One important spiritual pathway in our global civilization is Wicca. Wicca is an old word for witchcraft. As the term witchcraft has very pejorative connotations, contemporary practitioners prefer to call their craft Wicca. Wiccans see their Craft as a spiritual way of life that embraces natural magic. Wiccans celebrate the sacredness of life and seek to attune themselves with the natural world. An underlying theme in Wicca is that healing, transformation and personal empowerment can be achieved through the application of ritual magic. Wiccans often speak of the Mother Goddess and her male consort the Horned God. With these twin deities they see harmony achieved in the cosmos between seemingly opposite forces. Some Wiccans have an affinity with Taoist thought because of its emphasis on cosmic harmony between male/female, light/dark, sun/moon and so on. Wiccans may believe in and worship the Mother Goddess, while others may regard the Goddess as a mythic archetype of feminine empowerment. Some invoke a variety of pre-Christian pagan female deities such as Astarte, Gaia, Hecate and Isis. Male deities such as Pan and Woden may also be honoured. Some Wiccans may be pantheists. What must be underscored here is that Wiccans do not believe in the existence of the Devil, and contrary to much modern anti-Witchcraft literature, they do not sacrifice humans or animals to Satan.
Wiccan practitioners may have generational or ancestral connections to the Craft, or be wholly new converts to it. The Craft has a wellspring of inspiration from Celtic, Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Native American Indian, Norse and Sumerian traditions. Modern Wicca offers a kaleidoscope of thought where some devotees adhere to a particular path whereas others may borrow liberally from several traditions. Twentieth century thinkers such as Gerald Gardner, Margaret Murray and Alexander Sanders have influenced many practitioners. Yet it must be emphasised that there is a diverse spectrum of views and practices, and there are practitioners who beg to differ with the views espoused by Gardner, Murray and Sanders. These differences in viewpoint should not be interpreted as akin to denominations or sects, because this presupposes a standard creed as a litmus test for orthodox belief. Wicca is not a monolithic movement where all practitioners uphold a universal creed or liturgy.
Wiccans may operate as sole practitioners of the Craft or work within a group. A group of Wiccans is known as a coven. A coven often comprises members of both sexes, but generally the leader is female. A subordinate male priest may also be appointed to officiate within the coven. Some covens have exclusive female membership, and some of these may be wholly lesbian. There are also some gay Wiccan covens, but heterosexuality tends to prevail in the Craft.
A coven normally meets on the new and full moon (known as esbats), where magical rituals and ceremonies are performed. They also gather together for major festivals, known as sabbats, which relate to the cycle of the seasons. Celebrations vary between the northern and southern hemispheres owing to the seasonal differences.
Ritual magic takes various forms, such as the casting of spells to promote healing and well being. Some rites involve forming a circle around a cauldron, mixing up a chemical potion of herbs and essences, and invoking a goddess or god for power or protection. All magic is governed by the Wiccan golden rule or Wiccan Reede, That you harm none, do what you will. Such a rule would be incongruent if Wiccans were truly involved in sacrifices to Satan. The fact of the matter is that ritual magic is directed to harmony within oneself and harmony with nature. The casting of spells is intended to promote healing and well being, as well as protecting the earth from harm.
Some covens include a strand of sex magic where life partners either symbolically or literally have intercourse as a means to empowerment, and their union affirms both the goddess and the god. With the strong emphasis on empowerment for women in Wicca, many practitioners include ceremonies celebrating fertility, menstruation, menopause and post- menopause. As the bearers of offspring, female devotees affirm their fertility in these menstrual rites, and in a wider sense feel connected with the life- giving power in the natural world. In some rites menstrual blood may be saved for ritual blessings over plants or mother earth. In every respect, these rites speak directly to female sensitivities and are a means to affirming women. It should also be understood that whilst Wicca has great appeal for women, it should not be construed as simply an extension of the feminist movement.
Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddes Worshipper and Other Pagans in America Today (New York: Penguin, 1996)
Helen Berger, A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo- Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1999)
Ronald Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Oxford: Oxford University, 1999)
From Philip S. Johnson, “Wicca.” Sacred Tribes Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements. Read entries when you sign up for a free subscription to Sacred Tribes Journal.