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Wicca

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For the pre-Christian wiccans see Volva. For the book series Wicca see Sweep Sweep and Circle Of Three.

Wicca is a Neopagan religion probably originally founded by the British civil servant Gerald Gardner in the 1930s. Gardner claimed that the religion was a survival of matriarchal religions of pre-historic Europe, taught to him by a woman named Dorothy Clutterbuck. Many believe he invented it himself, drawing on such sources as Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles G. Leland, Freemasonry and ceremonial magic; and while Clutterbuck certainly existed, Ronald Hutton concludes that she is unlikely to have been involved in Gardner's Craft activities.

The conventional wisdom is that the term wicca derives from the Indo-European root word of '*wic' & '*weik', meaning "to bend or shape." Another version of its origin is that it derives from an archaic/Old English word for wise, which is why Wicca is called the "Craft of the wise."

It appears that the word may be untraceable beyond the Old English period. Derivation from the Indo-European roots '*wic' or '*weik' is seemingly incorrect by phonological understanding.

The idea of primitive matriarchial religions was popular in Gardner's day, both among academics (e.g., Erich Neumann, Robert Graves, Margaret Murray) and amateurs. Later academics (e.g., JJ Bachofen, Carl Jung and Marija Gimbutas) continued research in this area, and later still Joseph Campbell, Ashley Montagu and others highly esteemed Gimbutas's work on the matrifocal cultures of Old Europe, but since her death her interpretation of the archaeological record has been called into question, and her theories of universal female deity are no longer considered credible in the mainstream. Some academics carry on research in this area (consider the 2003 World Congress on Matriachal Studies), and many amateurs are enthusiastic about it, but most academics hold serious reservations.

Wicca is a subset of the larger umbrella religious term "Paganism" or Neopaganism. Since its founding, various related Wiccan traditions have evolved, the original being Gardnerian Wicca, which is the name of the tradition that follows the specific beliefs and practices established by Gerald Gardner.

Table of contents
1 Beliefs and Practices
2 Wiccan Traditions
3 Morality
4 Wicca vs. Witchcraft
5 External Links

Beliefs and Practices

Most Wiccans worship two deities, the Goddess and the God sometimes known as the Horned God. Some traditions such as the Dianic Wiccans mainly worship the Goddess; the God plays either no role, or a diminished role, in Dianism.

Wiccans celebrate eight main holidays: four cross-quarter days called Samhain, Beltane, Imbolc (or Imbolg or Oimelc) and Lammas (or Lughnasadh), as well as the solstices, Litha and Yule, and equinoxes, Ostara (or Eostar or Eostre) and Mabon (see Wheel of the Year). They also hold Esbats, which are rituals held at the full and new moon.

Generally, the names are of ancient Germanic or Celtic holidays held around the same time, although two do not have any historical precedent. Ritual observations may include mixtures of those holidays as well as others celebrated at the same time in other cultures; there are several ways to celebrate the holidays.

Some Wiccans join groups called covens, though others work alone and are called "solitaries." Some solitaries do, however, attend "gatherings" and other community events, but reserve their spiritual practices (Sabbats, Esbats, spell-casting, worship, magickal work, etc.) for when they are alone. Some Wiccans work with a community without being part of a coven.

Wiccans weddings can be called "bondings," "joinings," or "eclipses" but are most commonly called "handfastings." Some Wiccans observe an ancient Celtic practice of a trial marriage for a year and a day, which some Traditions hold should be contracted on Lammas (Lughnasadh), although this is far from universal.

A much sensationalized aspect of Wicca, particularly in Gardnerian Wicca, is that some Wiccans practice skyclad (naked).

Many Wiccans use a special set of altar tools in their rituals; these can include a broom (besom), cauldron, Chalice (goblet), wand, Book of Shadows, altar cloth, athame (personal knife), altar knife, boline, candles, and/or incense. Representations of the God/Goddess are often also used, which may be direct, representative, or abstract. Aspurgers are sometimes also used.

