Wicca is a pagan faith, sometimes termed a neopagan faith as although it contains many links to ancient rituals much of the practice has much more modern roots. Followers of the faith are commonly known as Wiccans or Witches but the later term has long been a term of abuse with very negative connotations in most western and certainly all Christian cultures, in recent years especially with the implementation of legislation protecting religious rights in the UK many Wicca are much more willing to use the term to describe themselves. There are still a lot of negative and ignorant ideas about Wicca and paganism so many followers of what is sometimes termed Witchcraft or the craft are not open about their faith, the wearing of the Wicca religious symbol the five pointed star known as a pentagram, normally worn as a pendant is not common outside of the younger generation. The act of being open about their faith is a big decision for many pagans and is sometimes termed “Coming out of the broom closet”. Many examples can be found of religious discrimination against pagans both in the UK and US, which have included the sacking of pagan teachers who came out.
The exact origins of Wicca are open to debate, but what is without doubt is the influence of a retired civil servant Gerald Gardner in the 1950s was to have a huge impact. It is Gardiner who termed the faith ‘Witchcraft’ and the term Wicca came from one of Gardiner rivals with its roots in an old English word for a male witch. Wicca like many pagan faiths is polytheistic (many gods) which is one of the major differences between pagans and the main world religions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism which are all monotheistic faiths (belief in one god). Wicca tends to focus on the worship of a God and Goddess often referred to as the Horned God and the Triple Goddess but these can be seen as part of a larger pantheon of gods.
Like most religions there are conflicting groups within the faith, these often take the name of a particular leader, such as Gardnerianism or Alexandrianism , these are sometimes called the British Wicca, but other groups such as Cochranianism , Feri (fairy) and Dianic (female based) traditions exist. Paganism including Wicca displays a huge amount of variation of belief but some common themes unite the faiths. For Wicca these are normally the ritual use of magic, a basic code of morality and the celebration of seasonal festivals.
Aspects of Faith
Other common themes within Wicca include the idea of balance between poles, good and evil, male/ female, life/death sometimes likened to the idea of yin and yang in Taoism. The Goddess is often portrayed as the Earth or the Moon and the God as the Sun or as the horned god, the green man (a common theme in British folk art). In some traditions the Goddess is also seen as Triple Goddess, maiden, mother and crone, and this law of 3 recurring is a common theme in Wicca. Many Wicca also believe that their gods can physically manifest themselves this is sometimes done through rituals called “Drawing down the Moon”. Gardner claimed that these were the gods worshipped by the ancient Britons but this has little concrete proof.
The majority of Wiccans believe in reincarnation, although beliefs vary from reincarnation into different species to Wiccans being reincarnations of earlier Wiccans. Often Wiccans believe that reincarnation isn’t instant but a soul spends a period of time in an otherworld sometimes called Summerland and it is these souls that can be contacted by mediums or Ouija boards. Not all Wiccans agree with the practice and some argue that the dead should be left in peace. The current life not the afterlife is the focus of Wiccans belief and death is seen as part of a natural order of birth life death and rebirth and is not to be feared.
Belief in magic
One of the most famous and controversial aspects of Wicca is the belief in magic or sorcery. Sometimes it is spelt as magick a termed invented by the British occultist Aleister Crowley. The exact nature of this is strongly debated by wiccans, some claim that magic is the control of secret forces of nature as yet not understood by science, others claim it is the science of causing change by act of will and that complete faith in it is required for magic to work.
Some Wiccans don’t claim to know how magic works just that it does for them. Wiccan spell casting is normally done as a ritual practice, common spells are those affecting healing, love and fertility, such was termed ‘White magic’ by early wiccans to make clear the difference from black magic associated with Satanism. Many modern pagans no longer use the term black or white magic and it is the intent not the nature of the magic which defines whether it is good or evil.
Common Beliefs Ethics
Wicca is a diverse faith but some aspects are fairly common, the two main aspects of morality are the Three Fold Law and the idea that anything is allowed as long it harms no one. The three fold law relates to an idea similar to karma where an act of an individual will bring a karma punishment or reward equal to three times the impact of the act. For example if an individual was to spread malicious gossip this would return to them three fold in time, this is sometimes know as the Wiccan Rede or the law of threefold return, both ideas have roots in the Gardnerian tradition. Some wiccans seek to improve what is known as the eight virtues, humour, reverence, honour, humility, strength, beauty, power and compassion. With the occasional exception Wiccans are tolerant of homosexuality.
Wiccan weddings are known as handfasting and the bride and grooms hands are loosely bound with cloth or other item during the ceremony. A common vow is “for as long as love lasts” rather than the Christian till death do us part. Some wiccans hold to the idea of a trial marriage for a year and day. The first Wiccan marriage in the UK was in 1960. Some children undergo a similar ceremony to the Christian christening called a Wiccaning but free will is very important to wiccans and a child is free to follow whatever faith they choose.
Unlike most other faiths Wiccans have no sacred text like the bible or Qur’an. Some books are influential in the faith the most important being the Book of Shadows. Even then it is very clear that any texts are advice and guidance not dogma
A group of Wiccans is known as a coven although this has many negative connotations in the UK. The ideal size is regarded as 13 full members after which a group will split into other groups, a gathering of covens is often known a grove or sometimes a moot. Initiation into a coven often takes the ritual period of a year and day. A growing number of wiccans are not members of a coven but worship on their own although they may attend social events
Growth and prejudice
Wicca expanded as a religion rapidly in the 1950s in the UK following the repeal of the Witchcraft Act of 1735 in 1951 (the last person being imprisoned due to the act was in 1944). Wicca and paganism in general has grown in numbers and acceptance in recent years and has been cited as the fastest growing faith among young women in the UK (BBC). In the UK the last census (2001) did not break down the numbers claiming to be pagan into different faiths but the pagan federation encouraged people to use the same term ‘pagan’ in the other box on the form. A total of 42,262 declared as pagan (10,000 as Wicca) but estimates in the UK place the number now around 280,000, with around 400,000 declared Wiccan adults in the USA.
In many Christian countries pagans and wicca in particular have been easy targets for discrimination by the press and employers. Since the introduction of legislation protecting people against discrimination due to faith (2003) things have improved in the UK but the attitude of the media still makes it hard for pagans and wicca to ‘come out of the broom closet’ . There is now a pagan police support group in the UK and in 2009 a police force in the Uk agreed to allow pagan staff to take leave on there festival dates. Some Christian groups claim that Wicca is just a form of Satanism although many Wicca admire prophets of other faiths including Jesus. Many if not most Wicca conduct their faith in secrecy and feel solidarity with the historical victims of the Witch hunting trials. Some have claimed that the growth of modern paganism and Wicca is a reaction to secularisation and the modern world, the Historian Ronald Hutton rebuts this saying that evidence shows that “a large number of Wiccans were in jobs at the cutting edge, such as computer technology” The 2011 census in the UK should give a clearer indication of numbers of pagans and Wicca in the UK which could easily outnumber the Buddhist and Jewish communities.