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This article is about
the duotheistic religion. For other uses, see Wicca
worn as a pendant,
depicts a pentagram,
or five-pointed star, used as a symbol of Wicca by many adherents.
Wicca (English pronunciation: /ˈwɪkə/)
is a modern
religion. It was
developed in England
during the first half of the 20th century and was introduced
to the public in 1954 by Gerald
Gardner, a retired British
civil servant. Wicca draws upon a diverse set of ancient
pagan and 20th
century hermetic motifs
for its theological structure and ritual
practice. The word witch derives from Middle
English wicche, Old
(/ˈwɪttʃe/) (feminine) "witch" and wicca
(/ˈwɪttʃɑ/) (masculine) "wizard".
Wicca has no central authority. Its traditional core beliefs,
principles and practices were originally outlined in the 1940s and
1950s by Gardner and Doreen
Valiente, both in published books as well as in secret written
and oral teachings passed along to their initiates. There are many
variations on the core structure, and the religion grows and evolves
over time. It is divided into a number of diverse lineages, sects
referred to as traditions, each with its own organizational
structure and level of centralisation.
Due to its decentralized nature, there is some disagreement over what
actually constitutes Wicca. Some traditions, collectively referred to
Traditional Wicca, strictly follow the initiatory lineage of
Gardner and consider the term Wicca to apply only to similar
traditions, while newer eclectic
traditions do not.
Wicca is typically duotheistic,
worshipping a Goddess and a God. These are traditionally viewed as
Goddess and the Horned
God, respectively. These deities may be regarded in a
way, as having many different divine aspects which can in turn be
identified with many diverse pagan deities from different historical
pantheons. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as the
"Great Goddess" and the "Great Horned God", with
the adjective "great" connoting a deity that contains many
other deities within their own nature. These two deities are
sometimes viewed as facets of a greater pantheistic
is regarded as an impersonal force or process rather than a personal
deity. While duotheism
or bitheism is traditional in Wicca, broader Wiccan beliefs range
to pantheism or
monism, even to
Wiccan celebrations follow both the cycles
of the Moon, known as esbats
and associated with the Goddess, and the cycles of the Sun,
seasonally based festivals known as Sabbats
and associated with the Horned God. An unattributed statement known
as the Wiccan
Rede is a popular expression of Wiccan morality, although it is
not accepted by all Wiccans. Wicca often involves the ritual practice
though it is not always necessary.
Main article: Etymology
The term Wicca first achieved
widespread acceptance when referring to the religion in the 1960s and
70s. Prior to that, the term Witchcraft had been more widely
used. Whilst being based upon the Old
English word wicca, a masculine
term for sorcerers, the actual individual who coined the capitalised
term Wicca is unknown, though it has been speculated that it
Cardell, who certainly used the term Wiccen during the
Application of the word Wicca has given rise to "a great
deal of disagreement and infighting".
Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca are often collectively termed
Traditional Wicca, and some of their practitioners consider the
term Wicca to apply only to these lineaged traditions. Others
do not use the word Wicca at all, instead preferring to be
referred to only as Witchcraft, while others believe that all
modern witchcraft traditions can be considered Wiccan.
Popular culture, as seen in television
programs such as Buffy
the Vampire Slayer, tends to use the terms Wiccan and
Wicca as completely synonymous with the terms Witch and
Beliefs vary markedly between different traditions and individual
practitioners. However, various commonalities exist between these
disparate groups, which usually include views on theology, the
afterlife, magic and morality.
Main article: Wiccan
views of divinity
Altar statues of the Horned God and Mother Goddess crafted by Bel
Bucca and owned by the "Mother of Wicca", Doreen
Wiccan views on
numerous and varied and there is no universally agreed-upon religious
canon, but Wicca is traditionally a duotheistic religion that
venerates both a Triple
Goddess associated with the moon, stars, and often the Earth, and
a Horned God
associated with the sun, forests and animals. These two deities are
variously understood through the frameworks of pantheism
(as being dual aspects of a single godhead),
(as being two polar opposites), hard
polytheism (being two distinct deities in a larger pantheon which
includes other pagan gods) or soft
polytheism (being composed of many lesser deities). In some
pantheistic and duotheistic conceptions, deities from diverse
cultures may be seen as aspects of the Goddess or God.
However, there are also other theological viewpoints to be found
within the Craft, including monotheism,
the concept that there is just one deity, which is seen by some, such
Wiccans, as being the Goddess, whilst by others, like the Church
and School of Wicca, as instead being genderless.
to the Witches Janet
Farrar, who held a pantheistic, duotheistic and animistic
view of theology, Wiccans "regard the whole cosmos as alive,
both as a whole and in all of its parts", but that "such an
organic view of the cosmos cannot be fully expressed, and lived,
without the concept of the God and Goddess. There is no manifestation
without polarisation; so at the highest creative level, that of
Divinity, the polarisation must be the clearest and most powerful of
all, reflecting and spreading itself through all the microcosmic
levels as well".
Wicca is traditionally and primarily a religion centred upon the
idea of gender
and the worship of a Moon
Goddess and a Horned
God. (This core theology was originally described by Gerald
Gardner, the founder of the religion; and Doreen Valiente, who wrote
much of the original liturgical materials.) The Goddess and the God
may be regarded as the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine. They
are complementary opposites or dualities, bearing similarities to the
concept of yin
and yang in Taoism. The God and Goddess are generally seen as
lovers and equals, the Divine Couple who together co-create the
The God and
For most Wiccans, the God and Goddess are seen as complementary
polarities in the universe that balance one another out, and in this
manner they have been compared to the concept of yin
and yang found in Taoism.
As such they are often interpreted as being "embodiments of a
life-force manifest in nature"
with some Wiccans believing that they are simply symbolic of these
polarities, whilst others believe that the God and the Goddess are
genuine beings that exist independently. The two divinities are often
given symbolic associations, with the Goddess commonly being
symbolised as the Earth
Earth), but also sometimes as the Moon,
which complements the God being viewed as the Sun.
