Paganism & Witchcraft

There are numerous different branches of Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft  This page will be periodically updated with short explanations of different traditions.  If you follow a particular path that isn’t listed, feel free to email me with a short spiel of what your tradition is about and I’ll add it in!

Alexandrian Wicca
Founded by Alex Sanders and his wife Maxine in the 1960s, Alexandrian Wicca is very similar to the Gardnerian tradition.  It is a blend of ceremonial magic with heavy Gardnerian influences and Hermetic Kabbalah.  It focuses on the polarity between the genders, and dedicates equal time to both God and Goddess in its rites and ceremonies.  The main differences between Alexandrian Wicca and Gardnerian Wicca are the tool uses and names of deities used, although even these differences have blurred over the decades.
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Dianic Wicca / Witchcraft
Founded by Zsuzsanna Budapest in the USA in the 70s, it has a main focus on the worship of the Goddess and on feminism.  They generally do not acknowledge a male deity.  A combination of elements from British Traditional Wicca, Italian folk magick, feminist values and healing practices, it is most often practiced in female-only covens.
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Gardnerian Wicca
Founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s, Gardner claimed to have learned the beliefs and practices from the New Forest coven, who initiated him into their ranks in 1939.  Some consider Gardnerian Wicca to be “where it all began”, and subsequent Wiccan traditions derived from Gardner’s religion.  Practiced in covens, traditionally of 13 members, led by a High Priest and High Priestess, Gardnerian Wicca celebrates both a God and a Goddess, the union of which results in everything around us.  Membership is generally gained only through initiation by a High Priest or Priestess, and rituals and coven practices are kept secret from outsiders.
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Paganism & Witchcraft

As Paganism and Neo-Paganism are ‘umbrella’ terms for many different religious paths, from Asatru to Druidism to Hellenic Reconstructionism to Wicca and everything in between, it’s difficult to pinpoint and define what it is a Pagan believes in.
I think deo (from the now-defunct podcast deo’s Shadow) hit the nail on the head with what he believed to be the main indicators of Pagan belief. They are:

  1. Cycles are sacred. The kinds of cycles that are sacred are the cycles of life, the cycles of the seasons, the moon cycles, cycle of life and death, etc.
  2. The body is sacred. This doesn’t mean that one worships the body, although this can be true, but the body is treated as natural and sacred in Paganism. In Christianity, the body is sometimes treated as sinful, and a vessel for the soul; in Buddhism, the body is treated as a ‘trap for the mind’ which ought to be transcended. Paganism is somewhat unique in that it doesn’t have a low regard for the body like many other religions.

So in terms of beliefs and practices (which can sometimes also be difficult to pinpoint as there are so many different types of Paganism), generally speaking, it is usually a nature-based religious path, recently revived and re-popularised in the early 20th century by people like as Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, and Doreen Valiente (that list is far, far, far from exhaustive; I’m just pulling some names off the top of my head). many forms of Paganism include witchcraft as a practice, which of course has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years – a fact which cannot be argued.

If I were to put Paganism into one sentence, it would be: “Paganism is a term for a number of religions that include, but are not limited to, practices such as a reverence of nature, polytheism, an honouring of cycles and a constant seeking for understanding, and which seek equality, balance, and achieving positive change in one’s life.”

To define what a Pagan is, and to differentiate between a Pagan and a Witch, my general explanation of witchcraft is something along the lines of:

An artform and practice originating thousands of years ago. A Witch can be a Pagan and embrace the beliefs and ethical views of any branch of Paganism, but some choose to practise solely as a Witch. Witches are not bound, unless they choose to be, to any specific ethical or moral doctrine.

In 1974, a group called the Council of American Witches formed. Unfortunately, they also disbanded in the same year, but were together long enough to put together an outline of beliefs. Now, this is very Wicca-specific but as many different Wiccan traditions have differing beliefs, this cannot be all-encompassing, but I felt it does sum up rather nicely the beliefs in general of most Pagans I have come to know.

In seeking to be inclusive, we do not wish to open ourselves to the destruction of our group by those on self-serving power trips, or to philosophies and practices contradictory to those principles. In seeking to exclude those whose ways are contradictory to ours, we do not want to deny participation with us to any who are sincerely interested in our knowledge and beliefs, regardless of race, color, sex, age, national or cultural origins, or sexual preference.

We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the Moon and the seasonal Quarters and Cross Quarters. We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique responsibility towards our environment. We seek to live in harmony with Nature, in ecological balance offering fulfilment to life and consciousness within an evolutionary concept.

