Wicca is a pretty diverse religion today with assorted different denominations (usually called “traditions”), independent covens, and thousands if not millions of solitary practitioners around the globe. What exactly makes all of these practitioners Wiccan?
Historically the religion of Wicca traces to Gerald B. Gardner who first promoted and taught a form of religious witchcraft as far back as the 1940s (and possibly even the 1930s) in the UK. His books and those he taught presented a system of belief and practice that provided a basic core that has since been elaborated upon by countless others. Even with the diversity in the community many agree the following core is common to most if not all Wiccans.
- The idea that everything is connected, and that actions trigger consequences. This is sometimes called the Law of Return, the Law of Balance, the Threefold Law, or by the borrowed Hindu term Karma.
- The belief that there is some sort of Divine being or force and that it manifests in a multitude of ways, as different Gods and Goddesses. Some believe in Panentheism or Animism (that the Divine essence exists in everything). Some Wiccans are “soft polytheists” and believe that different Gods and Goddesses are facets or faces or manifestations of a larger Supreme Being, while other Wiccans are “hard polytheists” who believe each deity is a distinct individual and that They are not just different forms of a larger being. Some Wiccans see deities as archetypes rather than as literal beings.
- Wiccans generally worship a God and Goddess pair as they see both as necessary for balance.
- Wiccans honor the cycles of nature, of life and death, through the seasons of the year. They celebrate annual Sabbats (at least four, more often eight) and Esbats (honoring the cycles of the moon, most often focussing on the full moon as the most powerful time for doing magick). Wiccans tend to have a strong emphasis on ecological concerns.
- Wiccans believe in the practical use of magick, whether they personally cast spells or not. The word Wicca, after all, means Witch.
- Wiccans believe that their religion is one of experience rather than blind faith.
- Wiccans center much of their philosophy and belief around the concept of fertility and creativity. This is often represented in ritual as the Great Rite or Sacred Marriage, performed by some between consenting adult partners, and more often in symbolic forms such as placing a blade in a sacred cup. Creativity in all its forms is seen as worth celebrating (within reason of course!)
- Wiccans emphasize the importance of personal responsibility. This is implicit in the often cited Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none, do what you will.” It also manifests as an emphasis on autonomy — there is no central authority structure in Wicca so there is no Wiccan Pope, no Grand Council, no single holy scripture which decides matters for all Wiccans. This means that different traditions, covens, and even individual practitioners are free to decide things for themselves.
- Wiccans believe that they should constantly strive to better themselves (and their communities as a result) by regular study and practice.
In the early days of Wicca when Gardner’s initiates were in the majority there was a common insistence that to become Wiccan one must be formally initiated by an existing initiate. Due to the autonomy built into the religion right from the start this requirement for formal initiation began to break down. Other denominations were founded, and influential Gardnerian initiates such as Doreen Valiente and Ray Buckland introduced the ideas of self-dedication, self-initiation, and solitary Wiccan practice. Today to become Wiccan you need only self-dedicate to the religion, although if you want to join a specific denomination you must fulfill whatever requirements they demand and be formally initiated into that denomination to become a member.