The Gods are real, not as persons, but as vehicles of
power. Briefly, it may be explained that the personification of a
particular type of cosmic power in the form of a God or Goddess,
carried out by believers and worshippers over many centuries, builds
that God-form or Magical Image into a potent reality on the Inner
Planes, and makes it a means by which that type of cosmic power may
Traditionally the God is viewed as a Horned
God, associated with nature, wilderness, sexuality, hunting and
the life cycle.
The Horned God is given various names according to the tradition, and
these include Cernunnos,
At other times the God is viewed as the Green
a traditional figure in European art and architecture, and they often
interpret him as being associated with the natural world. The God is
also often depicted as a Sun
at the festival of Litha,
or the summer solstice. Another expression of the God is that of the
Oak King and the Holly King, one who rules over winter and spring,
the other who rules over summer and autumn.
He has also been seen in the roles of the Leader
of the Wild Hunt and the Lord of Death.
The Goddess is usually portrayed as a Triple
Goddess, thereby being a triadic deity comprising a Maiden
goddess, a Mother
goddess, and a Crone goddess, each of whom has different
associations, namely virginity, fertility and wisdom.
She is also commonly depicted as a Moon
and is often given the name of Diana
after the ancient Roman deity. Some Wiccans, particularly from the
1970s onwards, have viewed the Goddess as the more important of the
two deities, who is pre-eminent in that she contains and conceives
all. In this respect, the God is viewed as the spark of life and
inspiration within her, simultaneously her lover and her child.
This is reflected in the traditional structure of the coven.
In one monotheistic
form of the Craft, Dianic
Wicca, the Goddess is the sole deity, a concept that has been
criticised by members of other more egalitarian traditions.
According to Gerald Gardner, "the Goddess" is a deity of
prime importance, along with her consort the Horned
God. In the earliest Wiccan publications, she is described as a
tribal goddess of the witch community, neither omnipotent nor
universal, and it was recognised that there was a greater "Prime
Mover", although the witches did not concern themselves much
with this being.
The concept of having a religion venerating a Horned God
accompanying a goddess had been devised by the Egyptologist Margaret
Murray during the 1920s. She believed, based upon her own
theories about the early
modern witch trials in Europe, that those two deities, though
primarily the Horned God, had been worshipped by a Witch-Cult
ever since western Europe had succumbed to Christianity. Whilst now
widely discredited, Gerald Gardner was a supporter of her theory, and
believed that Wicca was a continuation of that historical Witch-Cult,
and that the Horned God and Goddess were therefore ancient deities of
the British Isles.
Modern scholarship has disproved his claims, although various horned
gods and mother goddesses were indeed worshipped in the British Isles
during the ancient and early medieval periods.
Pantheism, polytheism and animism
Sculpture of the Horned God of Wicca found in the Museum
of Witchcraft in Boscastle,
Many Wiccans believe that the God and Goddess are merely two
aspects of the same godhead,
often viewed as a pantheistic
deity, thereby encompassing everything in the universe within its
divinity. In his public writings, Gardner referred to this being as
Mover, and claimed that it remained unknowable,
although in the rituals of his tradition, Gardnerianism,
it is referred to as Dryghten,
which had originally been an Old
English term meaning The
Lord. Since then it has been given other names by different
Wiccans, for instance Scott
Cunningham called it by its name in neoplatonism,
Other Wiccans such as Starhawk
use the term Star Goddess to describe the universal
pantheistic deity that created the cosmos,
and regard her as a knowable deity that can and should be
As well as pantheism and duotheism, many Wiccans accept the
concept of polytheism,
thereby believing that there are many different deities. Some accept
the view espoused by the occultist Dion
Fortune that "all gods are one god, and all goddesses are
one goddess" – that is that the gods and goddesses of all
cultures are, respectively, aspects of one supernal God and Goddess.
With this mindset, a Wiccan may regard the Germanic Ēostre,
Hindu Kali, and
Mary each as manifestations of one supreme Goddess and likewise,
the Celtic Cernunnos,
the ancient Greek Dionysus
and the Judeo-Christian Yahweh
as aspects of a single, archetypal god. A more strictly polytheistic
approach holds the various goddesses and gods to be separate and
distinct entities in their own right. The Wiccan writers Janet
Farrar and Gavin
Bone have postulated that Wicca is becoming more polytheistic as
it matures, tending to embrace a more traditionally pagan
Some Wiccans conceive of deities not as literal personalities but as
thereby technically allowing them to be atheists.
Such a view was purported by the High Priestess Vivianne
Crowley, herself a psychologist,
who considered the Wiccan deities to be Jungian
archetypes that existed within the subconscious that could be
evoked in ritual. It was for this reason that she said that "The
Goddess and God manifest to us in dream and vision."
Wicca is essentially an immanent
religion, and for some Wiccans, this idea also involves elements of
animism. A belief
central to Wicca is that the Goddess and the God (or the goddesses
and gods) are able to manifest in personal form, most importantly
through the bodies of Priestesses and Priests via the rituals of
down the Moon or Drawing down the Sun.
Belief in the afterlife varies among Wiccans,
is a traditional Wiccan teaching dating back to the New
Forest coven in the 1930s. The influential High Priest Raymond
Buckland said that a human's soul reincarnates into the same
species over many lives in order to learn lessons and advance
but this belief is not universal, as many Wiccans believe in the
reincarnation of the soul through different species. However, a
popular saying amongst Wiccans is that "once a witch, always a
witch", indicating a belief that Wiccans are the reincarnations
of previous witches.
Typically, Wiccans who believe in reincarnation believe that the
soul rests between lives in the Otherworld
known in Gardner's writings as the "ecstasy of the Goddess".
