Paganism & Witchcraft

Wiccan Ritual & Practice

As is well-documented, there is no strict regime when it comes to Wicca, in general. British Traditional Wicca (BTW), Faery Wicca, Alexandrian Wicca, etc. all have different rituals and practices that they stick to. There are some similarities in the practices of Wiccans, 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.
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 Wiccans 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.

Generally, Wiccans 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 Wicca is a religion 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 that a Wiccan might undertake – for example, Drawing Down The Moon is a 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!


FAQs – Paganism

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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