The problem is no longer one of not being able to find information about Wicca. Now it’s an issue of being able to distinguish good, accurate information from all of the pop culture nonsense littering television, the Internet, and bookstore shelves.
If you go to Google and search just for the word “Wicca” you’ll get 3,850,000 hits, most of which will have very little to do with the real religion of Wicca.
Thanks to television programs like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and Witches of Eastwick, the image most people have of what it means to be Wiccan is to work spells and either (a) spend all your time fending off evil or (b) spend all your time doing evil things. Neither one is Wicca!
What is Wicca?
Wicca is a living religion in a constant state of evolution because it is an experiential way of being in the world. The way Wicca works for any single practitioner is based largely on that person’s life experiences, making this old nature religion deeply personal and ever new.
Although influenced by surviving traditions and based, at least loosely, on a heritage of pagan rites rooted in the shamanistic and Druidic cultures of Western Europe, Wicca is largely what the individual makes of it.
There is co central Church of Wicca, no Wiccan “Bible,” and no specific outline of rules and teaching governing the body of belief. Many Wiccans do keep a “book of shadows,” which is a personal record of their specific spells and rituals, but this is more like a journal than a book dictating beliefs and rules of behavior.
Wiccans may be members of covens who have undergone an initiation and made a formal and ritual declaration of their intent to follow the Wiccan path, or they may be sole practitioners who have made a highly personal and private decision to dedicate themselves to Wicca. Both ways of coming to Wicca are equally valid.
Present Focused and Experiential
Thanks in part to a belief structure free of dogma, but also as an aspect of their view of nature as infused with deity, Wiccans focus on the here and now. They are interested in being a part of the circle of life, and, although they do believe in reincarnation, as we will discuss shortly, there is no notion of going to a “heaven” that is somewhere else.
There is no emphasis, per se, on what happens at death because death, like all the major events of life is a thing to revere. The physical world to the Wiccan is built up of many realities, some denser and heavier, while others are lighter and more spiritual. None, however are seen as the purest or best expression of being.
Wicca is learned by being lived. The individual relies on his or her own senses and experience to tell them what is true, what works within the context of their beliefs, and actually, the substance of those beliefs. But, unlike more doctrinaire faiths, Wiccans are completely comfortable adjusting those beliefs in accordance with the truth of their experiences.
Experience equals integration in the mind of the Wiccan. To have an experience is to “own” it, so that the living of the event becomes a part who you are in a way that cannot be gained from just reading or talking about the thing. Simply put, to follow Wicca, you must experience being Wiccan.
Deeply In Tune with Nature
Not surprisingly, Wiccans deeply revere nature and observe the cycle of the seasons as they play out over the eight major “sabots” or Wiccan holidays:
- Samhain(October 31) – Alternate names for Samhain include Halloween, Last Harvest, Ancestor Night, Feast of the Dead. This is a day to pay tribute to deceased relatives or “ancestors” because it is a time when the border is lifted between worlds
- Midwinter(around December 23) – Also known as Yule, or Winter Rite, Midwinter corresponds with the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. The day symbolizes the rebirth of the God
- Candelmas(February 1) – Candelmas (known alternately as Imbolc, Oimelc, Brigit, and Brigid), this is a celebration of the coming of spring and the renewal of nature. This is the time Wiccans review the achievements of the past year and make resolutions about goals for the coming year.
- Ostara(March 21 or the Spring Equinox) – Also known as Lady Day, the Vernal Equinox, or the Festival of Trees, Ostara is timed with the Spring Equinox when the day and night are of equal length. The rolling of eggs and egg fights are central to the celebration since the egg symbolizes both fertility and rebirth. Offerings of milk and food may be left out for dwarves and fairies, and it is possible to reach the ancestors at this time by gazing into bowls of clear spring water.
- Beltaine(May 1) – Also called May Day, Beltaine merges both Gaelic and Germanic traditions and marks the high point of fertility in the natural cycle. This is a day of love, and has historically been a time for the arrangement of engagements and marriages.
- Midsummer(June 21) – Known by the names Mother Night, Litha, and Samradh as well as Midsommer, this day corresponds with the summer solstice, which is the longest day and shortest night of the year. The wheel begins to turn again toward the coming dark of winter.
- August Eve(August 1 or 2) – This sabbat can be called Lughnasadh, Lammas, the Bread Harvest, or the First Harvest. It is intended to thank the Earth for her harvest and is another good day for marriages as well as for initiations into Wiccan covens.
- Harvest Home(September 21) – Also called the Autumnal Equinox, the Second Harvest, Mabon, or Foghar, this is the official start of fall, and is another time when day and night are of equal length. It is a quiet and peaceful observation spend with family and friends as a ritual of Thanksgiving.