Many Wiccans believe in the ability to contact the spirits of the
dead who reside in the Otherworld through spirit
mediums and Ouija
boards, particularly on the Sabbat of Samhain,
though some disagree with this practice, such as the late Alexandrian
High Priest Alex
Sanders, who stated that "they are dead; leave them in
Valley Wicca High Priestess Alexandra Chauran wrote in How to
Talk to Me After I'm Gone: Creating a Plan for Spirit Communication
(2014) that the agency for spirit communication is left to the
spirit, and suggested Wiccans prepare for spirit communication with
descendants while still living.
This belief was likely influenced by Spiritualism,
which was very popular at the time of Wicca's emergence, and with
which Gardner and other early Wiccans such as Buckland and Sanders
had some experience.
Despite some belief therein, Wicca does not place an emphasis on
the afterlife, focusing instead on the current one; as the historian
remarked, "the instinctual position of most [Wiccans],
therefore, seems to be that if one makes the most of the present
life, in all respects, then the next life is more or less certainly
going to benefit from the process, and so one may as well concentrate
on the present".
Many Wiccans believe in magic,
a manipulative force exercised through the practice of witchcraft
Many Wiccans agree with the definition of magic offered by ceremonial
such as Aleister
Crowley, who declared that magic was "the science and art of
causing change to occur in conformity with will", while another
prominent ceremonial magician, MacGregor
Mathers stated that it was "the science of the control of
the secret forces of nature".
Many Wiccans believe magic to be a law of nature, as yet
misunderstood or disregarded by contemporary science,
and as such they do not view it as being supernatural,
but a part of what Leo
Martello calls the "super powers that reside in the
Some Wiccans believe that magic is simply making full use of the five
senses in order to achieve surprising results,
whilst other Wiccans do not claim to know how magic works, merely
believing that it does because they have observed it to be so.
Some spell it "magick", a variation coined by the
influential occultist Aleister Crowley, though this spelling is more
commonly associated with Crowley's religion of Thelema
than with Wicca.
The point [of magic in Witchcraft] is to make the
"bendable" world bend to your will ... Unless you possess
a rock-firm faith in your own powers and in the operability of your
spell, you will not achieve the burning intensity of will and
imagination which is requisite to make the magic work.
During ritual practices, which are often staged in a sacred
circle, Wiccans cast spells
or "workings" intended to bring about real changes in the
physical world. Common Wiccan spells include those used for healing,
for protection, fertility, or to banish negative influences.
Many early Wiccans, such as Alex
Leek and Doreen
Valiente, referred to their own magic as "white
magic", which contrasted with "black
magic", which they associated with evil
Sanders also used the similar terminology of "left
hand path" to describe malevolent magic, and "right
hand path" to describe magic performed with good
terminology that had originated with the occultist Helena
Blavatsky in the 19th century. Some modern Wiccans however have
stopped using the white-black magic and left-right hand path
dichotomies, arguing for instance that the colour black
should not necessarily have any associations with evil.
Scholars of religion Rodney
Stark and William
Bainbridge claimed in 1985 that Wicca had "reacted to
by a headlong plunge back into magic" and that it was a
reactionary religion which would soon die out. This view was heavily
criticised in 1999 by the historian Ronald
Hutton who claimed that the evidence displayed the very opposite:
that "a large number [of Wiccans] were in jobs at the cutting
edge [of scientific culture], such as computer technology."
Main article: Wiccan
Bide the Wiccan laws ye must, in perfect love and
perfect trust ... Mind the Threefold Law ye should – three
times bad and three times good ... Eight words the Wiccan Rede
fulfill – an it harm none, do what ye will.
There exists no dogmatic
moral or ethical
code followed universally by Wiccans of all traditions, however a
majority follow a code known as the Wiccan
Rede, which states "an it harm none, do what ye will".
This is usually interpreted as a declaration of the freedom to act,
along with the necessity of taking responsibility for what follows
from one's actions and minimising harm to oneself and others.
Another common element of Wiccan morality is the Law
of Threefold Return which holds that whatever benevolent or
malevolent actions a person performs will return to that person with
triple force, or with equal force on each of the three levels of
body, mind and spirit,
similar to the eastern idea of karma.
The Wiccan Rede was most likely introduced into Wicca by Gerald
Gardner and formalised publicly by Doreen
Valiente, one of his High Priestesses. The Threefold Law was an
interpretation of Wiccan ideas and ritual, made by Monique
and further popularised by Raymond
Buckland, in his books on Wicca.
Many Wiccans also seek to cultivate a set of eight virtues
mentioned in Doreen
of the Goddess,
these being mirth, reverence, honour, humility, strength, beauty,
power, and compassion. In Valiente's poem, they are ordered in pairs
of complementary opposites, reflecting a dualism
that is common throughout Wiccan philosophy. Some lineaged Wiccans
also observe a set of Wiccan
Laws, commonly called the Craft Laws or Ardanes, 30
of which exist in the Gardnerian tradition and 161 of which are in
the Alexandrian tradition. Valiente, one of Gardner's original High
Priestesses, argued that the first thirty of these rules were most
likely invented by Gerald Gardner himself in mock-archaic language as
the by-product of inner conflict within his Bricket Wood
– the others were later additions made by Alex
Sanders during the 1960s.
Although Gerald Gardner initially demonstrated an aversion to
claiming that it brought down "the curse of the goddess",
it is now generally accepted in all traditions of Wicca, with certain
groups like the Minoan Brotherhood openly crafting their philosophy
and various important figures in the Craft, such as Alex
Sanders and Eddie
Buczynski, being openly homosexual or bisexual.
Five elements with pentagram
Many traditions hold a belief in the five classical
elements, although they are seen as symbolic as representations
of the phases
of matter. These five elements are invoked during many magical
rituals, notably when consecrating a magic
circle. The five elements are air,
(or spirit), which unites the other four.
Various analogies have been devised to explain the concept of the
five elements; for instance, the Wiccan Ann-Marie
Gallagher used that of a tree, which is composed of earth (with
the soil and plant matter), water (sap and moisture), fire (through
and air (the creation of oxygen
dioxide), all of which are believed to be united through
Darksome Night and Shining Moon,
East and South and
West and North,
Hearken to the Witches' Rune;
Hear me now, I
call thee forth.
