Wicca - Wiccan Free Minister Training
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These are some additional FAQs about Wicca. These were contributed by Melisa Michaels.
Q: What is Wicca?
A: Unfortunately there is no generally agreed-on definition of Wicca, which is why we end up with practitioners who believe "it's anything we want it to be." To oversimplify, Wicca is a Pagan or NeoPagan earth-based religion, all branches of which can be traced to the Gardnerian Tradition, founded in the UK by a retired civil servant called Gerald Gardner in the late 1940s. Like most Neo-Pagan spiritualities, Wicca worships the sacred as immanent in nature, drawing much of its inspiration from the non-Christian and pre-Christian indigenous beliefs of Europe.
Q: What's Neo-Pagan?
A: Neo-Pagan just means "New Pagan," derived from the Latinpaganus, meaning "country dweller" or "civilian." Some authorities feel paganus was applied to non-Christians because the cities were Christianized first, so most country-dwellers were non-believers. Others believe it was because Christians saw themselves as soldiers of Christ, so all non-believers were civilians. "Neo-Pagan" is used to show that the religion in question is a reconstruction rather than having survived whole cloth since antiquity.
Please note that neither Pagan nor Neo-Pagan is a negative term. Paganism is a legitimate spiritual perspective and is frequently cited as one of the fastest-growing spiritual orientations today.
The most commonly understood definition of "pagan" in the U.S. today seems to be "non-Abrahamic," but most Eastern Religions (which are not Abrahamic) are not considered Pagan. Some define "Pagan" as "anyone who is not Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu," which is better, but not by much; it still defines Pagans by what they are not, rather than by what they are. And not everyone who does not follow one of the five major religions is Pagan.
A better definition might be to say that paganism is "an affirmation of interactive and polymorphic sacred relationship by the individual or community with the tangible, sentient and/or nonempirical."1 Which is, admittedly, quite a mouthful, but it is precise and inclusive, and I like it.
Pagan or Neo-Pagan is the root, with Wicca a subset or "denomination," as Lutheran is a subset or denomination of Christianity. All Wiccans are Neo-Pagans, but not all Neo-Pagans are Wiccans.
Q: Don't Pagans worship rocks and stuff? Are Wiccans nature worshippers?
A: No. Wiccans revere nature as a creation of the gods and usually believe the gods to be immanent within it, but Wiccan worship is always of the gods, not of trees or rocks.
Q: What gods do Wiccans worship?
A: Most worship some form of the Great Goddess and Her consort, the Horned God, who are seen as equals, complementary rather than oppositional.
Q: Are Wiccans Goddess worshippers?
A: Not exactly. Most Wiccans find the worship of the Goddess without the God to be unbalanced and even hypocritical, since it is generally in rebellion against another religion. Wiccans worship both the Goddess and the God.
There is a Wiccan Tradition called the Dianic Tradition, which as far as I know does worship the Goddess in preference to but not to the exclusion of the God. I know very little about this tradition, however. My understanding is that the Dianic Trad addresses "women's mysteries," which is certainly a valid pursuit even though it tends to attract the overwrought.
Q: Don't Wiccans worship Satan?
A: The usual answer to this is that Wiccans don't believe in Satan, and in fact they don't believe in the Christian anti-God called Satan. However, "satan" means "adversary," and a distressing number of thoughtless practitioners of Wicca seem anxious to cast Christianity in the role of satan. They confront and combat Christianity as fiercely as ever they claim Christians have combated Wiccans or Witchcraft, and they are filled with hatred and intolerance for Christians.
"There is so much hatred in the Wiccan world! Listen to a Wiccan ranting about the injustices that the [Christ]ian laws have caused — listen to them recite, gleefully, all of the contradictions they can find in the Bible — listen to them blame the [Christ]ian God for all of the Holy Wars — then step back, take a good look," and you'll see why Christians think Wiccans have been misled by the Devil.
This is not the Wiccan way. Wicca is not about opposing Christianity. Wicca has nothing to do with Christianity. Christianity is a valid path for many, and as such it should be respected. Wicca is strong enough to stand on its own, having no need to tear down Christianity to sustain itself. Most Wiccans pride themselves on religious tolerance. That tolerance must include Christianity and Christians, or it is not tolerance at all.
Q: But what about the Burning Times? Nine million Wiccans were killed by Christians!
