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History of Wicca

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1 History of Wicca on Mon Jan 25, 2016 7:35 pm

Wicca is a Neo-Pagan religion and a form of modern Witchcraft. Often referred to as The Craft, its adherents are commonly referred to as Wiccans, or Crafters. Developing in England in the first half of the 20th Century, Wicca was popularized in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s by Wiccan High Priest, Gerald Gardener. Wicca is typically a duo-theistic religion, worshiping a God and a Goddess, who are traditionally viewed as the Triple Goddess and the Horned One. These two deities are often viewed as being facets of greater pantheistic Godhead, and manifesting themselves as various polytheistic deities. Wicca also involves the Ritual practice of Magick, largely influenced by the Ceremonial Magick of previous centuries. Often in conjunction with liberal code of morality, known as the Wiccan Rede, but it is not adhered to by all Wiccans. Another characteristic of the craft is the celebration of seasonally-based festivals known as Sabbats, of which there are eight in number annually. There are various different denominations within Wicca, which are referred to as Traditions. They have such names as Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Feri or Fae, and Dianic. Although Wiccan views on theology are numerous and varied, the vast majority of Wiccans venerate both a God and a Goddess.
These two Deities, the God and the Goddess, are variously understood through the frameworks of Pantheism and being dual aspects of a single Godhead. Deities from diverse cultures may be seen as aspects of the Goddess or God. Wiccans regard the whole cosmos as alive, both as a whole and in all of its parts, but that such an organic view of the cosmos cannot be fully expressed, and lived, without the concept of the God and Goddess. For most Wiccans, the God and Goddess are seen as complimentary polarities in the universe that balance one another out, and in this manner they have been compared to the concept of Yin and Yang found in Taoism, believing that the God and the Goddess are genuine beings that exist independently. The Goddess is commonly being symbolized as the Earth Mother, or the Moon Goddess, which compliments the God being viewed as the Sun God or the God of the Hunt. Other names associated with the God include Cronus, Pan, Poseidon and Zeus. Another depiction of the God is that of the Oak King and the Holly King; one to rule over spring and summer, the other to rule over the fall and winter. The Goddess is usually portrayed as a Triple Goddess comprising of Maiden Goddess, as a Mother Goddess and a Crone Goddess, each of whom has different associations, namely virginity, fertility, and wisdom. The God is viewed as the spark of life and inspiration within her, simultaneously her lover and her child. According to Gerald Gardener, the Goddess is a Deity of prime importance, along with her consort the God. Many Wiccans accept the concept of polytheism, thereby believing that there many different Deities. All Gods are one God, and all Goddess are one Goddess. This means that the Gods and Goddesses of all cultures are respectively, aspects of one Supernal God and Goddess. The God and the Goddess manifest to us in dream and vision. A belief central to Wicca is that the Goddess and God are able to manifest in personal form, most importantly through the bodies of priests and priestesses via the Rituals of Drawing down the Moon (or Sun).
Belief in the afterlife varies among Wiccans although Reincarnation is a traditional Wiccan teaching back to the New Forest Coven in the 1960’s. The influential High Priest Raymond Buckland said that a human’s soul reincarnates into the same species over many lives in order to learn lessons and advance spiritually, but this belief is not universal, as many Wiccans believe in the Reincarnation of the soul through different species. Wiccans who believe in Reincarnation believe that the soul rests between lives in the Otherworld or Summerland, known in Gardner’s writings as the Ecstasy of the Goddess. Many Wiccans believe in the ability to contact the spirits of the dead who reside in the Otherworld. Wicca does not place an emphasis on the afterlife, focusing instead on the current one. If one makes the most of the present life, an all respects. Then the next life is more or less certainly going to benefit from the process.
Many Wiccans believe in Magick, a force they see as being capable of manipulation through the practice of Witchcraft. The spelling of Magick versus magic was coined by the influential Aleister Crowley, though this spelling is more commonly associated with Crowley’s religion of Thelema than with Wicca. Magick is “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.” The point of Magick in Witchcraft is to make the bendable world bend to your will. Many Wiccans believe Magick to be Law of Nature, as yet misunderstood or disregarded by contemporary science. They do not view it as being Supernatural, but being a part of the super powers that reside in the Natural. Some Wiccans believe that Magick is simply making full use of the five senses that achieve surprising results. While other Wiccans do not claim to know how Magick works, merely believing that it does because they have observed it to be so. Wiccans cast spells or workings during Ritual practices, often held inside a sacred circle, in an attempt to bring about real changes in the physical world.
