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Subject: Alt.Religion.Wicca Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This article was archived around: 19 Mar 2000 22:04:11 -0800

All FAQs in Directory: religions/wicca
All FAQs posted in: alt.religion.wicca, alt.magick.tyagi
Source: Usenet Version

Archive-name: religions/wicca/faq Posting-Frequency: monthly (full moon) Last-modified: 9 June 1995 (URL's added November 1996) URL: http://www.pobox.com/~wicca Anonymous FTP: ftp://ftp.teleport.com/users/rain/wicca/arwfaq.txt
Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess; she in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven, and whose body encircles the universe: "I who am the beauty of the green earth, and the white moon among the stars, and the mystery of the waters, call unto thy soul: Arise, and come unto me. For I am the soul of nature, who gives life to the universe. From Me all things proceed, and unto Me all things must return; and before My face, beloved of gods and of men, let thine innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite. Let My worship be within the heart that rejoices; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals. And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you. And thou who thinkest to seek Me, know that thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the Mystery: that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without. For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire." - from Doreen Valiente's "Charge of the Goddess" This list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) is designed as an introduction to Wicca and to this newsgroup as well as a reference for those investigating the religion of Wicca for the first time. This FAQ was first composed in March 1995 as a composite of three drafts by different authors: Lleu (wizard@bga.com), fireyes@computel.com and Rain@teleport.com. Thanks to Lorax (tyagi nagasiva), Ounce, Karen, Janice Barlow, Anthony Thompson, Daniel Cohen, Balachandra, Bruce Jones and C.M. Joserlin ("Raven") for their helpful and thoughtful comments at various stages of this project. Their views have enriched it greatly. 1 Introductions 1.1 What is this group for? 1.2 What is Wicca and how is it related to Paganism? 2 Basic Orientation 2.1 What are some common, basic beliefs in Wicca? 2.2 What god(desse)s do Wiccans worship? 2.3 What tools and rituals do you use? 2.4 Is there a set liturgy or liturgical calendar? 2.5 What is basic Wiccan thealogy? 2.6 What are Wiccan ethics, the "Wiccan Rede" and "three-fold law?" 3 Wiccan Beliefs and Practices 3.1 Can I be a Christian/ Jew/ Muslim/ Buddhist/ Taoist/ Astrologer/ Druid/ Shaman/ omnivore/ whatever and a Wiccan? 3.2 What are "dedication" and "initiation" in Wicca? 3.3 Do all Wiccans practice magic/k? 3.4 Is Wicca the same thing as witchcraft? 3.5 What were "the Burning Times?" 3.6 What are the origins of Wicca? 3.7 What are the major traditions in Wicca? 3.8 What is the "Book of Shadows?" Where do I get one? 3.9 What is a coven and how do I join one? 3.10 How do I witness about Jesus Christ to a Wiccan? 3.11 How do I learn more about Wicca? 4 Resources 4.1 Introductory books on Wicca 4.2 Other Internet Newsgroups 4.3 Wiccan Organizations 4.3 Wiccan Periodicals 4.4 Respected authors 4.5 Other Internet Resources 5 Copyright and Distribution Notice Introductions 1.1) What is this group for? Established in December 1994, alt.religion.wicca is a Usenet newsgroup for the discussion of Wicca, also known by some as Wicce, Goddess Worship, the Old Religion, Witchcraft (with a capital "W") or simply "the Craft." 1.2) What is Wicca and how is it related to Paganism? "Wicca" is the name of a contemporary Neo-Pagan religion, largely promulgated and popularized by the efforts of a retired British civil servant named Gerald Gardner. In the last few decades, Wicca has spread in part due to its popularity among feminists and others seeking a more woman-positive, earth-based religion. Like most Neo-Pagan spiritualities, Wicca worships the sacred as immanent in nature, drawing much of its inspiration from the non-Christian and pre-Christian religions of Europe. "Neo-Pagan" simply means "new pagan" (derived from the Latin _paganus_ , "country-dweller") and hearkens back to times before the spread of today's major monotheistic (one god) religions. A good general rule is that most Wiccans are Neo-Pagans but not all Pagans are Wiccans. Please consult alt.pagan or the alt.pagan FAQ for more general information on Neo-Paganism. 