Student Essay: What is Wicca?

My student learning position within the local coven requires that I write numerous essays about different subjects. I thought it might be interesting to post them here as I go, for feedback and accountability.

Wicca is the most well-known of all of the neo-pagan practices today. It was started by Gerald Gardner in the early 20th century and became popular in the 50’s and 60’s. At its core, Wicca is a mystery religion, in which knowledge and information is reserved for initiates and not revealed to outsiders. The mystery cults have a long history within Greco-Roman faiths and can also be seen in the Kemetic and Druidic faiths as well. Gerald Gardner claimed to have been initiated into the New Forest coven in England in 1939, and used their practices and beliefs as the basis for the tradition of Gardnerian Wicca. He published 2 books, Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959), which can be viewed as the foundation for our modern practices. For this, he is commonly referred to as “the Father of Wicca”.

There are many many many different forms of Wicca today. These include but are not limited to Alexandrian, Gardnerian, Dianic, and Feri. Because of the arguements over the labels and the infighting between covens, Alexandrian and Gardnerian Wicca are sometimes refered to as British Traditional Witchcraft or BTW.

Wiccan beliefs are as varied as their practitioners. Ideas of monotheism vs polytheism, pantheism vs panetheism vs animism… You get my point. Dianics tend to focus solely on the Goddess and not include the God. Some Wiccans see all Gods as faces of the God and all Goddess’ as faces of the Goddess. Some covens are eclectic and some stick to strict pantheons. Some believe in the Summerland, some speak of reincarnation, some are fine with seeing us returned to the cycles of nature. As many voices as there are, that is how many differing opinions you will find.

So what are some common threads? Most Wiccans practice magic, though some are purely spiritual and not all magical practitioners are Wiccan or spiritual. Most Wiccans (all that I have had the pleasure of knowing) celebrate the turning of the wheel with the 8 sabbats: Samhain (October 31), Yule (December 21), Imbolc (February 1), Ostara (March 21), Beltane (May 1), Litha (June 21), Lammas (August 1), and Mabon (September 21). These dates are for the Northern hemisphere, in the southern they are reversed, with Yule being on June 21 and Litha being on December 21. The awake reader will have noted how the holidays align opposite each other, they mark the Solstices and the Equinoxes, the points of balance in our year. They line up this way to coincide with the harvests. Let me show you a picture:

The names in the picture are slightly different but the concept is the same.

Another thing that Wiccans have in common is the Wiccan Rede, written in 1964 by Doreen Valiente. Here is a link to the entire rede, but the part that most Wiccans, and other pagans for that matter, can quote by heart is the last two lines: Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill/An it harm none, do what thou wilt. Or something like that. The Rede is the cornerstone of Wiccan morality, helping Wiccans worldwide to find ways to interact with others in peace and harmony. Does it always work? Nope. (The recent problems at PantheaCon with the Dianic, cis womans-only ritual are proof of that.) But its a nice ideal to strive for.

Another common thread in Wicca is the pentacle and the symbolism inherent. The pentacle is a pentagram, or 5 pointed star, with a circle around it. The 5 points correspond to the 4 elements of western thought: earth, air, fire, water, with the fifth point symbolizing spirit. Traditionally, each element is also associated with a direction and the corresponding… correspondences of color, emotion, spirits, what have you.

The rest of this essay is supposed to be a compare and contrast with my own spiritual practices.

Hmmm… thats a difficult one to say. My path is constantly growing and changing. What I was doing 3 years ago is not what I do at all today.

One major difference is ritual. Ritual within Wicca is a key way in which people interact with the God/dess and spirits. Ritual includes casting a circle doesil, or clockwise, having ritual tools like a wand and chalice, utilizing the elements and something called “Cakes and Ale”, which is ritual food. They then take the circle down widdershins or counterclockwise. Thats a lot of fun and a lot of work but when I have attempted to do this as a solitary, I feel silly. Don’t get me wrong, I still practice magic and cast circles when needed. The entire circle casting process is quite amazing when journeying to the Otherworlds, you can physically see the energy you raise and release.

So how do I interact with my Gods and spirits? For one, I can hear my patrons in my head pretty well when I am listening. Each Goddess comes from her own… chakra for lack of a better word, with a distinct voice and sense of humor. It gets semi-weird when all 3 of us are talking. Lady Hela radiates from a pulse at the point where my skull and my spine connect. Angrboda radiates from my heart chakra area. And yes, thats a physical sensation as well. I also do journey work, which involves achieving an ecstatic trance state which allows my hame (soul or astral self) to wander from my lich (physical body). I mainly do this through the use of drumming CD’s. [Which, btw, I have some awesome links for if anyone reading this is interested. Just let me know.] So sometimes my Goddess’ come over here and play and sometimes I go over there and play. My work over there involves a kind of apprenticeship at the moment.

Another thing I can’t seem to be able to do very well is maintain a Book of Shadows. A Book of Shadows, or BoS for short, is a detailed record of a Wiccan’s practice, including spells, correspondences, herbal lore, phases of the moon, anything magical they want to put in. The main reason I struggle with keeping a BoS is because…. yup, you guessed it, I don’t do magic at home. I feel like I have nothing to write about. I do keep track of my journeywork, what I promised to whom, but a lot of my useful/useless information is stuck squarely in my head.

What do I have in common with Wicca? Divination is common amongst Wiccans and other pagans. I use the Wildwood Tarot deck and am learning how to read runes. Our approach to the divine is similar. I know that we face the Gods and Goddess’ equally. I may be a hard polytheist and an animist, but I know when I participate in a Wiccan circle its the same divine presence. We have the same core moral beliefs, though my path requires that I deal with things that others in the neo-pagan community might find repulsive or repugnant. I know that I can stand in solidarity with my Wiccan breathrens and not feel quite so alone. Because we are all alone on our paths, I cannot drag you into my reality simply because I want company.

Do I always feel accepted by Wiccans? No, not always. Sometimes I feel left out and misunderstood. My High Priestess referred to my path as “low magic” which is a term used to describe any nature magic that used objects found in nature. That encompasses kitchen witches, green witches, hedgewitches and so on. The magic that is practiced amongst modern Wiccans is not low magic. So when the conversation gets going and we are discussing our favorite herbs or crystals or which shop we purchased our wands at, its been known to bring the conversation to a halt when I bring up roadkill or poisonous herbs or my work with the dead. Magical garb does not normally include real fox ears and necklaces made from owl bones. (And yes, sometimes I get a kick out of scaring some of the more naive practitioners.)

But I am proud to stand side by side with them, because I realize thats what makes a community strong.

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4 Comments

  1. Polly Taskey says:

    Brilliant post! Thank you for this and for all that you do to make such a beautiful and inspiring blog! You have been awarded the “Wonderful Web Witches Award” from Pagan by Design. Details here: http://paganbydesign.blogspot.com/2012/03/wonderful-web-witches-march-2012.html

    1. lcward says:

      Oh Polly!! Thank you!!

  2. Summer says:

    Hello! I found my way over here from Polly at Pagan by Design, and thought I’d drop a comment to say “hi.” I’ve quite enjoyed reading your first essay and look forward to reading the rest of your posts when I get home from work!

    1. lcward says:

      Summer, welcome. I love having readers. And I love comments, even those that disagree with me! So feel free to voice anything that pops up!.

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