Introduction
to

Wicca

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IMPOSTER ALERT!
In North Carolina, there is a woman by the name of Dusty, passing herself off as the well-known Wiccan/pagan author, D.J. Conway.  This individual is an imposter!  She is NOT D.J. Conway, although she claims her validity from this identity, and has undertaken to teach and to give initiations on the basis of being D.J. Conway.  The REAL D.J. Conway is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest, as always, and is vouched for by her long-time publisher, Llewellyn.  Visit
D.J. Conway's official website.

 

Note from Shemah: This is a compendium of various websites of the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG), our national Wiccan organization, and other sites, with a few additions and editing of my own. The beliefs and practices and histories given below are those that are generally accepted by a significant portion of the Wiccan community; virtually every point will be perceived or practiced differently by some Wiccan tradition or individual; virtually every point can be the subject of hot debate within mainstream Wicca. Even the Rede (an' it harm none, do as you will), and the Law of Threefold Return, which are virtually the only doctrine that we all are able to agree on, are argued and debated vehemently over the phones, the Internet, mail, in groups and between individuals.


Additional Note: The terms "witch" and "witchcraft" as appear below are used solely and specifically in reference to Wicca and are not applicable to, nor to be confused with, other forms of witchcraft (e.g. brouhas, Santeria, Voodoo, Satanism, etc.)

Further Note:  This description applies to the "British Traditional" Wicca.  I personally reject and refuse any and all connection with those practicing "fluff bunny" Wicca... you know, the dingdongs, the crystal twinkies and newage wannabees, who claim to call down Barbie and Ken as Goddess and God (HUH???!!!!!) or Aragorn and Galadriel.  Now, as much as I love J.R.R. Tolkien, and I'm a complete fan of the Lord of the Rings... worshipping them as God and Goddess?  oh please.  I've heard some talk of Gumby, but I refuse to believe that ANYONE can be that assinine.  Oh well, geez, even Christianity has so-called Christians that the mainstream can be ashamed of... think of the Bakers.  Worse, think of Jim Jones.  There you have it, folks.  Every belief group has its fringe/flake element, and Wicca, unfortunately, is stuck with its fluff bunnies.  Just don't go associating MY beliefs, or those of any serious practicing Wiccan witch, with these wannabe's!!!!!  

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General Philosophy


Wicca, or Witchcraft, is an earth religion -- a re-linking (re-ligio) with the life-force of nature, both on this planet and in the stars and space beyond. In city apartments, in suburban backyards, in country glades, groups of women and men meet on the new and full moons and at festival times to raise energy and put themselves in tune with these natural forces. They honor the old Goddesses and Gods, including the Triple Goddess of the waxing, full, and waning moon, and the Horned God of the sun and animal life, as visualizations of immanent nature.


Our religion is not a series of precepts or beliefs, rather we believe that we each have within ourselves the capacity to reach out and experience the mystery -- that feeling of ineffable oneness with all Life. Those who wish to experience this transcendence must work, and create, and participate in their individual religious lives. For this reason, our congregations, called covens, are small groups which give room for each individual to contribute to the efforts of the group by self-knowledge and creative experimentation within the agreed-upon group structure or tradition.


There are many traditions or sects within the Craft. Different groups take their inspiration from the pre-Christian religions of certain ethnic groups (e.g. Celtic, Greek, Norse, Finno-Ugric, Egyptian); in the liturgical works of some modern Witch poet or scholar (e.g. Gerald Gardner, Z Budapest, Alex Sanders, Starhawk); or by seeking within themselves for inspiration and direction. Many feminists have turned to Wicca and the role of priestess for healing and strength after the patriarchal oppression and lack of voice for women in the major world religions.


There are many paths to spiritual growth. Wicca is a participatory revelation, a celebratory action leading to greater understanding of oneself and the universe. We believe there is much to learn by studying our past, through myth, through ritual drama, through poetry and music, through love and through living in harmony with the Earth.


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Commonly Asked Questions/Misconceptions


Q. What form does the practice of Witchcraft take?

The form and context vary from group to group and between each ritual, and may run the gamut from elaborate ceremony to spontaneous ritual to simple meditation. Generally the practice is to consecrate a sacred space, the "circle" and then work magic and worship the Goddesses and Gods within it according to the forms agreed upon by that particular group of Witches.


Q. How do you see the Goddess?

As the immanent life force, as Mother Nature, the Earth, the Cosmos, the interconnectedness of all life.


Q. Do all Witches practice their religion the same way?

Yes and no. Wicca is a highly individual religion. Moreover, the number of different sects within the Craft may give the impression that no two groups practice the same way. Though practices may vary, most traditions have many similarities, such as the working of magic and a respect for nature. Most Witches find enough common ground for mutual support and productive networking throughout the Craft community.


