Pagan Paths - Wicca
11th August, 1998
Origins and History
Wicca is the name of a modern Pagan religion. Its origins are mainly traced back to a retired English civil servant called Gerald Gardner. There is much debate as to whether Gardner revived or invented Wicca. Personally, I don't think it matters. What matters is what the religion teaches and asks of its believers. In the last few decades, Wicca has spread in part due to its popularity among feminists and others seeking a more woman-positive, earth-based religion.
A good general rule is that most Wiccans are Neo-Pagans but not all Pagans are Wiccans. Please consult the alt.pagan FAQ for more general information on Neo-Paganism.
Other types of Wicca include: Alex Sanders is widely thought to have acquired a Gardnerian book of shadows, with which he started his own "Alexandrian" tradition, initiating Janet and Stewart Farrar. Other well-known traditions include Raymond Buckland's Seax Wicca, Victor and Cora Anderson's Faery Wicca and feminist Dianic Wicca, which emphasizes the Goddess as put forward by such authors as Zsuzsanna Budapest. There are also branches of Wicca identifying themselves with various ethnicities and traditions such as druidism, shamanism and so forth.
As a whole, Wiccans value balance with a respect for diverse complexity, seeing sexuality and embodiment as essentially positive, spiritual gifts. There is a sense of personal connection to the divine life source, which is open to contact through "psychic power," mysticism or "natural magic."
The way in which Wiccans view divinity is complex. Most worship the Goddess and the God. They are often called the Great Goddess and her consort, the Horned God. This is a general rule and individual Wiccans or traditions may worship a specific Goddess and/or God or many Goddesses and Gods from a variety of pantheons.
Usually a Wiccan ritual will involve some sort of creation of sacred space (casting a circle), invocation of divine power, sharing of dance/song/food or wine and a thankful farewell and ceremonial closing. Rituals may be held at Wiccan "Sabbats" (seasonal festivals) or "Esbats" (held on the Full Moon) or to mark life transitions such as births, coming-of-age, marriages/handfastings, housewarmings, healings, deaths or other rites of passage.
Most Wiccans mark eight holiday "Sabbats" in the "wheel of the year," falling on the solstices, equinoxes and the four "cross-quarter days" on or about the first of February, May, August and November. The names of the Sabbats may differ between traditions, and many Wiccans also mark "Esbats," rituals for worship in accordance with a given moon phase (such as the night of the full moon).
The coven is the basic, cellular "congregation" for some Wiccans, but is often very formal, selective and closed, aiming for an ideal of "perfect love and perfect trust" among members. Many Wiccans probably begin and continue practice as "solitaries," whether before, after or while a member of a coven.
Wiccans also use a variety of tools such as the athame (knife), bell, cauldron, sword, wand and censor. All these tools have symbolic meanings.
Moral Teachings / Practical Ethics
Wiccan ethics are seldom codified in a legalistic way, but may be informed by some common expressions such as the "Wiccan Rede" and the "three-fold law." According to most versions of the three-fold law, whatever one does comes back to one thrice-multiplied, in amplified repercussion. There are no universal proscriptions regarding food, sex, burial or military service and Wiccans, as a rule, discourage proselytization (attempts to convert others to a different religion).
Wicca as a Living System
One element that attracts many to Wicca is that it doesn't claim to be the only path. There is no need to denegrate other peoples paths for ours to be valid. At a more practical level, Wiccans face many obstacles in practicing their faith (fear of job-loss, child-custody challenges, ridicule, vandalism and even violence) still keeps many Wiccans "in the broom closet," with concealment and dual observances a traditional Wiccan defense against persecution.
For more on the differences between Wicca and Witchcraft see the alt.religion.wicca FAQ.
The Book of Shadows (or "BoS") is sort of a customized reference book for Wiccans, containing useful information such as myths, liturgical items, one's own writings or records of dreams and magical workings. According to Gerald Gardner, such a book should be handcopied from teacher to student but in practice not every Wiccan has a "book of shadows" and few are exactly alike. This is especially true of Solitaires who often don't have a teacher from whom to learn. There are many "Books of Shadows" available in print and on-line.
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