(Wicca is one of the most popular and influential forms of modern Paganism.)
Wicca’s Answers To…
Who Is God?
Wicca worships the Triple Goddess (typically comprised by the Virgin, Mother, and Wise Woman/Crone) which is associated with the waxing, full, and waning moon phases. They also worship the Horned God, also known as Herne. This God and Goddess pair are sometimes given specific names and sometimes so revered as only to be named in ritual, simply called the Lady and the Lord. Wiccans believe that for the Divine to be complete and whole, it must be both male and female. All gods and goddesses, even of various faiths, are accepted as different aspects of one greater Divine Power. Like in other forms of Paganism, Wiccans also worship nature as divine.
Where Did We Come From? And Why Are We Here?
Wicca teaches reincarnation, in which the spirit is reborn to meet again the people with whom they had close personal connections in previous lives. Unlike other reincarnation beliefs, Wiccans believe that the goal is not to escape reincarnation on earth but to enjoy experiencing life repeatedly until the spirit has learned everything it possibly can. Once this has happened, and the spirit no longer reincarnates, it enters a blissful realm called “the land of youth” or “summerland.” Some Wiccans, however, do not believe in reincarnation and instead embrace a more naturalist ending of death, with the human bodies’ molecules decaying and returning to the earth, incorporated into other entities.
The ultimate goal of the practice on earth is “deep communion with the powers of Nature and of the human psyche, leading to a spiritual transformation of the self. “ Humans are here to worship the God and Goddess and reawaken one’s self to oneness with the universe.
How Do We Know?
Wicca has no central authority and is almost completely decentralized. Many Wiccans belong to covens, which meet to worship the Gods together and do magic. These covens usually involve an initiation process, in which new members are taught by the experienced. Teachings are handed down relationally—within covens, within families, etc.—and some claim to be inheritors of methods passed down from ancient times, long before the modern revival of Wiccan witchcraft, either through bloodlines and family ties or within particular student-teacher relationships.
While there is no authoritative text, many modern Wiccans look to the books of Gerald Gardner for inspiration and direction: his book of rituals and spells, the Book of Shadows, and his two best-known books Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959). These ideas were further developed by Alex and Maxine Sanders. But all of these writers and traditions only offer suggestions and guidelines; Wiccans stress personal experience and experiential knowledge.
What Do We Have To Do?
Wiccans celebrate eight major festivals, or sabbats, each year, all followed on “the wheel of the year.” These festivals mark the annual cycle: Winter and Summer Solstice (Dec. 20/21 and June 21/22), Spring and Autumn equinoxes (Mar. 20/21 and Sept. 20/21), and then four other festivals separating each of these major markers: Imbolc (Feb. 1/2), Beltane or May Eve (Apr. 30/May 1), Lughnasadh/Lammas/Loaf Mass (August 1/2), and Samhain/All Hallow’s Eve (Oct. 31/Nov. 1). Each of these celebrations begin at sunset and finish at sunset the next day. Wiccans also have celebrations called esbats in honor of their God/Goddess at each full moon. All of these celebrations and connected rituals are performed outside if possible, within the consecrated space of a circle, and typically end with the blessing of a chalice of wine and cakes to be shared by those participating.
Wiccans also practice magic, performing spells for healing or to help people with problems. Wiccans claim that contrary to popular portrayals, their magic is performed according to an ethical code, which prohibits them from using magic for personal gain or to harm another. They believe that negative magic returns multiplied to harm the perpetrator, according to the “Three-Fold Law.”
Wiccans also care greatly about the environment, and teach that people should strive to live in harmony with nature, with other people, and with themselves.
What’s Going On Today?
Although Wicca has its origins in ancient pre-Christian folk witchcraft, folklore, and ritual, it made its modern resurgence in the mid-twentieth century. Many point to Gerald Gardner as its revivalist when he published his books in the U.K. in the 1950s. Since that time, Wicca has continued to grow, particularly as it loses some its social stigma in relation to black magic and Satanism.
The pentacle is the most widely used and recognized symbol of Wicca. Some major symbols and objects within the religion include symbols representing the elements of earth, air, fire, water.
A Pentacle (a disc, usually of metal, stone or wood) is often used to symbolize earth and its properties: stability, material wealth and practical affairs. A small dish of salt or earth can also be used. An incense burner, a bell or a sword can be used to represent air and its properties: communication, insight and understanding. A candle or wand may be used to symbolize the qualities of fire: vitality, change and energy. A chalice of water symbolizes that element and its properties: cleansing, regeneration and love. (Pagan Federation, 2008, “Witchcraft Information Packet,” 5th ed.)
Other religions “tools” include a ritual knife called an “Athame,” the cauldron, which symbolizes creation and the Goddess, the broom, which is used to clear the sacred space for rituals, and the Stang, a forked staff which represents the Horned God.
What If I Want To Know More?
John MacIntyre (2005). “Wicca: An Introduction.” The Pagan Federation (Scotland). – This is an extremely thorough introductory article. This website also has other informative articles and resources.
Pagan Federation (2008). “Witchcraft Information Packet.” 5th edition. – This online booklet covers a range of information on modern Wiccan belief and practices, as well as FAQ.
ReligiousTolerance.org. “Wicca: a NeoPagan, Earth-Centered Religion.” – Scroll down on this page for a wide range of articles on Wiccan belief, practice, and modern presence in culture and the news.
BBC. “Wicca.” BBC Religions.
Pagan Federation. “Wicca and Witchcraft.”
ReligiousTolerance.org. “Wicca: a NeoPagan, Earth-Centered Religion.”