Q. Is Witchcraft a "cult"?

No. A cult is generally taken as a gathering of people who owe blind allegiance to one charismatic leader who ostensibly represents "truth". They indulge in "extravagant homage or adoration" (Webster's Dictionary), usually of their leader, thus trading the ability to think for themselves for "salvation" and a sense of belonging. This is the antithesis of the Wiccan experience. Most Wiccans come to the Craft through reading and communing with nature and later finding like-minded groups. Witches tend to be highly individualistic.


Q. Do Witches have a "Bible"?

No. A bible is supposedly the word of a deity revealed through a prophet, or more generally, "a book containing the sacred writings of any religion" (Webster's Dictionary). Witchcraft is a Pagan folk-religion of personal experience rather than transmitted revelation. A Witch may keep a "Book of Shadows" which is more like an individual's workbook or journal -- meaningful to the person who keeps it -- containing rituals, discoveries, spells, poetry, herb lore, etc. Covens may keep a similar group book. There is no one document taken by all Wiccans as authoritative, as in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.


Q. Do Witches cast spells?

Some do and some don't. Since a commonly-held belief is that what is sent out is returned to the sender threefold, Witches tend to be very careful with spells. A spell is a formula, or series of steps, to direct the will to a desired end. Energy is drawn from the earth, concentrated, and sent out into the world. It is believed that with proper training and intent, human minds and hearts are fully capable of performing all the magic and miracles they are ever likely to need, through the use of natural psychic power.


Q. Do Witches fly on brooms?

No. Brooms were (in rural Europe) and sometimes still are ridden astride in ceremonies. In one such ceremony, people ran through the fields astride a broom to coax the grain to grow, or participants would leap over a broom, telling the grain to grow to the height of the highest leaping. Uninformed observations of such ceremonies could lead to tales of flying on brooms.


Q. Do Witches worship the Devil?

No. The concept of "the devil", a personification of a supreme spirit of evil and unrighteousness, is a creation of Middle Eastern thought which is fundamental to some religions of that region, including Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam. Worship of this being as "Satan" is a practice of profaning Christian symbolism and is thus a Christian heresy rather than a Pagan religion. The gods of Wicca are in no way connected with Satanic practice. Most Witches do not even believe Satan exists, and certainly do not worship him. Historically, of course, the gods of an older religion are often branded as the devils of a newer one in order to promote conversion.


Q. Are Witches only women?

No, but in this country women do predominate in the Craft overall (in Britain, men predominate). Some traditions have only women practitioners, just as others have only men. Most traditions admit both. Men are also called "Witches", and most take exception to being called "Warlocks".


Q. With the bad mental image people get at the mention of Witch and Witchcraft, why do you still use these names?

Virtually every religion can look back into the dark corners of history and find a period when it was held in disrepute. Some religions were accused of crimes through ignorance and malice (e.g. Medieval Christians were sure that Jews ate Christian babies). Other religions face prejudice because their practices are different from those of their accusers (e.g. the Mormons). Others defame each other for being on the opposite side of some power struggle -- consider the many incidents from the Crusades through the Inquisition to current affairs in nations such as Ireland or Iran. Just because a group was or is persecuted and maligned is not a reason for it to change its name. The practices of prejudice and scapegoating seem to be universal human pastimes, and we have had our share of being victimized.


Q. How can someone find out more about Wicca?

Wicca is not a missionary religion and does not proselytize. One must seek rather than be sought after. There are excellent books available, and many Witches teach classes or facilitate discussion groups. In this way, people may connect with a like-minded coven or form a study group of their own. There are also many good periodicals, networks, and national and regional festivals through which a seeker can make contact with the larger Craft community.

 

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General Practices


Historical Roots to Modern Practice


The roots of the religion called Wicca, or Witchcraft, are very old, coming down to us through a variety of channels worldwide. Although any general statement about our practices will have exceptions, the following will attempt to present a basic foundation for understanding. Some of the old practices were lost when indigenous religions encountered militant Christianity and were forced to go underground for survival. The ancient mystery religions were lost when the practice of the rites was stopped and the old oral traditions were no longer available. Parents transmitted their traditions to their children, with parts being lost and new parts created in succeeding generations. These survivals, along with research into the old ways, provide a rich foundation for modern practice. Other factors contributing to the revival of the Craft are archaeological and anthropological studies of the religious practices of non-Christian cultures, the works of the Golden Dawn and other metaphysical orders, and the liberalization of anti-Witchcraft laws.


Witches hold rituals according to the turning of the seasons, the tides of the moon, and personal needs. Most rituals are performed in a ritual space marked by a circle. We do not build church buildings to create this sacred, ritual space -- all Earth is sacred and in touch with the Goddess and so any place, indoors or out, may be consecrated for ritual use. Outdoor spaces tend to be used from Ostara to Lammas, indoor spaces from Samhain to Imbolc.


The Circle


Within this sacred circle, two main activities occur: celebration, and the practice of magic. Celebration is most important at the major seasonal holy days, the Sabbats. At these times, the myths of that particular holiday are enacted in ritual drama, and dancing, singing, feasting, and revelry are all part of the festivities. On these occasions we celebrate our oneness with life on Earth, as well as assimilating on the deepest level myths and archetypes which map and assist our own life-passages.


