As a religion, Wicca or the Craft pretends to be the revival and/or reconstruction of the pre-Christian pagan cults of Europe, especially Northern Europe (Celtic or Norse traditions) but also Greco-Roman, Egyptian, or Levantine traditions.
There is no consensus on the exact lineage Wiccan beliefs. It wasn’t until recently that Wicca took formation as a loosely based system, mainly from the works of Gerald Gardner who formed the Wiccan tradition known as Gardnerian Wicca. Through Gardner the idea of the God and goddess were ‘dogmatized’ and Wicca became a religious movement.
A Wiccan is a follower of Wicca. Many Wiccans use the word Witch as a synonym for Wiccan. Others have abandoned the term Witch since they feel that centuries of religious propaganda have given the term such a negative connotation that it cannot be redeemed.
Because of the popular negative connotations associated with witchcraft, many Wiccans conceal their faith for fear of persecution. Revealing oneself as Wiccan to family, friends or colleagues is often termed coming out of the broom-closet.
History of Wicca
The history of Wicca is much debated. Five individuals are credited with influencing the contemporary witchcraft movement.
Charles Leland (1824-1903) published a book in 1899: Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. Leland was the founder of the Gypsy Lore Society, editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, and a prolific author and folklorist. Aradia deals mainly with the Goddess Diana. It is presented as an ancient document which recorded the doctrines of La Vecchia Religione (The Old Religion) — Italian witchcraft. Leland claims to have received the information from an Italian strega (sorceress) named Maddalena. How much of this is a valid account of La Vecchia Religione is anyone’s guess. However, the book played a significant role in the later development of modern-day Neopaganism.
Aleister Crowley (1875 – 1947) was a British occultist and writer. Some of his most influential books on occult matters include: The Book of the Law (1904), the central sacred text of Thelema, as dictated by an entity known as Aiwass), Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4 (a lengthy treatise on magic and his own system of Western occult practice, synthesized from many sources including Eastern Yoga, Hermeticism, medieval grimoires and contemporary magical theories), The Book of Lies (1913). His scandalous and depraved behaviour gained much notoriety during his lifetime, and he was dubbed The Wickedest Man In the World by the tabloid press and referred to himself as The Beast. Crowley was credited with saying that, as a young man, he had been offered initiation into the witch-cult, but had refused it because he didn’t want to be ‘bossed around by women.’”
Margaret Murray (1863 – 1963) authored The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches. These books promoted the concept that some of the Witches who were exterminated by Roman Catholics and Protestants during the “Burning Times” were remnants of an earlier, organized, and dominant pre-Christian religion in Europe. This claim is widely disputed by anthropologists and other academicians, but nevertheless remains an influential idea in the background for neo-paganism and Wicca today.
Gerald Gardner (1884 – 1964) was a British civil servant and the founder of ‘Gardenarian Wicca’, which is the base of most of the beliefs and rituals of modern Wicca. He claimed that the religion was revealed to him by a woman known as “Dafo” or “Old Dorothy”. After the repeal of the witchcraft laws in England in 1951, Gardner finally convinced his traditionalist coven to allow him to publish some of the details of their previously secret beliefs and practices. Gardnerian Wicca was an initiatory mystery religion, admission to which was limited to those who were initiated into a pre-existing coven. The Book of Shadows, the grimoire that contained the rituals, was kept secret and was only obtainable from a coven of proper lineage.
Alexander Sanders studied witchcraft as a young boy, as it was a family tradition passed down by his grandmother. In 1963, he was initiated into Gardnerian Wicca before founding his own coven, through which he merged many aspects of ceremonial magic into Gardnerianism, falsely then trying to pass off this tradition, Alexandrianism, as a hereditary tradition that had been handed down to him by his grandmother. Alexander also established several covens throughout Britain, and proclaimed himself the “king of witches.” His movement spread around the English-speaking world during the 1970s, but following the revelations of his unacknowledged use of Gardner’s rituals and his plagiarizing of material from Éliphas Lévi and Franz Bardon, most of the covens that had identified themselves as Alexandrian dropped any relationship with him.