We acknowledge a depth of power far greater than that apparent to the average person. Because it is far greater than ordinary it is sometimes called ‘supernatural’, but we see it as lying within that which is naturally potential to all. We conceive of the Creative Power in the universe as manifesting through polarity-as masculine and feminine-and that this same Creative Power lies in all people, and functions through the interaction of the masculine and feminine. We value neither above the other, knowing each to be supportive of the other. We value sex as pleasure, as the symbol and embodiment of life, and as one of the sources of energies used in magickal practice and religious worship.

We recognize both outer and inner, or psychological, worlds – sometimes known as the Spiritual World, the Collective Unconscious, Inner Planes, etc. – and we see in the interaction of these two dimensions the basis for paranormal phenomena and magickal exercises. We neglect neither dimension for the other, seeing both as necessary for our fulfilment.

We do not recognise any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who have courageously given of themselves in leadership. We see religion, magick and wisdom-in-living as being united in the same way one views the world and lives within it – a world view and philosophy of life which we identify as Witchcraft, the Wiccan way.

Calling oneself ‘Witch’ does not make a Witch – but neither does heredity itself, nor the collecting of titles, degrees and initiations. A Witch seeks to control the forces within her/himself that make life possible in order to live wisely and well without harm to others and in harmony with Nature. We believe in the affirmation and fulfilment of life in a continuation of evolution and development of consciousness, that gives meaning to the Universe we know, and our personal role within it. Our only animosity towards Christianity, or toward any other religion or philosophy of life, is to the extent that its institutions have claimed to be ‘the only way’, and have sought to deny freedom to others and to suppress other ways of religious practice and belief.

As [American] Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the Craft, the origins of various terms, the origins of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with our present and our future. We do not accept the concept of absolute evil, nor do we worship any entity known as ‘Satan’ or ‘the Devil’, as defined by Christian tradition. We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor do we accept that personal benefit can be derived only by denial to another.

We believe that we should seek within Nature that which is contributory to our health and well-being.

Council of American Witches, 1974

In addition to the above points, the following can also be descriptive of Pagan beliefs:

Deities

Beliefs can differ when it comes to deity. Most believe that a creative force exists in the Universe, which is sometimes called “The One” or “The All”. Little can be known of this force. Most regard the Goddess and the God as representing the female and male aspects of The All. These deities are not “out there somewhere”; they are imminent in the world.

Many regard various pagan Gods and Goddesses (Pan, Athena, Diana, Brigit, Zeus, Odin, etc.) as representing various aspects of the God and Goddess. Specifically to Wicca, the term itself normally implies that the person’s religion is based upon Celtic spiritual concepts, deities and seasonal days of celebration. While the holidays (Sabbats) are Celtic concepts, not all Pagan practice is based on Celtic spirituality. Some Pagans include beliefs, practices, and symbols from ancient Pagan religions (e.g. Egyptian, Greek, various mystery religions, Roman, Sumerian), or upon Aboriginal religions (Native American Spirituality, Shamanism). Some are actually agnostics, who take no position on the existence of a supreme being or beings. They look upon the Goddess and God as archetypes, based on myth. It cannot be stressed enough that Pagans have no supernatural being in their pantheon of deities who resembles Satan in trait and characteristics.

Respect for Nature

Paganism covers a variety of natural religions, grounded in the earth. All living things, including stars, planets, humans, animals, plants, etc. are regarded as having a spirit. Many rituals deal with bringing harmony and healing to nature. Pagans tend to share a great concern for the environment.

Gender Equality

We celebrate the sexual polarity of nature. For example, the fertilising rain is one manifestation of the male principle; the nurturing earth symbolises the female. Females are respected as equal (and sometimes at a slightly higher rank) to males. A priestess is often the most senior person among a coven, a local group of Witches. They aim for a female-male balance in most of their covens, although men are typically the minority – a dynamic that is slowly changing as well.

Human Sexuality

Sexuality is valued, and regarded as a gift of the Goddess and God, to be engaged in with joy and responsibility, and without manipulation. Pagans generally accept the findings of human sexuality researchers that there are normal, natural and unchosen sexual orientations such as heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality, and all the in-betweens. Some Pagans celebrate “The Great Rite” which can involve ritual sexual intercourse. However, it is consensually performed by a couple in private.

Afterlife

Pagans have a wide range of beliefs when it comes to the Afterlife. Some believe in ancient legends of a Summerland, where souls go after death. Here, they meet with others who have gone before, review and integrate their previous lives on earth, and are eventually reincarnated into the body of a newborn. Some believe that after many such cycles – perhaps some as female and others as male; some lives with a high standard of living and others in poverty; some in positions of power and others suffering oppression – that the individual accumulates sufficient experience to go on to another level of existence about which we know nothing.

