Much of modern-day Wicca can be
directly traced back to the writings of:
Charles Leland (1824-1903) published
a book in 1899: Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. Leland was
the founder of the Gypsy Lore Society, editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin,
and a prolific author and folklorist. Aradia deals mainly with the
Goddess Diana. It is presented as an ancient document which recorded the
doctrines of La Vecchia Religione (The Old Religion) -- Italian witchcraft.
Leland claims to have received the information from an Italian strega
(sorceress) named Maddalena. How much of this is a valid account of La
Vecchia Religione is anyone's guess. However, the book played a significant
role in the later development of modern-day Neopaganism.
Margaret Murray (1863 - 1963)
authored The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The God of the
Witches. These books promoted the concept that some of the Witches who
were exterminated by Roman Catholics and Protestants during the
"Burning Times" (circa 1450-1792) were remnants of an earlier,
organized, and dominant pre-Christian religion in Europe. Her writings have
not been well received by anthropologists. However, they were very
influential in providing background material for the Neopagan traditions.
Gerald Gardner (1884 - 1964), a
British civil servant, who:
has written that he joined an
existing Wiccan Coven in 1939, taking the (then) usual vows of secrecy
persuaded the coven to let him
write a book in 1949 about Wicca in the form of a novel, High Magic's
Aid. He carefully revealed a few of the Old Religion's beliefs and
the historical persecutions that they endured.
added many rituals, symbols,
concepts and elements from ceremonial magick, Freemasonry and other
sources to "flesh out" the coven's beliefs and practices, most
of which had been long forgotten.
wrote Witchcraft Today in
1954 in which he described additional details about the faith.
wrote The Meaning of
Witchcraft which described in detail the history of Wicca in
There are many beliefs concerning the
origins of Wicca:
Gardner has claimed that after he
wrote his books, he received many letters from members of isolated covens who
had believed that their groups had been in continuous existence for
generations or centuries.
Other individuals discount this
belief system and maintain that there was no continuous Wiccan presence from
Celtic times to the 20th century. They maintain that present-day
Wicca was created by merging a few ancient Celtic beliefs, deity structure,
and seasonal days of celebration with modern material from ceremonial magic,
the Masonic Order, etc.
There is general agreement that Wicca
first became a mass movement in recent times in England during the 1950's with
the publishing of books by Gerald Gardner. It has expanded at a furious rate in
North America and Europe.
Wicca is one of the largest of the
minority religions in the United States. There are no reliable estimates of the
number of Wiccans in this country. Our best estimate is on the order of
750,000. That would make Wicca about the 5th largest organized
religion in the United States, behind Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and
Hinduism. However it is virtually unknown by the general public. This is because
almost all Wiccans hide their religious beliefs and practices. Those who allow
their faith to be known publicly are very heavily persecuted in North America;
on a per-capita basis, they are believed to be victimized more often than
members of any other religious group. Many assaults, arson, economic attacks are
reported yearly. There have even been shootings, one public mass stoning and one
lynching in recent years. Reports circulate frequently of misinformed child
protection officers seizing children from the homes of Wiccans because they
feared that they would be killed or abused in some Satanic ritual. The
perpetrators of this religious hatred are usually very devout people. They
believe the information that has been spread about Witches continuously since
the Middle Ages. It is only in Eastern Massachusetts, Southern California and in
a few cities elsewhere in North America that most Wiccans feel secure enough to
come out of the (broom) closet in large numbers. In other areas, they tend to
avoid persecution by keeping their religious faith secret. Unfortunately, this
policy can have negative results; some people speculate that because Wiccans
remain underground, they must have something to hide.
Wiccan Deities: Beliefs differ:
Most Wiccans believe that a
creative force exists in the universe, which is sometimes called
"The One" or " The All". Little can be known of this
Most regard the goddess and the
god as representing the female and male aspects of the All. These
deities are not "out there somewhere;" they are immanent in
Many regard various pagan gods
and goddesses (Pan, Athena, Diana, Brigit, Zeus, Odin, etc.) as
representing various aspects of the god and goddess. The term
"Wicca" normally implies that the person's religion is based
upon Celtic spiritual concepts, deities, and seasonal days of
celebration. Some Wiccans include beliefs, practices and symbols from
ancient Pagan religions (e.g. Egyptian, Greek, various mystery
religions, Roman, Sumerian) or upon Aboriginal religions (Native
American Spirituality, Shamanism).
Some Wiccans are actually
agnostics, who take no position on the existence of a supreme being or
beings. They look upon the goddess and the god as archetypes, based on
It cannot be stressed enough
that Wiccans have no supernatural being in their pantheon of deities who
resembles the Christian Satan.
Respect for Nature: Wicca is a
natural religion, grounded in the earth. All living things (including stars,
planets, humans, animals, plants, rocks) are regarded as having a spirit.
Many Wiccan rituals deal with bringing harmony and healing to nature.
Wiccans tend to share a great concern for the environment.
Gender equality: Wiccans celebrate
the sexual polarity of nature. For example, the fertilizing rain is one
manifestation of the male principle; the nurturing earth symbolizes the
female. Females are respected as equal (and sometimes at a slightly higher
rank) to males. A priestess is often the most senior person among coven -- a
local group of Wiccans. They aim for a female-male balance in most of their
covens (local groups), although men are typically in the minority.
