'An it harm none, do what thou wilt.'
This article is the second in a series of articles regarding Non-Mainstream Religions, or 'Cults' as they are often called.
For the past forty years or so, I have followed the Wiccan Rede.
Much of modern-day Wicca can be directly traced back to the writings of:
·Charles Leland (1824-1903) published a book in 1899: Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. Leland was the founder of the Gypsy Lore Society, editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, and a prolific author and folklorist. Aradia deals mainly with the Goddess Diana. It is presented as an ancient document which recorded the doctrines of La Vecchia Religione (The Old Religion) -- Italian witchcraft. Leland claims to have received the information from an Italian strega (sorceress) named Maddalena. How much of this is a valid account of La Vecchia Religione is anyone's guess. However, the book played a significant role in the later development of modern-day Neopaganism.
Margaret Murray (1863 - 1963) authored The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches. These books promoted the concept that some of the Witches who were exterminated by Roman Catholics and Protestants during the "Burning Times" (circa 1450-1792) were remnants of an earlier, organized, and dominant pre-Christian religion in Europe. Her writings have not been well received by anthropologists. However, they were very influential in providing background material for the Neopagan traditions.
Gerald Gardner (1884 - 1964), a British civil servant, who:
has written that he joined an existing Wiccan Coven in 1939, taking the (then) usual vows of secrecy , he persuaded the Coven which was run by Doreen Valentee
to let him write a book in 1949 about Wicca in the form of a novel, High Magic's Aid. He carefully revealed a few of the Old Religion's beliefs and the historical persecutions that they endured.
He added many rituals, symbols, concepts and elements from ceremonial magick, Freemasonry and other sources to "flesh out" the coven's beliefs and practices, most of which had been long forgotten. He also wrote Witchcraft Today in 1954, in which he described additional details about the faith, and
The Meaning of Witchcraft which described in detail the history of Wicca in Northern Europe.
There are many beliefs concerning the origins of Wicca:
According to Gardner, Wicca began in prehistory, as ritual associated with fire, the hunt, animal fertility, plant propagation, tribal fertility and the curing of disease.
It developed into a religion which recognized a supreme deity, but realized that at their state of evolution, they "were incapable of understanding It" . Instead, they worshipped what might be termed "under-gods": the goddess of fertility and her horned consort, the God of the hunt. Continued their predominately Moon based worship, even as a mainly Sun-based faith of priests, the Druids, developed and evolved into the dominant religion of the Celts.
By this time, Celtic society had gradually spread across Northern Europe into what is now England, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland etc. They never formed a single political entity, but remained as many tribes who shared a common culture and religions.
Wicca survived the Roman, Saxon, and Norman invasions by going underground .
Wicca suffered major loss in numbers during the active Christian genocides, which continued into the 18th Century .
It reached a low ebb by the middle of the 20th century. Much of the theology and ritual had been lost; Wiccan covens had become so isolated that they had lost contact with each other.
Wicca was revived in the UK, by Gardner, his High Priestess Doreen Valiente, (1922-1999) and others, who took the surviving beliefs and practices,, and fleshed them out with material from other religious, spiritual and ceremonial magick sources.
Gardner has claimed that after he wrote his books, he received many letters from members of isolated covens who had believed that their groups had been in continuous existence for generations or centuries.
There is general agreement that Wicca first became a mass movement in recent times in England during the 1950's with the publishing of books by Gerald Gardner. It has expanded at a furious rate in North America and Europe.
Another Writer, whose work is often overlooked these days, is of course, Dion Fortune, whose books include the haunting and mystical novel, "Moon Magic".
Wicca is one of the largest of the minority religions in the United States. There are no reliable estimates of the number of Wiccans in America..
The best estimate is on the order of 750,000. That would make Wicca about the 5th largest organized religion in the United States, behind Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism.
However, it is not very well known by the general public.
This is because almost all Wiccans hide their religious beliefs and practices. Those who allow their faith to be known publicly are very heavily persecuted in North America; on a per-capita basis, they are believed to be victimised more often than members of any other religious group.
