W H A T I S W I C C A ?
An Introduction to "The Old Religion" of Europe
and its Modern Revival
by Amber K, High Priestess
Our Lady of the Woods
P.O. Box 176
Blue Mounds, Wisconsin 53517
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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 animals.
This viewpoint is still central to present-day Wicca. To
most Wiccans, everything in Natures -- and all Goddesses and Gods
-- are true aspects of Deity. The aspects most often celebrated
in the Craft, however, are thr 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 men and 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 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 religious 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 covens of 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 membership is considered an
There are many branches or "traditions" of Wicca in the
United States and elsewhere, such as the Gardnerian, Alexandrian,
Welsh Traditional, Dianic, Faery, Seax-Wicca 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
fantasy novels, nor medieval demonology; 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 religious freedom, and
sometimes magick is used toward such goals.
Wiccan beliefs do not include such Judeao-Christian concepts
as original sin, vicarious atonement, divine judgement or bodily
resurrection. Craft folk believe in a beneficent 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 science, and personal experience. Each practitioner
keeps a personal book or journal in which s/he records magickal
"recipes," dreams, invocations, songs, poetry and so on.
To most of the Craft, every religion has its own valuable
perspective on the nature of Deity and humanity's relationship to
it: there is no One True Faith. Rather, religious diversity is
necessary in a world of diverse societies and individuals.
Because of this belief, Wiccan groups do not actively recruit or
proseletize: there is an assumption that people who can benefit
from the Wiccan way will "find their way home" when the time is
Despite the lack of evangelist 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 following 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
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