Before starting down this rather detailed road of definitions, let me be perfectly clear and state that virtually any definition one can attach to the words witch, witchcraft, or Wicca is in many ways dependent on the person making that definition. My own experience has taught me that if you were to ask one dozen people who claim to be Wiccans exactly what that word means, you would probably get at least a half-dozen different answers, and each answer could probably be tied to some acceptable reference source.
This seeming discrepancy is not due to any attempt to mask the truth or to a lack of information among Wiccan practitioners, but is due in large part to the fact that our Craft is growing and diverging today at a phenomenal rate. Many of the newer Wiccan Paths, sometimes referred to as Neo-Wiccan, have evolved with their own definitions or interpretations of these basic words. Their definition of Wicca may not always coincide with that held by the older Anglo-centered, British Traditional forms of Wicca that originated in the United Kingdom.
There are many Traditions of the Old Religion and many Paths within each Tradition. They each differ sufficiently to make even some basic definitions somewhat open to the interpretation of the practitioner. The definitions I present in this chapter are essentially my own and are based on my research sources and my personal understanding of my chosen Tradition and Path, which is generally understood to be Eclectic-Celtic Wicca. These definitions may not reflect those of other Wiccans who follow other Traditions. They may use reference sources that differ from mine and may therefore arrive at definitions that differ from what I present here. Nonetheless, I believe the definitions and explanations I provide offer as good a beginning as any.
I want to be very clear at the start of this book that the comments, thoughts, and opinions you will read here regarding Wiccan theology, rituals, and such are mine as I understand them based on my own experience and learning. They reflect my interpretations of how I live and practice Wicca from the perspective of my own Tradition and Path and from my own sources of information. I am by no means touting the material in this book as being something that speaks for all Wiccans. I have no intention of making that claim, nor, I believe, should any other author. When I use the words we or our in this book, I am simply referring to Wiccans in general. The use of these words is not meant to imply that a statement under discussion is accepted exactly as I have written it by all who practice Wicca. There is indeed no "one and only way" to work the Craft and worship our deities. We all have some differing understanding or interpretation of many aspects of the Old Religion, and each one of these interpretations is, by definition, the correct one for those who embrace it.
In any event, I encourage you to read what I present and use that information as a starting point in developing your own understanding of the Craft. Read as many sources as you can, do as much research as you can, and do not regard any one source as presenting the pure and unimpeachable truth over all others.
Wicca and Paganism
What does the word Wicca really mean, and where did it come from? Wicca is only one of many religions of the world that can be grouped under the umbrella of Paganism. So before we can define Wicca, we must first define the word Pagan. Pagan comes from the Latin word pagani or paganus, which translates into "hearth or home dweller," generally meaning a country person. In the days of the Roman Republic, the word pagani was somewhat derogatory in its application since those so addressed were considered "country cousins" and were usually thought of as being somewhat inferior to their more worldly, city-dwelling counterparts. With the expansion of Christianity, the word Pagan was redefined as one who worshipped the old gods and goddesses and did not seriously worship the new Christian god. In the early years of the Christian movement, being a Pagan had not yet taken on the ominous overtones of heathen or heretic that later lead to the persecutions and horrors of the Dark Ages, that period in history generally referred to as the Inquisition or the Burning Times.
The current definition of the word Pagan from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language1 is "a practitioner of any of the non-Christian, non-Muslim, or non-Jewish religions, typically holding a polytheist or pantheist doctrine, philosophy, or creed."1 A Pagan is thus anyone who follows a religion other than the Christian, Muslim, or Jewish religions. This obviously includes such diverse religions as the Hindu, Taoist, Confucian, Buddhist, Pacific Islander, American Indian, and, of course, all the nature-oriented or Earth-worshipping Eod and goddess religions. According to information culled from both The 1993 Encyclopedia Britannica and the The 1998 Cambridge Fact Finder1, the total of these so-defined Pagan religions accounts for approximately 50 percent of all the religious adherents in the world, which is, needless to say, a significant number of individuals.2
Figure 1 gives a general graphic representation of how Paganism, the Traditions of Wicca, and some of the various Paths within Wicca can be visualized from the standpoint of my own perspective and learning. Others may not agree with my arrangement of some of the figure components, disagreeing on how I have represented or depicted the relationships between some of the Traditions or Paths. I appreciate and understand this disagreement, since few of us will see these concepts in exactly the same way.
In any case, this figure is only meant to give some visual form to the concepts of Tradition and Path, and is obviously not meant to depict each and every form of Pagan Tradition or Wiccan Path. There are far too many of these to include in one simple graphic, and only a select few of the major Traditions and Paths are represented. Please note that the arrangement of figure 1 is alphabetical; there is no superiority implied by the order of appearance or by the absence of other major Pagan Traditions or Wiccan Paths.
That brings us back to the original question¿what does Wicca mean? There are those who, with justification, may say that anyone who invokes a deity and addresses that deity through magick in order to bring about change is practicing witchcraft and is therefore a witch. Given that definition of witchcraft, one could assume the title of witch if magick were practiced by invoking a deity associated with virtually any theology, and no one could tell you that you were not practicing witchcraft as you understood it.
There are also those within Wicca who may not totally recognize your claim to be a witchcraft practitioner since that claim may fall outside of what their Tradition or Path may define or recognize as the practice of witchcraft. This may sound like splitting hairs, but I think it has some validity in that the title of witch and the understanding of what witchcraft is can be related directly to how one interprets the origin of those words. That is not to say that a person initiated as a witch under a theology outside of Wicca has no validity as a witch¿far from it. I am only saying that the validity of one's claim to be a witchcraft practitioner may not necessarily be recognized by all those who practice under other Traditions or Paths of Wicca. This analysis, however, is probably more germane and firmly anchored to the teachings associated with the previously mentioned British Traditionals, such as the Gardnerian and Alexandrian Traditions, and much less so in the newer and generally more eclectic Craft Traditions that have evolved outside of that influence.
