Wiccan practice revolves around the worship of two gods, a god and a goddess. However, the identities of these deities vary from group to group and even Wiccan to Wiccan, which causes no small amount of frustration in non-Wiccans trying to understand us.
Western religious views are primarily monotheistic. As such, everyone in the religion worships the same god, because it’s understood that only one exists. With that cultural experience, we expect people in other religions, even polytheistic ones, to be united by the identities of their gods.
But Wiccans are united primarily by practice, not belief. Different Wiccans find themselves called by different deities. This is not uncommon among polytheists. Hinduism, for example, recognizes millions of gods. Imagine trying to personally honor all of them! Hindus honor gods most appropriate for themselves, for the time and for the place.
Wiccans have no single pantheon. Instead, individuals draw from any number of historical pantheons, plus some figures who have only modern understanding. So a Wiccan might honor Isis or Apollo or Mars or Freya. The fact that I don’t follow Isis doesn’t mean I find it foolish for others to do so. There are a great many gods or at least the potential for gods out there. They just don’t all call to me.
How does one know who to follow?
Traditionalists follow the gods of their coven. Eclectics – those who pull together their own personal practices – commonly say that their gods found them, not the other way around. It was just a question of understanding the call. Some stories are dramatic; most are not. For me, it came in small stages. First was the sense that someone was there for me. Over time, I started to identify more distinct qualities about them, and eventually I learned names for them.
This process may be totally separate from whom a Wiccan might simply like or identify with. Throughout childhood, for example, I was always fascinated with the Greek goddess Athena when we studied mythology in school. I liked what she stood for, and I still do, but she is not who called me. Spiritually speaking, there is no connection between Athena and me at all.
The God and Goddess
We often talk of the God and Goddess. What we mean can be complicated.
The first Wiccan authors were Traditionalists who had taken oaths to not make the names of their gods public. As such, they used a variety of descriptions, including simply “God and Goddess.”
Since different Wiccans worship different deities, books often continue to use these terms to reflect whatever pair you are personally following. The concepts are also useful in discussing metaphorical concepts revolving around gender.
Some Wiccans simply address their deities as God and Goddess, either because they haven’t found suitable names, or they see them as the sum of other deities: all gods are aspects of one god and all goddesses are aspects of one goddess. For a variety of reasons, this view has become widely popular in Eclectic Wiccan literature, giving many the erroneous impression that it is the only view of deity that Wiccans have.
Who are the Horned God and the Triple Goddess?
These are additional terms adopted by early Traditionalist writers for their gods. They are descriptions, not names, although some Wiccans today have adopted them as names.
Because they are descriptions of specific, publicly unnamed deities, it is not expected that all, or even most, Wiccans would use such terms to describe their gods. For example, the Triple Goddess is a moon goddess, with the phases of waxing, full and waning representing childhood, adulthood and old age. Most goddesses are not moon goddesses, and we are not expected to transform them into such.
Again, there’s also metaphorical value in these figures. The symbolism of the moon phases is something every person can connect with, even if they don’t actually follow a moon goddess.
The Horned God is generally depicted with horns or antlers springing from his head. He represents both hunter and hunted and rules the winter, when food traditionally could only be gathered by hunting. He is also lord of the underworld.
Besides being strongly associated with the moon, the Triple Goddess is also tied to the earth and agriculture and rules summer, when the land is in bloom and can provide sustenance.
What are nature spirits and do you worship them?
“Nature spirits” is a very vague term. To me the term suggests localized entities such as something that resides in a specific tree, rock or river. Some Wiccans believe in them and some don’t. Those who do believe in them may interact with them and show respect toward them, but neither of these actions equate to worship. (After all, I interact with and show respect toward my parents, but no one has suggested that I am worshiping them by doing so!)
The term might also be referring to elementals, non-corporeal creatures composed entirely of one of the four elements (Fire, Air, Water or Earth). Again, some Wiccans work with them, particularly in circle casting, but they not worshiped. In fact, elementals are more often commanded than asked to accomplish something.
Do you worship trees?
No. Trees are just physical shells. Worshiping a tree would make no more or less sense than worshiping a toaster. (We don’t do that either, just to be clear.)
Do you worship “nature,” and if so, how is that not worshiping trees?
Western culture thinks of “nature” as merely being those things that have not been created by man. When we talk of getting “back to nature” we usually mean doing away with some modern conveniences and spending time appreciating trees, rivers, and clean air.
What we can see and touch and smell, however, is just the outer shell of something greater. Nature has a spirit and/or soul as well as a body: there is a spiritual essence residing within the physical shell.
Many of us also hold a much wider view of nature. Nature is all that occurs naturally, which is everything: the planet, the stars, and universe. The motions of all these things ultimately come from the will of the gods. The connection between physical nature and the gods is intimate: the gods did not just create the universe, step back and observe but continue to reside and work within it.
So while some Wiccans speak of nature as a goddess, they are ultimately speaking of a powerful spiritual being, not trees.