What Is Wicca?
Despite what many believe, Wicca is a peaceful, harmonious and balanced way of life. It promotes oneness with all that exists as well as with the divine. Those who practice Wicca have a deep appreciation of anything natural, whether it is a sunset, the dew on the grass in the early morning or the colorful leaves in the autumn air.
History of Wicca
There is some dispute regarding the history of Wicca with many scholars believing that Wicca’s history is relatively short in relation to other religions. Scholars of religion have identified three people as founders of Wiccan beliefs. Charles Leland was an author and folklorist who, in 1899, wrote Arcadia: Gospel of the Witches, which dealt with the goddess Diana, claiming to get the information from an Italian sorceress, Maddalena. Margaret Murray wrote about witches who were burned by various religions, claiming that those burned were remnants of an ancient, organized pre-Christian religion in Europe. Gerald Gardner was a British civil servant who joined a coven in 1939 and later wrote about the practices calling them “old religion.” He also wrote Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft. All of these writers indicate that Wicca dates back hundreds of years, explaining that the practice went underground to avoid religious persecution. There have been archeological discoveries that indicate that the Paleolithic people worshipped a Hunter God and Fertility Goddess based on cave paintings.
What is Wicca?
Wicca is a belief system and way of life that is based on pre-Christian traditions that originated in Scotland, Wales and England. Because those who practiced Wicca in ancient times were forced to do so in hiding, much of the early information on the religion does not exist and have been restructured by modern day practitioners. Those who practice Wicca believe that they do not own the earth but are part of it and that people must return what they take or use, in kind, to the earth in order to maintain balance and equilibrium. Wicca followers acknowledge the cycles of nature, lunar phases and celebrate the seasons so that they live in harmony. Wiccans accept responsibility for their actions and deeds, not blaming an exterior entity for shortcomings or weaknesses.
Wicca and Witchcraft
Over the past few centuries, the image of a witch has been associated with evil, heathenism and unrighteousness, myths that may have been created by churches in the 15th through 19th centuries as a way to convert Wicca followers to more traditional religions. During early centuries, witches were considered wise as they had knowledge of herbs and medicines. They also gave advice to villagers as Shamanic healers, understanding that man is not superior to the Earth but are simply one of the many parts of nature. As medical science grew, the fledgling medical society, made up of men, used their lack of knowledge regarding women’s physiology to refute witchcraft as a method of healing. Wicca followers understand that witchcraft is a spiritual system that promotes free thought as well as encouraging learning and an understanding of the Earth. The spells performed by Wiccans involve healing, love, harmony, wisdom and creativity. They strive to use natural remedies placed on the Earth by the divine rather than using synthetic drugs unless absolutely required.
Wicca Stereotypes and Misconceptions
One of the most common stereotypes about Wicca and Paganism is that followers worship Satan. Wiccans do not believe in Satan or hell. This myth began in the Middle Ages when the Catholic Church began using a half man and half stag to represent Satan, a creature that is one of the Pagan gods. Because many Wiccans wear pentacles as a sign of their religion, it is often confused with a pentagram, which is actually a pentacle, a symbol of Satan, that has been reversed. Wiccan followers also do not perform animal sacrifices as part of their religious ceremonies. Spells used in Paganism may not harm others as the Wiccan Rede states “An It Harm None, Do What Ye Will.” This law requires that all Wiccans are restricted from harming themselves or others. Not all followers of Wicca are witches as many simply choose to live with nature and never perform spells or engage in healing practices.
The Wiccan and Pagan year runs from October 31 through October 30. Samhain, which means “End of Summer,” is the third and final harvest and it is generally celebrated on October 31. Celebrations for Imbolc begin on February 1 at sundown and continue throughout the day on February 2. Beltane is celebrated either April 30 or May 1 with feasts and rituals and is similar to a May-Day festival with dancing around a Maypole. Lughnasaoh is celebrated July 31 and August 1 to celebrate the first harvest of the year while Yule celebrates the Winter Solstice, whose dates vary from December 20 to December 23. Ostara is celebrated on March 21 in honor of the Vernal Equinox while Litha celebrates the Summer Solstice on June 21. Mabon is celebrated September 21 and honors the Autumn Equinox.
Wicca and Paganism are some of the most misunderstood religions in the world today. By understanding that Wicca simply allows followers to honor nature and to live with peace, harmony and balance, it is easy to see why it is one of the fastest growing religions today.