Wicca for Beginners: Getting Over 'Scary Words'
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.
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!
Which of these words held negative connotations for you that freaked you out at first about Wicca, Witchcraft or Paganism in general?
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 it’s 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.