2 Basic Orientation 2.1 What are some common, basic beliefs in Wicca? In addition to its positive view of nature, many find Wicca more welcoming of women than other religions, with an emphasis on personal experience and a tolerance of other paths. As a whole, Wiccans value balance with a respect for diverse complexity, seeing sexuality and embodiment as essentially positive, spiritual gifts. There is a sense of personal connection to the divine life source, which is open to contact through "psychic power," mysticism or "natural magic." 2.2 What god(desse)s do Wiccans worship? Although some Wiccans focus on particular gods from particular world mythologies, Wiccans may worship many god(desse)s by many different names. Most worship some form of the Great Goddess and Her consort, The Horned God. Such duo-theistic forces are often conceived as embodying complementary polarities, not in opposition. In some traditions worship of the Goddess is emphasized, although in others the Goddess and God are seen as complementary co-equals. The Goddess and God may be seen as associated with certain things (such as the Goddess with the earth or moon, God with sun and wildlife, etc), but there are no hard and fast rules. Some traditions worship the Goddess alone while others see Divinity as essentially beyond human understanding, with "Goddess" and "God" simply a convenient shorthand. 2.3 What tools and rituals do you use? Some ritual items are common to almost every Wiccan tradition, such as the athame (ritual knife) and chalice (ritual cup). Others may be used by some traditions but not others: bells, brooms, candles, cauldrons, cords, drums, incense, jewelry, special plates, pentacles, scourges, statues, swords, staves and wands. The meaning of these items, their use and manufacture will differ among traditions and individuals. Usually a Wiccan ritual will involve some sort of creation of sacred space (casting a circle), invocation of divine power, sharing of dance/song/food or wine and a thankful farewell and ceremonial closing. Rituals may be held at Wiccan "sabbats" or "esbats" (see below) or to mark life transitions such as births, coming-of-age, marriages/handfastings, housewarmings, healings, deaths or other rites of passage. 2.4 Is there a set liturgy or liturgical calendar? Most Wiccans mark eight holiday "sabbats" in the "wheel of the year," falling on the solstices, equinoxes and the four "cross-quarter days" on or about the first of February, May, August and November. The names of the sabbats may differ between traditions, and many Wiccans also mark "esbats," rituals for worship in accordance with a given moon phase (such as the night of the full moon). Although there is no one source for all Wiccan liturgy, many liturgical items such as the methods for casting the circle, the "Charge of the Goddess," certain myths and formulaic expressions are common to many traditions. Some common formulaic expressions include "hail and welcome/farewell," "blessed be" (sometimes abbreviated on the net as B*B) and the closing "Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again." There is no one bible or book of common prayer for all Wiccans, however, and great value is placed on creativity, poetry and the artful integration of different myths and ritual elements. 2.5 What is basic Wiccan thealogy? Some myths and associations are common to many Wiccan traditions, such as the Goddess' giving birth to the Horned God, the theme of their courtship and His death, the descent of the Goddess into the realm of death and others. Another thealogical point held in common by many Wiccans is the *immanence* of deity/divinity within the natural world, self and cycle of the seasons. This places value on the earth and this world, as distinguished from views of transcendent divinity and an unenchanted creation. Wiccans as a whole are very much "into" cycles: of life, of the moon and seasons. Cyclical change as an erotic dance of life, death and rebirth is a popular theme in Wiccan imagery, ritual and liturgy. (_Thea_ is Greek for "goddess," by the way, so "thealogy" is not a typo here, but a way of emphasizing the Goddess.) Although it may be foolhardy to compare things as complex as religions, people do. Many Wiccans distinguish themselves from Satanists, for example, in preferring complementary views of divinity to adversarial ones. Others may note their own comfort and embrace of ambiguity and polytheism (many gods). Unlike the Jewish, Christian or Islamic traditions, there is little emphasis on interpretation of "scripture" or a revealed text. Although many Wiccans may believe in some sort of reincarnation, they may distinguish themselves from Buddhists in seeing life as a journey or adventure without any desire to "leave the wheel" of return. Like Hindus, Wiccans may pride themselves on their tolerance for other paths, like Buddhists they may value personal insight and like Taoists they may seek