Basics of Wicca
As many books, websites, articles, and podcasts published and readily available on the topic of Wicca today, the same questions seem to repeat themselves:
What is Wicca? Is a Wiccan a Witch? Is Witchcraft evil? What makes Wicca different from other religions? What's the difference between a Wiccan Witch and other Witches? What are the basic beliefs of Wicca?
This article provides answers to these and similar questions.
We'll start by exploring some of the myths about Wicca and Witchcraft that persist to this date. Then, we'll go over the basic beliefs that separate Wicca and Wicca-influenced Witchcraft from other paths.
The Myths Surrounding Wicca and Modern Witchcraft
To understand what Wicca is, we begin by clearing up what Wicca certainly is not. The following statements below are various myths and misconceptions about Wicca and Witches.
I. Wiccans are Satanists
Satanism is an entirely different religion from Wicca.
To answer based on the common misconception of Satanism: Wiccans do not believe in a devil or source of evil. Even if they did, what good would come out of worshiping one? Wiccans believe in personal responsibility. They don't need an entity to point a finger at.
II. Witches practice dark magick
Magick isn't dark/black/bad or light/white/good. That is, unless you look at electricity as so. Sometimes dark/black/bad is used to describe negative magick, and light/white/good to describe positive magick. Wiccans practice magick such as cleansing, banishing, healing, fertility, etc. keeping the Law of Three or Law of Return in mind.
Wiccans do not use magick that is unethical or that could cause harm in any way unless necessary to protect others and prevent further harm. Even then, the use of such magick (curses, hexes, binding, etc.) occurs only after all mundane options have been exhausted and are given much thought and consideration.
Although not all Witches adhere to Wicca-specific ethical guidelines, most Witches today possess personal values and ethics that tailor how and why they cast the spells they do. In other words, a non-Wiccan Witch could potentially care less about the Wiccan Rede of harming none and be more likely to cast spells of a nature that Wiccans typically avoid at all costs.
Even then, it's not a case of someone being "evil" or "bad" but a different view and understanding of theology and/or magickal practice styles. Some Witches are simply (as Bree NicGarran calls it) hex positive.
III. Wicca is about sex and nudity
Lemme guess. Your only experience knowingly interacting with a Wiccan was at a Beltane festival?
There are Wiccans and Witches who enjoy sex, but the same can be said about anyone of any religion. Sex is a choice that can be made by anyone of any religion (although holy script in some religions say it is only to be used for procreation and not pleasure). Some Wiccans and Witches do practice Tantric and Sex Magick.
Today, the use of a literal Great Rite (the High Priestesses acting as Goddess and High Priest acting as God - usually a married couple - have sex to represent the union of the Gods) is rare and mostly found only in traditional covens. The Great Rite is more often symbolic utilizing the Chalice and Athame instead.
Wicca does teach that ritual nudity is a sign of being truly free. However, nudity is a personal choice. If one feels more comfortable in the nude, then they can perform ritual skyclad; if one feels uncomfortable in the nude, then they wear clothes. Working skyclad is completely up to the individual. Bottom line, Wicca is not about sex and nudity.
IV. Wiccans and Witches wear black
So do non-Wiccans and non-Witches.
Some people wear black to flatter their figures or bring out their eyes or some other feature. Others wear black just because they like it.
If only Wiccans and Witches wear black, does that mean that everyone at a funeral are Wiccans or Witches?
Wiccans and Witches wear whatever they feel like wearing, just like anybody else. Some Witches do wear black for magickal reasons; however, this is also true of other colors, as colors often have specific meanings and intentions. This would be no different than feeling a need for a "pick-me-up" and choosing to wear a bright color like red.
V. Witches fly around on brooms and eat babies
You've actually seen Wiccans and Witches do this? I suppose they sacrifice holy virgins to dark demonic figures in the night as well.