Many people feel that, technically, the word witch should be applied only to those practitioners of Paganism who follow one of the many Traditions of the Wiccan religion. The reason for this seems to be rooted in the derivation of the word witch. Some dictionaries and encyclopedias vary when defining its root source, with some listing it as a word of Germanic origin and others claiming it to be from Old English.
The 1999 World Book Encyclopedia1 defines Wicca as "the practice of witchcraft where-in most witches call their religion Wicca, from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning wisdom or wise, which is the root of such words as witch and wizard."3 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines the word witch as "from the Middle English wicche, from Old English wicce (feminine) and wicca (masculine) meaning wizard or sorcerer, a believer or follower of Wicca, a Wiccan."4 The 1999 World Book Encyclopedia defines the word witch as being "from the Old English word wicca, which is derived from the Germanic root wic, meaning to bend or to turn. By using magic, a witch is believed to have the ability to change or bend events. The word can be applied to a man or a woman."5 The word witch thus seems to be able to claim a derivation from Wicca, meaning a practitioner of the Wiccan religion, a wise one, or one who can influence and change events. The words witch and Wiccan would thus appear to be interrelated, at least according to these reference sources.
Does this mean that only Wiccans are witches? Not necessarily, since we have already said that, in a broad sense, a witch is one who has the ability to influence events through magick and that this ability is not limited to Wiccans. That thought can probably be summarized with the statement that not all Pagans are witches, not all witches are Wiccans, but all Wiccans are witches. There are many differing Traditions of the Pagan religion involving rituals with magickal workings, and they may be performing witchcraft, but the practitioners of Wicca would seem to be witches and to be practicing witchcraft in the most literal sense of the word.
One can further bolster the argument relating the words witch and Wiccan by saying that the practice of Wicca brings with it an acceptance of all the ramifications inherent in magickal workings aimed at bringing about change. By that I mean that we who practice Wicca assume all the responsibilities and consequences of our actions commensurate with the Wiccan Law, also sometimes called the Wiccan Ethic. We understand this Law or Ethic and apply it to our daily lives. We fully appreciate the meaning of the Wiccan Rede and the Threefold Law, and we try our best to uphold the Old Code of Wiccan Chivalry. These concepts form the basis of the ethics of the Old Religion, which will be discussed in the next chapter.
There are other Pagan Traditions that practice magick to bring about change, but in some cases these Traditions may not embrace a recognition of the concept of "harm none" that is at the root of the Wiccan Law. In so doing, they may be working magick and effecting change, but may possibly be doing so in a form that is not acceptable to Wiccans, although they are in reality still practicing witchcraft. By making this statement, please remember that I am in no way implying that these other Pagan Traditions are in some way inferior to Wicca or that Wicca is the only way to practice Paganism or even witchcraft. All Pagan Traditions, or any religious traditions for that matter, are valid for their followers. If a spiritual path or path of enlightenment is appropriate to the practitioner, then it most certainly is proper and valid for those who practice it.
As always, one of the prime ingredients of adherence in any religious doctrine must be the spiritual and emotional awakening that comes from within the practitioner. This thought is exemplified by one line from The Charge of the Goddess, which states, "For if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without." Thus, if that awakening occurs within you, then the Path is a viable one, regardless of what others may think or assume about the "validity" of that Path. This is also true for the Solitary practitioner of Wicca, because all the teacher-student training and Coven initiations in the world will not make one iota of difference if the initiate is not fully and totally in tune with the Old Religion on a spiritual level. That is a decision the God and Goddess will make when They are good and ready to make it and, believe me, They will let you know when the time is right. It is not something novices can arbitrarily decide on their own, and it is not something that is automatically conferred simply due to the public rite of a Coven initiation.
Truly becoming a witch, be it done as a Solitary or in Coven, is a deeply moving and profound mental, spiritual, emotional, and sometimes even physical experience. It is an awareness of your connection to the God and Goddess, an awareness or maybe even a reawakening of your eons-old link through your ancestors to that wonderful and all-encompassing thing we call Nature. The feelings and emotions that will surge through you when you experience that awakening are impossible to describe with the written word. They will alter your heart and raise your soul. They will leave an everlasting mark on all who experience that awakening with an impact on your very psyche that is almost physical, and your life will be forever changed. Once you truly acknowledge and accept your rightful title of witch, regardless of how it is conferred, you will never again be the same.
Wicca makes no claims to be "the only way"; indeed, no religion can really make this claim, because all spiritual traditions or paths are meaningful and valid to their practitioners. Unfortunately, there are many religious or spiritual paths that do not share this concept and honestly believe they have the only meaningful or right avenue of religious pursuit. This type of myopic thinking can usually be found in the more fundamentalist or militant factions of most religions. It usually manifests eventually in such things as inquisitions, holy wars, or other attempts to impose the will of the (usually) minority fundamentalists on the rest of the adherents. Fortunately, Wicca does not make this claim; in fact, we refute it and fully support the concept that any religious path is by definition acceptable to the followers of that path.
Some Wiccans now recognize the many differing aspects of the Old Religion, even to the point of making the somewhat inflammatory statement that Wicca as we know it today has evolved far beyond the concepts described by Gardner and how it is practiced by Gardnerian or Alexandrian witches.
