Wicca: The Old Religion

Wicca is a Neopagan religion and a religious movement found in various countries throughout the world.
It was first popularised in 1954 by a British civil servant named Gerald Gardner after the British Witchcraft Act was repealed.
He claimed that the religion, of which he was an initiate, was a modern survival of an old witchcraft religion, which had existed in secret for hundreds of years, originating in the pre-Christian Paganism of Europe.
Wicca is thus sometimes referred to as the Old Religion. The veracity of Gardner's claims cannot be independently proven, and it is thought that written Wiccan theology began to be compiled no earlier than the 1920s.
Various related Wiccan traditions have since evolved or been adapted from the form established by Gardner, which came to be called Gardnerian Wicca.
These other traditions of Wicca each have distinctive beliefs, rituals, and practices.
Many traditions of Wicca remain secretive and require that members be initiated.
There is also a movement of Eclectic or Solitary Wiccans who do not believe that any doctrine or traditional initiation is necessary in order to practice Wicca.
The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey estimated that at least 134,000 adults identified themselves as Wiccans in the US.

As practiced by initiates, Wicca is a variety of witchcraft founded on religious and magical concepts, and most of its adherents identify as witches. As such it is distinguished not only by its religious beliefs, but by its initiatory system, organisational structure, secrecy, and practice of magic. Initiatory Wiccans generally will not proselytise, and may even deny membership to some individuals, since once initiated a person is considered to be a priest or priestess and is expected to develop the skills and responsibility that that entails.
Wicca is only one variety of witchcraft, with specific beliefs and practices. Initiates worship a goddess and a god; they observe the festivals of the eight Sabbats of the year and the full-moon Esbats, using distinctive ritual forms; and they attempt to live by a code of ethics. This distinguishes the religion from other forms of witchcraft which may or may not have specific religious, ethical or ritual elements, and which are practiced by people of many religions, as well as by some atheists.
There is also a strong "Eclectic", or non-initiatory Wiccan movement, involving much more variation in religious beliefs, and in which secrecy and organisational structure play a less important role. Generally, Eclectic Wiccans will adopt similar ritual structures and ethical principles to initiates. A few Eclectic Wiccans neither consider themselves witches nor practice magic.
Many Wiccans, though not all, call themselves Pagans, though the umbrella term Paganism encompasses many faiths that have nothing to do with Wicca or witchcraft.


Wiccan Views On Divinity

Wicca as a religion is primarily concerned with the priestess or priest's relationship to the Goddess and God. The Lady and Lord (as they are often called) are seen as primal cosmic beings, the source of limitless power, yet they are also familiar figures who comfort and nurture their children, and often challenge or even reprimand them.

According to Gerald Gardner the gods of Wicca are ancient gods of the British Isles: a Horned God of hunting, death and magic who rules over an after-world paradise (Often referred to as The Summerland), and a goddess, the Great Mother (who is simultaneously the Eternal Virgin and the Primordial Enchantress), who gives regeneration and rebirth to souls of the dead and love to the living. Gardner explains that these are the tribal gods of the witches, just as the Egyptians had their tribal gods Isis and Osiris and the Jews had Elohim; he also states that a being higher than any of these tribal gods is recognised by the witches as Prime Mover, but remains unknowable, and is of little concern to them.

Gardner's explanation aside, individual interpretations of the exact natures of the gods differ significantly, since priests and priestesses develop their own relationships with the gods through intense personal work and revelation. Many have a duotheistic conception of deity as a Goddess (of Moon, Earth and sea) and a God (of forest, hunting and the animal realm). This concept is often extended into a kind of polytheism by the belief that the gods and goddesses of all cultures are aspects of this pair (or of the Goddess alone). Others hold the various gods and goddesses to be separate and distinct. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone have observed that Wicca is becoming more polytheistic as it matures, and embracing a more traditional pagan worldview.
Many groups and individuals are drawn to particular deities from a variety of pantheons (often Celtic, Greek, or from elsewhere in Europe), whom they honour specifically. Some examples are Cernunnos and Brigit from Celtic mythology, Hecate, Lugh, and Diana.

