Background - Wicca, or Pagan Witchcraft, is a pagan movement that originated centuries ago with many pagan tribes and animistic cultures; primarily those cultures that lived in forests and attempted to be more harmonious with nature. Modern Wicca developed in England during the first half of the 20th century, and was popularized in the 1950s and 1960s by a Wiccan High Priest, Gerald Cardner, who called the religion the witch cult and its practioneers the Wica (Gardner, 1999).
Because there are no staunch doctrine, there is no one Wicca. However, there are several themes and trends that permeate the belief system. It is typically a duotheistic religion, which worships both a god and goddess, again traditionally viewed as the Triple Goddess and Horned God. They are dual, but parts of a whole that tend to manifest themselves in different ways. Wicca also involves the ritual use of magic, largely ceremonial and symbolist, which also celebrates the seasons, phases of the moon, and holidays coinciding with natural events (Kelly, 1991).
Belief Systems – There are literally hundreds of interpretations of Wicca, but most can be broken down into five core belief systems. We must note, though, that there are Wiccan sects that are monotheistic, and some even atheistic, depending on which interpretation or writings they follow. The most common beliefs, though, follow a pantheistic, duo theistic and animist view of theology and the universe. In this view, Wiccans believe that the who cosmos is alive, as a whole and all of its parts, but that “"such an organic view of the cosmos cannot be fully expressed, and lived, without the concept of the God and Goddess. There is no manifestation without polarization; so at the highest creative level, that of Divinity, the polarization must be the clearest and most powerful of all, reflecting and spreading itself through all the microcosmic levels as well" (Farrar, 1987, 2-3).
• Theology – The duality of the God and Goddess as polarities is usually central to Wicca in that they balance each other out, much like the yin and yang of Taoism. They are the physical and spiritual embodiment of nature, symbolic in almost every aspect of the universe. The Goddess is typically symbolized as the Mother Earth or the Moon; the God the Horned God, nature, wilderness, or the Sun. The Goddess is tripartite: virginal, the Mother and the crone, signifying the three stages of life. This can be likened to almost every religious view of having a causality that is usually nurtured, or brought forth, by the sacred feminine. Taken in general, many Wiccans see each part of nature as symbolic of a higher power; some take this to support animism and finding God in many things, others more simply as the connectivity of everything in nature (Gallagher, A., 2005).
• The Afterlife – Reincarnation is a traditional Wiccan teaching dating back to at least the earliest writings on the subjects. Many of Europe’s pagan tribes did not leave detailed written records, so it is difficult to find a solid scholarly link, but based on traditions (oral) and other evidence, it is likely that the seasonality of nature (seeds into plants, dying in winter, being reborn in spring) was a template for this idea as well. Some Wiccans believe that this reincarnation can be within the same species over time to learn additional lessons, some through different species. However, what is most important is that Wicca does not emphasize the afterlife, but prefers its followers to focus on the present, “the instinctual position of most [Wiccans], therefore, seems to be that if one makes the most of the present life, in all respects, then the next life is more or less certainly going to benefit from the process, and so one may as well concentrate on the present” (Hutton, 1999, 392).
• Magic – Magic, defined by Wicca, is an unseen force that can be used to manifest certain forces and to learn the secrets of nature. Most Wiccans believe magic to be part of the laws of nature – not supernatural, just simply by making appropriate use of all five senses, getting in tune with Nature, and rather than overanalyzing the scientific aspects, simply “knowing” it works because of the long tradition of seeing it work. Wiccans do acknowledge that in everything there is duality, so there can be a dark side, or dark use of magic as well. Magic is separate from technology; it is more Taoist in principle in that, like the Taoist force of nature, it simply permeates all of life and asks that one learn to be more in tune with its energy (Gallagher, 321).
• Morality – Unlike many religions that have a set of moral laws and/or codes, there really is no dogmatic ethical or moral code for Wiccan. However, a majority follows a code called the Wiccan Rede, that is simple but powerful in its message, “you may do most anything as long as it harms no one.” Typically, this is usually interpreted by having the freedom and responsibility of action, as long as one’s actions never harm self or others (Harrow, 2002). In addition, many Wicca hold onto the Law of Threefold Return. Which states that whatever actions a person forms will return to that person three times (mind, body, spirit), very similar to the Eastern ideal of Karma. As such, Wicca is very liberal, simply believing that the more goodness one disperses, the more goodness one will receive (Lembke, 2002).
