An Overview of Wicca
by Gerina Dunwich (from Wicca Craft, Citadel Press )
Reprinted with permission from the author
Wicca (an alternative name for modern witchcraft) is a positive, shamanistic nature religion with two main deities honored and worshipped in Wiccan rites: the Goddess (the female aspect and a deity related to the ancient Mother Goddess in Her triple aspects of Maiden, Mother, and Crone) and Her consort, the Horned God (the male aspect). Their names vary from one Wiccan tradition to the next, and some traditions use different deity names in both their higher and lower degrees.
Wicca often includes the practice of various forms of white magick (usually for healing purposes or as a counter to negativity), as well as rites to attune oneself with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the moon and the four seasons.
Wicca (which is known as the "Craft of the Wise" or often just "The Craft") is considered by many to be both a monotheistic and pantheistic religion, and is a part of the modern Pagan resurgence, or neo-Pagan movement, as many prefer to call it.
Today, most people who define themselves as Pagans use the word as a general term for "native and natural religions, usually polytheistic, and their members." In simple terms, it is a positive, nature-based religion, preaching brotherly love and harmony with and respect for all life forms. It is very similar to Native American spirituality. Its origins are found in the early human development of religion: animistic deities gradually becoming redefined to become a main God or Goddess of all Nature. This God or Goddess bearing different names at different times in different places can be found in nearly all of the world's historic religious systems. Paganism does not oppose nor deny any other religion. It is simply a pre-Christian faith.
Most Pagans seem to agree on many of these commonly held beliefs:
(1) Divinity is immanent or internal, as well as transcendent or external. This is often expressed by the phrases "Thou art God" and "Thou art Goddess."
(2) Divinity is just as likely to manifest itself as female. This has resulted in a large number of women being attracted to the faith and joining the clergy.
(3) A multiplicity of gods and goddesses, whether as individual deities or as facets of one or a few archetypes. This leads to multi-faceted logic systems and increased tolerance toward other religions.
(4) Respect and love of Nature as divine in her own Right. This makes ecological awareness and activity a religious duty.
(5) Dissatisfaction with monolithic religious organizations and distrust of would-be messiahs and gurus. This makes Pagans hard to organize, even "for their own good," and leads to constant mutation and growth in the movement.
(6) The conviction that human beings were meant to live lives filled with joy, love, pleasure, and humor. The traditional Western concept of sin, guilt, and divine retribution are seen as misunderstandings of natural growth experiences.
(7) A simple set of ethics and morality based on the avoidance of harm to other people. Some extend this to some or all living beings and the planet as a whole.
(8) The knowledge that with proper training and intent, human minds and hearts are fully capable of performing all of the magic and miracles they are ever likely to need, through the use of natural psychic powers which everyone possesses.
(9) The importance of acknowledging and celebrating the solar, lunar, and other cycles of our lives. This has led to the investigation and revival of many ancient customs and the invention of some new ones.
(10) A minimum of dogma and a maximum of eclecticism. That is to say, Pagans are reluctant to accept any idea without personally investigating it, and are willing to adopt and use any concept they find useful, regardless of its origins.
(11) A strong faith in the ability of people to solve their own current problems on all levels, public and private. This leads to ...
(12) A strong commitment to personal and universal growth, evolution, and balance. Pagans are expected to be making continuous efforts in these directions.
(13) A belief that one can progress far toward achieving such growth, evolution, and balance through the carefully planned alteration of one's consciousness, using both ancient and modern methods of aiding concentration, meditation, re-programming, and ecstasy.
(14) The knowledge that human interdependence implies community cooperation. Pagans are encouraged to use their talents to actively help each other as well as the community at large.
(15) An awareness that if they are to achieve any of their goals, they must practice what they preach. This leads to a concern with making one's lifestyle consistent with one's proclaimed beliefs.
(From a handout for neighbors entitled "What in Heaven's Name Is Going On Over There?" copyright 1989 by the Center for Non-Traditional Religion. )
The Wiccan religion is made up of various sects (or "traditions") such as Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Dianic, Tanic, Georgian, ethnic Traditionalist, and so on. Many of the traditions were formed and introduced in the 1960's, and although their rituals, customs, myth cycles, and symbolisms may be different from one another, they all hold common principles of Craft law.
The main tenet of Wicca Craft is the Wiccan Rede, a simple and benevolent moral code that is as follows: AN IT HARM NONE, DO WHAT THOU WILT. Or, in other words, be free to do your own thing, provided that you in no way bring any harm upon anyone including yourself. (The Wiccan Rede is extremely important to bear in mind before performing any magickal spells or rituals, especially those which may be considered unethical or of a manipulative nature.)
The Threefold Law (or Law of Three) is a karmic law of triple retribution which applies whenever you do something good or bad. For instance, if you use white magick (or positive energy) to do something good for somebody else, three times the good will come back to you in your lifetime. By the same token, if you use black magick (or negative energy) to bring harm to others, the bad or "evil" will also return to you threefold in the same lifetime.