According to current Gardnerians, the exact names of the Goddess and God of traditional Wicca remain an initiatory secret, and they are not given in Gardner's books about witchcraft. However, the collection of Toronto Papers of Gardner's writings has been investigated by American scholars such as Aidan Kelly, leading to the suggestion that their names are Cernunnos and Aradia. These are the names used in the prototype Book of Shadows known as Ye Bok of Ye Arte Magical.

For most Wiccans, the Lord and Lady are seen as complementary polarities: male and female, force and form, comprehending all in their union; the tension and interplay between them is the basis of all creation. The God and Goddess are sometimes symbolised as the Sun and Moon, and from her lunar associations the Goddess becomes a Triple Goddess with aspects of "Maiden", "Mother" and "Crone" corresponding to the Moon's waxing, full and waning phases.

Some Wiccans hold the Goddess to be pre-eminent, since she contains and conceives all (Gaea or Mother Earth is one of her more commonly revered aspects); the God, commonly described as the Horned God or the Divine Child, is the spark of life and inspiration within her, simultaneously her lover and her child. This is reflected in the traditional structure of the coven, which is led by a High Priestess and High Priest in partnership, with the High Priestess having the final word. In some traditions, notably Feminist branches of Dianic Wicca, the Goddess is seen as complete unto herself, and the God is not worshipped at all.

Since the Goddess is said to conceive and contain all life within her, all beings are held to be divine. This is a key understanding conveyed in the Charge of the Goddess, one of the most important texts of Wicca, and is very similar to the Hermetic understanding that "God" contains all things, and in truth is all things. For some Wiccans, this idea also involves elements of animism, and plants, rivers, rocks (and, importantly, ritual tools) are seen as spiritual beings, facets of a single life.

A key belief in Wicca is that the gods are able to manifest in personal form, either through dreams, as physical manifestations, or through the bodies of Priestesses and Priests. The latter kind of manifestation is the purpose of the ritual of Drawing down the Moon (or Drawing down the Sun), whereby the Goddess is called to descend into the body of the Priestess (or the God into the Priest) to effect divine possession.


The Elements

The classical elements are a key feature of the Wiccan world-view. Every manifest force or form is seen to express one of the four archetypal elements — Earth, Air, Fire and Water — or several in combination. This scheme is fundamentally identical with that employed in other Western Esoteric and Hermetic traditions, such as Theosophy and the Golden Dawn, which in turn were influenced by the Hindu system of tattvas.

There is no consensus as to the exact nature of these elements. Some hold to the ancient Greek conception of the elements corresponding to matter (earth) and energy (fire), with the mediating elements (water, air) relating to the phases of matter (fire/earth mixtures). Other exponents of the system add a fifth or quintessential element, spirit (aether, akasha).

The five points of the frequently worn pentagram symbolise, among other things, the four elements with spirit presiding at the top.
The pentagram is the symbol most commonly associated with Wicca in modern times. It is often circumscribed — depicted within a circle — and is usually (though not exclusively) shown with a single point upward. The inverse pentagram, with two points up, is a symbol of the second degree initiation rite of traditional Wicca, some Wiccans have also been known to associate the inverted pentagram with evil.
In geometry, the pentagram is an elegant expression of the golden ratio phi which is popularly connected with ideal beauty and was considered by the Pythagoreans to express truths about the hidden nature of existence.

Each of the four cardinal elements (air, fire, water and earth) is typically assigned a direction, a color, and an elemental race. The following list shows a common categorisation, but different traditions of Wicca may use different "correspondences":

* Air: East, Yellow, Sylphs
* Fire: South, Red, Salamanders
* Water: West, Blue, Undines
* Earth: North, Green, Gnomes

Some variations in correspondences can be explained by geography or climate. It is common in the southern hemisphere, for example, to associate the element fire with north (the direction of the equator) and earth with south (the direction of the nearest polar area).
Some Wiccan groups also modify the religious calendar to reflect local seasonal changes; for instance, most Southern Hemisphere covens celebrate Samhain on April 30th and Beltane on October 31st, reflecting the southern hemisphere's autumn and spring seasons.

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