Witchcraft -- Wicca -- Hey, What is That?
By Matt Posner
Oct 31, 2010
This is part one of a two-part article. Part two will be an interview with a Wicca priest.
WITCHES -- A TERRIBLE THREAT?
Witches are among us. Practitioners of the Wicca faith call themselves witches or Neopagans. Because of the negative associations with witchcraft that have descended to western culture from Europe of the Middle Ages, using this term may seem to be an immediate, aggressive challenge to the faith of many readers. I'm pleased to report to you, however, that Wicca is not a religion that promotes evil-doing or any kind. Unlike Medieval European witchcraft, it has no association with Satanism, but should better be viewed in connection with religious practices that existed before Satanism did. The fact that Wicca is also called Neopaganism is a giveaway. "Pagan" means "part of religious beliefs in Europe before Christianity."
To an uninformed person, Wicca symbols and rituals look frightening. One of their two gods is The Horned God, who has goat horns, as shown in many representations of Satan. Wiccans wear garments like cloaks, robes, and garlands when worshipping, and they use ritual knives called athames, and some of their holidays are called Sabbat, which recalls the Medieval Witches' Sabbath, depicted as evil and unholy in most art and literature. However, the reality is that when they are doing these things, Wiccans don't want to hurt anyone. They do practice magic, and call it Craft or witchcraft, but they don't believe in causing harm by so doing. In fact, their principal code, the Wiccan Rede, begins with these words:
Bide within the Law you must, in perfect Love and perfect Trust.
Live you must and let to live, fairly take and fairly give.
Although the law mentioned is not civil law but divine law, this divine law is more along the lines of the laws of God and the laws of the natural world. Love and trust, live and let live, be fair in what you take -- this is benevolent language.
The founder of Wicca, Gerald Gardner, was even more specific, in these words that are as central to Wiccans as is the Lord's Prayer to Catholics:
An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will.
In translation: do what you want, but only so long as no one is harmed.
This contrasts sharply with the belief system of a magician who knew Gardner but was not a Wiccan. Aleister Crowley, known in his time for being wicked and selfish, who said of magic, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" and "ordinary morality is only for ordinary people." People like this you have to be careful around, but not Wiccans.
SO YOU SAY WICCANS AREN'T EVIL. WHAT DO THEY BELIEVE THEN?
Wiccan faith was established (or, some would say, re-established) in the early 20th century in England, when anti-witchcraft laws were repealed there. While a founder cannot be precisely identified, Gerald Gardner is the leading figure, beginning perhaps with the publication of his book Witchcraft Today in 1954.
Wicca mainly resembles pre-Christian Celtic religion in England. It has two deities, the Horned God and the Triple Goddess. The Triple Goddess can be connected with the three phases of the Moon (waxing or growing more visible, full, and waning or losing visibility) and with the concept of the three stages of life as found also in the Greek mythological images of the Fates: women who are young and virginal, mature and fertile, and aged but wise. The Horned God is associated with nature, sex, the life cycle, the sun, the seasons of spring and summer. Some Wiccans believe they are representatives of a greater single godhead without gender, but this is not universal in the faith. The idea behind this theological system is that male and female are complementary, balancing principles that are both to be honored. As most European and near Eastern faiths focused on worshipping either the male principle (example: Zeus as king of the Greek gods) or female principle (the Roman/Egyptian cult of Isis), this part of the Wiccan system represents a synthesis of European traditions, and has some distant kinship to the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang, although the Triple Goddess is not passive, as is Yin.
Most Wiccan holidays are tied to seasonal changes. This is one reason why its witches celebrate at Stonehenge in England -- it is an ancient astronomical prediction device. Stonehenge in prime condition enabled the culture that constructed it to predict the equinoxes and solstices. An equinox is a day that happens twice in every calendar year in which day and night are precisely equal length. A solstice is a day that happens twice in every calendar year in which the sun is furthest from the equator. All four days mark the change of seasons because they are caused by predictable changes in the earth's relation to the sun. In an ancient agricultural culture, such as was practiced by the Neolithic people who built Stonehenge, predicting the change of seasons meant the difference between a good harvest (abundance) and a bad one (starvation). The forces of the earth were pivotal to their lives, so they saw them as coming directly from God.