Magic is more often performed at smaller gatherings, called Esbats, which coincide with the phases of the moon. Types of magic practiced include psychic healing sessions, the focus and direction of energy to achieve positive results, and work toward the individual spiritual development of the coven members. Magic is an art which requires adherence to certain principles, and a conscious direction of will toward the desired end. We believe it to be an attribute of magic that results toward which the will is directed return to the sender threefold. Therefore, Witches are very conscientious in their use of magic.


When the celebration, teaching, or magical work is finished, the blessing of the Goddess (and God) is called into food and drink which are shared by all. The circle is opened, and the space is no longer consecrated.


Ritual Tools


To create the circle, and in the working of magic, we use tools to facilitate a frame of mind in which the psychic state necessary for this kind of work can be achieved. The tools are part of a complete and self-consistent symbolic system which is agreed upon by the participants and provides them with a "map" for entry into unfamiliar psychic spaces. Such a system, like a map, is arbitrary and not "true" in an absolute sense; it is a guide to a state which is ineffable and can be most clearly reached through the arts (poetry, music, dance, drama) and "starlight" vision.


A primary tool, which is owned by most Witches, is an athame or ritual knife. The athame is charged with the energy of the owner and is used as a pointer to define space (such as casting a sacred circle) and as a conductor of the owner's will and energy.


Other important tools are the symbols on the altar which denote the "Aristotelian" Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water (some "maps" include Spirit). A pentagram or pentacle (a five-pointed star sometimes surrounded by a circle) is often used to symbolize Earth and its properties -- stability, material wealth, the body, and practical affairs. Alternatively, a small dish of salt or soil can be used to symbolize the Earth Element. A thurible (or censer) or a bell can be used to symbolize Air and its properties -- communications, vitality, intellect and understanding. (A sword or wand may be used to symbolize Air or Fire, and many "maps" disagree on with which element the sword or wand should be associated.) A candle or small pot of fire may symbolize the element of Fire and its properties -- will, transmutation, life-force, and power. A chalice of water is used to symbolize the element of Water and its properties -- cleansing, regeneration, and emotion. In the traditions which include the element of Spirit, an ankh or quartz crystal is used to symbolize Spirit and its properties -- perfection, summation, balance, illumination and eternity.


There are many other minor tools which are used for some specific purposes within magical workings, but the tools described above are the basic ones used in the practice of Witchcraft, and many of the minor tools are extrapolations of the basic ones (e.g. the broom of the wand, the sword of the athame, the cauldron of the cup, etc.)

There is a great webpage that explains about the symbolism of the pentagram.


Personal Development


Since these tools are merely the conductors of personal energies, as copper is a conductor for electrical energy, most covens provide at least some degree of training in psychic skills and healing practices to strengthen each member's ability to participate in the religious activities. Each individual decides what level of such training is useful for them. We see psychic abilities as a natural human potential, and are dedicated to developing this as well as all of our positive human potentials.


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WICCAN HOLIDAYS, OR SABBATS


Introduction

Despite competition from twentieth century "life in the fast lane", the awesome spectacle repeated in the pattern of the changing seasons still touches our lives. In the ages when people worked more closely with nature just to survive, the numinous power of this pattern had supreme recognition. Rituals and festivals evolved to channel these transformations for the good of the community toward a good sowing and harvest and bountiful herds and hunting.

One result of this process is our image of the "Wheel of the Year" with its eight spokes -- the four major agricultural and pastoral festivals and the four minor solar festivals of the solstices and equinoxes. In common with many ancient people, many Witches consider the day as beginning at sundown and ending at sundown the following day. So, for example, Samhain starts at dusk on the 31st, ending the evening of the 1st.


October 31 -- November Eve -- Samhain

The night lengthens and we work with the positive aspects of darkness in the increasing star- and moonlight. Many Craft traditions, following the ancient Celts, consider this the eve of the New Year (as day begins with sundown, so the year begins with the first day of Winter). It is one night when the barriers between the worlds of life and death are uncertain, allowing the ancestors to walk among the living, welcomed and feasted by their kin, bestowing the Otherworld's blessings. We may focus within ourselves to look "through the glass darkly", developing our divination and psychic skills.


December 21 -- Winter Solstice -- Yule

The sun is at its nadir, the year's longest night. We internalize and synthesize the outward-directed activities of the previous summer months. Some covens hold a Festival of Light to commemorate the Goddess as Mother giving birth to the Sun God. Others celebrate the victory of the Lord of Light over the Lord of Darkness as the turning point from which the days will lengthen. The name "Yule" derives from the Norse word for "wheel", and many of our customs (like those of the Christian holiday) derive from Norse and Celtic Pagan practices (the Yule log, the tree, the custom of Wassailing, et al).


