What is Wicca? What is it not?
I wanted to make this journal because among the Wiccans here (This was originally published for Deviantart.) I noticed a lot of misconceptions. Misinformation that they are actually spreading as “fact”. (The loudest of us seem to be historical revisionists, who hate Christians and Satanists.) I do not hate either. I am not going to insult people of either religions. But these bad ideals are some of the reasons why sites like “Wicca for the rest of us” exist.
Most are Neo-Wiccans, as I am also, now I won’t get into the debate of who is a real Wiccan and who is not. There is a big debate of initiation vs those that are not, and those who can trace lineage to Alexander Sanders or Gerald Gardner. In the main Wiccan traditions, people have differing opinions on it. Doreen Valiente seemed okay with non-initiation, but she also considered all witchcraft as a “religion”. As did Gardner, he mentions other covens’ practices that are not from his lineage. For the sake of this journal, I will be just using the term “Wicca” for pretty much everyone practicing. Neo-Wicca, which is the most popular form of Wicca, is not initiation based and is based on outer court material that has been released publicly, as well as other writers that are popular in Wicca. This is what most of the journals I have seen are based on, which contains some bad information. (Traditional Wiccans do not usually have a problem with misinformation from my experiences.) I will likewise explain why these bad ideas exist about Wicca.
What is Wicca?
A nature based religion that combines elements of witchcraft. It celebrates seasonal cycles that are on tune with nature. It was started by an Englishman and civil servant, in the 1950’s, named Gerald Gardner, who originally called it “the Wica“, and believed it to be the same as witchcraft. (More on that later.) Likewise, he believed in the Witch-cult hypothesis, about the continuous worship of the horned god and an underground witch cult that survived from the stone age. (This hypothesis has long since been debunked, but at the time, science and archaeology was in it’s infancy.) Gardner claimed to have been initiated into the cult in the 1930’s, called the New Forest Coven. The coven agreed to have Gardner go public about their existence because they feared dying out and with information he could share, he did just that. He published Witchcraft Today, for example, about the coven, after the witchcraft laws in England were repelled. When the anti-witchcraft laws were still around he published a work of fiction that disguised some facts called High Magic’s Aid. The publicity worked because later he got more people to join his new coven that he started including the “mother of witchcraft” Doreen Valiente, who eventually became his high priestess and wrote much on Wicca.
Most things you read may say that Wiccans venerate a god and goddess. You could say that we “worship” a god and goddess, as most claim, but this is over-simplifying things. While Wicca includes the moon goddess and her consort, the horned god, there is much more than this. Other gods and beings can be included and since belief is not a requirement of Wicca. (Despite some claims to the contrary.) There are people from a diversity belief sets in Wicca. Anywhere from pantheists to atheists are Wiccans. You can ask individual Wiccans and get a wide range of beliefs. (Atheists generally see the gods as archetypes and if they forsake the supernatural, they could see everything as purely psychological.) The drygten is also honored as the “force” behind the gods, in Wicca. But it is not worshiped. Gardner called this the “prime mover“. This “force” was even mentioned in Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A guide for the solitary practitioner, but is now, it seems, ignored by most people. (At least Neo-Wiccans.)
While the god and goddess are considered equals as symbols of the male and female in nature, the goddess is given a tad bit more prominence. (This too, can differ in variable covens where sometimes the god is given more attention.) The goddess supposedly created the god, a myth which was taken from the book Aradia: The Gospel of witches, where Diana created her brother Lucifer. Before then there was nothing, and from her the Lucifer was born. Similar is the goddess, but she has more lore than that. Not only does she give birth to the god, the seasonal cycles are symbols of the god’s death after impregnating the goddess with himself, so that he can be reborn anew by the time spring appears. Just as the plants wither and decay, and die, then come back and are alive, so is the god in a continuous cycle of death and rebirth.
The names of the two main gods are oath-bound information in coven format, and may differ from coven to coven. Each coven has their own names for them. The original god and goddess of Wicca, from Gardner’s works is Aradia, the Italian witch goddess, and the Gaulish horned god Cernunnos, lord of the forest. (There are also personal coven names as I tried to explain before that are unknown.) In the book Aradia is from, she is sometimes confused with her mother Diana, but she should be paired with Lucifer. This was taken out as Gardner cited “nothing to do with Satan”, even though Lucifer of pagandom is not Satan of Christianity. (Lucifer is a Roman god originally.) Doreen Valiente asserted it was “too strong meat” for the witches at the time, which is why Lucifer was omitted in favor of Cernunnos.