Reports circulate frequently of misinformed child protection officers seizing children from the homes of Wiccans because they feared that they would be killed or abused in some Satanic ritual. The perpetrators of this religious hatred are usually very devout people. They believe the information that has been spread about Witches continuously since the Middle Ages. It is only in Eastern Massachusetts, Southern California, and in a few cities elsewhere in North America, that most Wiccans feel secure enough to come out of the (broom) closet in large numbers.
In other areas, they tend to avoid persecution by keeping their religious faith secret. Unfortunately, this policy can have negative results; some people speculate that because Wiccans remain underground, they must have something to hide.
Most Wiccans believe that a creative force exists in the universe, which is sometimes called "The One" or " The All". Little can be known of this force.
Most regard the goddess and the god as representing the female and male aspects of the All. These deities are not "out there somewhere;" they are within the world.
Many regard various pagan gods and goddesses (Pan, Athena, Diana, Brigit, Zeus, Odin, etc.) as representing various aspects of the god and goddess. The term "Wicca" normally implies that the person's religion is based upon Celtic spiritual concepts, deities, and seasonal days of celebration. Some Wiccans include beliefs, practices and symbols from ancient Pagan religions (e.g. Egyptian, Greek, various mystery religions, Roman, Sumerian) or upon Aboriginal religions (Native American Spirituality, Shamanism).
Some Wiccans are actually agnostics, who take no position on the existence of a supreme being or beings. They look upon the goddess and the god as archetypes, based on myth. It cannot be stressed enough that Wiccans have no supernatural being in their pantheon of deities who resembles the Christian Satan.
Respect for Nature:
Wicca is a natural religion, grounded in the earth. All living things (including stars, planets, humans, animals, plants, rocks) are regarded as having a spirit. Many Wiccan rituals deal with bringing harmony and healing to nature. Wiccans tend to share a great concern for the environment.
Gender equality: Wiccans celebrate the sexual polarity of nature. For example, the fertilizing rain is one manifestation of the male principle; the nurturing earth symbolizes the female. Females are respected as equal (and sometimes at a slightly higher rank) to males. A priestess is often the most senior person among coven -- a local group of Wiccans. They aim for equality of their covens (local groups), although men are typically in the minority. Human sexuality is valued, and regarded as a gift of the goddess and god, to be engaged in with joy and responsibility, and without manipulation.
Wiccans generally accept the findings of human sexuality researchers that there are three normal, natural, and unchosen sexual orientations: heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality. Some Wiccans celebrate "the Great Rite" which involves ritual sexual intercourse. However, it is consensually, performed by a committed couple, in private.
Wiccans have a wide range of beliefs.
Some believe in ancient legends of a Summerland where souls go after death. Here, they meet with others who have gone before, review and integrate their previous lives on earth, and are eventually reincarnated into the body of a new born. Some believe that after many such cycles -- perhaps some as female and others as male; some lives with a high standard of living, and others in poverty; some in positions of power and others suffering oppression -- that the individual accumulates sufficient experience to go on to another level of existence about which we know nothing.
Some see an individual's personality, memory, abilities, talents, etc. as functions of the human brain, which degrades and disintegrates at death. They do not anticipate any form of continuity after death.
Other Wiccans anticipate continuity after death in some very narrow senses:
That the molecules that go to make up our bodies may in turn be incorporated in other living entities;
That our influences on children, friends, and society in general will continue to have influences on the next generations.
·Three-fold Law (a.k.a. the Law of Return) The law states that:
"All good that a person does to another returns three fold in this life; harm is also returned three fold."
This belief strongly motivates each Wiccan to avoid attempting to dominate,, manipulate, control, or harm another person.
·The Wiccan Rede: This is the main rule of behavior:
'An it harm none, do what thou wilt.'
