Wicca as a magical religion - Traditional & Solitary (from Wikipedia)
As practiced by lineaged initiates, Wicca is a variety of witchcraft founded on religious and magical concepts, and most of its adherents identify as witches. As such it is distinguished not only by its religious beliefs, but by its initiatory system, organisational structure, secrecy, and practice of magic. Lineaged Wiccans generally will not proselytise, and may even deny membership to some individuals, since once initiated a person is considered to be a priest or priestess and is expected to develop the skills and responsibility that that entails. Wicca is only one variety of witchcraft, with specific beliefs and practices. Initiates worship a goddess and a god; they observe the festivals of the eight Sabbats of the year and the full-moon Esbats, using distinctive ritual forms; and they attempt to live by a code of ethics. This distinguishes the religion from other forms of witchcraft which may or may not have specific religious, ethical or ritual elements, and which are practiced by people of many religions, as well as by some atheists.[verification needed] In the Eclectic Wiccan movement there is much more variation in religious beliefs, and secrecy and organisational structure play a less important role. Generally, Eclectic Wiccans will adopt similar ritual structures and ethical principles to initiates. A few Eclectic Wiccans neither consider themselves witches nor practice magic. Many Wiccans, though not all, call themselves Pagans, though the umbrella term Paganism encompasses many faiths that have nothing to do with Wicca or witchcraft.
Wiccan views on divinity
Wicca as a religion is primarily concerned with the priestess or priest's relationship to the Goddess and God. The Lady and Lord (as they are often called) are seen as primal cosmic beings, the source of limitless power, yet they are also familiar figures who comfort and nurture their children, and often challenge or even reprimand them. According to Gerald Gardner the gods of Wicca are ancient gods of the British Isles: a Horned God of hunting, death and magic who rules over an after-world paradise (Often referred to as The Summerland), and a goddess, the Great Mother (who is simultaneously the Eternal Virgin and the Primordial Enchantress), who gives regeneration and rebirth to souls of the dead and love to the living. Gardner's explanation aside, individual interpretations of the exact natures of the gods differ significantly, since priests and priestesses develop their own relationships with the gods through intense personal work and revelation. Many have a duotheistic conception of deity as a Goddess (of Moon, Earth and sea) and a God (of forest, hunting and the animal realm). This concept is often extended into a kind of polytheism by the belief that the gods and goddesses of all cultures are aspects of this pair (or of the Goddess alone). Others hold the various gods and goddesses to be separate and distinct. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone have observed that Wicca is becoming more polytheistic as it matures, and embracing a more traditional pagan worldview. Many groups and individuals are drawn to particular deities from a variety of pantheons (often Celtic, Greek, or from elsewhere in Europe), whom they honour specifically. Some Wiccans, particularly in feminist traditions, have a monotheistic belief in the Goddess as One. Still others do not believe in the gods as real personalities, yet attempt to have a relationship with them as personifications of universal principles or as Jungian archetypes. Some Wiccans conceive deities as akin to thoughtforms. A unified supreme godhead (the "Prime Mover") is also acknowledged by some groups, referred to by Scott Cunningham as "The One"; Patricia Crowther has called it Dryghten. According to current Gardnerian Wiccans, the exact names of the Goddess and God of traditional Wicca remain an initiatory secret, and they are not given in Gardner's books about witchcraft. For most Wiccans, the Lord and Lady are seen as complementary polarities: male and female, force and form, comprehending all in their union; the tension and interplay between them is the basis of all creation. The God and Goddess are sometimes symbolised as the Sun and Moon, and from her lunar associations the Goddess becomes a Triple Goddess with aspects of "Maiden", "Mother" and "Crone" corresponding to the Moon's waxing, full and waning phases. Some Wiccans hold the Goddess to be pre-eminent, since she contains and conceives all (Gaea or Mother Earth is one of her more commonly revered aspects); the God, commonly described as the Horned God or the Divine Child, is the spark of life and inspiration within her, simultaneously her lover and her child. This is reflected in the traditional structure of the coven, which is led by a High Priestess and High Priest in partnership, with the High Priestess having the final word. In some traditions, notably Feminist branches of Dianic Wicca, the Goddess is seen as complete unto herself, and the God is not worshipped at all. Since the Goddess is said to conceive and contain all life within her, all beings are held to be divine. This is a key understanding conveyed in the Charge of the Goddess, one of the most important texts of Wicca, and is very similar to the Hermetic understanding that "God" contains all things, and in truth is all things. For some Wiccans, this idea also involves elements of animism, and plants, rivers, rocks (and, importantly, ritual tools) are seen as spiritual beings, facets of a single life. A key belief in Wicca is that the gods are able to manifest in personal form, either through dreams, as physical manifestations, or through the bodies of Priestesses and Priests. The latter kind of manifestation is the purpose of the ritual of Drawing down the Moon (or Drawing down the Sun), whereby the Goddess is called to descend into the body of the Priestess (or the God into the Priest) to effect divine possession.
