The Wicca reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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For the pre-Christian wiccans see Volva. For the book series Wicca see Sweep and Circle Of Three.
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The "Goddess Symbol" with a star in the middle

Wicca is the most popular Neopagan religion, originally founded by the British civil servant Gerald Gardner, probably in the 1930s, although it was first openly revealed in 1951. Since its founding, various related Wiccan traditions have evolved, the original being Gardnerian Wicca, which is the name of the tradition that follows the specific beliefs and practices established by Gerald Gardner.

Table of contents
1 Definition
2 History of Wicca
3 Beliefs and practices
4 Wiccan traditions
5 Morality
6 See also
7 External links


The conventional wisdom is that the term wicca derives from the Indo-European root word of '*wic' & '*weik', meaning "to bend or shape." In Old English, wicca meant necromancer or male witch. Some contend that the term wicca is related to Old English witan, meaning wise man or counselor, but this is universally rejected by language scholars as false etymology. Nonetheless Wicca is often called the "Craft of the wise" as a result of this misconception.

It appears that the word may be untraceable beyond the Old English period. Derivation from the Indo-European roots '*wic' or '*weik' is seemingly incorrect by phonological understanding.

Though sometimes used interchangeably, "Wicca" and "Witchcraft" are not necessarily the same thing. The confusion comes, understandably, because both practitioners of Wicca and practitioners of witchcraft are often called witches. In addition, many, but not all, Wiccans practice what they call witchcraft and vice versa.

Wicca refers to the religion; the worship of the God & Goddess (or just Goddess), and the Sabbat and Esbat rituals. Witchcraft, or as it is sometimes called "The Craft”, on the other hand, requires no belief in specific gods or goddesses and is not a specific spiritual path. Thus, there are Witches who practise a variety of religions besides Pagan ones, such as Judaism and Christianity. It is considered to be a learned skill, referring to the casting of spells and the practice of magic or magick (the use of the "k" is to separate the term from stage magic). To add to the confusion the term witchcraft in popular older usage, or in a modern historical or anthropological context, means the use of black or evil magic, not something Wicca encourages at all.

See The Craft or Witchcraft for more details on these differences.

History of Wicca

The history of Wicca is a much debated topic. Gardner claimed that the religion was a survival of matriarchal religions of pre-historic Europe, taught to him by a woman named Dorothy Clutterbuck. Many believe he invented it himself, following the thesis of Dr. Margaret Murray and sources such as Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles G. Leland, Freemasonry and ceremonial magic; and while Clutterbuck certainly existed, historian Ronald Hutton concluded that she is unlikely to have been involved in Gardner's Craft activities. There is good evidence, however, that while the ritual side of Wicca is undeniably styled after late Victorian era occultism; , the spiritual side is inspired by the old Pagan faiths, with Buddhist, and Hindu influences.

Gardner possibly had access to few traditional Pagan rites and the prevailing theory is that most of his rites were the result of his adapting the works of Aleister Crowley. Note, for example, the similarity between Gardner's "An it harm none, do what ye will" and Crowley's Thelemic "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law, Love is the law, love under will."

The idea of primitive matriarchial religions was popular in Gardner's day, both among academics (e.g., Erich Neumann, Margaret Murray) and amateurs such as Robert Graves. Later academics (e.g., JJ Bachofen, Carl Jung and Marija Gimbutas) continued research in this area, and later still Joseph Campbell, Ashley Montagu and others highly esteemed Gimbutas's work on the matrifocal cultures of Old Europe, but since her death her interpretation of the archaeological record has been called into question, and her theories of universal female deity are no longer considered credible in the mainstream. Some academics carry on research in this area (consider the 2003 World Congress on Matriarchal Studies), and many amateurs are enthusiastic about it, but most academics hold serious reservations.

It is important to the understanding of Wicca to realize that while Wicca as we understand it is modern, both the practice of magick and the worship of a Mother Goddess and a God or Horned God are ancient. It would be fair to say Gardner merely took the idea and ran with it. His claims that Wicca was the "Old Religion" are false, and probably has hindered, rather than helped, Wicca gain widespread acceptance.

Beliefs and practices

Most Wiccans worship two deities, the Goddess and the God sometimes known as the Horned God. Some traditions such as the Dianic Wiccans mainly worship the Goddess; the God plays either no role, or a diminished role, in Dianism.

