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Alt.Religion.Wicca Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


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Archive-name: religions/wicca/faq
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Last-modified: 9 June 1995 (URL's added November 1996)
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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess; she in the dust of whose feet are
the hosts of heaven, and whose body encircles the universe:

  "I who am the beauty of the green earth, and the white moon among the 
   stars, and the mystery of the waters, call unto thy soul:  Arise, and 
   come unto me.  For I am the soul of nature, who gives life to the 
   universe.  From Me all things proceed, and unto Me all things must 
   return; and before My face, beloved of gods and of men, let thine 
   innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite.  Let
   My worship be within the heart that rejoices; for behold, all acts of love
   and pleasure are My rituals.  And therefore let there be beauty and
   strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence
   within you.  And thou who thinkest to seek Me, know that thy seeking and
   yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the Mystery: that if
   that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find
   it without.  For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I
   am that which is attained at the end of desire."

                   - from Doreen Valiente's "Charge of the Goddess" 

This list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) is designed as an
introduction to Wicca and to this newsgroup as well as a reference for
those investigating the religion of Wicca for the first time.

This FAQ was first composed in March 1995 as a composite of three drafts
by different authors: Lleu (wizard@bga.com), fireyes@computel.com and
Rain@teleport.com.  Thanks to Lorax (tyagi nagasiva), Ounce, Karen, Janice
Barlow, Anthony Thompson, Daniel Cohen, Balachandra, Bruce Jones and C.M.
Joserlin ("Raven") for their helpful and thoughtful comments at various
stages of this project.  Their views have enriched it greatly.

1   Introductions

 1.1  What is this group for?
 1.2  What is Wicca and how is it related to Paganism?

2  Basic Orientation

 2.1  What are some common, basic beliefs in Wicca?
 2.2  What god(desse)s do Wiccans worship?
 2.3  What tools and rituals do you use?
 2.4  Is there a set liturgy or liturgical calendar?
 2.5  What is basic Wiccan thealogy?
 2.6  What are Wiccan ethics, the "Wiccan Rede" and "three-fold law?"

3  Wiccan Beliefs and Practices

 3.1   Can I be a Christian/ Jew/ Muslim/ Buddhist/ Taoist/ Astrologer/
         Druid/ Shaman/ omnivore/ whatever and a Wiccan?
 3.2   What are "dedication" and "initiation" in Wicca?
 3.3   Do all Wiccans practice magic/k?
 3.4   Is Wicca the same thing as witchcraft?
 3.5   What were "the Burning Times?"
 3.6   What are the origins of Wicca?
 3.7   What are the major traditions in Wicca?
 3.8   What is the "Book of Shadows?"  Where do I get one?
 3.9   What is a coven and how do I join one?
 3.10  How do I witness about Jesus Christ to a Wiccan?
 3.11  How do I learn more about Wicca?

4  Resources

 4.1  Introductory books on Wicca
 4.2  Other Internet Newsgroups
 4.3  Wiccan Organizations
 4.3  Wiccan Periodicals
 4.4  Respected authors
 4.5  Other Internet Resources

5  Copyright and Distribution Notice

Introductions

1.1)  What is this group for?

      Established in December 1994, alt.religion.wicca is a Usenet
newsgroup for the discussion of Wicca, also known by some as Wicce,
Goddess Worship, the Old Religion, Witchcraft (with a capital "W") or
simply "the Craft."

1.2)  What is Wicca and how is it related to Paganism?

     "Wicca" is the name of a contemporary Neo-Pagan religion, largely
promulgated and popularized by the efforts of a retired British civil
servant named Gerald Gardner.  In the last few decades, Wicca has spread
in part due to its popularity among feminists and others seeking a more
woman-positive, earth-based religion.  Like most Neo-Pagan spiritualities,
Wicca worships the sacred as immanent in nature, drawing much of its
inspiration from the non-Christian and pre-Christian religions of Europe. 
"Neo-Pagan" simply means "new pagan" (derived from the Latin _paganus_ ,
"country-dweller") and hearkens back to times before the spread of today's
major monotheistic (one god) religions.  A good general rule is that most
Wiccans are Neo-Pagans but not all Pagans are Wiccans.  Please consult 
alt.pagan or the alt.pagan FAQ for more general information on Neo-Paganism. 