British Traditional Witch and High Priestess Raven Scott breaks from the more traditional school of thought and makes the analysis that common usage has somewhat changed the way we now see and understand Wicca and what it means to be Wiccan. Scott states, "Part of this change has been brought about by the very thing we actually desired to see, our formal recognition as an organized and accepted religion under the laws of the United States."6
Scott also accepts the fact that not all Wiccans may know the Mysteries and cherished beliefs of the British Traditionalists. She comments that "those newcomers to Wicca are discovering their own Mysteries to make either their own Traditions in their own way, or they are working the Craft as Solitaries and in so doing they have evolved multiple versions of Wicca."7 I personally feel, as does Scott, that both versions of Wicca have a place in our Pagan society because both of them, the traditional and the new, enable us to connect with our ancestors and to find that divinity we seek. In the long run, isn't that what really matters?
Many of us have found something that speaks to the deepest and most emotional parts of our very inner selves, something that speaks to us across the gulf of thousands of years. What speaks to us was not called Wicca those thousands of years ago. There were no Gardnerians or Alexandrians at the building of Stonehenge, there was only the Craft of the Wise and it was simply there, as part of the everyday lives of our ancestors. That is the concept of the Old Religion that many of us embrace today. We choose to call our practice of that religion Wicca, and we choose to call ourselves witches.
I think that most practitioners of today's Craft realize that these new approaches have abandoned any deep or hidden content and instead embrace a totally open and visible path. I think we also understand that learning the ins and outs of the deeper meanings of our religion was never meant to be something that could be done quickly by just reading a few books. We can probably all agree here that a deeper understanding of the Craft does indeed require a program of dedication¿it is not something that can be learned easily. On the other hand, the newer open or visible paths do lend themselves to a quick course of study. While they must, by definition, mask the deeper meanings of our religion, they still enable one to get a foothold as either a Solitary or as a member of a nontraditional Coven.
Summarizing these thoughts, we can probably make the assumption that the Craft of the Wise was originally formed around those deeper and hidden concepts; it was never intended to be a religion for an extended population. There was usually only one witch or healer in any given village who truly knew the Mysteries, and little thought was probably given to providing interpretations of the belief system beyond that necessary for communal rituals.
The result of this transition from the hidden to the open in the twentieth century is the fact that many seekers of Wicca have learned the religion essentially through books. Unfortunately, because of this, many of the deeper concepts may have been misunderstood or misinterpreted; thus, the Mysteries have been changed from that which was understood by the Traditionalists to that which is understood by the newcomers.
What we have postulated essentially recognizes the emergence of a different form of Wicca, a Wicca that is open, fluid, evolving, and dynamic. This new concept of Wicca sometimes causes serious concerns among traditionalist practitioners because it seems to strike at what they see as the very heart of Wicca; and we must realize that their viewpoint, as narrow as it may seem to some newcomers, does indeed have merit.
The Wicca I identify with is the practice of the Old Religion that recognizes the old gods and goddesses who have been with us for literally hundreds of thousands of years, only the names have changed. It is the Wicca that understands the balance in nature that gives us life, death, and rebirth, and it calls to me from the deepest parts of my very being. That is my version of Wicca. True, it may not be exactly the same Wicca as practiced by the traditionalists, but it is what calls to me. It is how I understand and worship the Old Ones, by embracing the divinity we call Nature in all her glorious manifestations.
Table 1 at the end of this chapter describes some of the better known Paths, some would say sub-Traditions, of Wicca It is a relatively short table, since it would be impossible to include each and every Path. I included the table only to give the novice reader a feel for the depth of the differing Paths. It is in no way intended to be a complete compilation of the major Paths of Wicca. If you are a practitioner of a Path that is not described in this table, then I apologize for my unintentional oversight. I have listed the various Paths alphabetically; their order of appearance is in no way to be construed as placing one over another in order of importance.
If you are just beginning a study of Paganism, you may need to evaluate many differing Traditions or Paths before finding the one for which you are looking. Your chosen Path in the Old Religion must be one that is uniquely suited to you as an individual and one that lets you speak to the Lord and Lady in your own fashion. That Path may lead you to teachers and a Coven relationship, or it may lead you down the Solitary path. Each has its own validity, and one must not be construed to be somehow superior to the other.
To those people who say that a Solitary is not a real witch, that a Solitary initiation into the Craft is not a real initiation, and only a Third Degree witch or an Elder can initiate another into the Craft, I take great exception. If a Solitary individual completes a reasonable course of study in the Wiccan religion, formally and without reservation dedicates and consecrates to the Lord and Lady, swears to defend Them and all those who love Them, and vows to follow the Wiccan Law, then that individual has indeed self-initiated. That initiation has been duly witnessed and accepted by the God and Goddess, and he or she has as much right to the title of witch as anyone initiated by any Coven High Priestess or High Priest in any Coven ritual.
As to the use of the word self-initiate as opposed to self-dedicate, I feel to some degree that this is simply a case of semantics. The 1999 World Book Encyclopedia defines the word dedicate as "the act or state of giving up wholly or earnestly to some person or purpose."8 It defines the word initiate as "a formal admission into a group or society, or the ceremonies by which one is admitted to a group or society."9 Whether you use the word dedicate or initiate, you are doing the same thing in either case. You are giving yourself wholly to a purpose (Wicca), and you are being admitted into that society (of Wicca) by a ceremony.
Having stated that Solitaries have exactly the same right to use the title of witch as any Coven initiate, it is important to realize that Solitary practitioners must by necessity obtain their information from existing written sources, either books or possibly from the Internet. Please be aware that not every written source available on our Craft is necessarily a "good" source. There are many published materials that contain errors or misinformation. This is usually not by design, but is usually due to conflicting opinions or philosophies between authors or, in some cases, is simply due to a lack of research by an author. Be aware of this and seek the opinions of others regarding the credibility of an author before totally accepting his or her word. Never assume any one author or teacher has the final and absolute answers to all your questions, and always know that there may be some kernel of wisdom in almost any source. If necessary, take what information you feel you can use, build on that, and leave the rest behind.