Wiccans celebrate eight main holidays: four cross-quarter days called Samhain, Beltane, Imbolc (or Imbolg or Oimelc) and Lammas (or Lughnasadh), as well as the solstices, Litha and Yule, and equinoxes, Ostara (or Eostar or Eostre) and Mabon (see Wheel of the Year). They also hold Esbats, which are rituals held at the full and new moon.

Generally, the names are of ancient Germanic or Celtic holidays held around the same time, although two do not have any historical precedent. Ritual observations may include mixtures of those holidays as well as others celebrated at the same time in other cultures; there are several ways to celebrate the holidays.

Some Wiccans join groups called covens, though others work alone and are called "solitaries." Some solitaries do, however, attend "gatherings" and other community events, but reserve their spiritual practices (Sabbats, Esbats, spell-casting, worship, magickal work, etc.) for when they are alone. Some Wiccans work with a community without being part of a coven.

Wiccans weddings can be called "bondings," "joinings," or "eclipses" but are most commonly called "handfastings." Some Wiccans observe an ancient Celtic practice of a trial marriage for a year and a day, which some Traditions hold should be contracted on Lammas (Lughnasadh), although this is far from universal.

A much sensationalized aspect of Wicca, particularly in Gardnerian Wicca, is that some Wiccans practice skyclad (naked). Though many Wiccans do this, many others do not. (Watch out for "clothing optional" gatherings) The normal attire of a Wiccan is a pure cotton robe, to symbolise bodily purity, and a cord, to symbolise interdependance and which is often used during rituals.

In usual rites the Wiccans assemble inside a magic circle, which is drawn out in a ritual manner. Prayers to the God and Goddess are said, and spells, are worked. Traditionally, the circle is followed by a meal. Before entering the circle, they normally fast for the day, and have a thorough wash.

Many Wiccans use a special set of altar tools in their rituals; these can include a broom (besom), cauldron, Chalice (goblet), wand, Book of Shadows, altar cloth, athame (personal knife), altar knife, boline, candles, and/or incense. Representations of the God/Goddess are often also used, which may be direct, representative, or abstract. Aspurgers are sometimes also used.

There are different thoughts in Wicca regarding the Elements. Some hold to the earlier Greek conception of the classical elements (air, fire, water, earth), while others recognize five elements: earth, air, water, fire, and spirit (akasha). It has been claimed that the points of the frequently worn pentagram symbol, the five pointed star, symbolise five elements. In either case, these are the elements of nature that symbolize different places, emotions, objects, and natural energies and forces. For instance, crystals and stones are objects of the element earth, and seashells are objects of the water element. Each of the four cardinal elements, air, fire, water and earth, are commonly assigned a direction and a color:

Elemental, directional correspondences, and colors may vary between traditions, however. It is common in the southern hemisphere, for instance, to associate the element fire with north (the direction of the equator) and earth with south (the direction of the nearest polar area.) Some Wiccan groups also modify the religious calendar to reflect local seasonal changes; for instance, in Australia Samhain might be celebrated on April 30th, and Beltane on October 31st to reflect the southern hemisphere's autumn and spring seasons.

Wiccan traditions

Most Wiccans keep a 'Book of Shadows' as a journal or diary which contains thoughts, spells, ideas, etc. These can be electronic (in a word processing program), a notebook, or purchased at a specialty store. (Stores such as these usually also have incense, tarot cards, candles, etc. and lots thereof.)

There are many traditions, sub-traditions, and lineages of Wicca; some of the more well-known are Gardnerian Wicca, Alexandrian Wicca, Dianic Wicca, Seax-Wica, Faery Wicca, and Odyssian Wicca. Also worth mentioning is the Feri Tradition, though this is not always considered Wiccan.

A generally accepted and informative book describing the various "paths" within the American pagan community is Margot Adler's


Wiccan morality is ruled according to the Wiccan Rede, which (in part) states "An it harm none, do what ye will." ("An" is an archaic word meaning "if."). Others follow the slightly adapted Rede of "An it harm none do what ye will; if harm it does, do what ye must" This very simple code is central to the understanding that personal responsibility, rather than a religious authority, is where moral structure resides.

Many Wiccans also promote the Law of Threefold Return, or the idea that anything that one does may be returned to them threefold. In other words, good deeds are magnified back to the doer, but so are ill deeds.

Some Wiccans also follow, or at least consider, a set of 161 laws often referred to as Lady Sheba's Laws. Some find these rules to be outdated and counterproductive.

For a summary of Wiccan views on homosexuality, see Neopagan views of homosexuality.

See also

External links