There are different thoughts in Wicca regarding the Elements. Some hold to the earlier Greek conception of the classical elements (air, fire, water, earth), while others recognize five elements: earth, air, water, fire, and spirit (akasha). In either case, these are the elements of nature that symbolize different places, emotions, objects, and natural energies and forces. For instance, crystals and stones are objects of the element earth, and seashells are objects of the water element. Each of the four cardinal elements, air, fire, water and earth, are commonly assigned a direction and a color:

Elemental, directional correspondences, and colors may vary between traditions, however. It is common in the southern hemisphere, for instance, to associate the element fire with north (the direction of the equator) and earth with south (the direction of the nearest polar area.) Some Wiccan groups also modify the religious calendar to reflect local seasonal changes; for instance, in Australia Samhain might be celebrated on April 30th, and Beltane on October 31st to reflect the southern hemisphere's autumn and spring seasons.

Wiccan Traditions

There are many traditions, sub-traditions, and lineages of Wicca; some of the more well-known are Gardnerian Wicca, Alexandrian Wicca, Dianic Wicca, Seax-Wica and Faery Wicca. Also worth mentioning is the Feri Tradition, though this is not always considered Wiccan.

A generally accepted and informative book describing the various "paths" within the American pagan community is Margot Adler's .

Morality

Wiccan morality is ruled according to the Wiccan Rede, which (in part) states "An it harm none, do what ye will." ("An" is an archaic word meaning "if.") This very simple code is central to the understanding that personal responsibility, rather than a religious authority, is where moral structure resides.

Many Wiccans also promote the Law of Threefold Return, or the idea that anything that one does may be returned to them threefold. In other words, good deeds are magnified back to the doer, but so are ill deeds.

Some Wiccans also follow, or at least consider, a set of 161 laws often referred to as Lady Sheba's Laws. Some find these rules to be outdated and counterproductive.

For a summary of Wiccan views on homosexuality, see Neopagan views of homosexuality.

Wicca vs. Witchcraft

Though sometimes used interchangeably, "Wicca" and "Witchcraft" are not necessarily the same thing. The confusion comes, understandably, because both practitioners of Wicca and practitioners of Witchcraft are called witches. In addition, many, but not all, Wiccans practice witchcraft and vice versa.

Wicca refers to the religion; the worship of the God & Goddess (or just Goddess), and the Sabbat and Esbat rituals.

Witchcraft, on the other hand, is considered a craft, and is sometimes called "The Craft." Witchcraft usually refers to the casting of spells and the practice of magick (the use of the "k" is to separate the term from stage magic).

Practicing witchcraft requires no belief in specific gods or goddesses and is a learned skill, not a spiritual path. There are other Pagan Witches, "Christian Witches," "Buddhist Witches," etc. who also practice witchcraft.

The distinction between the two is not clear cut. There is crossover between the Pagan/Neopagan religions and Witchcraft (for example: the mention of Goddesses in spells, and the performance of spells during Sabbat rituals). However, the differences mentioned above are the general distinctions made between the two terms.

There is often an attempt to make a distiction between high magick (usually considered to be ceremonial, ritualistic magick) and low magick (usually considered to be Witchcraft, Voodoo, etc.) Ronald Hutton, in his book "Witches, Druids and King Arthur" (Hambledon & London: 2003) explores some of the scholarly attempts to differentiate high and low magick, and illustrates how it is often a rather subjective exercise.

The history of Wicca is a much debated topic. Generally, it is believed that Wicca is a modern invention inspired by the old Pagan religions, following the thesis of Dr. Margaret Murray. There is good evidence, however, that while the ritual side of Wicca is undeniably styled after late Victorian era occultism, the spiritual side is inspired by the old Pagan faiths, with Buddhist, and Hindu influences.

Gardner probably had access to few traditional Pagan rites and the prevailing theory is that many of his rites were the result of his expounding on the works of Aleister Crowley. Note, for example, the similarity between Gardner's "An it harm none, do what ye will" and Crowley's Thelemic "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law, Love is the law, love under will."

It is important to the understanding of Wicca to realize that while Wicca as we understand it is modern, both the practice of magick and the worship of a Mother Goddess and a God or Horned God are ancient. It would be fair to say Gardner merely took the idea and ran with it. His claims that Wicca was the "Old Religion" are false, and probably has hindered, rather than helped, Wicca gain widespread acceptance.

See also: Paganism, Neopaganism, witch, witch trials, New Age, Pan-Wiccan

External Links