The followers of the Wiccan religion are called Wiccans or Witches. The word "Witch" applies to both male and female practitioners of the Craft. (Male witches are seldom, if ever, called Warlocks. The word "Warlock," which is considered an insult in most Wiccan circles, stems from the Old English WAERLOGA, meaning an "oath-breaker," and was used derogatorily by the Christian Church as a name for a male witch.)
Although Witches are proud to be a part of the Craft, there are some who object strongly to the use of the term "Witch," feeling that the word possesses certain negative connotations and stirs up too many bizarre images and misconceptions in the minds of those who are unfamiliar with the Craft and perhaps a bit reluctant to accept that which they do not clearly understand. As Wicca Craft is a Nature-oriented religion, most of its members are involved in one way or another with the ecology movement and current environmental issues.
Wiccans do not accept the arbitrary concept of innate sin or absolute evil, and they do not believe in a Heaven or a Hell, other than those which are one's own creation.
Wiccans do not practice any form of black magick or "evil," do not worship devils, demons, or any evil entities, and do not make attempts to convert members of other faiths to the Pagan way. Wiccans respect all other positive religions, and feel that a person must hear the "call of the Goddess" and truly desire within his or her own heart, without any outside influence or proselytizing, to follow the Wiccan path.
Many Wiccans take on one or more secret names (also known as "Eke-names") to signify their spiritual rebirth and new life within the Wicca Craft. Eke-names are most sacred and are used only among brothers and sisters of the same path. When a Witch takes on a new name, she or he must be extremely careful to choose one that harmonizes in one way or another with numerological name-numbers, birth-numbers, or runic-numbers. A well-chosen name vibrates with that individual and directly links her or him with the Craft.
Many Wiccans work together in small groups which are called covens. The coven (which may consist of up to thirteen people) is led by a High Priestess and/or a High Priest, and gathers together to worship the Goddess, work magick, and perform ceremonies at Sabbats and Esbats. The members of a coven are known as "coveners," and the place where the coven meets is called the "covenstead."
Wiccans who work on their own, either by personal choice or by circumstance, are called "solitary" Witches. Wiccans celebrate eight Sabbats each year, marking transitions in the seasons. There are four major (or grand) Sabbats and four minor (or lesser) Sabbats. The major Sabbats are: Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain. The minor sabbats are: Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumn Equinox, and Winter Solstice.
The Esbat is a monthly coven meeting held at least thirteen times a year during each full moon. At the Esbat, Wiccans exchange ideas, discuss problems, perform special rites, work magick and healing, and give thanks to the Goddess and the Horned God. A traditional "Cakes and Wine" or "Cakes and Ale" ceremony also takes place at the Esbat. During the ceremony, consecrated food and refreshments are served, and coveners take time to relax and discuss important magickal subjects. (The "Cakes and Wine" or "Cakes and Ale" ceremony is a traditional custom whenever a Wiccan ritual takes place and a circle is cast.)
In a coven, the Goddess is represented by the High Priestess, and the Horned God by the High Priest. The Goddess is known by many different names. She is often called Diana, Cerridwen, Freya, Isis, Ishtar, the Lady, or any other name that a coven chooses to use or that a Wiccan feels responds to his or her own mythopoeic vision.
The Goddess is the female principle. She represents fertility, creation, and regenerative powers of Nature and wisdom. The moon is Her symbol, and in works of art, she is often depicted as having three faces each representing a different lunar phase. In Her new moon phase, She is the Maiden; in Her full moon phase, She is the Mother; and in Her waning moon phase, she is the Crone.
The Horned God is a phallic deity of fertility and intellectual creativity who symbolizes the powers of the waxing and waning crescent moons. He is usually represented as a hirsute, bearded man, having the hooves and horns of a goat. He is a god of Nature, and the male counterpart to the image of the Goddess. In primitive times, He was worshipped as the Horned God of Hunting.
Like the Goddess, the Horned God is also known by many different names. In some Wiccan traditions, He is called Cernunnos, which is Latin for "the Horned One." In others, He is known as Pan, Woden, and other names.
The worship of the Goddess and the Horned God symbolize the Wiccan belief that everything that exists in the universe is divided into opposites: female and male, negative and positive, light and darkness, life and death, yin and yang the balance of Nature.
In certain Wiccan traditions, the Goddess is worshipped during Spring and Summer Sabbats as She symbolizes the fertility of the earth in the growing time, and the Horned God during the Autumn and Winter Sabbats as He symbolizes the dark half of the year.
Other Wiccan traditions worship the Goddess in Her various aspects throughout the entire year and observe the birth (actually the rebirth) of the Horned God at the Winter Solstice Sabbat; His growth, puberty, and maturity throughout the Spring, Summer, and Autumn Sabbats, respectively; and His demise at the Samhain Sabbat. After His death, it is said that His spirit returns to the divine womb of the Mother Goddess until the following Winter Solstice when He is once again reborn. This ancient myth cycle of birth-to-death repeats each year.
The Horned God has been worshipped since ancient times by nearly all cultures; however, the Roman Catholic Church, in an attempt to eradicate the worship of the old Pagan god of hunting and fertility, perverted Him into their symbol of evil and called Him the Devil.