'An' and 'wilt' are old English words for 'if' and 'want to''. This means that a person should feel free to do what ever they want to, as long as it does not harm themselves or anyone else. This and the three-fold law obviously prevent a Witch/Wiccan from doing harm to themselves or to others,
Wiccans try to meet outdoors where possible...However, the .British, and North American climates, and concern for personal safety, usually forces them indoors. They gather in a circle, which is often nine feet in diameter.
Candles on the circumference are usually oriented to the four cardinal directions. Some Wiccans align the candles to the walls of the room. An altar is at the centre of the circle or at the northern candle. Rites begin with a casting of the circle, in which the circle is outlined and purified, and the candles lit. A space is thus created within the circle; this is sometimes visualized as a sphere, or as a cylinder or cone. The purpose of this space is to confine healing energy until it is released.
The central portion of each meeting may celebrate the full moon, a new moon, a Sabbat or a special Wiccan ceremony. It might include healing, divination (scrying, Tarot cards, Runes, etc.), teaching, consecration of tools, discussion, or other life-affirming, nature based activities. After the major work is completed, food (perhaps cakes and wine) is eaten, and the circle is banished.
(Seasonal days of Celebration) There are eight Wiccan Sabbats, spaced about 45 days apart during the year.
Four of these are minor Sabbats: the two equinoxes of March 21 and September 21st when the daytime and nighttime are each 12 hours long.
The Saxons added the two solstices of December 21, (the longest night of the year) and June 21 (the shortest night of the year). Actually, the exact date of these Sabbats vary from year to year and may occur from the 20th to 23rd of the month. The major Sabbats are also four in number. They occur roughly midway between the minor Sabbats, typically at the end of a month. Different Wiccan traditions assign various names and dates to these festivals. Perhaps the most common names are Celtic: Samhain (Oct. 31), Imbolc (Feb. 2), Beltane (Apr. 30), and Lammas (Aug. 1). Dates are approximate. Some Wiccans observe the Sabbat within a few days of the nominal date. The Sabbats are believed to have originated in the cycles associated with hunting, farming, and animal fertility.
Rites of passage: These include:
Dedication, when a person confirms an interest in the craft.
Initiation, when a person symbolically dies and is reborn as a Wiccan; a new name is adopted.
Handfasting was originally a marriage for a one year period. Most Wiccans now regard it as creating a permanent partnership.
Parting of the Ways, which recognizes the end of a marriage.
Wiccaning,, which welcomes a baby into the craft, but does not obligate the child in any way.
Many Wiccans write their own rituals for special occasions in their life.
Tools, which are used to perform Witchcraft rites, often look like common household items. There was, of course, a very valid reason for this deception. In the days of the Persecution: a Witch could pass off her tools as ordinary domestic implements'. .Although there is much variation among individual Wiccans and their covens, the following are typical:
Athame (double sided, ritual knife; often black handled) used for many purposes, but never for cutting. It is either created by its owner, or is a re-worked purchased knife. A sword is sometimes substituted for the athame.
An altar, which may be of any shape. It may contain:
A bowl of salt, representing the element earth.
Incense representing the element air.
Two candles, representing the Goddess and God.
A bowl of water,, representing the element water.
A bell,, which is rung to delineate sections of the rite.
A pentacle. (a 5 pointed star engraved on a disk).
A chalice, or goblet, and perhaps a libation bowl to hold a drink. They may also hold water, which is used in many rituals.
A cauldron,, for mixing herbs and essences.
A wand or sword to cast the circle, my Wand, is actually a cutting from a Hazel Tree, that I cut, (after asking the Tree Spirits' permission), at Dawn, on a Midsummer Morning!
A circle, typically 9 feet in diameter,, formed from a rope or row of small rocks, a marking on the ground or floor, etc.
Four candles just outside the circle,, at the four cardinal directions North, South, East, and West. These are watched over by Entities known as "The Lords of the Watchtowers"
.I hope you have enjoyed reading this short treatise on Wicca. If you have any further questions, please e.mail me, and I will certainly try to answer them to the best of my ability.
Copyrite: Sandie Seward. 2008.