Traditionally in the Gardnerian Craft, each element has been
associated with a cardinal point of the compass; air with east, fire
with south, water with west, earth with north and the spirit with
However, some Wiccans, such as Frederic
Lamond, have claimed that the set cardinal points are only those
applicable to the geography of southern England, where Wicca evolved,
and that Wiccans should determine which directions best suit each
element in their region. For instance, those living on the east coast
America should invoke water in the east and not the west because
the colossal body of water, the Atlantic
ocean, is to their east.
Other Craft groups have associated the elements with different
cardinal points, for instance Robert
Cochrane's Clan of Tubal Cain associated earth with south, fire
with east, water with west and air with north,
and each of which were controlled over by a different deity who were
seen as children of the primary Horned God and Goddess. The five
elements are symbolised by the five points of the pentagram,
the most prominently used symbol of Wicca.
The natural cycles are significant in Wicca. The lunar and solar
cycles are most often the basis around which Wiccans place ritual
celebrations. While both the God and the Goddess are usually honoured
at both kinds of rituals, the Goddess
is mainly associated with the Moon,
and the God is
mainly associated with the Sun.
The Neopagan researcher and High Priestess Margot
Adler, who defined ritual as being "one method of
reintegrating individuals and groups into the cosmos, and to tie in
the activities of daily life with their ever present, often
forgotten, significance" noted that rituals, celebrations and
rites of passage in Wicca are not "dry, formalised, repetitive
experiences", but are performed with the purpose of inducing a
experience in the participants, thereby altering their
She noted that many Wiccans remain sceptical about the existence of
the gods, afterlife etc but remain involved in the Craft because of
its ritual experiences, with one, Glenna Turner, saying that "I
love myth, dream, visionary art. The Craft is a place where all of
these things fit together – beauty, pageantry, music, dance,
The High Priest and Craft historian Aidan
Kelly claimed that the practices and experiences within Wicca
were actually far more important than the beliefs, stating that "it's
a religion of ritual rather than theology. The ritual is first; the
myth is second. And taking an attitude that the myths of the Craft
are 'true history' in the way a fundamentalist
looks at the legends of Genesis
really seems crazy. It's an alien head-space."
Similarly, Adler stated that "ironically, considering the many
pronouncements against Witchcraft as a threat to reason, the Craft is
one of the few religious viewpoints totally compatible with modern
science, allowing total scepticism about even its own methods, myths
ritual knife or dagger used in Wiccan practices
Main article: Magical
tools in Wicca
The practice of Wicca often involves the ritual
practice of magic,
ranging from the "low magic" or "folk magic" of
shamanism and witchcraft to more elaborate and complex rites
influenced by the ceremonial
magic of the Western
There are many rituals within Wicca that are used when celebrating
worshipping the deities and working magic. Often these take place on
a full moon, or
in some cases a new moon, which is known as an Esbat.
In typical rites, the coven or solitary assembles inside a ritually
cast and purified magic
circle. Casting the circle may involve the invocation
of the "Guardians" of the cardinal points, alongside their
respective classical elements; air, fire, water and earth. Once the
circle is cast, a seasonal ritual may be performed, prayers to the
God and Goddess are said, and spells are sometimes worked; these may
include various forms of 'raising energy', including raising a cone
of power for the purposes of sending healing or other magic to
persons outside of the sacred space.
The classical ritual scheme in British
Traditional Wicca traditions is:
Purification of the sacred space
and the participants
Casting the circle
Calling of the elemental quarters
Cone of power
Drawing down the Gods
Wine, cakes, chanting, dancing,
Farewell to the quarters and participants
These rites often include a special set of magical
tools. These usually include a knife called an athame,
a wand, a pentacle
and a chalice,
but other tools include a broomstick known as a besom,
and a curved blade known as a boline.
An altar is usually present in the circle, on which ritual tools are
placed and representations of the God
and the Goddess
may be displayed.
Before entering the circle, some traditions fast for the day, and/or
ritually bathe. After a ritual has finished, the God, Goddess and
Guardians are thanked, the directions are dismissed and the circle is
A central aspect of Wicca (particularly in Gardnerian and
Alexandrian Wicca), often sensationalised by the media is the
traditional practice of working in the nude, also known as skyclad.
This practice seemingly derives from a line in Aradia,
Leland's supposed record of Italian witchcraft.
Other traditions wear robes with cords tied around the waist or even
normal street clothes. In certain traditions, ritualised sex
magic is performed in the form of the Great
Rite, whereby a High Priest and High Priestess invoke the God and
Goddess to possess them before performing sexual
intercourse to raise magical energy for use in spellwork. In
nearly all cases it is instead performed "in token",
thereby merely symbolically, using the athame to symbolise the penis
and the chalice to symbolise the womb.
One of Wicca's best known liturgical texts is "The Charge of
The most commonly used version used by Wiccans today is the
rescension of Doreen
who developed it from Gardner's version. Gardner's wording of the
original "Charge" added extracts from the works of Aleister
Crowley's work, including The
Book of the Law, (especially from Ch 1, spoken by Nuit, the
Star Goddess) thus linking modern Wicca irrevocably to the
revelations of Thelema.
Valiente rewrote Gardner's version in verse, keeping the material
derived from Aradia, but removing the material from
Wheel of the Year
Painted Wheel of the Year at the Museum
of Witchcraft, Boscastle,
displaying all eight of the Sabbats
Main article: Wheel
of the Year
Wiccans celebrate several seasonal festivals of the year, commonly
known as Sabbats.
Collectively, these occasions are termed the Wheel of the Year.
Most Wiccans celebrate a set of eight of these Sabbats; however,
other groups such as those associated with the Clan
of Tubal Cain only follow four. In the rare case of the Ros an
Bucca group from Cornwall,
only six are adhered to.
