When people think and talk of witchcraft and witches, there are all kinds of thoughts and images which come to the forefront – most of them totally wrong. In fact, witchcraft is not anything like what most people think.
Some people believe that it is somehow related to Satan worship. They believe that witches worship Satan and that he gives them special powers. While ultimately every non-Christian belief system is from Satan, the beliefs in witchcraft have nothing to do with an interaction with him.
Other people simply see it as a mystical way to get stuff. In fact, there are numerous websites which teach spells and give tips on how to do them effectively. On a “witchcraft for beginners” website I found the following explanation. The author wrote, “Here’s a Wicca for beginner spell to get money fast …. Simply say, “Trinka-five” five times. How’s that for easy? And it works.” And people really believe this stuff.
Over the last several decades Wiccan beliefs have been gaining in popularity. Of course, the Harry Potter book series has popularized it quite a bit among the younger crowd. But this popularity is certainly not limited to kids. In fact, it has become so mainstream that adherents of Wicca now have their own headstone symbol at Arlington National Cemetery and there is a Wiccan worship place at the United States Air Force Academy. It is estimated that there are now well over 400,000 Wiccans in the US making them the 10th largest religious group in America. Adding in other neo-pagan groups, that number swells to well over 600,000.
In actual fact, Wicca is one particular expression of Animism which emerges out of the broader witchcraft tradition. In many ways, Wicca is somewhat difficult to define as it has various expressions in different groups who claim to follow its way. These differences are often very distinct from one another as they relate to the use of magic, rituals, religious practice, and the spirit world. That being said, virtually all forms somehow relate to a nature based form of worship and practice that includes magic and special rituals to influence the spirit world.
In general terms, witchcraft can be traced back many centuries in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Within this approach to religion, there is no personal understanding of God. Rather, divine beings are understood to inhabit all of nature. The natural order is sometimes personified as a god or goddess, but even that is not understood to be personal in any way.
While derivatives of many ancient forms of witchcraft still exist throughout the world, the most common modern form originated in England in 1949 based on a book by Gerald Gardner called “The Craft.” Gardner took the word “Wicca” as the name of his contemporary form of pagan religion. Wicca is a form of nature worship that sees the spirit world to be present in the natural order. It draws much of its inspiration from the non-Christian pagan religions of Europe.
As for Gardner himself, it seems that he was quite fascinated with many different aspects of the occult. It is not clear whether or not he intended to actually begin a new religious tradition, but it does seem that he invented this cult in order to satisfy his own desire to explore occult ideas.
There have been variations of Witchcraft around in America since its early days. Its greatest growth, however, took place in the 1960s and 1970s, during a general revival of interest in the occult. Many who follow the trends of Wicca attribute two of Gardner’s followers, Raymond and Rosemary Buckland, with its successful spread into American society after they came to the U.S. in 1962.
Wicca really got its big lift in 1973, though, when Llewellyn Press, a publisher of Occult material, sponsored a convention of Witches in Minneapolis, Minnesota This meeting was attended by witches from 73 different groups. During that convention they attempted to write a unified statement of principles. This initial attempt failed, though, because the Wiccan approach to belief is so diverse that they simply could not agree on wording. Not to give in to failure, The Council of American Witches tried again the following year to write a unified statement of principles. This time they were successful in drawing up the “Covenant of the Goddess,” that was formally ratified by thirteen witch covens.
Basic Beliefs and Practices
The theology of Wicca varies from group to group. However, the following are a few of the doctrines that most Wiccan covens believe and practice.
1. Autonomy – There is no central authority or liturgy. It is up to each tradition (each local group of Wiccans) to establish its own rituals, philosophy and beliefs. It is also okay for individual practitioners to create their own.
2. Experience vs. Dogma – The experience of the individual is of greater importance than any set of authoritarian doctrines.
3. Rituals – Spinning off of the concept of autonomy, individual or coven experiences are gained through self-designed rituals. Rites are created to acknowledge the movement of the seasons and to celebrate life and its processes.
4. Magic – Many of the rituals practiced in Wicca involve divination or magic. This is the act or process of attempting to contact, manipulate or control people, spirits, animals, plants, or the elements (earth, air, fire, water). It is done through occult rituals, ceremonies, or the use of magic objects (amulets, talismans, charms, etc.). In Wiccan belief, there are as many as eight ways to raise magical power:
(1) Meditation or concentration,
(2) Chants, spells and invocations,
(3) Trances and astral projection,
(4) The use of incense, wine and drugs,
(6) Blood control by binding parts of the body with cords,
(7) Scourging (but not to the point of drawing blood), and
(8) Ritual sex.
5. Goddess Worship – Worship, in some groups, expresses itself as the veneration of the “Mother Goddess” (mother nature). In many covens the high priestess is seen as the embodiment of the “Mother Goddess” who is the principal deity of witchlore.
