The Wiccan Way……
Wicca is probably the best known of the neo-pagan faiths. It is best described as an experiential way of being in the world. Its guiding principle is the Wiccan Rede, “And ye harm none, do what ye will.”
As a living religion, Wicca is in a constant state of evolution that allows for sole practitioners to draw from the well of their own life experience and to develop individual rituals and observances.
Wicca derives primarily from rites grounded in ancient Druidic and shamanistic Western European traditions. There is no central, governing Wiccan “church” or specific “holy” book with codified behavioural instructions or admonitions. Many Wiccans do keep a “book of shadows” as a personal record of specific spells and rituals, but this is more akin to keeping a journal.
Wiccans who belong to a coven formally declare their intent to follow Wicca and then undergo an initiation witnessed by the group. In coven life, they become a part of a community of belief, and practice their faith in the company of like-minded individuals.
Solitary practitioners, on the other hand, pledge themselves to Wicca after arriving at the decision through private introspection and study.
The form that their personal dedication assumes is as individualistic as the means of their ritualistic observance of Wiccan holidays and rites.
Both roads to Wicca are regarded as equally valid, which in itself illustrates the tolerant nature of the faith.
Because the Wiccan belief structure, regardless of form, is remarkably free of
dogma, the religion focuses on the here and now.
Wiccans believe that Deity infuses all of nature so that the flowering meadow, the majestic desert, and the shady forest are all natural, sanctified cathedrals where the Earth constantly speaks to us.
The greater our awareness of our place on the active wheel of life, the more we are able to hear those messages and to act upon them. This is why many Wiccan rites are performed outdoors and occasionally in the nude (skyclad).
Major Life Experiences
Wiccans celebrate all the major life experiences including birth, love, sex, and death. The belief in reincarnation is prevalent among Wiccans, but there is no concept of going to heaven as a reward for good and moral behaviour in the present life. By the same token, there is also no notion of hell as a place of punishment.
Death is simply another stage of life to be revered and experienced. Wiccans recognize the physical world as being comprised of multiple layers of reality each varying in weight and intensity. No single variation is seen as the ultimate or purest expression of what it means to be alive, but each teaches unique lessons in living.
The individual Wiccan looks to his own senses as a guide to what is true and functional in the context of his beliefs and adjusts those beliefs accordingly.
Once an experience has been lived, it is then “owned” and becomes a part of who you are. Reading, studying, and debating can never take the place of a first-person experience.
Emphasis on a Connection with Nature
The Wiccan calendar observes the cycle of the seasons through a series of eight major holidays or “sabbats.” (As you will see from the previous list in Chapter 1, these are the major observances of the basic pagan calendar with slightly different names.)
Samhain (October 31) is a day set aside to pay tribute to the ancestors who have gone on before. Samhain is regarded as a time when the border between this world and other realms is lifted. You may also see this sabbat referred to as Halloween, Last Harvest, Ancestor Night, or the Feast of the Dead.
Midwinter (observed around December 23) is a day that symbolizes the rebirth of the god. It may also be called Yule or Winter Rite and corresponds with the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year.
Candelmas (February 1) is a celebration of the renewal of nature and the coming of spring. It is an observance during which Wiccans look at the past year and its achievements and set goals or make resolutions for the coming year. This sabbat may also be called Imbolc, Oimelc, Brigit, or Brigid.
Ostara (around March 21) is timed with the Spring Equinox when the length of day and night is equal. As a symbol of fertility and rebirth, the egg is strongly evident in the celebration of this sabbat, which includes egg rolling and egg fights. Wiccans often put out milk and food for dwarves and fairies during Osara, and it’s common to attempt to reach the ancestors during this time by gazing into bowls of clear spring water.
Beltaine (May 1) denotes a high period of natural fertility and is a merging of traditions from both Gaelic and Germanic belief. It is a day of love and is often the time at which engagements are arranged and marriages solemnized.
Midsummer (June 21) corresponds with the Summer Solstice, which is the longest day of the year and the shortest night. It is at this point of the cycle that the wheel begins to turn toward the coming dark of winter. Midsummer may also be referred to as Mother Night, Litha, and Samradh.
August Eve (August 1 or 2) is a time of thanks to the earth for the bounty of the harvest. It is another day when marriages are often performed and is also a popular time for coven initiations to take place. This sabbat is also called Lughnasadh, Lammas, the Bread Harvest, or the First Harvest.