The four Sabbats that are common to all British derived groups are
days, sometimes referred to as Greater Sabbats. The names
of these festivals are in some cases taken from the Old Irish
though in most traditional Wiccan covens the only commonality with
the Celtic festival
is the name. Gardner himself made use of the English names of these
holidays, stating that "the four great Sabbats are Candlemass
Eve, Lammas, and Halloween; the equinoxes and solstices are
In the Egyptologist Margaret
Murray's The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) and The
God of the Witches (1933), in which she dealt with what she
believed to be a historical Witch-Cult,
she stated that the four main festivals had survived Christianisation
and had been celebrated in the pagan Witchcraft religion.
Subsequently, when Wicca was first developing in the 1930s through to
the 1960s, many of the early groups, such as Robert
Cochrane's Clan of Tubal Cain and Gerald
Wood coven adopted the commemoration of these four Sabbats as
described by Murray.
The other four festivals commemorated by many Wiccans are known as
Lesser Sabbats, and comprise the solstices
and the equinoxes,
and were only adopted in 1958 by members of the Bricket Wood
before subsequently being adopted by other followers of the
Gardnerian tradition, and eventually other traditions like
Wicca and the Dianic
tradition. The names of these holidays that are commonly used today
are often taken from Germanic
pagan holidays. However, the festivals are not reconstructive in
nature nor do they often resemble their historical counterparts,
instead exhibiting a form of universalism.
Rituals observed may display cultural influence from the holidays
from which they take their name as well as influence from other
Rites of passage
Bust of Diana wearing a moon crown
of passage can be found within Wicca. Perhaps the most
significant of these is an initiation
ritual, through which somebody joins the Craft and becomes a Wiccan.
Traditional Wiccan (BTW) traditions, there is a line of
initiatory descent that goes back to Gerald
Gardner, and from him is said to go back to the New
Forest coven; however, the existence of this coven remains
Gardner himself claimed that there was a traditional length of "a
year and a day" between when a person began studying the Craft
and when they were initiated, although he frequently broke this rule
In BTW, initiation only accepts someone into the first degree. To
proceed to the second degree, an initiate has to go through another
ceremony, in which they name and describe the uses of the
ritual tools and implements. It is also at this ceremony that
they are given their craft
name. By holding the rank of second degree, a BTW is considered
capable of initiating others into the Craft, or founding their own
semi-autonomous covens. The third degree is the highest in BTW, and
it involves the participation of the Great
Rite, either actual or symbolically, and in some cases ritual
which is a rite often dispensed with due to its sado-masochistic
overtones. By holding this rank, an initiate is considered capable of
forming covens that are entirely autonomous of their parent
According to new-age religious scholar
R. Lewis, in his book Witchcraft today: an encyclopaedia of
Wiccan and neopagan traditions, a high priestess becomes a queen
when she has successfully hived off her first new coven under a new
third-degree high priestess (in the orthodox Gardnerian system). She
then becomes eligible to wear the "moon crown". The
sequence of high priestess and queens traced back to Gerald Gardner
is known as a lineage, and every orthodox Gardnerian High Priestess
has a set of "lineage papers" proving the authenticity of
Handfasting ceremony at Avebury
This three-tier degree system following initiation is largely
unique to BTW, and traditions heavily based upon it. The Cochranian
tradition, which is not BTW, but based upon the teachings of
Cochrane, does not have the three degrees of initiation, merely
having the stages of novice and initiate.
Some solitary Wiccans also perform
self-initiation rituals, to dedicate themselves to becoming a Wiccan.
The first of these to be published was in Paul
Witchcraft (1970), and unusually involved recitation of the
backwards as a symbol of defiance against the historical Witch
Subsequent, more overtly pagan self-initiation rituals have since
been published in books designed for solitary Wiccans by authors like
Cunningham and Silver
is another celebration held by Wiccans, and is the commonly used term
for their weddings. Some Wiccans observe the practice of a trial
marriage for a year and a day, which some traditions hold should be
contracted on the Sabbat of Lughnasadh, as this was the traditional
time for trial, "Telltown
marriages" among the Irish. A common marriage vow in Wicca is
"for as long as love lasts" instead of the traditional
Christian "till death do us part".
The first known Wiccan wedding ceremony took part in 1960 amongst the
Wood coven, between Frederic
Lamond and his first wife, Gillian.
Infants in Wiccan families
may be involved in a ritual called a Wiccaning,
which is analogous to a Christening.
The purpose of this is to present the infant to the God and Goddess
for protection. Parents are advised to "give [their] children
the gift of Wicca" in a manner suitable to their age. In
accordance with the importance put on free will in Wicca, the child
is not expected or required to adhere to Wicca or other forms of
paganism should they not wish to do so when they reach adulthood.
Book of Shadows
Main article: Book
In Wicca, there is no set sacred text such as the Christian Bible,
Jewish Tanakh or
although there are certain scriptures and texts that various
traditions hold to be important and influence their beliefs and
practices. Gerald Gardner used a book containing many different texts
in his covens, known as the Book
of Shadows (among other names), which he would frequently add to
and adapt. In his Book of Shadows, there are texts taken from various
sources, including Charles
Godfrey Leland's Aradia,
or the Gospel of the Witches (1899) and the works of
19th–20th century occultist
Crowley, whom Gardner knew personally. Also in the Book are
examples of poetry largely composed by Gardner and his High Priestess
Valiente, the most notable of which is the Charge
of the Goddess.
The Book of Shadows is not a Bible or Quran. It is a
personal cookbook of spells that have worked for the owner. I am
giving you mine to copy to get you started: as you gain experience
discard those spells that don't work for you and substitute those
that you have thought of yourselves.
