The Ohio State University

Pagan Student Association

Wicca for Non-pagans

by Julian of Dal gCais

     The purpose of this article is to introduce readers to some basic beliefs of Wicca. It is by no means inclusive, since Wicca is a very individualistic religion. To a certain extent, Wiccans have their own personal faith, which means that for any statement written about Wicca, there will be a Wiccan who disagrees with it. I wish to explain very basic tenets for people who may have only recently even heard of Wicca.

Wicca, Paganism, and Religion - Wicca is a Pagan religion, but there are many Pagan religions which aren't Wiccan. Further complicating matters, there are many different Wiccan traditions (denominations), such as Gardnerian, Dianic, and Faery, which differ as much as Catholicism, Quaker, and Baptist. Wicca has documentably been around for approximately a century, and has been recognized as a legal religion by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Divinity - Within Wicca, there are as many concepts of this as there are Wiccans. Most, but by no means all, of these concepts could fall within one of the following three categories:

  1. the Lord and the Lady - There is both a God and a Goddess. All gods are aspects of the Lord and all goddesses are aspects of the Lady.
  2. the Source/immanence/animism - There is a creative, conscious Source of the universe. Humans personify this as God or gods or goddesses because it helps us to comprehend the Source. Divinity is everywhere; it's not something that lives elsewhere; we are part of it. To many, the Earth itself is a goddess.
  3. pantheism/polytheism - There are multiple gods and goddesses. Pantheistic Wiccans usually worship a particular pantheon, such as Irish or Greek. Polytheistic Wiccans recognize the validity of all gods, even those they don't personally worship.
These categories are by no means "pure;" many Wiccans believe in a combination of these.

Morality - There is one Wiccan commandment: "An ye harm none, do as ye will." Anything that causes harm is evil; Wiccans don't have a right to judge anyone who is not causing harm. Harm applies to both yourself and others. Wiccan moral debates tend to center around what constitutes harm. Many Wiccans also believe in the Rule of Three, or Law of Threefold Return, which holds that whatever we do, good or ill, comes back to us three times over.

Afterlife - Most Wiccans believe in reincarnation. Many believe that after we die, our souls go to the Summerland (which many interpret as a poetic way of saying our souls rejoin the Divinity), and eventually we are reborn in new bodies. Some believe in Karma, that what we do in this life will influence the next; others look at it as a recycling of souls, without reward or punishment.

Holidays - Wiccans usually celebrate the solstices, equinoxes, and the four major Celtic holidays - Samhain (Halloween), Imbolc (Candlemas), Beltane (May Day), and Lughnasad (Lammas). This is frequently referred to as the Wheel of the Year. Wiccan also usually celebrate Full Moons. Some celebrate Dark and New Moons.

Nature - Many Wiccans believe that the Earth is sacred. A common part of most Wiccan rituals is calling the elements - earth, air, fire, and water. Many, but not all, Wiccans are environmentalists.

Magic - Many, but not all, Wiccans practice magic. This is NOT a cartoon casting of fireballs or turning people into toads. Many see it as a form of prayer. Some common spells are healing and protection; spells are usually only for the caster - they're not cast on other people. For most Wiccans, the lines between magic, spirituality, and nature are very blurred.

Witches - Are Wiccans witches? Many Wiccans would say yes, but there are Wiccans who aren't witches and there are witches who aren't Wiccan. The reason many Wiccans call themselves witches is because of an anthropologist named Margaret Murray, who posited that many of the people killed in the witchcraze of the 16th and 17th centuries were actually practitioners of the remnants of ancient pagan religions.

Many of the issues I've touched upon are far too complex to go into detail here. If you're interested in learning more, I'd recommend the following books:

Margot Adler
Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess- Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today.
Scott Cunningham
The Truth about Witchcraft Today.
Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.
The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess.
Robin Wood
When, Why...If: An Ethics Workbook.

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