A: The "Burning Times" is a name given by Gerald Gardner to the great European witch hunts of the early modern period, seen by many Neo-Pagans as a crucial step in Christianity's theoretical crushing of the Pagan religions, driving them underground. Victims of these hunts are perceived as martyr witches by some Wiccans today, "with the lessons of intolerance, misogyny and religious terror clearly noted."
Unfortunately such Wiccans don't seem to recognize that by blaming today's Christians for the excesses of the Christian past, they are guilty of exactly the same ugly intolerance. Worse, by insisting that Christians killed Wiccans or Witches (or at least Pagans) in their witch hunts, they betray their own gullible superstition, similar to the gullible superstition of the Christians who killed their own in the name of their God.
"The witch-trials didn't begin until more than a millennia [sic] after the founding of Christianity. If the Church found these supposed pagans to be such a threat, they sure took their time in dealing with them."4
The "nine million" number for the victims of the witch hunts originated with Matilda Gage, a suffragist, early feminist, and advocate for civil rights, whose enthusiasm outpaced her research.5 "While millions of people might have been affected, the best estimates of recent historians range from 50,000 to 200,000 dead.... The earlier estimates ... were grossly exaggerated; no respectable historian supports them anymore. Modern figures concerning the number of executed witches are based on a much closer examination of the surviving historical records, combined with reasonable guesswork and statistical analysis for those areas and periods lacking clear sources."6 The tragedy is no less if a "mere" 50,000 died, nor does it matter whether they were Witches.
Most were not. Certainly they weren't Wiccans; Wicca was founded in the 1940s. It didn't exist at the time of the Witch hunts, so the victims can't have been Wiccans. In fact, no witch was ever executed for worshiping a pagan deity.7 The majority (if not all) of those killed in the witch hunts were Christian. It is true that most were women, not due to Christian misogyny, but only because it was thought that women were more likely to be Witches than men were.
Q: I've heard Wicca called the "Old Religion." Now you say it was founded in the forties. Which is true?
A: Wicca was founded in the 1940s. The founder first called it "Wica," then later changed it to "Wicca" to match the Old English "wicce," meaning witch, and "wicca," meaning sorcerer. There may well have been witches before Gardner, but not Wiccans, and even though some Wiccans have considerable difficulty grasping the concept, the two are not the same.
This confusion over the age of Wicca was begun by Gerald Gardner, but even he admitted that the parts of Wicca he claimed were ancient were also fragmented, so he had to fill in the blanks. He attributed his Book of Shadows to an ancient, clandestine Wicca coven run by "Old Dorothy," into which he claimed to have been initiated. However, modern researchers have concluded that it was composed by Gardner. The text shows influences from English and Celtic Folk-lore, the Enochian system of John Dee, Thelema, the Golden Dawn, Stregaria, Tantric Yoga, the KJV Bible, and even Kipling. 8
Even taking Gardner at his word, it is evidence of only one pre-Gardnerian "Wiccan" coven. Despite plenty of evidence of other secret occult groups such as the Knights Templar, there is no evidence whatsoever of any other pre-Gardnerian Wiccan covens.
Oddly, some Wiccans seem to feel that only old religions are valid, so against all logic, they insist that Wicca has been around since the dawn of time. They point to writers such as the late Dr. Margaret Murray to back their claims. Unfortunately the idea that Wicca or Witchcraft has survived intact for the 25,000 years that Dr. Murray claimed is preposterous, to put it kindly. We have only our interpretation of cave paintings to go on and cannot know what rituals cave dwellers performed, if any, much less what they believed. Dr. Murray's account was dismissed by scholars decades ago, largely because of her complete lack of supporting evidence.
Some of Wicca's sources do pre-date Christianity. However, few serious Wiccans believe that their religion is a direct, continuous descendent of an earlier religion. Instead, they see it as a vibrant modern reconstruction.
Q: I've heard that "Book of Shadows" thing mentioned before. What is that?
A: Each Wicca coven or solitary practitioner may have a Book of Shadows. It is a collection of myths, rituals, prayers, or whatever information the coven or Solitary wants to preserve. To see what they are like, you can read the original Gardnerian Book of Shadows on the Web.
Q: "Witch" is an ancient word, and so is "Wicca." Doesn't that prove Wicca or at least Witchcraft is an ancient religion?
A: "Christ" is an ancient word, too. Does that prove Christianity predates Jesus?
Incidentally Witchcraft is not a religion. There are religious Witches, of course, but the Craft itself is simply the practice of magic.
Q: Shouldn't that be spelled "magick"?