Wicca has developed in several directions since it was first publicised by Gerald Gardner. These other traditions of Wicca each have specific beliefs, rituals, and practices. Most traditions of Wicca remain secretive and require members to be initiated. However, there is a growing movement of Eclectic or Solitary Wiccans who adhere to the religion but do not believe a traditional initiation is necessar
The publications of Raymond Buckland illustrate these changes. During the early 1970s, in books such as Witchcraft – Ancient and Modern and Witchcraft From the Inside, Buckland maintained the Gardnerian position that only initiates into a Gardnerian or other traditional coven were truly Wiccans. However, in 1974, Buckland broke with the Gardnerians and founded Seax-Wica, revealing its teachings and rituals in the book The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft. This “tradition” made no claims to direct descent from ancient Saxons; all of its then-extant rituals were contained in that book, . In 1986 Buckland published Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, a workbook which allowed for self-initiation in magical and ritual techniques
Another significant development was the creation by feminists of Dianic Wicca, or feminist Dianic Witchcraft. This is a specifically feminist faith that discarded Gardnerian-style hierarchy as irrelevant, amongst other aspects. Many Dianic Wiccans taught that witchcraft was every woman’s right and heritage to claim.
In 1985, as a result of Dettmer v Landon (617 F Supp 592), the District Court of Virginia ruled that Wicca is a legally recognised religion and is afforded all the benefits accorded to it by law. This was affirmed a year later by Judge J. Butzner of the Federal Appeals Court fourth circuit (799 F 2d 929, 1986). As of 2006, an estimated 1,800 Wiccans were serving in the U.S. military. However, Wiccans can still become the object of stigma in America, and many remain secretive about their beliefs.
Neopaganism in general and Wicca in particular are expanding rapidly. Neopagans currently number 200,000 to 1,000,000 in North America. A study done in 2001 by City University of New York found 134,000 self-described Wiccans in the U.S. Accurate numbers are impossible to obtain because of the decentralized nature of the religion, and because most Wiccans remain underground for reasons of personal safety.
Traditions in Wicca
A tradition in Wicca refers to a branch of the religion with specific teachings and practices, often involving the concept of a lineage that is transferred by initiation. There are many such traditions, sub-traditions and lineages; there are also many Solitary Wiccans who do not align themselves with any particular lineage. Some of the well-known traditions include:
|Alexandrian Wicca |
Blue Star Wicca
|Dianic or Feminist Wicca |
|Kemetic Wicca |
Pagans for Peace Tradition
Universal Eclectic Wicca
Most Wiccans worship two deities: the fertility Goddess and her consort, the God (sometimes known as the Horned God).
Some traditions, such as the Dianic Wiccans, mainly worship the Goddess. In those traditions, the God plays either no role, or a diminished role.
Many Gardnerian Wiccans do not claim to be dualist. They may practice some form of polytheism, often with particular reference to the Celtic pantheons. These include Pan, Diana, Dionysus, Demeter, and many others. They may also be animists, pantheists, or indeed anywhere within the broad spectrum of Neopagan forms of worship.
Finally, some Wiccans are atheist or agnostic in their beliefs about a god. They see God and Goddess as symbols or metaphors, not actual living entities. They may view these terms as referring to energies or principles in life or nature, but not as actual beings
Wicca is widely regarded as an earth religion, very grounded in natural cycles, seasons and processes. Much of its ritual deal with bringing harmony and healing both to nature and to the self by becoming attuned to nature. In the New Age philosophy this relates to the concept of “Gaia” or Mother Earth which views planet earth as essentially a living being.
Wicca promotes sex and race equality. Wiccans are generally very liberal regarding human sexuality. It is seen as a gift from God, Goddess or Nature to be valued and engaged in with joy and responsibility. They affirm 3 natural sexual dispositions: heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual.
There is no good or evil and members are free to review different belief systems (Celtic, Norse, Essene, Gnosis, Shamanism) and blend together points right for their personal path.
Views of an afterlife vary widely among groups. Witchcraft teaches that one should follow their heart and take responsibility for their actions. Witches do not believe in a heaven or hell and will usually espouse the concept of karma and endless reincarnation.
While many modern movies and TV series such as The Craft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Charmed contain references to Wicca, these are dramatic fiction and should not be taken as factual, nor does the fictional character Harry Potter have anything to do with historical or modern witchcraft.
Festival and rites
Wiccans typically mark each full moon (and in some cases new moons) with a ritual called an Esbat. They also celebrate eight main holidays called Sabbats.
Four of these are minor Sabbats: the two equinoxes of March 21 and September 21st when the daytime and nighttime are each 12 hours long. The Saxons added the two solstices of December 21, (the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere) and June 21 (the shortest night of the year). Actually, the exact date of these Sabbats vary from year to year and may occur from the 20th to 23rd of the month.
The major Sabbats are also four in number. They occur roughly midway between the minor Sabbats, typically at the end of a month. Different Wiccan traditions assign various names and dates to these festivals. Perhaps the most common names are Celtic: Samhain (Oct. 31), Imbolc (Feb. 2), Beltane (Apr. 30), and Lammas (Aug. 1).
