Written By: Rowena Sorrel Moon
Paganism is a pre-Christian and post-Christian practice, thus it can be referred to as Neo-Paganism meaning “new”. Most, if not all, Pagans remove any Christian terminology, mythology and Pantheon from their practices and beliefs, thus our research of this branch of Paganism will be focused more on the indigenous (pre) in a modern world (post). I will be using different terminology to help associate the Pagan ideas and thoughts into a Christian and/or Academic world, to better facilitate the unknown to the known.
Most Pagans do not refer to themselves as religious, not liking the association of organized religion. Thus, they might refer to themselves as spiritual. Within Paganism there is no one set doctrine, theology, mythology, and/or practice. There is no “Holy Book” to guide or study. Pagans have a multitude of information, resource and guides, which can be confusing for the novice, for they can be contradictory. If you asked 100 Pagans the same question you might get a 100 different answer, and they would mostly like all be true or at least to that specific Pagan. Underlining all these different ideas and beliefs is one strong and connecting ideas of “connection”. All Pagans believe in a universal web of life, that all things are connected through time and space. It is about finding what speaks the strongest and truest to your heart and soul.
Paganism is an umbrella term for many faiths and beliefs associated with a nature-based or earth-centered paths such as: Druidy, Dianic, Chaos, Wicca, Fae, Asutru, etc. Within Paganism is Witchcraft. Witchcraft can be defined as a practice, and not a religion. Most people who follow Witchcraft have no God or Goddess and focus mainly on energy, earth, will and thought. This research will be mainly focused on Wicca, which is a branch of Paganism, such as one might refer to as Baptist, a denomination, with in Christianity.
There is some controversy and differences of opinions regarding the origins of Wicca. If we look back to the indigenous times we can learn about pre-Christian beliefs that may or may not reflect a Wiccan view such as Norse, Celtic, Roman, Greek and Egyptian, the latter three are known as the Mystic or Mystery Religions. In a post-Christian time, Wicca can be dated back to two individuals Dr. Margaret Murray in the 1920’s and 30’s and Gerald Gardner in the 1940’s and 50’s. With Dr. Murray’s publication of several books, detailing her theories of a pre-Christian religion, Wicca grew a following despite her historical discretizations. Gardner was deemed the “Father of Wicca”. In 1951, when the last law against Witchcraft was repealed in England; he spoke out and published Witchcraft Today. In Witchcraft Today, he gave credit and backing to Dr. Murray’s theories stating they were true. He knew this because he was a Witch.
Since the pre-Christian indigenous to the post-Christian neo-paganism times, Wicca has grown to a substantial amount of followers. What started off with a few groups in the early 1920’s, in places such as Cheshire, Norlfolk and New Forest, England became a momentous following. You can simply Google “Wicca groups” and the first link that pops up will take you to Meetup.com, with over 334 groups, 48,336 members, in over 233 cities, and over 9 countries. According to Wikipedia, Wicca followers have reached a whopping million. The US Census, although has stopped taking religious totals, has documentation stored publically regarding religious following. In 1990 the US Census estimated Wicca to have 8,000 followers, while Paganism and Spiritualist was listed as “NA”. In 2008, Wicca was estimated at 342,000, Paganism at 340,000, and Spiritualist at 426,000. With the totals no longer being tallied, it is hard to tell how many Wiccans, Pagans and Spiritualist are living in the United States, but I am sure the number continues to grow substantially.
Though there has been much growth, education and awareness in the community in regards to Paganism and Wicca, there is still much stereotyping and fear. This stereotyping and fear can be seen on both sides. While the unknown will see Pagans and Wiccans as evil and associate their followers with Satan, I tell you now, that is not so. Pagans and Wiccans do not follow the Christian or any one or set doctrine, pantheon, or mythology. Without the Christian doctrine, there is no Satan; therefore, Pagans and Wiccans are void of the belief and acknowledgement of Satan. While on the side of the Pagan and Wiccan, most fear the uneducated for their wrongful associations and ignorance in regards to their faith. The only person to blame is the ignorant one who chooses to persecute on misconceptions, un-researched beliefs, and who stays uneducated in the dark to their fellow earthly inhabitations.
Basic Doctrine and/or Theology (Beliefs):
Wiccan’s will either practice solitary or in groups called covens, circles, or groves. If solitary, Wiccan’s will get their information from resources such as books and online. There are many online schools and resources for the solitary practitioner. In a group setting the Wiccan will have the additional resource of fellow Wiccans or from a one on one teacher in the faith. Either way the practitioner will be taught or learn the basic doctrine, theologies and practices of the faith in the beginning. Some of those basic beliefs are outlined here. Wiccans believe in the Lord and the Lady. They believe in the dualisms and balance of all things in nature and life, such as: male/female, sun/moon, and yin/yang.