Common Wiccan spells include those used for healing, protection, fertility, or to banish negative influences. There exists no Dogmatic moral or ethical code followed universally by Wiccans of all traditions, however a majority follows a code known as the Wiccan Rede, which states, “An it harm none, do what ye will.” This is usually interpreted as a declaration of the freedom to act, along with the necessity of taking responsibility for what follows. Anything that a person does will return to that person with triple force, force or with equal force on each of the three levels of body, mind and spirit, similar to the eastern idea of Karma. Many Wiccans also seek to cultivate a set of eight virtues: Mirth, reverence, honor, humility, strength, beauty, power and compassion.
In certain traditions, there is a belief on the five classical elements. They are symbolic as opposed to literal. These five elements are invoked during many Magickal Rituals, notably when consecrating a Magick circle. The five elements are: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit. Each element has been associated with a cardinal point of the compass; Earth with North, Air with East, and Fire with South, Water with West and Spirit in the Center. The five elements are symbolized by the five of the pentacle, the most prominently used symbol of Wicca. Margot Adler defined Ritual as being “one method of reintegrating individuals and groups into the cosmos, and to tie in the activities of daily life with their ever present, often forgotten, significance”.
It is noted that Rituals, celebrations and rites of passage in Wicca are not “dry, formalized, repetitive experiences”, but are performed with the purpose of inducing a religious experience in the participants, thereby altering their consciousness. There are many Rituals within Wicca that are used when celebrating the Sabbats, worshiping the Deities and working Magick. Often these take place on a full moon or in some cases, a new moon, which is known as an Esbat. In typical rites, the coven or solitary assembles inside a ritually cast and purified Magick circle. Casting of the circle may involve the invocation of the “Guardians” of the cardinal points. Alongside their respective classical element: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. These rites often include a knife called an athame, a wand, a pentacle, and a chalice, but other tools include a broomstick known as a besom, a cauldron, candles, incense, and a curved blade known as a boline. Alters are usually present in the circle, on which Ritual tools are placed and representations of the God and the Goddess may be displayed. After a Ritual has finished, the God, Goddess and Guardians are thanked and the circle is closed.
Wiccans celebrate several seasonal festivals of the year, which are known as Sabbats. Collectively these occasions are often termed the Wheel of the Year. Most eclectics celebrate a set of eight Sabbats, though in other groups, particularly those that describes themselves as following “traditional Witchcraft”, only four are followed. The four Sabbats that are common to all these groups are the cross-quarter days, and these are sometimes referred to as the Greater Sabbats. The four Great Sabbats are Candlemas, May Eve, Lammas, and Samhain. The Equinoxes and Solstices are celebrated also.
Various Rites of Passage can be found within Wicca. Perhaps the most significant of these is an Initiation Ritual, through which somebody joins the Craft. There is a traditional length of a year and a day between when a person began studying the Craft and when they were initiated. Initiation only accepts someone into the first degree, and to proceed to the second. They describe the uses of the various tools used and are given their Craft name. The third degree is the highest and it involves the participation of the Great Rite, either actual or symbolically, as well as Ritual flagellation. Handfasting is another celebration held by Wiccans, and is the commonly used term for their weddings. Some Wiccans observe the practice of a trial marriage for a year and a day. A common Handfasting is “for as long as love shall last”. Infants in Wiccan families may be involved in a Ritual called a Wiccaning, which is analogous to a Christening. The purpose of this is to present the infant to the God and Goddess for protection. Despite this, in accordance with the importance out on free will in Wicca, the child is not necessarily expected or required to adhere to Wicca or other forms of Paganism should they not wish to do so when they get older.
In Wicca there is no set sacred text. Similar to a grimoire, the Book of Shadows contains instructions for how to perform Rituals and spells, as well as religious poetry and chants. Many solitaries keep their own versions, sometimes including material taken from many works, published or not.