Harvest Home (September 21) corresponds with the Autumnal Equinox and marks the beginning of fall. Friends and family quietly and peacefully observe a ritual of Thanksgiving at this time. Harvest Home may also be referred to as Second Harvest, Mabon, or Foghar.
Wiccan rituals are often held outdoors as a means of tapping into the deeper connection with the Earth. The goal is to walk lightly on Mother Earth and to learn from her teachings.
It is common for Wiccans to dedicate themselves to environmental causes and to live as vegetarians or vegans.
An Awareness of Magic
Some Wiccans recognize and use magic, whether that be a minor spell to help locate a lost item or an elaborate ritual designed to focus power and to commune directly with deity.
Magic is another tool to help the individual to get in touch with their life’s purpose and to become more directly aligned with their higher self.
It is inaccurate, however, to equate the words “Wicca” and “witch” as interchangeable although you will commonly see the term “witchcraft” used to describe Wiccan rituals and spells.
Simply put, you can be a Wiccan who does not practice magic or a witch who does not follow Wicca. Both a Wiccan and a witch, however, would be termed a pagan since both are followers of one of the many earth-based religions.
Wicca is NOT Devil Worship
Wiccans do not believe in Satan. They do not recognize a conflict in the world between a force of supreme good and one of supreme evil.
The Christian church, in waging a war against Satanism, posits that a pact has been made with the devil by followers who engage in practices of black magic including animal and human sacrifice.
Wiccans have absolutely no part of such beliefs or activities.
It is especially important to understand that in terms of moral oversight, pagan communities are not licentious dens of child abusers and serial adulterers.
If anything, the code of conduct is as strict or stricter in a Wiccan coven than in many Christian settings, even in the face of an open attitude toward sexuality.
In the Wiccan world, covens typically do not accept students until they are 21 years of age or older, reasoning, rightly, that it would be unacceptable and inappropriate to expose younger individuals to rituals that include sexual symbolism and even nudity.
(Ritual nudity, referred to as “working skyclad,” is always an optional practice.)
Although it may be difficult for fearful detractors to understand, Wicca is based on a philosophy of personal responsibility that emphasizes the edict to do no harm. It is a principled and ethical belief structure.
Wiccans do not solicit members. We do not allow children into ritual observances. There is no requirement for nudity or sexual activity.
If any group calling itself “Wiccan” asks prospective members to do any of these things – or in fact anything that feels uncomfortable or “wrong” – you are not working with a true Wiccan community.
Always follow your “gut.” It is one of the strongest voices Nature has given you. If something does not feel right, leave. If you suspect children or young people are being harmed or mistreated in any way, contact the authorities. This is precisely the kind of right action that real Wiccan belief demands of us.
Wiccan Principles and Beliefs
Because Wiccans accept that there is more than one path to “God” (or gods), members do not proselytize (recruit). Each individual must find his or her own spiritual path. Those who are meant to be Wiccans will find Wicca. It’s just that simple.
It follows naturally then, that since Wiccans do not see the world in terms of a cosmic struggle between ultimate good and evil, there is no need for exclusivity.
Followers of Wicca are free to practice other religious observances and to recognize and to worship more than one deity.
Overall, Wiccans follow seven major beliefs whose expression and observances varies by coven and individual. Each one is discussed below.
1. Deity in Polarity
While the single divine force that gives universal life is called spirit or deity, it has no confining definition ordered by time, space, or gender.
Deity does, however, have separate aspects, including male and female as depicted in the God and Goddess.
The equality of the God and Goddess is a sacred dynamic central to the practice of Wicca. The two aspects are separate but inseparable halves of the same whole, existing in polarity.
Both are warm and loving, approachable and reachable. The God and Goddess are omnipresent and cannot exist independently one from the other.
2. An Immanent Deity
Deity as a sacred life force is inherent in all people and in all things. Each of us is part of the divine as are all things around us. This sacred way of thinking gives Wiccans an instinctive respect for all beings and for the natural world in which they live.
The concept of immanent deity is not so much the idea that a blade of grass or a random bit of stone possesses a soul of its own, but rather that we are all part of a greater universal “soul.”
3. Earth and Its Divinity
Given this belief, it should be easy to see the earth as the greatest of all the tangible manifestations of deity, and one that is closely tied to that aspect of the deity we call the Goddess. The earth is the universal mother, giving birth to all things and then receiving them again in death.
