Monday, January 08, 2007

The Essence of Wicca

Trying to distill the essence of Wicca is a bit like trying to answer the question "What is art?" You can circle around the question and get close, but the amount of information is vast and everyone you ask will have a different answer. I do believe, though, that with Wicca, as with art, it is possible to arrive at a few core ideas that serve to represent the essential elements of the thing at hand.

Strictly speaking, Wicca is the religion created by Gerald Gardner and revealed to world in the 1950's after Britain repealed its anti-witchcraft laws. Following in the footsteps of nineteenth-century scholars who led a resurgence of interest in ceremonial magic and regional mythology, Gardner had a deep interest in the occult and studied a number of mystical traditions before compiling his knowledge into his book Witchcraft Today. He worked with Doreen Valiente to build the tradition of Gardnerian Wicca and his student, Raymond Buckland, brought the tradition to North America. Based on information about ancient traditions that could be cobbled together from archeological evidence, ancient texts and reasonably informed speculation, drawing specifically on Celtic, Saxon and Germanic traditions, Wicca became the modern expression of the "Old Religion." That same repeal of the Witchcraft Act allowed many other practitioners of witchcraft, who had been carrying on their hereditary traditions in secret for many years, to emerge and create movements of their own. Women dissatisfied with the oppressive, patriarchal nature of traditional religions were drawn to the renaissance of goddess religions and created feminist branches of Wicca. In 1972 Wicca became a legally recognized religion in America and ordained priests and priestesses have the same rights as traditional clergy. Today there are many forms of Wicca, analogous to the various denominations that fall under the umbrella of Christianity.

But what IS Wicca?

Wicca is a nature-based spiritual practice, meaning that it is fundamentally connected - both in belief and practice - to the cycles of life in nature and in the belief that the Earth is the Great Mother. It is based on practices of ancient peoples who lived close to nature and whose survival depended on their ability to attune to its power and changes. The Moon was their first calendar, and they viewed the cycles of the Sun as a divine force governing their lives. This led to the eventual acceptance of the three phases of the Moon as representations of a Triple Goddess - maiden, mother, crone - and the Sun as the embodiment of the God who was her son, lover and consort. The concept of Moon and Sun as the highest expressions of the divine spirit are one of the few basic tenets of the Wiccan faith that are generally accepted across various traditions, although some traditions place the Goddess in a more prominent role. Just as the ancients attached deities to specific places, objects or animals, most modern Wiccans believe in the existence of elemental or nature spirits. This is not the same as worshipping nature; instead it is venerating nature as a tangible sign that the creator of all things is alive and well and dwelling both within us and outside of us. The common Wiccan expression "As above, so below; as within, so without" holds at its core the belief that if deity can create, so can we.

Wicca is often referred to as the Craft of the Wise. The very word Wicca is derived from a number of etymological roots that range in meaning from "wise" to "to bend and to shape," "to practice witchcraft," "to bewitch or divine the future," to "holy." Wicca refers to the modern revival of witchcraft. Though you can make a strong distinction between the definition of witch and Wiccan, or between witchcraft and Wicca, most practitioners accept both words and identities. Whatever their particular form of spiritual expression and its practical application, all Wiccans believe in their own personal ability to connect to divine and to effect change through the active direction of intent.

As much as it is a belief system filled with the mysteries of the past, Wicca is a living religion. It lives both in the sense that it changes and adapts according to the acquisition of knowledge and from necessity and the desire of its practitioners, and in the ways that Wiccans integrate our spirituality into our daily lives. Every thought, word, action and breath is a manifestation of the divine that lives within each one of us.

1 comment:

Sojourner said...

It lives both in the sense that it changes and adapts according to the acquisition of knowledge and from necessity and the desire of its practitioners...

I agree that this concept of continual change is part of the essence of Wicca and Paganism in general. In a religion that is in its beginning stages of forming, change is something that not only will happen as people add to the body of knowledge, but should happen as we incorporate that new knowledge into the systems of beliefs.