Basic Concepts of Wicca

Bottles with herbs, lavender flowers, paper scrolls and magic objects
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There's an old saying that if you ask any ten Wiccans about their spiritual beliefs, you'll get at least fifteen different answers. That's not far from the truth, because with hundreds of thousands of Americans practicing Wicca today (and the actual numbers remain unclear), there are thousands of different Wiccan groups in existence. There is no one governing body over Wicca, nor is there a "Wiccan Bible" that lays down a universal set of guidelines. While specific practices vary from one group to the next, there are a few ideals and beliefs common to nearly all modern Wiccan groups.

Keep in mind that not all Pagans are Wiccans, and not all Pagan traditions have the same set of principles as the core beliefs of modern Wicca.

Origins of Wicca

Wicca as a religion was introduced by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s. Gardner's tradition was oathbound, initiatory, and secret. However, after a few years, splinter groups began forming, and new traditions were established. Today, many Wiccan groups owe their basic foundation to the principles laid out by Gardner. Wicca is not an ancient religion, but Gardner did incorporate some old esoteric knowledge into his original tradition, including Eastern mysticism, Kabbalah, and British legend.

Calling Upon the Divine

Wicca acknowledges the polarity of the Divine, which means that both the male and female deities are often honored. A Wiccan may honor simply a non-specific god and goddess, or they may choose to worship specific deities of their tradition, whether it be Isis and Osiris, Cerridwen and Herne, or Apollo and Athena. In Gardnerian Wicca, the true names of the gods are revealed only to initiated members, and are kept secret from anyone outside the tradition.

Initiation and Degree Systems

In most Wiccan covens, there is some form of initiation and a degree system. Initiation is a symbolic rebirth, in which the initiants dedicate themselves to the gods of their tradition. Typically, only an individual who has attained the rank of Third Degree dedicant may act as a High Priest or High Priestess. Study is required before an individual may advance to the next degree level, and often this is the traditional "year and a day" period.

Someone who is not a member of a coven or formal group may choose to perform a self-dedication ritual to pledge themselves to the gods of their path.

Magic Happens

The belief in and use of magic and spellwork is nearly universal within Wicca. This is because, for most Wiccans, there's nothing supernatural about magic at all. Instead, Wiccans view magic as the harnessing and redirection of natural energy to effect change in the world around us. In Wicca, magic is simply another skill set or tool. Most Wiccans do use specific tools in spellcrafting, such as an athame, wand, herbs, crystals, and candles. Magical workings are often performed within a sacred circle. The use of magic is not limited only to the priesthood; anyone can craft and perform a spell with a little bit of practice.

In some magical traditions, there are guidelines as to how and why magic should be performed. For instance, some Wiccans adhere to the Law of Threefold Return, or the Rule of Three, and others may follow the Wiccan Rede. This is not necessarily universal, though, so if you're not part of a group that mandates these guidelines, you might opt not to follow them. Magic can be incorporated into ritual, or it can be used as a stand-alone practice.

The Spirit World is Out There

The concept of an afterlife is typical in most branches of Wicca, and there is a general willingness to accept interaction with the spirit world. Seances and contact with the unknown are not uncommon among Wiccans, although not all Wiccans actively seek communication with the dead. Divination such as tarot, runes, and astrology are often used as well. Whether you're holding a seance or dumb supper, or simply trying to identify and find your spirit guide, it's commonly accepted that the dead and other entities are out there and can be reached through various methods of communication.

Basic Beliefs of Wicca

While not exclusive to every single tradition, the following beliefs are some of the core tenets found in most Wiccan systems.

Divine in Nature: Most Wiccans believe that the Divine is present in nature, and so nature should be honored and respected. Everything from animals and plants to trees and rocks are elements of the sacred. You'll find that many practicing Wiccans are passionate about the environment. In addition, the Divine has polarity: both male and female. In most paths of Wicca, both a god and goddess are honored. The Divine is present in all of us. We are all sacred beings, and interaction with the gods is not limited just to the priesthood or a select group of individuals.

Karma and the Afterlife: For many Wiccans, the idea of karma and an afterlife is a valid one, although the Neowiccan view of Karma is very different than the traditional Eastern perspective. What we do in this lifetime will be revisited upon us in the next. Part of this idea of a cosmic payback system is echoed in the Law of Threefold Return. In addition, generally speaking, Wicca does not embrace the concepts of sin, heaven, or hell.

Ancestry: Our ancestors should be spoken of with honor. Because it's not considered out of the ordinary to commune with the spirit world, many Wiccans feel that their ancestors are watching over them at all times.

Holidays: ​Holidays are based on the turning of the earth and the cycle of the seasons. In Wicca, eight major Sabbats, or days of power, are celebrated, as well as monthly Esbats.

Personal Responsibility: Everyone is responsible for their own actions. Personal responsibility is the key. Whether magical or mundane, one must be willing to accept the consequences, either good or bad, of their behavior.

Avoid Causing Harm: "Harm none" is a common theme in many Wiccan traditions. While there are a few different interpretation of what actually constitutes harm, most Wiccans follow the concept that no harm should intentionally be done to another individual.

Respect for Other Beliefs: Wiccan groups generally avoid proselytizing. In Wicca, practitioners recognize that each individual must find their spiritual path on their own, without coercion.