What Law Enforcement Agencies Need To Know About Witchcraft
(This piece was written by an American Witch, and thus makes many references to USA-based places and material. However, the information it presents applies to the Australian scene.)
Below please find information on the modern religion of Witchcraft. After being the victims of hundreds of years of 'bad press', Witches are beginning to go public and to define themselves and their religion.
We hope, by this endeavor, to counteract the tendency to associate psychotic events or Satanic rites with the practices of our life-affirming beliefs. Moreover, we acknowledge the need to establish positive interfaith dialogue with members of other local religious communities.
Although there are a number of Witchcraft Anti-Defamation Leagues throughout the country, none are presently active in the Kansas City area. Thus, we at the Magick Lantern have compiled this information to provide an overview of Witchcraft, or Wicca, in its contemporary form. The Magick Lantern is a bookstore founded in 1984 to serve the occult community of Kansas City. Its owner, Mike Nichols, is an ordained minister of Wicca, with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of that office.
We have included in this outline a brief statement on each of the following:
EARTH RELIGION -- a religion whose main tenet is that the worshipper be in harmony with the Earth and with all life. Such religions oppose the idea that the world is a resource to be subdued and exploited.
PAGAN -- a practitioner of an Earth Religion; from the Latin 'paganus', meaning 'country dweller'.
NEO-PAGANISM -- a modern Earth Religion which borrows and adapts from the best of pre-Christian Pagan religions, sometimes with additions from contemporary religious thinkers.
WITCHCRAFT -- a magical Neo-Pagan religion with many diverse traditions derived from various cultural sources (though mostly European) around which Covens and solitary practitioners base their practices. Modern Witchcraft traditions include: Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Dianic, Celtic, Traditionalist, Faerie, NROOGD, Druidic and others.
THE CRAFT -- another name for Witchcraft.
COVEN -- a congregation of Witches, usually at least three but no more than 13 members.
WITCH -- one who worships the Goddess(es) and/or God(s) of Paganism, practices magic, and considers her/himself to be a follower of the spiritual path of Witchcraft.
MAGIC -- the conscious use of psychic energy, accompanied by ritual, to accomplish a goal; often spelled 'magick' to distinguish it from stage magic (such as sleight-of-hand).
SABBAT -- any one of the eight seasonal festivals equally spaced throughout the year, celebrated by individuals and Covens of Witches.
ESBAT -- any one of the 13 lunar festivals throughout the year, celebrated by Witches at the times of the full moon.
PENTAGRAM -- a five-pointed star, ancient symbol of good luck and protection. Displayed with one point up, it is the most common emblem of Witchcraft. When displayed inverted (two points up), it MAY represent negative magic (or Satanism), but not necessarily; some traditions of Wicca (chiefly British) use it as a POSITIVE symbol of advanced rank.
Q. What form does the practice of Witchcraft take?
Q. How do you see the Goddess?
Q. Do all Witches practice their religion the same way?
Q. Is Witchcraft a 'cult'?
Q. Do Witches have a bible?
Q. Do Witches cast spells?
Q. Do Witches worship the devil?
Q. Are Witches only women?
Q. How can someone find out more about Witchcraft?
Wicca, or Witchcraft, is an earth religion -- a re-linking with the life force of nature, both on this planet and in the stars and space beyond. In city apartments, in suburban backyards, and in country glades, groups of women and men meet on the new and full moons and at festival times to raise energy and put themselves in tune with these natural forces. They honor the old goddesses and gods, including the Triple Goddess of the waxing, full, and waning moon, and the Horned God of the sun and animal life, as visualizations of immanent nature.
Our religion is not a series of precepts or beliefs, but rather we believe that we each have within ourselves the capacity to reach out and experience the mystery -- that feeling of ineffable oneness with all life. Those who wish to experience this transcendence must work, and create, and participate in their individual religious lives. For this reason our congregations, called covens, are small groups which give room for each individual to contribute to the efforts of the group by self-knowledge and creative experimentation within the agreed-upon group structure or tradition.
There are many traditions or sects within the Craft. Different groups take their inspiration from the pre-Christian religions of certain ethnic groups (e.g. Celtic, Greek, Norse); in the liturgical works of some modern Witch poet or scholar (e.g. Gerald Gardner, Z Budapest, Alex Sanders, Starhawk, Raymond Buckland, Robert Graves); or by seeking within themselves for inspiration and direction. Many feminists have turned to Wicca and the role of priestess for healing and strength after the patriarchal oppression and lack of voice for women in the major world religions.
There are many paths to spiritual growth. Wicca is a participatory revelation, a celebratory action leading to greater understanding of oneself and the universe. We believe there is much to learn by studying our past, through myth, through ritual drama, through poetry and song, through love and through living in harmony with the Earth.
Despite competition from twentieth century 'life in the fast lane', the awesome spectacle repeated in the patterns of the changing seasons still touches our lives. During the ages when people worked more closely with nature just to survive, the numinous power of this pattern had supreme recognition. Rituals and festivals evolved to channel these transformations for the good of the community toward a good sowing and harvest and boutiful hunting.
One result of this process is our image of the 'Wheel of the Year' with its eight spokes -- the four major agricultural and pastoral festivals and the four minor solar festivals commemorating seasonal solstices and equinoxes. In common with many ancient people, most Witches consider the day as beginning at sundown and ending at sundown on the following day. Hence a sabbat such as November Eve runs through the day of November 1st. Solstice and Equinox dates may vary by a few days depending on the year.