A: No, it really should not. Aleister Crowley is responsible for popularizing that archaic "k." The most common explanation for it is that it helps to differentiate between real magic and stage magic. This is specious. Regardless of spelling, nearly anyone of even average intelligence will be readily able to discern the difference between Pagan beliefs and David Copperfield. The real likelihood is that Crowley added the "k" to make his gematria fit.
Of course if you like to add the "k" because you think it looks kewl, by all means continue to do so. Like the witchypoo names some Wiccans adopt, there's no real harm in it, though some practitioners do find it a trifle embarrassing to have their religion associated with such antics.9 The school of thought here is that Wicca will not be taken seriously as long as its most visible practitioners behave in sophomoric ways, but I think that's a lost cause on the Internet, and that in any case being a source of amusement is safer than being feared.
Q: I keep hearing the term "fluffbunny Wiccan." What's that?
A: The fluffbunny Wiccan is one who is attracted to Wicca and has read a book, probably one published by Llewellyn Publications, and decided on that basis that they are Wiccan. The fluffbunny refuses to learn more, or to think for themself, or to consider the possibility that they or their fave author could ever be wrong (hello-o: anyone can be wrong, including thee and me)
Their grasp of history is usually atrocious. They will claim that Wicca is an ancient religion, that with the advent of Christianity Wiccans had to go into hiding and that's why there's no evidence of them prior to Gardner, and even that Wiccan sacred texts had to be burned during the "Burning Times" to keep people alive (Wicca is not a revealed religion. There are no sacred texts and never were). Some will mention the witches burned in Salem (there were no witches burned in Salem. Fourteen women and five men were hanged and one man was pressed to death. None was Wiccan or a witch).10
Most if not all fluffbunny Wiccans are Wiccan for show. They are generally out to shock, often their parents, but sometimes anybody at all. They dress to shock or alarm, complete with pounds of "religious" jewelry and sometimes temporary tattoos. Some tell of possessing a secret ancient Book of Shadows dating back to times when only the Christian clergy and perhaps the nobility could read and write, but none will ever produce such a book in demonstration. They have only a rudimentary grasp of even the most basic Wiccan principles; I have seen reference to "obeying" (not believing in) the "three-fold law of karma."
Obviously, these are not erudite people, but they are frightfully earnest, and in truth fluffbunny may for many be a legitimate stage on the way to an education, if they get past the initial refusal to learn and desire to impress.
A "whitelighter" or "whitelight bunny" is a special sort of bunny who recognizes the divine in all things good and fluffy, but not in things unpleasant or unappealing. For a whitelighter, Wicca is a gentle, happy, and ultimately very clean religion. This may be a permanent affliction.
Often fluffbunnies sport embarrassing names and aristocratic titles ("Lady Pixie Moondrip," "Lord Wolfsbane Starstumble") and claim to use "white" or "good" magic as opposed to "black" or "evil" magic. (Magic is magic, neither good nor ill, though it can be used for either. It has no color.) They have usually learned peculiar "truths" from their Llewellyn books such as that proper Witch attire is black cloaks and huge pentacles, Wicca is all sweetness and light, visualization and chanting over colorful candles is how one works "magick" (or other peculiar spellings of magic), and the Goddess and the God want only what's good for us.
Q: But the Wiccan deities are gentle and loving and want only what's good for us, right?
A: There is much about the God and the Goddess that is gentle, loving, beautiful, and bountiful. However, there is balance in the world. The God and the Goddess are equally the sunlit skies and the raging storm, the refreshing breeze and the devastating hurricane, the sweet spring rain and the killing flood. They are birth and death, health and sickness, joy and grief, because all these things are part of the natural cycle of life, and the cycle of life is what Wicca is all about. It is a deep and complex spiritual path, not a sunny walk in the garden with butterflies. (Though on a good day it certainly can be a sunny walk in the garden with butterflies.)
Q: Aren't Wiccans just Witches? Like in Harry Potter?
A: Harry Potter is fiction.
Wicca is a religion.
Witchcraft is a craft.
There are Witches who are Wiccans, and many Wiccans practice the Craft, but no matter how few Wiccans understand it, the two terms or not interchangeable. (Most Wiccans are Witches, but not all — and not all Witches are Wiccan.) And Harry Potter is still fiction.
Q: Is there a set Wiccan liturgy or liturgical calendar?