I'm sorry; no, they don't. As far as the flying goes, the rumors likely started from things such as astral travel and ointments that were used that gave the feeling that one was weightless. Such ointments were also a psychedelic that caused hallucinations.
As for the baby-eating, we stick to plants and animals like everyone else. Wiccans and Witches are not cannibals.
VI. Wicca is a cult out to corrupt our youth
Sadly, the same is said of every faith that has not been well established for centuries or is being targeted as somehow less valid. This is most likely because the general public often does not know the detailed requirements to define a group or religious movement as a cult.
Wicca does not try to convert others to the faith. Individuals come to Wicca of their own choosing and calling.
Those who come to Wicca to learn and grow are encouraged to think for themselves, even if that means they come to leave or think negatively of Wicca later on. Being true to oneself and being self-empowered is more important in Wicca than melting into some homogeneous mass.
Now, this is not to say that there are no cult-like groups masquerading as Wiccan covens. But don't confuse an individual cult with the entire religion.
VII. Wiccans are all fat, ugly, bi-sexual, women rejects
This myth is more modern and, seemingly, started by the ignorant. Even the mass media has turned to making average Wiccans look like Aphrodite in today's standards. Honestly, I don't know where, how, or why this myth began circulating. *cough*Trolls!*cough*
Wicca is not "full of" any one particular type of individual. Rather, Wicca includes and welcomes individuals from all races/ethnicity, genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. The Wiccan community has a wide range of body types and sizes, physical characteristics, sexual orientations, and genders. And the wider Witchcraft and Pagan communities tend to be even more diverse.
VIII. Wiccans aren't witches
I'm still not proud of myself for how I handled the first self-proclaimed Wiccan who told me this in person, so let me start with a more tactful approach: Really? Where did you learn that? [pause for answer] Hmmm... I see.
In reality, Wicca was introduced to the world as the Religion of Witchcraft (learn more here and here and here). Within a very specific context, it could be understandable to hear a Wiccan claim other Witches as not Witches because they aren't Wiccan. If someone is Wiccan, they are a Witch because Witchcraft is central to what Wicca is, even if that's not the term a Wiccan prefers to describe their path.
IX. Wicca is whatever you make of it
Contrary to what some sources mislead us to believe, Wicca is not a hodge-podge, believe-whatever-you-want psuedo-religion. It's a valid religion complete with core beliefs and structure.
This misconception likely arose from earlier days in Wicca's history when Gerald Gardner and others openly welcomed anyone who practiced folk traditions and Witchcraft as among the Wica (though not initiates of his coven). As a result, the various traditions today differ greatly from the earlier covens, and covens and solitary practitioners may take more eclectic approaches creating a much wider variety in how their Wiccan practices look.
To understand what makes such varied practices Wiccan versus not, see the next section.
The Reality of Wicca
Now that we know what Wicca is not, we can start afresh and go over the basics of what makes Wicca the religion it is. The following are the basic elements--or tenets--of Wicca that make it stand out from other religions, magickal practices, and individual systems of belief.
I. Deity: The Goddess and God
Wiccans believe in a male and female deity. They are the God and Goddess. They go by many different names and aspects (in "The Real Witches Handbook," Kate West uses the example of a disco ball: it has many faces but is still the one ball). They are both equal and opposite. They are everything and They are nothing. The God and Goddess are balanced as nature is balanced.
When Wiccans honor Gods by their different names, they are often deities of ancient cultures that are prominent in mythology and (on rare occasion) even fiction. While some Witches recognize these to be different entities, Wiccan belief maintains that they are ultimately the same God and Goddess, even when relationships are built with seemingly a multitude of Gods.
Some Wiccans believe in the All. Much like the ancient concept of Chaos which is everything and nothing at once, the idea is that the All is a much higher concept which is nearly impossible for the human mind to fathom, and so it is broken down into the Goddess and God. The concept of the All ties in with other beliefs, such as "All Gods are one God."
