balanced by a devolopment in the male as well. In Holland it is quite accepted to be a businesswoman (even if it isn’t the rule yet), although people tend to think of women like that as ‘mannish’. It is also quite acceptable to be a ‘houseman’ , and let’s face it, with the present unemployment rate many men can’t help to be. If one showed up in a supermarket 7 years ago, one was classed as a ‘woman’ just by virtue of being there. Today people look again before they call you ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss’. The traditional roles of man and woman are changing, and no doubt the feminists and their fighting spirit has contributed considerably to this. Nevertheless the picture they present is too radical for most people. The Craft has never been a ‘radical’ movement, even when some of it’s ideas and loyalties may be constued as’radical’ from the viewpoint of some authority. We should be working towards a balanced relation between man and woman on all levels. On the physical level this is becoming more and more accepted: husband and wife both caring for the children, both working if only part time. Very slowly legislation follows. On other levels however we still have a long way to go. On an emotional level man and woman are still far from equal, and the same applies to the intellectual level. Emotional men are ‘sissy’s’ , intellectual women are not feminine. Stereotypes, true, and they will be with us for some time to come. Still, we can work towards more recognition of the person on the basis of who somebody is, rather than the various physical charasteristics. It is interesting to take a quick peek at the business world in this respect: a man, provided he does his work properly, gets promoted and receives a higher salary. A woman, under the same conditions, stays were she is!

After this slight digression into politics and business some conclusions. A lot has happened in the past 4½ years, and occultism in general is receiving more and more attention. As far as the Craft is concerned a firm basis has been created in Holland, offering the interested person the possibility of becoming acquainted with its ideas. Also on a practical level things are well underway, and we can be optimistic. In a public sense, feminism has claimed the word ‘wich’ and is busy experimenting with female spirituality and various ritual forms. Even though at the moment a rather based and incomplete picture is presented to the general populace -with which we obviously don’t agree- this may turn out to be yet another frontline, organised by the feminists, which may become part of society at large in the future. Let us hope that by that time man and woman see each other again as equal, but with their own unique characteristics and possibilities. On a final note we would like to invite readers to write to us, and present their own views on the present-day feminist movement. After all, we are only outsiders, and we would be interested in hearing from insiders as well! The Craft is a living religion, and we are living in 1984, and unless we have ideas and answers to today’s problems all our beautiful morals, ethics and absence of dogma, all our ‘progressive’ ideas about polarity, balance and nakedness won’t hide the fact that we are just as ordinary, mortal and normal as everybody else!