January 31 -- February Eve -- Imbolc (Oimelc) or Brigid

As the days' lengthening becomes perceptible, many candles are lit to hasten the warming of the earth and emphasize the reviving of life. "Imbolc" is from Old Irish, and may mean "in the belly", and Oimelc, "ewe's milk", as this is the lambing time. It is the holiday of the Celtic Fire Goddess Brigid, whose threefold nature rules smithcraft, poetry/inspiration, and healing. Brigid's fire is a symbolic transformation offering healing, visions, and tempering. Februum is a Latin word meaning purification -- naming the month of cleansing. The thaw releases waters (Brigid is also a goddess of holy wells) -- all that was hindered is let flow at this season.


March 21 -- Vernal Equinox -- Ostara

Day and night are equal as Spring begins to enliven the environment with new growth and more newborn animals. Many people feel "reborn" after the long nights and coldness of winter. The Germanic Goddess Ostara or Eostre (Goddess of the Dawn), after whom Easter is named, is the tutelary deity of this holiday. It is she, as herald of the sun, who announces the triumphal return of life to the earth. Witches in the Greek tradition celebrate the return from Hades of Demeter's daughter Persephone; Witches in the Celtic tradition see in the blossoms the passing of Olwen, in whose footprints flowers bloom. The enigmatic egg, laid by the regenerating snake or the heavenly bird, is a powerful symbol of the emergence of life out of apparent death or absence of life.


April 30 -- May Eve -- Beltaine

As the weather heats up and the plant world burgeons, an exuberant mood prevails. Folk dance around the Maypole, emblem of fertility (the name "May" comes from a Norse word meaning "to shoot out new growth"). May 1st was the midpoint of a five-day Roman festival to Flora, Goddess of Flowers. The name "Beltaine" means "Bel's Fires"; in Celtic lands, cattle were driven between bonfires to bless them, and people leaped the fires for luck. The association in Germany of May Eve with Witches' gatherings is a memory of pre-Christian tradition. "Wild" water (dew, flowing streams or ocean water) is collected as a basis for healing drinks and potions for the year to come.


June 21 -- Summer Solstice -- Litha or Midsummer

On this day, the noon of the year and the longest day, light and life are abundant. We focus outward, experiencing the joys of plenty, tasting the first fruits of the season. In some traditions the sacred marriage of the Goddess and God is celebrated (in others, this is attributed to the springtime holidays). Rhea, the Mountain Mother of Crete, has breathed out all creation. It is also the festival of the Chinese Goddess of Light, Li.


July 31 -- August Eve -- Lughnasadh or Lammas

This festival has two aspects. First, it is one of the Celtic fire festivals, honoring the Celtic culture-bringer and Solar God Lugh (Lleu to the Welsh, Lugus to the Gauls). In Ireland, races and games were held in his name and that of his mother, Tailtiu (these may have been funeral games). The second aspect is Lammas, the Saxon Feast of Bread, at which the first of the grain harvest is consumed in riutal loaves. These aspects are not too dissimilar, as the shamanic death and transformation of Lleu can be compared to that of the Barley God, known from the folksong "John Barleycorn". This time is also sacred to the Greek Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt, Artemis.


September 21 -- Autumnal Equinox -- Mabon or Harvest

This day sees light and dark in balance again, before the descent to the dark times. A harvest festival is held, thanking the Goddess for giving us enough sustenance to feed us through the winter. Harvest festivals of many types still occur today in farming country, and Thanksgiving is an echo of these.


In this way the Wheel turns, bringing us back to Samhain where we began our cycle. Many of the festival days coincide with holidays of the Jewish and Christian calendars. This is no accident; these points in the year were important community celebrations, and were kept largely intact although they were rededicated to the Christian God or a saint. The names may have changed, but the old Pagan practices still show through.


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More Commonly Asked Questions/Misconceptions


Q. What is a Witch? What is Witchcraft?

"Witch" comes from the Anglo-Saxon wicce (meaning witch), which in turn derives from an Indo-European root word meaning to bend or change or do magic/religion (making it related to "wicker," "wiggle," and even "vicar"). It is possibly also related to the Old Norse vitki (meaning wizard), derived from root words meaning "wise one" or "seer." "Warlock" (rarely used, for male Witches) is from the Old Norse vardlokkur, "spirit song" (not "oath-breaker"). Related words are "Pagan," meaning a country dweller, and "Heathen," a dweller on the heath, both of which peoples were the European equivalent of the Native Americans and other indigenous, nature-worshipping people.


Today, a Witch is a woman or man who practices a life-affirming, Earth- and nature-oriented religion, honoring Divinity in female as well as (or instead of) male aspects, and practicing Magic (which some Witches spell "magick," to distinguish it from stage illusions). There are many different traditions of Witches, encompassing many beliefs in addition to these. Some traditions are practiced by women only, and recognize only the Divine Feminine, the Goddess. Others include men and recognize a male god in addition to the Goddess. Some traditions may date back to before the Spanish Inquisition, others have been in existence for only a few years. The strength of the Witches' religion (also called "the Craft" or "Wicca") lies in its diversity; it is a living, growing religious tradition.