Dates are approximate. Some Wiccans observe the Sabbat within a few days of the nominal date. The Sabbats are believed to have originated in the cycles associated with hunting, farming, and animal fertility.
In typical rites, the Wiccans assemble inside a magic circle, which is often nine feet in diameter.
Candles on the circumference are usually oriented to the four cardinal directions. Some Wiccans align the candles to the walls of the room. An altar is at the center of the circle or at the northern candle.
Rites begin with a casting of the circle, in which the circle is outlined and purified, and the candles lit. A space is thus created within the circle; this is sometimes visualized as a sphere, or as a cylinder or cone. The purpose of this space is to confine healing energy until it is released. Prayers to the God and Goddess are said, and spells are sometimes worked.
The central portion of each meeting may celebrate the full moon, a new moon, a Sabbat or a special Wiccan ceremony. It might include healing, divination (scrying, Tarot cards, Runes, etc.), teaching, consecration of tools, discussion, or other life-affirming, nature based activities. Traditionally, the circle is followed by a meal. Before entering the circle, some Traditions fast for the day, and have a thorough wash.
A sensationalized aspect of Wicca, particularly in Gardnerian Wicca, is that some Wiccans practice naked. Though many Wiccans do engage in rituals while skyclad others do not. Some Wiccans wear a pure cotton robe, to symbolise bodily purity, and a cord, to symbolise interdependence and rank.
The Great Rite: This rite is meant to symbolize the sexual union of the Goddess and God which is said to have created all life, and to renew it every spring. In a coven, a male is selected to hold the athame while a female is selected to hold the chalice, which has been filled with either wine, ale, juice, or water before this time.
Some Wiccan couples who form a loving, committed and sexually active relationship include an act of sexual intercourse during their Great Rite. Again, this symbolizes the union of the God and Goddess. This is done in private and involves only the two Wiccans.
Rites of passage
- Dedication, when a person confirms an interest in the craft.
- Initiation, when a person symbolically dies and is reborn as a Wiccan; a new name is adopted.
- Handfasting was originally a marriage for a one year period. Most Wiccans now regard it as creating a permanent partnership.
- Parting of the Ways, which recognizes the end of a marriage.
- Wiccaning, which welcomes a baby into the craft, but does not obligate the child in any way.
- Funeral Ceremony, a requiem for a Wiccan who has died.
Credo and Rede
The Wiccan Credo is a Wiccan poem. Some Wiccans believe that it was written circa 1910 CE by Adriana Porter. Others suggest that it was created during the very early years of Gardnerian Witchcraft, during the 1940s and 1950s. It includes the text of the main Wiccan rule of behavior, the Wiccan Rede, and a reference to the Threefold Law.
Rede is derived from an Old English word roedan which means to guide or direct. The Wiccan Rede is the rule governing Wiccan behavior. It permits Wiccans to engage in any carefully considered action, as long as it harms nobody, including themselves. Harm is normally considered to include manipulation, domination, attempts to control, physically injure, emotionally harm, or hurt another person or group in any way.
The Rede is reinforced by the Threefold Law. This is the belief that any harm or good that a Wiccan does to someone else comes back to hurt or benefit them — magnified three times over.
“Mind the Threefold Law you should,
Three times bad and three times good.”
Gerina Dunwich, an American author whose books (notably, Wicca Craft) were instrumental in the increase in popularity of Wicca in the late 1980s and 1990s, disagrees with the Wiccan concept of threefold return on the grounds that it is inconsistent with more than one law of physics and trace its origin to Raymond Buckland in the 20th century,
Many Wiccans also seek to cultivate the Eight Wiccan Virtues as a guideline for their deeds. These may have been derived from earlier Virtue ethics, but were first collected and synthesised by Doreen Valiente in the Charge of the Goddess.
They are Mirth, Reverence, Honour, Humility, Strength, Beauty, Power, and Compassion. They are in paired opposites, which are perceived as balancing each other. This reflects the dualism that is commonly found in traditional Wiccan concepts of the divine.
Wicca is a highly individualistic religion and members do not proselytize.
Some Wiccans join groups called covens. Others work alone and are called solitaries. Some solitaries do, however, attend “gatherings” and other community events, but reserve their spiritual practices (Sabbats, Esbats, spell-casting, worship, magical work, etc.) for when they are alone. Some Wiccans work with a community without being part of a coven.
Many Wiccan traditions hold that the ideal number of members for a coven is thirteen. When covens grow beyond their ideal number of members, they often split (or “hive”) into multiple covens, yet remain connected as a group. A grouping of multiple covens is known as a grove in many traditions.