Various symbols are used by Wiccans, such as the Pentacle, which is a five-pointed star encompassed by a circle. This symbolizes the idea that the human, with its five appendages, is a microcosm of the universe. Other symbols that are used include the triquetra, and the Triple Moon symbol of the Triple Goddess.
There are also many solitary practitioners who do not align themselves with any particular lineage, working alone. There are also covens that have formed, but who do not follow any particular tradition, instead choosing their influences and practices eclectically. Some of these groups refer to themselves as Witches. A commonly quoted Wiccan Tradition holds that the ideal number of members for a coven is thirteen, though this is not held as a hard-and-fast rule. Some solitary Wiccans also choose to study for a year and a day before their self-dedication to the religion. Eclectic Wiccans are more often than not solitary practitioners. Some of these solitaries do, however, attend gatherings and other community events, but reserve their spiritual practices (Sabbats, Esbats, Spell-Casting, Worship, Magickal Work, etc.) for when they are alone.
Their beliefs and practices tend to be much more varied. Eclectic Wiccans do not follow a single tradition exclusively; each creates their own syncretic spiritual path by adopting, reclaiming and reinventing the beliefs and Rituals of a variety of religious traditions connected to Wicca, Paganism or Neo-Paganism. An eclectic approach to Wicca may draw from a diverse range of ancient and modern beliefs or practices. Eclecticism may also reflect theories derived from psychology and philosophy, for example, self-actualization, Jungian archetypes and Karma.
It was during the 1930's that the first evidence appears for the practice of a Pagan Witchcraft religion in England. Influences came from disparate sources such as ceremonial Magick, Folk Magick, Freemasonry, Theosophy, Romanticism, Duidry, Classical Mythology and Asian religions. The Witchcraft religion became more prominent beginning in 1951, with the repeal of the Witchcraft Act of 1735.
Gerald Gardener formed his own tradition, later termed Gardnerian. In 1964 the Craft continued to grow. Alex Sanders, who founded Alexandrian Wicca, which was predominantly based upon Gardnerian Wicca. This tradition spread quickly and gained much media attention. Around this time, the term “Wicca” began to be adopted over Witchcraft and the faith was exported to countries like Australia and the United States. It was in the United States and in Australia the new, home-grown traditions, sometimes based upon earlier, regional Folk-Magickal traditions and often mixed with the basic structure of Gardnerian Wicca, began to develop. Each of these emphasized different aspects of faith.
It was also around this time that books teaching people how to become Witches themselves without formal initiation or training began to emerge. In the 1990's, amid ever-rising numbers of self-initiates, the popular media began to explore “Witchcraft” in fictional films like “The Craft” and television series like “Charmed”, introducing numbers of young people to the idea of religious Witchcraft. This growing demographic was soon catered to through the Internet. The term “Wicca” first achieved widespread acceptance when referring to the religion in the 1960's and 1970's. Prior to that, the term “Witchcraft” had been more widely used.
The number of Wiccans worldwide is unknown, and it had been noted that difficult to establish the numbers of members of Neo-Pagan faiths than many other religions due to their disorganized structure. There is an estimated 900,000 members in the U.S. alone. Of those numbers, at least 400,000 adults identified themselves as Wiccans, compared to 8,000 in 1990. Wiccans have also made up significant proportions of various groups within the U.S. For example, there are 2,500 Military personnel identifying themselves as such.
Wicca emerged in a predominantly Christian country, and from its inception suffered opposition from certain Christian groups and some Christians have asserted that Wicca is a form of Satanism. Due to negative connotations associated with Witchcraft, many Wiccans continue the traditional practice of secrecy, concealing their faith for fear of persecution. Revealing oneself as Wiccan to family, friends or colleagues is often termed “coming out of the broom closet”. In a similar way, some people have accused Wicca of being anti-Christian. In the U.S., a number of legal decisions have improved and validated the status of Wiccans. However, Wiccans have encountered hostility from some politicians and Christian organizations, including past U.S. Presidents. Wicca is a survival of the European witch-cult that was persecuted during the Witch Trials. It is still common for Wiccans to feel solidarity with the victims of the Witch Trials.
Some have asserted that Wicca is an off-shoot of the New Age movement, a claim which is fiercely denied by most Wiccans and historians, who noted that Wicca not only predates the New Age movement, but also differs markedly in its general philosophy.


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