Witchcraft today may be seen as the sum total of all a Witch's practices, including but not limited to: spellcasting, divination ("fortune telling"), meditation, herbalism, ritual and ritual drama, singing and dancing to raise energy, healing, clairvoyance and other psychism, creative mythology, and more. As a religion, the Craft is a revival and/or reconstruction of the pre-Christian religions of Europe, especially Northern Europe (giving us Celtic or Norse traditions), sometimes elsewhere (giving us Graeco-Roman, Egyptian, or Levantine traditions). Many of us have turned for inspiration to the still-living indigenous traditions of other lands, such as Australia, Asia, India, and the Americas. Some of us , recognizing that we are American Witches, work with deities and land-spirits of local Amerindian tribes, though we do not claim to be members of any Amerindian tradition. As Margot Adler, a Witchcraft authority, has written, "The real tradition of the Craft is creativity."


Q. Do you pray? Who do you pray to?

Some Witches pray (in the popular sense of the word), some don't. Some Witches regularly meditate on the deities of their choice; some only invoke deities to empower a ritual or work of Magic.


As to who or what our deities are, you will get nearly as many answers as there are Witches. Consensus opinion seems to be that there is a transcendent Divine, the sum of all that is and more, and that everything that is partakes of that Divinity. However, that Divinity is more than the human mind can encompass or experience. So the idea of Divinity is broken down into few or many "mind-sized" pieces. One cannot look at the sun but through a filter; one can only experience a piece of the Divine. These pieces are conceived of in many forms. One of the primary forms Divinity takes for us is the Goddess, the Divine Feminine. She can have many names and many aspects; some Witches worship only the nameless single Goddess, and others worship Her under all the names by which she has been known to the ancients: Ishtar, Diana, Ceridwen, Athena, Amaterasu, Brigantia, Venus, Hecate, Isis, Demeter, and more. In addition, the Goddess can be seen in three aspects: the Maiden (youth, self-sufficiency, often love), the Mother (nurturing, fulfillment), and the Crone/Wise Woman (wisdom, mystery, initiation, and death/rebirth). The Moon, the Sea, and the Earth can all be personified as Goddesses.


Some Witches stop there. Other Witches include the Divine Male, the God. Our God is not limited to the Father aspect, though there are Divine Fathers. The Sun is often personified as a God, as is plant life; the dying and reborn Grain God is common to nearly all agricultural myths. Some name Him merely "the Horned One;" others call him by the names he had of old: Apollo, Osiris, Dionysos, Odin Pan Freyr, Adonis, Tammuz, and many others.


When we invoke deities and/or manifest them in ourselves, where do they come from? Are they somewhere "out there" and do they come in? Or are they inside us, in our psyches, and do they come out? Do we "put on" a deity, or do we remove our shell of humanity to let the divinity show through? Nobody has the answer, nor do we pretend to. Deities may be archetypes , they may be nature spirits, they may be forces outside our ken. Who or whatever they are, they are. Our deities are both transcendent ("out there") and immanent ("right here").


Q. Are you Satanists?

No. To be a Satanist, one must believe in Satan. Witches do not believe in Satan, as such. The popular image of the goat-hooved, pointy-horned devil is a deliberate corruption by the early missionary church of the European Pagan Horned God, who has been depicted in Greece as Pan, and in ancient Gaul as Cernunnos (who is pictured having a stag's antlers). Making indigenous gods into evil beings was the early church's most reliable method of gaining converts. Some missionary Christian groups continue the practice to this day, in areas that have retained their old religions.


Our Horned God is neither evil nor a source of evil; He is the energy of nature, of plant and animal life, which energy manifests for people in music and dance, intoxication and ecstasy, and all joyous activities, including lovemaking.


Q. What about evil? What are your ethics/morals?

We believe that life is essentially good, and creation and destruction are part of natural cycles. Clearly, though, there is evil in the world. We believe its source is not any kind of devil or demiurge, but human action (note: not human nature). Evil is also subjective: what is good for one may be evil for another and vice versa. For example, a tiger kills an antelope - the antelope's death is bad to the antelope, but good to the tiger, who does, after all, have to eat. The deities of the Craft, if they have any inclination at all, incline towards the positive; most are neither "good" nor "evil," they just are, in the same way any elemental force, like fire or the weather, is. Our deities give us power; how we choose to use that power is up to us.


That use is directed, first and foremost, by the Witches' Rede: "If it harm none, do what you will." It is also directed in part by the Law of Threefold Return: what you give out returns to you threefold. If you work ill, threefold ill comes back to you. If you work good, threefold good comes back to you.


Witches (and members of other indigenous religions) have known all along what science is only beginning to acknowledge: that all systems on the planet are interconnected, all life is one. When imbalance is caused in one area, the whole system is thrown out of balance. Acts of evil cause imbalance. The works of Witchcraft are toward balance and harmony. We are healers, protectors; we will act swiftly and forcefully in defense against aggression, but we do not ourselves attack.


