Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, But Oaths are for Horses: Antecedents and Consequences of the Institutionalization of Secrecy in Initiatory Wicca


  • Léon A. van Gulik Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences



Contemporary Paganism, Initiation, Ritual, Secrecy, Wicca


Drawing on a theoretical sample from my on-going fieldwork on religious creativity, I offer a psychological perspective on the issue of secrecy in contemporary initiatory Wicca. Secrecy is understood here to exist in those relationships where a supposed inequality of knowledge is actively maintained by managing access to the surplus of that knowledge. First, a descriptive account of the various etic narratives of secrecy is given, successively relating the topic to mythistory, oath keeping, magical practice, and mysteries. Second, moving from the manifest level to the latent level of these narratives, I will then offer an explanation and interpretation of the functions secrecy in terms of the maintenance of ownership, appeal, and association. The latter is explained as ritual hygiene and shown to be the functional opposite of secrecy. In the concluding part two implications of the institutionalization of secrecy are discussed: misrepresentation of knowledge and stalled religious development are shown to be detrimental side-effects of upholding secrecy in contemporary Paganism.

Author Biography

Léon A. van Gulik, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Léon van Gulik is a lecturer in psychology at the Department of Applied Psychology, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands. His scholarly interests range from mysticism, ritual, cultural and ecological psychology, creativity, contemporary Paganism, magical thinking, to cultural transmission and spatial aesthetics.


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How to Cite

van Gulik, L. A. (2014). Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, But Oaths are for Horses: Antecedents and Consequences of the Institutionalization of Secrecy in Initiatory Wicca. Pomegranate, 14(2), 233–255.