I have been reluctant to tackle this subject, because it is so pervasive in todays culture; from Harry Potter to American Horror Story, witchcraft has been represented in such a wide variety of guises that it has been hard to consolidate it into a short article. This first one could be considered a segment of my strange religions series, since Witchcraft as a religion is a recent phenomenon.
Wicca is considered a modern pagan religion developed in England and introduced to the public in 1954. It is a combination of ancient pagan (witchcraft) and 20th century hermatic beliefs such as those of the Order of the Golden Dawn.
The word witch is derived from the middle English Wicche of old English wicce (female) and wicca (male). I suppose since the religion was founded by a man that is why Wicca became the religions name, even though it is increasingly populated by women.
Unlike other religions Wicca has no central authority or figurehead to define it. Divided into various lineages or denominations (traditions),they each have their own organizational structure traditions, rituals and beliefs. This has led to a great deal of disagreement and infighting among the various traditions.
Typically duotheistic, Wiccans worship a goddess and horned god; the goddess representing Earth, Moon and Stars, while the God handles the sun, forests and animals. Yet, in some cases the goddess is represented as earth and the godhead the moon. These deities are seen as the balance in the universe much like the yin and yang of Taoism.
Wiccans “regard the whole cosmos as alive, both as a whole and in all of it’s parts…..such an organic view if the cosmos cannot be fully expressed, and lived, without the concept of God and Goddess.” Janet and Stewart Farrar
Yet with so many different Wiccan traditions it is hard to generalize, in some cases they believe that the God and Goddess are two aspects of the same godhead.
The real question people have about Wiccans/Witches is do they practice spells and magic? Many Wiccans believe in magic as a force capable of manipulating reality through various spells or as the famous occultist Aleister Crowley explained: “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.”
But unlike many of the witches portrayed in books, movies and on television these spells are more often used for healing, protection, fertility and to banish negative influences. While there is no dogmatic moral or ethics code that is followed by all traditions, a majority adhere to what is known as the Wiccan Rede – Harm None, do what ye will, or “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law; love is the law, Love under will” Aleister Crowley. Many Wiccans also adhere to eight virtues: mirth, reverence, honor, humility, strength, beauty, power and compassion.
The whole idea of white and black magic has been virtually eliminated by modern Wiccans, arguing that the color Black should not be associated with evil. Another common morality among Wiccans is the Law of Threefold Return which states that whatever benevolent or malevolent actions one takes will return to that person threefold or with triple the force. This kind of ‘witch karma’ is certainly a good reason to be benevolent and careful of how you use the rituals and spells. It certainly would keep me from making voodoo dolls if every time I stick a pin in I get to feel it three times worse.
By all the power
Of three times three
This spell bound around
To cause no harm,
Nor return to me
As I do will
So mote it be.
Future articles will dig deeper into practices, rites and traditions. Stay tuned.