"...let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you."
"An' it harm none, do what ye will."'
The Wiccan Rede.
Wicca is a fertility-based religion founded in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner, supposedly based as much as possible on pre-Christian British traditions and ceremonial magic societies/orders. Exactly what defines a Wiccan depends on who you ask, but at least one rule is consistent: "Wiccan" is not
a fancy word for "witch," and "Wicca" is not a catch-all term for any neo-pagan religion. Neither is it a term for someone who practices "whatever feels right," even if they take some of their practices and beliefs from Wicca. (That's called eclectic paganism - not that there's anything wrong with it; it's just not Wicca.) Note that the number of people who call themselves Wiccan but do not meet this definition (often because they do not belong to an initiatory tradition or do not follow all these beliefs) is much greater than those who do.
In general, there are two main types of Wicca. The first type is coven-based, where adherents gather together to practice their religion. The oldest form of Wicca, established by Gardner himself (hence known as Gardnerian Wicca) is coven-based and is an orthopraxic mystery religion. Orthopraxic means that correct practice is more important than correct belief (orthodoxy). Like all coven-based forms, its core practices are oath-bound and are not taught to cowans, or outsiders. This means that you can't actually practice Gardnerian Wicca as you'll have no way of actually knowing what a good chunk of the vital practices and rituals actually are. While there are many books about
Gardenarian Wicca, there are no books that actually contain these core practices or Mysteries; at best, the books contain "outer court" information comprising of some history and generic neo-pagan beliefs and practices. However, since the original "Gardnerian" Book of Shadows has been printed multiple times, including what were (formerly) the secret names of the Goddess and God, most Gardnerian and Alexandrian covens have since augmented the original material with additional, actually still secret stuff. Also, it should be noted that because some of the rituals are sexual in nature (although a far cry from orgies), no-one under the age of 18 is allowed to be initiated for legal and moral reasons.
Whilst Gardnerian Wicca was for some time the first and only form of Wicca, many other varieties have risen up around it. One of the first of these, founded by first-degree Gardnerian
initiate Alex Sanders, is Alexandrian Wicca, loosely based on its predecessor. Together with a handful of other coven-based forms tracing their heritage back into the New Forest region where Gardnerian Wicca sprang from, these sects comprise what is today known as "British Traditional Wicca", or BTW. However, many other "denominations" of coven-based Wicca have arisen since the evolution of BTW.
The other type is solitary, which is almost the exact opposite of coven-based forms. Firstly, practitioners are given more leniency in their beliefs and practice. Whilst the core tenets of Wicca are there (e.g. belief in the God and Goddess, the Wheel of the Year, the 3-fold law & Rede, etc.), solitaries may also hold different opinions regarding various topics, such as with adherence to different theories of magic. Solitaries also differ from coven-based Wiccans in that they freely share religious information, their primary sources being: the wide variety of books published regarding Wicca and similar metaphysical subjects, such as Buckland's complete guide to witchcraft, and ideas inspired by their own meditations, known as Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG). Because of the accessibility of materials and much greater number of outlets for solitaries, it is this face of Wicca that is the most familiar to non-Wiccans.
Exactly who has the right to call themselves a Wiccan has been debated. Some argue
that Wicca without the Mysteries isn't truly Wicca, the same as Catholicism without baptism and communion wouldn't be Catholicism. This isn't to say that the path isn't valid and that the person doesn't have the right to practice and believe what they feel is right, but simply that calling their practice and beliefs "Wicca" would be superficial and meaningless. Others argue that the term can be applied to any path derived from Gardnerian Wicca, Mysteries or no. However, most Wiccans and Pagans (Druids and such) separate Gardenarian\Alexandrian Wicca from other types, and consider them all valid.
Aside from this, Wicca is often misunderstood by other religions and Hollywood, and there are many unfortunate misconceptions. Wiccans do not worship the devil (the character simply doesn't exist in their theology), nor does their pentacle
symbolize the devil. And before you ask, they typically consider spells to make specific people fall in love with you unethical, as it interferes with free will. Most do not go around cursing people, as they believe in the "three-fold law," which states that any action you do, good or bad, will return to you thrice over.
Whilst magic is a central theme of Wicca it is nothing like what you see in Hollywood or in role-playing games, but works in a manner more analogous to prayer (in fact, in Wicca, magic is most simply defined as "focused prayer"). Wiccans do not try to cast fireballs, nor do they fly on brooms, nor otherwise attempt impossible magical feats like you see in Harry Potter. Also, Wiccans do not sacrifice humans or animals (much less eat babies), nor do they proselytize. They are not on a mission to destroy or undermine Christianity (let alone lure Christians into a front group for Satanic worship). They are typically content to let Christians be as long as Christians let them be.
Wiccans worship the "God and Goddess of the [British] Isles," also referred to as the Lord and the Lady. Different covens have their own names for the Lord and Lady, but these are not revealed to cowans (solitaries also sometimes choose their own names to recognise the Lord and Lady by). They use the pentagram/pentacle to symbolize the five elements - air, earth, fire, water, and spirit. Others, even within traditions, may worship a personal patron (sometimes more than one), which may be chosen from the Norse, Greek or other pantheons, in addition to the Celtic, and may incorporate other practices (such as Shamanism and Reiki) which are of non-Celtic origin.