April 30th (October 31 - Nth Hem) -- November Eve -- Samhain
June 22nd (December 21 - Nth Hem) -- Winter Solstice -- Yule
August 1st (January 31 - Nth Hem) -- February Eve -- Imbolc
March 21 -- Vernal Equinox -- Lady Day -- Ostara
October 31st (April 30 - Nth Hem) -- May Eve -- Beltaine
December 22nd (June 21 - Nth Hem) -- Summer Solstice -- Litha
Februrary 2nd (July 31 - Nth Hem) -- August Eve -- Lughnassad
March 21st (September 21 - Nth Hem) -- Autumnal Equinox -- Harvest Home
The roots of the religion called Wicca, or Witchcraft, are very old, coming down to us through a variety of channels worldwide. Although any general statement about our practices will have exceptions, the following will attempt to present a basic foundation for understanding. Some of the old practices were lost when indigenous religions encountered militant Christianity and were forced to go underground for survival. The ancient mystery religions were lost when the practice of the rites were stopped and the old verbal traditions were no longer available. Parents transmitted their traditions to their children down through the centuries with parts being lost and new parts created. These survivals, along with research into the old ways, provide a rich foundation for modern practice. Other factors contributing to the revival of the Craft are archeological and anthropological studies of the religious practices of non-Christian cultures, the works of the Golden Dawn and other metaphysical orders, and the liberalization of anti-Witchcraft laws.
Modern Witches hold rituals according to the turning of the seasons, the tides of the moon, and personal needs. Most rituals are performed in a ritual space marked by a circle. We do not build church buildings to create this ritual space -- all of Earth is in touch with the Goddess and so any place may be consecrated to use for a rite.
Within this sacred circle, two main activities occur -- celebration and the practice of magic. Celebration is most important at the major seasonal holidays, called Sabbats. At these times the myths of that particular holiday are enacted and dancing, singing, feasting, and revelry are all part of the festivities. On these occasions we celebrate our oneness with Life. Magic is more often performed at gatherings called Esbats, which coincide with the phases of the moon. Types of magic practiced include psychic healing sessions, the channeling of energy to achieve positive results, and work toward the individual spiritual development of the coven members. Magic is an art which requires adherence to certain principles. It requires a conscious direction of will toward a desired end.
It is an attribute of magic that what you direct your will toward will return to you three times. Therefore, Witches are careful to practice only beneficial magic.
When the celebration, teaching, or magical work is finished, the blessing of the Goddess and God is called into food and drink which are shared by all. The circle is opened and the space is no longer consecrated.
To create the circle and the working of magic, we use tools to facilitate a magical mood in which the psychic state necessary for this kind of work can be achieved. The tools are part of a complete and self consistant symbolic system which is agreed upon by the participants and provides them with a 'map' for entry into unfamiliar psychic spaces. Such a system, like a map, is arbitrary and not 'true' in an absolute sense; it is a guide to a state which is ineffable and can be most clearly reached through poetry and 'starlight' vision.
A primary tool, which is owned by most Witches, is an athame or ritual knife. The athame is charged with the energy of the owner and is used as a pointer to define space (such as casting a sacred circle) and as a conductor of the owner's will and energy. Other important tools are the symbols on the altar which denote the elements: earth, air, fire, and water (some 'maps' include spirit). A pentacle (a pentagram traced upon a disk, like a small dish) is often used to symbolize earth and its properties -- stability, material wealth and practical affairs. Alternatively, a small dish of salt or soil can be used to symbolize the earth element. A ritual sword is usually used to symbolize air and its properties - - communication, wisdom, and understanding. Alternatively, a thurible of incense or a bell may be used to symbolize the air element. A candle or wand is used to symbolize the element of fire and its properties -- will, transmutation, and power. A chalice of water is used to symbolize the element of water and its properties -- cleansing, regeneration, and emotion. In traditions which include the symbol of spirit, an ankh, quartz crystal, or some other object is used to symbolize spirit and its properties -- perfection, balance, illumination and eternity.
There are many other minor tools which are used for some specific purpose within magical workings, but the tools described above cover the basic tools used in the practice of the religion of Wicca.
Since these tools are merely the conductors of personal energies, as copper is a conductor for electrical energy, most covens provide some degree of training in psychic development to strengthen each memeber's ability to participate in the religious activities. Each individual decides what level of such training is useful for them. We see psychic abilities as a natural human potential. We are dedicated to developing this and all of our positive human potentials. The energies raised by these practices and other religious activities are directed toward healing ourselves and the Earth, and toward diverse magical workings.
'Drawing Down the Moon' (revised ed.) by Margot Adler
'Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft' by Raymond Buckland
'What Witches Do (2nd ed.)', 'Eight Sabbats for Witches', 'The Witches' Way', 'The Witches' Goddess', all by Stewart (& Janet) Farrar
'The Spiral Dance' by Starhawk
'Witchcraft Today' and 'The Meaning of Witchcraft' both by Gerald Gardner
'The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries (V. 1 & 2)' by Z. Budapest 'ABC of Witchcraft', 'Natural Magic', and 'Witchcraft for Tomorrow' by Doreen Valiente
'The Truth About Witchcraft', a Llewellyn Educational Guide
[NOTE: Much of the foregoing information was originally issued as a 'press release' by Covenant of the Goddess. While whole portions were left basically intact (aside from the correction of spelling errors), other sections (especially the material on holidays) were substantially rewritten and expanded by Mike Nichols, who assumes full responsibility for any inaccuracies thus incurred.]
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