What Is Wicca? An Answer in a Sea of Voices
Let's face it. The answers are not so clear. People hear that Wicca is a nature-worshiping religion or the term for modern witches and they seek out answers to what it is. There is an old saying that if you ask 10 witches what witchcraft is, you will get 11 different answers. Unfortunately, the same is often wrongly said about Wicca.
Even setting aside fundamentalist Wiccan covens and groups, Wicca is not so loosely defined as the general public is often led to believe by the amount of answers they run across. The problem worsens when the only self-proclaimed Wiccan they ever meet is a newcomer to the faith who just picked up a book on the subject last week and knows only the slightest bit more than those asking about it. Add to it that authors write to sell and some of the larger organizations within the Craft are more concerned with turning a profit than bringing real magick to the world and all the answers about what Wicca is begin to fall short at best.
To get to what Wicca is, we have to start with what Wicca is not.
Misconceptions, Mistakes, & Fluffiness
The most common errors in answers to the "What is Wicca?" question are merely misconceptions that arise as a result of perceptions of known data. Others are mistakes that lead both the questioner and respondent astray; many of which are the results of jumping to early conclusions to fill in historical gaps before the real experts have a chance to check the evidence. Finally, the oh-so-despised source of errors: fluffies (term used within the Wiccan community to describe individuals who are new to or never bothered to research Wicca and act as representatives of the faith without all or any of the facts).
Let's take a closer look at some of the more common answers that are incorrect.
- Wicca and Witchcraft are the same thing. No. No, they are not. When Wicca first hit the public stage, they were considered one and the same, but noticeable differences began to reveal themselves over the course of time. Wicca is a religion which incorporates a form of witchcraft (more formal than folk magick, but still less elaborate than many forms of ceremonial magick). All Wiccans, then, are witches, but the reverse of this statement is most certainly not true.
- Wiccans are just a part of role-play like D&D. I still cringe when I come across someone who believes this, although it is less common now than about a decade ago. Imagine: As a self-proclaimed Wiccan on the internet you could find yourself invited to a message forum or group of Wiccans, get there, and find yourself staring at role-play threads. All "Wiccans" are magic-throwing, creature summoning "witches" more akin to Final Fantasy mages. When you try to bring up what Wicca really is, you are quickly bombarded with responses that you need to play along because Wicca is not real outside of fantasy. I have heard of D&D and WoW players so absorbed in the role-play that they confuse fact and fantasy. These "Wicca is role-play" guys seem more delusional.
- Wicca is some fad teenagers go through. Okay, there is a little truth to this one. Wicca is not a fad, yet there are some pre-teens and teenagers (of the fluffy variety as defined above) who do treat it as such. They get into it because of rivalry at school and want to throw some curses, they want to look cool and be a "witch" (bonus points if you claim genetic lineage), or it sounds great. Of course, they eventually drop it either because they are done rebelling or because they begin to understand what real Wicca is and get bored (who wants to do all that real work?). For those who actually learn, practice, and live as real Wiccans, Wicca is certainly no fad but a life-long faith.
- Wicca is another name for Satanism. For this one, you have to look at the context in which the answer was provided. According to some Christian denominations, any faith or path that differs from what is considered by that denomination to be good, holy, and a path to God is either a creation of Satan or a means by which Christian-defined Satanists worship the devil. In that context and by that perspective, yes. Apart from Christian beliefs, no. Wicca has nothing to do with either Christian-defined Satanism or the actual religion called Satanism (yes, there is a huge difference between the two). Wicca is a separate religion entirely.
- Wicca is all about peace and love and unicorns and candy rainbows and... Okay, we admit this happy-go-lucky, all peace and light and goodness stereotype was of our own making. We had to tweak the basic concepts a bit to help calm the roar of the majority who are not often pleased with change and could not look past millennia of negative stereotypes. Wicca is all about balance and recognizing both positive and negative in the world. We need protection magick because there are those in the world who do not share our magickal ethics. We need to know how to hex in the event that it is the only way to prevent a greater harm to ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. We do acknowledge, accept, and work with the darker energies to bring balance to the light. (Please, no Star Wars cracks in the comments. Thank you.) We work with our shadows so that we can act in peace and love and not out of repressed anger and other potentially negative emotions.
- Wicca is an ancient religion/the first religion. Wrong. Wicca is approximately 60 years old. We only thought it was an ancient religion because of some popular theories that suggested early cave drawings hinted at some ancient sympathetic-magick practicing religion with a central God and Goddess. The theories then (wrongly) assumed that all forms of magickal practitioners were somehow interconnected and survived witch-hunts throughout the world. (For more information see Common Word Usage Misunderstanding: Root of "Witch".) Wicca does incorporate practices and traditions that are ancient in origin and has absorbed many folk and ceremonial aspects that have very well survived through family and occult lineages. However, that does not make it ancient.
