Friday, June 10, 2005

What is Wicca?

There is nothing to prevent a thought, a type of morality or an art form from being the psychological equivalent of costuming the ego.
– Edward Sapir

When learning about Paganism/Wicca, I have been trying to keep a logical order of what I am studying/learning about so that I have a good base for later when I start to make some comparisons to other religions. While I now know that it will be difficult to keep it totally in order, I will do my best to do so.

I have previously asked the question – What is Paganism? but have not delved into what Wicca is. As I seem to be concentrating on Wicca right now, I need to answer that before I go any further. I have already talked briefly about the history, so now I will concentrate on what Wicca consists of (i.e. – the beliefs, the practices, the dogmas). I will also talk a little about what the above quote means to me at the end of this post.

Like Paganism in general, Wicca is a polytheistic religion that is nature based. Scott Cunningham, a writer of Wiccan books, goes as far as saying that Wicca is a Shamanistic in origin. They hold that their deities are not distant, but among us at all times. For their deities, the most often mentioned is the triple Goddess and the horned God. As a rule, most Wicca’s believe in reincarnation, their ideal of morality is summed up in “an it harm none, do what thou will”, and they utilize magic in the form of ritual, prayer, and other ways. There are 8 holidays, or Sabbats, in the Wiccan year. I have noticed that many that state they are Wiccan wear a pentacle as a symbol of their religion.

Traditional Wicca, as defined with the publication of Gerald Gardner’s book, is different from what most people think of as Wicca. I am proceeding under the assumption that Wicca was first brought to the public arena with Witchcraft Today and has started to evolve from there. His book outlines the beliefs, rituals, and practices involved in the religion that he says goes back through time, but instead are a very similar to what was written by anthropologists of the time. There have been numerous people that have noticed that there are similarities between what is in books such as Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe and what is in Witchcraft Today. It also needs to be pointed out that there is scholarly doubt upon Murray’s information. Many people believe that Gardner made up his religion from reading these works of anthropologists of the time.

Witchcraft Today, being that it is the first book on Wicca, also implies a correlation between being a Witch and being a Wiccan. They are one and the same in Gardner’s view, in other words. Most traditional Wiccans, those that have be initiated into a coven most likely by a group that can trace its roots back to Gardner, say that you DO have be initiated by a coven to be considered a “true” Wiccan. Not everything that is a part of their religion is written about in published books, or so I have read. That helps to maintains the mystery and secrecy that most are trying to obtain.

With the publication of thousands of books within the last 50 years, especially in the last twenty years, Wicca has gone from a traditional, ridgid initiation-based religion to a self-created, eclectic religion. Many people involved are not initiated into a coven for many reasons. These may include: they don’t know someone who has similar interests, just starting to learn about it but still consider themselves to be Wiccan, don’t like group dynamics, or no one to learn from – to name a few. Many of these eclectic Wiccans piece together what their idea of the religion is by books, publications, and internet sources. I have noticed many young people (aged 13-17), that state they can not learn Wicca from someone else because of lack of parental support of their decision. They either stop learning about it due to lack of information or they hide their sources. I also notice that many groups will not teach their faith to a youngster without parental permission and sometimes not at all because of stated legal issues.

Another thing noticed is that many of the Wiccan faith state that they consider themselves Witches, but others say that you don’t have to be a Witch to be Wiccan. I wonder – how many remember the title of the introductory literature of their religion? I would say that it implies that they ARE in fact Witches, as the founding father of the religion stated that they were. When starting this blog, I signed up for a couple of newsletters from One newsletter was called “Wicca in a Week.” The author, Terri Paajanen, states that the words “Witch” and “Wiccan” are different. This is a summary of that day’s newsletter:

Wiccan – A person that practices the religion of Wicca.

Witch –A person that practices witchcraft. Witchcraft is not associated with any religion, so a Witch can be of any religion.

I can not agree with these definitions as they go against what Gardner had implied with his title Witchcraft Today. From what I have seen of the “Wicca in a Week” newsletter so far, is that Ms. Paajanen follows a somewhat fluffy bunny approach to Wicca. Some of it is informative, while other stuff makes me scratch my head. I will write more about this newsletter in future posts.

Getting back the quote from the top of this post, I keep thinking about the girl who described her religion as unusual (mentioned in another post). Is she just looking for attention? I dislike that label because it implies that she doesn’t understand what she is doing and is too young to make good decisions on her own. (The “looking for attention” statement is usually directed at the young.) She seems to be seriously confused about what religion is. I think that is typical of today. Many people today claim to be one thing or another, but how many, when asked, actually practice or participate within their religion? Many state (at least on Pagan/Wiccan websites) that they struggle with regular practice.

Tomorrow, I will start talking about the different denominations of Wicca. I was going to do a sort of "family tree" but couldn't get it to work out correctly on a blog.


Cunningham, Scott; Wicca - A Guide for the Solitarty Practitioner
Lehmann, Arthur and James Myers; Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion
Paajanen, Terri; Witch in a Week newsletter; Day One

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