A: Most Wiccans observe eight holiday "sabbats" in the "wheel of the year." The names of these vary from trad[ition] to trad, but they fall on the solstices, the equinoxes, and the four "cross-quarter days" (on or about the first of February, May, August and November). Many Wiccans also observe "esbats," rituals for worship in accordance with a given moon phase (such as the night of the full moon).
Q: What is basic Wiccan Theology?
A: As with everything else, there is much diversity and some contention, but certain myths and associations seem common to many Wiccan traditions, such as the Wheel of the Year and the story it tells of the Goddess and the God and their ever-changing, ever-repeating relationship from courtship through death and rebirth. Wiccans on the whole are very appreciative of cycles: the cycle of the year, of days and moons and seasons, of life and death and rebirth.
Many Wiccans also believe in the immanence of Deity/Divinity within the natural world, ourselves, and the cycle of the seasons. This places value on the Earth and this world, and engages the believer in "green" activities and community service as a matter of religion.
Incidentally some feminist Wiccans use the word "thealogy" instead of "theology," because "thea" is Greek for "goddess," so "thealogy" emphasizes the feminine aspect. I find this as pointless as all the absurd spellings of magic. Theology does not mean "the study of the nature of male God," it means the study of the nature of Deity. No sex specified.
Q: If you're a Wiccan or Witch, why aren't you wearing that Satanic pentagram symbol they all wear?
A: I think you mean pentacle. The pentagram is a five-pointed star. The pentacle is that star in a circle. Wiccans, some Christians, and others use it, usually positioned with one point up. Satanists and some rock bands use it with one point down, sometimes for the shock value (as with an inverted cross) and sometimes because it means something quite different to them in that position.
However, just as not all Christians wear crosses, not all Wiccans and Witches wear pentacles. Even if they are wearing pentacles, in all likelihood you will not know it, since the pentacle is a protective amulet that is kept hidden to preserve its power.
Q: What are the main branches or traditions of Wicca?
A: The most well-known traditions are Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Dianic, and Seax Wicca. There are many more.11
Q: What is a coven? How can I join one?
A: The coven is the basic "congregation" for some Wiccans, but it tends to be a very formal, selective, and closed group and may be difficult to find. Most Wiccans who are looking for a coven to join start with Pagan gatherings, public rituals, classes, or environmental causes where some of the "tree-hugger" attendees may be Wiccan. Sometimes you can find an open group or "circle" by such means or through a local new age or occult book store. Websites where ULC ministers gather may provide online meeting places for ordained pagans, or you may find Pagans, Wiccans, or perhaps even a coven in your area through Witchvox.com.
Not all Wiccans join covens. Many are solitary practitioners by choice or necessity. Solitary practice is a valid tradition.
Q: The Bible says "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live...?"
A: Yup. Like so many oddities in the Bible, this may be a mistranslation in the King James version. It's possible the word was "chasaph," which I'm told is Hebrew for poisoner. Thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live. In general, neither Witches nor Wiccans do much poisoning, and it doesn't seem Christian to want to eradicate them just for their beliefs.
However, research shows the word may have been "kashaph," which means "sorceress," in which case I guess if you're Christian you're supposed to commit murder whenever you think you've got a sorceress cornered. This does surprise me. What I know of the Christ doesn't suggest He advocated anyone's slaughter, but perhaps His Father did. I admit I am not well-versed in Christianity.
1. Definition offered on the Nature Religions list as part of the process distinguishing paganism and nature religion and the question of whether one includes the other. —Michael York, Pagan Theology
2. Usenet alt.religion.wicca FAQ Starts right out confusing Witchcraft with Wicca. Accepts poor history for the sake of religious tolerance, which I consider a mistake. It is not hard to know reasonably accurate history, and all arguments worth making can be better supported by the truth than by false history.
3. Wicca For the Rest of Us, "The Burning Times or the More Persecuted than Thou Syndrome"
4. "OUR STRUGGLE IS FOR ALL LIFE": THE THEOSOPHIST/UNITARIAN FEMINIST PIONEER MATILDA JOSLYN GAGE (1826-1898 CE) Passages From Her Magnum Opus Woman, Church and State (1893): From Chapter Five, "Witchcraft"
5. King's College History Department: Common Errors and Myths about the Witch Hunts, Corrected and Commented by Brian A. Pavlac, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History
7. Sacred Texts Web Site, The Gardnerian Book of Shadows
8. Wicca For the Rest of Us, "Fluffy Bunnies"
9. Salem Witch Museum
10. Pagan Traditions, an Overview of Belief Systems, at The Witches' Voicev