The Wiccan Tradition

Elizabeth Igo

Magic, Science and Religion, Rel 195B

3/31/03

 

Keywords: Wicca, witchcraft, pagan, ‘The Craft,’ rituals, worship, religion, nature, neopagan, magic.

 

I.   Abstract:

Wicca, a pagan based religion that looks to the balanced and complementary sides within nature to provide harmony for those who believe. Rooted in witchcraft, rituals and such allow individuals to understand and accept nature and the entire universe, with the supreme deity, “the All’ as the focus and highest power. Although it has some common characteristics of Christian faiths, it is quite distinct, and looks to keep it so.

 

II. Scope and Purpose:

Wicca, a pagan religion rooted in witchcraft, has long been followed and practiced throughout the United States and the world. Founded in the late 1940’s in the UK, it has build up its following, becoming one on most followed alternative religions. Over the years, Wicca has been criticized and challenged by groups and the courts on its validity as a religion. Yet even though Wicca has characteristics that set it aside from other religions, it has roots in and shares some common ground with both Christian and pagan ideas.

In the Wiccan tradition, there is the belief in a supreme deity, referred to as “The All" or "The One," who is essentially unknown to them, but they understand as being both a God and a Goddess[1]. Wiccans see earth and universe in general as consisting of a balance of complements (male/female, yin/yang, etc). According to Avalon’s website,  Wicca is a religion about understanding yourself and the world around you. Wiccans follow the Wiccan Rede "A'in it harm none, do what thou wilt.” This means that as long as it harms no one, including yourself, one is free to do what they wish. A Wiccan carefully reviews the implications of each action or non-action in her/his life. Domination, manipulation and control are particularly prohibited by the Rede” [2]. In general, Wicca is a personal or individual faith system in which you make individual choices based on understanding nature and “the One.”

There are rituals and practices involved in the Wiccan Tradition, but typically they depend on the individual and how much they live by the ‘traditions’ of Wicca. “Some ritual items are common to almost every Wiccan tradition, such asthe athame (ritual knife) and chalice (ritual cup). Others may be used bysome traditions but not others: bells, brooms, candles, cauldrons, cords, drums, incense, jewelry, special plates, pentacles, scourges, statues, swords, staves and wands.”[3]

 

III. Authority Structure:

 

            Overall, the Wiccan tradition is sort of loose in terms of an authoritative structure due to the personal nature of the religion, but there are some fundamental characteristics which make it what it is. As I said before, Wiccans worship their supreme deity, ‘The One.’ For Wiccans, their religion lies strongly in the recognition that life is sacred. Related to this is respect for nature. All elements of the natural world deserve respect and appreciation, and should never be mistreated or abused.

            In attempt to clearly define and structurize the Wiccan religion, seventy-three witches gathered together in 1974 to form the Council of American Witches because Wicca and some pagan traditions were misunderstood across the country. As a result of the gathering of this Council in1974, a document of the “rules” or “guidelines” of the tradition was set. The document, “The Principals of Wiccan Belief,” introduce the main ideas and values at the core of Wicca.[4]

Within the tradition of Wicca, there is no authoritative figure or hierarchy. Wiccans do, however, respect and honor those who teach and share the practice of Wicca, sometimes referred to as priests and priestesses. According to the Principles of the Council of American Witches, Wiccans “believe that we should seek within Nature that which is contributory to our health and well-being.”[5] The ongoing relationship between the universe and one’s person self is the ultimate focus of the Wiccan belief system.

Although Wicca is typically associated with feminism, it is practiced by men and women alike. For this reason, it is not necessary of one to consider themselves a witch to be a member of the Wiccan tradition. Typically, though, the members are women, as it has been associated and linked with feminism, but both men and women have been witches or warlocks.

 One matter of the Wiccan Tradition that members try to clearly settle is the fact that they are not linked to evil, nor do they worship any evil being, such as Satan or the devil.[6]. Rather, Wicca allows for “the Witch to work with, not in supplication to deities with the intent of living in harmony and achieving balance with all things.”[7]

For most members of the faith, they come across the tradition through an encounter with another member. This sparks their interests, and they seek out info about the religion from whatever sources they come across. Members currently practicing the faith encourage the prospective members to read up on the religion in books, through websites, and other such sources, so they are fully prepared and knowing of what is involved in this religion before they commit. The next step is the process is to “consult a local Wiccan coven,”[8] which consists of a group of Wiccans, usually at least three.

 

IV. History

        In general, the religion of Wicca grew out of attempts to reconstruct and reorganize central ideas behind Christianity. It is considered one of the first of the “neopagan” rituals. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some followers became frustrated and bothered by the rules and dogma behind Christian based religions. So in attempt to calm their disturbed sentiments, they began turning to other options. There had been distinct sects that were practicing witchcraft at this time. Gerald Gardner, a British civil servant, had recently joined a coven of witches in 1939 when he “persuaded the coven 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.”[9] And in 1954 he wrote the Witchcraft Today in which he explained the additional details of the Wiccan faith as it developed. Gardner has long been thought of as the father of the Wiccan tradition in a sense, as he established and clearly defined what the purpose and practices of Wicca include.