Wicca emphasizes the earth’s natural flow of power as expressed in the cycle of the seasons. Becoming attuned to earth energy and working with it is a special focus of the path and is at the heart of the Wiccan belief that there is a special imperative to responsibly care for Mother Earth as a sacred space.
Responsible actions in this regard might include following a vegetarian or a vegan diet and engaging in conservation projections and other aspects of environmental activism.
4. Sharpening Native Psychic Powers
According to Wiccan belief, we are each born with psychic abilities that can be sharpened to allow for better connection with the divine force.
With these abilities, a person can gain more information about the world at large than the five senses would normally allow and thus can perform acts well beyond the normal limitations of human action.
Meditation, ritual divination, and other forms of magical practice are all part of the Wiccan spiritual life and are called upon as a means of enhancing natural intuition to allow you to reach both inside and out with your psychic powers.
5. Belief in Magic
Magic is used by Wiccans to help negotiate the twists and turns of their spiritual journeys. The core purpose of the belief in magic is to facilitate transcendence of the ordinary as a tool of empowerment and growth.
Although many people find it an uncomfortable admission, most religions, including Christianity, do employ magical thinking; they simply use other names for what they are doing.
Perhaps the most striking example is that of the Christian act of mass or communion in which the bread and wine of the sacrament are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
The act of prayer is a way to communicate with the deity and to extend concentrated energy toward a desired outcome. Not all prayers (or spells) are designed to manifest an item or to set in motion a series of events.
Some simply ask for peaceful and wise acceptance of current circumstances and ask for the insight to act in a proper manner.
It is only semantics for one religion to call prayer an act of faith and another to describe it as a magical meditation. In Wicca, magic is never used as a means to make the natural world conform to the will of the practitioner.
While the majority of Wiccans believe in reincarnation, there is debate over how the process works. The idea that human souls leave one body at death and enter another in a kind of rebirth is reasonably universal but whether this is a recycling of the same person’s essence or a direct transfer is more difficult to sort out.
There is also widespread belief in the concept of a universal soul that is one within us all simultaneously. The universal soul experiences different realities and infinite possibilities. By branching out into different vessels it explores various lives that go toward creating a single experience of growth and understanding.
Each Wiccan must arrive at a personal understanding of reincarnation through meditation and self-awareness. As with all principles, the religion is highly accommodating of individual understanding.
7. Sex as a Sacred Act
In a faith where deity is revered in its male and female aspects, it should come as no surprise that the sexual union of consenting adults is seen as a sacred expression of those dual aspects. There is, however, no taboo or prejudice against homosexual unions.
The sexual act is also an expression of the fertile gifts of mother earth. Wicca is replete with sexual symbolism, which is why covens typically restrict membership to individuals age 21 or older.
The Threefold Law and the Wiccan Rede
Even though individual Wiccans must find their own ethical way in the world, the Wiccan Rede is taken as a guiding principle. “An it harm none, do as ye will.”
The Rede can be likened to a sort of “Golden Rule” admonishing each of us to think before we act and speak and to refrain from taking actions or expressing thoughts and ideas that would be harmful to ourselves or to others.
The Rede issues a kind of challenge to act in accordance with the highest purpose of the human will and in so doing, to infuse all aspects of our lives with spiritual awareness. All actions taken, decisions made, and ideas expressed should be in perfect accord and harmony with deity.
The Rede’s emphasis on self-knowledge, empowerment, and personal responsibility is the highest expression of Wicca’s ethical underpinnings.
Unlike Christianity, which places men’s souls ever at risk of being tempted by the forces of evil, Wicca believes that each of us is a free soul with full control over the direction and purpose of our lives. In other words, the buck stops here.
There is no blaming Satan or the devil for an act that violates moral principle. Wicca doesn’t let you get off that easy!
Many Wiccans find themselves drawn to the path for this very reason. We are not at the mercy of fate, but are rather engaged in the act of shaping the course of our lives every second and are completely responsible for every action — good and bad.
The Rede is an important part of the process of integrating past experiences to positively influence future action, as is The Threefold Law.
This principle states that whatever you put into the world will come back to you three times. Positive energy be-gets positive energy and a smoother flow of life.
Together the Rede and the Threefold Law are touchstones illustrating that the choice to follow the Wiccan path is a personal dedication to live in the world in an ethical way.
As one of many earth-based religions, Wicca is one of the more popular of the pagan faiths and one that is especially accommodating of the experience of the individual practitioner.