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Wicca for Beginners: Getting Over 'Scary Words'

A Wiccan of 25 years, Sage likes to put her background as a writer and teacher to use by helping people learn about this NeoPagan path.

Getting Over the Term Wicca

Psst… psssstt… hey, you! That’s right, I’m talking to you! Have you heard about those Wiccan people?

They are creepy! They hold rituals—I know, right?!! They make sacrifices. They use pentagrams. And—here’s the kicker—they worship a Horned God! They invoke him! Doesn’t that sound awfully suspicious?

Words, words, words—they are so evocative. They’re completely arbitrary yet so powerful. Word associations can be drilled into us for so long, that–warranted or not—a word can produce a knee-jerk reaction. The most innocent word can be connected with the most sinister things if the ideas are connected enough times in your mind. If someone has the idea that 'bubble gum' is the candy of evil space overlords drilled into him, it's really hard to look at the candy in a new way.

When some people hear about Wicca, or are new to Wicca, there are certain words and terms that trip them up due to a Pavlovian-like response. Let’s look at some of these ‘scary’ words and try to consider objectively what they mean in context.

Words...words...words...

Language precision counts.

Language precision counts.

  • Altar: “She has an altar! Oh my God!You’d think it was a disease the way people say it. It’s just a place designated for religious worship and practices. Most religions in the world use some form of altar; most people even get married at one.
  • Coven: From the Latin convenire, it means come together’. Coven is from the same roots as convent and convene. It’s a gathering. In the middle ages, Christians began associating it specifically with gatherings of Witches, going on to describe despicable activities that have been long debunked. Today, a coven is a group that gathers for worship and other various reasons related to spirituality.
  • Horned: Admittedly, this is one that took me a while to get past. The image of ‘Satan’ with horns has made the very word ‘horns’ raise all kinds of alarms for anyone raised in a Christian-dominated society. The truth is, though, that sometimes a horn is just a horn. Pagan Gods with horns—such as antlers— are related to wild forests, animals and the hunt. Horns represent those primal instincts in nature. To Wiccans, the concept of the ‘horn’ is in no way related to any Satan or devil character.
  • Invoke: It simply means to call—usually in reference to calling on a deity. Yes, Wiccans invoke our Gods, just as every person of every religion. When someone calls out “Dear God/dess, hear our prayer…” they are performing an invocation.

Tell Us About It!

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  • Pentagram: No matter which synonym you feel comfortable using—pentacle, pentangle, etc.—it’s all the same: an interlocking 5-pointed star. In Wicca, the star is a symbol for the elements, with the circle part of it (if present) representing the universe. It’s also seen as a symbol of blessing and protection. No, it doesn’t actually mean ‘evil’ or ‘good’ based on the way it points, but that’s another story.
  • Rite: ‘Rites’ are one of those things religions do all the time, yet don’t always call it a ‘rite’. Worsening matters, horror movies use the word for evil events, and so everyone begins to associate ‘rite’ with ‘evil’. A rite is a ceremonial act. Water baptism, blessing wine, exchanging wedding rings—these are all examples of rites. Wiccan practices contain similar rites.
  • Ritual: This word has also taken on negative connotations thanks to horror fiction and fear propaganda, however it’s something everyone does on a frequent basis. Ritual simply means to repeat an action regularly. Your daily routine is a ritual. A church holding structured services every week is performing a ritual. In Wicca, we call our rituals—wait for it—‘rituals’. Imagine that.
  • Sabbat: Movies like Rosemary’s Baby with indignant speeches about how Witches have ‘sabbats’ and ‘drink blood’ has forever linked this word with something sinister to the general public. ‘Sabbat’ actually comes from ‘sabbath’ which means ‘holy day’ or ‘day of rest’. Wiccans call our eight holy festivals ‘sabbats’. In other words: holidays. We usually have a potluck afterward, but to my knowledge, no one has ever brought blood.
  • Sacrifices/offerings: What typically jumps to mind? Animals? Babies? Virgins? Try incense, wine, or a plate of food. Wiccans find the idea of hurting or killing people just as immoral, illegal and incomprehensible as you’d expect anyone to find those ideas. There’s no place, no need, and no desire for such things in our religion, period. A sacrifice is something you give up willingly. By its very nature, if you take something from someone else to offer it, you’re not making much of a sacrifice, are you?
  • A libation of wine or a basket of harvest fruit on the altar is a sacrifice, or offering. Burning incense in religious rituals is an offering. Pledging to do things for your God is an offering.