All Wiccans are considered witches, even male Wiccans are witches. Most Wiccans have their own personal practices outside the coven or the main practices, their own spells, guides, and ways of doing things. They may even honor or worship other beings besides the two main ones. (Other gods or even angels.) Wiccans keep of book of spells, a grimoire, called “Book of Shadows“. This is based on how Gardner conducted things, and he and Alexander Sanders have their own Book of Shadows for their respective covens and lineages. (I will cover other traditions in a section below.) In coven traditions rituals are usually conducted “sky-clad” or in the nude, or most private rituals are by the group. This is thought to help the magickal energy along when it is raised, while clothes kind of constrict it. As for solitary practice, sky-clad is not mandatory and the practice varies.
What is witchcraft?
When Wiccans speak of “witchcraft” they’re not speaking of the anthropological or textbook definition of “witchcraft”. (This goes for other Neopagan groups as well.) The textbook definition of “witchcraft” is that of “harmful magic” cast, whether intentionally or unintentionally, by a person, usually a woman. They generally wish ill will towards people and may cast the evil eye. A Wiccan does not usually cast harmful magick at all. (“Magic” is used for things like stage magic generally, and “magick” is used by Wiccans, taken from Aleister Crowley, for the supernatural kind.)
What they mean by it is the general term for sorcerer or a magic user. All Wiccans are thought to be witches, but not all witches are Wiccans. Wiccans use magic for a variety of reasons, mostly to improve themselves, their lives, and others. Every now and then a coven or solitary may use harmful magick, but this is typically in defense. Gardner did not blame witches for this in Witchcraft Today, using certain magick against their oppressors. It is also known that his coven performed a spell to ‘attack’ the Nazis during World War II and it was thought that it really did keep the Nazis out of England and from them attacking. (Two people died after this ritual supposedly, and at first, it was presumed because they raised so my energy for the spell. But in reality they got sick since they were outside, sky-clad, and did not oil up with goose grease like they were supposed to, to protect against the cold.)
A witch can be any religion, race, creed, or gender. (etc) A witch is simply one who practices witchcraft, and there are now Satanic witches, Christian witches, pagan witches, secular witches, and Buddhist witches even, in the world. Most people use this term as we do, where it is a magick user. One must always remember, that witchcraft and magick in general, is a tool, and can be practice within or without a religion.
Why do some people confuse witchcraft with Wicca and use them as synonymous terms?
This is because this is what Gardner, Valiente, and others did before them. It has been repeated so often that many people just use the terms as Gardner and Valiente did. They believed it was a religion called “witchcraft”, that there were other traditions of witchcraft within but the same religion. You cannot blame them as people such as Margaret Murray, who made big “discoveries” on her witch-cult hypothesis, were considered adequate historians and scientists. They were going by the bad history of the era, and now it is usually still repeated by Neo-Wiccans. On that note, Gardner believed that you should not be a witch alone, and Valiente later write in ABC’s of Witchcraft that witches do not need initiation and could be solitary. A belief she shared with Scott Cunningham, a prominent Wicca author.
There is a lot of confusion among Neo-Wiccans about ethics. The main one is the “harm none” thing from the Wiccan rede. Many interpreted this as being strict pacifism, almost in a Buddhist sense, they may even be vegans, or just not harming anyone in the magickal sense because they fear the 3 fold law of return. (Whatever you put out is supposedly returned to you 3 fold.) While if this were totally true in ia pacifistic sense, than many Wiccans would not be in the military or law enforcement, either. But we need to look deeper at these things before we jump to conclusions.
The Wiccan rede states “An it harm none; do what ye will“, means basically, “if it harms none, do what you must“. ‘An’ is an archaic word for “if”, while “rede” means “advice”. So, this is not a law at all and people should stop touting it as such. It is a bit of advice, and it is in fact based on Crowley’s earlier law; “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will.” The rede actually has a few more lines and is a poem that has been revised over the years by Doreen Valiente, who if I recall correctly, was also the first to publish it.
I think it is good advice, especially for those new to Wicca. Casting negative spells is where no one should start out in the occult, Wicca or otherwise. I would question anyone who only wants to use their power to harm other people or abuse it on other people, anyway. There are times when such harm is needed, but it is not for people who are starting out and want to seriously practice Wicca. I think most people would agree on that much. Wicca is not about curses and hexing, either. Likewise, it does not condone most violence, or seek out converts.
The Law of Threefold Return
I had mentioned this earlier, about this law. It basically states that whatever you do comes back to you times three. Good or bad. Think of it like karma. It’s mostly used as fear mongering in some pagan communities, it kind of replaced the boogeyman or Satan, for some of those who found the Craft after leaving Christianity. The belief can at times, do more harm than good. I would question anyone who only acts moral in fear of “divine” retribution, anyway. There are good reasons you should be ethical, and always being afraid of an invisible boogeyman is not one of them. (Not knocking anyone who believes this, but I found a lot of Wiccans do not.)