The Honest Answer
With a clearer picture of what Wicca is not, we can now move onto what Wicca is. Here we will notice that Wicca has come a long way since its creation in the last century and that many branches, or traditions, exist that differ from the original covens. However, you will also notice that despite differences between individual traditions, common beliefs and practices exist that differentiate Wicca from other Pagan and magickal paths.
- Belief in a Goddess and God. Wiccans honor and work with the Goddess and God. Depending upon tradition, Wiccans either view all Gods and Goddesses as components, or faces, of just one Goddess and one God or they believe that all Gods and Goddesses are separate but work exclusively (or nearly exclusively) with only one Goddess and one God.
- Sacred Elements are central to reality. Similar to other belief systems in the world, Wiccans believe that certain elements come together to form all matter as we know it. These Elements are Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Spirit (often referred to as Akasha). The five elements are the most basic forms of all creation. Although they are not necessarily entities of and by themselves, they are often worked with as such to provide better understanding of the Universe and existence. Certain traits, characteristics, emotions, behaviors, etc. are attributed to each of the Elements to provide better understanding of life experiences. Magick involving the elements aids the Wiccan in connecting with specific energies for specialized purposes. For example, the Element Air is associated with cognitive functions, communication, and creativity. A Wiccan may use Air magick to assist with research, public speaking, and writing.
- Magick and energy are real and inherent within all things. As all matter is composed of energy and the shifting and manipulation of energy creates changes, Wiccans recognize that humans are capable of real magick by consciously using their energies and the energies inherent within plants, stones, etc. to cause changes to occur outside of themselves and manifest in this world.
- Sabbats and Esbats are days of power and cause for celebration. Wiccans recognize eight Sabbats (the solstices, equinoxes, and the days in-between each) and 13 to 26 esbats. The Sabbats are marked by the patterns of the sun and the seasons and celebrate the changes that occur. Ritual and magick performed during these times utilize the energy of these times of year. Esbats may include either only full moons or full moons and dark or new moons. The full moon is considered a time of power and used for magick of all sorts. The dark moon is more of a time of reflection and is best used for shadow work and releasing of unwanted energies and behaviors. Finally, the new moon immediately follows the dark moon and is a time of new beginnings, moving forward, and initiating projects. Some groups may honor all or only one of these lunar cycles as a time of celebration.
- Covens, circles, and solitaries. Unlike the structure of other faiths, Wicca is rather loose in the way Wiccans gather and work together. This is perhaps the central area of Wicca in which fundamentalism has taken root and caused tension within the faith. Originally, to become Wiccan required formal initiation into an established coven. As a new (albeit believed to be old) faith, only one such coven existed. It took time for more covens to form and other traditions to announce themselves as established Wiccan covens. The vast majority of individuals who heard the calling to the path and were true of faith had no access to these limited covens. As a result, circles formed to create groups of aspiring Wiccans to learn and practice together without formal initiation. Today, such circles often go on to create a new coven from scratch while circles remain as groups open to the public. Sometimes, however, even circles are an impossibility because of location and other circumstances. As such, the idea of solitary practitioners became a norm. Solitaries rely heavily on books, the internet, and direct experiences with nature to learn their path and may require considerably more time to reach the same level of magickal proficiency and knowledge as coven initiated peers. While fundamentalism within Wicca preaches that a solitary cannot be Wiccan, the original founder of Wicca, Gerald Gardner, clearly wrote of his excitement when receiving mail from solitaries in other parts of the world. He recognized them as fellow Wiccans without question.
- One definite standard of ethics. Different Wiccan traditions may hold a variety of values and ethics as important above others to lead to healthy, happy lives. However, one central ethic is found in the Wiccan Rede. The eight words of the Wiccan Rede are "An' it harm none, do as ye will." Some mistake this rede for a rule, but it is merely a guideline. However, it is prized within the Wiccan community and all Wiccans abide by it. The Rede is understood to mean that you should not intentionally cause harm to others, although you are free to do whatever you please in life. It stands as an ethical standard to remind the Wiccan to be consciously aware of his or her actions and to consider all possible outcomes of a magickal act. Ultimately, it is a reminder of personal responsibility. All actions have reactions. Are you willing to accept the consequences? Will the outcome be your desired outcome? Or are you rushing in without considering everything that will be influenced? Before hexing another, is it really necessary to do so? Are you willing to be bound to the one you hexed for the remainder of your life? Is it worth it? Wiccans strive to cause as little harm to themselves and others as possible to maintain balance.
Has your view of Wicca changed from reading this article?
There are other aspects of traditions, beliefs, and practices that differentiate Wicca from other Pagan and Witchcraft paths as well as other religions. As all religions should, Wicca will continue to evolve, but will only do so successfully so long as its followers truly understand what makes them Wiccan. For the outsider, simply sorting out the myths and misconceptions of what Wicca is helps considerably in understanding loved ones who are Wiccan and realizing why Wiccans behave or believe as they do. Getting past the sea of voices, you can find the real answer is not so difficult and makes far more sense.
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© 2012 Evylyn Rose