“Whatever works” does not equate to “anything goes“.
Wicca is not a tightly structured religion, and a lot of the time you are advised to use ‘whatever works for you’, or ‘whatever feels right to you’. This is not license to do just anything that you feel like. There are reasons behind the various practises in Wicca, and only when you understand why you are doing something can you think about changing it. I think a brilliant example of this is in Terry Pratchett’s Nation.
The natives of the nation in question create a traditional drink, and part of this involves spitting in the drink and singing a song over it. When foreigners come, they don’t know why these things are done and so omit them – with disasterous results. On the other hand, the girl that studies the culture learns that there’s some property in human spit that neutralises the deadly properties of the plant used in the drink, and the time it takes to sing the traditional song is the time it takes for the whole drink to be made safe.
I’m not suggesting that you’re going to keel over dead if you change some simple thing in a ritual, but things can have a purpose that you’re not aware of. Only when you properly understand why things are done and what you are actually doing, can you start to make decisions about changes, whether small or large. Only then will you be able to anticipate the likely outcome of that change; whether it will be beneficial for you, or just make your efforts fall flat.
I’ve been speaking in rather vague terms because this need to understand why things are done, can be applied to almost everything. This includes the mundane as well as the magical. It makes no sense to act until you know why you are doing so, and laws or traditional customs exist for a purpose. In mundane terms it’s like a sign that says, “Live electrical wire; do not touch”. You’d better be sure you know why you are being told not to touch the wire before you make any decisions about disregarding that advice.
A simple example from my own experience in Wicca is that of using salt water and incense to cleanse and bless. When written like that they sound all part and parcel of the same thing, interchangable almost. For a long time I didn’t understand the difference, and it was only when it was spelled out for me in Deborah Lipp’s The Elements of Ritual that I clicked to what was actually happening. In the book it was mentioned in reference to circle casting, and Deborah says;
The steps are done in this order because they are a logical progression. We can’t sprinkle and cense until we have something to sprinkle and cense, and so first we must create the circle. Once created, it can be cleansed. After it is pure, it can be blessed.
…we have to sprinkle before we cense, because we wouldn’t want to “wash away” the censing.
In fact, the whole book tackles the issue of why you do particular things during ritual, and what each step actually accomplishes, and I highly recommend it. One thing that Deborah emphasises is the fact that your ritual should make logical sense as a whole, instead of being a series of barely-connected parts. So too should your religious path fit
together as a whole.
You can indeed just go with whatever takes your fancy, but you miss out on the much richer and more rewarding experience that comes with fully understanding what you are doing. That’s the whole point of doing “whatever works” – not to flit from whim to whim, but to make your experiences richer and your rituals more fulfilling.