Most people knowledgeable in the Old Religion will also tell you that there is no "one and only true Path" of Paganism or Wicca. If you are unfortunate enough to come across a teacher or source that espouses this philosophy, run like hell because this is the last place a novice or seeker needs to be. There is no such thing as "the only way." As long as your path of study is built on a background of solid information, it is quite acceptable, if not necessary, to develop your own religious philosophy by taking the best parts of many others to form a new whole. The Path some identify as Eclectic-Celtic Wicca, which has taken what its practitioners believe to be the best from several Paths (Irish, Welsh, and Scot, and maybe even some Anglo-Roman influences), is exactly that and is perfectly acceptable. The main thing that matters in such an eclectic Path is the spiritual connection between you and the deities. As long as this connection is established, provides you with growth both spiritually and magickally, and is one in which you are comfortable, then go with it.
There is nothing wrong with changing your chosen Path later on. As your Craft knowledge expands over time, you may realize that there is some other Path within a Tradition, or maybe an entirely different Tradition, that seems more comfortable for you. If that happens, it is fully permissible to change direction and go with the new one¿nothing is forever cast in stone. You are free to find the way most suited to you, be it as Solitary or in an established Tradition, but it must be one of your own choosing and one that ignites your own spirituality.
Let me be clear, however, about one very important point that every Solitary practitioner must take into account. I am in no way implying that a year and a day of self-study, followed by a self-initiation, automatically grants the Solitary immediate peerage and equality with those who have completed years of formal study with established teachers and attained the level of Third Degree in a structured Coven.
There are people in our religion who have dedicated their lives to learning the Craft. They have been taught by others who have similarly dedicated their lives to the study of our Craft, and many of them have gone on to accept the position of Coven High Priest or High Priestess. Some have also earned the right to the title of Elder, with all the respect due them that their hard-earned wisdom and education merits. These people are the ones you should seek if at all possible, for they are the teachers who can and will pass on to you knowledge that is virtually impossible to attain on your own from any book. I have been a Pagan for over thirty years and I marvel almost daily at the knowledge that I realize I have yet to uncover. The old axiom "the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know" is very true, believe me.
That leads us to a brief discussion of what constitutes a Wiccan Priestess or Priest. Generally speaking, Wicca does not embody the structure of clergy and congregation typically found in most religions. Any practitioner of the Craft who has initiated is considered a Priest or Priestess of Wicca. There is no overall governing body granting formal certification. That is not to say that these individuals have amassed sufficient skills or knowledge to become teachers, only that by the time of initiation these people have developed ritual skills and the affinity with our deities that essentially define the words priest and priestess.
As to High Priestess or High Priest, typically each Tradition will have its own requirements in both the time and skills needed before a Priest or Priestess can attain this position. It is a position of leadership within the Coven, and the individuals so designated will be responsible for leading all rituals and magickal rites. It is also a position of trust and responsibility, which will be discussed in more detail in chapter 2 on ethics.
What Does Wicca Really Embody?
Wicca is a religion rooted in the mists of Neolithic history. By whichever name you choose to call it¿Wicca, the Old Religion, Witchcraft, or the Craft of the Wise¿it is basically a fertility and agrarian religion. It is a religion of nature worship and the subsequent interaction with nature that is descended from that practiced by the Celtic clans of Western Europe and the indigenous peoples of the British Isles, the builders of such monuments as Stonehenge. The basics of what we today call Wicca can be found in the pantheons and theologies of both the Celts and British Islanders. Wicca by that very definition is thus an Anglo-European Pagan religion, and I personally feel that it is impossible to have a Wiccan Tradition such as Egyptian Wicca, Buddhist Wicca, or North American Indian Wicca. While the Egyptian, Buddhist, and North American Indian religions are obviously Pagan religions in their own right, they cannot be part of the Wiccan Tradition of Paganism.
That is not to say, of course, that one cannot extract elements of Wicca and somehow merge them with elements of something like Buddhism. I suppose that could be done, but such a conglomeration, even though it may be meaningful to its adherents, could not in reality be called Wicca since the theological concepts would in all probability be too far removed from Wicca as the rest of the Wiccan population understands it.
Just a few more words need to be said about the origin of Wicca. Although there is no question that Gerald Gardner should be credited with bringing our religion into the public eye in the twentieth century, he did not invent Wicca. It would be more correct to state that Gardner rediscovered it or possible reinvented it by developing the Tradition that bears his name, Gardnerian Wicca, from which many of the present day myriad Wiccan Traditions may have themselves evolved. Gerald Gardner, Aleister Crowley, and Margaret Murray have all made an indelible contribution to the revival of the Wiccan religion it exists today, and their part in our evolution must never be forgotten.
The religion we know as Wicca was already thousands of years old before any of these contributors came on the scene. It is true that it was probably not called Wicca five thousand years ago. I am sure the rites and rituals practiced then were somewhat different from today's counterparts, but the religion we Wiccans practice at the dawn of the twenty-first century is indeed rooted in the earliest religious observances of our Neolithic ancestors. It is essentially the same age-old religion observing the same nature-driven ritual holidays and recognizing the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth. It is the same now as it was then.
As was discussed earlier, the definitions associated with our religion can be somewhat dependent on who you ask. Our religion is changing day by day. It is growing and expanding, which sometimes brings growing pains. There are many practitioners who have spent most of their lifetimes learning the intricacies of the Craft, studying for years before they would dare assume the mantle of witch, and who sometimes feel the old ways are being ignored and shunted aside by a new breed of practitioner. To a certain extent, this feeling may have some merit. There are probably too many "boilerplate" instruction books available on Wicca and witchcraft that take little or no time trying to impart what it means to be Wiccan. They jump instead directly into the mechanics of "how to be a witch" with no regard for the responsibility and understanding that must be inherent in that mantle.