The classical elements are a key feature of the Wiccan world-view. Every manifest force or form is seen to express one of the four archetypal elements — Earth, Air, Fire and Water — or several in combination.There is no consensus as to the exact nature of these elements. Some[attribution needed] hold to the ancient Greek conception of the elements corresponding to matter (earth) and energy (fire), with the mediating elements (water, air) relating to the phases of matter (fire/earth mixtures). Other exponents of the system[attribution needed] add a fifth or quintessential element, spirit (aether, akasha). The five points of the frequently worn pentagram symbolise, among other things, the four elements with spirit presiding at the top. The pentagram is the symbol most commonly associated with Wicca in modern times. It is often circumscribed — depicted within a circle — and is usually (though not exclusively) shown with a single point upward. The inverse pentagram, with two points up, is a symbol of the second degree initiation rite of traditional Wicca; some Wiccans have alternatively been known to associate the inverted pentagram with evil. In geometry, the pentagram is an elegant expression of the golden ratio phi which is popularly connected with ideal beauty and was considered by the Pythagoreans to express truths about the hidden nature of existence. In the casting of a magic circle, the four cardinal elements are visualised as contributing their influence from the four cardinal directions: Air in the east, Fire in the south, Water in the west and Earth in the north. There may be variations between groups though, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, since these attributions are symbolic of (amongst other things) the path of the sun through the daytime sky. For example, in southern latitudes the sun reaches its hottest point in the northern part of the sky, and north is the direction of the Tropics, so this is commonly the direction given to Fire. Some Wiccan groups also modify the religious calendar to reflect local seasonal changes; for instance, most Southern Hemisphere covens celebrate Samhain on April 30th and Beltane on October 31st, reflecting the southern hemisphere's autumn and spring seasons.
Wiccan morality is summarised in a brief statement found within a text called the Wiccan Rede: "An it harm none, do what you will." ("An" is an archaic word meaning "if".) The Rede differs from some other well-known moral codes (such as Christian or Islamic notion of sin) in that, while it does contain a prohibition, it is largely an encouragement to act freely. It is normally considered that the prohibition against harm also covers self-harm. It is also worth noting that "Rede" means advice, as such it is not so much a law that must be followed as advice that it is recommended one follows - not following it would be considered folly more than rule-breaking, though for a group that calls itself "Wise" it follows that such folly would be strongly avoided.
Many Wiccans also promote the Law of Threefold Return, a belief that anything that one does will be returned to them threefold. In other words, good deeds are magnified in like form back to the doer, and so are ill deeds. Many lineaged Wiccans also follow, or at least consider, a set of 161 laws, commonly called the Ardanes. Many Wiccans also seek to cultivate a set of eight virtues mentioned in Doreen Valiente's Charge of the Goddess, these being mirth, reverence, honour, humility, strength, beauty, power and compassion. In Valiente's poem they are ordered in pairs of complementary opposites, reflecting a dualism that is common throughout Wiccan philosophy. A common belief amongst Wiccans is that no magic, even of a beneficent nature, should be performed on any other person without that person's direct informed consent. This stems from the understanding that it would interfere with that person's free will and thus constitute "harm" in violation of the Rede. This especially applies to love spells.
