The History of Wicca
Wicca is a neo-pagan religion based on the pre-Christian traditions of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Its origins can be traced even further back to Paleolithic peoples who worshiped a Hunter God and a Fertility Goddess. Cave paintings found in France (and dated at 30,000 years old) depict a man with the head of a stag, and a woman with a swollen, pregnant belly. They stand in a circle with eleven mortals.
These archetypes of the divine are worshiped by Wiccans to this very day. By these standards, the religion that is now called Wicca, is perhaps the oldest religion in the world. Wicca is a nature-based religion, which reverses deity as both Goddess and God, There is an emphasis, usually placed on the Goddess, as our Great Mother or Creator, aka, The Cosmic Mother, It is only fair to day that Wicca is a revival of ancient pagan practices, but not modernized to leave out the old blood sacrifices and to embrace many sciences.
Wicca follows a natural cycle of hold days based upon the Quarters of the Year. Those who practice Wicca strive to live in harmony with the Earth, nature, and all of deity's creation. Wicca holds strong the belief that all life is an emanation of deity, and, as such, we show all life respect and dignity.
The Origins of Wicca
1930's to 1950's - Gerald Gardner was a British Civil Servant, actor, and author who originated all public knowledge of Wicca. The Story is that Gerald found a coven in the New Forest of England, which was linked to a local theater. As a member of the theater guild, Gardner become acquainted with the member of the Coven-particularly the High Priestess, who was known as Dorothy Clutterbuck, Dorothy is said to have initiated Garner into the Coven.
The truth to this story has been called into question, However, whether this is true or not, we know that Dorothy Clutterbuck did exist (Doreen Valiente, A student of Gardner's did extensive genealogical research into this fact) We also know that Gardner was a friend of Aliester Crowley, and thus this privy to many occult teachings. A wonderful book that brings out many of the "Characters" in the history of Wicca is "Wiccan Roots" by Philip Heselton.
Wicca, even if it originated with Gardner (and in its modern form, it appears to have done just that) is a real and viable religion today. Gardner's teachings directly to people such as Doreen Valiente have filtered down through the years to practitioners today. We will study the history of Wicca in far greater depth later on.
In 1951, the laws against Witchcraft were repealed in England. A man named Gerald Gardner was the first to come into the public eye with a description of what modern witches were practicing. His information came from the traditions of a coven called the New Forest Witches, and from Ceremonial Magick and the Cabballah. He began what is now called the Gardnerian Tradition of Wicca. From Gardnerian came Alexandrian Tradition, and a host of other offshoots that today number in the hundreds.
For two thousand years the image of the Witch has been associated with evil, heathenism, and blasphemy. These ideas have their origin in Christian myths created to convert members of the Old Religion to that of the new. By making the Witch into a diabolical character of ill intent and action, the Christian missionaries were able to attach fear to a word that had once meant Healer, Wise One, and Seer. These fears are present to this day. When we think of the archetypal image of the Witch, we remember the evil enchantress of childhood tales. We think of an old, wrinkled hag with a nasty wart on her nose. We think of hexes, and devils, and foul incantations chanted around a bubbling cauldron. While we modern witches have been known to stir up herbal remedies in a cauldron, we are a far cry indeed from the horrifying Wicked Witch of the West!
Wicca is not Satanism. Most Satanist do not worship Satan and like them in this aspect, we Wiccans, do not acknowledge or worship this entity either. We do not believe in Satan and in fact, some of those who practice Wicca tend to look down on most modern day Satanist, though this does vary person to person, and some Satanist look down on Wiccans. Witches Do Not Worship Satan (unless they are a Satanic Witch). To believe in Satan, one must subscribe to the Christian mythos. We do not. Wicca does not have any belief in, nor do we worship a concept of evil incarnate. All life is perceived as a constant flow of positive and negative energies, which intertwine to create the balance of life. From my own experience, I must say that the only evil I have ever observed in the world has come from Man. There are no ax-murderers, or child-abusers to be found in the animal kingdom, or in nature as a whole.
Witches Do Not Cast Evil Spells. Modern Witches have a very strict belief in the Law of Return. Whatever we send out into our world shall return to us, so even the most ill-tempered Witch would not consider doing magick to harm another being. The spells that we do involve things like Healing, Love, Wisdom, Creativity, and Joy. The "potions" that we stir might be a headache remedy, or a cold tonic, or an herbal flea bath for the family dog.
