An Introduction to the Wiccan Faith - What is Wicca?
It’s most likely that you’ve heard the word Wicca, and that you’re not too sure what it means or exactly what it is. It sounds mysterious. So what’s the Wiccan faith really all about? Well, Wicca is generally considered to be a modern religion and way of life which takes its roots from Paganism; in fact all within Wicca are Pagans. That said, Pagans are not necessarily Wiccans. Wicca is quite varied in terms of beliefs, so I have included the average or generally accepted belief or practice in each area explored below.
Female Wiccans are usually called priestesses or witches, the males are called priests, or again, witches. The word witch simply refers to the person as being a practitioner of Wicca.
Within Wicca there is freedom to explore one’s own path through the faith, thus eliminating dogma. All Wiccans believe in creating and maintaining a harmonious connection with nature; this is why you'll often hear the Wiccan faith being referred to as an earth based one. Followers feel that there is no need to preach to others, nor to sway anyone to believe exactly as they do.
Wicca’s only law, called the Wiccan Rede is "An it harm none, do as thou wilt", roughly translated as – do what you need to do in order to make yourself happy, but harm no others in the process. Wiccans believe that whatever you do, be it good or bad, it comes back at you threefold so there is a mind-set of doing good. This is a very important belief, as it truly defines what Wiccans stand for. Wiccans are a peaceful and friendly people, with strongly positive beliefs.
How Did Wicca Start?
Wicca is considered by some to have origins back through early Paganism; certainly their festivals and a sizable amount of thinking relate to the distant past. But there is no direct historical evolution. The Wiccan faith was in fact born quite recently, in the early half of the twentieth century. It was developed in England, and was based upon writings modern to that time by various authors, including Margaret Murray. Wicca has been gaining in popularity since the latter half of the twentieth century. In 1954 it was brought to public awareness by Gerald Gardner, who wrote some of the most commonly referred to texts.
Wiccan Belief System
Wiccans do vary in terms of what they believe, but on the whole they worship one God (often a horned God, typically thought of as the Sun) and one Goddess (usually linked to the Earth or sometimes the Moon). Some call these the Lord and Lady; they are seen as existing in everything, everywhere, of course including nature.
Some Wiccans believe in a single deity, but the deity is a dual aspect one. Other Wiccans are polytheistic; but within such polytheism, there are usually two central figures, the God and Goddess; or again, one dual aspect God. Dianic Wicca is a feminist lineage which does not allow men to participate; within the Dianic tradition, one Goddess is worshiped.
There are other Wiccans who claim to hold different beliefs than those glossed over above. But when beliefs part from the values of the tradition, then one is truly Pagan, and in fact not of the Wiccan faith.
What is Important to Wiccans?
There is a wide and sweeping variety of things that Wiccans may do, use, and find important. Each Wiccan will have their set of fundamentals pertaining to their faith and the way they choose to live their life. Within them there are:
The Five Elements
Wiccans believe in the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, bonded by the fifth element of Spirit. Spirit is representative of Divinity, which presides above all else. Together the five elements form a pentagram, each one is represented as a point. The pentagram is a traditional Wicca symbol and is often worn by those within the faith. It usually has a circle encompassing it; this represents wholeness, protection, cyclic phases; and all within nature and creation. The five elements are often invoked or used within magic rituals.
Magic or Magick
Many Wiccans undertake magic, which usually take places in a consecrated circle. This might include the raising of energy, perhaps for healing. This likely involves the use of tools, the most typical of which include a wand, a pentacle, a chalice; and a special dagger called an athame, as well as incense and candles.
Book of Shadows
While Wiccans don’t have a bible or similar text, some do have a Book of Shadows; Gerald Gardner began this tradition by creating his own. While some use his version and others start from scratch, it is commonly accepted that it is to consist of spells and other magickal procedures, that each Wiccan has found to be most effective for them.
Wheel of the Year
The Wheel of the Year is important to Wiccans and works around 8 festivals or Sabbats. These coincide with the four seasons and mark the halfway point of each season too, once again connecting Wicca to nature and celebrating what is going on around us. They are (for the northern hemisphere):
Yule or Winter Solstice – December 20th - 23rd
Imbolc or Candlemas – February 1st or 2nd
Ostara – March 20th - 23rd
Beltane or May Day – April 30th or May 1st
Litha – June 20th - 23rd
Lughnasadh – August 1st
Mabon – September 20th - 23rd
Samhain – October 31st – November 1st
In the southern hemisphere 6 months are added onto these dates and observances, to make them more suitable to their seasons.
Some of the above Wiccan celebrations relate to, or bear resemblance to Christian festivals, which in turn descended from Pagan events, including harvest festivals.
How do You Become a Wiccan?
To become a Wiccan you typically need to have been properly practicing for at least a year and a day. Like any religion, this means following through with the practices of that religion and possessing belief in its ideals. You will then undertake a Rite of Passage to become a first degree Wiccan. Over time, you can move up through the degrees, two and three and so on.
At the third degree you are free to begin your own coven, autonomous to the one you began within. There is an initiation ceremony as one begins; and while this typically takes place within a coven, these days there are solitary Wiccans who do this themselves and stay detached from others.
Some Wicca FAQs
Do Wiccans Get Married?
Wiccans have a form of marriage which can be made official in the eyes of the law, or not, if preferred, called handfasting.
Do Wiccans Wear Normal Clothes?
They tend to stick to certain colors of clothes and more traditional styles; they certainly don’t go in for the faddy fashion of today. If you saw a Wiccan you might think they looked a little different from the norm, but they wouldn’t stand out as being identifiably Wiccan.
What do Wiccans Think About Witches in History?
Wiccans do generally feel a connection with witches of the past, who were sadly purported to be practicing "the old religion". The bigger problem was in that they just weren’t Christians; and at that time they would have been required to be such in order to avoid persecution. Like the vast majority of people in general, Wiccans tend to believe that what happened to them was not right, no matter what their beliefs and practices may have consisted of. Keep in mind that it’s now commonly believed that some of what was claimed to have happened in days of old, such as burning, was in fact exaggerated.
How Many Wiccans are There?
Based upon statistics available from the ARIS Survey 2008, there were 342,000 Wiccans; but as well it is believed that many fell into the group that refused to disclose their religion, and that the true number of Wiccans would be included in the sum of an estimated 750,000 Neo-Pagans in the US alone. The website adherents.com shows that there are an estimated one million Neo-Pagans around the world, this including Wiccans.
There seems to be some discrepancy though, between the figures provided by the ARIS survey results and the site adherents.com world total. If there are 750,000 Neo-Pagans in the US, 100,000 in the UK, and another estimated 70,000 in Canada, that leaves a remainder of only 80,000 (when you deduct these numbers from one million world total). These figures provide little likelihood for significant numbers of Pagans to be living anywhere else in the world; however, the world figure came from the website www.adherents.com, which gives statistics for every known religion and cites 30 sources, so go figure.
Paganism, a Beginner’s Introduction; the Basics
Ostara: A Festival Without a Cause
Advice for an Unsexy Beltane
An Introduction to Litha