The history of Wicca is much debated. Gardner claimed that the religion was a survival of matriarchal Pagan religions of pre-historic Europe, taught to him by a woman known either as "Dafo" or "Old Dorothy". Doreen Valiente identified these as a single person, Dorothy Clutterbuck, however modern researchers such as Philip Heselton have theorised that Dafo and Clutterbuck were two separate individuals. It has been posited by authors such as Aidan Kelly and Francis X. King that Gardner himself invented it, rewriting the rituals of an older witchcraft tradition according to his own whim, and incorporating elements from the thesis of Dr. Margaret Murray, sources such as Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches by Charles Godfrey Leland and practices of ceremonial magic. While Clutterbuck certainly existed, Ronald Hutton concluded that there was no evidence for her involvement in Gardner's Craft activities. Heselton, citing more recent evidence, concludes that she probably was involved, and that while Gardner may have been mistaken about the ancient origins of the religion, his statements about it were largely made in good faith. Gardner's account is as follows: After retiring from adventuring around the globe, Gardner encountered Clutterbuck and her New Forest coven in the region, and was initiated into the coven in 1939, where he stayed for years until England's witchcraft laws were repealed. At this point, and later claiming to fear that the Craft would die out, he worked on his book Witchcraft Today, releasing it in 1954, followed by The Meaning of Witchcraft in 1960. It is from these books that much of modern Wicca is derived. While the ritual format of Wicca is undeniably styled after late Victorian era occultism (even co-founder Doreen Valiente admits seeing influence from Aleister Crowley), the spiritual content is inspired by older Pagan faiths, with Buddhist and Hindu influences. Margot Adler puts it in Drawing Down the Moon.) He notes that all the Crowley material that is found in the Wiccan rituals can be found in a single book, The Equinox vol 3 no. 1 or Blue Equinox. Gardner is not known to have owned or had access to a copy of this book, although it is certain that he met Crowley towards the end of the latter’s life. Gardner admitted "the rituals he received from Old Dorothy's coven were very fragmentary, and in order to make them workable, he had to supplement them with other material." Some, such as Isaac Bonewits, have argued that Valiente and Heselton's evidence points to an early 20th century revival predating Gardner, rather than an intact old Pagan religion. The argument points to historical claims of Gardner's that agree with scholarship of a certain time period and contradict later scholarship. Bonewits writes, "Somewhere between 1920 and 1925 in England some folklorists appear to have gotten together with some Golden Dawn Rosicrucians and a few supposed Fam-Trads to produce the first modern covens in England; grabbing eclectically from any source they could find in order to try and reconstruct the shards of their Pagan past." Crowley published the aforementioned Blue Equinox in 1919. The idea of primitive matriarchal religions, deriving ultimately from studies by Johann Jakob Bachofen, was popular in Gardner's day, both among academics (e.g., Erich Neumann, Margaret Murray) and amateurs such as Robert Graves. Later academics (e.g. Carl Jung and Marija Gimbutas) continued research in this area, and later still Joseph Campbell, Ashley Montagu and others became fans of Gimbutas' theories of matriarchies in Old Europe. The idea of a supreme Mother Goddess was common in Victorian and Edwardian literature: the concept of a Horned God — especially related to the gods Pan or Faunus — was less common, but still significant. Both of these ideas were widely accepted in academic literature and the popular press at the time.
Secrecy and initiation
Some practitioners of lineaged initiatory Wicca consider that the term 'Wicca' correctly applies only to an initiate of a traditional branch of the religion (Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca, or their offshoots such as Seax-Wica) because eclectic Wicca is different in practice from the religion established by Gardner. However, the term has increasingly come to be adopted by people who are not initiates of a traditional lineaged coven. Eclectic Wiccans may undertake rituals of self-dedication, and generally work alone as solitary practitioners or in casual groups, rather than in organised covens. Thus eclectic Wicca shares some of the basic religious principles, ethics and the ritual system of traditional, lineaged Wicca, but not the organisational structure, or the belief that Wiccan initiation requires a transferral of power from an initiator. Therefore, some lineaged Wiccans have adopted the term 'British Traditional Wicca' to differentiate themselves from this movement. Within traditional forms of Wicca there are three degrees of initiation. First degree is required to become a witch and gain membership of a coven; those who aspire to teach may eventually undergo second and third degree initiations, conferring the title of "High Priest" or "High Priestess" and allowing them to establish new covens.
