October 31 is an important day for two religions in particular. Protestant Christians recognize that October 31, 1517 is generally taken to mark the beginning of the Protestant Reformation while Wiccans celebrate Samhain.
Wicca is a Pagan religion. Pagan religions are not Judeo-Christian in origin (6). While there are no non-Pagan varieties of Wicca, there are non-Wiccan varieties of Paganism. This article will focus primarily upon Wicca, but many of the same observations can be made concerning Paganism as well.
Paul Tutéan and Estelle Daniels are the authors of Essential Wicca. Daniels, who is an astrologer, high priestess, and author of several books including Astrological Magick and Pocket Guide to Wicca trains in a Wiccan coven and is a member of the Wiccan Church of Minnesota which was co-founded by the late Tutéan. Tutéan was likewise a teacher, but in the area of metaphysics. He was also a lecturer and co-authored Pocket Guide to Wicca.
Wiccan churches have been granted tax-exempt status in the past, but at the time the aforementioned book was written the authors had no knowledge of any Wiccan church large enough to qualify (10, 13). Still, the tax-exempt status that has been granted in the past signifies a legal recognition of Wicca as a religion not unlike many others in the United States which qualify for tax-exempt status (13). Wiccans also have legally recognized and credentialed clergy (10). As a Pagan religion, Wiccans typically place the origin of their religion in pre-Christian indigenous European shamanic religious traditions (6, 11).
Wiccans practice magick (the “k” is added to distinguish Wiccan practice from other types of “magic” like performing arts magic), claiming to “KNOW magick works,” as saying that they, “believe in magick is not a strong enough statement to make it work” (8).
Belief implies a margin of error, a measure of doubt. We KNOW magick works. If you are a practicing Wiccan for any length of time, you have seen magick work enough times to realize how well it can work, but sometimes it works in ways different from your expectations. (8)
Witches (both male and female Wiccans are called “witches;” a “warlock” is not the proper term for a male witch) work their magick, make spells, and worship in magick Circles in order to better their lives and the lives of those close to them (16). Because Wiccans are all considered Priests and Priestesses they do not require intermediaries for access to their Gods and so perform their rituals and ceremonies themselves as opposed to having others do so for them (15). This Wiccan view of Priests and Priestesses fits well with an already strongly emphasized individualism amongst witches. Wicca is quite unlike many other religions in that its adherents do not usually gather for a few hours each week with large groups of people (14-15). Instead, witches generally form small, close-knit groups if they worship with other witches at all. Hence Wicca is not to be considered a mainstream religion, but a, “lifestyle and world-view as much as anything else,” wherein, “people do for themselves what they feel necessary for worship and spiritual satisfaction” (15-16).
The individualistic nature of Wicca is still said to allow for similarities amongst Wiccans, with Wiccans having, “more in common than they do differences” (7).
With all the differences, it is good sometimes to remind ourselves just how much we do have in common.
- Dual polarity of Deity
- Belief in reincarnation
- Respect for all – human, animal, plant, mineral, celestial, and spiritual kingdoms alike
- Immanence of Deity
- Respect for the Earth Mother
- Turning the Wheel and changing seasons mark the Sabbats
- Eight Solar Sabbats and 12 or 13 Lunar Esbats
- Wicca is a free choice religion – no proselytizing
- All Initiates are Priests and Priestesses
- Equality of all sexes and races
- Magickal Circle is used for worship and celebration
- Education and learning are valued and continually pursued
- Wicca is counterculture and somewhat underground (7)
One significant aspect of Wicca, again, is that it constitutes a “world-view” (15). Being Wiccan, “usually means you, “practice your religion every day, all the time,” and, “It is a lifestyle and world-view as much as anything else” (15).
What should matter is not the history, but how effective Wicca is as a religion for the individual people practicing it. Does it work in the good times? Does it help you through the bad times? Does it help answer the big questions for you? Does it help you to be a better person? If you answer to any or all of these questions is yes, then Wicca is a positive and beneficial force in your life. That should be the test of a religion, not how old it is or who invented it and when. (25)
The concepts of worldview, lifestyle, effectiveness, good and bad times, ultimate questions, personal improvement, positivity, and beneficence especially in terms of the individual are philosophical concepts that allow for more thorough analysis of Wicca as a worldview.
The book mentioned above, Essential Wicca, “contains substantial information about Wiccan philosophy” (9). According to the authors, in the course of, “describing how to do things, and why we do and believe what we do and believe, a good deal of the philosophy inevitably becomes part of the explanations” (9). Wicca is taken to be a, “true religion” with, “people of deep spiritual convictions and a faith and world-view that answers life’s questions for us” (13). The clarity of the Wiccan’s view of his or her religion as an all-encompassing philosophical worldview is captured well in the concept of paradigm.
