Center for Faith and Vocation

Wicca

History

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 In 1951, the last of the old Witchcraft laws in England were repealed.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 other.
  • 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 and well-being.

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.

Notes

1Quoted and adapted from the Principles of Wiccan Belief, accessed on 12/7/07 from http://www.angelfire.com/realm2/amethystbt/principlesofwiccanbelief.html

Sources

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)

Organizations

Gathering Spirit: A Magical Church Community