Some see an individual’s personality, memory, abilities, talents, etc. as functions of the human brain, which degrades and disintegrates at death. They do not anticipate any form of continuity after death.

Other Pagans anticipate continuity after death in some very narrow senses – either that the molecules that go to make up our bodies may in turn be incorporated into other living entities, or that our influences on children, friends, and society in general will continue to have influences on the next generations.

Three-fold Law, Law of Return or Karmic Law

Some Pagans, usually Wiccans, believe in this law – whether it be three-fold, seven-fold, etc. or simply give and you shall receive.

The Three-fold Law states that “All good that a person does to another returns three-fold in this life; harm is also returned three fold.”

The Law of Return, or Karmic Law, is simply “What you put out, you will receive back”. The reason for some Pagans preferring this law over the Three-fold Law is their belief that it would be unfair of the universe to give you something back threefold when you’ve only put it out the once.

If you have any questions regarding anything written here, feel free to contact me for clarification or elaboration.



Paganism & Witchcraft

As is well-documented, there is no strict regime when it comes to Paganism, in general. All paths have different rituals and practices that they stick to. There are some similarities in the practices, however, and that’s what we’ll be looking into here.

Ritual itself is not all about celebration; it’s about completion, fulfilment and manifestation. It is a way for us to become closer to the divine nature within ourselves, and consummate our relationship with the spiritual world. It is through ritual, like prayer or meditation, that we learn to fit together our world with that of the divine. We undertake ritual in our daily lives; some of us would never get anything done if it were not for ritual! In a spiritual context, however, this is where we use a set of specific words and/or actions to create sacred space in which to become closer to the divine and also remind us of our inner divinity – something that everyday ritual might not bring to us. To assist in the creation of sacred space, one might consider an altar.

Altars

An altar does not have to look any particular way; it is up to the Practitioner as to what they have access to, and how they feel about the arrangement of the altar. After all, what might work for one person might not work for another. Generally speaking, the altar will have some form of honouring the Goddess and the God, and may also have representations of the five elements – Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit.

To give you some insight on my own personal practice, on my altar I have a bowl of salt representing Earth, incense representing Air, an athame representing Fire, and a bowl of water representing (you guessed it!) Water. To represent Spirit, I have a candle, as I believe the Spirit is the flame that burns inside us and keeps us bright and alive. To honour the Goddess and God, I have two small lava-stone statues, one male and one female, that I bought on a trip to Vanuatu, and in front of each of them I have a small tea-light candle to give them light and life when I carry out rituals or spells. Altars might also house various little nick-nacks like shells, a wand, a chalice, crystals and stones, statuettes, etc. – anything to create a space sacred and comfortable for the Practitioner.

Altars can be permanent or temporary. Some choose not to have their altars on display all the time for various reasons – they might live in a house with other people and might not want to share their altars; they might not have the space for a permanent altar; or they might just feel that the altar is just for them and not to be viewed by others. Others prefer to keep their altars ‘permanent’; that is, the altar is always set up, ready to go (this could, however, be in a spare or small room, a backyard, etc.). I personally prefer to have my altar set up permanently as, for me, it’s a constant reminder of my Path and what I’ve dedicated myself to (as well as the fact that I’m completely lazy and prefer to have everything ‘raring and ready to go’!) and as a person with low motivation, it tells me “HEY! I’m sitting here! USE ME!”.

The reasons for having an altar initially are various: it could be to better focus on the intention of a ritual or spell; to create a sacred space that is for the Practitioner who uses it; to have a place to honour the God and Goddess; to just get into ‘the mood’ of ritual; or any combination of these things – the reasons are endless.

But in the end, after the altar is set up, it doesn’t really matter what is on it. You could have a table with a single small candle in the centre and that could be your altar – what matters is the connection that you have with the Divine, and your reason for having an altar in the first place: worship of the Divine through ritual and practice.

Deities in Ritual

Generally, Pagans have a belief in a Goddess as well as a God. Some stick to mainly honouring the Goddess (Dianic Wiccans are particularly noted for this belief), but as Paganism often covers religions of balance, it’s difficult, at least for myself, to discount either the God or the Goddess as both are required for balance, duality and indeed the creation of life. To honour the God and Goddess, there are numerous rituals one might undertake – for example, Drawing Down The Moon is a Wiccan ritual where the person takes in, or invokes, the Goddess into her(or him)self. This isn’t possession; this is a ‘becoming one’ with nature, the divine, and everything that is responsible for our being here, and is a very empowering ritual.

