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Paul Huson [62]. 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. Sanders also used the similar terminology of " left hand path " to describe malevolent magic, and " right hand path " to describe magic performed with good intentions; [64] 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 that Wicca had "reacted to secularisation by a headlong plunge back into magic" and that it was a reactionary religion which would soon die out.


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This view was heavily criticised in by the historian Ronald Hutton who claimed that the evidence displayed the very opposite: Lady Gwen Thompson [67]. 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, [69] similar to the eastern idea of karma. The Threefold Law was an interpretation of Wiccan ideas and ritual, made by Monique Wilson [70] 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 Valiente 's Charge of the Goddess , [71] 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 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 coven [72] [66] β€” the others were later additions made by Alex Sanders during the s.

Although Gerald Gardner initially demonstrated an aversion to homosexuality , claiming that it brought down "the curse of the goddess", [73] it is now generally accepted in all traditions of Wicca, with groups such as the Minoan Brotherhood openly basing their philosophy upon it, [74] and various important figures in the Craft, such as Alex Sanders and Eddie Buczynski , being openly homosexual or bisexual. Many traditions hold a belief in the five classical elements , although they are seen as symbolic as representations of the phases of matter.

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These five elements are invoked during many magical rituals, notably when consecrating a magic circle. The five elements are air , fire , water , earth , and aether or spirit. Aether unites the other four. 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 centre. For instance, those living on the east coast of North America should invoke water in the east and not the west because the colossal body of water, the Atlantic ocean , is to their east.

The five elements are symbolised by the five points of the pentagram , the most prominently used symbol of Wicca. 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 religious experience in the participants, thereby altering their consciousness.

The Craft is a place where all of these things fit together β€” beauty, pageantry, music, dance, song, dream. 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. 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 Hermetic Tradition. There are many rituals within Wicca that are used when celebrating the Sabbats , 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: These rites often include a special set of magical tools.

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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 , a cauldron , candles , incense 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. After a ritual has finished, the God, Goddess and Guardians are thanked, the directions are dismissed and the circle is closed. 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 , Charles Leland 's supposed record of Italian witchcraft. 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 Goddess". 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 principles of Thelema.

Valiente rewrote Gardner's version in verse, keeping the material derived from Aradia , but removing the material from Crowley.

Wiccans celebrate several seasonal festivals of the year, commonly known as Sabbats. Collectively, these occasions are termed the Wheel of the Year. In the rare case of the Ros an Bucca group from Cornwall , only six are adhered to. The names of these festivals are in some cases taken from the Old Irish fire festivals, [91] 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 [ sic ], May Eve , Lammas , and Halloween ; the equinoxes and solstices are celebrated also.

Subsequently, when Wicca was first developing in the s through to the s, many of the early groups, such as Robert Cochrane 's Clan of Tubal Cain and Gerald Gardner 's Bricket 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. They are the solstices and the equinoxes , and they were only adopted in by members of the Bricket Wood coven, [93] before they were subsequently adopted by other followers of the Gardnerian tradition.

They were eventually adopted by followers of other traditions like Alexandrian 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 they exhibit a form of universalism.

The rituals that are observed may display cultural influences from the holidays from which they take their names as well as influences from other unrelated cultures. Various rites 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.

In British 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 unproven. 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 flagellation , 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 coven. According to new-age religious scholar James R. Lewis , in his book Witchcraft today: 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 her status.

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 Robert 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 Huson 's Mastering Witchcraft , and unusually involved recitation of the Lord's Prayer backwards as a symbol of defiance against the historical Witch Hunt. Handfasting 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". 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.

In Wicca, there is no set sacred text such as the Christian Bible , Jewish Tanakh , Hindu Gita or Islamic Quran , 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 and the works of 19thβ€”20th century occultist Aleister Crowley , whom Gardner knew personally.

Also in the Book are examples of poetry largely composed by Gardner and his High Priestess Doreen Valiente , the most notable of which is the Charge of the Goddess. Gerald Gardner to his followers []. Similar in use to the grimoires of ceremonial magicians , [] 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.

In the s through to the s, when the Wiccan movement was largely confined to lineaged groups such as Gardnerian Wicca and Alexandrian 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 , Alexandrian Wicca and the Algard tradition; because of their joint history, they are often referred to as British 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 Tradition , both of which trace their origins to Robert Cochrane ; Feri , which traces itself back to Victor Anderson and Gwydion Pendderwen ; and Dianic Wicca , whose followers often trace their influences back to Zsuzsanna 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 Etymology.