Males who practice magic are simply called witches. The term "warlock" is said to refer to those who break the sacred oaths taken during initiation and divulge the Mysteries to non-Wiccans, and the actual etymology of the term 'warlock' indeed derives from "oathbreaker" in Old English. It is also quite offensive to call one such. The terms "wizard" and sorcerer/sorceress (and similar) are almost never used.
Wicca became "mainstream" to an extent during The Nineties
. The polemic writings of Silver Ravenwolf became popular, movies such as The Craft
were released during this period, TV shows such as Charmed
and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
featured Wiccan characters, and the Harry Potter
books, while not about real-life witchcraft in any way, inspired a few young people to take up witchcraft. Such portrayals were almost always inaccurate, sometimes confusing Wicca with either Satanism, other varieties of Neopaganism, or straight-up wizardry.
has some more in-depth information on the beliefs and origins of Wicca. Also, there are many, many
myths and misconceptions about Wicca that would take forever to put up here, but are dealt with here
, and here
- Above Good and Evil: Related below, the God and Goddess embody all of nature which includes disease, pain, and sorrow. Acknowledging their "dark" aspects is crucial in understanding the Divine.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: A school of thought on the nature of the Divine says that the forms humanity has given it, such as the various deities (including the Triple Goddess), are merely attempts to understand a being ultimately beyond human comprehension if viewed in its entirety.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: The God and Goddess represent various aspects of nature and life.
- Anti-Magic: Salt is commonly used for ritual purification. However, if you leave it around your ritual space it may simply stop magic from working.
- Brand Name Takeover: Some people mistakenly refer to any neo-pagan or witch as a Wiccan, or use the word "Wicca" to refer to any generic brand of neo-paganism. Actually, many religions practice witchcraft, including Voudoun. It gets especially frustrating when it's a person insisting on calling their personal brand of neo-paganism "Wicca" when, at best, their path bears only a superficial resemblance to Wicca.
- Broken Base: Over the issue of whether or not those who aren't in lineaged covens (and therefore, do not know the Mysteries) have the right to apply the name "Wiccan" to what they practice.
- Notice how schizo this very page is; part of it insists Wicca is a mystery religion that only those initiated can truly follow, while other sections mention the information is available to anyone willing to look for it.
- Both of those statements are largely true; on the one hand most of the important information (even the mysteries) is pretty easy to find if you know where to look, on the other, Wicca, like all mystical religions really, is highly experiential, and you probably won't experience the mysteries as intended without being in a proper coven.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : The three-fold law states that whatever you do will come back to you three-fold. So if you do evil...
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Magic works this way, though not to the extent that you can summon fireballs or teleport yourself. Also, most agree that magical tools are just props to help you get into the right frame of mind to work magic.
- Cool Old Lady: The Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess alternates between this and Granny Classic.
- Crossover Cosmology: You will meet Wiccan devotees of gods and goddesses across several different pantheons. This is very confusing to non-Wiccans. The broadest answer to this is that a Wiccan invokes their gods in a Wiccan context (i.e. rituals, prayers, spells, etc.) and ascribes to the Wiccan worldview. However, it is respectful to the deity in question to not invoke said deity without developing a good understanding of who they are and what role they play in the original myths. In other words, do not invoke Aphrodite if the only thing you know about her is that she's a "love goddess".
- Dark Is Not Evil: The Book of Shadows wouldn't get such a name if it were an evil artifact. For that matter, while not an opinion shared by some wiccans, there is a certain motif of balance (which could be translated as a natural equilibrium, which would naturally include darkness and light), and the male god is occasionally reffered to as "The Horned God", similar to pre-wiccan pagan gods such as Cernunnos, which are sometimes mistaken as Satanic.
- Can be interesting when you run into someone who uses dark symbols nearly exclusively. It can be startling if you're not used to it.
- The Sacred Darkness
- Demonization: It gets a lot of this. You'd think from listening to some people that Wiccans are Satan-worshiping baby-eaters or manic nature worshipers/environmentalists/hippies. It also has a reputation as a religion for women and gay men. Fact is, there are plenty of straight men who are Wiccans. Wiccans care about nature, but they aren't necessarily radical hippies, and they certainly don't eat babies (they'd be as horrified as anyone else at the prospect) or worship Satan.
- This is actually quite often due to simple ignorance; because the people who tend to demonize are the ones who are fundie Christians, they tend to think they should refuse to question 'The Bible', even if what they're not questioning is a potential translation error\out of context. It gets amusing when fundie Christians try to refute Wicca—one video cited a 'Wiccan' who worshipped at her favorite tree. Sorry, guys. That's Druids. Though, Drds are pretty cool too.
- Esoteric Motifs
- Everyone Is Satan in Hell: Wicca gets a lot of this, mainly from people who don't check their facts. (Or in some cases, sucked it out of their thumbs so they'd have something to put in their anti-pagan tracts.) One common belief is that Wiccans must be Satanists because they use the "Satanic" pentagram. In reality, the pentagram is an ancient symbol that has been used by many religions to represent many different things, including the five knightly virtues, the five wounds of Christ, and the five books of the Pentateuch. More on its different uses here.
