Wicca 101 / FAQ -
The most basic questions are sometimes the hardest to answer. The term
Wicca today encompasses a wide range of beliefs, which means you might
encounter someone who identifies themselves as Wiccan who does not fit
the generalizations here. My attempt at defining the term encompasses
the majority of self-identifying Wiccans, and I believe it is in line
with how the community in general applies the word. If you are reading
this because someone you know is interested in Wicca, I would strongly
suggest that you ask him or her what Wicca means to them. This is particularly
important if you are a parent with a child who is studying Wicca. Teenagers
in particular sometimes have skewed expectations when it comes to Wicca,
whether because of rumor or influence from Hollywood. My definition is
totally useless if it isn’t the definition being used by the person in
- Is polytheistic
religion focusing upon dedication to patron deities, typically a god
and a goddess.
- Is a modern religion
influenced by a variety of pre-Christian beliefs.
- Views the spiritual
and material worlds as overlapping: the gods are not distant beings
but entities whose presence we can experience.
- Stresses personal
experience with divinity and developing greater harmony with the larger
- Views the universe
as the product of complementary opposites in a system roughly akin to
the Chinese concept of yin and yang.
- Teaches that we
all are ultimately responsible for our own actions.
If that didn’t answer
your questions satisfactorily, don’t despair. These points will all be
clarified in further questions. First, however, I’d like to address a
few other basic questions concerning terminology and the nature of what
we’re talking about.
this a real religion?
The United States does not determine what is or is not a religion, much
less what counts as “real.” However, this country has recognized Wicca
as a serious organization for several decades. It has been included in
the military chaplains’ handbook since 1975. Hundreds of Wiccan covens
and other Wiccan organizations have gained the same tax-exempt status
as Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, and other houses of worship.
Wiccan clergy can perform legal marriages so long as they fill the same
requirements as other clergy, which varies tremendously by state. U.S.
law treats discrimination against Wiccans the same as discrimination against
other religious groups.
of what constitutes a religion generally include the organized service
and worship of a god, gods, or the supernatural; personal commitment or
devotion to a religious faith or observance; or an institutionalized system
or personal set of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. Many Wiccans
fit all of these descriptions. The rest fit some combination of these
While there is a
great amount of variety of beliefs within Wicca, there are distinct beliefs
that unite us and rituals that we generally hold in common. Many of us
practice as solitary, so Wicca is not always a particularly organized
religion, but it most certainly is a real religion.
Wicca is not “whatever you want it to be”?
Absolutely not. Some people, generally teenagers and the religiously immature,
describe Wicca as “whatever you want it to be.” Sometimes it comes from
a misunderstanding of Wicca’s religiously tolerant teachings, confusing
tolerance with belief. (Just because you believe someone should be allowed
to freely follow their beliefs does not mean that you personally agree
with those beliefs.) Other times it comes from laziness or wishful thinking:
the person has latched onto some notion of Wicca, often because it has
become popular among his peers, but he has no interest in actually learning
about it, preferring to just make up something appealing and call it Wicca.
my kid is serious about this?
Quite possibly. Wicca has become a fad in many schools, so some kids are
attracted to it for the wrong reasons. Luckily, when this is the case
the individuals in question usually get bored with their game in a couple
months or years and either move on to newer fads or grow up.
But Wicca is also
honestly appealing to many teenagers – right at the period in their lives
where they are starting to question traditional beliefs and authority
figures and are attempting to define themselves as individuals. Even so,
this doesn’t mean you’re your child is guaranteed to be a lifelong Wiccan.
The teenage years are a chaotic span of time often rife with experimentation.
As serious seeking teenagers learn more about Wicca, they may very well
discover that this really is their path. However, it is just as likely
that they will eventually discover that Wicca is not ultimately for them.
Teenagers are experimenters and investigators. They want to consider their
options. That does not mean they will automatically decide every option
is for them. They are also rebels, and sometimes they are more interested
in whatever it is that their parents are not in. If that is the case,
they will grow up. Fighting it only makes them more obstinate in their
rebellion. Given time to work out their questions on their own, teenagers
ultimately are stronger in their faith, whether it is a new faith or their
This is a complicated and extremely important issue. Read this answer
twice (or more) if need be.
has referred to maleficium, or malevolent magic. It was outlawed not because
it was magic, but because it was harmful. After all, if someone were killing
or maiming people in your village, wouldn’t you want that person stopped
regardless whether they were doing it with a sword or with magic? That
is the traditional concept of witchcraft.
Some people in medieval
Europe, including those who followed the official doctrine of the Church,
even considered witchcraft, along with more benevolent forms of magic,
to be nothing more than superstition. For that reason, prosecution of
witches was rare until the late 15th century, when they became scapegoats
during a particularly chaotic time in politics and especially religion.