As Wiccans, we acknowledge and worship the old gods and goddesses in a form both pleasing to Them and meaningful to us, and do so in a form that has remained essentially unchanged for thousands of years, regardless of the Tradition of the practitioner. We do not want to change the basics of that worship, because they are at the heart of what it means to be a Wiccan. Once you step out of that philosophy and develop a path of worship that fails to address those basics or subverts the old methods, you are no longer practicing Wicca. You may be practicing a Pagan religion and working some form of magick, but you are not practicing the Old Religion, you are not practicing Wicca.
Even given the somewhat diverse definitions of Wicca, we can still make the following general statements regarding the fundamental tenets that are at the heart of the religion with some degree of certainty. The religion of Wicca, the Old Religion, is a loving and peaceful Pagan religion of nature or Earth worship. It is tied to the phases of the moon and the seasons of the year as defined by both lunar and solar astronomical events. It is oriented generally toward agrarian fertility celebrations and recognizes both a female goddess and a male god as equal deities. Wicca is a spiritual awakening within one's self, recognizing the interrelationship between humankind and nature. It is first and foremost a veneration of our Lord and Lady, a deep and abiding understanding of the natural order of things, and an awareness of the religious and cultural significance of our special holidays. Only after all this is Wicca concerned with spells, magick, and the arts of divination.
Wicca teaches us that the Goddess and God are equal and exist together in each and everything in and on this Earth, including ourselves, so that we are part of the God and Goddess just as They are part of us. We and our deities are all linked together as part of the life force or cosmic energy that flows through all things, both animate and inanimate. The witch becomes in tune with this force, this energy, during rituals. It is the same force we tie into and manipulate for the creation of positive personal change through spells and magick.
Wicca is a religion based on harmony with nature and all aspects of the God and Goddess divinity. It is a veneration of our Earth. We understand that our world is in the midst of an ecological disaster in the making and that our atmosphere and our water have been polluted to the extent that major expenditures of effort and money are now required to even begin to repair the damage. Fortunately, some steps are finally being taken to stop the destruction of the ozone layer and to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. This does not mean the ecological battle is over¿far from it¿since the damage already done to our atmosphere and oceans will take years if not centuries to repair. While there may be no immediate solutions to these problems, they are issues of which we as Pagans and Wiccans must be acutely aware.
We understand and are in tune with the seasons, the natural order of changes in nature and in the universe. We recognize that death is part of life just as night is part of day, and that storms and monsoon rains are needed just as much as the warm spring mists and dry summer days. You cannot have one without the other. This concept of balance is carried forward in our understanding of the balance needed between male and female and our belief that our God and Goddess are always equal, even though one or the other may tend to dominate in some rituals.
Wicca is a peace-loving religion that exemplifies joy and harmony with all the manifestations of nature. We understand and recognize the relationship of humankind to the natural order of all things. We recognize divinity in everything both animate and inanimate, and embrace the God and Goddess equally in perfect love and perfect trust.
Wicca has its roots in a pre-industrial fertility or nature-oriented agrarian religion, and the seasonal festivals or other working meetings of witchcraft typically coincide with either the solar or lunar cycles of nature. These festivals and meetings, generally referred to as Sabbats and esbats, are further discussed in chapter 4.
A Wiccan Philosophy
What is a Wiccan's basic belief? Having previously made the case for Wicca being an esoteric, multifaceted, almost an ethereal concept, can we even answer this question? There may not be a single answer, but I believe we can at least address it. First of all, you must understand that how I define Wicca is based on the teachings and practices of my own Tradition. I am not implying that the thoughts and concepts in the following paragraphs are universally held by all Wiccans. In general, though, I believe you will find that most of the basic material being discussed herein is generally accepted in some form by the vast majority of those who practice Wicca.
You also need to understand that our religion is not specifically a goddess religion. It is a nature religion keyed to the natural order of events that is somewhat goddess-oriented due primarily to the unique position of the female in the birth cycle. We understand that obviously both male and female components are necessary for reproduction, but we also recognize the special place of the female in that cycle. When we discuss the Wiccan Sabbats later on, you will see that the Goddess is the dominant entity throughout all spring and summer rituals, with the God coming into prominence for the rituals of fall and winter; but even in those late-year celebrations and rites, the Goddess element is still present.
Like most religions of the world, the Pagan religions also have their own creation stories, those "in the beginning" stories that differ markedly from one Pagan religion to another. Although many similarities exist, there are significant differences between the creation stories of Buddhists, Native Americans, and Wiccans; and within the Wiccan religion, there are differences between the creation stories of the various Traditions.
If there is a basic creation story imbedded in most traditions of Wicca, it might be something as follows, and it does not differ that much from the basically accepted facts of evolutionary science. Generally speaking, we accept the fact that billions of years ago, according to astrophysical sciences, the entire universe was created in one split second by what is generally referred to as the Big Bang. This violent explosion of matter and antimatter expelled gases and dust particles at phenomenal speeds in all directions, a process that continues even today. As the eons passed, many of these particles of dust and stellar matter condensed and coalesced into larger and larger objects, finally forming into a multitude of stars and planetary systems. On many of these planetary systems, life began.
As Wiccans, we each have our own Tradition's view of this process and how life as we know it evolved; but I believe many of us consider that this Big Bang concept may have evolved from something similar to the ultimate cosmic orgasm between God and Goddess, eventually giving birth to every element and component of our universe. As time passed and life developed on myriad planets, it universally exhibited the balance and equality of male and female that is personified by the God and Goddess. On planet Earth, those early life forms began to recognize and accept the balance and divinity that is personified by what they choose to identify as Nature. The male and female balance was recognized by the most primitive of emerging life forms, and the acceptance of nature as a manifestation of the God and Goddess divinity began to emerge as a driving force in all sentient beings.