2   Basic Orientation

2.1  What are some common, basic beliefs in Wicca?

     In addition to its positive view of nature, many find Wicca more
welcoming of women than other religions, with an emphasis on personal
experience and a tolerance of other paths.  As a whole, Wiccans value
balance with a respect for diverse complexity, seeing sexuality and
embodiment as essentially positive, spiritual gifts.  There is a sense of
personal connection to the divine life source, which is open to contact
through "psychic power," mysticism or "natural magic." 

2.2  What god(desse)s do Wiccans worship?

     Although some Wiccans focus on particular gods from particular world
mythologies, Wiccans may worship many god(desse)s by many different names.
Most worship some form of the Great Goddess and Her consort, The Horned
God.  Such duo-theistic forces are often conceived as embodying
complementary polarities, not in opposition.  In some traditions worship
of the Goddess is emphasized, although in others the Goddess and God are
seen as complementary co-equals.  The Goddess and God may be seen as
associated with certain things (such as the Goddess with the earth or
moon, God with sun and wildlife, etc), but there are no hard and fast
rules.  Some traditions worship the Goddess alone while others see
Divinity as essentially beyond human understanding, with "Goddess" and
"God" simply a convenient shorthand. 

2.3  What tools and rituals do you use?

     Some ritual items are common to almost every Wiccan tradition, such
as the athame (ritual knife) and chalice (ritual cup).  Others may be used
by some traditions but not others: bells, brooms, candles, cauldrons,
cords, drums, incense, jewelry, special plates, pentacles, scourges,
statues, swords, staves and wands.  The meaning of these items, their use
and manufacture will differ among traditions and individuals. Usually a
Wiccan ritual will involve some sort of creation of sacred space (casting
a circle), invocation of divine power, sharing of dance/song/food or wine
and a thankful farewell and ceremonial closing.  Rituals may be held at
Wiccan "sabbats" or "esbats" (see below) or to mark life transitions such
as births, coming-of-age, marriages/handfastings, housewarmings, healings,
deaths or other rites of passage. 

2.4  Is there a set liturgy or liturgical calendar?

     Most Wiccans mark eight holiday "sabbats" in the "wheel of the year,"
falling on the solstices, equinoxes and the four "cross-quarter days" on
or about the first of February, May, August and November.  The names of
the sabbats may differ between traditions, and many Wiccans also mark
"esbats," rituals for worship in accordance with a given moon phase (such
as the night of the full moon).  Although there is no one source for all
Wiccan liturgy, many liturgical items such as the methods for casting the
circle, the "Charge of the Goddess," certain myths and formulaic
expressions are common to many traditions.  Some common formulaic
expressions include "hail and welcome/farewell," "blessed be" (sometimes
abbreviated on the net as B*B) and the closing "Merry meet and merry part,
and merry meet again." There is no one bible or book of common prayer for
all Wiccans, however, and great value is placed on creativity, poetry and
the artful integration of different myths and ritual elements. 

2.5  What is basic Wiccan thealogy?

     Some myths and associations are common to many Wiccan traditions,
such as the Goddess' giving birth to the Horned God, the theme of their
courtship and His death, the descent of the Goddess into the realm of
death and others.  Another thealogical point held in common by many
Wiccans is the *immanence* of deity/divinity within the natural world,
self and cycle of the seasons.  This places value on the earth and this
world, as distinguished from views of transcendent divinity and an
unenchanted creation.  Wiccans as a whole are very much "into" cycles:  of
life, of the moon and seasons. Cyclical change as an erotic dance of life,
death and rebirth is a popular theme in Wiccan imagery, ritual and
liturgy.  (_Thea_ is Greek for "goddess," by the way, so "thealogy" is not
a typo here, but a way of emphasizing the Goddess.)

     Although it may be foolhardy to compare things as complex as
religions, people do.  Many Wiccans distinguish themselves from Satanists,
for example, in preferring complementary views of divinity to adversarial
ones.  Others may note their own comfort and embrace of ambiguity and
polytheism (many gods). Unlike the Jewish, Christian or Islamic
traditions, there is little emphasis on interpretation of "scripture" or a
revealed text.  Although many Wiccans may believe in some sort of
reincarnation, they may distinguish themselves from Buddhists in seeing
life as a journey or adventure without any desire to "leave the wheel" of
return.  Like Hindus, Wiccans may pride themselves on their tolerance for
other paths, like Buddhists they may value personal insight and like
Taoists they may seek to align themselves more perfectly with nature. 
Some Wiccans may separate themselves from the "New Age" in their value for
both "light" and "dark" aspects of existence, a do-it-yourself attitude
and a distrust of money or hierarchies of "enlightenment" which seem to
place spirituality up for sale. 