It was during this time that witchcraft became more associated with Satanism.
Throughout this time,
witches were not the only people believed to be able to work magic. There
were other groups of people who were accepted as magic-users but who were
not called witches. In England they were called cunning folk and provided
their communities with folk remedies as well as trusted testimony at witch
trials. After all, who better to identify the use of magic than another
user of magic?
In the mid 20th century
a new witchcraft movement began, only this time, people were calling themselves
witches instead of accusing other people of being such. Now, however,
they were using a radically different definition of witch: follower of
an ancient religion that involved magic that the ruling Christians claimed
was evil and dangerous. The new witches were not totally making this up.
An academic named Margaret Murray had already published a similar theory,
and the Encyclopaedia Britannica was publishing her definition of witchcraft
as fact from 1929 to 1969.
As time went on,
some of these modern practitioners of “witchcraft” started to label their
religion with the word Wicca, and many considered witchcraft and Wicca
to be synonymous. Others considered Wicca to be a subset of a larger witch
practice. Nowadays, witchcraft and Wicca are generally considered entirely
separate, in large part because of new understandings of our own history.
Wicca is a religion, while witchcraft is a magical practice. Not all Wiccans
are witches: some have no interest in practical magic. More importantly,
there are many, many modern witches who are not Wiccan.
So, many people today
(including myself) will say that Wicca is not witchcraft, although some
consider Wicca a subset of witchcraft. Thirty years ago, however, most
Wiccans would say that it was witchcraft. Regardless, when Wiccans speak
of practicing witchcraft, they are absolutely not speaking of maleficium
nor referring to the historical concept of witchcraft. Modern witches
are generally much closer in practice to cunning folk than historical
witches, preferring to use magic for beneficial purposes.
For clarity, I only
use the term witchcraft to denote a magical practice which many, but not
nearly all, Wiccans embrace.
The dictionary definition of paganism generally means anything that isn’t
Christian or anything that isn’t Judeo-Christian. So, yes, Wicca is pagan.
So is Buddhism and Hinduism. Half of the world is non-Judeo-Christian.
More than two-thirds are non-Christian.
In addition, there
is a community in this country that now specifically identifies itself
as Pagan, sometimes called Neopagan to clarify the issue. Wicca is one
of several religions generally included under the Pagan umbrella.
Hollywood and pulp
novels have associated the term pagan with savagery, virgin sacrifices,
cannibalism, and ignorant natives dancing naked around idols. Explorers
in previous centuries used these sorts of descriptions as excuses to subjugate
natives and exploit both them and their lands. The word now unfairly brings
up all sorts of ugly images of immorality, and we really must step beyond
such understandings. Pagans in the U.S., on average, have similar standards
of ethics as non-pagans and are of comparable intelligence and education.
The only thing that truly separates pagans from non-pagans is to whom
they are praying.
No. There are Pagans who are Druids, but they are a distinctly different
religion from Wiccans. You may find some amateur websites that insist
that men in Wicca are called Druids and women are called witches. I have
no idea where that idea even came from, and it certainly isn’t true. Within
witchcraft, both men and women are called witches. In Druidry, both men
and women are called Druids. In Wicca, both men and women are called Wiccans,
or, far less often, Wicca.
Yes. Occult is another of those words that has attracted unnecessary negativity
to it over the years. The word means hidden. Occult practices are those
which seek meaning or information considered hidden from the average observer.
This might be done by examining various qualities in nature or reading
sacred texts in non-standard ways (such as breaking the letters down into
numerological values or reading texts backward. Many of these methods
make more sense when you’re doing it in a language like Hebrew, where
letters also have values and meaning, rather than English, which generally
just produces gibberish.) Again, Hollywood and pulp novels have given
us a very different picture of the occult, making it practically synonymous
with blood drinking, sacrifices, and demonic pacts. None of these things
are required for a practice to be considered occult, and at least 99%
of occultists would never have anything to do with such practices.
Wiccans seek the
mysteries: things that cannot be taught or described but only experienced.
We are often guided toward the mysteries through symbolism. We seek knowledge
that is available but not obvious. We also seek the divine spark within
each of us. As such, we are most definitely occult. Many of Wicca’s roots
can also be traced to what can be legitimately called occult schools of
Wicca a cult?