To become Wiccan necessitates some changes in one’s mind-set and lifestyle. We call this paradigm shifting. Wiccan values and priorities are not necessarily the same as those of the mainstream culture, which in the English-speaking world is predominantly Christian, but our values are quite compatible with most people’s, mainly it’s a question of emphasis. (8)
Unlike Christianity which, “narrowly defines what is and is not acceptable dogma, beliefs, and practices,” Wicca is, “inclusive about what is considered religion and spirituality” (10). There are not any “masters” of Wicca who control or even guide Wiccan activity, and Wiccans are “anti-organization” (13). Wiccans refuse to, “allow anyone else to dictate what we will do,” and largely for this reason find it difficult to create any organizations that are, “larger than the thirteen member coven” (13). Individualism permeates Wicca, as does pragmatism, as Wiccans, “generally believe whatever works for you is right for you” (8).
“Take what works, change what you need to, discard what doesn’t work. We only borrow from the very best.” (8)
Recall that pragmatism is even offered as an evaluative tool for testing religions. Questions a Wiccan might ask oneself about other religions and Wicca itself are how “effective” Wicca is for the “individual,” whether or not it will “work” when things are good or “help” when things are bad, and whether or not it will, “help you to be a better person” (25). Yet Wiccans are also still concerned about Wicca helping to, “answer the big questions” (25).
The strong individualism that characterizes Wicca has been alluded to several times already. One of the reasons for this strong theme of individualism is that unlike some more familiar world religions, there is no authoritative revelation. While in Wiccan belief there are, “many ways that Deity can communicate to us” these communications are usually claimed within the context of choosing a particular deity to worship (142). Not only is such communication generally thought of as the initiatory rather than normative, but it is obscure rather than clear or plain. As already noted there are, “many ways that Deity can communicate to us” and it is suggested to the Wiccan to, “Pay attention to your dreams or attractions,” and the Wiccan might, “find your Deity that way” (142).
Wiccans are adamant that there is nothing in Wicca like an authoritative revelation given to them by their deitie(s), and therefore Wicca is significantly lacking in anything like absolute dogma or doctrine:
Wicca is not a religion for people who want a ready-made set of beliefs, Deities, practices, and rules. There is no Holy Bible in Wicca. There is no one God the Father who is above all others. There is no one right, true, and only way to practice Wicca. (14)
Wicca is unique as a religion in that it lacks a doctrine imposed by a hierarchical organization, does not provide a bible or holy book to which Wiccans can turn for spiritual guidance and instruction, includes a number of Traditions, allows individuals to worship and practice by themselves, and significantly assumes that each person will develop and continue to refine their own belief system and spiritual practices. (6)
Because there is no one holy book, Wiccans are constantly reading, studying, and learning about things that pertain to their religious life, and life in general. (15)
In Wicca there is no one sourcebook for the practice and faith. There is no Holy Bible from which all the Wiccan teachings, doctrine, and worship are derived. There is also no one right, true, and only way to be a Wiccan. Wicca is more a spiritual path and way of life than just a set of teachings and practices. (33)
Wicca as a religion is different from mainstream Judeo-Christian religion in that there are very few absolutes, little dogma or doctrine, but rather a more general guideline of beliefs that most Wiccans share in common. (28)
There is no set doctrine that mandates certain beliefs or practices with regards to Deity. (30)
It is clear that in Wicca individualism is not only emphasized, but the only ultimate authority just is the individual. Everything in Wicca is left up to the speculation of the individual including such essential features of a worldview as the selection of a deity to worship, how to worship that deity, the nature of that deity, the nature of the universe, absolutes, dogma, doctrine, and the like.
How each individual Wiccan views the Universe and interacts with their Gods is a personal choice. There is no set doctrine that mandates certain beliefs or practices with regards to Deity. Apart from the general belief that Deity manifests in both male and female forms, what speculation there is about life, the Universe, and everything is considered to be just that – speculation, with no definitive pronouncements from on high. (30)
Wicca is an inherently autonomous worldview.
The individualistic nature of Wiccan is considered by some Wiccans to be, “both a strength and a weakness” (7). Alleged “weakness” stemming from individualism includes an inevitable number of disagreements amongst Wiccans such that, “Wiccans have a tendency to go off by themselves if they are not happy with the current state of things in the local coven, group, community, or whatever” (7). Wicca is, “not a strongly cohesive religion” (7). In attempting to estimate how many Wiccans there are (“estimates range from twenty thousand to one hundred thousand plus”), Wiccans run into the seemingly insurmountable difficulty of even being able to, “agree on who is and is not a Wiccan” (9). Wiccans recognize that this difficulty stems from the fact that, “Wiccans are strongly encouraged to think for themselves” in the autonomous fashion described already (7).