As time progressed, our ancestors moved out of their Paleolithic caves and built villages and cities, and they worshipped the God and Goddess as they saw Them existing in all things. They saw Nature as continuing year by year, ever renewing. This then could have been the beginning, the creation, of what we today call our Wiccan religion. From these basic concepts came the image of life ever-dying to be reborn, that which we understand as our "Wheel of the Year" and that which we identify as our "Mysteries."
The concept of the Wheel of the Year is woven into the fabric of most Traditions (see figure 2). Simply put, it is our calendar that defines the dates of our Sabbat rituals and shows those rituals to be repeating year after year, eternally. The Wheel tells us that the Wiccan year begins on the Sabbat of Yule when the Goddess gives birth to the God. The God grows strong through the spring and summer Sabbats of Ostara and Beltain when the God and Goddess unite and the Goddess becomes pregnant with the new God. The God begins his repose through the fall Sabbats of Lughnassadh and Mabon, finally dying on Samhain to be reborn at Yule, and the cycle begins again.
Interwoven with the Wheel of the Year are the Mysteries, those innermost parts of the theology of each Tradition that make it unique and special to its followers. The Mysteries are an integral part of each Wiccan Tradition, defining each and every one. They are a cyclical part of the Wheel of the Year, the cycle of nature, and they are the things that novices learn as the Tradition is studied, defining their Wiccan heritage and shaping their future. The concept of Wiccan Mysteries is discussed in more detail in chapter 4, although in a rather generic sense. Since this book has been written essentially to cut across Traditions and be as nontraditional as possible, I will leave it to each reader to identify, understand, and learn independently those things that form the Mystery of your chosen Tradition.
This concept of the eternal cycle of all things is at the heart of Wiccan philosophy, because it exemplifies our belief that all things must continue and that there must eventually be balance in all things. There can be no spring without winter, no rain without sun, no day without night, and no life without death. The Wheel of the Year and the Mysteries show us that all aspects of existence are cyclical and repeating, never to end, everlasting and eternal.
We thus recognize the existence of a supreme creator/creatrix from which all other things that Wiccans hold sacred have sprung. We believe that everything was created by an entity we call "the One," which is that primal and indefinable essence of the ultimate existence that is almost beyond comprehension and is at the heart of everything we identify as the spiritual beginning of us all. We perceive the One to be composed of equal elements of both male and female, which is personified as the Goddess and God divinity that bring the concept of balance to all we know as nature. The Goddess and God are knowable and generally within our reach, yet still beyond our real understanding. Their essence is always present in all things¿in the sky, fields, streams, rivers, trees, flowers, and in all of us. We are and have always been part of the Goddess and God, and They are and have always been part of all of us.
To take this idea one step further, we also conceive of the many aspects of the God and Goddess that are represented by the actual named entities we invoke and address at our rituals and rites. We understand that our deities are not single individual entities. These thousands of aspects are each part of the essential personality of the God and Goddess, each unique and each directly addressable. When we do an invocation or a ritual spell casting, it is vitally important that we understand exactly which personification or aspect of our particular deity we wish to invoke. Each aspect of the God and Goddess deity has a specific name, and these are the names we call at our rites. In short, every God and Goddess of virtually any Wiccan Tradition have multiple aspects, each one of them available to the practitioner to be called on as necessary, and each one unique.
We also understand that the domain of the Goddess is the night sky. She is invoked each esbat as the Silver Lady of the Night, the full moon, ruling the tides of oceans and the cycles of women. She is the Triple Goddess as Her symbol moves from young woman, to mature woman, to old Crone, to death and rebirth, on a monthly cycle as represented by the phases of the moon. As the Maiden, She brings a new beginning; as the Mother, She represents the nourishment of birth; and as the Crone, She is all wisdom and compassion. She rules over all fertility, crops, and reproduction. She is the goddess of fields, streams, woodlands, the sea, and of all small creatures. She is fertility for all living things, giving birth and nourishing the young, be they animal or vegetable. She is the mother of us all, our creatrix, and in the end all will return to Her.
We understand that the domain of the God is the day sky. He rules over all aspects of the hunt and is the consort of the Goddess in reproduction, ever-dying and being constantly reborn to rise as Her son and Her lover. He is the fire lord of the day, the blazing sun. He is the dispeller of the cold of winter and the bringer of the warmth of summer. He is hunter, craftsman, warrior, shepherd, and lover. He is the Horned God of forests and mountains, and defender of all creatures. He is the nature force that impregnates Mother Earth. He is the wisdom and empowerment of all physical laws. He is the father of us all, our creator, and in the end all will return to Him.
Like the Goddess, the God can have many aspects, and, like Her, it is necessary to know and understand which of His aspects a practitioner is trying to call upon when ritual work is being done. Figure 3 is a graphical representation of these concepts. While this figure does not attempt to identify the many aspects our God and Goddess can represent, since that would be impossible in a single graphic, it does give a general idea of how we may view or interpret the interrelationships comprising a basic Wiccan theology. The figure boxes labeled "Aspects" could represent literally thousands of entities, each with a specific name and each with a specific responsibility within any number of pantheons.
Wicca, like all religions, addresses the issue of life after death. Unlike at least the Christian religions, however, Wicca does not endorse the concepts of heaven or hell with the corresponding one-time reward or punishment scenario¿these are strictly parts of the Christian theology. Wiccan philosophy embraces the concept of multiple reincarnations. The physical body you presently inhabit is only a shell for the intellect, the soul, or the spirit; call it what you will. The physical demise of that material entity releases the spirit back to the place we call Summerland for a time of rejuvenation, reflection, and ultimately another incarnation of the physical self. This process of reincarnation is repeated for numerous lifetimes until a development of the spirit is reached where that spirit can truly merge with the male and female balanced creator/creatrix entity. We return to the God and to the Goddess. This is one of the basic truths of the Wiccan religion.
