What Is Wicca

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What is Wicca and how is it related to Paganism?

"Wicca" is the name of a contemporary Neo-Pagan religion, largely promulgated and popularized by the efforts of a retired British civil servant named Gerald Gardner. In the last few decades, Wicca has spread in part due to its popularity among feminists and others seeking a more woman-positive, earth-based religion. Like most Neo-Pagan spiritualities, Wicca worships the sacred as immanent in nature, drawing much of its inspiration from the non-Christian and pre-Christian religions of Europe.

"Neo-Pagan" simply means "new pagan" (derived from the Latin _paganus_ ,"country-dweller") and hearkens back to times before the spread of today’s major monotheistic (one god) religions. A good general rule is that most Wiccans are Neo-Pagans but not all Pagans are Wiccans.

What are some common, basic beliefs in Wicca?

In addition to its positive view of nature, many find Wicca more welcoming of women than other religions, with an emphasis on personal experience and a tolerance of other paths. As a whole, Wiccans value balance with a respect for diverse complexity, seeing sexuality and embodiment as essentially positive, spiritual gifts. There is a sense of personal connection to the divine life source, which is open.

Is Wicca the same thing as witchcraft?

The short answer is no. Many cultures have a negative word like"witchcraft," often viewing it as a malevolent, supernatural tool used by the weak, old or malicious. Some people use the term "witchcraft" to cover more general skills, such as counseling, the occult and herbcraft. Some Wiccans call themselves "Witches," capitalizing it as a gesture of solidarity with the victims of the Burning Times, but this is a personal decision. Although many Wiccans today may cast spells and practice magic/k, these are not considered an integral part of Wicca by all Wiccans. Wicca is not traditional folk magic and all magic is not necessarily Wiccan, anymore than all people who pray belong to any particular religion.

What god(desse)s do Wiccans worship?

Although some Wiccans focus on particular gods from particular world mythologies, Wiccans may worship many god(desse)s by many different names. Most worship some form of the Great Goddess and Her consort, The Horned God. Such duo-theistic forces are often conceived as embodying complementary polarities, not in opposition. In some traditions worship of the Goddess is emphasized, although in others the Goddess and God are seen as complementary co-equals. The Goddess and God may be seen as associated with certain things (such as the Goddess with the earth or moon, God with sun and wildlife, etc), but there are no hard and fast rules. Some traditions worship the Goddess alone while others see Divinity as essentially beyond human understanding, with "Goddess" and"God" simply a convenient shorthand.

What tools and rituals do you use?

Some ritual items are common to almost every Wiccan tradition, such as the athame (ritual knife) and chalice (ritual cup). Others may be used by some traditions but not others: bells, brooms, candles, cauldrons, cords, drums, incense, jewelry, special plates, pentacles, scourges, statues, swords, staves and wands. The meaning of these items, their use and manufacture will differ among traditions and individuals. Usually a Wiccan ritual will involve some sort of creation of sacred space (casting a circle), invocation of divine power, sharing of dance/song/food or wine and a thankful farewell and ceremonial closing. Rituals may be held at Wiccan "sabbats" or "esbats" or to mark life transitions such as births, coming-of-age, marriages/handfastings, housewarmings, healings, deaths or other rites of passage.

Is there a set liturgy or liturgical calendar?

Most Wiccans mark eight holiday "sabbats" in the "wheel of the year," falling on the solstices, equinoxes and the four "cross-quarter days" on or about the first of February, May, August and November. The names of the sabbats may differ between traditions, and many Wiccans also mark"esbats," rituals for worship in accordance with a given moon phase (such as the night of the full moon). Although there is no one source for all Wiccan liturgy, many liturgical items such as the methods for casting the circle, the "Charge of the Goddess," certain myths and formulaic expressions are common to many traditions.

What are Wiccan ethics, the "Wiccan Rede" and "three-fold law?"

Wiccan ethics are seldom codified in a legalistic way, but may be informed by some common expressions such as the "Wiccan Rede" and the"three-fold law." According to most versions of the three-fold law, whatever one does comes back to one thrice-multiplied, in amplified repercussion. One short, rhymed version of the Wiccan Rede states "Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An it harm none, do what you will." Often"none" is interpreted to include the doer themself in analogy to the"golden rule" of other faiths. There are no universal proscriptions regarding food, sex, burial or military service and Wiccans, as a rule, discourage proselytization (attempts to convert others to a different religion).

What are the origins of Wicca?

This is a matter of some debate within Wiccan circles. Some Wiccans see their inspiration and traditions as coming directly from the gods. Certain Wiccan mythology holds that Wicca has come down from the stone age, surviving persecution in secret covens for hundreds of years. Others say that their Wicca is a long-held family tradition (or "fam trad"), passed down through villages and grandmothers. Aidan Kelly argues that modern Wicca was largely pieced together by Gerald Gardner from Margaret Murray, Charles Leland and other sources, with significant revisions by Doreen Valiente (and others), beginning in 1939. Whatever its origins, Wicca today is a vibrant, modern religion, open to change, creativity and personalization.

What are the major traditions in Wicca and where do they come from?

Aidan Kelly argues that all of Wicca derives from Gerald Gardner, with some crucial editing and revision by his initiate Doreen Valiente. Alex Sanders is widely thought to have acquired a Gardnerian book of shadows, with which he started his own "Alexandrian" tradition, initiating Janet and Stewart Farrar. Other well-known traditions include Raymond Buckland’s Seax Wicca, Victor and Cora Anderson’s Faery Wicca and feminist Dianic Wicca, which emphasizes the Goddess as put forward by such authors as Zsuszana Budapest. There are also branches of Wicca identifying themselves with various ethnicities and traditions such as druidism, shamanism and so forth.

What is the "Book of Shadows?"

The Book of Shadows (or "BoS") is sort of a customized reference book for Wiccans, containing useful information such as myths, liturgical items, one’s own writings or records of dreams and magical workings. According to Gerald Gardner, such a book should be handcopied from teacher to student but in practice not every Wiccan has a "book of shadows" and few are exactly alike. Sometimes only initiates are allowed access to a tradition’s book, or it may be called by a different name, such as "mirror book," "magical diary" or "grimoire."

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