The answer you to the question you are probably actually asking is “no,”
but for accuracy’s sake I will clarify. The word cult has a variety of
meanings. The Longman Dictionary’s first definition of the word is simply
“Formal religious veneration; worship.” In that sense, Wicca is a cult,
as is Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and ever other religion on
this planet. Cult can also be used to designate an “unorthodox” practice,
but that determination is entirely based upon perspective and is useless
here. Some Christians use the term in reference all non-Christian practices,
in which case, again, Wicca would be called a cult, along with the rest
of the world’s religions. Cult may also refer to particular intense devotion
to a person, idea, or thing. Medieval historians frequently write of the
cult of the Virgin Mary, for example. In my opinion, this definition does
not really fit Wicca, but its pretty subjective. Cult also frequently
carries the implication of a relatively small group of people. Academics
frequently describe early Christianity as a cult. This definition was
once applicable to Wicca, but on a whole I think the movement has gotten
rather too big for that definition.
A combination of
these definitions has led to the colloquial use of cult to refer to dangerous
and controlling religious organizations, since these groups are almost
always both small in size and intense in devotion. Dangerous and controlling
Wicca certainly is not as it fits none of the common factors attributed
to dangerous cultish behavior:
- A single charismatic
leader – Dangerous cults generally organize around a single person.
As already discussed, Wicca has a very limited and localized hierarchy.
If a High Priest or High Priestess becomes the center of attention within
a coven, he or she was ill-trained for the position and we do not accept
that situation as at all desirable. Our religious focus is upon the
world and the gods, not mortal people. Moreover, Wicca does not recognize
divinely mandated prophets, which many cult leaders claim to be.
- Isolation from
family and friends – Cult members are frequently told that other cult
members are the only ones that truly understand their new path or who
are the only ones pure enough for one to associate with. This quickly
creates a very controllable environment, as new cult members are cut
off from the very people who might see the inherent dangers and attempt
to intervene. While we respect a person’s choice to keep their religious
beliefs a secret (when they so choose), we in no way suggest that newcomers
give up old friends or break ties with their families. Religion is but
one of many facets in all of our lives. With whom you worship and with
whom you socialize can easily be separate groups of people. Many of
us urge teenagers to even set Wicca aside until they are older if their
parents object to it, as we respect parents’ rights in this matter and
also value strong familiar bonds.
- Control over members’
personal lives – Cult members are frequently told where they can work,
how they must dress, and where they must live. Again, this is a method
of control, keeping members isolated from the outside world and making
them more dependent on cult leaders. No Wiccan leader should ever make
these sorts of demands.
- Requiring large
sums of money – Cults are also frequently scams, with members required
to make large “donations” or even turn over all personal property to
be held in common by the cult. Covens require no money for required
training, and there are no membership dues, other than perhaps a couple
dollars to help defray the costs of materials such as incense and candles,
as well as the purchase of basic ritual tools.
This one is easy. No. We don’t even believe in Satan or other inherently
evil entity. Good and evil are choices that each of us makes through free
will. Each of us has the possibility for both. “Evil” by definition is
nasty, cruel and unpleasant, and we certainly would never encourage anyone
to behave in such a manner.
do people think it is?
This question is quite a bit more complex. For some Christians, all non-Christians
(often employing a very narrow definition of Christian) are agents of
Satan. Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Scientologists, Druids,
Wiccans, whatever. There’s nothing we can do about that. It is their right
to hold that belief. However, there are people who associate Wicca with
Satanism even if they don’t associate other religions with it, and that
deserves more coverage.
Part of it is Wicca’s
ties with witchcraft. Many Wiccans are also witches, and many people are
still using the older definition of witchcraft: follower of Satan or worker
of maleficarum. They hear the word witch and they associate bad things
with it. They do not understand the modern witches are using a modern
Part of it is appearance.
Think of the images Hollywood uses to indicate that viewers are watching
a Satanic ritual: robed figures standing within a circle, pentagrams,
ritual daggers, candles, incense, and so on. All but the robes are standard
pieces of Wiccan ritual, and some Wiccans use robes as well. These images
are much older than popular understandings of Wicca, but they are not
older than the Golden Dawn, which used all of those elements.
this just an excuse to fulfill earthly desires?
Christianity’s tendency to equate the material world with Satan is a stark
contrast to Wicca’s view of the material world as being intrinsically
united with spirituality. The material world is a part of our theology,
which veers a little too close to Satanic realms for some people’s tastes.
Quite frankly, we
don’t need an excuse to fulfill earthly desires. Being happy is not a
sin. There is nothing wrong in enjoying the fruits of our labors. Things
like sex and food are not bad things. The gods gave us our senses not
as temptation but as tools through which we can better examine the world.
I am not, however,
suggesting we act wantonly or carelessly. Actions should always be responsible.
Taking advantage of others for your own satisfaction is evil. Excess is
undesirable. And while Wicca does not condemn earthly desires, neither
does it require them. Instead, it encourages us to find healthy, happy
and responsible choices, however each of us envisions those.