Q. Do you do animal/human sacrifices?

No. Our own internal life-force is sufficient to whatever task we may require; we have no need of stealing the life-force of another. As offerings to our deities, Witches may burn incense or candles, pour out libations, place sacred herbs or food in some outdoor spot, bury talismans or money.


Q. Do you have gurus, leaders, priests, masters?

Every Witch is her or his own priest/ess. That's part of the point of the Craft. We need no intermediaries between us and Divinity; each of us can have our own personal "revelation." Mostly, the Craft is too diverse and anarchic to follow any one leader. We all partake of Divinity, and no one person has exclusive knowledge of the Divine or sole power to decide the directions of our lives. We have no infallible leader, no Grand High Exalted Poobah, no dogma. Nobody can have all the answers. So many of us have our own ideas about what the Craft should be and how it works, that we can rarely agree on points of religion - the idea of all of us agreeing to follow one person is manifestly absurd.


Each Circle or Coven may have a High Priestess or High Priest, or it may be democratic and operate by consensus. There will always be people with leadership tendencies; these are people who tend to do outreach work, networking between Wiccan groups or outside the Craft, or even teaching.


Q. What do you think happens after death? Do you believe in heaven and hell?

As it has been said, Witches don't believe in life after death, we believe in life after birth. The emphasis of the Craft is on working to make this life good for as many people as possible, oneself included.


We do not believe in a hell, sin, or redemption. As mentioned above, evil is imbalance. But we have no concept of original sin for which we must be redeemed - indeed, that concept has been the source of oppression and even killing of women for centuries, since medieval Christian philosophy had it that woman was the source of all sin and evil. Witches are reclaiming Eve as the one who gave us self-knowledge through her courage and curiosity. Nor, for that matter, do we believe in a heavenly reward for good behavior. Spiritual bribery is not the way of the Witch; the results of good or evil acts are felt in this lifetime. No celestial carrot or infernal stick.


On the other hand, Witches have quite a few opinions about what does happen after death. Most believe in reincarnation of some sort or other. Some have it that between death and rebirth the soul undergoes some sort of transformation (for which there are a number of metaphors) to prepare it for rebirth. Others believe that the dead join the Blessed Ancestors, who watch over, protect and advise their descendants. Still others have it that the souls of those who chose pain or evil when they were alive may be trapped after death in a state of suffering because that is all they can understand. Most Witches are honest enough to say, "We don't really know, and there isn't any way to know."


Q. What is your magic? Does it work? How?

There are a number of sayings about Magic. It is "the act of changing consciousness by Will." It is "the science of coincidence." As the root word of "Witch" indicates, we are shapers and changers; what we shape and change is our own life force, our own consciousness, our health and that of the planet. We believe that we can change our lives by spiritual as well as physical means. Very little is preordained, except that we will die, some day. In the meantime, many Witches do divination to find out the possible directions their lives might take, and then act on the information accordingly.


It works. We can't turn people into frogs or levitate tables by mind-power; we can work healing, change our lives for the better, and discover the workings and balance of the whole system. Our Wills are our tools. "Faith without works is meaningless," and we work in the world, too; we are active in our communities and for the environment, but we back up our actions with magical intent. It is a potent combination.


Q. Do you do Black Magic?

No. Some of us do not even recognize "black" or "white" Magic; Magic is Magic, and what its nature is depends on how we use it. Remember that we try to temper all our Magic by the Rede.


Q. Do you cast spells?

Yes. That's part of being a Witch. There are those who wish merely to worship the Goddess (and God), observe the turning of the seasons with ritual, and honor the Earth. These are what may be called "Neo-Pagans" (to distinguish them from indigenous, aboriginal pagans). Nearly all Wiccans are Neo-Pagans (believe it or not, a few are Christian or Jewish); not all Neo-Pagans are Witches, or even Wiccans, nor are all Wiccans witches.


For us, spells and rituals are a matter of arranging elements to encourage a frame of mind conducive to working Magic. This may involve burning candles and/or incense, making talismans of stone or wood or paper, chanting rhymed formulae, using herbs or essential oils, turning down the lights and playing some atmospheric music, or whatever the imagination of the Witch can devise.


The Threefold Return works powerfully here: if someone wishes to curse someone else, the curser must first build up the curse within her/himself - guess who gets to feel it first! Acts of healing, on the other hand, are acts of profound love, and the healer often finds her/himself healthier after healing someone else. It is always easier to cast a spell on oneself than on another. Only in very limited circumstances, if at all, should a spell be cast on another without that person's knowledge and consent. This generally excludes the stereotypical ever-popular "love spell," although the Witch can cast a spell to bring love, or to let the right person come into his or her life.


Note: As a general truism, Wiccans don't send out curses; even the ethics of a simple binding on a bad person (rapist, murderer, etc.) not to do harm is intensely debated within Wiccan circles. Any Witch known to do "negative magic" suddenly finds herself persona non grata amongst the Wiccan, and not just on the basis of disapproving the ethics of her magick; nobody, but NOBODY, wants to be in that Witch's physical proximity when the Law of Threefold Return exacts its retribution! I personally know of one Witch whom no one in the community wants to even find themselves standing next to. And when a Wiccan is discovered to have done negative magick, words spreads around very quickly indeed, not just locally but sometimes even on a national level.


