Wicca 101: Common Questions

When thinking about Halloween, minds fly to the spooky side of the holiday-- the dead rising from their graves, wolves howling at the moon, skeletons dancing in the streets and green-skinned witches flying around on broomsticks. 

Wait... green skin...broomsticks? These stereotypes are inherent to fictional witches, but that is not the reality of witches today. 

Although witches like the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus, Hermoine Granger from the Harry Potter series, Fiona Goode from American Horror Story: Coven and Willow Rosenberg from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series are what often grace people's minds, real-life witches are incredibly different. Generally classified as a Neo-Pagan religious tradition, witches today can take many forms. Some Pagans practice witchcraft, while others (including myself) practice a religion called Wicca, which draws upon ancient pre-Christian religious traditions, to form a new, updated form of witchcraft. Unfortunately, I'm often questioned about multiple misconceptions, so today I'm going to be giving clearing up the some of the common concepts of Wicca. Keep in mind, however, that I do not speak for all witches, or all Wiccans. The information provided will be a generalization of Wicca, with bits and pieces of information incorporated with my personal experiences and beliefs. 

Isn't Wicca worshipping the devil?

Absolutely not! Although witchcraft in most movies, especially those in the horror genre, portray witches as devil-worshippers, in reality, Wicca does not even recognize the existence of a figure meant only to cause pain and suffering. Rather, Wiccans worship the God and the Goddess. This is a pair of deities, viewed less as separate entities and more as halves of a whole, representing the masculine and feminine forces of the world. However, this is not something that all Wiccans believe. Some believe that all male deities are aspects of the God, and all female deities are aspects of the Goddess, making Wicca polytheistic. Some say that it is dual theistic. It is a complicated thing to explain, as there are many paths to Wicca and no generalized statement exists to define what Wiccans worship. The one thing we don't worship, however, is the devil.

But don’t Wiccans use a pentagram?

Nope! Although Wiccans use a similar symbol to the pentagram, also known as the Baphomet, it is fundamentally different. Essentially, the pentagram and the pentacle are reversed images, with the pentagram having a bit of extra writing and imagery. While a pentagram is used to worship Satan in the Church of Satan, a pentacle is used only for protecting the user or wearer of the symbol, not to dedicate a blood sacrifice to a demon. 

Image via The Mystical Witch 

Do you sacrifice animals?

Nope! Wiccans in general follow a set of rules called the Wiccan Rede, which can be summed up in just eight words: “and ye harm none, do what ye will.” This is often followed up by the Threefold rule, where whatever you put out into the world will come back to you magnified by three. So, if you put good force out into the world, like by making a charitable donation, you will find some good coming back to you threefold, whether that be by finding a bit of extra cash when you need it or having someone support you on a bad day. If you put negative force into the world though, such as by harming or killing an animal, that negative force will return threefold to you- a friend might get diagnosed with a debilitating disease, a loved one might be harmed in an accident, or something similar. So, long story short, no, we don’t harm animals or people or anything like that.

What makes someone Wiccan?

A person is Wiccan when they follow the basic beliefs of Wicca and commit themselves to learning the Craft. This can be done in a group, called a coven, or alone.

Is witchcraft different from Wicca?

Yes. Pagans of all sorts may practice witchcraft, but not every Pagan or Neo-Pagan that practices witchcraft is Wiccan. Wicca is a specialized version of witchcraft started in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner, but has since diversified somewhat. In general, there are differences between Wicca and witchcraft, but to put it simply not all witches are Wiccan.

Is Wicca a religion?

Yes! Although the views of Wiccans are incredibly diverse, including which or how many deities to worship, what can and can’t be done with the Craft and thousands of other differences, Wicca is a religious movement. At its core and most general, Wiccans follow the Wiccan Rede (so no hexes or curses), believe nature should be respected, worship some form of deity that is connected to the world, and use the Craft.

Can anyone be Wiccan?