Gardner to his followers
Similar in use to the grimoires
the Book contained instructions for how to perform rituals and
spells, as well as religious poetry and chants like Eko
Eko Azarak to use in those rituals. Gardner's original
intention was that every copy of the Book would be different, because
a student would copy from their initiators, but changing things which
they felt to be personally ineffective, however amongst many
Gardnerian Witches today, particularly in the United
States, all copies of the Book are kept identical to the version
that the High Priestess Monique
Wilson copied from Gardner, with nothing being altered. The Book
of Shadows was originally meant to be kept a secret from
non-initiates into BTW, but parts of the Book have been published by
authors including Charles
Cardell, Lady Sheba, Janet
Farrar and Stewart
Today, adherents of many non-BTW traditions have also adopted the
concept of the Book of Shadows, with many solitaries also keeping
their own versions, sometimes including material taken from the
published Gardnerian Book of Shadows. In other traditions however,
practices are never written down, meaning that there is no need for a
Book of Shadows.
In certain Traditional Witchcraft traditions, different
forms of literature are used, for instance in the 1734
Tradition, the published articles of Robert
Cochrane along with letters he wrote to Joseph
and others are held in high esteem
whilst in the Sabbatic tradition, various grimoires are followed,
such as the Azoetia of Andrew
See also: List
of Wiccan organisations and Category:Wiccan
In the 1950s through to the 1970s, when the Wiccan movement was
largely confined to lineaged groups such as Gardnerian
Wicca, a "tradition" usually implied the transfer of a
lineage by initiation. However, with the rise of more and more such
groups, often being founded by those with no previous initiatory
lineage, the term came to be a synonym for a religious
denomination within Wicca. There are many such traditions
and there are also many solitary
practitioners who do not align themselves with any particular
lineage, working alone. There are also covens that have formed but
who do not follow any particular tradition, instead choosing their
influences and practices eclectically.
Those traditions which trace a line of initiatory descent back to
Gerald Gardner include Gardnerian
Wicca and the Algard
tradition; because of their joint history, they are often referred to
Traditional Wicca, particularly in North
America. Other traditions trace their origins to different
figures, even if their beliefs and practices have been influenced to
a greater or lesser extent by Gardner. These include Cochrane's
Craft and the 1734
Tradition, both of which trace their origins to Robert
which traces itself back to Victor
Anderson and Gwydion
Pendderwen; and Dianic
Wicca, whose followers often trace their influences back to
Budapest. Some of these groups prefer to refer to themselves as
Witches, thereby distinguishing themselves from the BTW
traditions, who more typically use the term Wiccan (see
Many traditions, including those of British Traditional Wicca,
require formal initiation
within an established coven
for membership of their respective traditions. In this manner, all
BTW's can trace a direct line of descent all the way back to Gardner.
Other traditions, however, do not hold this to be necessary.
Lineaged Wicca is organised into covens
of initiated priests and priestesses. Covens are autonomous, and are
generally headed by a High Priest and a High Priestess working in
partnership, being a couple who have each been through their first,
second and third degrees of initiation. Occasionally the leaders of a
coven are only second-degree initiates, in which case they come under
the rule of the parent coven. Initiation and training of new
priesthood is most often performed within a coven environment, but
this is not a necessity, and a few initiated Wiccans are unaffiliated
with any coven.
A commonly quoted Wiccan tradition holds that the ideal number of
members for a coven is thirteen,
though this is not held as a hard-and-fast rule.
Indeed, many U.S. covens are far smaller, though the membership may
be augmented by unaffiliated Wiccans at "open" rituals.
When covens grow beyond their ideal number of members, they often
split (or "hive") into multiple covens, yet remain
connected as a group.
Initiation into a coven is traditionally preceded by an
apprenticeship period of a year and a day.
A course of study may be set during this period. In some covens a
"dedication" ceremony may be performed during this period,
some time before the initiation proper, allowing the person to attend
certain rituals on a probationary basis. Some solitary Wiccans also
choose to study for a year and a day before their self-dedication to
Eclectic Wicca or Neowicca
A large number of Wiccans do not exclusively follow any single
tradition or even are initiated. These eclectic
Wiccans each create their own syncretic
spiritual paths by adopting and reinventing the beliefs
and rituals of a
variety of religious traditions connected to Wicca and broader
They are also grouped in the umbrella definition of Neowicca.
While the origins of modern Wiccan practice lie in covenantal
activity of select few initiates in established lineages, Neowiccans
are more often than not solitary
practitioners uninitiated in any tradition. A widening public
appetite, especially in the United
States, made traditional initiation unable to satisfy demand
for involvement in Wicca. Since the 1970s, larger, more informal,
often publicly advertised camps and workshops began to take
This less formal but more accessible form of Wicca proved successful.
Neo/Eclectic Wicca is the most popular
variety of Wicca in America
and eclectics now significantly outnumber lineaged Wiccans.
Eclectic Wicca is not necessarily the complete abandonment of
tradition. Eclectic practitioners may follow their own individual
ideas and ritual practices, while still drawing on one or more
religious or philosophical paths. Eclectic approaches to Wicca often
draw on Earth
religion and ancient
Main article: History
In the 1920s and 30s, the Egyptologist Dr.
Margaret Murray published several books detailing her theories
persecuted as witches during the early
modern period in Europe were not, as the persecutors had claimed,
followers of Satanism,
but adherents of a surviving pre-Christian pagan
religion – the Witch-Cult.
These hypotheses, which were argued over by academics for decades,
have since been widely rejected.
It was during the 1930s that the first evidence appears for the
practice of a pagan Witchcraft religion
(what would be recognisable now as Wicca) in England. It seems that
several groups around the country, in such places as Norfolk,
and the New Forest
had set themselves up as continuing in the tradition of Murray's
Witch-Cult, albeit with influences coming from disparate sources such
mythology and Asian religions.
Early development, 1936–1959
The history of modern Wicca starts with Gerald
Gardner (the "Father of Wicca") in the mid-20th
century. Gardner was a retired British
and amateur anthropologist,
with a broad familiarity in paganism
He claimed to have been initiated
into a witches'
coven in New
in the late 1930s. Intent on perpetuating this craft, Gardner founded
Wood coven with his wife Donna in the 1940s, after buying the
Fiveacres Country Club.