Other divinity-honouring rituals might be of The Great Rite, of which there are two versions. One is where an athame, as representative of the male energy, is inserted into a chalice (representative of the female energy) point-down – this act in itself representing a consummation of male and female, and the result of such a consummation. The alternative version is an actual, sexual representation of the above, where two consenting adults carry out sexual intercourse in the name of the divine.

As a side note, no-one should ever be coerced into carrying out sexual acts with anyone. If you are asked by your coven or grove to carry out the Great Rite and you do not wish to participate, they should be able to respect your decision. If not, find another group. Similarly, you should not have to carry out The Great Rite to ‘become a witch’; the God and Goddess know their children, whether you have had sex or not!

MORE TO COME…

Paganism & Witchcraft

Do Pagans worship the Devil?
A big fat ‘NO’ to this one! The Devil is a Christian construct used in the Judeo-Christian religions to deter people from doing bad things. Since Paganism does not come under the banner of Judeo-Christianity, we have no concept of the Devil in our belief system, so the idea of worshipping the Devil is not even an option.

Do you fly around on broomsticks?
Nope – unfortunately, like all human beings, we lack the capacity to fly without the assistance of an aeroplane or helicopter. It would be really handy to be able to fly, however, with these rising petrol prices and it would have such a hugely beneficial impact on the environment.  Besides, you don’t think that if we could fly around on broomsticks, someone would have found out our secret and cashed in on the idea by now?

As a bit of background on how this came about, Witches may use a besom, or broom, to clear negative energy from their space (particularly their sacred space).  Traditionally it was a fertility rite for the land – women would run around their fields  with their brooms (to symbolise strength and straightness of the corn) and jump about to encourage it to grow.  But definitely no flying.

Do you eat babies?
Erm, No.  In fact, a lot of us don’t even eat meat!  Those of us who do eat meat, however, prefer a nice beef steak, chicken fillet or lamb chop – they’re a lot less gristly than those babi… I mean… heh. NEXT QUESTION!

Are Pagans, Wiccans and Witches all hippies?
Ok, you got us there, some of us might be. But Pagans, Wiccans and Witches are not hippies by default. A lot of us are office workers, police officers, doctors, lawyers… heck, some of us are even webdesigning geeks who have nothing better to do with their time but type up FAQs on Paganism! But really, the hippie movement is all a lifestyle choice, not something you buy into when you’re Pagan, Wiccan or a Witch. Oh, and the same goes for Goth culture – you can be a goth and not a Pagan; you can be a Pagan and not a goth.

Are Pagans/Wiccans/Witches all bra-burning feminists?
Nope, not even all the Dianic Wiccans are!  In fact, there are growing numbers of males in the Pagan community.  Most of us worship a Goddess as well as a God, and a lot of people find comfort and understanding in that concept. We don’t believe in one gender being better than the other (with maybe the exception of Dianic paths); we believe in equality between the sexes, and that means that women cannot be ‘so much better’ than men (as much as I think we are, but that’s my personal opinion – and I’m sticking to it!).

Hey, I thought a male witch was called a Warlock?
Well, I hope you haven’t called male witches a warlock lately, and if you have I hope you received a decent slap around the face with a candle snuffer, because the actual meaning of ‘warlock’ is ‘oath-breaker’, which isn’t going to look so hot on your magickal resume. Nope, male Wiccans are called Wiccans, and male witches are called Witches. Nice and easy to remember.

What about green skin, warty noses and pointy hats?
You are looking way too far into the stereotype – haven’t you realised that by now?  The only time when we have green skin is when we might be feeling a little nauseous, and the pointy hats, well, they went out of fashion centuries ago. As for warts, we can still have them, but they’re not always on our noses, and it’s definitely not the sign of a witch. Although, I do have a wart on my finger that’s never really gone away…

What’s with the knife? Is that for practicing sacrifice?
Knife? What knife? I told the officer there was no kn… ohhh, you mean the athame! Well, you should have said so! An athame (pronounced ath-ah-may) is a blunt, usually double edged blade used for ritual. It’s not to ever be used for harming anything or anyone (them’s the rules, people), but rather as a tool for directing energy to its required location, for example while casting circle. As for sacrifice, you obviously haven’t read my article on Magickal Ethics, because Wiccans do not believe in harming anything, at least not intentionally (face it, it would be impossible to go through life without harming anything at all!).  We are bound by karmic law, which states that anything we send out comes back. It’s a good deterrent for anyone thinking of practising human sacrifice, which went out of fashion with the pointy hats.