2.6  What are Wiccan ethics, the "Wiccan Rede" and "three-fold law?"

     Wiccan ethics are seldom codified in a legalistic way, but may be
informed by some common expressions such as the "Wiccan Rede" and the
"three-fold law."  According to most versions of the three-fold law,
whatever one does comes back to one thrice-multiplied, in amplified
repercussion.  One short, rhymed version of the Wiccan Rede states "Eight
words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:  An it harm none, do what you will."  Often
"none" is interpreted to include the doer themself in analogy to the
"golden rule" of other faiths.  There are no universal proscriptions
regarding food, sex, burial or military service and Wiccans, as a rule,
discourage proselytization (attempts to convert others to a different
religion). 

3  Wiccan Beliefs and Practices

3.1  Can I be a Christian/ Jew/ Muslim/ Buddhist/ Taoist/ Astrologer/
        Druid/ Shaman/ omnivore/ whatever and a Wiccan?

     Since much of Wicca is more worldview and ceremonial practice than
anything else, there is no Wiccan proscription of such things.  Most
traditions have no requirement to denounce any other faith and, indeed,
Wiccans often look askance at "one true wayisms" which claim to have a
monopoly on truth, divine revelation or enlightenment.  "Christian
Wiccans" probably face the largest skepticism, however, given the history
and ongoing reality of allegedly "Christian" persecution. 

     Prejudice (fear of job-loss, child-custody challenges, ridicule,
vandalism and even violence) may still keep many Wiccans "in the broom
closet,"  with concealment and dual observances a traditional Wiccan
defense against persecution.  This may make contact with Wiccans 
difficult in some areas.  Since Wiccan worship is fairly active by its
nature, non-participating observers are rarely invited to Wiccan rituals. 

3.2  What are "dedication" and "initiation" in Wicca?

     These things mean different things in different traditions.  Usually
"dedication" ceremonially marks the beginning of Wiccan study, while
"initiation" may mark full membership in a coven/tradition (such as after
"a year and a day") or may indicate elevation in skill or to special
clergy status.  Some traditions look on all initiates as co-equal clergy,
while others have grades or "degrees" of initiation, which may be marked 
by distinct sacramental ceremonies, duties or expectations within the 
tradition.

     Some people claim that "only a Witch can make a Witch," whereas
others say that only the Goddess and God or demonstrated skill can make a
witch. Doreen Valiente was initiated by Gardner himself, but slyly asks
"who initiated the first witch?"  Valiente and others assert that those
who choose to "bootstrap" a coven into existence (by an initial
initiation) or to use self-initiation may do so, citing the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.  Self-dedications are also quite common among
new practitioners and solitary Wiccans ("solitaries").

3.3  Do all Wiccans practice magic/k?

     That depends on what one means by magic.  The occultist Aleister
Crowley helped re-popularize archaic spellings such as "magick", terming
his "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with
Will."  Others may think of magic as folk parapsychology or see the
changes wrought as primarily changes in consciousness.  Ceremonialists may
distinguish between the "high magick" of ritual observance and the "low
magic" of practical spells (such as for protection and health).  Almost
all Wiccans, however, have some sort of ceremony or psychological practice
to better attune themselves with divinity, encouraging insight and a sense
of efficacy.  Others may cast love spells or other curses but no, we don't
do it for strangers on the net and no, we don't confuse this with stage
magic. 

3.4  Is Wicca the same thing as witchcraft?

     The short answer is no.  Many cultures have a negative word like
"witchcraft," often viewing it as a malevolent, supernatural tool used by
the weak, old or malicious.  Some people use the term "witchcraft" to
cover more general skills, such as counseling, the occult and herbcraft. 
Some Wiccans call themselves "Witches," capitalizing it as a gesture of
solidarity with the victims of the Burning Times, but this is a personal
decision.  Although many Wiccans today may cast spells and practice
magic/k, these are not considered an integral part of Wicca by all
Wiccans. Wicca is not traditional folk magic and all magic is not
necessarily Wiccan, anymore than all people who pray belong to any 
particular religion.