The Lady is broken further down into the Triple Goddess: Mother, Maiden and Crone. The Lady is an aspect of the Moon and is associated with the Esbats (Moon) and its cycles. There are 12 months in a year and each month is represented by a different Esbat. Each Esbat has its own name and meaning. With Wicca taking in much folk lore from many parts of the world, each month’s Moon may have many different names. Each Esbat has its own meaning and its own representation. An example of this would be September’s Moon, which is called the Harvest Moon. It is called this because it is a time of Harvest, a time of year when the land is being harvested. Thus this moon would be a time to harvest your own prosperity and abundance. Each phase of the moon is represented by an aspect of the Lady. The Waxing phase of the moon is represented by the Maiden, the Full moon by the Mother, and the Waning moon by the Crone. The Maiden is like a child or young adult, new to life like the waxing moon. The Mother represents, just that, the Mother. She is matured, and has a full life with children and responsibilities. The Crone is aged and towards the end. She is knowledgeable and wise. In some cases, the Mother is replaced by the Warrior. The Warrior is the protector of the young and kind. Esbats are a time of honor and celebration for our Lady, our Goddess. The moon brings different energy thorough its different phases. The waxing moon is the start of the phasing cycle, and this is a time where Wiccans will start a new or bring in new energies. The waning moon is at the end of this cycle, and is a time where Wiccans will push out or banish unwanted energies.
The Lord is also broken down, he is the Horned God: Royal Prince, King and Elder. The God is an aspect of the Sun, and is represented by the Sabbats (Sun) and its cycles. There are eight Sabbats a year and what Wiccan’s call the Wheel of the Year. These Sabbats are the Wiccan’s “Holy Days” or Holidays. An example of a Sabbat is Yule or Yuletide (Midwinter), which is a few days before Christmas, on the 21st. While during Christmas you would celebrate the birth of Christ, at Yule you would celebrate the rebirth of the Horned God, who is represented by the new Sun. The Lady gives birth to the Lord. Each month represents the actions the Lord and Lady go through, and cycles the Lord through death and rebirth. Thus, just like Esbats, the Sabbats represent a time and bring in different energies to be harvested, celebrated, laid to rest or rebirthed. Therefore, using Yule as an example, this would be a time to “rebirth or birth” ideas, hopes, dream and/or actions. Yule and onward is time when our daylight hours will be longer. On the Summer Solstice, our day and night hours will be perfect balanced. Then this will tip the other way, and our nights will be longer than our days.
To further complicate this, there are Wiccan’s who believe that there is only one Godhead or Divine and the Lord and Lady are merely two aspects of this one Being, which is Pantheistic. While some individuals believe there are a multitude of Gods and Goddess, and believe in Polytheism, using Gods and Goddess from different mythologies and pantheons to represent the energies or actions they wish to pursue or worship. Wiccan’s may also have a belief in animism and believe that every living thing or object has a soul. Again, Wiccan’s may believe in part of the above, in all of the above or in none of the above. It is every complicated and personal to each individual Wiccan.
Wiccan’s believe in the Elements and Natural Cycles of the earth and all living things held within. The elements are Earth, Air, Fire and Water, some may also include Spirit. The natural cycles include the Sabbats and Esbats, the Wheel of the Year along will Rites of Passages. Wiccan’s will hold rituals (celebrations) for Sabbats and Esbats to honor their chosen God(s), Goddess(es) and/or Deity(ies), along with drawing in or pushing out certain energies for certain desired affects. We will get more detailed about these rituals and practices below.
There is no one set rule or dogma that a Wiccan may or may not choose to follow. Each Wiccan will base their own belief upon their own individual ethics and moral code. There is a Wiccan Rede that some may choose to follow: “an it 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”.  A much longer version can be found online via a search for: The Wiccan Rede “Full Version”. This is also what some would consider the Three-Fold Law. This is a belief that what you do, or put out into the world via energy, thought and will, will come back to you three fold. There is no concept of salvation or the need to become “saved” in the Wiccan belief.
The view of an afterlife can vary, just like everything else, in Wicca. There are couple different beliefs in Wicca when it comes to the afterlife. Some individuals believe in Summerland or Otherworld, this is a variation of the Christian Heaven. All spirits reside in Summerland, and can be communicated with through various methods. Another Wiccan might believe in reincarnation. This is where the soul will be reborn, and live on through another life. This cycle just continues for a Wiccan. Whether or not there is a Summerland or reincarnation, most Wiccan’s do not place much emphasis on the afterlife. Wiccan’s choose to focus on the here and now.