- Fan Dumb: Fluffy bunnies, or people who are attracted to Wicca because it looks shiny, makes them feel Speshul, or gives them something to rebel against their parents with. Symptoms include going on about the nine million witches burned to death in the "Burning Times" and refusing to accept criticism and correction from people who actually did the research. Their type is called out and deservedly mocked here.
- Even other Wiccans poke gentle fun at those cute, misguided kids.
- Let's not forget the Anti-Fluff Wiccans who look down on any Wiccans who do not practice their branch of Wicca or practice in a coven.
- Let's also not forget those who believe that the religion is so pick and choose that it shall work for everybody and call you a fundie nut job if you ask basic questions about the faith.
- Being a relatively new religion with a lot of disagreement over what it's supposed to be like, Wicca often takes on the traits of a fandom, which includes the Fan Dumb.
- Fan Hater: Some evangelicals get pretty obnoxious about it.
- Great Big Book of Everything: The Book of Shadows. The Wiccan/neo-pagan Great Big Book of Everything tends to be a bit more like a journal or personal archive of spells, rituals, notes, and other things. Three-ring binders are commonly used, but some Book of Shadows might be a folder on the computer.
- Guide Dang It: Traditionally, coven-based Gardnerian/Alexandrian Wicca's core practices are kept secret from non-initiates, which makes it difficult to actually practice Wicca without being initiated. In the digital age, most Gardnerian-based practices have been available to non-initiates via the Internet and various books that have published the rituals. The real issue is whether or not a person can learn the core practices purely through books and experimentation versus through training by an initiated Wiccan. But, given that the religion was constructed in the 1950s and has had constant and frequent innovations since the 1950s, the matter of what is a core practice, what isn't, and what any particular initiate may or may not know, practice, or believe is quite a can of worms.
- The Hecate Sisters: The goddess is said to have three aspects: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone.
- Hermetic Magic: Wicca involves ceremonial magic, which is a form of this.
- Magic Wand: Used as a ritual tool, not as a fireball-shooter.
- Mama Bear: Don't let the matronly visage fool you. The Mother is considered the greatest aspect of the Triple Goddess in terms of raw power for this reason. Luckily, we are all Her children.
- Mundane Solution: It's often considered preferable to go this route before attempting the magical solution. Casting a spell of protection is fine and all, but you should still make sure your house has good physical locks if you want to keep your home from getting broken into.
- A variant of this comes into play when finding the right items for spells and rituals. Do you live in a dorm where you're not allowed to burn candles? Buy battery-powered tea lights and paint them. Can't get an athame right now? Use a letter opener or house key, or even your finger.
- It is generally agreed that one needs no physical instrument to celebrate or work magic; the best altar is the one in your heart, and what you put together outside of that is merely an extension. Do you have access to absolutely nothing? Simply do a ceremony of gestures; again, what matters is intent.
- Neo-Paganism: Wicca is a Neo-Pagan religion. It is not a catch-all term for any random Neo-Pagan religion you might come across. (Indeed, practitioners of other neo-pagan religions like Asatru, Celtic Druidry, and Hellenic Paganism can get quite annoyed at being mistaken for Wiccan.)
- Never Mess with Granny: The Dark Goddess, who represents death, occult knowledge, and other frightening parts of nature, is the fourth aspect of the Triple Goddess and is associated with the Dark Moon. To keep with the Triple Goddess theme however, some associate these things with the Crone.
- Newer Than They Think: Although Gardner tried to reconstruct "the Old Religion" as best as he could, he had to fill in some of the blanks himself. (This is not seen as having any bearing on the validity of the religion, mind you.)
- Out-of-Clothes Experience: Some Wiccans practice their rituals "skyclad," IE, buck naked.
- Reincarnation: Not a universal belief, but still common.
- Ritual Magic: A lot of spells Wiccans cast are of this sort.
- Robe and Wizard Hat: Some Wiccans like to dress in medieval style, especially for special occasions, but it's not a requirement.
- Running the Asylum: Many Wiccans study the religion by reading the works of other Wiccan writers. The equivalent would be fans getting their Canon from fanfiction.
- Simple Staff: May be used by some in place of a wand.
- Spirited Young Lady: There are many variations to the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess, ranging from sweet and innocent flower to independent and fearsome lioness.
- Thou Shalt Not Harm: One of the only things that everyone agrees on is the Rede (which does not necessarily have to be Wiccan). In all variations there is an approximation of "Do as you will, if you harm none." It basically says, "If it doesn't hurt anyone, it's okay," not "don't hurt anyone/anything." While the Rede is a fairly pacifistic rule, it does not actually preclude anyone from, for example, joining the military or police.
- Indeed, some Wiccans (this one included) will point out that many of the deities we revere have 'warrior' aspects, so it's a perfectly justifiable act to join the police or military and embrace the Warrior.
- Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Some of the early Wiccan documents were written this way. Gardner's early Book of Shadows was called "Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical". Modern writings and revisions are written normally, though.