Clarity Is Essential

I believe I’ve covered the most commonly misunderstood words here, but of course there are always more. Do you have any words related to Wicca to which you had a strong reaction due to associations that were ingrained in you from other sources? If so, please discuss them in the comments and perhaps we’ll revisit the topic in a future article.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Mackenzie Sage Wright

Comments

James on September 24, 2018:

I enjoy all of your posts thank you for enlightening the world.

Rusty Rupp on June 25, 2018:

I agree with you that because the use of words listed are used in the wrong context that people are scared of them,even in this so called age of enlightenment. People should not be scared of words,it's not words that hurt humans but other humans that do.

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on November 25, 2017:

Hi Liz; How you doing? I totally agree, television shows love to jump on those stereotypes and misunderstandings, reinforcing people's misunderstandings and fears. The Warrens got rich from exploiting people's fears.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 25, 2017:

P.S. I've noticed that certain shows on TV are not helping matters in the least. One show we enjoy for other reasons (our interest in the paranormal), also irritates me every time they go ghost hunting in some abandoned building, and see a pentagram painted on a wall or floor.

They immediately declaim it as "satanic worship," or "pagan rituals" or "dark magic" having been practiced there, and so a 'door' was opened, allowing evil to come through.

It really chaps my hide, because they are perpetuating these false notions. And their go-to "demon busters," Ed & Lorraine Warren, don't help either. All this "demon" crap ticks me off, too.

(I am a pagan-path eclectic solitary, who is also an atheist--I don't believe in deities or demons!) My path is simply one of respect for nature and fellow beings, including non-human wildlife and domestic animals.

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on November 25, 2017:

My website contact form is the best bet though admittedly I'm behind on responding. Wicclit.com

helpers on November 17, 2017:

hello Mam, Can i be possibly connect toyou in any other means?

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on November 05, 2013:

Thanks Theophanes; scare factor has a lot to do with where & how you grew up. Thanks for your comments!

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on November 05, 2013:

Thanks again, MsLizzy! I'm flattered.

Theophanes Avery from New England on November 04, 2013:

I live near the largest Wiccan population in the US so I don't think any of these words are scary - they're pretty straight forward if you're paying attention. I just wanted to note that the Christian devil didn't have horns until the Catholics stole them from Pagan religions in a way of demonizing the old ways and scaring people into Jesus' arms. Since this is no longer in living memory it seems as if Wiccans are worshiping the Christian devil but really he just inspired Satan's image. Politics. Anywho, lovely article! Thanks for trying to demystify Wiccanism. I'm not Wiccan but know a few - they're usually very decent people! :)

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 04, 2013:

Oh, I see. Thanks very much for that detailed explanation. I'm really enjoying your series.

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on November 04, 2013:

Thanks torrilynn, I appreciate your comments and votes!

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on November 04, 2013:

Thanks DzyMzLizzy again for your comments and an excellent question. As for food offerings, it depends, on the group/trad. Sometimes offerings are made with the express purpose of returning it to the earth; it's not equated as waste as it is a gift to the Gods, not for them to eat but a symbolic offering of a willingness to return some of the things for which we're so grateful. Sometimes it's a large amount as some people want to show gratitude by making an actual sacrifice of what is theirs; sometimes a small token amount because it's symbolic-- a splash of wine poured out on the ground, or a scoop from one's own dish. Sometimes it is offered on the altar, and then shared by family & friends. Sometimes it is something specifically intended to be enjoyed by the local wildlife (such as on Samhain we always put out a bowl of pumpkin seeds on the altar. Then we set it outside and the squirrels have a field day-- or making an offering by tearing off the first piece of a loaf of bread, which the next day is heartily consumed by birds). Some offer things like birdseed or compost/fertilizer or packages of wildflower seeds for the garden, with the intention of it being returned to nature. Some collect canned/dried goods and the offerings are sent along to the local food pantries and soup kitchens. Sometimes offerings are not edible at all-- flowers, incense, etc. It just depends on the person, the purpose, the occasion, the thought behind it, etc.

torrilynn on November 04, 2013:

Thanks for breaking it down and providing facts. Voted up.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 03, 2013:

Great myth-busting here! I was raised in a "sort of" Christian tradition, but not overbearingly so. I can therefore liken the 'sacrifice' to the concept of 'giving up something for lent,' and see it as no different.

However, I would inquire about offerings of food on the altar. Are they ultimately eaten, or left to spoil, and end up wasted. I do have a deeply inbred Yankee horror of wasting things, especially food. (It's a long story.)

Voted up, interesting, useful and shared here and on Face Book.