What really is Summerland? Many define it as the place of ultimate peace and contentment, the place of eternal springs and summers, of soft green grasses and gentle warm breezes, and of clear, cool waters. It is the ultimate paradise, a place not of death but of life. The Romans called it Avalonia, from which comes the Avalon of Arthurian legend. The Norse call it Valhalla; North American Indians may call it the Last Hunting Ground; and some other Pagan religions may simply call it the Otherworld. We all have our definitions and our conceptions of what Summerland is, and they are mostly different, driven by our own desires and our understandings of the afterlife. It is therefore not readily definable in the written sense. It is a place in the hearts and minds of each of us, and its definitions vary with each of us. One thing is certain, though, in the philosophy of Wicca. We know that Summerland awaits us all as we pass from this incarnation, and we know also that Summerland is only the first step on our individual roads to immortality.
As Pagans, we understand that even as our physical bodies may cease to exist in what we may perceive as the present physical world, some of our essence will continue to inhabit that world even as our spirits journey through the gates of Summerland. This concept is beautifully represented in a prose that I have seen many times and in many forms, although each of the variations says essentially the same thing. I am unaware of the author of the original work so for purposes of this manuscript it is simply "Anonymous."
How often we may reincarnate, and how much time is spent in Summerland between incarnations is a matter of conjecture among various authors and Wiccan practitioners. My own past-life experiences let me subscribe to a break or space between incarnations of what appears to be at least several hundred years. How many incarnations we may experience probably depends on each individual spirit entity. Since the ultimate merging process is one of growth and experience, it is probably up to each one of us as individuals to determine how many incarnations we experience before final union with our God and Goddess.
Can the reincarnation process be cross-specie or cross-gender? I personally believe that it is not cross-specie. Once the cycle is begun as a human entity, it must continue in that vein to completion. As to cross-gender, I don't know. One can argue that in order to achieve the complete balance of male and female, which is emphasized in Wicca, one should experience existence as both sexes. So far, my personal past-life experiences have only reflected a male existence, as far as I can tell.
Wicca is more than a religion of nature ritual and reincarnation philosophy. It is also a religion of healing and change using a positive mental state and positive energy to achieve relief from both internal and external injuries or problems. This is the application of magick or spellcraft that we use to bring about these positive changes, a concept we will discuss in detail in chapter 6. The witch also understands and uses meditation techniques, as well as various herbs (either wild or cultivated) in conjunction with mainstream medical practices to help alleviate illness or injury. Our skills are meant to work in conjunction with modern medicine, not to replace it.
As we have discussed in this chapter, the definitions of Pagan, Wiccan, and witch vary among Pagans depending on the training and Pagan Tradition followed. Generally speaking, not all Pagans are Wiccans, not all Pagans are necessarily witches, and not all witches are Wiccans, but all Wiccans are indeed witches.
Regardless of whether we practice the Craft in Covens or as Solitaries, we practice it in a fully autonomous environment. We and we alone are totally responsible for the content and format of our rituals and rites and for how we establish a relationship with the Lord and Lady. There is no single individual appointed over us, no one empowered with the title of Grand Pagan, King or Queen of all Witches, or Supreme Wiccan; nor is there an overall World Council of Witches passing laws and handing down directives to the rest of us. Even when a new Coven hives off from another and there is some allegiance between the two, that relationship is never such that one is subservient to the other.
There are, however, several loose confederations of Pagans such as the Covenant of the Goddess and some of the public awareness or public education organizations like the Pagan Educational Network. In these types of associations, Covens and Solitaries occasionally come together as both individuals and groups to celebrate a major Sabbat jointly or to address a common issue.
The upside to this autonomy is that we are indeed all fully independent in thought, word, and deed (at least within our own Tradition) to practice as we see fit. The downside is that it is difficult for us to organize into any really unified or cohesive whole if it becomes necessary to address a legal issue involving our rights, or even if one of us might be threatened. I strongly suggest that if you are practicing in a small Coven or as a Solitary that you at least make an effort to contact other Pagans in your area and develop some form of a relationship. This can usually be accomplished through a local Pagan or occult shop, or, failing that, try the Internet and search for like-minded groups within your geographical area.
It is important that you have some idea of where to go in order to resolve questions about the religion or just to be able to swap ideas and concepts with others, and to be made aware of possible antiwitch activities or pogroms; or, in the worst case, to have someplace to ask for help if that need should ever arise.
Since we are all fully autonomous, we are all free to interpret the guidelines of the Old Religion as we understand them and to worship the Old Ones in our own way. Others may disagree with our interpretations and even with some of our rituals, and it is fully their right to do so, be they novice or Elder; but any disagreement must be seen in the context of the other person's Tradition or Path, and no one, regardless of tenure in the Craft or position in their own Coven, is automatically endowed with infinite wisdom and infallible knowledge of all things Wiccan. No one has the right to tell other practitioners that they are "doing it all wrong"; in fact, I have known novices, those still in their first year and a day of study, who have demonstrated more Craft spirituality and magickal insight than some people who have been practicing the Craft for years.
We practice a very old religion, one that venerates life and understands the magickal relationship between ourselves and the divinity we call Nature, one that predates by thousands of years the advent of Gerald Gardner and the establishment of Gardnerian Wicca. Our religion is generically called witchcraft, although we who practice it today usually call it Wicca. No one, regardless of his or her professed Craft genealogy, has ownership of the word witch and can tell you that you cannot call yourself a witch or practice witchcraft unless you do so in a certain way. Practice the Craft in whatever way gives you a spiritual connection to the God and Goddess, and do it in such a way that you grow spiritually and magickally. Do all these things in conformance with the Wiccan Law, and you are indeed practicing witchcraft.
