Mysteries and Initiation
Wicca is an Initiatory religion descended from the Ancient Mystery Religions. A mystery religion is not like Catholicism where a Priest or Islam where a Mullah or Ayatollah are the contact point between the worshiper and the Deity. Rather a Mystery Religion is a religion of personal experience and responsibility, in which each worshiper is encouraged, taught and expected to develop an ongoing and positive direct relationship with the divine. The religion is called a "Mystery" because such experiences are very hard to communicate in words, and are usually distorted in the telling.
A Blend of Pagan Roots
Most Wiccan Traditions, have particular roots in the British Mystery Traditions. This includes traditions of the Scottish Picts who lived before the rise of Celtic consciousness, the early Celts, and some selected aspects of Celtic Druidism.
What's In a Name
Wicca, Witchecraft, and "The Craft" are used interchangeably at times by many kinds of people. It is fair to say that all Wiccans are Witches, and many of us believe we are the only people entitled to the name. It is important to know that many people call themselves witches who are not in the least Wiccan, and that Masons also refer to "the Craft", with good historical precedent.
Traditions and Flavor
There are specific Wiccan beliefs and traditions, including worship of an equal and mated Goddess and God who take many forms and have many Names. The Wiccan Goddess and God are linked to nature, ordinary love and children -- Wicca is very life affirming in flavor.
Traditional Wicca is a religion of personal responsibility and growth. Initiates take on a particular obligation to personal development throughout their lives, and work hard to achieve what we call our "True Will", which is the best possibility that we can conceive for ourselves. Finding your Will isn1t easy, and requires a lot of honesty, courage and hard work. It is also very rewarding.
Wicca is generally a cheerful religion. Most of the more pleasant holidays now on our calendar are descended from the roots Wicca draws on, including Christmas, May Day and Summer Vacation. Dancing, feasting and general merriment are a central part of celebrations.
Wiccans have ethics which are different in nature than most "one-god" religions, which hand out a list of "do's and don'ts". We have a single extremely powerful ethical principal which Initiates are responsible for applying in specific situations according to their best judgment. That principle is called the Wiccan Rede (Old-English for rule) and reads:
"An (if) it harm none, do as ye Will"
Based on the earlier mention of "True Will", you will understand that the Rede is far more complex than it sounds, and is quite different than saying "Do whatever you want as long as nobody is hurt". Finding out your Will is difficult sometimes, and figuring out what is harmful, rather than just painful or unpleasant is not much easier
Initiation into Wicca
People become Wiccans only by Initiation, which is a process of contacting and forming a good relationship with the Gods and Goddesses. Initiation is preceded by at least a year and a day of preparation and study, and is performed by another Wiccan although self-dedication can be acceptable if the subject is fully schooled. The central event of Initiation is between you and your Gods, but a Wiccan assistant is used as a channel, to pass power onto you as a new-made Priestess or Priest and to connect you to the Tradition you1re joining.
Women hold the central place in Wicca. A Traditional Coven is always headed by a High Priestess, a Third Degree female Witch with at least three years and three days of specific training. A Priest is optional, but the Priestess is essential.
WICCA sometimes called Wicce, The Craft, or The Old Religion by its practitioners, is an ancient religion of love for life and nature.
In prehistoric times, people respected the great forces of Nature and celebrated the cycles of the seasons and the moon. They saw divinity in the sun and moon, in the Earth Herself, and in all life. The creative energies of the universe were personified: feminine and masculine principles became Goddesses and Gods. These were not semi-abstract, superhuman figures set apart from Nature: they were embodied in earth and sky, women and men, and even plants and animals.
This viewpoint is still central to present-day Wicca. To most Wiccans, everything in Nature-- and all Goddesses and Gods -- are true aspects of Deity. The aspects most often celebrated in the Craft, however, are the Triple Goddess of the Moon (Who is Maiden, Mother, and Crone) and the Horned God of the wilds. These have many names in various cultures.
Wicca had its organized beginnings in Paleolithic times, co- existed with other Pagan 3country2 religions in Europe, and had a profound influence on early Christianity. In the medieval period, tremendous persecution was directed against the Nature religions by the Catholic Church. Over a span of 300 years, millions of men and women and many children were hanged, drowned or burned as accused "Witches." The Church indicted them for black magic and Satan worship, though in fact these were never a part of the Old Religion.
The Wiccan faith went underground, to be practiced in small, secret groups called covens. For the most part, it stayed hidden until very recent times. Now new attitudes of religious freedom have allowed covens in some areas to risk becoming more open.How do Wiccan folk practice their faith today? There is no central authority or doctrine, and individual covens vary a great deal. But most meet to celebrate on nights of
Moon, and at eight
great festivals or Sabbats throughout the year.
Though many practice alone or with only their families, many Wiccans are also organized into covens of three to thirteen members. Some are led by a High Priestess or Priest, many by a Priestess/Priest team; others rotate or share leadership. Some covens are highly structured and hierarchical, while others may be informal and egalitarian. Often extensive training is required before initiation, and coven membership is considered an important commitment.
There are many branches or "traditions" of Wicca, such as the Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Welsh Traditional, Dianic, Faery, Seax-Wica and others. All adhere to a code of ethics. None engage in the disreputable practices of some modern "cults," such as isolating and brainwashing impressionable, lonely people. Genuine Wiccans welcome sisters and brothers, but not disciples, followers or victims.
Coven meetings include ritual, celebration and magick (the "k" is to distinguish it from stage illusions). Wiccan magick operates in harmony with natural laws. Various techniques are used to heal people and animals, seek guidance, or improve members1 lives in specific ways. Positive goals are sought: cursing and "evil spells" are repugnant to practitioners of the Old Religion.
Wiccans tend to be strong supporters of environmental protection, equal rights, global, peace and religious freedom, and sometimes magick is used toward such goals.
Wiccan beliefs do not include such Judeo-Christian concepts as original sin, vicarious atonement, divine judgment or bodily resurrection. Craft folk believe in a beneficent universe, the laws of karma and reincarnation, and divinity inherent in every human being and all of Nature. Yet laughter and pleasure are part of their spiritual tradition, and they enjoy singing, dancing, feasting, and love.
Some Wiccan, e.g. Alexandrians and Gardnarians, practice their faith and ceremonies skyclad, that is, without clothing. This should not be misconstrued as sexual, though. Working skyclad is thought to allow unhindered energy flow. If one chooses not to be skyclad, then very loose fitting, thin veil, sparse clothing are an option.
Wiccans tend to be individualists, and have no central holy book, prophet, or church authority. They draw inspiration and insight from science, and personal experience. Each practitioner keeps a personal book or journal in which s/he records magickal "recipes," dreams, invocations, songs, poetry and so on. This book is known as the Book of Shadows.
To most of the Craft, every religion has its own valuable perspective on the nature of Deity and humanity's relationship to it: there is no One True Faith. Rather, religious diversity is necessary in a world of diverse societies and individuals. Because of this belief, Wiccan groups do not actively recruit or proselytize: there is an assumption that people who can benefit from the Wiccan way will "find their way home" when the time is right. Despite the lack of evangelist zeal, many covens are quite willing to talk with interested people, and even make efforts to inform their communities about the beliefs and practices of Wicca.