Wiccan Practices

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Leadership:

No central leadership. The Covenant of the Goddess annually elects a First Officer and there is a constitutional limit of two consecutive terms, but in practice officers have almost always served for one year only. In 1991, there are two co-First Officers, Phoenix Whitebirch and Brandy Williams.


Other Names By Which Known:

Witchcraft; Goddess worshippers, Pagan, Neo-Paganism, Paganism, Norse (or any other ethnic designation) Paganism, Earth Religion, Old Religion, Druidism, Shamanism. Note: All of these groups have some basic similarities and many surface differences of expression with Wicca.


Address:

No central address. Wiccan worship groups, called covens, are essentially autonomous. Many, but far from all, have affiliated with:

  • Covenant of the Goddess
    P.O. Box 1226
    Berkeley, CA 94704
    www.cog.org

Membership:

Because of the complete autonomy of covens, this cannot be determined. There are an estimated of 50,000 Wiccans in the United States.


Historical Origin:

Wicca is a reconstruction of the Nature worship of tribal Europe, strongly influenced by the living Nature worship traditions of tribal peoples in other parts of the world. The works of such early twentieth century writers as Margaret Murray, Robert Graves and Gerald B. Gardner began the renewal of interest in the Old Religion. After the repeal of the anti-Witchcraft laws in Britain in 1951, Gardner publicly declared himself a Witch and began to gather a group of students and worshipers. In 1962, two of his students, Raymond and Rosemary Buckland (religious names: Lady Rowen and Robat), emigrated to the United States and began teaching Gardnerian Witchcraft here. At the same time, other groups of people became interested through reading books by Gardner and others. Many covens were spontaneously formed, using rituals created from a combination of research and individual inspiration. These self-created covens are today regarded as just as valid as those who can trace a "lineage" of teaching back to England. In 1975, a very diverse group of covens who wanted to secure the legal protections and benefits of church status formed Covenant of the Goddess (COG), which is incorporated in the State of California and recognized by the Internal Revenue Service. COG does not represent all, or even a majority of Wiccans. A coven or an individual need not be affiliated with COG in order to validly practice the religion. But COG is the largest single public Wiccan organization, and it is cross-Traditional (i.e. non-denominational).


Rituals:

Wiccans try to meet out of doors where possible. North American climate and concern for personal safety usually forces them indoors. They gather in a circle, which is often 9 feet in diameter. Candles on the circumference are oriented to the four cardinal directions. An altar is at the center facing east. Rites begin with a casting of the circle, in which the circle is outlined and purified, and the candles lit. A sacred space is thus created within the circle. The circle is usually visualized as a sphere, or as a cylinder or cone. The purpose of this space is to allow the Gods access, while keeping negative influences out.

The central portion of each meeting may celebrate the full moon, a new moon, a Sabbat or a special Wiccan ceremony. It might include healing, divination (scrying, Tarot cards, Runes, etc), teaching, consecration of tools, discussion, or other life-affirming, nature based activities. After the major work is completed, food (perhaps cakes and wine) is eaten, and the circle is banished.


Wiccan Sabbats:

There are eight Wiccan Sabbats (Seasonal days of Celebration), spaced about 45 days apart during the year. Four of these are minor Sabbats: the two Equinoxes of March 21 and September 21st when the daytime and nighttime are each 12 hours long. The Saxons added the two Solstices of December 21, (the longest night of the year) and June 21 (the longest day of the year). The exact date of these Sabbats vary from year to year and may occur from the 20th to 23rd of the month. The major Sabbats are also four in number. They occur roughly between the minor Sabbats, typically at the end of a month. Different Wiccan traditions assign various names and dates to these festivals. Perhaps the most common names are Celtic: Samhain (Oct. 31), Imbolc (Feb. 2), Beltane (May 1), and Lammas (Aug. 1). Their origins are believed to be related to hunting, farming, and animal fertility.


Rites of passage:

These include:

  • Dedication: Where a person confirms an interest in the craft.
  • Initiation: When a person symbolically dies and is reborn as a Wiccan; a new name is adopted.
  • Handfasting: Which was originally a marriage for a one year period. Many Wiccans now regard it as creating a permanent partnership.
  • Parting of the Ways: Which recognizes the end of a marriage.
  • Wiccaning: Which welcomes a baby into the craft, but does not obligate the child to the religion in any way.
  • Funeral Ceremony: for a Wiccan who has died.

Wiccan tools:

Hardware which are used to perform Wiccan rites often look like common household items. The following are typical:

  • Athame (double sided ritual knife) used to direct energy raised during rites or spells, but never for cutting.
  • Bolline a practical working knife, used for many purposes.
  • A bowl of salt representing the element earth.
  • A censer and incense representing the element air.
  • Two candles representing the Goddess and God.
  • A bowl of water representing the element water.
  • A bell - rung to delineate sections of the rite.
  • A wand to direct energy, draw symbols, etc.
  • A goblet to hold a ritual beverage imbibed during a rite.
  • A libation dish for offerings (wine, herbs, flowers, seeds, etc.) made to the God and Goddess.
  • A circle, typically 9 feet in diameter, formed from a rope or row of small rocks,
    markings on the ground or floor, etc.
  • Four candles just outside the circle, at the four cardinal directions.



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