While at least ostensibly blamed on age-old practices of witchcraft, Wicca really only emerged as a religion unto itself in the twentieth century. The movement seems to have first gained prominence in the United Kingdom, which is probably part of why there’s a lot of Celtic symbolism and mythology involved. Perhaps the most famous name associated with Wicca is Gerald Gardner, who didn’t found the religion, but was quite significant in spreading it, and popularized the name Wicca (well, actually, he spelled it “Wica,” but it’s basically the same).
The name apparently derives from an Old English term for sorcerers. I’ve met quite a few people who identified as Wiccan, although I sometimes have to wonder how devoted anyone really is to the faith. In most religions, you have your casual believers, but also the hardcore followers who will kill or die for it. Maybe some people have that kind of passion for Wicca, but I’m just not sure I’ve seen it in my own limited observation. Maybe that’s a good thing, though.
As a whole, Wicca doesn’t have any centralized organization to dictate beliefs, and hence varies considerably from one individual follower to another. What they generally seem to share, however, is an appreciation for nature, a belief in magic spells, and a view of the masculine and feminine as important spiritual concepts. Wiccans can worship any number of different gods, but the traditional belief is in both a God and a Goddess. The former is primarily associated with horned gods like Pan and Cernunnos (even though the latter actually has antlers, not horns). The Goddess is seen to have three different parts, like the Christian Trinity or the Hindu Godhead, in this case the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. These gods can also manifest themselves in other aspects, however, allowing for Wiccans to adhere to pretty much any deity they choose. Also significant to the religion is the Wiccan Rede, “An it harm none do what ye will.”
Not a particularly novel idea, but difficult to argue with, regardless of what you think about triune goddesses and healing spells. To my mind, spells aren’t all that different from prayers. In both cases, there’s no real evidence that they’re effective, yet people persist with them anyway. I guess the way I see it, magic should do something tangible. When I see a Wiccan turn somebody into a frog, then maybe I’ll come around. And while I appreciate that Wiccan theology isn’t the sausage fest that the Abrahamic religions are, why do gods need to be male or female at all? Male and female organs evolved for the sake of reproduction, and I wouldn’t think divine beings have any need of such things. So, yes, I have problems with neopagan religions just as I do with the traditional ones, but I do have to say I’ve never heard of any big news stories about people starting wars or committing acts of terrorism in the name of Wicca. The fundamentalist preachers who see a witch under every rock strike me as much scarier than the witches themselves.
Picture by Anthony Cacciatore