The law is not realistic. There are people who get away with their crimes and are never punished. There are some people who get undeservedly rich, too, or good things happen to them. You can’t explain this is simplistic terms of past life “karma” or the law of return, which only concerns the present life. There is just no “supernatural” explanation in a lot of cases, and people get what they do and do not deserve all the time.
The 161 laws, are generally though of, as a guide for covens and were found in Lady Sheba’s Book of Shadows. It is supposed Gardner wrote them and that he did so to put Doreen Valiente, who was high priestess at the time, in her place. Doreen had never heard of these “laws” nor anyone else, and they were sexist, requiring a younger priestess to “replace” her. Valiente had been a HP for awhile by then, so that seemed odd to her. Eventually she the “new” laws, that were claimed as “ancient”, made her leave Gardner’s coven with some other disgruntled people. Valiente later joined several other covens, but that is another story.
These laws are archaic, outdated, sexist, and ageist. Many Wiccans have expressed their dissatisfaction of them. They are not taking seriously even in Gardner’s lineage lines. They are a good bit of history and that is it. But they are not laws one should follow.
Sexuality & gender
Wicca accepts all sexuality, as long as the sexuality or sex is not harmful in any manner. By “harmful” I mean “non-consensual”, unhealthy, and abusive. That being said there are Wiccans of every flavor of sexuality; from homosexuals, polyarmorous, monogamous, to asexuality. By Wiccan standards, sex is considered natural and beautiful, something to celebrate. Something that is a part of the goddess and god. (Which is why there are fertility elements in Wicca.) Wiccans do not see sex in the way much modern culture (American) does where even nudity is wrong, rather nudity and sex are natural. Wicca has no concept of sin, although individual members can hold their own beliefs. (Sin was originally a pagan concept.) It does not shame anyone for their sexuality. After all, one of the biggest figures in Wicca, Scott Cunningham, was a homosexual.
Gender is a bit more of an issue. Not in solitary circles and there is nothing against any gender in Wicca, really. But in coven circles there are some covens who may exclude men, women, or transgender people, among others. Maxine Sanders, Alex Sanders’s wife, has gone on record and made some anti-trans statements, but she has received backlash for this by other Wiccans. In general, most Wiccans are not against any gender or gender identity. Solitary and otherwise, but there are still controversial figures such as Z. Budapest who founded Dianic Wicca and excludes both transgender and men.
Wiccans & sacrifice
There may be a lot of sacrifice shaming in the Wiccan community towards other practices, especially of things such as auto-sacrifice or giving one’s old blood and animal sacrifice. I don’t know of any Neo-pagan who has actually done human sacrifice and in any case, I would believe Wicca is against human sacrifice. Some may say it is against all blood sacrifices, I am inclined to disagree with them. Gardner wrote in Witchcraft Today about Crowley and possible other covens of the Wica, who use blood letting in practice, he did NOT shame anyone for practicing that way nor was he entirely for it. (He certainly was not against it.) There may be some Wiccans who use blood letting to power up their spells, and I have even heard of one who burned runes into herself. But they are not the main practice or focus of Wicca, newbies should be advised against these sorts of practices.
As for animal sacrifice, I have heard of virtually no one who is a Wiccan and does this. I wouldn’t think the Horned god is completely against it either, as most animal sacrifices are hunting food with a few extra rites, and I am sure many rural Wiccans may kill their own food locally on their farms as they are self-sustaining. They could just add extra rites to it, and then eat the chicken. Not a big deal, but again, no one who is Wicca that I know of does this or has done this, and I certainly never have done it and probably never will. Human sacrifice is completely off limits. No Wiccan is going to sacrifice people to their gods.
Other types of sacrifice, such as the giving of food to the gods, or maybe even fasting may be done individually. In fact giving food and making cakes, is part of certain Wiccan rituals. Offerings of food are some of the most common offerings to the gods in Wicca. Specifically, during things such as Samhain. Fasting would only be a thing in a personal practice, no coven I know does it. Most Wiccan rituals, if not all, do not involve any blood whatsoever.
The afterlife in Wicca is something as subjective as the existence of gods in Wicca. You can get a million different answers depending on who you ask. Some say Wiccans go to summerland where the dead reside before their next incarnation, or it is just a general afterlife, similar to old pagan beliefs of the underworld. Others believe everyone just reincarnates. Belief in reincarnation is common among Wiccans. But there is nothing in Wicca on what to believe. It is just a matter of individual preference. There is usually not a belief of a rewarding heaven for those who are good, and a punishing hell for those who are bad. Wicca definitely does not encourage such beliefs, but one can believe in them if they want.