The Beliefs, Practices, and History of Wicca

Wicca is a modern religion with roots in pre-Christian pagan beliefs that has grown in popularity over the past few decades. Despite this surge in popularity, Wicca is still poorly understood by the general public. Mention Wicca or Wiccans and many people get images of Halloween witches and/or old women wandering around the woods with long, stringy hair wearing old rags. Those images really have little to do with modern Wicca. More likely a Wiccan will be a well dressed professional who celebrates nature and studies spellcasting online. Or, a beloved grandmother tenderly caring for her herbal garden who has a hand written book of spells and healing, healthful potions passed down from mother to daughter for generations. To get a better understanding of this unique alternative form of spirituality, let’s take a look at its beliefs, practices, and historical development.

Wicca Beliefs and Practices

Because it lacks the structure and dogmatism of many of the world’s major religions, the beliefs and practices of Wicca can vary markedly from person to person. In fact, it is difficult to really call Wicca a religion. It is more a free flowing and evolving spirituality rooted in nature and ‘universal forces’. Nevertheless, there are certain commonalties among believers which serve to hold the community together under the Wiccan name.

One of the most recognizable aspects of Wicca is the veneration of two deities (or two universal forces/energies), one male and one female. The Triple Goddess is often taken to represent the moon, the stars, and the earth – a more feminine force. The Horned God is associated with the sun, animals, and forests – a more masculine force. The two are meant to symbolize both the polarity and the unity of the cosmos. They are opposite but complementary, and together they co-create the universe. Interestingly, these concepts line up well with some Eastern perspectives of spirituality, such as the universal opposites of Yin and Yang – Yin the more feminine and shadowed, where Yang is the more masculine and associated with heat and light.

Another important part of Wicca is the belief in magic. In Wicca and related groups, the word ‘magic’ is often spelled ‘magick’ to distinguish natural magick from magician performed magic which is basically illusion and trickery. The idea of magick has, perhaps, the largest array of interpretations among believers. Some see magick as a natural part of the universe that has yet to be discovered by science, while others view it in a more supernatural light. This may be a distinction without a difference. Either way, it is seen as the power to govern and shape one’s life in accordance with natural forces (even though these forces are considered my main stream society as supernatural). This can take the form of spells, potions, divination, meditation, rituals and so forth.

Magick is often an important aspect of rituals. Many important rituals take place at seasonal festivals celebrated by Wiccans. These festivals, known collectively as Sabbats, follow the natural cycles of the earth, the moon, and the sun. The eight Sabbats observed by most Wiccans are: Samhain (Halloween), Yuletide, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnasadh, and Mabon.

In terms of morality, Wiccans often say that their religion instills in them a natural sense of right and wrong, even though Wicca has no traditional orthodoxy or dogmatic rules regarding conduct. The majority of Wiccans adhere to an ethical code known as the Wiccan Rede, which states: "an it harm none, do what ye will." This means that you are free to act as long as you are not harming yourself or others with your actions.

Wiccans likewise have no universally agreed upon sacred text, though different groups do hold certain texts as important. One such text is "The Charge of the Goddess," which was put together by Gerald Gardner (who you will read more about below) and includes extracts and paraphrases from the works of authors such as Charles Godfrey Leland and Aleister Crowley. Many different versions of the text exist today.

Origins and History of Wicca

Wicca can trace its origins back to the 1920s, when English Egyptologist Dr. Margaret Murray put forth the hypothesis that many of the victims of the witch-hunts in Early Modern Europe had been the practitioners of a pre-Christian, pagan Witch-Cult. Murray’s hypothesis lead to the formation of a few burgeoning covens, one of which was joined by anthropologist Gerald Gardner in the late 1930s. Gardner, who is widely considered to be the Father of Wicca, helped to perpetuate the religion by starting his own coven. Following the repeal of Britain’s Witchcraft Act in 1951 in Great Britain (in great part repealed because of the by efforts of Estella Roberts and Winston Churchill), Gardner did much to publicize and grow his coven’s membership.

It was Gardener himself who started the use of the term "Wicca" by referring to witches collectively as "the Wica." It wasn’t until Gardner’s death in 1964, however, that "Wicca" became a common identifier for the faith of the Witch-Cult. "Witchcraft," which had before been the preferred term, now came to refer mostly to the practice of magick regardless of whether one identified as Wiccan or not.

Over the late 60s and throughout the 70s Wicca continued to grow and found its way to countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. Gardnerian Wicca, which had previously been a relatively consistent set of beliefs and practices, began to change and adapt to new locations and situations. It also became increasingly popular for one to self-initiate into the craft instead of joining a coven. The freedom within Wicca is part of it’s attraction. Within Wicca exploration is the norm and practitioners are free to adopt other spiritual practices or interests such as Tarot, pendulum divination, create one’s own spells and/or reject the practices of other Wiccans if those practices are impractical or inconsistent with one’s own personal sense of spirituality.

By 1978 Wicca had found such a foothold in the Unites States that it was included in an army chaplain guidebook for non-traditional faiths. The 80s and 90s saw an ever growing number of self-initiates and new traditions within the Wicca religion. Some branches of Wicca still require initiation into a coven and hold exclusively to a single tradition. However, most self-identified Wiccans are uninitiated into any tradition and practice a synchronistic and eclectic approach to their religion.

Wicca Today

Though accurate statistics on the number of Wiccans worldwide are difficult to obtain, there has been a definite upswing in membership over the past two decades. In the United States alone the number has grown from 8,000 in 1990 to 350,000 or more today. The total number of Wiccans around the world is estimated to be around 1,000,000.

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Perhaps the largest and most prolific Wicca organization in the world is a UK group known as The Children of Artemis, which publishes a bi-annual magazine titled "Witchcraft & Wicca." The group also organizes a festival, known as the Artemis Gathering, which boasts one of the largest annual gatherings of Wiccans in all of Europe and North America.

Wicca will likely continue to grow as more and more people seek spiritual fulfillment outside of traditional religious structures. It offers an attractive alternative that many find brings a sense of significance, balance, and a little magick back into modern life.

Would you like to chat with someone who has experience in Wicca? Maybe have a spell cast for you? Contact Wicca Priestess. She has 25 years as a practicing Wiccan Witch ☥. You may also appreciate Ask A Witch.

Resource Links: (Basic information on wicca) (Basic info on Wicca) (History of Wicca) (History of Wicca) (Sabbats) (Wicca and the US Army) (Artemis Gathering 2015)