Because Wiccans believe they are an active part of this turning wheel of nature, all the major experiences of life are celebrated including birth, love, sex, and death.
The cathedral of the Wiccan is the flowering meadow, the shady forest, the sandy beach, or the majestic desert. All are sanctified by the presence of deity and in such places, the earth is constantly speaking to us.
It is no wonder that Wiccans often hold their rituals outdoors, tapping into the mystery tradition of spiritual experiences too deep to be described in words.
As Thea Sabin writes in, Wicca for Beginners: Fundamentals of Philosophy and Practice, “Mystery religions are those that create a setting or a venue where people can have an immediate experience of the reality of the divine.
These paths teach that there are things that are beyond the reach of our five senses, but are nevertheless integral parts of us that we can touch directly, although the method will be different for each of us.”
From the perspective of the world as their cathedral, Wiccans seek to walk lightly on mother earth. Not surprisingly, many Wiccans are vegetarians or vegans and most are committed to environmental causes.
Aware of Magic
To be Wiccan is to be part of a magical system. Performing magic may be as mundane as using a small spell to help you find your lost keys, or a more elaborate expression of personal magic to focus your power and commune with the deity.
As Sabin describes it in Wicca for Beginners, “In essence, [magic is] working your will to find your purpose in life and to align with your higher self.”
As a religion, however, Wicca is not exclusively about performing magic, and magic exists completely apart from the religion. There are many Wiccans who do not perform any magic at all, and it is a mistake to think that the words “Wicca” and “witch” are interchangeable.
It is more accurate to say that both Wiccans and witches who do not self-identify as Wiccans are all pagans, and all pagans are practitioners of earth-based religions. At the same time though, it’s quite common for the word “witchcraft” to be used to describe Wiccan spell work and rituals.
What Wicca is NOT
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that Wicca is not devil worship. Wiccans do not believe in Satan, nor do they understand duality of deity to mean supreme good versus supreme evil.
The history of the war the Christian church has waged against satanic witchcraft is a matter of a Christian heresy based on a pack with the devil, the use of black magic, and atrocities like human or animal sacrifice. Wiccans have no part in such activities.
If you think that studying Wicca is going to give you egress to a world of curses to use against people who annoy you, or recipes to brew toxic cauldrons full of potions to get what you want, you are sadly mistaken. (There are no broomstick flying lessons either.)
Wicca is also not an excuse for practitioners to engage in a sexual free for all. Wiccans are pretty open about their sexuality, but they absolutely do not condone sexual abuse of any kind.
Most covens will not accept a student under the age of 21 for this reason, reasoning, rightfully, that it is inappropriate for a person younger than that age to be exposited to rituals with sexual symbolism including ritual nudity (working skyclad), which is often practiced but not required.
As you will learn from the following section, Wicca represents a highly principled and ethical way of being in the world that is predicated on a philosophy of personal responsibility and the edict to harm none.
Basic Ethics and Principles of Wicca
Wiccans have no interest in trying to convert others, and are, in fact, against proselytizing. They believe there is more than one path to God. Everyone is on a journey to find his or her own spirituality. Those who are meant to walk the Wiccan way will find that path without anyone convincing them to do so.
Given this, it is not surprising that Wicca isn’t a dualistic religion that portrays a struggle between good and evil as does Christianity. Wicca is also not exclusive. There is no prohibition against practicing other religious observances or worshipping more than one God.
The seven major beliefs of Wicca include the following, but may vary in their expression and observance from coven to coven or individual to individual.
The Polarity of the Deity
In the Wiccan belief system there is a single divine force. This may be called simply spirit, the all, the divine, or just “deity.” This is the force that gives the universe life. It is not confined by any definition of time, space, or gender.
Deity is, however, separated into aspects, the first being male and female, God and Goddess. These two halves of the same whole are separate but inseparable, ever connected in their very polarity, and unable to exist independently of one another.
This sacred dynamic is central to Wicca. The God and Goddess are equal. They are both warm and loving. They do not live in some far off distance place. They are approachable and reachable because theirs is an omnipresent place in the universe.
The Immanence of Deity
Deity is inherent in all people and in all things. This is not so much the notion that a stone or a blade of grass has a soul of its own, but rather that the same sacred life force infuses all things.
In this way of thinking, each of us is part of the divine and all things around us are divine. It is a very sacred way of thinking that cultivates in Wiccan a native respect for both the natural world and for all of the beings that live in it.
The Divinity of the Earth
The earth is a completely tangible manifestation of deity, in particular of the Goddess. The earth gives birth to all things and then receives them again unto herself in death.
