Aviva Directory » Faith & Spirituality » World Religions » Pagan Religions » Neopagan » Wicca

Wicca is, in some traditions, the modern practice of witchcraft. In others, it represents a reconstruction of ancient Celtic traditions, based on myths. It might also involve a belief in any of a number of gods or goddesses, including Celtic, Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Roman, and others.

Since modern Wicca is pagan and non-dogmatic, Wiccan groups vary greatly in their rituals, beliefs, and practices. Central to most Wiccan traditions is a reverence for nature, a belief in magic, and an observance of holidays based on solar and lunar events.

Witchcraft is a difficult term to define, perhaps because there is more than one definition.

Many people view witchcraft as the accusations lodged by Christians in the late medieval and and early modern periods of Europe, and the colonial period in America.

Witchcraft may also refer to a phenomenon involving sorcery and magic found in various historical periods and cultures, including the Gothic era.

The most recent use of the term is that of certain types of Neo-Pagans in the 20th century. The contemporary Pagan religious movement is commonly known as Wicca.

Known as the grandmother of Wicca, Margaret Alice Murray, an English Egyptologist, archaeologist, anthropologist, and historian, argued that witchcraft predates Christianity. She believed that witches existed in ancient pagan cultures before the time of the Bible's development.

Although a clear line of descent from modern Wicca to the ancient practice of witchcraft cannot be drawn, it is well documented that the ancient pagans practiced sorcery and magic that could be construed as the equivalent of the craft of the today's witches. There is also evidence that the ancient Mesopotamians practiced black magic. Of course, the Christian bible refers to the witch of Endor, to whom Saul went for guidance, and elsewhere condemns witchcraft, so it is clear that it existed at that time.

Modern Wicca developed in England during the early 1900s, and was introduced to the public by Gerald Gardner in 1954. Gardner, a retired British civil servant, had a background in the occult, and was a member of the Rosicrucians. In his writings, Gardner claims to have been initiated into Wicca by Dorothy Clutterbuck, a member of the New Forst coven. However, Clutterbuck was a wealthy Englishwoman, and a practicing Anglican, who did not identify as a witch.

It isn't know who invented the name "Wicca" to refer to the religion. Gardner referred to it variously as the "craft of the wise," "witchcraft," and "the witch-cult" in his writings. Today, it is generally known as Wicca, Witchcraft, Pagan Witchcraft, or as the Craft, while various Wiccans refer to themselves as Traditional Witches.

There are various denominations in Wicca, such as Alexandrian Wicca, Celtic Wicca, the Dianic Tradition, Eclectic Wicca, Gardnerian Wicca, the Norse Tradition, PectiWita, Seax-Wica, and the Strega Tradition, as well as individuals who identify as Wiccan but do not ascribe to any particular tradition.

Most contemporary witches share some broadly conceived beliefs, such as the theological importance of the feminine principle, or goddess, and the need to balance what they view as a patriarchal view taken by traditional Western religions.

Like most other pagan religions, modern Wiccans have a respect for nature, and tend to be pantheistic and polytheistic. Central to the Craft is the practice of ritual magic, which is usually considered to be good or constructive, although the existence of black magic is usually recognized as an option.

While there are many Wiccans who practice their craft alone, witches are more often organized into covens of from three to several dozen practitioners. Covens usually meet at regular times, most often on the nights of the new and full moons, and at the eight high festivals of the Neo-Pagan calendar.

Wiccan rituals include the casting of a circle, the invoking of the gods and goddesses, ceremonial magic, food, drink, stories, and songs. Some traditions include ritual sex, but most do not.

There is no dogmatic moral or ethical codes that are universally followed by Wiccans, but most ascribe to a code known as the Wiccan Rede: "an it harm none, do what ye will." Another common belief is that benevolent or malevolent actions will be returned with triple force, or with equal force on each of three levels of the body, mind, and spirit. Similar to the concept of karma, this is known as the Law of Threefold Return.

In recent years, there has been a tendency toward institutionalization among Wiccan groups, including the establishment of legally recognized churches, schools, and organizations. Representatives from Wiccan groups have joined in ecumenical initiatives, serve as military chaplains, and are active in environmental issues.



Feature Article

The Origins and Practice of Wicca


Wiccans often claim that their religion is ancient, even that it is the oldest religion still practiced, pointing to its origins in ancient Celtic beliefs. In reality, it is a modern reconstruction. It can be nothing else, because so little is known about the actual beliefs and practices of the ancient Celts. With no written records, and little archeological evidence to go by, all that is known of the ancient Celtic religions are a few myths and legends.