• The Five Sacred Elements – Unlike the manner in which the five classical elements were used in Ancient Greece and Rome, Wicca sees them as symbolic of all phases of matter. These are, of course, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, plus Ether (Spirit) which is the uniting element. The concept is usually expressed as a pentagram or a tree, with the analogy of the Earth (plant and soil), Water (sap and moisture), Fire (photosynthesis), and Air (oxygen from carbon dioxide) and Ether (the wind dispersing seed and chemicals (Gallagher).
Rituals and Practices – Wicca has a number of rituals that help celebrate seasons and communion with nature. Typically, a coven or assembly includes a purified “magic circle” which invokes nature and the guardians of all time and space. Within this circle lies positive energy, and portions of the circle are dedicated to the five major elements. Tools used within this circle are wands, pentacles, or chalices, candles, incense, a knife, or even a broomstick. All of these are symbolic for some aspect of nature, the purpose being to work spells of positive energy or healing. Sometimes, more traditional covens believe that it is more natural to work without clothing, others try to wear only robes of common material; attempting to get as close to nature as possible.
Most of the ceremonies in Wicca, which are called Sabbats, are part of a yearly spiritual calendar called the “Wheel of the Year.” They tend to follow the seasons, cycles of the moon, and seem to have originated with the Druidic festivals in Ancient Britain, cementing the coven to Mother Nature in a more public manner. It is also interesting to note that these festivals, celebrated from Celtic or Germanic paganism, were often used by the early Christian Church to tie their own rituals so that pagans would simply see the rituals as more the same (e.g. December 21-22, Yuletide or rebirth of the Sun) (Crowley, 1989).
In Wicca, there is no single sacred text like the Bible, Talmud or Quar’an. However, many Wiccan covens use a book entitled “The Book of Shadows,” which is more a central repository for rituals and spells, as well as religious poetry and chants. It is not meant to be dogma, or a formal ethical theory, but more of a place to gather information and to remember ritual (Farrar, 1996).
Conclusions –Wicca emerged as part of a primarily Western tradition, and then became modernized and popularized in a Christian Country (England). Many Christians believe that Wicca is a form of satanic worship, despite evidence showing a far gulf between anything evil or satanic. Due to these misunderstandings and biases, many Wiccans shun publicity and prefer their worship and beliefs to be private in nature. Many non-Wiccans believe Wicca is anti-Christian, which it is not, but one practitioner said that while there were many in Wicca who truly admired Jesus Christ, “witches have little respect for the doctrines of the churches, which they regard as a lot of man-made dogma"(Valiente, 1973, intro). Any brief study of Wicca shows that it is a benevolent, highly natural, and philosophical religion. However, Wicca continues to feel hostility from many political groups and Christian organizations. Unfortunately, this also included former president George W. Bush who noted that he did not accept that Wicca was even a religion (Bush, 1999).
Bush, G. (1999). Letter to ABC News. Retrieved from positiveatheism.org, http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/bushwicca.htm
Crowley, V. (1989). Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age. London: The Aquarian Press.
Farrar, J., Farrar, S. (1987). The Witches’ Goddess: The Feminine Principle of Divinity. London: Robert Hale Publishers.
_____. (1996). A Witches’ Bible. Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing.
Gallagher, A. (2005). The Wicca Bible: The Definitive Guide to Magic and the Craft. New York: Sterling Publishing.
Gardner, G. (1999). Witchcraft Today. Lake Toxaway, NC: Mercury Publishing.
Harrow, J. (2002). The Wicca Rede. Harvest. 5 (3): Retrieved from: http://www.webcitation.org/5QgCzLc0I
Hutton, R. (1999). Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kelly, A. (1991). Crafting the Art of Magic: A History of Modern Witchcraft. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.
Lembke, K. (2002). The Threefold Law. Adult Pagan Essay Series. Retrieved from: http://web.archive.org/web/20050508032805/http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usca&c=words&id=3801
Valiente, D. (1973). An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. New York: Hale.
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