Yes! Wicca isn’t an exclusive club that you have to apply to or give money to in order to be Wiccan. Many Wiccans practice alone, their only expenses the occasional book on the subject or a visit to a witchy shop to buy things like crystals and tarot cards, depending on the Wiccan in question. People of other religions also incorporate Wicca into their religion. For example, Christian Wiccans are very much a “thing,” with such practitioners of the Craft usually recognizing the Christian God as one deity, and the Wiccan goddess as another. Wicca is, in general, a very inclusive religion, and is open to everyone, no matter their age, size, skin color, sexual orientation or gender identity, or anything else we might discriminate by. Everyone is welcome.

Image from Florida A & M University Libraries 

What draws people to Wicca?

This is a hard question to answer, as it is very different for each person, so I’m just going to say why I was drawn to Wicca.

Personally, I like the freedom of Wicca. You aren’t expected to go to a church or synagogue or another form of worship service every week. You decide when, where, and how to worship the God and Goddess. You aren’t told what to believe by a higher-up, at least in most branches of Wicca. You have the freedom to choose your deities, should you wish to put a more tangible aspect to the God and Goddess. Most of all, though, I like the Wiccan Rede, which essentially allows you to do what you want as long as you aren’t harming anyone else either directly or indirectly.

I also enjoy the inclusiveness of Wicca. Other religions that I have experienced in my life have been somewhat exclusive. Christianity has the whole “anti-gay-rights” thing, as do many other Abrahamic faiths and texts, as well as the “my God is the one true God, and if you don’t believe in Him you will burn in Hell for eternity” syndrome, for lack of a better term. Wiccans, although not without our biases, especially in some sects, in general try to be inclusive of all practitioners. Men, women, young, old, gay, straight, bi, genderqueer, black, Asian, white and more- all are able to practice Wicca if they so choose. In general, Wiccans also believe in reincarnation, or at the very least, a realm after death called the Summerland where all souls, regardless of belief or faith in life, go after they die, to await reincarnation if they should so choose. No one burns in Hell, no one is turned away.

This is just my opinion- other people have different draws, and that’s ok. I don’t pretend to speak for the Wiccan community as a whole, especially with so many different beliefs.

Are there subsets of Wicca? If so, what makes them different?

Yes. There are many different subsets of Wicca, just like there are many different versions of Christianity or other religions. What separates them is what each subset believes. Different subsets in Wicca are called paths, and although there are way too many to go in-depth with, I will try to cover the “main players,” so to speak, of Wicca.

The first path of Wicca is Gardnerian Wicca. This was founded by Gerald Gardner, and most Wiccan traditions can trace their way back to the Gardnerian roots. This tradition focuses on the Goddess over the God, and requires initiation into a coven in order to join.

Another path is Alexandrian Wicca, founded by Alexander and Maxine Sanders. This is basically the same as Gardnerian Wicca, except that it focuses on the equality of the Goddess and God.

Seax Wicca was founded by Raymond Buckland, a British author who eventually traveled to America. This path focuses mostly on Saxon pagan traditions (not Celtic) and deals with Germanic deities. No initiation is required to join, and rituals are held in the open and can be viewed by the public. Members are able to self-dedicate themselves to this path, and it can be practiced both alone and in a coven.  

Dianic Wicca is a bit of a “black sheep” in the inclusiveness of Wicca. It was founded by Zsuzsanna Budapest in the United States, around 1970. Dianic Wicca celebrates only the Goddess, not the God, and only women are allowed to join this path. Although many practitioners of this path call themselves Wiccan, to the outside Wiccan community, they are not really Wiccan.

Eclectic Wicca is a fun path, and is my own personal path. Eclectic witches can self-dedicate themselves to this path, and can practice alone or in a coven. Eclectic Wiccans also have the capability of combining beliefs from different systems of Wicca, picking and choosing what elements they feel most connected to in order to form their own path. Therefore, every Eclectic Wiccan has their own beliefs and ideals to uphold, but all still follow the Wiccan Rede. Everything else is a bit of pick-and-choose.

This is already a long article on Wicca, and although there are many more questions I hope to answer, they will be done at a later date. Hopefully this helped clear up some things about Wicca, its beliefs, and its followers. We're not out to steal your dog or turn ourselves into cats or charm a broomstick so it can fly- we just want to live in peace with everyone else.

Image from blessed-be-the-witches