Wiccans are not specifically farmers; they occupy many professions and come from a variety of social classes. Even without the farm association, however, they believe the solstices and equinoxes are sacred times. They also worship the time of harvest, and honor dead ancestors on Halloween (Samhain).
WHAT KIND OF MAGIC DO WICCANS DO?
Wiccans have religious rituals that celebrate their holidays and that recognize important moments in life such as joining and forming a new coven (a Wiccan religious community) or getting married, or welcoming a new child. Their rituals, often keyed to the phases of the moon, involve magic circles, calling upon elemental forces, and the use of various tools including candles, brooms, incense, and ritual blades. Nudity and sex acts have sometimes been part of Wiccan religious practice, but this is very unusual among modern Wiccans so far as I can determine and has probably been over-emphasized for purposes of sensationalism. A representative Wiccan event is called a Handfast, and involves the practitioners holding hands in a circle while the priests lead in worship on an altar in the center of the circle. A wedding would be done as a Handfast, for example.
Wiccans also practice witchcraft on their own. They use magic for practical purposes, seeking general well-being as well as trying to overcome problems such as illness and day-to-day challenges. Wiccans are not supposed to use witchcraft against others, because they are taught from childhood to believe that there are serious consequences to doing so. The basic belief is that if you harm someone with magic, you will be struck by a backlash and will be harmed three times as badly yourself. The use of the number three may seem arbitrary, but it probably isn't -- remember that the Goddess is a triple entity, and that the number three is sacred in many faiths besides the one I'm describing.
I have asked the Wiccan priest I am interviewing to write to me more about daily magic practices in Wicca, so with luck there will be more on this subject in part two.
WHAT'S PARANORMAL ABOUT WICCANS?
There's nothing paranormal about them that I can determine. They do practice magic, but the distinction between magic and prayer is not very great. Most practicing Wiccans are indistinguishable from non-Wiccans when they are not specially dressed.
DO WICCANS HAVE POWER OVER EVIL SPIRITS OR GHOSTS?
I have seen some cases on TV in which Wiccan priests have gotten involved in magic to deal with negative entities and ghosts. The stories were dramatized for TV, making their truthfulness difficult to evaluate. I think it's fair to say that religious leaders of all faiths have about equivalent levels of effectiveness when dealing with these situations. In other words, it depends on the individual's state of mind and preparation. I've asked my interview subject to comment about this and will pass on to you what he tells me.
ARE WICCANS THE ENEMIES OF CHRISTIANS? SHOULD I BE SCARED OF THEM?
No, I think they prefer to be left to their own business. Wicca is not a religion that actively recruits or seeks a lot of publicity. I don't recommend being scared of a Wiccan subgroup in your community; you can interact with them normally day-to-day. No one can threaten your beliefs if you are serious about them. If an individual Wiccan practitioner menaces you, she or he is acting contrary to the stated beliefs of the faith, and can be dealt with normally, as you would handle any bully.
IS WICCA A WIDESPREAD RELIGION?
Most Wiccans are in North American and Europe and have European ancestry. The only way I can assess the presence of Wicca in the world is its presence on the Internet relative to that of other religions. A Google search for Wicca as I write this article produces 4.6 million hits. Christianity produces 42 million hits; Islam, often viewing as the fastest-growing religion on Earth, over 100 million, although that number may be exaggerated by the actions of the violent fringe groups within that faith. Judaism draws 15 million hits; Hinduism 10 million; Buddhism 17 million; Sikhism 7.5 million. Jainism and Bahai each yield 1 million hits, Zoroastrianism about 600 thousand, Satanism and Santeria each 3.5 million hits. This unscientific test shows that Wicca is definitely a minority religion.
PLEASE TRY TO SELL ME YOUR BOOK
I hope you will go to my website, http://schooloftheages.webs.com, or view this youtube video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOc0T5VSbfY, to learn more about School of the Ages: The Ghost in the Crystal, my novel which can be purchased for Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook. It is about a magic school in New York City and a teen magician who must face the threat of a powerful evil spirit from ancient Egypt. I will be very surprised if you don't think it's one of the best novels about magic and the paranormal that you have ever read.
See Part 2: Wicca Questions Asked and Answered!
Matt Posner is a featured contributor to this WorldOfTheStrange website.
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