3.5  What were "the Burning Times?"

     "The Burning Times" is the term used by many modern Neo-Pagans and
feminists to refer to the great European witch-hunts of the early modern
period, coincident with the time of the reformation and seen by many as a
crucial step in Christianity's crushing of the Pagan religions, driving
these underground.  Some authors claim as many as ten million people were
killed in these hunts, while more recent scholarship puts the number of
documented deaths at 20-100 thousands, 80-90% of these women.  Sometimes
these numbers are doubled to account for non-judicial killings and deaths
from torture, suicide, etcetera.  Whatever the numbers, however, victims
of these hunts are perceived as martyrs by Wiccans today, with the lessons
of intolerance, misogyny and religious terror clearly noted. 

3.6  What are the origins of Wicca?

     This is a matter of some debate within Wiccan circles.  Some Wiccans
see their inspiration and traditions as coming directly from the gods. 
Certain Wiccan mythology holds that Wicca has come down from the stone
age, surviving persecution in secret covens for hundreds of years.  Others
say that their Wicca is a long-held family tradition (or "fam trad"),
passed down through villages and grandmothers.  Aidan Kelly argues that
modern Wicca was largely pieced together by Gerald Gardner from Margaret
Murray, Charles Leland and other sources, with significant revisions by
Doreen Valiente (and others), beginning in 1939.  Whatever its origins, 
Wicca today is a vibrant, modern religion, open to change, creativity and 
personalization.

3.7  What are the major traditions in Wicca and where do they come from?

     Aidan Kelly argues that all of Wicca derives from Gerald Gardner,
with some crucial editing and revision by his initiate Doreen Valiente. 
Alex Sanders is widely thought to have acquired a Gardnerian book of
shadows, with which he started his own "Alexandrian" tradition, initiating
Janet and Stewart Farrar.  Other well-known traditions include Raymond
Buckland's Seax Wicca, Victor and Cora Anderson's Faery Wicca and feminist
Dianic Wicca, which emphasizes the Goddess as put forward by such authors
as Zsuzsanna Budapest.  There are also branches of Wicca identifying
themselves with various ethnicities and traditions such as druidism,
shamanism and so forth. 

3.8  What is the "Book of Shadows?"  Where do I get one?

     The Book of Shadows (or "BoS") is sort of a customized reference book
for Wiccans, containing useful information such as myths, liturgical
items, one's own writings or records of dreams and magical workings. 
According to Gerald Gardner, such a book should be handcopied from teacher
to student but in practice not every Wiccan has a "book of shadows" and
few are exactly alike.  Sometimes only initiates are allowed access to a
tradition's book, or it may be called by a different name, such as "mirror
book," "magical diary" or "grimoire." There are many "books of shadows"
available in print and on-line (leading to the "disk of shadows" or even
"directories of shadows" several megabytes large).  If you'd like to copy
from these sources for your personal use, you may assemble your own book,
but please observe copyright laws in your newfound enthusiasm. 

3.9  What is a coven and how do I join one?

     The coven is the basic, cellular "congregation" for some Wiccans, but is
often very formal, selective and closed, aiming for an ideal of "perfect
love and perfect trust" among members.  Most Wiccans begin in less formal
ways such as attending festivals, public rituals, classes or more open
groups (often called "circles").  Many Wiccans probably begin and continue
practice as "solitaries," whether before, after or while a member of a
coven.  Solitary practice is a valid "tradition" in the Craft, but some
good places to find other Wiccans are on the net, at public Pagan events or
through occult, political or "new age" bookstores.

3.10  How do I witness about Jesus Christ to a Wiccan?

      First of all, please don't do it here.  Alt.religion.wicca is
explicitly for discussions on Wicca and Wiccan practice:  evangelical
posters are not welcome.  Those posting and reading here are adults, many
of whom are or have been Christians, have read a bible, heard of Jesus and
considered their beliefs as seriously as you have yours.  The more you
know about Wicca, however, the more intelligent you will seem and you are
certainly welcome here as long as you remain on-topic.  Reading this FAQ
is a good first step, and in general it is a good idea to "lurk" and read
for a while before posting to ANY newsgroup.  Please keep in mind,
however, Wicca's distrust of proselytization and its conscious lack of an
evangelical tradition. Posts which claim we are all going to hell or
blather about TRUE POWER!!! [IN ALL-CAPS!!!] are particularly
inappropriate, and may be answered with e-mail complaints to you and/or
your service provider. 

3.11  How do I learn more about Wicca?

Sticking around and reading this group is one way, as are books and local
contacts.  Below is a list of initial resources, beginning with the books
most frequently recommended, two historical books and a few well-respected
authors.  At least a few of these should be available through your local
library, and most are easily ordered through any local bookstore.  All
contain bibliographies and pointers towards other material. 