Wicca is not a nature worship. The difference is that we respect all things in nature and their purposes, but we do not worship the these things, Trees for example, are to be respected and treated with dignity, but we do not bow down to them and worship them. We do not say prayers to them, nor do we celebrate holidays in their name.
Immanent Divinity. Wiccans believe that the spirit of God/dess exists in every living thing: in the trees, the rain, the flowers, the sea, and in each other. This means that we must treat our peers, and all the beings of the Earth as aspects of the Divine. We attempt to honor and respect life, in all its many and diverse expressions.
Wiccans "DO", however, believe in a higher power, There are many Pagans paths which allow for Atheism in their practice. However, belief in deity is very specific and central to Wicca. Wiccans generally have no problem with Atheism, as we tend to respect all religions and non-religious, providing they are positive paths. One can be an Atheist Pagan, but not an Atheist Wiccan.
Nature. Wiccans learn from and worship nature by celebrating the cycles of the sun, and the cycles of the moon. We look into ourselves for the cycles within that correspond to those of the natural world, and try to move in harmony with the movement of life. Our teachers come in the form of trees, rivers, lakes, meadows, and mountains, as well as other humans who have walked the path before us. This belief infers a reverence and respect for the environment, and all of life upon the Earth We revere the spirits of the elements that create our world. Air, Fire, Water, and Earth combine to manifest all creation. From these four elements we gain wisdom, and understanding of how the universe unfolds. The rhythms of nature are the rhythms of our lives. Wiccans attempt to dance in step with the pulse of the Earth.
Other Faiths. Modern Witches believe in freedom first! We do not choose to look at our path as the "one true right way," but as one path among many to the center. We do not convert new members to the Craft, nor do we advertise or proselytize. We believe that anyone who is meant for this path will find it through their own search. Wiccans practice tolerance and acceptance toward all other religions, as long as those faiths do not preach or commit harm to others.
Afterlife. Most Witches believe in reincarnation of some sort, whether it be the Eastern version known as the Transmigration of Souls (the spirit incarnating one body after another in an effort to learn all the life lessons that it can), or Ancestral Incarnation (where the spirit and life lessons of the grandfather transmute to the granddaughter, and so on down the genetic line). The latter is a more traditionally Celtic approach, but both are accepted.
Sin. In Wicca, we do not have a specific concept of sin. There is no heaven or hell that souls will go to based on their worldly actions. Wrong-doing is governed and determined by the individual conscience. With the belief in the Law of Return, one's actions will determine one's future. The individual is therefore responsible for his or her own fate, based on what he or she chooses to do internally and externally in the world.
Wicca has but one law of action and ethics. It is called the Wiccan Rede or the Wiccan Law, and can be found under the Reading Room category of the same name. "And ye harm none" covers almost everything that the Ten Commandments do: don't lie, don't steal, don't cheat, etc. It encourages us to strive not to harm any living thing - including ourselves - except perhaps to survive. Whether this means that you must become a vegetarian or a pacifist is up to the individual. The Wiccan Law serves as a guideline to action, not a mandate. The only law that the Ten Commandments express that is not covered by the Wiccan Law is that of marriage and adultery. In Wicca, love itself is sanctified, with or without government authorization. As long as two individuals share a sincere bond of love that does not harm either party, it does not matter if they are legally joined, if they are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or interracial.
Leadership vs. Hierarchy. There is no Arch Bishop of Wicca. There is no one person or organization that determines the practices and beliefs of Wicca as a whole. Instead, Wicca is formed of small nebulas groups and solitaries who are charged with the leadership of themselves. Wicca is a religion of clergy, not followers. Each person who seriously pursues the Craft, whether it be through study in a particular tradition, or through self-teaching and private learning, has the choice to become a priest or priestess of Wicca. Most modern traditions of Wicca offer a three year program of learning that will bring the student to the level of High Priest or Priestess.
Churches and Temples. Wiccans do not usually have churches created specifically for the worship of the gods. Our temple is found in nature, among the creations of the divine. We meet in a circle that represents the Circle of Life, and the equality that we share. There is no head, no top, no beginning and no end. When necessary, our circles take place indoors in houses, apartments, or wherever we can find a sacred, protected space. But ideally, a circle will take place in a grove beneath the stars, with the silver moon shining down from above.