Frequently Asked Questions
What is Wicca and how is it related to Paganism?
"Wicca" is the name of a contemporary Neo-Pagan religion, largely promulgated and popularized
by the efforts of a retired British civil servant named Gerald Gardner. In the last few decades,
Wicca has spread in part due to its popularity among feminists and others seeking a more
woman-positive, earth-based religion. 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 religions of Europe. "Neo-Pagan" s imply means "new pagan" (derived from the Latin
paganus , "country-dweller") and hearkens back to times before the spread of today's major
monotheistic religions. A good general rule is that most Wiccans are Neo-Pagans but not
all Pagans are Wiccans.
What are some common, basic beliefs in Wicca?
In addition to its positive view of nature, many find Wicca more welcoming of women than other
religions, with an emphasis on personal experience and a tolerance of other paths. As a whole,
Wiccans value balance with a respect for diverse complexity, seeing sexuality and embodiment as
essentially positive, spiritual gifts. There is a sense of personal connection to the divine life source,
which is open to contact through "psychic power," mysticism or "natural magic."
What goddesses and gods do Wiccans worship?
Although some Wiccans focus on particular gods from particular world mythologies, Wiccans may
worship many goddesses and gods by many different names. Most worship some form of the Great
Goddess and Her consort, The Horned God. Such duo-theistic forces are often conceived as
embodying complementary polarities, not in opposition. In some traditions worship of the Goddess
is emphasized, although in others the Goddess and God are seen as complementary co-equals. The
Goddess and God may be seen as associated with certain things (such as the Goddess with the
earth or moon, God with sun and wildlife, etc), but there are no hard and fast rules. Some traditions
worship the Goddess alone while others see Divinity as essentially beyond human understanding,
with "Goddess" and "God" simply a convenient shorthand.
What tools and rituals do you use?
Some ritual items are common to almost every Wiccan tradition, such as the athame (ritual knife)
and chalice. Others may be used by some traditions but not others: bells, brooms,
candles, cauldrons, cords, drums, incense, jewelry, special plates, pentacles, scourges, statues,
swords, staves and wands. The meaning of these items, their use and manufacture will differ among
traditions and individuals.
Usually a Wiccan ritual will involve some sort of creation of sacred space
(casting a circle), invocation of divine power, sharing of dance/song/food or wine and a thankful
farewell and ceremonial closing. Rituals may be held at Wiccan "sabbats" or "esbats" or to mark life transitions such as births, coming-of-age, marriages/handfastings,
housewarmings, healings, deaths or other rites of passage.
Is there a set liturgy or liturgical calendar?
Most Wiccans mark eight holiday "sabbats" in the "wheel of the year," falling on the solstices,
equinoxes and the four "cross-quarter days" on or about the first of February, May, August and
November. The names of the sabbats may differ between traditions, and many Wiccans also mark
"esbats," rituals for worship in accordance with a given moon phase (such as the night of the full
moon). Although there is no one source for all Wiccan liturgy, many liturgical items such as the
methods for casting the circle, the "Charge of the Goddess," certain myths and formulaic
expressions are common to many traditions. Some common formulaic expressions include "hail and
welcome/farewell," "blessed be"
and the closing "Merry
meet and merry part, and merry meet again." There is no one bible or book of common prayer for
all Wiccans, however, and great value is placed on creativity, poetry and the artful integration of
different myths and ritual elements.
What is basic Wiccan thealogy?
Some myths and associations are common to many Wiccan traditions, such as the Goddess' giving
birth to the Horned God, the theme of their courtship and His death, the descent of the Goddess
into the realm of death and others. Another thealogical point held in common by many Wiccans is
the immanence of deity/divinity within the natural world, self and cycle of the seasons. This places
value on the earth and this world, as distinguished from views of transcendent divinity and an
unenchanted creation. Wiccans as a whole are very much "into" cycles: of life, of the moon and
seasons. Cyclical change as an erotic dance of life, death and rebirth is a popular theme in Wiccan
imagery, ritual and liturgy. (Thea is Greek for "goddess," by the way, so "thealogy" is not a typo
here, but a way of emphasizing the Goddess.)
Although it may be foolhardy to compare things as complex as religions, people do. Many Wiccans
distinguish themselves from Satanists, for example, in preferring complementary views of divinity to
adversarial ones. Others may note their own comfort and embrace of ambiguity and polytheism
(many gods). Unlike the Jewish, Christian or Islamic traditions, there is little emphasis on
interpretation of "scripture" or a revealed text. Although many Wiccans may believe in some sort of
reincarnation, they may distinguish themselves from Buddhists in seeing life as a journey or
adventure without any desire to "leave the wheel" of return. Like Hindus, Wiccans may pride
themselves on their tolerance for other paths, like Buddhists they may value personal insight and like
Taoists they may seek to align themselves more perfectly with nature. Some Wiccans may separate
themselves from the "New Age" in their value for both "light" and "dark" aspects of existence, a
do-it-yourself attitude and a distrust of money or hierarchies of "enlightenment" which seem to place
spirituality up for sale.