to align themselves more perfectly with nature. Some Wiccans may separate themselves from the "New Age" in their value for both "light" and "dark" aspects of existence, a do-it-yourself attitude and a distrust of money or hierarchies of "enlightenment" which seem to place spirituality up for sale. 2.6 What are Wiccan ethics, the "Wiccan Rede" and "three-fold law?" Wiccan ethics are seldom codified in a legalistic way, but may be informed by some common expressions such as the "Wiccan Rede" and the "three-fold law." According to most versions of the three-fold law, whatever one does comes back to one thrice-multiplied, in amplified repercussion. One short, rhymed version of the Wiccan Rede states "Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An it harm none, do what you will." Often "none" is interpreted to include the doer themself in analogy to the "golden rule" of other faiths. There are no universal proscriptions regarding food, sex, burial or military service and Wiccans, as a rule, discourage proselytization (attempts to convert others to a different religion). 3 Wiccan Beliefs and Practices 3.1 Can I be a Christian/ Jew/ Muslim/ Buddhist/ Taoist/ Astrologer/ Druid/ Shaman/ omnivore/ whatever and a Wiccan? Since much of Wicca is more worldview and ceremonial practice than anything else, there is no Wiccan proscription of such things. Most traditions have no requirement to denounce any other faith and, indeed, Wiccans often look askance at "one true wayisms" which claim to have a monopoly on truth, divine revelation or enlightenment. "Christian Wiccans" probably face the largest skepticism, however, given the history and ongoing reality of allegedly "Christian" persecution. Prejudice (fear of job-loss, child-custody challenges, ridicule, vandalism and even violence) may still keep many Wiccans "in the broom closet," with concealment and dual observances a traditional Wiccan defense against persecution. This may make contact with Wiccans difficult in some areas. Since Wiccan worship is fairly active by its nature, non-participating observers are rarely invited to Wiccan rituals. 3.2 What are "dedication" and "initiation" in Wicca? These things mean different things in different traditions. Usually "dedication" ceremonially marks the beginning of Wiccan study, while "initiation" may mark full membership in a coven/tradition (such as after "a year and a day") or may indicate elevation in skill or to special clergy status. Some traditions look on all initiates as co-equal clergy, while others have grades or "degrees" of initiation, which may be marked by distinct sacramental ceremonies, duties or expectations within the tradition. Some people claim that "only a Witch can make a Witch," whereas others say that only the Goddess and God or demonstrated skill can make a witch. Doreen Valiente was initiated by Gardner himself, but slyly asks "who initiated the first witch?" Valiente and others assert that those who choose to "bootstrap" a coven into existence (by an initial initiation) or to use self-initiation may do so, citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Self-dedications are also quite common among new practitioners and solitary Wiccans ("solitaries"). 3.3 Do all Wiccans practice magic/k? That depends on what one means by magic. The occultist Aleister Crowley helped re-popularize archaic spellings such as "magick", terming his "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will." Others may think of magic as folk parapsychology or see the changes wrought as primarily changes in consciousness. Ceremonialists may distinguish between the "high magick" of ritual observance and the "low magic" of practical spells (such as for protection and health). Almost all Wiccans, however, have some sort of ceremony or psychological practice to better attune themselves with divinity, encouraging insight and a sense of efficacy. Others may cast love spells or other curses but no, we don't do it for strangers on the net and no, we don't confuse this with stage magic. 3.4 Is Wicca the same thing as witchcraft? The short answer is no. Many cultures have a negative word like "witchcraft," often viewing it as a malevolent, supernatural tool used by the weak, old or malicious. Some people use the term "witchcraft" to cover more general skills, such as counseling, the occult and herbcraft. Some Wiccans call themselves "Witches," capitalizing it as a gesture of solidarity with the victims of the Burning Times, but this is a personal decision. Although many Wiccans today may cast spells and practice magic/k, these are not considered an integral part of Wicca by all Wiccans. Wicca is not traditional folk magic and all magic is not necessarily Wiccan, anymore than all people who pray belong to any particular religion. 