Wicca, as it is performed today, is not modern witchcraft per se, but a contemporary neo-pagan religion. It is, however, one of the major forms of witchcraft. It began in its modern form with the teachings of Gerald Gardner after the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951, though its descent can be traced to the ancient nature religions. This traditional method of Wicca is quite formal, with covens using ritual tools and learned invocations emphasising the Goddess and her representative, the High Priestess, as their head. The Goddess is the archetype or source energy of the ultimate feminine power or principle. All the named goddesses represent aspects of particular qualities of the Goddess in
different cultures. Her consort is the Horned God and his representative in the coven is the High Priest. Though each coven is autonomous, formal Wicca follows a system of degrees of learning and does not permit self-initiation. The High Priest initiates the female members and the High Priestess the male. They celebrate eight sabbats, or seasonal celebrations.
There are, however, numerous forms of Wicca and of witchcraft, many of which draw on ancient traditions. For example, the feminist Dianic Wicca, founded in the 1970s, is spiritually descended from the nature religion of the Italian witches who worshipped Diana as the Triple Goddess of the
Moon from about 500 BC.
Since the 1970s, less formal practices and covens have evolved, which may or may not have a structured learning system, and these create their own spells and ceremonies, rather than using an existing system, such as that recorded in Gardner’s own Book of Shadows, revised by his High Priestess Doreen Valiente. These individual ceremonies are recorded in books created to reflect the evolving rituals of each coven and its own emphases. This method is much more conducive to solitary practitioners who can incorporate magick into their domestic and working lives.
Wiccan Rituals And Ethics
Wiccans believe in polarity rather than a single godhead, both in magick and in life. Evil is therefore not a separate demonic force to be eradicated, and the darker aspects of life emanate as a result of
alienation from the natural order of things. However, even those things that are bad can act as catalysts for change; death and endings are as much part of the cycle of life as are birth and beginnings. Dark and light, night and day, positive and negative, destruction and creation are two sides of the same coin, a principle that finds expression in Eastern Taoism and underpins the ancient Chinese / Ching (The Book of Changes), often used for divination. Negativity can be transformed into
healing energies through positive ritual.
The Goddess is the source of all creation, from whom, in the original virgin birth, her son-consort, the Horned God, came. The Horned God and the Goddess are the creative male and female principles that act and react, not in opposition to each other, but as complementary and necessary parts of a whole.
There are variations on this idea within the teachings of Wicca. Some traditions consider the Goddess to be of greater significance than her male counterpart.
Others regard them as equal, assuming different aspects according to the season and ritual: she as the Earth or Moon deity, ruler of the summer months, he as the Sun or Corn God, ruler of winter and Lord of the Underworld after his death.
Along with other nature deities, the Horned God became demonised with the advent of Christianity,and the Goddess was either depicted as a wicked witch or downgraded to the status of a faerie. Thus the Celtic warrior goddess Maeve became the faerie Mab, described thus by Mercutio in
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:
She is the fairy’s midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman.
Contrary to popular belief, Wiccans do not ‘hex’ (cast curses) or seek revenge, although some Dutch and Pennsylvanian witches consider that it is justifiable to ‘bind’ those who harm children or animals or actively promote evil or corruption. Wiccans prefer to rely on the principles of natural justice that under karmic principles will redress the balance, either in this lifetime or the next.
The chief moral codes are the Wiccan Rede and the Threefold Law. The Wiccan Rede states simply:
‘An it harm none, do what you will’.
This deceptively straightforward statement refers to the self as well as others. I have already mentioned the Threefold Law whereby magical intent – and, many believe, actions and thoughts – return to the sender with three times the intensity.
Because people are responsible for their own actions, everyone -witch and non-witch alike – can choose to do good or evil. Many witches and Wiccans believe that they are reincarnated in some form and also that the results of past deeds can follow a person from one life to the next.
You can compare this to the concept of karma found in Hinduism and Buddhism, which says that the thoughts and deeds we accumulate in our lifetime may either progress us towards spiritual perfection – if good – or indicate, if bad, that we need to learn lessons in subsequent lives to right our mistakes or attitudes. Other witches say there is an afterlife, spent on another plane of existence. Known as Summerland, Avalon or Valhalla, and akin to Tir na n’Og, the Celtic Otherworld of eternal youth, it is a place where joy and light are experienced.
Reincarnation, on the other hand, is a form of bodily transformation. Some may choose to be reborn in another body, perhaps as an animal or bird, sometimes to teach or to complete unfinished work. For example, Merlin, the magician, was believed to have been incarnated in several lifetimes and to have entered willing bodies, including the sixth-century bard Taliesin.
Wiccan rituals are held at esbats and sabbats. An esbat is a monthly coven meeting, traditionally held 13 times a year during each full moon. The eight sabbats are described in the chapter Seasons and Festivals, and celebrate the eight major divisions of the Celtic year on the solstices, the equinoxes and the old Fire festivals. These festivals mark the coming of early spring, the start of the Celtic summer, the first corn harvest and the start of the Celtic winter.
There are also many lovely ceremonies to mark the transitions in the life cycle, such as handfastings, or weddings, and rites of passage to welcome recently deceased Wiccans to the familiar circle whenever they wish to draw near.
–Practical Guide to Witchcraft and Magic Spells