II. Respect for Nature
Wiccans try not to take more from nature than they need to, and try to heal her if the need arises. The best way to start--for non-Wiccans, too--is living by the 3 R's (reduce, reuse, recycle) and conserving water.
Wiccans realize that humans are a part of nature and strive to be one with nature. Wiccans view nature as reflecting the Divine as Deity is manifest in nature. We recognize that we are merely human and that we can't control the actions of everyone, but we do what we can on our part to help the environment.
Partly because of this belief, many Wiccans and Witches become vegetarian or vegan to reduce needless animal cruelty and slaughter by boycotting meat and dairy industries. However, there is no requirement in Wicca that an individual be vegetarian or vegan.
III. Freedom of Spiritual Choice
Wiccans believe that all human beings have the right to believe in what they want to. This belief goes against Christenings, Baptisms, and the like that claim a child to be a follower of a religion. A simple prayer to or a blessing from the Goddess and God asking that they watch over the child is acceptable to this belief (a Wiccaning).
This belief is basically saying "live and let live to freely choose." Wiccans do not proselytize and have been known to frown down on those that do, particularly when that proselytizing promotes negativity such as guilt, undo judgment, hatred, anger, and self-loathing.
Wicca avoids repression. Individuals are encouraged to eat, drink, believe, read, wear, or say whatever they like. Wicca does not determine what constitutes as "bad behavior" as the consequences of individual actions will teach more than any holy script can on such things.
IV. Personal Responsibility
Wiccans believe that everyone is responsible for themselves. They do not blame some source for their actions. Nor do they blame others for their faults.
Any choice that one makes, they are responsible for any consequences. While the Rede (see below) advises the individual to avoid causing harm, an individual is not bound to do so. However, the individual must realize his or her responsibility beforehand, and accept the consequences of his or her actions.
In the same way that each individual is personally responsible for his or her actions, each individual is expected to contribute to the community (local in general or Pagan specifically) in some way.
Knowledge is the most common way. Sharing what we know and how others can help themselves is one of the greatest contributions we can give to each other. Everyone has some knowledge that others lack, and Wiccans are expected to stand ready to share with those who will benefit from it.
V. The Wiccan Rede
"An it harm none, do as ye will!" Wiccans live by this guideline, though there are differences in interpretation. Ideally, this should be the only guideline for our actions as it can be applied to all aspects of nature. The carnivore may kill to eat, but never kills more than is necessary.
While it is often confused as being a law or commandment, it is merely advice to aid in decision-making. Some also refer to it as a life goal.
VI. Personal Development
Wiccans are responsible for learning and growing on whatever path they are following on their own. Wiccans must find what is right for them by themselves. They must take their lives into their own hands.
While the aid of mentors and teachers is a great part of learning and growing, the individual must determine what he or she agrees with rather than blindly believing without second thought. Otherwise, the individual will stagnant rather than grow as necessary.
Wiccans recognize that the only "right and true" path is the one that works best for the individual.
VII. Wiccans Are Each Their Own Priests or Priestesses
Wiccans do not need someone to contact the Goddess and God for them. Nor do they need someone to tell them what to believe. Wiccans see no reason to have a single person, or group of people, interpret the Goddess and God for them.
The Gods reveal themselves in ways that will appeal to the individual; everyone will view Them differently. While an individual may grow with the aid of a mentor or teacher, it is ultimately his or her own thinking and developing that determines his or her view.
So long as an individual still maintains and believes the basics of Wicca to be true, they are considered Wiccan.
With that said, High Priests, High Priestesses, and Elders are found within the Wicca faith. They may be found in a coven, group, or Tradition and serve as leaders, organizers, advisors, mediators, etc. for the sake of helping other Wiccans in their religious and spiritual development.
VIII. The Elements
Wiccans believe in five elements thought to be the building blocks of everything. These are Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Akasha/Spirit.
Some Wiccans feel that too much emphasis is placed on the Elements, seeing them not as entities but merely concepts to help us to understand the world around us.