3.5 What were "the Burning Times?" "The Burning Times" is the term used by many modern Neo-Pagans and feminists to refer to the great European witch-hunts of the early modern period, coincident with the time of the reformation and seen by many as a crucial step in Christianity's crushing of the Pagan religions, driving these underground. Some authors claim as many as ten million people were killed in these hunts, while more recent scholarship puts the number of documented deaths at 20-100 thousands, 80-90% of these women. Sometimes these numbers are doubled to account for non-judicial killings and deaths from torture, suicide, etcetera. Whatever the numbers, however, victims of these hunts are perceived as martyrs by Wiccans today, with the lessons of intolerance, misogyny and religious terror clearly noted. 3.6 What are the origins of Wicca? This is a matter of some debate within Wiccan circles. Some Wiccans see their inspiration and traditions as coming directly from the gods. Certain Wiccan mythology holds that Wicca has come down from the stone age, surviving persecution in secret covens for hundreds of years. Others say that their Wicca is a long-held family tradition (or "fam trad"), passed down through villages and grandmothers. Aidan Kelly argues that modern Wicca was largely pieced together by Gerald Gardner from Margaret Murray, Charles Leland and other sources, with significant revisions by Doreen Valiente (and others), beginning in 1939. Whatever its origins, Wicca today is a vibrant, modern religion, open to change, creativity and personalization. 3.7 What are the major traditions in Wicca and where do they come from? Aidan Kelly argues that all of Wicca derives from Gerald Gardner, with some crucial editing and revision by his initiate Doreen Valiente. Alex Sanders is widely thought to have acquired a Gardnerian book of shadows, with which he started his own "Alexandrian" tradition, initiating Janet and Stewart Farrar. Other well-known traditions include Raymond Buckland's Seax Wicca, Victor and Cora Anderson's Faery Wicca and feminist Dianic Wicca, which emphasizes the Goddess as put forward by such authors as Zsuzsanna Budapest. There are also branches of Wicca identifying themselves with various ethnicities and traditions such as druidism, shamanism and so forth. 3.8 What is the "Book of Shadows?" Where do I get one? The Book of Shadows (or "BoS") is sort of a customized reference book for Wiccans, containing useful information such as myths, liturgical items, one's own writings or records of dreams and magical workings. According to Gerald Gardner, such a book should be handcopied from teacher to student but in practice not every Wiccan has a "book of shadows" and few are exactly alike. Sometimes only initiates are allowed access to a tradition's book, or it may be called by a different name, such as "mirror book," "magical diary" or "grimoire." There are many "books of shadows" available in print and on-line (leading to the "disk of shadows" or even "directories of shadows" several megabytes large). If you'd like to copy from these sources for your personal use, you may assemble your own book, but please observe copyright laws in your newfound enthusiasm. 3.9 What is a coven and how do I join one? The coven is the basic, cellular "congregation" for some Wiccans, but is often very formal, selective and closed, aiming for an ideal of "perfect love and perfect trust" among members. Most Wiccans begin in less formal ways such as attending festivals, public rituals, classes or more open groups (often called "circles"). Many Wiccans probably begin and continue practice as "solitaries," whether before, after or while a member of a coven. Solitary practice is a valid "tradition" in the Craft, but some good places to find other Wiccans are on the net, at public Pagan events or through occult, political or "new age" bookstores. 3.10 How do I witness about Jesus Christ to a Wiccan? First of all, please don't do it here. Alt.religion.wicca is explicitly for discussions on Wicca and Wiccan practice: evangelical posters are not welcome. Those posting and reading here are adults, many of whom are or have been Christians, have read a bible, heard of Jesus and considered their beliefs as seriously as you have yours. The more you know about Wicca, however, the more intelligent you will seem and you are certainly welcome here as long as you remain on-topic. Reading this FAQ is a good first step, and in general it is a good idea to "lurk" and read for a while before posting to ANY newsgroup. Please keep in mind, however, Wicca's distrust of proselytization and its conscious lack of an evangelical tradition. Posts which claim we are all going to hell or blather about TRUE POWER!!! [IN ALL-CAPS!!!] are particularly inappropriate, and may be answered with e-mail complaints to you and/or your service provider. 