4  Resources

4.1  Introductory books on Wicca

Margot ADLER, _Drawing Down the Moon:  Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers
and Other Pagans in America Today_ (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979).  Second,
1986 edition, ISBN 0-8070-3253-0.  Newest Arkana ISBN 0-14-019536-X.

STARHAWK, _The Spiral Dance:  A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the
Great Goddess_ (San Franciscso:  Harper & Row, 1979).  Second, 1989
edition, ISBN 0-06-250816-4.

Scott CUNNINGHAM, _Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner_ (St Paul,
MN:  Llewellyn, 1992).  ISBN 0-87542-118-0.

Stewart FARRAR, _What Witches Do: A Modern Coven Revealed_ 1983 (Custer 
WA: Phoenix, 1989).  ISBN 0-919345-17-4.

Silver RAVENWOLF, _To Ride a Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft_ 
(St Paul, MN:  Llewellyn, 1993).  ISBN 0-87542-791-X.

Aidan A. KELLY, _Crafting the Art of Magic: A History of Modern Witchcraft,
1939-1964_ (St Paul, MN:  Llewellyn, 1991).  ISBN 0-87542-370-1.

Ronald HUTTON, _The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles:  Their
Nature and Legacy_ (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).  Paperback ISBN
0-631-18946-7.

Other authors who are generally well thought of include Amber K.,
Zsuzsanna Budapest, Janet and Stewart Farrar, Gerald Gardner, Jade and
Doreen Valiente. 


4.2  Other Usenet Newsgroups that may be of interest

  alt.pagan           soc.religion.paganism       alt.religion.shamanism  
  alt.magick          alt.religion.druid          soc.religion.shamanism
  alt.mythology       alt.religion.asatru         talk.religion.misc
  alt.divination      alt.magick.tyagi            talk.religion.newage
  alt.tarot           alt.satanism                alt.pagan.magick

4.3  Wiccan/Neo-Pagan Umbrella Organizations

  Covenant of the Goddess, PO Box 1226, Berkeley CA 94704, United States.
     http://www.caw.org/
  Universal Federation of Pagans, PO Box 6006, Athens GA 30604, USA.
  New Wiccan Church (Gard/Alex), PO Box 162046, Sacramento CA 95816, USA. 
  Witches Against Religious Discrimination, PO Box 5967, Providence RI 02903.
  Alliance for Magical & Earth Religions, PO Box 16551, Clayton MO 63105, USA
     http://inner-sanctum.com/magus/AMER/
  Military WARD, PO Box 2610, McKinleyville CA 95521-2610, United States.
  The Pagan Federation (British, address same as for _Pagan Dawn_, below).
     http://www.paganfed.demon.co.uk/
  Circle Network (address same as _Circle Network News_, below_).
     http://www.circlesanctuary.org/


4.4  Established Wiccan/Neo-Pagan Periodicals

  Green Egg, PO Box 1542, Ukiah CA 95482-1542, United States.
  Circle Network News, PO Box 219, Mt Horeb WI 53572, United States.
  Enchante, 30 Charlton St #6F, New York NY 10014-4295, United States.
  Pagan Dawn (formerly The Wiccan), BM Box 7097, London WC1N 3XX, U.K.
  Beltane Papers, 1333 Lincoln St #240, Bellingham WA 98226, United States.

4.5  Other Internet Resources

    Other resource lists are posted to this group from time to time,
including lists of FTP sites, WWW urls, offers of materials and reference
files.  Among those we found particularly useful in writing this FAQ (and
explicitly tried *not* to duplicate or replace here) are the US Army
"Chaplain's Manual" entry on Wicca and the alt.pagan newsgroup FAQ.  Both
are recommended for those with further interest in Wicca and Neo-Paganism,
as are the Yahoo pages on Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft:

  http://www.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Religion/Paganism/
  http://www.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Religion/Wicca_and_Witchcraft/

5   Copyright and Distribution Notice

Doreen Valiente retains copyrights to all her copyrighted material, but
the rest of this FAQ is in the public domain as a service and gift of the
Goddess. We ask all who distribute it to keep it intact and attribute it
when quoted or reproduced elsewhere.

This FAQ is posted to alt.religion.wicca once each full moon, and 
to other forums as seems appropriate.  It is also available on the 
World Wide Web and by anonymous FTP as noted in the header.

* "Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:  An it harm none, do as you will" *
--- end of file, Alt.Religion.Wicca FAQ, 469 lines with URLs ---

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