The source of the word Wicca comes from the Anglo-Saxon word
"wicce," which means one who practices sorcery. At first this word
was used for both wise men and women, especially if they practiced
herb craft. After the Crusades, the word was used mostly when
referring to women. Wicca grew from a wide group of practices and
customs. Some of these customs have roots in Paganism, Hebrew
mysticism and Greek folklore. Wicca was also formed by the myths
and stories that were told from one culture to the next.
One view of the history of Wicca is that it came from European
fertility cults that had a goddess as the center of their faith.
Between the 1100's and 1300's the image of those who practiced
witchcraft was one of evil creatures that were involved in doing
things like eating children and participating in orgies. During
this time the Catholic Church labeled witchery a crime against God
and the Church. From the twelfth century on, punishments for
witchery included burning and excommunication, and sometimes
hanging. Between 1317 and 1319, Pope John XXII authorized a
religious court that was known as the Inquisition. Some of the
Inquisition's energies were focused on ferreting out and punishing
witchcraft. The belief was that those who practiced witchery had
made a pact with the devil. In the 1600's the Salem Witch Trials
were held in New England, and resulted in the death (by hanging)
and imprisonment of those believed to be witches. Since that time,
witches have rarely been thought of in a positive light, and those
interested in witchcraft therefore withdrew to silent and secret
groups. They practiced their craft very quietly.
In 1921, Dr. Margaret Murray wrote a book, The Witch Cult in
Western Europe, which changed some people's view of
witchcraft. This book identified witchcraft as an ancient fertility
religion that didn't have any connection to Satan or devil worship.
In 1951, the last of the old Witchcraft laws in England were
repealed. In 1954, Gerald Gardner published a book, Witchcraft
Today. In this book the author revealed himself a witch, and
he introduced the name Wicca to the public. Gardner's followers
were called "Gardnerians," and this was the first Wiccan tradition
to really be established in Europe and America. After this group,
other branches, such as the Alexandrian and Dianic were formed in
the 1960's. Since the 1970's, Wicca has become a religion that is
growing very quickly and appeals to many people who can practice
largely without fear of punishment. In 1986, a federal appeals
court ruled that Wicca was a legal religion. Wicca is therefore now
protected by the U.S. Constitution as are other religions.
Wiccans believe in The Threefold Law. The Threefold Law is that
whatever a person does, whatever energies they put out, will return
to them threefold, or three times over, in this lifetime or the
next. The basic tenet of the Wiccan Rede, or rule, is something
akin to the Golden Rule: "An' it harm none, do what ye will." In
the 1970's, the Council of American Witches (which no longer
exists) formulated a kind of basic Wiccan creed. In it are included
the following assertions1:
- We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm
of life forces.
- We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique
responsibility toward our environment.
- We acknowledge a depth of power far greater than is apparent to
the average person.
- We conceive of the creative power in the universe as both
masculine and feminine. We value neither gender above the
- We recognize both outer worlds and inner, psychological worlds,
and we see in the interaction of these two dimensions the basis for
paranormal and magical exercises.
- Witches seek to control the forces within themselves that make
life possible in order to live wisely and well, without harm to
others, and in harmony with Nature.
- Our only animosity toward Christianity, or toward any other
religion or philosophy of life, is that its institutions have
claimed to the "the one true, right, and only way" and have sought
to deny freedom to others and to suppress other ways of religious
practices and beliefs.
- We work within nature for that which contributes to our health
Wiccan witches try to live in harmony with nature. They believe
in one deity, which is called "The All." "The All" is so big that
it is divided into smaller gods and goddesses. Wiccans believe in
reincarnation, and that life is to be lived in a way that we can
learn things to be used in the next. They believe that everyone has
either a mission, or a lesson that must be learned, or a debt from
their last lifetime that has to be paid before they can move on.
After the purpose of this life is achieved, Wiccans believe they
move on to the Summerland, where they choose their mission in their
next life. Wiccans believe in karma, which makes them think about
their past actions.
1Quoted and adapted from the Principles of Wiccan
Belief, accessed on 12/7/07 from
History of Paganism and Wicca. http://www.angelfire.com/ny2/wiccan/history.html
Denise Zimmermann and Katherine A. Gleason, Wicca and Witchcraft,
Third Edition (New York: Penguin Group, 2006)
Spirit: A Magical Church Community