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Wicca is a nature religion based upon beliefs and rites believed to be rooted in ancient pagan practices. Wicca claims a direct connection to the ancient Celtic tradition, which is thought to be more in tune with natural forces than Christianity and other modern religions of the West. However, rather than see Wiccans as members of a religion, it might be more accurate to see them as sharing a spiritual basis in nature and natural phenomena. For Wiccans have no written creed which the orthodox must adhere to. Nor do they build stone temples or churches to worship in. They practice their rituals in the great outdoors: in parks, gardens, forests, yards or hillsides. According to the Wicca FAQ page,
"Wicca" is the name of a contemporary Neo-Pagan religion, largely promulgated and popularized by the efforts of a retired British civil servant named Gerald Gardner [late 1940's]. In the last few decades, Wicca has spread in part due to its popularity among feminists and others seeking a more woman-positive, earth-based religion. Like most Neo-Pagan spiritualities, Wicca worships the sacred as immanent in nature, drawing much of its inspiration from the non-Christian and pre-Christian religions of Europe. "Neo-Pagan" simply means "new pagan" (derived from the Latin paganus , "country-dweller") and hearkens back to times before the spread of today's major monotheistic (one god) religions. A good general rule is that most Wiccans are Neo-Pagans but not all Pagans are Wiccans.
A good general rule seems to be that there is no single set of beliefs or practices which constitutes Wicca, though one belief seems to recur: An it harm none, do what you will. Also, some rituals seem to recur.
Wiccans practice a number of rituals associated with such natural phenomena as the four seasons and the solstices and the equinoxes. Their symbols are based on the connectedness of Nature to human life. For example, they celebrate summer in a fertility rite known as Beltane. Rather than pray to some unnatural god beyond all experience, Wiccans seem more concerned with self-awakening, with arousing their connectedness to nature and nature gods, female as well as male. Their rituals seem to be metaphors for psychological processes. They sing, they dance, they chant. They burn candles and incense. They use herbs and charms. Often, Wiccans favor herbs to traditional medicines. In group rituals they express their desires to the community. They don't cast spells. They ask for blessings from north, south, east and west. They meditate. They don't cook weird poisonous stews in cauldrons. They don't fly off on brooms. They don't pray for harm to their enemies. Because Wiccans seem to worship nature and nature goddesses and gods, they can be called pantheists.
Wiccans do share one thing in common with Christians, however. Both believe that nature is essentially good. For Christians, their god is good, and thus whatever their god creates must be good. For Wiccans, the natural turn of the seasons provides guidance or signs. I, however, see nature as neither good nor bad, but completely indifferent to our well being. Nature is as likely to produce pumiced humans at Pompeii or children swept away in flash floods as it is to produce a swell-smelling flower or a ripe peach. Nature does not care that people are sucked out of their homes by tornadoes and thrown into the Guinness sky of the volcano or that millions bake under an uncaring sun in parched lands. The innocent monsters deformed by uncaring biological laws are just as natural as the beautiful babies that parents swoon over. Those devoured by great cracks in the earth, those drowned in hurricanes, the millions left homeless each year by indifferent forces ravaging an indifferent landscape live in the same world as those living in temperate zones replete with surplus fruits of the land. Only in their mythologies have Wiccan magick or Christian prayer stopped the flood, doused the lightning bolt, stilled the whirlwinds of the tornado and hurricane, calmed the quaking earth, or put to sleep the tsunami. Surely both Wiccans and Christians despise the harm done by nature as much as I do. But the destructiveness of nature is not punishment for bad deeds or failure to appease unseen forces or spirits. It is simply the result of a planet still evolving after more than four billion years, here for no purpose, and destined to die a natural death.
The attractiveness of Wicca may be due to its friendliness toward women, its naturalistic view of sex and its promise of power through magick. It is very popular among women, and it is tempting to say that Wicca is women's revenge for the centuries of misogyny and "femicide" or "gynicide" practiced by established religions such as Christianity. Wicca, like the Celtic religion, allows women full participation in the practice. Women are equals, if not superiors, of men. Women in Celtic mythology are unusual, to say the least. They are intelligent, powerful warriors, ruthless, sexually aggressive, and leaders of nations.
Finally, it should be noted that Wicca is not related to Satan worship. That practice is related to the persecution of "witches" by Christians, especially during the medieval and Spanish Inquisitions, though not necessarily by the Inquisitors themselves. (See the Malleus Maleficarum, 1486, which describes "the three necessary concomitants of witchcraft," namely, "the Devil, a witch, and the permission of Almighty God [sic].") The spirit of the witch hunters, however, lives on in the hearts of many devout Christians who continue to persecute Wiccans, among others, as devil worshippers. The modern witch hunters do not demand purgations. Rather, they try to abolish Halloween, school mascots, books which mention witches, and any sign, symbol or number the Christians associate with Satan. (One local pizza house was even hounded for some markings it had on its delivery boxes. Local witch hunters claimed the markings were satanic signs. The pizza house changed it boxes rather than deal with adverse publicity.)
On the first day of spring in 1996, our local newspaper ran an article about a local coven of witches. The story portrayed the all-female group as harmless nature worshippers who dance in circles and ask for blessings from the north, south, east, west, etc. The article prompted a long letter to the editor decrying the naiveté and ignorance of the author of the story on the local coven. Witches are in cahoots with Satan, said the letter writer, who signed off as "a survivor of satanic ritual abuse." The sincerity of the letter writer seemed as genuine as the sincerity of the women of Salem who confessed to being witches. Are the modern day victims of satanic ritual abuse as deluded as the witches hunted down by pious Christians through the centuries who truly believed that they were as evil as their persecutors said they were? Are the Wiccans of today part of a satanic conspiracy? I doubt it. If there are Christians who are being systematically abused by Satan worshippers, their abusers are not part of an international conspiracy known as Wicca.
books and articles
What's the deal with witches and broomsticks? - Cecil Adams, The Straight Dope
Wiccans and Mystical Women: How New Age is Secretly Bad for Feminism by Sara E. Mayhew
"The idea that women have a special inner power which grants them privileged knowledge about reality is damaging to the female image. It’s a giant step backward from the reality that men and women are equal in ability to the absurdity that women need supernatural power in order to bring themselves to the same level as ordinary men. This is why I find New Age thought, like Wicca, so much more aggravating than your average brand of magical thinking."