The Wiccans are coming! The Wiccans are coming! Wait. What is a Wiccan?

BlogHer Original Post

It's that time of the year. In a few days, children will be looking up at the night sky, expecting the dark silhouette of a witch on a broomstick to cross the face of the moon. What better time to talk about (and do some myth-busting about) Wicca?

Most folks do not know much about Wicca, but the population of Wiccans in America is growing.

The number of American Wiccans is uncertain, as there may be a stigma to people openly proclaiming their affiliation. However, according to the American Religious Identification Survey the number of Wiccans more than doubled from 2001 to 2008, from 134,000 to 342,000.

Wikipedia describes the origins of Wicca:

The origins of Wicca are much debated. Gerald Gardner brought the religion to public attention in the early 1950s. He claimed that...he encountered a coven of witches located in the New Forest in southern England, (the "New Forest coven") and was initiated into it. In line with the popular Witch-cult hypothesis, he claimed that the religion practised by the coven was a survival of a pagan religion of pre-historic Europe, known as Witchcraft to its adherents. Subsequently fearing that the religion would die out,he published details of its beliefs and practices in a series of books: his novel High Magic's Aid (1949) and his non-fiction works Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959). These books helped to attract many new initiates to a coven that he formed, the London-based Bricket Wood coven.

Wicca.com says:

Witchcraft and Wicca, while similar in many respects, are not the same. One can be a Witch, without being a Wiccan, just as a person can be a Christian, without being a Baptist. Futhermore, Wicca is a recognized religion, while Witchcraft itself is not considered a religion. Thus, Wicca might best be described as a modern religion, based on ancient Witchcraft traditions...
I suppose the only way to navigate this question safely is to point out what some may consider the main differences. In general, Wiccans feel free to review different belief systems, such as Celtic, Norse, Essene, Gnosis, or Shamanism, and then blend together any points that "feel" right into their own personal path. Pure Witchcraft on the other hand, may focus a little more tightly on using Magick and ritual to work with the elemental and spiritual forces in nature. Regardless, I feel the differences are slight in that Wicca and Witchcraft both work to achieve balance and harmony within nature and self.

Some say that Druids are their own branch of neo-paganism; others see them as a subcategory of Wicca.

Grey Cat, High Priestess, NorthWind Tradition of American Wicca has a list of various branches of Wicca here.

There are a variety of approaches to deities in the branches, as well. Some traditions would say that the universe itself is God, and within that are the polarities of the Goddess and the Horned One, the hunter/male. Some revere a wider spectrum of multiple deities. Some revere Old Norse or Celtic deities, or Egyptian or Roman. Then there are the Faerie Folk. Faerie Faith.net says "The Faerie Faith is both a belief system and a tradition. In its most basic form, it is a belief in, and almost a symbiotic relationship with, the Faerie Folk or Little People."

Some are animist (souls exist not just in humans, but in features of earth, animals, natural phenomena and in some concepts), some are polytheistic (having many gods, occasionally hierarchies of them), some pantheist (There is no personal God. God is in everything).

There is a lot of variety among groups calling themselves Wiccan, or Neo-pagan, or Witches. Yet they all intertwine in some way, mostly in that they represent themselves as contemporary expressions of (in many cases reinterpreted) ancient pre-monotheistic ways that are tied to nature.

Most Wiccans would say that they believe in the "Rede". To whit: "an ye harm none, do what ye will". Most branches would include the celebration of eight seasonally-based festivals, a basic code of morality, and the ritual use of magic.

According to Wikipedia:

Aleister Crowley, for instance, declared that magic was "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will", and MacGregor Mathers stated that it was "the science of the control of the secret forces of nature". Wiccans believe magic to be a law of nature, as yet misunderstood by contemporary science. Other Wiccans do not claim to know how magic works, merely believing that it does because they have seen it work for them.

I learned a bit about Wicca in the writing of this assignment. (As much as one can learn in short external reading, anyway.) I was surprised by the variety of groups, and the variety of traditions. Almost all writing about Wicca emphasize that the true Wiccan is not Satanist and, by adhering to the Rede, vows to not do harm. Modern writers from within the traditions emphasize balance, harmony and a reverence for nature. Several blogs I read highlighted the politics between certain groups within Wicca, so in that manner it is no different from other groups outside of Wicca.

It's been an interesting read. The internet is full of information and sites welcoming the curious. Here are a few sites to read if you have further interest.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
The US Military Chaplaincy Handbook entry on Wicca
Thorn Magazine - a neo-pagan online and print magazine
The Witches' Voice - an online magazine for "the neo-pagans and witches of the world"
Military Pagans Network - a support site that estimates over 4,300 Pagans in the military, of which over 2,000 are Wiccan.
and states "According to the last publicly available estimate of Pagans in the Air Force (2004), Wicca was the third-largest non-Christian religion in the Air Force behind Judaism and Buddhism."
Crone Magazine - which states, "Our readership includes women (and some men) of any age who respect and honor the Crone archetype as the third aspect of the Triple Goddess—Maiden, Mother, Crone—as she reveals herself within the third stage of life.

RELATED BLOGS:
Lupa writes a review blog of pagan literature.
Greekwitch is blogging about preparations for the festival of Samhein, and also speaks about the diversity within Wicca.
Sorita a priestess in the UK, writes about the relationship among "The Goddess, Wicca, and the Qabalah"
Juno describes and explains Wiccan symbols.

Mata H, CE for Religion & Spirituality, lets her soul shimmy at Time's Fool. She loves nature, but is not Wiccan.

Recent Posts by Mata H

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