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Wicca

Overview of practices, tools, rituals, etc.

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Their practices include:

bulletOrganizational Structure: Wicca is one religion (the largest) within Neopaganism. Other Neopagan groups include individuals and groups who are reconstructing Druidic, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Sumerian, ancient mystery religions and other ancient spiritual traditions.

Many, perhaps most, Witches are solitary practitioners; they perform their rites alone. Others form covens which are informal groups of Wiccans. There is often no hierarchy beyond the coven; there is no state, provincial or national organization. Finally, some covens have a High Priestess and/or Priest democratically elected by the group to that office.
 

bulletVisibility: Virtually everyone has heard of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. But among the three religions that are close to being tied for fourth place in the United States, almost everyone has heard of Buddhism and Hinduism. If you mention Wicca to the average American, you will probably receive a blank stare. A major reason for this is that many Wiccans tend to keep their religion secret; they fear physical and economic attack. A recent survey of 3,798 Wiccan visitors to a web site showed that:
bullet17% are totally "in the closet."
bullet33% allow only their closest friends and/or family know that they are Wiccan.
bullet30% are somewhat "out of the closet."
bullet20% only are totally "public" with their religion. 1
 
bulletPeriodic rituals: Wiccans try to meet out of doors where possible. North American climate and concern for personal safety usually forces them indoors. They gather in a circle, which is often nine feet in diameter. Candles on the circumference are usually oriented to the four cardinal directions. Some Wiccans align the candles to the walls of the room. An altar is at the center of the circle or at the northern candle. Rites begin with a casting of the circle, in which the circle is outlined and purified, and the candles lit. A space is thus created within the circle; this is sometimes visualized as a sphere, or as a cylinder or cone. The purpose of this space is to confine healing energy until it is released.

The central portion of each meeting may celebrate the full moon, a new moon, a Sabbat or a special Wiccan ceremony. It might include healing, divination (scrying, Tarot cards, Runes, etc.), teaching, consecration of tools, discussion, or other life-affirming, nature based activities. After the major work is completed, food (perhaps cakes and wine) is eaten, and the circle is banished. Because of the increasing concern over addictions to alcohol and other drugs, many covens have replaced wine with juice, water etc.
 

bulletWiccan tools: Hardware which are used to perform Witchcraft rites often look like common household items. Although there is much variation among individual Wiccans and their covens, the following are typical:
bulletAthame (double sided, ritual knife; often black handled) used for many purposes, but never for cutting. It is either created by its owner, or is a re-worked purchased knife. A sword is sometimes substituted for the athame.
bulletAn altar, which may be of any shape or material. It may contain:
bulletA bowl of salt representing the element earth.
bulletIncense representing the element air.
bulletTwo candles representing the Goddess and God.
bulletA bowl of water representing the element water.
bulletA bell which is rung to delineate sections of the rite.
bulletA pentacle (a 5 pointed star engraved on a disk).
bulletA chalice or goblet and perhaps a libation bowl to hold a drink. They may also hold water, which is used in many rituals.
bulletA cauldron, for mixing herbs and essences.
bulletA wand or sword to cast the circle.
bulletA circle, typically 9 feet in diameter, formed from a rope or row of small rocks, a marking on the ground or floor, etc.
bulletFour candles just outside the circle, at the four cardinal directions.

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bulletWiccan Sabbats: (Seasonal days of Celebration) There are eight Wiccan Sabbats, spaced about 45 days apart during the year. Four of these are minor Sabbats: the two equinoxes of March 21 and September 21st when the daytime and nighttime are each 12 hours long. The Saxons added the two solstices of December 21, (the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere) and June 21 (the shortest night of the year). Actually, the exact date of these Sabbats vary from year to year and may occur from the 20th to 23rd of the month. The major Sabbats are also four in number. They occur roughly midway between the minor Sabbats, typically at the end of a month. Different Wiccan traditions assign various names and dates to these festivals. Perhaps the most common names are Celtic: Samhain (Oct. 31), Imbolc (Feb. 2), Beltane (Apr. 30), and Lammas (Aug. 1). Dates are approximate. Some Wiccans observe the Sabbat within a few days of the nominal date. The Sabbats are believed to have originated in the cycles associated with hunting, farming, and animal fertility.
 
bulletRites of passage: These include:
bulletDedication, when a person confirms an interest in the craft.
bulletInitiation, when a person symbolically dies and is reborn as a Wiccan; a new name is adopted.
bulletHandfasting was originally a marriage for a one year period. Most Wiccans now regard it as creating a permanent partnership.
bulletParting of the Ways, which recognizes the end of a marriage.
bulletWiccaning, which welcomes a baby into the craft, but does not obligate the child in any way.
bulletFuneral Ceremony, a requiem for a Wiccan who has died.

Many Wiccans write their own rituals for special occasions in their life. Three examples are given in the web site of Mary Amanda referred to below.
 

bulletThe Great Rite: This rite is meant to symbolize the sexual union of the Goddess and God which is said to have created all life, and to renew it every spring. It is a frequently used expression of the positive view that Wiccans have toward human sexuality. This ritual is normally performed symbolically, often after the main work is completed, at the beginning of the sharing of the food and beverage. In a coven, a male is selected to hold the athame while a female is selected to hold the chalice, which has been filled with either wine, ale, juice, or water before this time. The male holds the athame high above the chalice, blade downward, and words similar to the following are spoken:
Both: "All fruits of the Earth are fruits of your union, "Your Womb, your Dance, Lady and Lord. "Come, join with us, feast with us, enjoy with us."
Priest: "As the athame is to the God,"
Priestess: "So the chalice is to the Goddess."
Both (as the priest lowers the athame into the chalice): "And together, they bring blessedness."

Some Wiccan couples who form a loving, committed and sexually active relationship include an act of sexual intercourse during their Great Rite. Again, this symbolizes the union of the God and Goddess. This is done in private and involves only the two Wiccans.

Reference:

  1. Norm Vogel, "Witchcraft: The facts," at http://www.nvogel.com/fact.html His survey is at:  http://pub21.bravenet.com/vote/vote.php?usernum=1785118146&cpv=1

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Copyright © 1995 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-MAY-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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