Practices & Traditions:
There are quite a few things that go into the practices and traditions of a Wiccan. A Wiccan, upon choosing to follow this faith, will be taught or learn various techniques involving ritual, meditation, energy, magick, spellwork, tools and correspondences. It’s up to each individual Wiccan on how deep they wish to experience their faith. While some Wiccan’s can be very strict in their beliefs and follow guild lines and their own “laws”, others may incorporate a multitude of different beliefs, thoughts and ideas from other religions and resources into their own. The latter may or may not call themselves Eclectic Wiccan.
Magick, energy, meditation and spellwork can be wrapped up in the same methodology. Meditation and energy is the foundation of a Wiccan’s practice. Most individuals know what meditation is, but energy can be a tricky one for those who do not know. Energy is what you feel; this is something you feel within and without. It’s feeling the energies around you and being able to pull them in and reshape them. Magick and/or spellwork will incorporate those energies. The best way to describe this is like a prayer or wishing. Wiccan’s will use their willpower and energy to perform a ritual and “cast” their spell.
Rituals are performed for everything, from the basic cleansing to Sabbats and Esbasts to Rites of Passages. A Ritual is a set of directions one might perform in preparing themselves for workings, meditations, etc. Rituals can be very elaborate and drawn out or can be very simple. Either method a one might choose does not lessen the effect or power a one might choose to drawn in or put out. A Wiccan may choose to use Tools within their Ritual. This can anything a Wiccan deems as a Tool. This can be anything from candles to stones to objects that represent their chosen Gods or Goddesses. A Wiccan may also choose to use specific colors, objects or days of the week to correspond with their specific need such as Green would represent health, healing and abundance. These are call correspondences.
The traditions and practices make up the majority of the Wiccan’s beliefs. As stated before there are 12 Esbats and 8 Sabbats, and each are celebrated with a ritual, either solitary or with a group of similar individuals. These days are to honor chosen Gods and/or Goddess and they cycle of life from birth to death, and rebirth. A ritual can best be described as a time or prayer. If a ritual is done, a circle may be casted, quarters may be called and tools may be used for protection or to further enhance the energies and workings of the group or individual. Just like with most celebrations there is much feasting and merriment.
Within a Wiccan’s natural cycle are also Rites of Passages such as: Wiccaning, Coming of Age, Initiation, Handfasting, Handparting, Elderings, Passing Over, and Burial of the Dead. Wiccan’s may choose to have a Wiccaning (Naming) for a new birth. This is where a baby is introduced to the Gods, Goddess and Community. Initiations are used within a group or coven as a sign of acceptance and joining. This is where like-minded and goaled individuals, within the community, join in friendship forming a chosen family.
Some traditions can be passed down from family members. Others are learned through groups, teachers and books. All information that a Wiccan gains is up to that individual. Traditions and practices can be strict and rigged, wild and chaotic or a balance of all the above. It’s up to the individual or group.
Wicca has come a long way. Though still not considered a World Religion, it was recognized by the United States Military in 1996. Additionally in 1978, the Army had updated various editions and guides that are used by the Chaplin’s to include Wicca. There are other organizations such as Circle Sanctuary that have Military Mission that provide Community, Support, Ceremonies, Recognition, and Remembrance for active members and veterans of the Military. In 2007, a lawsuit was filed and won to allow VA’s to receive a pentacle on their grave makers. With this news, the Pentacle is now a recognized symbol for Wiccans. Upon pulling up the VA application for a Headstone or Marker I found Wicca listed as a possible Emblem of Belief available. Besides different court rulings and information provided about different legal decisions made within the United States, I would have to say that Wicca is a recognized legitimate religion though it still struggles with awareness. There are organizations fighting to assistance Wicca and Paganism such as the Pagan Pride Project. The Pagan Pride Project spreads awareness through Education, Community, Unity and Activism. With so many individuals fighting to shed light on the beauty and nature of Wicca and Paganism, I can see how it is a legitimate religion.
Army Times: Grave Markers [http://www.armytimes.com/news/2007/04/ap_wiccan_070423/]
Department of Veteran Affairs: Gravestone [http://www.cem.va.gov/hmm/]
Circle Santuary: Military Missions [https://www.circlesanctuary.org/index.php/military-ministries/circle-military-ministries.html]
Religious Tolerance [http://www.religioustolerance.org]
Wikipedia: Paganism [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paganism], Wicca [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicca#Theology] , Major Religious Groups [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups] and Soltice [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solstice]
Celtic Connection: Wiccan Rede [http://wicca.com/celtic/wicca/rede.htm]
Witchvox: Wiccan Rede [http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usfl&c=basics&id=2876]
Us Census: The 2012 Statistical Abstract #75 [http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/population/religion.html]
Pagan Pride Project [http://www.paganpride.org/]
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft
Wicca and Witchcraft for Dummies
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism
Complete Book of Witchcraft, Raymond Buckland