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 deo’s Shadow) hit the nail on the head with what he believed to be the main indicators of Pagan belief. They are:
- Cycles are sacred. The kinds of cycles that are sacred are the cycles of life, the cycles of the seasons, the moon cycles, cycles of life and death, etc.
- The body is sacred. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one worships the body, but the body is treated as natural and sacred in Paganism. In Christianity, the body is sometimes treated as sinful; in Buddhism, the body is treated as a ‘trap for the mind’ which ought to be transcended. Paganism is somewhat unique as it doesn’t have a low regard for the body like many other religions.
As I personally have not experienced much more than Wicca, my point of view is of that aspect of Paganism, and if anyone would like to share what their beliefs and practises are if they are on another Pagan path, I will happily make a page for their explanations as well – after all, this is a resource for all kinds of Pagans, and we want to be as diverse as we possibly can.
So in terms of Wicca’s beliefs and practices (which can sometimes also be difficult to pinpoint as there are so many different types of Wicca, too), generally speaking it’s a nature-based religious path which was popularised in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner. Gardner’s claim is that it was called “Witchcraft”, that it’s followers were ‘the Wica’, and that he was an initiate of this modern survival of a witchcraft religion that had existed for hundreds of years in secret. However, these points cannot be proven; therefore Wicca is seen to be around 50 years old. (Witchcraft, however, as a practise (not a religion) has of course been around for hundreds, even thousands of years, and this cannot be argued.)
If I were to put it in one sentence, it would be: “Wicca is a nature-based, polytheistic religious path which seeks equality, balance, and achieving positive change in one’s life.”
To define what a Wiccan is, and to differentiate between a Wiccan and a Witch, my general explanation is something along the lines of:
– A Wiccan is a follower of the religion of Wicca, which was popularised in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner. Wicca is a religion based around the worship of nature and the earth we live in, achieving balance and positive change in our lives, and can involve the practise of Witchcraft. A Wiccan is always a Witch. The main difference is that a Wiccan will follow their beliefs and also practise ethically and responsibly.
– A Witch is a practitioner of Witchcraft, the artform originating thousands of years ago. Witchcraft is not a religion, but a practice. A Witch can be a Wiccan and embrace the beliefs and ethical views of a Wiccan, but some choose to practise soley 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 a Wiccan’s beliefs. Now again, do not take this as gospel as many different Wiccan traditions may have differing beliefs, but these are pretty encompassing for the majority of Wiccans.
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.
Principles of Wiccan Belief:
- 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 fulfillment 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 fulfillment.
- We do not recognize 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 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 fulfillment 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
- 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.
In addition to the above points, the following can also be descriptive of Wiccan beliefs:
Beliefs can differ when it comes to deity. Most Wiccans 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. The term “Wicca” 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 Wiccan practice is based on Celtic spirituality. Some Wiccans 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 Wiccans 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 Wiccans have no supernatural being in their pantheon of deities who resembles Satan.
Respect for Nature
Wicca is a natural religion, grounded in the earth. All living things, including stars, planets, humans, animals, plants, etc. are regarded as having a spirit. Many Wiccan rituals deal with bringing harmony and healing to nature. Wiccans tend to share a great concern for the environment.
Wiccans 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 Wiccans/Witches. They aim for a female-male balance in most of their covens, although men are typically the minority.
Sexuality is valued, and regarded as a gift of the Goddess and God, to be engaged in with joy and responsibility, and without manipulation. Wiccans generally accept the findings of human sexuality researchers that there are three normal, natural and unchosen sexual orientations: heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality. Some Wiccans celebrate “The Great Rite” which can involve ritual sexual intercourse. However, it is consensually performed by a committed couple in private.
Wiccans 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 beleive 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 Wiccans 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
Most 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 Wiccans 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.