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. Wicca has also been "customized" to the various different national contexts into which it has been introduced; for instance, in Ireland, the veneration of ancient Irish deities has been incorporated into Wicca.

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. 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. 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 the religion. 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 Paganism. While the origins of modern Wiccan practice lie in covenantal activity of select few initiates in established lineages, eclectic Wiccans 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 s, larger, more informal, often publicly advertised camps and workshops began to take place. 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. Wicca was founded in England between and , [] representing what the historian Ronald Hutton called "the only full-formed religion which England can be said to have given the world". Wicca took as its basis the witch-cult hypothesis. This was the idea that those persecuted as witches during the early modern period in Europe were not, as the persecutors had claimed, followers of Satanism , nor were they innocent people who confessed to witchcraft under threat of torture, as had long been the historical consensus, but rather that they were adherents of a surviving pre-Christian pagan religion.

The idea that covens should have 13 members was developed by Murray, based on a single witness statement from one of the witch trials, as was her assertion that covens met on the cross-quarter days four times per year. For example, many of the confessions included the idea that Satan was personally present at coven meetings. Murray interpreted this as a witch priest wearing horns and animal skins, and a pair of forked boots to represent his authority or rank; most mainstream folklorists, on the other hand, have argued that the entire scenario was always fictitious and does not require a naturalistic explanation, but Gardner enthusiastically adopted many of Murray's explanations into his own tradition.

Other influences upon early Wicca included various Western esoteric traditions and practices, among them ceremonial magic , Aleister Crowley and his religion of Thelema , Freemasonry , Spiritualism , and Theosophy. It was during the s 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 , [] Cheshire [] 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 as ceremonial magic , folk magic , Freemasonry , Theosophy , Romanticism , Druidry , classical mythology , and Asian religions.

Gardner was a retired British civil servant and amateur anthropologist , with a broad familiarity in paganism and occultism. He claimed to have been initiated into a witches' coven in New Forest , Hampshire , in the late s. Intent on perpetuating this craft, Gardner founded the Bricket Wood coven with his wife Donna in the s, after buying the Naturist Fiveacres Country Club. The Witchcraft religion became more prominent beginning in , with the repeal of the Witchcraft Act of , 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". Following Gardner's death in , the Craft continued to grow unabated despite sensationalism and negative portrayals in British tabloids, with new traditions being propagated by figures like Robert Cochrane , Sybil 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 like Australia and the United States. 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 Anderson 's Feri Tradition , Joseph Wilson's Tradition , Aidan Kelly 's New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn , and eventually Zsuzsanna Budapest 's Dianic Wicca , each of which emphasised different aspects of the faith.

Similar books continued to be published throughout the s and s, fuelled by the writings of such authors as Doreen Valiente , Janet Farrar , Stewart 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. In the s, 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 β€” , 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 ". 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 witch trials.

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. In his book The Triumph of the Moon , Bristol University history professor Ronald Hutton 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 Reformation.

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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 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.

Some scholars estimate that a total of 40, 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. 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 disorganised structure.

From this, they developed a median estimate of , members. Leo Ruickbie []. In the United States, the American Religious Identification Survey has shown significant increases in the number of self-identified Wiccans, from 8, in , to , in , and , in In the United Kingdom, census figures on religion were first collected in ; no detailed statistics were reported outside of the six main religions.

Wicca emerged in a predominantly Christian country, and from its inception the religion encountered opposition from certain Christian groups as well as 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 two religions.

Revealing oneself as a Wiccan to family, friends or colleagues is often termed "coming out of the broom-closet". The religious studies scholar Graham Harvey noted that "the popular and prevalent media image [of Wicca] is mostly inaccurate". In the United States, a number of legal decisions have improved and validated the status of Wiccans, especially Dettmer v. However, Wiccans have encountered opposition from some politicians and Christian organisations, [] [] including former president of the United States George W.

Bush , who stated that he did not believe Wicca to be a religion. In the United States Department of Veterans Affairs after years of dispute added the Pentagram to the list of emblems of belief that can be included on government-issued markers, headstones, and plaques honoring deceased veterans.

History of Wicca

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