            As I mentioned earlier as well, the American Council of Witches’ gathering in 1973 to establish the Principles of Wiccan Belief also helped establish Wiccan as a true or genuine religion, as it was still undefined in a broad sense. Other major contributors in the evolution of Wicca as a religious tradition include Charles Leland and Margaret Murray. Though both came before Gardner, both laid some ground work for what he would later organize and develop into Wicca.

            Charles Leland was instrumental in drawing attention and explaining witches and witchcraft as he saw it. He published a book, entitled Aradia: Gospel of the Witches, in 1899, and in it, “It is presented as an ancient document which recorded the doctrines of La Vecchia Religione (The Old Religion) -- Italian witchcraft.”[10] The book helped direct thought about neopaganism, allowing it to develop and become what it has.

            Margaret Murray had a similar effect on pagan thought and belief. Her two books, The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches, were catalysts of though concerning witchcraft and pagan thought during the first half of the 20th century when she wrote them. In them, she “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.”[11]

            Through the years Wicca has developed into much more than a religion. According to some members, “For the last fifteen years our beliefs in Witchcraft have evolved into a way of life. We celebrate the Wiccan sabbats and esbats. We divine with astrology, tarot and runes. With Wicca we invoke, chant, dance, and rite to the sway and ebb of the wheel of the year. We revere nature and the earth we live on as the biggest priority in our lives and lives to come.” [12] To these individuals, the Wiccan tradition encompasses their lives.

 

V. Representative Examples of Argumentation

        In 1985 Wicca a case was brought to a district court in Virginia on the subject of the religion of Wicca. In the case, know as Dettmer v. Landon, the court ruled in favor to recognize Wicca as an actual religion. The ruling stated that Wicca is “clearly a religion for First Amendment purposes....Members of the Church sincerely adhere to a fairly complex set of doctrines relating to the spiritual aspect of their lives, and in doing so they have 'ultimate concerns' in much the same way as followers of more accepted religions. Their ceremonies and leadership structure, their rather elaborate set of articulated doctrine, their belief in the concept of another world, and their broad concern for improving the quality of life for others gives them at least some facial similarity to other more widely recognized religions."[13] There have been several other court cases within the past twenty years or so, since Wicca has picked up support, where U.S. Courts rule in favor and acknowledge or re-affirm the existence of the Wiccan Tradition as a viable religion.

 

VI. Suggested Position in Comparative Scales

a)      traditional authority (3) vs testimony of experience (7)- Wicca relies on personal experience rather than traditional doctrine and authority dictated to followers

b)      centralization of authority (2) vs. decentralization (8) – Rather than have a hierarchy handing down beliefs, Wiccans rely on nature and “the All”, which they search for and worship through individual inquiry, not in a group setting.

c)      emphasis on invisible realities (5) vs. material, earthly realities.(5)- Both are equally important , from what I understand, as they worship “the One” and consider her omnipotent, but at the same time respect the life cycle and all of nature, and the balance with is Wicca.

d)      spiritual/moral objectives (9) vs. pragmatic aims (1)- The Wiccan tradition      definitely focuses on balance and harmony within nature, becoming one with nature, and such, rather than achieving any sort of salvation or reward.

e)      power/agency  for divine being (6) vs. realizable in individuals (4)- While it is primarily a individual belief system, they do believe in the one god, which they refer to as “the All,” but they consider this divine being unknowable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 

Websites:

www.religioustolerance.org/witchcra.htm

Very useful, provided a lot of info on all headings of  interest. Excellent source of history.

http://www.twpt.com/

            Contemporary witchcraft/pagan paper, shows how Wicca has come along.

http://www.mothersmagic.net/witches/wicca/whatis.html

Another of the many information websites, providing many links and explanations

http://justmell.tripod.com/avalonsdream/id10.html

Yet another website, another this was more informal, incorporating more opinion than the others

http://www.witchway.net/

            provides come good general information and contemporary thoughts on the tradition.

Books:

Collins, William P. Belief Beyond Boundaries:  Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age, Library Journal, New York
Oct 15, 2002- Good general knowledge as a starting block

 

Savage, Candace.

 Witch : the wild ride from wicked to Wicca

New York : Greystone Books, 2000

Some good general information

 

Grimassi, Raven. Encyclopedia of Wicca & witchcraft, St. Paul, Minn. : Llewellyn Publications, 2000

Helped define and label much of the info.

 



[1] Taken from the website wiccan history page of the religious tolerance website: http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_hist.htm

 

[2] from the Avalon website @ http://justmell.tripod.com/avalonsdream/index.html

 

[3] taken from the Wiccan facts website @ http://q7.com/~rain/arwfaq.html#q2.2

 

[4] from the website : The Principles of Wiccan belief @ http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_stat1.htm

 

[5] from http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_hist.htm

[6] from http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_hist.htm

[7] again from http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_stat1.htm

 

 

[8] taken from the website: http://q7.com/~rain/arwfaq.html#q2.2

 

[9] from  http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_hist.htm

 

[10] from the history website http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_hist.htm

[11] same as above.

[12] From the Website, http://www.witchway.net/

 

[13] from http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_rel.htm which takes it from the actual ruling of Dettmer v. Landon.