Wicca, as it is practiced today, is less than a hundred years old, and probably closer to sixty. In large part, what is known as Wicca today can be traced back to a man named Gerald Gardner, a British civil servant.

Reportedly, Gardner learned magic after joining the Rosicrucian Order in 1938. In short time, he became disenchanted with the Rosicrucians and left, he said, to join an existing coven in 1939, although nothing is known of this group, and there is some doubt as to whether it truly existed.

Over the years, Gardner developed a following. His theology was borrowed from the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons, and Celtic mythology, and highly influenced by Alistair Crowley and a woman named Margaret Murray, who helped him write Witchcraft Today in 1954.

The term Wicca seems to have emerged from the Pagan Witchcraft community in the early 1960s, probably due to Gardner's use of the term in his books, Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft. In 1962, a group of pagan witches in Cardiff ran an advertisement in Fate magazine, referring to their group as "Wicca-Dianic and Aradian." This was the first known use of the word in print.

The practice of witchcraft, of course, predated Gerald Gardner, but it bore little resemblance to Wicca today.

There are several different forms of Wicca today. While it is true that there are several forms, or denominations, in Christianity as well, but the divergence between the various Wiccan groups is far greater than that of Christian denominations or sects.

Gardnerian Wicca is considered to be the earliest form of Wicca, and one of the more structured. Covens are usually limited to thirteen members, which are led by a high priest and high priestess, who alone may initiate new members. Gardnerian Wiccans worship both a god and a goddess, and their rituals and practices are kept secret from those outside of the group. There are three levels of initiation, similar to the practices of the Freemasons.

Alexandrian Wicca was introduced by Alexander Sanders in the 1960s, and has much in common with the Gardnerian tradition, as Sanders and his wife were both initiated into Gardnerian Wicca. However, whereas Gardnerian Wiccans believe in one god and one goddess, Alexandrian Wiccans are encouraged to believe in whichever gods or goddesses they wish.

Seax Wicca was established by Raymond Buckland in 1973. Since Buckland had also been initiated into Gardnerian Wicca, there are some similarities, but Seax Wicca is based on the worship of the ancient Germanic gods and goddesses, such as Woden and Freya. Membership is open to anyone interested in the tradition.

Introduced by Zsuzsanna Budapest, Dianic Wicca is only for women, and its followers worship the Roman goddess Diana. Founded in the 1970s, this group follows some of the traditions of prior Wicca groups, but only Diana is worshipped, as all powerful and the source of all living things.

Other forms of Wicca, not associated with a specific founder or leader, include Faery Wicca, which emphasizes the faery lore of Britain, Ireland, and elsewhere in Europe, in which the faeries are thought to be sprites who are responsible for maintaining the balance of nature. Faery Wiccans claim that their beliefs originate from early Celtic traditions, and hold to strong feelings of environmental responsibility.

Draconic Wicca is based on dragons and dragon lore. Dragons are believed to be ancient, and to have been worshipped or feared by all ancient cultures. In Draconic Wicca, each element of nature has a dragon named for it, such as the Fire Dragon, which is called upon for strength.

Pictish Wicca, sometimes known as Pictish Witchcraft, is concerned with all aspects of nature, and magic, with very little resembling religion or ritual.

Solitary Wiccans do not belong to any coven or recognized group, and may follow as many, or whichever, gods or goddesses they please. Solitary Wiccans generally celebrate Esbats and Sabbats, and have altars in their homes, or on their land, for worship.

Eclectic Wiccans do not follow any specific tradition, and may believe in whatever they choose. This often includes the worship of Norse, Egyptian, Roman, Greek, or any other gods or goddesses. Several Wiccans have incorporated Native American traditions, as well. Many Eclectic Wiccans believe that all of the gods and goddesses are one and the same, known by different names within different times and civilizations.

The difficulty in determining just what it means to be a Wiccan is exacerbated by the fact that about seventy percent of declared Wiccans are Eclectic.

If there is a definition of Wicca, it would have to be a cloudy one. In large part, Wicca is a non-dogmatic religion. Wicca appears to be largely a nature religion, as Wiccans usually speak of becoming one with nature, and of the importance of achieving and maintaining a balance with nature. A belief in magic, spells, and potions are common among Wiccans, but these may take many forms. Lastly, Wiccans generally celebrate eight major rituals each year, known as Sabbats.

There are vastly differing paths and traditions that are known as Wicca, each with its own rituals, but the most common themes among these traditions is a reverence for nature, a belief in magic, and a disdain for dogma.

Recommended Resources

Search for Wicca on Google or Bing