What are Wiccan ethics, the "Wiccan Rede" and "three-fold law?"
Wiccan ethics are seldom codified in a legalistic way, but may be informed by some common
expressions such as the "Wiccan Rede" and the "three-fold law." According to most versions of the
three-fold law, whatever one does comes back to one thrice-multiplied, in amplified repercussion.
One short, rhymed version of the Wiccan Rede states "Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An it
harm none, do what you will." Often "none" is interpreted to include the doer themself in analogy to
the "golden rule" of other faiths. There are no universal proscriptions regarding food, sex, burial or
military service and Wiccans, as a rule, discourage proselytization (attempts to convert others to a
Can I be a Christian/ Jew/ Muslim/ Buddhist/ Taoist/ Astrologer/ Druid/ Shaman/
omnivore/ whatever and a Wiccan?
Since much of Wicca is more worldview and ceremonial practice than anything else, there is no
Wiccan proscription of such things. Most traditions have no requirement to denounce any other faith
and, indeed, Wiccans often look askance at "one true wayisms" which claim to have a monopoly on
truth, divine revelation or enlightenment. "Christian Wiccans" probably face the largest skepticism,
however, given the history and ongoing reality of allegedly "Christian" persecution.
Prejudice (fear of job-loss, child-custody challenges, ridicule, vandalism and even violence) may still
keep many Wiccans "in the broom closet," with concealment and dual observances a traditional
Wiccan defense against persecution. This may make contact with Wiccans difficult in some areas.
Since Wiccan worship is fairly active by its nature, non-participating observers are rarely invited to
What are "dedication" and "initiation" in Wicca?
These things mean different things in different traditions. Usually "dedication" ceremonially marks the
beginning of Wiccan study, while "intitiation" may mark full membership in a coven/tradition (such as
after "a year and a day") or may indicate elevation in skill or to special clergy status. Some traditions
look on all initiates as co-equal clergy, while others have grades or "degrees" of initiation, which may
be marked by distinct sacramental ceremonies, duties or expectations within the tradition.
Some people claim that "only a Witch can make a Witch," whereas others say that only the
Goddess and God or demonstrated skill can make a witch. Doreen Valiente was initiated by
Gardner himself, but slyly asks "who initiated the first witch?" Valiente and others assert that those
who choose to "bootstrap" a coven into existence (by an initial initiation) or to use self-initiation may
do so, citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Self-dedications are also quite common
among new practitioners and solitary Wiccans.
Do all Wiccans practice magick?
That depends on what one means by magick. The occultist Aleister Crowley helped re-popularize
archaic spellings such as "magick", terming this "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in
conformity with Will." Others may think of magic as folk parapsychology or see the changes
wrought as primarily changes in consciousness. Ceremonialists may distinguish between the "high
magick" of ritual observance and the "low magic" of practical spells (such as for protection and
health). Almost all Wiccans, however, have some sort of ceremony or psychological practice to
better attune themselves with divinity, encouraging insight and a sense of efficacy. Others may cast
love spells or other curses but no, we don't do it for strangers on the net and no, we don't confuse
this with stage magic.
Is Wicca the same thing as witchcraft?
The short answer is no. Many cultures have a negative word like "witchcraft," often viewing it as a
malevolent, supernatural tool used by the weak, old or malicious. Some people use the term
"witchcraft" to cover more general skills, such as counseling, the occult and herbcraft. Some
Wiccans call themselves "Witches," capitalizing it as a gesture of solidarity with the victims of the
Burning Times, but this is a personal decision. Although many Wiccans today may cast spells and
practice magick, these are not considered an integral part of Wicca by all Wiccans. Wicca is not
traditional folk magic and all magic is not necessarily Wiccan, anymore than all people who pray
belong to any particular religion.
What were "the Burning Times?"
"The Burning Times" is the term used by many modern Neo-Pagans and feminists to refer to the
great European witch-hunts of the early modern period, coincident with the time of the reformation
and seen by many as a crucial step in Christianity's crushing of the Pagan religions, driving these
underground. Some authors claim as many as ten million people were killed in these hunts, while
more recent scholarship puts the number of documented deaths at 20-100 thousands, 80-90% of
these women. Sometimes these numbers are doubled to account for non-judicial killings and deaths
from torture, suicide, etcetera. Whatever the numbers, however, victims of these hunts are
perceived as martyrs by Wiccans today, with the lessons of intolerance, misogyny and religious
terror clearly noted.
What are the origins of Wicca?