Much of the coven's early membership was drawn from the club's
and its meetings were held within the club grounds.
Many notable figures of early Wicca were direct initiates of this
coven, including Dafo,
and Lois Bourne.
The Witchcraft religion became more prominent beginning in 1951,
with the repeal of the Witchcraft
Act of 1735, after which Gerald
Gardner and then others such as Charles
Cardell and Cecil
Williamson began publicising their own versions of the Craft.
Gardner and others never used the term "Wicca" as a
religious identifier, simply referring to the "witch cult",
"witchcraft", and the "Old Religion". However,
Gardner did refer to witches as "the Wica".
During the 1960s, the name of the religion normalised to
Gardner's tradition, later termed Gardnerianism,
soon became the dominant form in England
and spread to other parts of the British
Adaptation and spread, 1960–present
Following Gardner's death in 1964, the Craft continued to grow
unabated despite sensationalism and negative portrayals in British
tabloids, with new traditions being propagated by figures like Robert
Leek and most importantly Alex
Sanders, whose Alexandrian
Wicca, which was predominantly based upon Gardnerian Wicca,
albeit with an emphasis placed on ceremonial
magic, spread quickly and gained much media attention. Around
this time, the term "Wicca" began to be commonly adopted
over "Witchcraft" and the faith was exported to countries
and the United
It was in the United States and in Australia that new, home-grown
traditions, sometimes based upon earlier, regional folk-magical
traditions and often mixed with the basic structure of Gardnerian
Wicca, began to develop, including Victor
Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn and eventually
Wicca, each of which emphasised different aspects of the
It was also around this time that books teaching people how to become
Witches themselves without formal initiation or training began to
emerge, among them Paul
Witchcraft (1970) and Lady Sheba's Book of Shadows
(1971). Similar books continued to be published throughout the 1980s
and 1990s, fuelled by the writings of such authors as Doreen
Farrar and Scott
Cunningham, who popularised the idea of self-initiation into the
Craft. Among witches in Canada, anthropologist Dr. Heather
Botting (nee Harden) of the University of Victoria has been one
of the most prominent, having been the first recognized Wiccan
chaplain of a public university.
Original high priestess of Coven
Celeste, she is one of the founders of the Canadian Aquarian
In the 1990s, amid ever-rising numbers of self-initiates, the
popular media began to explore "witchcraft" in fictional
films like The
Craft and television series like Charmed,
introducing numbers of young people to the idea of religious
witchcraft. This growing demographic was soon catered to through the
Internet and by
authors like Silver
RavenWolf, much to the criticism of traditional Wiccan groups and
individuals. In response to the way that Wicca was increasingly
portrayed as trendy, eclectic, and influenced by the New
Age movement, many Witches turned to the pre-Gardnerian origins
of the Craft, and to the traditions of his rivals like Cardell and
Cochrane, describing themselves as following "Traditional
Witchcraft". Prominent groups within this Traditional Witchcraft
revival included Andrew
Chumbley's Cultus Sabbati and the Cornish Ros an Bucca coven.
Debates over the origin of Wicca
According to Gerald Gardner's account in Witchcraft
Today and The
Meaning of Witchcraft, Wicca is the
survival of a European witch-cult that was persecuted during the
Theories of an organised pan-European witch-cult, as well as mass
trials thereof, have been largely discredited, but it is still common
for Wiccans to claim solidarity with witch trial victims.
The notion of the survival of Wiccan traditions and rituals from
ancient sources is contested by most recent researchers, who suggest
that Wicca is a 20th-century creation which combines elements of
freemasonry and 19th-century occultism.
However, historians such as Ronald
Hutton have noted that Wicca not only predates the modern New
Age movement but also differs markedly in its general
In his 1999 book The
Triumph of the Moon, Bristol University history professor
researched the Wiccan claim that ancient pagan customs have survived
into modern times after being Christianised in medieval times as folk
practices. Hutton found that most of the folk customs which are
claimed to have pagan roots (such as the Maypole
dance) actually date from the Middle
Ages. He concluded that the idea that medieval revels were pagan
in origin is a legacy of the Protestant
Modern scholarly investigations have concluded that Witch trials
were substantially fewer than the number claimed by Gardner, and
seldom held at the behest of religious authorities. For example, in
the 1996 book Witches and Neighbors, Robin Briggs examines the
history of witchcraft in medieval Europe and refutes the widely-told
story that large numbers of independent women were burned at the
stake by vindictive Christian ecclesiastics for the crime of
practising naturalistic healing or neopagan religion. Most scholars
estimate that a total of 40,000 people were executed as witches
during the entire medieval period, and that church authorities
participated reluctantly in this process, which was largely fuelled
by the political turmoil of the Reformation.
Main article: Demographics
The actual number of Wiccans worldwide is unknown, and it has been
noted that it is more difficult to establish the numbers of members
of Neopagan faiths than many other religions due to their
an independent website which specialises in collecting estimates of
world religions, cites over thirty sources with estimates of numbers
of Wiccans (principally from the USA and the UK). From this, they
developed a median estimate of 800,000 members.
[The average Wiccan is] a man in his forties, or a
woman in her thirties, Caucasian,
reasonably well educated, not earning much but probably not too
concerned about material things, someone that demographers would
In the United States, the American
Religious Identification Survey has shown significant increases
in the number of self-identified Wiccans, from 8,000 in 1990, to
134,000 in 2001, and 342,000 in 2008.
Wiccans have also made up significant proportions of various groups
within that country; for instance, Wicca is the largest non-Christian
faith practised in the United
States Air Force, with 1,434 airmen identifying themselves as
In the United Kingdom, census figures on religion were first
collected in 2001; no detailed statistics were reported outside
of the six main religions.
For the 2011
census a more detailed breakdown of responses was reported with
56,620 people identifying themselves as Pagans, 11,766 as Wiccans and
a further 1,276 describing their religion as "Witchcraft".
