WHAT IS WICCA?
An Introduction to ‘The Old Religion’ of Europe and its Modern Revival
By Amber K, High Priestess
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WICCA (sometimes called Wicce, The Craft, or The Old Religion by its
practitioners) is an ancient religion of love for life and nature.
In prehistoric times, people respected the great forces of Nature and
celebrated the cycles of the seasons and the moon. They saw divinity in the sun
and moon, in the Earth Herself, and in all life. The creative energies of the
universe were personified: feminine and masculine principles became Goddesses
and Gods. These were not semi-abstract, superhuman figures set apart from
nature: they were embodied in earth and sky, women and men, and even plants and
This viewpoint is still central to present-day Wicca. To most Wiccans,
everything in Nature — and all Goddesses and Gods — are true aspects of
Diety. The aspects most often celebrated in the Craft, however, are the triple
Goddess of the Moon (Who is Maiden, Mother and Crone) and the Horned God of the
wilds. These have many names in various cultures.
Wicca had its organized beginnings in Paleolithic times, co-existed with
other Pagan (‘country’) religions in Europe, and had a profound influence on
early Christianity. But in the medieval period, tremendous persecution was
directed against the Nature religions by the Roman Church. Over a span of 300
years, millions of women and many children were hanged, drowned or burned as
accused ‘Witches’. The Church indicted them for black magic and Satan worship,
though in fact these were never a part of the Old Religion.
The Wiccan faith went underground, to be practiced in small, secret groups
called ‘covens’. For the most part, it had stayed hidden until very recent
times. Now scholars such as Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner have shed some
light on the origins of the Craft, and new attitudes of relgious freedom have
allowed covens in some areas to risk becoming more open.
How do Wiccan folk practice their faith today? There is no central
authority or doctrine, and individual covens vary a great deal. But most meet
to celebrate on nights of the Full Moon, and at eight great festivals or
Sabbats throughout the year.
Though some practice alone or with only their families, many Wiccans are
organized into covnes pf three to thirteen members. Some are led by a High
Priestess or Priest, many by a Priestess/Priest team; others rotate or share
leadership. Some covens are highly structured and hierarchical, while others
may be informal and egalitarian. Often extensive training is required before
initiation, and coven membeship is considered an important commitment.
There are many branches or ‘traditions’ of Wicca in the United States and
elsewhere, such as Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Welsh Traditional, Dianic, Faery,
Seax-Wica and others. All adhere to a code of ethics. None engage in the
disreputable practices of some modern ‘cults’, such as isolating and
brainwashing impressionable, lonely young people. genuine Wiccans welcome
sisters and brothers, but not disciples, followers or victims.
Coven meetings include ritual, celebration and magick (the ‘k’ is to
distinguish it from stage illusions). Wiccan magick is not at all like the
instant ‘special effects’ of cartoon shows or fantsy novels, nor medieval
demonolgy; it operates in harmony with natural laws and is usually less
spectacular — though effective. Various techniques are used to heal people and
animals, seek guidance, or improve members’ lives in specific ways. Positive
goals are sought: cursing and ‘evil spells’ are repugnant to practitioners of
the Old Religion.
Wiccans tend to be strong supporters of environmental protection, equal
rights, global peace and relgious freedom, and sometimes magick is used toward
Wiccan beliefs don not include such Judeo-Christian concepts as original
sin, vicarious atonement, divine judgement or bodily resurrection. Craft folk
believe in a beneficient universe, the laws of karma and reincarnation, and
divinity inherent in every human being and all of Nature. Yet laughter and
pleasure are part of their spiritual tradition, and they enjoy singing,
dancing, feasting, and love.
Wiccans tend to be individualists, and have no central holy book, prophet
or church authority. They draw inspiration and insight from Nature, tradition,
the arts, literature, science, and personal experience. Each pracititoner keeps
a book or journal in which s/he records magickal ‘recipes’, dreams,
invocations, songs, poetry and so on.
To most in the Craft, every relgion has its own valuable prespective on the
nature of Diety and humanity’s relationship to it: there is no One True Faith.
Rather, religious diversuty is necessary in a world of diverse societies and
individuals. Because of this belief, Wiccan groups do not actively recruit or
proselytize: ther is an assumption that people who can benefit from the Wiccan
way will ‘find their way home’ when the time is right.
Despite the lack of evangelistic zeal, many covens are quite willing to
talk with interested people, and even make efforts to inform their communities
about the beliefs and practices of Wicca. One source of contacts is The
Covenant of the Goddess, P.O. Box 1226, Berkeley, CA 94704. Also, the floowing
books may be of interest: (Ask your librarian.)
Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler
The Spiral Dance by Starhawk
Positive Magic by Marion Weinstein
What Witches Do by Stewart Farrar
Witchcraft for Tomorrow by Doreen Valiente