This is a matter of some debate within Wiccan circles. Some Wiccans see their inspiration and
traditions as coming directly from the gods. Certain Wiccan mythology holds that Wicca has come
down from the stone age, surviving persecution in secret covens for hundreds of years. Others say
that their Wicca is a long-held family tradition (or "fam trad"), passed down through villages and
grandmothers. Aidan Kelly argues that modern Wicca was largely pieced together by Gerald
Gardner from Margaret Murray, Charles Leland and other sources, with significant revisions by
Doreen Valiente (and others), beginning in 1939. Whatever its origins, Wicca today is a vibrant,
modern religion, open to change, creativity and personalization.
What are the major traditions in Wicca and where do they come from?
Aidan Kelly argues that all of Wicca derives from Gerald Gardner, with some crucial editing and
revision by his initiate Doreen Valiente. Alex Sanders is widely thought to have acquired a
Gardnerian book of shadows, with which he started his own "Alexandrian" tradition, initiating Janet
and Stewart Farrar. Other well-known traditions include Raymond Buckland's Seax Wicca, Victor
and Cora Anderson's Faery Wicca and feminist Dianic Wicca, which emphasizes the Goddess as
put forward by such authors as Zsuszana Budapest. There are also branches of Wicca identifying
themselves with various ethnicities and traditions such as druidism, shamanism and so forth.
What is the "Book of Shadows?" Where do I get one?
The Book of Shadows (or "BoS") is sort of a customized reference book for Wiccans, containing
useful information such as myths, liturgical items, one's own writings or records of dreams and
magical workings. According to Gerald Gardner, such a book should be handcopied from teacher
to student but in practice not every Wiccan has a "book of shadows" and few are exactly alike.
Sometimes only initiates are allowed access to a tradition's book, or it may be called by a different
name, such as "mirror book," "magical diary" or "grimoire." There are many "books of shadows"
available in print and on-line (leading to the "disk of shadows" or even "directories of shadows"
several megabytes large).
What is a coven and how do I join one?
The coven is the basic, cellular "congregation" for some Wiccans, but is often very formal, selective
and closed, aiming for an ideal of "perfect love and perfect trust" among members. Most Wiccans
begin in less formal ways such as attending festivals, public rituals, classes or more open groups
(often called "circles"). Many Wiccans probably begin and continue practice as "solitaries," whether
before, after or while a member of a coven. Solitary practice is a valid "tradition" in the Craft, but
some good places to find other Wiccans are on the net, at public Pagan events or through occult,
political or "new age" bookstores.
- What is a Witch?
- Generally speaking, Witches practice a nature-based religion which observes the cycles of the seasons. Witches seek to live in harmony with Nature and the cycles of the Universe. A Witch believes that the divine exists both within the individual and without. Many Witches refer to their religion as Wicca, though not all do. Some practice in groups known as covens, while others (either by necessity or preference) practice alone, or as what is commonly called a solitary.
- Are there Male Witches?
- Witches can be either male or female. Incorrectly, many people call male Witches "Warlocks." This term is considered quite rude and a slur. Warlock is an old Scottish word meaning "oath-breaker," and would imply someone of a traitorous nature. Since Pagans hold integrity and trustworthiness in extremely high regard, referring to someone as Warlock is considered serious business.
- Do you believe in "God?" And what about Satan?
- We believe in God, and the Goddess! We believe the divine is everywhere and in all things. The Gods are also within us, because we contain a divine essence in common with all that exists
Satan is an invention of the Christian and Muslim religions. An important aspect of male deity worshipped by Pagans of old is the "Horned God," who is still revered by Pagans to this day. Because of this, Christians chose to represent Satan as a hooved and horned creature. Since Witches don't accept the beliefs or tenants of the Christian or Muslim religions, we do not recognize the existence of Satan, and certainly don't worship him/it. We believe that every individual makes choices, either good or evil, and that each is directly responsible for the results of their actions.
We believe that the good or evil one does in life returns to the individual. If one chooses an evil path, we believe the laws of Karma will punished them. We also believe that the same laws will reward
Witches believe in reincarnation, and feel that the Karma one sends out in this lifetime may follow into the next. When considering this, it may be easier to understand why terrible things happen to wonderful people.
- What about that Satanic symbol you use?
- The pentagram is not Satanic. The origins of the pentagram include Pythagoras and his followers. To them, it was symbolic of health and worn to recognize one another. In Witchcraft, the five points of the pentagram correspond to the elements Air, Earth, Fire and Water, with the top point corresponding to the "Akasha" or "Spirit."
Satanists turn the Christian cross upside-down. Would this make the cross a Satanic symbol? Of course not! They also do the same with the Pentagram. Likewise, inverting the pentagram does not make it a Satanic symbol.
- Do witches Believe in Jesus?