However, all agree that they are an important part of Wicca and understanding the world in which we live.
IX. The Sabbats
Wiccans believe in eight Sabbats or holidays. The Sabbats are typically considered as solar-centered and show the relationship between the Goddess and God.
The Sabbats observe the seasons of the year, frequently referred to as the Wheel of the Year. They are called many different names, and may be celebrated on slightly different days.
For more detailed information see the Sabbats section.
X. Cycles of the Moon - Esbats
Wiccans observe the cycles of the moon just as they do with the seasons. Wiccans celebrate Esbats on full and new moons in honor of the Goddess.
Small group/coven meetings are sometimes also referred to as Esbats, because covens generally hold meetings during the full and/or new moons.
The cycles of the moon are an integral part of Wiccan understanding, not solely because of the moon's connections with the Goddess, but because as the cycle progresses and repeats itself, it's metaphorical to many of life's lessons.
Wiccans believe in the use of personal energy to cause needed change. Magick is produced during rituals, spells, chants, blessings, and prayers. Some Wiccans will point out that spells are like fancy prayers. Others in the Wicca community will beg to differ.
Magick has been defined several ways over the years and there is often debate about exactly how and why it works. Its format, structure, and methods are just as, if not more, varied.
A Wiccan's magickal style is often "flavored" by the tradition in which they first learned and practiced. Even when taught a specific style, most magickal practitioners will develop a unique magickal style over the course of their lives.
XII. The Three-Fold Law and Law of Return
Wiccans believe that whatever is sent out will be returned times three. This is called the Three-Fold Law or the Law of Three.
Seeing this as something like a scare tactic found in many religions, some Wiccans come to find that the Law of Return (akin to the scientific law that "every action has an equal and opposite reaction") reflects nature more. Instead of adding in any sort of multiplier, the Law of Return is simply that what you send out will come back to you.
Of course, the origins of this Karma-esque Three-Fold Law actually had nothing to do with what you receive for your actions, but rather what you should do in return for what you receive.
Think of it like "treat others as you have been treated" only multiply it by three. (Buh-bye, "turn the other cheek.") However, because this teaching was first shared--pre-Wicca hitting the scenes--through Gerald Gardner's work of fiction, High Magic’s Aid, there is still ongoing debate about whether or not this should be an actual Wiccan practice.
(My take? Return the good every time: Positive reinforcement is scientifically supported and the world can always use more good.)
Wiccans believe that everyone goes through multiple lives, or incarnations, until we perfect our souls (by learning all of life's lessons).
Some Wiccans believe we reincarnate only as humans; others beg to disagree.
Some believe in the concept of Karma, that how we live our present lives will determine how we begin our next.
Others think that each life is a new beginning and how it starts depends on what lessons we chose to learn before reincarnating.
There are many theories and views on reincarnation, its processes and purposes, in Wicca. Ultimately, Wiccans don't believe in sin or the idea that we'll be punished through eternal damnation for mistakes made in life. Wiccans don't place emphasis on the mistakes made, choosing to focus on what is learned through those mistakes and adjusting behaviors as needed instead.
What separates Wicca from other paths is the initiatory nature of the religion.
Some traditions require formal initiation into their (or related) covens before practitioners can call themselves Wiccan. Others fully stand by the belief that formal initiation into a coven is not required (let alone practical in many cases) for people to call themselves Wiccan so long as what they're practicing is Wicca.
That said, all sides agree that initiation is a requirement.
Generally, at least a year and a day of study and practice is required prior to undergoing initiation. At that time, dedicants (the uninitiated practitioners) choose whether or not to move forward with initiation.
In a coven, this would be a formal initiation. As a solitary practitioner, this would be a self-initiation. Some practitioners have also experienced what some call "spontaneous initiation."
For more information on Wicca separating the myths from reality, see What Wicca Is: An Answer In a Sea of Voices.
© 2002-2020 by Evylyn Rose