Q. How do you worship? What are your holidays? What do you do then?

There are as many ways of worship as there are traditions of the Craft. Most rituals involve consecration of the ritual space in some way, invocation of a Deity or Deities, and a communal meal. Rituals can include music and/or dancing, poetry, masquing and drama (often in enactments of myth), and even props and special effects. Again, creativity is the watchword here. There are eight holidays.


1 Nov., Samhain

Popularly known as Hallowe'en. The Feast of the Ancestors and Witches' New Year. Trick-or-Treating evolved from Pagan "Souling," when children representing ancestors collected food and blessed the houses they visited.


22 Dec., Yule/Midwinter

The Winter Solstice. Longest night of the year, Feast of the Rebirth of the Sun, after which the days begin to grow longer again. Many Christmas customs have a Pagan origin: the Yule Log, Christmas Tree, Evergreen Decorations, Wassailing.


1 Feb., Imbolc/Brigid

Feast of Returning Light. Also called Candlemas. In honor of the Irish Brigid, Goddess of holy wells, fire, healing, smithcraft, and poetry. Brigid's Fire warms the Earth after Winter.


22 Mar., Eostre

Named after the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the Dawn; origin of the word "Easter." The Vernal Equinox, Feast of Planting and Rebirth.


1 May, Beltaine

Also called May Day. The first day of Summer, the beginning of the light half of the year. A feast of fertility and burgeoning life.


22 June, Litha/Midsummer

The Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Feast of the Sun on High or the Solar Hero; activities are mostly those to do with civilization/culture.


1Aug., Lughnasadh/Lammas

"Feast of Lugh," or "Loaf-mass." Feast of the Hero-God Lugh, who undergoes a shamanic death-rebirth initiation, and/or the Barley God, who dies and is transformed into beer. Festival of the First Fruits, the first harvest.


22 Sept., Harvest

Celebration of the Harvest. Has its analog in the American Thanksgiving, which was indeed originally a harvest festival.

 


Q. How many of you are there? Do you raise your children in this?

Conservative reckonings estimate 200,000 Witches and/or Neo-Pagans in the US alone. There could be many more, who are simply more private about their religion, for the very real fear of persecution. Witches are still working hard for our First Amendment rights.


Most Wiccan parents allow their children to become involved in the Craft or learn about Paganism if the child wishes; few, if any, require of their children adherence to any particular path. There are indeed Pagan/Wiccan children and young adults. They're just like other kids. They go through adolescent rebellion and life crises just like other kids; they may even be slightly more well-adjusted than non-Pagan kids, if only because the Craft provides rituals and/or recognitions of Life Passages.


Q. How do you become a Witch?

The Craft does not actively seek converts. We do not proselytize. We are willing to inform when asked, and training is available in varying degrees of formality. Some Witches believe that one must be born with the talent to become a Witch. Others believe that all people have the ability, and that becoming a Witch is simply a matter of training. Some people know from an early age that they are Witches; others come to the Craft as adults - most of us grew up in a tradition other than the Craft. And there are many out there who do what we would call Witchcraft who have no idea what to call it, or even that there are others like them in the country or the world. Being a Witch, like doing Magic itself, is "a matter of symbolism and intent."

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PRINCIPLES OF BELIEF


Principles of Wiccan Belief, adopted by the Council of American Witches in 1974.


We are not bound by traditions from other times and other cultures, and owe no allegience to any person or power greater than the Divinity manifest through our own being.

As American Witches, we welcome and respect all life-affriming teachings and traditions, and seek to learn from all and to share our learning within our Council.

It is in this spirit of welcome and cooperation that we adopt these few principles of Wiccan belief. In seeking to be inclusing, we do not wish to open ourselves to the destruction of our group by those on self-serving power trips, or to philosophies and practices contradictory to these principles. In seeking to exclude those whose ways are contradictory to ours, we do not want to deny participation with us to any who are sincerely interested in our knowledge and beliefs, regardless of race, color, sex, age, national or cultural origin, or sexual preference.

We therefore ask only that those who seek to identify with us accept these few basic principles:

1. We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the Moon and the seasonal quarters and cross-quarters.

2. We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique responsibility toward our environment. We week to live in harmony with Nautre, in ecological balance offering fulfillment to life and consciousness within an evolutionary concept.

3. We acknowledge a depth of power far greater than is apparent to the ordinary person. Because it is far greater than ordinary, it is sometimes called "supernatural," but we see it as lying within that which is naturally potential to all.

4. We conceive of the Creative Power in the Universe as manifesting through polarity - as masculine and feminine - and that this same Creative Power lives in all people, and functions through the interaction of the masculine and feminine. We value neither above the other, knowing each to be supportive of the other. We value sexuality as pleasure, as a symbol and embodiment of Life, and as one of the sources of energies used in magickal practice and religious worship.