6. Feminism – Not all feminists are Wiccans, but many find this approach to religion quite compatible with feminist thought. It is a feminine based religion with an emphasis on a goddess.
7. Seasonal Festivals – The worship of nature, or the natural order, is of chief importance to Wiccan adherents. Wicca is basically a fertility cult and its great festivals are tied to the seasons.
8. Evil – Wiccan groups do not acknowledge the existence of evil. They consider themselves to be practitioners of a pagan mystery religion which contains no embodiment of evil. Wiccan belief has no connection with any personified entity known as Satan or the Devil.
9. Horned God – Some Wiccan covens worship a masculine deity in addition to the Goddess. This God is related to the ancient Horned Lord of Animals and is referred to as the Horned God, the God of the Hunt, the God of Death or the Lord of the Forests.
In Wicca there is no personal God who could be considered the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Rather, there is a divine life source in nature which is open to contact through psychic power, mysticism or natural magic. This life source is considered to be present in everything, including humanity. Many Wiccans do worship some form of the Great Goddess and her consort the Horned God, though these are understood as objects on which to focus worship rather than as personal deities.
Human beings, in Wicca, are one of the natural creatures which inhabit the material world. It is possible for humans to interact with the spirits which are expressed in nature and to interact with them to accomplish desired ends.
In Wiccan beliefs, human beings have no need of salvation from sin. Humanity is seen as already participating in the eternal reality. Some believe that at death the spirit of an individual automatically enters the spirit world. Others believe in a type of reincarnation in which the life force of an individual continues after physical death and at some point simply enters another body. In any case, it is all connected with the natural order of the universe.
1. What is the most fundamental reality? (Ultimate reality) and 2.) What is the nature of material reality? (Material reality)
In Wiccan belief, the nature of ultimate reality and material reality are generally tied together. Here, the universe is understood to contain both material and immaterial elements. Wiccans see the whole of reality to be infused with, and participating in, the universal energy. As such, the entire earth is a living, breathing organism. Spirits reveal and express themselves through nature and are capable of causing things to happen in the material world. These spirits are able to be manipulated by human beings in order to create a better life.
3. What is a human being? (Humanity)
Wiccans understand human beings to be material creatures with a spiritual essence who inhabit the material world. They consider that it is possible for humans to interact with the spirits which are expressed in nature and to interact with them to accomplish desired ends.
4. What happens to a person at death? (Death)
Typically, Wiccans believe that nature operates in cycles of death and rebirth. Reincarnation is a common theme but not exclusive. Some believe the soul does not die at physical death, but passes on to another physical body while others believe the spirit of a person simply enters the spirit world.
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? (Knowledge)
In Wiccan belief, knowledge is simply assumed to exist. The reasons for its existence are not typically contemplated but are merely accepted as an element of human existence. It is known by observation and experience.
6. How do we know what is right and wrong? (Morality)
Wiccan beliefs stem from the notion that ultimately there is no right or wrong religion or morality. People have to come to their own understanding based on experience. The primary principle for figuring out what is right is the Wiccan Rede (a rule or law) which says, “If it harms no one, do what you will.” As a result, relativism, in all areas of life, is the rule. Wiccans live by the adage: “Truth is what is true for you; right what is right for you; but neither are necessarily so for me.” The only absolute that they acknowledge is that there are no absolutes. Thus, all have the right to believe and practice what they will.
7. What is the meaning of human history? (History)
In Wiccan thought, history operates as a cyclical progression of events without special meaning.
In Wiccan tradition, there is no scripture or other authority that is considered the definitive teaching about reality. Rather, personal experience is exalted dogmatically above, and often in opposition to, any creed or doctrine. The individual is his or her own ultimate authority.
Evidence for the Authority
In Wiccan thought, there is no single acknowledged authority. All persons or groups are free to create their own doctrine based on their own experience. With this kind of relativistic thinking, there is really nothing to validate as an authority except the individual. The problem is, many different people literally have contradictory beliefs and experiences. The only way to validate them is to eliminate the law of non-contradiction. This, however, does not line up with the way human beings experience, and must live, life. There is no basis for accepting this approach to authority.
The basis of Wiccan belief is that everyone is pretty much free to believe what they want. Thus, people who tend to gravitate toward this belief system are looking to avoid accountability as it relates to God or any kind of outside authority. Unfortunately for them, this belief system has no basis in the real world. Human beings simply cannot operate consistently under this kind of dogma. They must, literally, ignore much of the reality they see around them.
Amazingly, human beings are perfectly capable of incorporating this kind of inconsistency into their lives. As Christians, it is necessary to build relationships with people who hold these views in such a way as to earn the opportunity to share with them the truth of the gospel. When we do, the consistency that is found in the Christian worldview will present a sharp contrast to the relativism of Wiccan belief.
© 2010 Freddy Davis