Wicca is a peaceful, nature-loving, and life-affirming religion with an inherent belief in the balance of nature, which can incorporate the practice of witchcraft in order to bring about a positive change in our lives or in our environment. We do not profess to be "the only way," and we understand that what is the right and sensible path for us may not be the right path for others. There are many religions in this world, and there are many Traditions within Paganism and many Paths within Wicca. Each one of them is meaningful and viable to its practitioners.
We honor and support all religions in the belief that religion is an individual choice and that each person must follow his or her own personal path of conviction. We do not disparage other religions or modes of worship, and we do not attempt to convert others to our way of thinking. Our way can only be attained through an individual's own initiative, never by proselytizing or recruitment.
Wicca is a peaceful and loving religion, and these concepts are incorporated into our rituals and daily activities. The tenet "Love is the Law and Love is the Bond" is fully understood and recognized by all practitioners of Wicca.
Descriptions of Several Paths of Wicca
The material presented in this table was initially inspired by Raymond Buckland's book Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft, as well as by conversations with others in the Craft. While the material presented here is obviously not meant to give the reader a complete description of each Tradition listed, it should at least yield enough information to determine if a particular Tradition merits further investigation or study.
As noted before, this is only a sampling of some of Wicca's major Traditions, with their arrangement in this table being purely alphabetical. There is no superiority or inferiority either expressed or implied by the order of appearance, or by the lack of appearance, of a Tradition or Path.
This is one of the Traditions generally grouped under the heading of a "Brit Trad" or British Traditional form of Wicca. This Tradition was originated in England by Alex Sanders in the early 1960s, with its rituals being essentially a modification of Gardnerian Wicca. A structured degree system of First through Third Degree is used for advancement within the Coven. Alexandrian Wicca is an initiatory Tradition and is therefore not open to Solitaries.
2. British Traditional Witch (BTW)
This Tradition is essentially derived from Gardnerian principles and has a strong Celtic component. This is a highly structured Tradition with specific educational and training requirements that need to be met for advancement within a Coven through a degree process. This is an initiatory Tradition where an initiation is done only by an approved Elder, and the initiates can typically trace their lineage back to the original Coven of Gerald Gardner; thus, BTW is not a Tradition open to the Solitary practitioner. Some BTW Covens still tend to defend militantly the use of the word witch. The believe this word is properly applied only to initiated members of this Tradition.
This Tradition is a mix of the Kitchen Witch Path with the very early Celtic pantheons of Scot, Irish, and Welsh, and even having some Druid flavors. Anglo-Roman influences can also be present in some Paths of Celtic Wicca. The emphasis is on nature veneration and the elements identified as the Ancient Ones or Old Ones, and it stresses the magickal properties of trees and plants. Celtic Wicca does not, however, have the firm connection to specific and holy groves, springs, or trees, as does the Druid Tradition, and is easily adaptable for Solitaries. The basic ritual structure and content of Celtic Wicca can generally be found, to some degree, in most Traditions. This may be one of the oldest Wiccan Traditions because of its broad influence across the entire Wiccan format.
Developed by Margaret Murray in 1921, this Tradition is typically identified as a feminist Tradition. The focus of many Dianic Covens can be totally on the Goddess to the exclusion of the male God component, with all emphasis on "wimmin" or "womyn" only. This is generally an initiatory Tradition, but many individuals practice its tenets as Solitaries. Almost any Pagan Tradition can support a Dianic Path.
This Tradition is essentially a mix of various Paths wherein the worshipper selects what are considered the best parts of several Paths and combines them into a new whole, without following any specific or single Tradition or magickal practice. It is easily adaptable to the Solitary practitioner, but the downside to being totally eclectic is the obvious end result of developing a new concept of worship, one so new or different that it may no longer be considered Wiccan.
This Tradition was founded by Gerald Gardner in the middle 1950s and is generally considered to be the starting Tradition of the modern witchcraft revival movement. Gardnerian Wicca is another of the British Traditionals and is highly structured, with firm requirements in both time and skills that have to be met for advancement through the various degrees. Self-initiation is not possible in Gardnerian Wicca; thus, it is not a viable Path for Solitaries.
This is a highly restrictive Tradition, since you must be able to trace your Wiccan ancestry back several generations in your genealogy. Teachings and initiations are done only by a living relative who was similarly instructed and initiated, and outsiders or nonfamily members are not considered for participation. It is ideal for Solitaries if you can meet these qualifications.
8. Kitchen Witch
This Tradition is devoted essentially to the practical or working end of the Old Religion, with emphasis on the use of plants and spells for such things as protection and healing. This Tradition may come closest to the generally understood meaning of what a witch is and does, and it was apparently practiced by the Neolithic inhabitants of most of Western Europe. This is also one of the Traditions most easily practiced by Solitaries, since the required education can be obtained from either self-teaching or can be learned from others.
This Tradition was founded by Raymond Buckland in the early 1970s as an offshoot of Gardnerian Wicca. Seax-Wica (that is the correct spelling of this Path) differs from Gardnerian primarily in its ability to accommodate the Solitary practitioner. There are no degrees in Seax-Wica, but emphasis is placed on skills learned either through instruction or self-instruction, and one can self-initiate.
This is an Italian Tradition, dating from about the middle of the fourteenth century a.d., that emphasizes worship of the Goddess in Her form of Aradia, daughter of Diana. Some of the Sabbat names in Strega may differ from those used in other Traditions of Wicca, although many of the same rites and festivals are celebrated.
11. Teutonic or Nordic
This Tradition is probably just as ancient a form of Wicca as the Celtic form, but it has its base in the Nordic countries of Europe, with emphasis on the Nordic pantheon more than on the British Isles or Celtic deities. This Tradition is typically more prevalent among some of the Germanic-speaking peoples such as the Dutch, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, and Germans.