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Paganism & Witchcraft

These were featured in Scott Cunningham’s Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner, 1988. The further notes are from The Wiccan Way. I have not intended to break any copyright – however if you are the author and do not approve of my reposting these descriptions of each point, please email me and I’ll remove them.

  1. Know Yourself
    Take time to learn about yourself. Keep daily journals as well as sleep journals. Record your thoughts, experiences during meditation, your goals and anything else you think that is important. Use your dream journal to build a base line so that you can interpret your dreams because dreams are the way our shadow self talks to us. Endeavour to heal your shadow self. Use your daily journals to understand your thoughts and motivations. In other words, step back and examine yourself, your life, your goals and what you want and who you really are.
  2. Know Your Craft
    Study and practice the Craft. Through exploring the different aspects and theories of the Craft you will become more adept and begin to form your own theories and practices that work best for you. Take classes offered in your area such as tarot, meditation among other things that interest you. Attend public rituals to gain insight into how others practice. Talk to other Wiccans and exchange ideas and experiences.
  3. Learn
    The learning never ends when you are a witch. Read and study everything that you can and never dismiss any knowledge out of hand. You never know where a revelation may be hiding.
  4. Apply Knowledge with Wisdom
    Use the wisdom you have gained to temper your actions. Wisdom is a gift given to the wise and the wise use their wisdom to make the best decisions available. To apply knowledge without wisdom is reckless and can be dangerous in certain situations. The truly wise never claim to know everything or claim the status as an authority or guru, because no one knows everything. Do not abuse the knowledge you have acquired.
  5. Achieve Balance
    Wicca is a religion of balance. We embrace the light and dark, the God and Goddess; neither is more important than the other. Both have a purpose. We are to achieve balance in our lives. Such as balance in the self, home, personal relationships, what we take from the earth and what we give back and so on. A balanced life is a good life.
  6. Keep Your Thoughts in Good Order
    This goal goes hand in hand with Goal 7. As a witch, your thoughts manifest reality in accordance with your will. Once you have reached a level of magical development you can set events in motion without even realising it. A disciplined mind reduces those occurrences and aids in magical works. Your thoughts manifest before words are even formed.
  7. Keep Your Words in Good Order
    As thoughts manifest reality in conformity to your will, so do words. Words are the verbalisation of your thoughts and therefore carry power. To not mind your words is the same as spreading chaos magically. Discipline in minding your words adds meaning to what you speak and enhances their effectiveness in magical workings as well as the mundane world.
  8. Celebrate Life
    This one is somewhat self-explanatory. Live your life to the fullest and make every day a celebration of life. Life is a gift from the God and Goddess and they wish us to have a good time while here. Essentially, don?t be afraid to enjoy your life.
  9. Attune with the Cycles of the Earth
    This is one of the basic concepts of Wicca. Our holidays, Sabbats, are based upon the Wheel of the Year, with the Wheel of the Year being based on the cycles of the Earth. We are to experience nature and understand that we are part of it, it is part of us and how it affects us. It is another mystery of Wicca that one has to experience to truly understand.
  10. Breathe and Eat Correctly
    This one is self-explanatory as well. We are to eat the proper foods and practice our breathing. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the food we eat or occasionally indulge. What it means is that we should eat a proper diet because it will help to make our bodies healthy. A healthy body not only makes us feel better and live longer; it aids us in our magical works and makes the mundane tasks easier.
    Learning to breathe correctly aids in the raising of energy, focus, stress relief and meditation.
  11. Exercise the Body
    This is a difficult goal for many people but it is an important one. Our bodies are wondrous things that the God and Goddess have blessed us with. We should respect the bodies we have been given and keep them in shape. A healthy body feels better both physically and emotionally. We also live longer and are less encumbered during mundane activities and magical ones as well. To exercise the body is to honour the God and Goddess.
  12. Meditate
    Meditation is a key skill in the working of magic. It allows us to focus our thoughts thereby focusing our will. It also helps us in our mundane life as well. It reduces stress and helps us get through our mundane tasks by being able to focus and think clearly.
  13. Honour the Goddess and the God
    We should honour the God and Goddess in everything we do. They are a part of us as we are a part of them. We are all connected. By honouring them we honour ourselves and our fellow humans. We also honour our Gods through rituals and celebrations. We do this because we love them and we desire to not because we fear them.