After the rejection of authoritative revelation that was described earlier the Wiccan has no choice but to strongly affirm the centrality of autonomous decision making within the context of his or her all-encompassing Wiccan worldview:
Wicca is a religion of choice, self-determination, and self-responsibility. (14)
We believe in self-determination and consciously choosing what to and not to participate in from the latest fads to political movements to how we choose to use the Earth and her resources. (9-10)
Wicca is a religion of choice (few people have been born into a Wiccan household), and it behooves most teachers to be sure the choice to study Wicca is a mature and intelligent one and not just rebellion, fad, or whim. (11-12)
Wiccans are constantly learning, changing, and growing. Wiccans are expected to evolve and adapt to life and the world. Wiccans constantly ask why or why not? So, in many ways Wiccans are similar to many other people who think, act, and determine for themselves how they live. (17)
Which Deities any particular Wiccan chooses to worship is entirely up to the individual. The Gods worshipped by Wiccans are, for the most part, not jealous Gods. You can simultaneously worship several, or just one, or even generically (The Goddess and The God). Which Goddess and/or God you worship is your own private business. (31)
Wicca is a free choice religion. (32)
We firmly believe that there is no one right, true, and only style of Wicca. (5)
One of the major credos of almost all Wiccans is “And it harm none, do what you will.” (12)
Ethics are very important in Wicca, because of the personal responsibility each Wiccan is expected to hold. Each person must form their own ethical belief system and do their best to adhere to it. (35)
While Wiccans form their own ethical belief systems, they also have a number of ethical tenets that they generally affirm. Some Wiccans attempt to condemn a number of activities that they consider unethical as well.
Wiccans cite that they are, “Goddess worshippers” and because of the, “strong maternal bent” to their beliefs are thus, “vehemently opposed to any form of child abuse” (11). Perhaps in response to caricatures of their religion, Wiccans insist that they are opposed to abuse and child abuse in particular:
Wiccans cannot and do not generally condone any type of abuse whatsoever, especially in a ritual or religious setting. In fact many Wiccans try to teach abuse awareness and counsel what to do when confronted by abuse. (12)
Wiccans also vehemently oppose any sort of physical or sexual abuse of children or adults. (29)
Wiccans are generally open about sexuality but still guard the innocence of children. (29)
Wiccans are commonly more accepting of alternative sexualities and lifestyles, but this absolutely does not include abuse. (29)
Children are to be properly educated and protected from those who would harm them. (29)
The authors of Essential Wicca also claim, “We are not involved with any illegal activities including selling drugs and/or gun-running, pornography, or white slavery to finance our organizations” (12). Additionally, “Wiccans have a strong ethic that prohibits taking money for teaching Wiccan or for granting degrees of Initiation” (32).
Two main ethical tenets or principles of Wicca are the Wiccan Rede and the Law of Three (28):
“An ye harm non, do what ye will.” The Wiccan Rede (pronounced reed) is generally considered the main guiding tenet of Wicca. It mandates that you can do whatever you want, but only if it harms no one including yourself. This implies a person should always be aware of the myriad consequences of each action, and how others might feel or respond. It definitely does not give a person free rein to act without regard to consequences. Most Wiccans consider an action before actually doing anything. If harm might result from the action, they assess the various levels of harm and then choose the action that will likely cause the least harm, or offer the most benefit while harming the least. (28)
“Whatever you do will return to you threefold.” The Law of Three is used as a way of monitoring day-to-day behavior. It means that if you send love, you will receive love threefold; if you send animosity or negativity, that too will return threefold. It is this main tenet that prevents Wiccans from cursing others. 28
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule is a corollary to the Law of Three and simply a good guideline to live by. Through people may want to be treated in widely differing ways, the Golden Rule mandates a person think about and take personal responsibility for their actions and the consequences of these actions. (29)
The principles described above serve as guidelines, “but as the modern world is full of compromises and contradictions, each person must think actively about which compromises and contradictions are acceptable and which are not” (35). Indeed, while, “Other religions have a ready-made ethical code and rules which adherents are expected to abide by,” Wiccan ethics, “can change, evolve, and grow over time” and as metaethical theory is concerned, “Each Wiccan builds their own” (35).
Wiccans affirm the autonomy of the individual in questions of revelation and ethics, but they do not stop there. Wiccans are wholly autonomous with respect to their belief, descriptions, selections, and worship of their god(s).
Some Wiccans are Deistic, believing that a spiritual entity created the Universe but that now we are on our own. Some are monotheistic, believing there is only one Deity, but that it takes many forms and attributes. Some are polytheistic, believing there are many different Gods, each with their own characteristics and areas of influence. Some are Gnostic in outlook and belief, holding that each person is to see Deity in their own way, and that each person’s religious revelations and experiences are true and valid for them. There is no absolute right, true, and singular way to experience Deity or view the Universe. Some Wiccans are even agnostic or atheistic. (30)
Unlike most religions, there is no definitive list of gods that witches worship. Instead, “Each Wiccan makes their own choice,” and, “this should be a personal and private one” (141). With respect to god(s), “You have the right to work with whomever you are comfortable with,” and, “can say no to anyone” (142).
The next post will contrast some of the Wiccan beliefs outlined above with Christian beliefs and begin to perform a negative transcendental critique of Wicca.
(Tuitéan, Paul, and Estelle Daniels. Essential Wicca. Freedom, Calif.: Crossing, 2001.)