When someone is being initiated into a coven, it is also traditional to study with the coven for a year and a day before their actual initiation into the religion, and some Solitary Wiccans choose to study for a year and a day before dedicating themselves to the religion. Wiccans can also be “promoted” into higher ranks such as head priestess or head priest. Rank can be shown through coloured cords.
Some practitioners of traditional initiatory Wicca consider that the term ‘Wicca’ only correctly applies to an initiate of a traditional branch of the religion (such as Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca) because solitary Wicca or eclectic Wicca are different in practice from the religion established by Gardner. However, the term has increasingly come to be adopted by people who are not initiates of a traditional lineaged coven.
These non-initiatory Wiccans may undertake rituals of self-initiation, and generally work alone as solitaries or in casual groups, rather than in organised covens. Thus non-initiatory Wicca shares some of the basic religious principles, ethics and the ritual system of ‘traditional’ or ‘initiatory’ Wicca, but not the organisational structure, or the belief that Wiccan initiation requires a transferral of power from an initiator.
Therefore, some practitioners of traditional initiatory Wicca have adopted the term ‘British Traditional Wicca’ to differentiate themselves from this movement.
Number of Adherents in the U.S.: Unknown: Between 10,000 and 100,000.
Organizational Structure: The basic structure is the Coven (local group) with 5 to 50 members (ideally 12-15) led by a High Priestess or High Priest.
The Priest and/or Priestess derives authority from initiation by another Witch. Some Covens are tied together in fraternal relationships and acknowledge authority of a Priestess or Priest from whom orders are derived. Many are totally autonomous.Leadership and Role of Priestess and/or Priest: The High Priestess and/or High Priest has authority for the Coven.
Witches pass through three degrees as they practise the Craft: acknowledges one as a full member of the Coven and initiates the process of mastering the skills of a Witch; recognizes growth in ability and admits one to all the inner secrets; and admits one to the priesthood.
Who may conduct Worship services?:
A High Priestess or Priest.
Is group worship required?:
No, but it is encouraged.
Worship requirements: None, but Witches are expected to practise their faith, which includes mastering magick, ritual, and psychic development and the regular worship of the Wiccan Deities.
Minimum Requirements for Worship: The athame, or ritual knife; the pentacle, a metal disc inscribed with magical symbols; a chalice; and a sword. Various traditions will demand other items.
Facilities for Worship: Witches worship within a magick circle that is inscribed on the ground or the floor. The circle should be located so as to insure the privacy of the rituals.
Other Specific Religious Requirements other than Worship (see above): None.Dietary Laws or Restrictions: None.
Special Religious Holidays: The four great festivals are seasonal:
- Spring Equinox, March 21
- Summer Solstice,or Midsummer, June 21
- Autumn Equinox, September 21
- Yule, or Winter Solstice, December 22
These are joined by four cross festivals related to the agricultural and
- Candlemas, February 2
- May Eve, or Beltane, April 30
- Lammas, July 31
- Hallowe’en, October 31
Besides these eight, most Wiccan groups meet either weekly or bi-weekly (on the full and new moon).
Funeral and Burial Requirements: Practices vary widely. In case of death, the Coven to which the Witch belongs should be contacted.
Cremation: Many prefer it, but the local Coven should be consulted.Autopsy: Generally no restrictions.
Medical Treatment: No restrictions.
Uniform Appearance Requirements: None are proscribed.
Position on Service in the Armed Forces: No official stance. Many witches are presently military personnel, while others are conscientious objectors, derived, from the generally pro-life stance of Wicca.
Is a Priest or Priestess required at time of death?:
No.Any practices or teaching that may conflict with military directives or practices: None, generally, though individual covens may have some. The local Coven should be contacted if specific questions arise.
Basic teachings and beliefs: Underlying agreements are summed up in the “Principles of Wiccan Beliefs” adopted by the American Council of Witches. Specific expressions of beliefs will vary widely, due to the ethnic roots or the traditions of the individual covens.
Creedal statements and/or authoritative literature (see also Basic belief): All Witches use two books, a Grimoire, or book of spells and magical procedures, and a book of shadows, or book of ritual. Each Coven will use a different grimoire and/or book of shadows.
Ethical practices: Wiccan ethics are summed up in the Law called the Wiccan Rede, “An Ye Harm None, Do As Ye Will”.
How does Witchcraft recruit new members?:
Witches do not proselytize, but they welcome inquiries from those who hear about the Craft by either word of mouth or the media.
Relationship with other religions: Co-operations with the whole pagan community is very high. Relations with other religions are cordial, except those groups which have sought to persecute or defame the Craft.
For any question, please contact the autor of this FAQ – Moo Cows