Human sexuality: Sexuality is
valued, and regarded as a gift of the goddess and god, to be engaged in with
joy and responsibility, and without manipulation. Wiccans generally accept
the findings of human sexuality researchers that there are three normal,
natural, and unchosen sexual orientations: heterosexuality, homosexuality
and bisexuality. Some Wiccans celebrate "the Great Rite"
which involves ritual sexual intercourse. However, it is consensually
performed by a committed couple in private.
Afterlife: Wiccans have a wide range
Some believe in ancient legends
of a Summerland where souls go after death. Here, they meet with others
who have gone before, review and integrate their previous lives on
earth, and are eventually reincarnated into the body of a new born. Some
believe that after many such cycles -- perhaps some as female and others
as male; some lives with a high standard of living and others in
poverty; some in positions of power and others suffering oppression --
that the individual accumulates sufficient experience to go on to
another level of existence about which we know nothing.
Some see an individual's
personality, memory, abilities, talents, etc. as functions of the human
brain, which degrades and disintegrates at death. They no not anticipate
any form of continuity after death.
Other Wiccans anticipate
continuity after death in some very narrow senses:
That the molecules that go
to make up our bodies may in turn be incorporated in other living
That our influences on
children, friends, and society in general will continue to have
influences on the next generations.
Three-fold Law (a.k.a. the Law of
Return) The law states that:
"All good that a person does
to another returns three fold in this life; harm is also returned three
This belief strongly motivates each
Wiccan to avoid attempting to dominate, manipulate, control, or harm another
The Wiccan Rede: This is the main
rule of behavior:
"An it harm none, do what
"An" and "wilt"
are old English words for "if" and "want to."
This means that a person should feel free to do what ever they want to, as
long as it does not harm themselves or anyone else. This and the three-fold
law obviously prevent a Witch/Wiccan from doing harm to themselves or to
others, or taking harmful drugs, etc. Thus, many activities that have been
traditionally attributed to Wiccans, from the laying of curses to conducting
love spells, are strictly forbidden to them.
Rituals: Wiccans try to meet
outdoors where possible. North American climate and concern for personal
safety usually forces them indoors. They gather in a circle, which is often
nine feet in diameter. Candles on the circumference are usually oriented to
the four cardinal directions. Some Wiccans align the candles to the walls of
the room. An altar is at the center of the circle or at the northern candle.
Rites begin with a casting of the circle, in which the circle is outlined
and purified, and the candles lit. A space is thus created within the
circle; this is sometimes visualized as a sphere, or as a cylinder or cone.
The purpose of this space is to confine healing energy until it is released.
The central portion of each meeting
may celebrate the full moon, a new moon, a Sabbat or a special Wiccan
ceremony. It might include healing, divination (scrying, Tarot cards, Runes,
etc.), teaching, consecration of tools, discussion, or other life-affirming,
nature based activities. After the major work is completed, food (perhaps
cakes and wine) is eaten, and the circle is banished. Because of the
increasing concern over addictions to alcohol and other drugs, many covens
have replaced wine with juice, water etc.
(Seasonal days of Celebration) There are eight Wiccan Sabbats, spaced about
45 days apart during the year. Four of these are minor Sabbats: the two
equinoxes of March 21 and September 21st when the daytime and nighttime are
each 12 hours long. The Saxons added the two solstices of December 21, (the
longest night of the year) and June 21 (the shortest night of the year).
Actually, the exact date of these Sabbats vary from year to year and may
occur from the 20th to 23rd of the month. The major Sabbats are also four in
number. They occur roughly midway between the minor Sabbats, typically at
the end of a month. Different Wiccan traditions assign various names and
dates to these festivals. Perhaps the most common names are Celtic: Samhain
(Oct. 31), Imbolc (Feb. 2), Beltane (Apr. 30), and Lammas (Aug. 1). Dates
are approximate. Some Wiccans observe the Sabbat within a few days of the
nominal date. The Sabbats are believed to have originated in the cycles
associated with hunting, farming, and animal fertility.
Wiccan tools: Hardware which are
used to perform Witchcraft rites often look like common household items.
Although there is much variation among individual Wiccans and their covens,
the following are typical:
Athame (double sided, ritual
knife; often black handled) used for many purposes, but never for
cutting. It is either created by its owner, or is a re-worked purchased
knife. A sword is sometimes substituted for the athame.
An altar, which may be of any
shape. It may contain:
A bowl of salt representing
the element earth.
Incense representing the
Two candles representing the
Goddess and God.
A bowl of water representing
the element water.
A bell which is rung to
delineate sections of the rite.
A pentacle (a 5 pointed star
engraved on a disk).
A chalice or goblet and
perhaps a libation bowl to hold a drink. They may also hold water,
which is used in many rituals.
A cauldron, for mixing herbs
A wand or sword to cast the
A circle, typically 9 feet in
diameter, formed from a rope or row of small rocks, a marking on the
ground or floor, etc.
Four candles just outside the
circle, at the four cardinal directions.
Further information can be found in the book:
Wicca by William Schnoebelen