- Some Witches believe that Jesus existed, in the historical sense. Still, others believe in Jesus much the same way they view the Yule child who is reborn each year; others don't believe in Jesus at all, and for them the issue of Jesus is irrelevant. Many feel Jesus was a genuine Divine Being who taught a path of love. And in his role as the Sacred King, gave his life so that the lives of the people would be renewed. Many Witches honor him in this way.
- The Bible says, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"; What about that?
- The passage you read is from the 'King James Version' of the Bible, upon which virtually all English-language translations are based. This version was begun and completed during the Burning Times.
It is well known that King James was extremely paranoid of Witches and Witchcraft. So it is not surprising that he decided to change the translation in the final version from the original meaning of "evil-doer" or "poisoner" to Witch.
- Do you practice "white" or "black" Witchcraft?
Witches tend to believe these terms promote racist thinking when used to describe the morality of one's Magick. Witches are just Witches. Asking someone if they are a good Witch or bad Witch is like asking if someone is a "good" Catholic or "bad" Catholic.
- What about reports of blood sacrifices and ritual murder?
- We have nothing to do with such practices. The taking of life is something we believe isn't our choice to make, and we wouldn't sacrifice another creature for our own gain. For this reason a large percentage of Witches are vegetarian. Witches maintain a deep reverence for all life. Involvement in any sort of these practices would run opposite to everything we hold sacred. It would be, quite literally, "against our religion."
- Do Witches cast spells?
- Magick and spellcraft are one of the most important aspects of Witchcraft. However, what the term "spell" actually means, is widely misunderstood.
Spells are similar to positive thinking, combined with self-awareness and a clear understanding of exactly what one hopes to achieve. Spells are used to create needed change in one's own life or the life of a others (although Witches generally will not do a spell for anyone who has not given them their permission). One might consider the spells Witches cast as being similar to prayers.
The differences? We believe the divine exists within ourselves. Whereas, when most people pray, it is to an external deity somewhere. Spells, then, are the channeling of our own divine selves and our own energies, to create the change. Spells and Prayers are basically just different approaches to the same goal. Since no true Witch will use magick to harm, manipulate, or influence others without their consent and knowledge, love spells, hexes, curses, and "the evil eye" (whatever that is), are specifically out of line and out of the question for a true witch. Anything which violates the free will of another is considered wrong. It runs counter to our belief system to enjoin such things.
- You call Wicca a religion, isn't it really a cult?>
- Cults are lead by unforgiving leaders, who expect their members to blindly follow and never question their authority. In our religion, we welcome the sharing of knowledge, and the discussion and debate of many concepts and ideas. There are no grand, supreme, or 'omnipotent' gurus who lead Witches and Wiccans. In fact, many Wiccans practice their religion alone, or as "Solitaires." Those in groups or "covens" come together at appointed times to share the love, joy and 'fellowship' that life holds for us, and to take note of and celebrate the lessons that the events of the seasons, and of our lives, have to teach us.
- Do Witches have orgies and wild sex?
- This is another misguided rumor largely perpetrated by anti-pagan propagandizers, or those who simply don't know (seldom does a week go by that we don't get email from some guy wanting to "join up" so he can "score!") Witches are generally quite open-minded regarding sex, and have no rules prohibiting homosexuality, nudity, or pre-marital sex. The one rule of Witchcraft, "An 'ye harm none, do what thou wilt," indicates that harm to others by any means including misusing sexuality is wrong. Sex is a perfectly natural act and is viewed by Witches as something sacred.
- Why do people become Wiccan?
- The reasons are many any varied. Many women feel alienated from the mainstream religion they grew up with because there is no existence of feminine divinity. The Wiccan concept of the Goddess as the Mother of all living fulfills their spiritual search. Because Wicca is an earth or nature based religion, many are drawn by a need to get back to the Earth. Another reason is our only rule, which very simply states, "Harm None." It means that we are free to act as we see fit, providing that no other person suffers injury, pain, anguish, loss, or corruption, as a result of our actions.
- So what do Witches DO?
- Pretty much the same thing as everyone else. We live our lives, and eventually pass on. We have families both directly and extended, and pay taxes as most people do. We don't preach our religion or try and force it upon others. Above all, we value personal responsibility. We hold that each of us is responsible for choosing our own words, deeds, opinions, thoughts, feelings and responses. More and more Witches are open about their beliefs, but still many others must keep their religion private for fear of persecution and intolerance.
As we are a nature religion, we prefer to worship out-of-doors. We believe that no building can give us the sense of contact we feel when our bare feet rest upon the Mother Earth, or the sense of blessing we feel when a breeze caresses our skin. Being with nature brings us closer to the divinity who creates it.
Unlike many other groups, we have no hidden agendas. What we seek from the rest of existence is really quite simple - that we be allowed to practice our religion without intolerance or prejudice.
This FAQ was compiled by various sources.
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