Organisation within Wicca
Lineaged Wicca is organised into covens of initiated priests and priestesses. Covens are autonomous, and are generally headed by a High Priest and a High Priestess working in partnership, being a couple who have each been through their first, second and third degrees of initiation. Occasionally the leaders of a coven are only second-degree initiates, in which case they come under the rule of the parent coven. Initiation and training of new priesthood is most often performed within a coven environment, but this is not a necessity, and a few initiated Wiccans are unaffiliated with any coven.
In contrast, Eclectic Wiccans are more often than not solitary practitioners. Some of these "solitaries" do, however, attend gatherings and other community events, but reserve their spiritual practices (Sabbats, Esbats, spell-casting, worship, magical work, etc.) for when they are alone. Some solitary Wiccans also choose to study for a year and a day before their self-dedication to the religion.
Many Wiccans use a special set of altar tools in their rituals; these can include a broom (besom), cauldron, chalice, wand, Book of Shadows, altar cloth, athame (a knife used in rituals to channel energy), boline (or a knife for cutting things in the physical world), candles, crystals, pentacle and/or incense. Representations of the God/Goddess are often displayed. The tools themselves are just that — tools — and have no innate powers of their own, though they are usually dedicated or charged with a particular purpose, and used only in that context. For this reason, it is rude to touch another's tools without permission.
Wiccans typically mark each full moon (and in some cases new moons) with a ritual called an Esbat. They also celebrate eight main holidays called Sabbats. Four of these, the cross-quarter days, are greater festivals, coinciding with old Celtic fire festivals. These are Samhain, May Eve or Beltane, Imbolc and Lammas (or Lughnasadh). The four lesser festivals are the Summer Solstice (or Litha) and Winter Solstice (or Yule), and the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, sometimes called Ostara and Mabon. See also the Wheel of the Year. The names of these holidays are often taken from Germanic pagan and Celtic polytheistic holidays. Ritual observations may display cultural influence from the holidays from which they take their name as well as influence from other unrelated cultures. Wiccan weddings can be "bondings", "joinings", or "eclipses" but are most commonly called "handfastings". Some Wiccans observe the practice of a trial marriage for a year and a day, which some traditions hold should be contracted on Lammas (Lughnasadh), as this was the traditional time for trial, "Telltown marriages" among the Irish. This practice is documented in the fourth and fifth volumes of the Brehon law texts, which are compilations of the opinions and judgements of the Brehon class of Druids (in this case, Irish). The texts as a whole deal with a copious amount of detail for the Insular Celts. Some perform a ritual called a Wiccaning, analogous to a Christening for an infant, the purpose of which is to present the infant to the God and Goddess for protection. Despite this, in accordance with the importance put on free will in Wicca, the child is not necessarily expected or required to follow a Pagan path should they not wish to do so when they get older.
DIFFERNT TRADITIONS OF WITCHCRAFT
Another well-known magical practice is divination, which seeks to reveal information about the past, present or future. Varieties of divination include: Astrology, Augury, Cartomancy, Chiromancy, Dowsing, Fortune telling, Geomancy, I Ching, Omens, Scrying and Tarot.Magical traditions
Another method of classifying magic is by "traditions," which in this context typically refer to complexes of magical belief and practice associated with various cultural groups and lineages of transmission. Some of these traditions are highly specific and culturally circumscribed. Others are more eclectic and syncretistic. These traditions can compass both divination and spells.
When dealing with magic in terms of "traditions," it is a common misconception for outsiders to treat any religion in which clergy members make amulets and talismans for their congregants as a "tradition of magic," even though what is being named is actually an organized religion with clergy, laity, and an order of liturgical service. This is most notably the case when Voodoo, Palo, Santeria, Taoism, Wicca, and other contemporary religions and folk religions are mischaracterized as forms of "magic" or even "sorcery."
Examples of magical, folk-magical, and religio-magical traditions include:
Hoodoo, Conjure, Rootwork
Kabbalistic magic, Practical Kabbalah