The feminist Dianic tradition is perhaps one of the most misrepresented traditions in Paganism. The unpleasant reputation of Dianics can be attributed to many factors. Among these are:
• A focus on solely female deity.
• Beliefs and actions which are grounded in feminist principles.
• Practice in women-only circles.
• Inclusion of large numbers of lesbians.
A History of the Dianic Tradition
The Dianic tradition grew out of the feminist movement. Many early feminists were unable to validate their activism within the structures of traditional religion. This led them to seek other avenues of spiritual expression. In the early 1970s, women active in the women's movement began sharing their spiritual experiences in consciousness-raising groups. Women learned that they shared many similar spiritual feelings and had had contradictory experiences within traditional religion. This prompted a search for a spirituality that supported social change for women and sustained a woman-centered perspective.
Into this void came Zsuzanna Budapest. Zsuzanna, called Z, recognized connections between Wicca and feminism. In 1976 her book The Feminist Book of Lights and Shadows formed the basis of the Dianic tradition. Now revised, expanded and published under the title The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries, Z's book became, and continues to represent, the foundational principles of Dianic Wicca. This book and Z's charismatic presentation of its ideas ignited a movement.
One of the controversial elements of early Dianic Wicca was the number of lesbians who embraced the Dianic movement. In the early years of the Dianic movement lesbians formed such a substantial majority of those who identified as Dianic that if one said she was Dianic, she was essentially "coming out" as a lesbian. In the 1970s lesbian culture had not attained the limited degree of acceptance it holds today and many mainstream Pagans responded to the presence of lesbians at Pagan events with distain and homophobia.
From the mid-1970s of Dianic Wicca until the mid-1980s, most Dianics were isolated within the women's community and Dianics were largely unaware there was a broader Pagan community. The first encounters between what Dianics call "mainstream" Pagans and Dianics were controversial.
It should come as no surprise that when Dianics began attending mainstream Pagan gatherings they wanted to celebrate in women-only circles. Some mainstream Pagans found this upsetting. Because of the fervent belief in duality held by some mainstream Pagans it was thought that single-sex ritual would permanently damage anyone who participated. During one of the first women's circles at a mainstream Pagan gathering, husbands actually removed their wives from the circle to protect them from this perceived injury. Z Budapest, who was Priestessing this circle, formed an alliance with Faerie (gay) men who were also at the gathering. The Faerie men formed a circle around the outside of the women's circle allowing the women to complete their ritual without further interference.
Despite these early difficulties "mainstream Pagans" and Dianics now interact with relative ease and respect. Each group has come to value the contributions and beliefs of the other. Mainstream Pagans have come to respect the spontaneity and creativity of Dianics, while Dianics have learned to value the traditions and history of mainstream Pagans.
A major milestone in the Dianic movement was the Defining Dianic Wicca Conferences sponsored in the 1980s & '90s by the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess - International (RCG-I). Dianics from around the world gathered for seven years to discuss, deliberate, and celebrate Dianic Wicca. These were the first large gatherings in which Dianics could confer on their beliefs, cosmologies and find common beliefs among women who called themselves Dianic. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has had contact with Dianics that a wide diversity of practice and opinion emerged among the women present. The areas of similarity are those discussed in the Core Beliefs section that follows.
Across North America and to a lesser degree in other areas, Dianic Wicca became a feminist religion. Because of the isolation and diversity of the women who practiced Dianic craft, it developed as a very individualistic tradition. There are, however, areas of commonality or core beliefs among virtually all women who practice Dianic craft. They are:
• Belief in female divinity, most often referred to as "The Goddess."
• Celebration of Celtic holy days.
• An underpinning of feminist ideology.
• A belief that women's bodies are sacred.
• An honoring of women's experience as authentic.
• An understanding that patriarchal society does not accurately reflect women's experience.
• No recognition of male Gods in ritual or elsewhere.
• A belief that only women-born-women truly understand women's experience.
The Dianic tradition discussed in this article, is practiced exclusively by women in women-only circles. Morgan McFarland in Texas created a mixed-gender tradition that is also identified as Dianic. Feminist Dianic Wicca focuses solely on a Goddess while the McFarland tradition worships both female and male deities. Feminist Dianics do not espouse a dualistic female/male concept of divinity, believing instead that the Goddess is the Creatrix and sustainer of the universe. Most Dianics do not exclude men from their cosmology. They acknowledge all people, including men, as women's children and, therefore, a part of Her creation.
One might suspect that the Goddess celebrated by Dianics is Diana; however, this deduction is incorrect. Dianics do not focus specifically on any one Goddess or pantheon. Stemming from the multicultural roots of feminist ideology Dianics, on the whole, are global in their approach to divinity. With a conscious of the possibility of cultural appropriation, Dianics celebrate the Goddess in all her forms. The presence of the Goddess in all cultures unites all women.
Some Dianics believe in what they call spiritual virginity and choose only to work in groups with other women. However, for some women who consider themselves Dianic, being in a woman-only group is not the only way they celebrate their spirituality. These women find value in women-only space and also in celebrating in mixed-gender groups. Unlike traditional religions, which espouse that one can only have a single religion and it must be your only religion, many women value multiple Pagan spiritual traditions, Dianic being one of them. It would not be unusual for such a woman, for example, to celebrate a full moon in a Dianic group and to celebrate Summer Solstice with her husband and family in a mixed-gender Pagan tradition. She can experience each of these as a valid form of spiritual expression.
Over the years, Dianic Wicca has changed and is no longer practiced solely by lesbians. Unlike the early days of the Dianic movement, one can now find women in Dianic circles of all sexual orientations. Some circles consist entirely of lesbians, some of only heterosexuals, while others include women of all sexual orientations. Dianic circles are not open to transgendered individuals. Dianics believe a primary source of women's power is in women's shared experience and women's biology. Although supportive of the rights of transgendered individuals, Dianics believe this is not a tradition that encompasses the experience of transgendered people.
Beyond the information mentioned above, the basic beliefs of Dianics are those commonly shared by most Wiccans. Acknowledging again the vast diversity of tradition and belief among Dianics, it would be true to say that most Dianics:
• Believe in the Wiccan Rede.
• Hold the three-fold law as a foundational principle of their cosmology.
• Celebrate the Celtic holidays common to Wiccans.
The oldest and largest women's religion is the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess - International (RCG-I). Founded in 1984, RCG-I was the first officially recognized women's religion in the United States. It has affiliated circles and solitary members around the world. Members of the Congregation embrace a variety of spiritual paths, the common element among them being a belief in female divinity and a commitment to positive spiritual practice. RCG-I is a multi-traditional women's religion; however, a majority of the women in the Congregation consider themselves to be Dianic. Most of RCG-I's members are from North America, but there is growing representation of women from around the world. Information about RCG-I is available on the web at www.rcgi.org.
The Future of Dianic Wicca
Dianic Wicca is a growing tradition. The number of women in RCG-I has grown exponentially since its beginning in 1984. There are now more than 2000 members of the Congregation, half of which have joined in the last 5 years. With the strength and vitality of a living tradition, Dianic Wicca will continue to attract women interested in celebrating women's ritual, creating women's magic and honoring the Goddess.