5. We recognize both outer worlds and inner, or psychological worlds - sometimes known as the Spiritual World, the Collective unconscious, the Inner Planes, etc. - and we see in the interaction of these two dimensions the basis for paranormal phenomea and magickal exercises. We neglect neither dimension for the other, seeing both as necessary for our fulfillment.

6. We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who have courageously given of themselves in leadership.

7. We see religion, magick, and wisdom-in-living as being united in the way one views the world and lives within it - a world view and philosophy of life, which we identify as Witchcraft or the Wiccan Way.

8. Calling oneself "Witch" does not make a Witch - but neither does heredity itself, or the collecting of titles, degrees, and initiations. A Witch seeks to control the forces within him/herself that make life possible in order to live wisely and well, without harm to others, and in harmony with Nature.

9. We acknowledge that it is the affirmation and fulfillment of life, in a continuation of evolution and development of consciousness, that gives meaning to the Universe as we know, and to our personal role within it.

10. Our only animosity toward Christianity, or toward any other religion or philosophy-of-life, is to the extent that its institutions have claimed to be "the one true right and only way" and have sought to deny freedom to others and to suppress other ways of religious practices and beliefs.

11. As American Witches, we aren ot threatened by debates on the history of the Craft, the origins of various terms, the legitimacy of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with our present, and our future.

12. We do not accept the concept of "absolute evil," nor do we worship any entity known as "Satan" or "the Devil" as defined by Christian Tradition. We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor do we accept the concept that personal benefits can only be derived by denial to another.

13. We work within Nature for that which is contributory to our health and well-being.


--taken from "To Ride a Silver Broomstick," by Silver Ravenwolf, who further states "Most of us do live by and adhere to these thirteen principles"


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The Earth Religion Anti-Abuse Resolution


This was sponsored by the Church of All Worlds in May 1988, and was signed by some of the most prestigious names in Wicca and Witchcraft today: Margot Adler, Raymond Buckland, Z. Budapest, Laurie Cabot, Deidre & Andrus Corbin, Scott Cunningham, Janet & Stewart Farrar, the Frosts, Selena Fox, Starhawk, Doreen Valiente, Marion Weinstein, Otter & Morning Glory Zell.


"We, the undersigned, as adherents of Pagan and Neo-Pagan Earth Religions, including Wicca, or Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, practice a variety of positive, life-affirming faiths that are dedicated to healing, both of ourselves and of the Earth. As such, we do not advocate or condone any acts that victimize others, including those proscribed by law. As one of our most widely-accepted precepts is the Wiccan Rede's injunction to "harm none," we absolutely condemn the practices of child abuse, sexual abuse, and any other form of abuse that does harm to the bodies, minds or spirits of individuals. We offer prays, therapy and support for the healing of the victims of such abuses. We recognize and revere the divinity of Nature in our Mother the Earth, and we conduct our rites of worship in a manner that is ethical, compassionate and constituionally protected. We neihter acknowledge nor worship the Christian devil, "satan," who is not in our Pagan pantheons. We will not tolerate slander or libel against our churches, clergy or congregations, and we are prepared to defend our civil rights with such legal action as we deem necessary and appropriate."


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The Do's and Don'ts of Witches


Sponsored by the Witches League for Public Awareness and the Witches of Salem.


1. Witches do not do evil. Witches believe evil is against the Universal Law. Witches believe evil is eventually returned to the sender.


2. Witches do not worship satan. Withces do not have any "satan," "demons" or "devils" in their belief system.


3. The Witches of Salem do wear black. Black is not an evil color. It takes all colors to make up black. Other religious orders wear black as well, without criticism.


4. Witches do not have evil characteristics as portrayed in fairy tails, such as green faces, warts on noses, crooked teeth, stringly hair, or a cackle-like laugh. Witches are of all ages, and are of ordinary appearances. Witches can be both male and female. A male Witch is NOT a "warlock" (a term which means "traitor" and was used by the Christian church), he is a Witch.


5. Witches do not ride on broomsticks. They find it much easier to use modern transportation.


6. Witches do use spells. A "spell" is a form of prayer used to produce a desired result. Christians use pray to achieve the same results.


7. Witches do use magic wands. Magic wands are much line "divining rods" and are used for the purpose of directing energies.


8. Witches do use the natural psychic ability that all human beings possess. Witches use these abilities to heal, and to improve their surroundings.


9. Witches do use Witchcraft as a science, art and religion, and use their knowledge and abilities in harmony with the Universe and Nature around them. As a science they use their psychic abilties, as a religion personifying Nature as a Goddess and God, and as an art by using magic to beauty.


10. Witches do wear a pentacle which is a five-pointed star in a circle, with the apex pointed upward. The five points stand for the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, and the top point for the Divine Spirit.


I hope this helps you a little in understanding Wicca and, in part, my own beliefs. If you have any questions at all, please ask!

 

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