Attuning and working with earth energy is a special focus for the Wiccan, and is deeply tied to an understanding of and participation in the seasonal cycles and the flow of the natural power of the earth.
Because Wiccans view the earth as a sacred space, a significant number of them believe they have a responsibility to care for the earth throughresponsible actions, including their style of diet (vegetarian or vegan), and with environmental activism.
A Belief in Psychic Power
Wiccans believe that each of us is born with psychic abilities that can be honed as a means to tap into the divine force around us. In doing so, we can gain information and perform acts that exceed the limitations of the five senses.
For this reason, Wiccans engage in meditation and magical practice and use ritualistic divination to sharpen their native intuition as they learn to reach farther outward and inward with their psychic power.
A Belief in Magic
In his definitive work on the subject, Magick in Theory and Practice, Aleister Crowley wrote that magic is, “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformance with will.” Wiccans do believe in magic and its use both to better our lives and to help us along the way as we negotiate our individual spiritual journeys.
Magic may be used for very ordinary reasons, but ultimately its purpose in a Wiccan’s life is to make possible a transcendence of the ordinary. It is a tool for personal growth and empowerment.
Most religions do use magic in one form or another, they simply don’t use that word to describe what they are doing. After all, in the Christian mass, the priests ritualistically preside over the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
All forms of prayer are ritual communications with the deity for the purpose of concentrating and extending energy toward a desired outcome, even if that is simply graceful acceptance of a circumstance that cannot be changed.
It is extremely important to emphasize, however, that magic is NEVER a means of attempting to force nature to conform to the will of the practitioner.
The Reality of Reincarnation
Although reincarnation is a generally universal belief among Wiccans, there is considerable variation in how the process actually works. Most are agreed, however, that human souls return only to other human bodies.
This may be a direct transfer of a soul from one body to another, or it may be a kind of recycling, with the person’s essence returning to a kind of collective cosmic pool. There is also a school of thought that only one soul exists and experiences infinite possibilities by living in us all simultaneously.
The attitude toward reincarnation is not so much that it is a belief that is accepted at face value, but rather that it is a principle that each Wiccan comes to accept after contemplation, meditation, and self-analysis.
The Sacred Nature of Sex
Given Wicca’s emphasis on the polarity of deity, holding the physical joining of two consenting adults as a sacred act to be treasured and revered as a gift from the gods only stands to reason. There is also no taboo associated with homosexual unions.
Sex is a manifestation of the polarity of the god and goddess, as well as an expression of the fertility of the earth. Consequently, there is a great deal of sexual symbolism in Wicca.
The Rede and the Threefold Law
Although all Wiccans have to determine individually what ethics to follow, there is a guiding principle in the religion called The Wiccan Rede, “An it harm none, do as you will.”
The Rede is something of a “Golden Rule” asking Wiccans to think before acting and not only to refrain from harming others, but also not to harm themselves. In interpreting the Rede, much of the focus should be on the world “will.”
The human will is the force that drives us to aspire to reach our ultimate spiritual goals. The Rede challenges Wiccans to act according to their highest purpose and to infuse spirituality into all aspects of their lives.
Actions should be taken and decisions made from a spiritual place, all done in harmony with deity. The Rede is about personal responsibility, self-knowledge, ethics, and empowerment.
As I said earlier, personal responsibility is very important in Wicca. There is no belief in the Christian principle of predestination. To a Wiccan, all people are free souls with full control over our lives. There is no evil force like Satan to whom we can point the finger of blame. “The devil made me do it,” doesn’t fly in Wicca!
We are not at the mercy of fate — far from it! Every second we are engaged in the act of creating our own future and in shaping the forward course of our lives. Wiccans are asked to take full responsibility for everything they have done in this life and in any other.
The integration of past experiences determines our future actions, which will hopefully be taken in accord with higher ideals and goals. The Rede is an important guiding principle in these determinations, as is The Threefold Law.
The Threefold Law states simply that whatever you put into the world will come back to you three times. If you send out positive energy to the universe, you will receive the same quality of energy in return, and your life will flow more smoothly as a result.
Used as touchstones, the Rede and the Threefold Law can help each Wiccan to measure how well they are living life according to their true will. In a perfect situation, Wiccans not only put out positive energy, but they attract it as well.
Therefore, the answer to the question, “What is Wicca?” involves not so much a thing — a book of shadows, a coven membership, a spell that can be cast — as an ethical decision to live in the world according to the principles of an earth-based religion that places personal responsibility and a reverence for nature at the heart of its broader philosophy.
What happens from there is frankly very much up to the individual practitioner.