3.11 How do I learn more about Wicca? Sticking around and reading this group is one way, as are books and local contacts. Below is a list of initial resources, beginning with the books most frequently recommended, two historical books and a few well-respected authors. At least a few of these should be available through your local library, and most are easily ordered through any local bookstore. All contain bibliographies and pointers towards other material. 4 Resources 4.1 Introductory books on Wicca Margot ADLER, _Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America Today_ (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979). Second, 1986 edition, ISBN 0-8070-3253-0. Newest Arkana ISBN 0-14-019536-X. STARHAWK, _The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess_ (San Franciscso: Harper & Row, 1979). Second, 1989 edition, ISBN 0-06-250816-4. Scott CUNNINGHAM, _Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner_ (St Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1992). ISBN 0-87542-118-0. Stewart FARRAR, _What Witches Do: A Modern Coven Revealed_ 1983 (Custer WA: Phoenix, 1989). ISBN 0-919345-17-4. Silver RAVENWOLF, _To Ride a Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft_ (St Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1993). ISBN 0-87542-791-X. Aidan A. KELLY, _Crafting the Art of Magic: A History of Modern Witchcraft, 1939-1964_ (St Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1991). ISBN 0-87542-370-1. Ronald HUTTON, _The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy_ (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991). Paperback ISBN 0-631-18946-7. Other authors who are generally well thought of include Amber K., Zsuzsanna Budapest, Janet and Stewart Farrar, Gerald Gardner, Jade and Doreen Valiente. 4.2 Other Usenet Newsgroups that may be of interest alt.pagan soc.religion.paganism alt.religion.shamanism alt.magick alt.religion.druid soc.religion.shamanism alt.mythology alt.religion.asatru talk.religion.misc alt.divination alt.magick.tyagi talk.religion.newage alt.tarot alt.satanism alt.pagan.magick 4.3 Wiccan/Neo-Pagan Umbrella Organizations Covenant of the Goddess, PO Box 1226, Berkeley CA 94704, United States. http://www.caw.org/ Universal Federation of Pagans, PO Box 6006, Athens GA 30604, USA. New Wiccan Church (Gard/Alex), PO Box 162046, Sacramento CA 95816, USA. Witches Against Religious Discrimination, PO Box 5967, Providence RI 02903. Alliance for Magical & Earth Religions, PO Box 16551, Clayton MO 63105, USA http://inner-sanctum.com/magus/AMER/ Military WARD, PO Box 2610, McKinleyville CA 95521-2610, United States. The Pagan Federation (British, address same as for _Pagan Dawn_, below). http://www.paganfed.demon.co.uk/ Circle Network (address same as _Circle Network News_, below_). http://www.circlesanctuary.org/ 4.4 Established Wiccan/Neo-Pagan Periodicals Green Egg, PO Box 1542, Ukiah CA 95482-1542, United States. Circle Network News, PO Box 219, Mt Horeb WI 53572, United States. Enchante, 30 Charlton St #6F, New York NY 10014-4295, United States. Pagan Dawn (formerly The Wiccan), BM Box 7097, London WC1N 3XX, U.K. Beltane Papers, 1333 Lincoln St #240, Bellingham WA 98226, United States. 4.5 Other Internet Resources Other resource lists are posted to this group from time to time, including lists of FTP sites, WWW urls, offers of materials and reference files. Among those we found particularly useful in writing this FAQ (and explicitly tried *not* to duplicate or replace here) are the US Army "Chaplain's Manual" entry on Wicca and the alt.pagan newsgroup FAQ. Both are recommended for those with further interest in Wicca and Neo-Paganism, as are the Yahoo pages on Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft: http://www.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Religion/Paganism/ http://www.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Religion/Wicca_and_Witchcraft/ 5 Copyright and Distribution Notice Doreen Valiente retains copyrights to all her copyrighted material, but the rest of this FAQ is in the public domain as a service and gift of the Goddess. We ask all who distribute it to keep it intact and attribute it when quoted or reproduced elsewhere. This FAQ is posted to alt.religion.wicca once each full moon, and to other forums as seems appropriate. It is also available on the World Wide Web and by anonymous FTP as noted in the header. * "Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An it harm none, do as you will" * --- end of file, Alt.Religion.Wicca FAQ, 469 lines with URLs ---