Acceptance of Wiccans
The use of the inverted pentagram by
the Church of
Satan has contributed to the misidentification of Wiccans as
Main article: Religious
discrimination against Neopagans
Wicca emerged in a predominantly Christian
country, and from its inception suffered opposition from certain
Christian groups and from the popular tabloids like the News
of the World. Some Christians still believe that Wicca is a
form of Satanism,
despite important differences between these religions.
Due to negative connotations associated with witchcraft, many Wiccans
continue the traditional practice of secrecy, concealing their faith
for fear of persecution. Revealing oneself as Wiccan to family,
friends or colleagues is often termed "coming out of the
In a similar way, some people have accused Wicca of being
anti-Christian, a claim disputed by Wiccans such as Doreen
Valiente, who stated that whilst she knew many Wiccans who
"witches have little respect for the doctrines of the churches,
which they regard as a lot of man-made dogma".
In the United States, a number of legal decisions have improved
and validated the status of Wiccans, especially Dettmer
v. Landon in 1986. However, Wiccans have encountered
opposition from some politicians and Christian
including former president of the United States George
W. Bush, who stated that he did not believe Wicca to be a
In Canada, Dr. Heather
Botting ("Lady Aurora") and Dr. Gary
Botting ("Pan"), the original high priestess and high
priest of Coven
Celeste and founding elders of the Aquarian
Tabernacle Church, successfully campaigned the British
Columbian government and the federal government in 1995 to allow
them to perform recognised Wiccan weddings, to become prison and
hospital chaplains, and (in the case of Heather Botting) to become
the first officially recognized Wiccan chaplain in a public
The Bottings had been initiated into Wicca in 1966 by Gerald
Gardner's London-based high priestess, Lysbeth
The Germanic root weik
appears in words connected with magic and religious notions, as in
Old English wigle "divination, sorcery", akin to
the Germanic source of Old French guile "cunning,
trickery". In its expressive form, Germanic wikk is the
root of Old English wicca "wizard", wicce
"witch" and wiccian "to cast a spell".
Morris, William, ed. (1969). The American Heritage Dictionary
of the English Language. New York: American Heritage Publishing.
p. 1548. ISBN 0395090660.
Philip (November 2001). Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardner and the
Modern Witchcraft Revival. Freshfields, Chieveley, Berkshire:
Capall Bann Pub. ISBN 1-86163-110-3.
See also Nevill
Drury. "Why Does Aleister Crowley Still Matter?"
Richard Metzger, ed. Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to
Magick and the Occult. Disinformation Books, 2003.
Todd, Douglas (16 December 2010). "University
of Victoria chaplain marks solstice with pagan rituals".
Vancouver Sun. The Search.
Raymond (2002) . Witchcraft From The Inside: Origins of
the Fastest Growing Religious Movement in America (3rd ed.). St.
Paul, MN: Llewellyn
Publications. ISBN 1-56718-101-5.
Buckland, Raymond (1986).
Complete Book of Witchcraft. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.
Stewart (1981). A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches Handbook.
London: Phoenix Publishing. ISBN 0-919345-92-1.
Farrar, Janet; Farrar,
Stewart (1984). The Witches' Way: Principles, Rituals and Beliefs of
Modern Witchcraft. Phoenix Publishing. ISBN 0-919345-71-9.
Farrar, Janet; Farrar,
Stewart (1987). The Witches' Goddess: The Feminine Principle of
Divinity. London: Robert Hale Publishing. ISBN 0-7090-2800-8.
Farrar, Janet; Farrar,
Stewart (1989). The Witches' God: Lord of the Dance. London: Robert
Hale. ISBN 0-7090-3319-2.
Farrar, Janet; Farrar,
Stewart (May 1992) . Eight Sabbats for Witches. London: Robert
Hale Publishing. ISBN 0-7090-4778-9.
Farrar, Janet; Bone,
Gavin (January 2004). Progressive Witchcraft: Spirituality,
Mysteries, and Training in Modern Wicca. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Age
Books. ISBN 1-56414-719-3.
Farrar, Stewart (1983). What
Witches Do: A Modern Coven Revealed. Robert Hale Publishing.
Ann-Marie (2005). The Wicca Bible: the Definitive Guide to Magic
and the Craft. New York: Sterling Publishing. ISBN 1-4027-3008-X.
Gardner, Gerald B. (1988)
Meaning of Witchcraft. Llewellyn
Worldwide. ISBN 0-939708-02-7.
Doreen (1973). An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. Robert
Hale Publishing. ISBN 0-919345-77-8.
Valiente, Doreen (1989). The Rebirth of Witchcraft.
London: Robert Hale Publishing. ISBN 0-7090-3715-5.
- Significant historical works
- Practices and beliefs
- History of Wicca
Aidan A. (1991). Crafting the Art of Magic: A History of Modern
Witchcraft, 1939-1964. Llewellyn. ISBN 0-87542-370-1.76
Philip (2000). Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardner and the Modern
Witchcraft Revival. Capall Bann. ISBN 1-86163-110-3.
Heselton, Philip (2001). Gerald Gardner and the Witchcraft
Revival: The Significance of His Life and Works to the Story of
Modern Witchcraft. I-H-O
Books. ISBN 1-872189-16-4.
Heselton, Philip (2003). Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of
Inspiration: An Investigation into the Sources of Gardnerian
Witchcraft. Capall Bann. ISBN 1-86163-164-2.
- Wicca in different countries
Raymond (1 January 2002). The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of
Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism. Visible Ink Press.
Lewis, James R. (1999). Witchcraft Today: An Encyclopedia of
Wiccan and Neopagan Traditions. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-134-0.
Rabinovitch, Shelly; Lewis, James R., eds. (2002). The
Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism. Kensington.
Lewis, James R., ed. (1996). Magical Religion and Modern
University of New York Press. ISBN 0-585-03650-0.
Luhrmann, T. M. (1994). Persuasions of the Witch's Craft:
Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Picador.
Contemporary Pagan Witchcraft