Basic Wiccan Principles
Basic Wiccan Principles
One thing to note is that Wicca is a religion with a lot of theology (study of the nature of deity) and no dogma (rules imposed by religious leaders). Many people become Wiccans because they're independent souls who don't want to be told what to think or believe. Wicca offers fertile ground and a lot of space for spiritual creativity and independence. Although the Wiccan community is very diverse and is becoming more so all the time, there are a few common principles that most Wiccans share.
But first here is a list of things that Wiccans do not do or believe:
- SATANIC OR ANTI-CHRISTIAN. Wicca is not the same thing as Satanic witchcraft. Wiccans do not believe in Satan. Satan is part of the Christian religion, and Satanism is a Christian heresy. Wiccans do not perform animal or human sacrifice or pervert the Catholic mass. Wiccans do not hate Christians, or try to harm them or their faith. They do, however, wish Christians would stop knocking on their doors and leaving leaflets on their front steps in an effort to convert them.
- PROSELYTIZING. Wiccans do not try to convert others to Wicca. Wiccans do not troll the high schools for vulnerable teens to brainwash into secret cults. Wiccans do not go door-to-door trying to convice others that their religion is the right religion. Wiccans know that people in cultures from all over the world, throughout history--including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Ba'hai, Buddhists, Pagans, and others--have been killed for their religious beliefs or forced to adopt someone else's faith, and many Wiccans see proselytizing as a continuation of this bullying and coercion. Wiccans know that there is more than one path to God, and that everyone must find his or her own spirituality (or not, if they choose). Wiccans believe that if people are meant to walk the Wiccan path, they will find it without someone proselytizing to them. Wiccans also knkow that those who do find the path on their own value it more than they would if they had been "convinced" to become Wiccan.
- DUALISTIC. Wicca incorporates a lot of dual and polarity symbolism. However, although some religions see dualities as antagonistic, like God and Satan for example, Wiccans see them as opposite partners, or two parts of a whole. That whole "black and white," "absolute right and absolute wrong" mindset has no place in Wicca. Wiccans see many shades of gray. This does not mean that Wiccans have no ethics!
- EXCLUSIVE. There is nothing in Wicca that says you can't practice more than one religion or worship more than one god or set of gods.
- A WAY TO GET POWER OVER OTHERS. Wicca is a way to build your own power.
- ONLY ABOUT MAGICK. If you are exploring Wicca only so you can learn magick, don't waste your time. Wicca is a religion, and you don't need it to do magick. Magick exists outside of religion. Wicca provides one of many paths to magickal practice, but magick is not its central theme. Some Wiccans don't do magick at all.
- AN EDGY TREND WITH GREAT CLOTHES. Many Wiccans like fun, unusual body decoration, but getting into Wicca to make a fashion statement, because it's trendy, or because it's bound to freak out your parents, neighbors, or boss trivializes the religion. Also it should be noted that Goth and Wicca are not the same thing. Wicca is Goth-friendly because it explores and even embraces death and the darker aspects of spirituality, and there are a lot of Goth Wiccans, but you can be Wiccan no matter what you wear or don't wear.
- AN EXCUSE FOR SEXUAL ABUSE. Wicca is not about using sex to manipulate others or about sexually abusing children. Wiccans find these things as abhorrent as anyone else does. Child abuse is not acceptable, and it is not condoned in the Wiccan path. It's true that Wiccans tend to be pretty open about sex, but because they're frank about sexuality, and even celebrate it, most covens will not accept a student under the age of 21. It's not appropriate to include a child or teenager in rituals that may contain sexual symbolism.
Wiccan Principle 1: Deity Becomes a Polarity
Many Wiccans believe that there is a single great divine force, which they call "spirit," "the all," "the divine" or just "deity." It gives life to the universe, and it transcends gender, space, and time. They also believe, as do practitioners of many of the world's religions, that deity in its entirety is too large and abstract for humans to comprehend fully. Joseph Campbell sums up this idea: "God is a thought. God is a name. God is an idea. But its reference is to something that transcends all things. The ultimate mystery of being is beyond all categories of thought."
Wiccans believe that deity separates (or we separate it) into facets--or aspects--that humans can relate to. The first "division" of deity is into its male and female halves. So by splitting into aspects, deity moves into the field of time, which is where humans exist.
The two main aspects of deity that Wiccans work with--the male and the female--are simply called the God and the Goddess. The Wiccan God and Goddess represent yang and yin, positive and negative, light and dark. Since they are two halves of the same whole, they are separate but never truly apart; they are connected by their polarity. Neither exists without the other. The polarity--the relationship--between the God and the Goddess is a central, sacred dynamic of Wicca.
Principle 2: Deity is Immanent
Wiccans believe that deity, the life force described in Principle 1, is immanent, or inherent in all people and things. It is in the greatest cathedral and the smallest grain of sand. This is not quite the same thing as the animist idea that a cathedral or a grain of sand have consciousness of their own, but rather that there is a sacred force that infuses everything, and that force is deity or a part of deity. Deity is in each of us as well, regardless of our religion. Because deity is immanent in us, each of us is a part of the divine.
Principle 3: The Earth is Divine
Wiccans believe that the earth is a manifestation of deity. It is a tangible piece of the divine, particularly of the Goddess, who gives birth to all things and receives them again in death. Therefore, everywhere on earth is sacred space. Although you may argue that some places are more sacred than others, Wiccans believe that there's a bit of the divine in every corner of the earth, so they focus on attuning and working with earth energies. This means understanding the cycle of the seasons, participating in these cycles through ritual and contact with the earth, and living within the flow of the earth's natural power rather than working against it.
The ultimate religious experience for many people is to transcend the mundane, the earth, and go to some higher place. It can be a "location," like the Christian heaven, or an inner place, like when one finds enlightenment or Nirvana. Although many Wiccans believe that there is a special place that they go to after they die, and many of them believe in an "otherworld" or "underworld," the majority of their practice is centered in the here and now, on planet earth. For example, Wiccan rituals often mimic the seasonal changes, and Wiccans include trees, rocks, and herbs in ritual and magick.
Many Wiccans believe that a significant part of their spiritual path is taking care of the earth, whether it is by everyday actions such as recycling, larger efforts such as work for environmental causes, or any number of things in between. This is not a requirement of Wicca, but many Wiccans do it anyway because it flows naturally from the belief that the earth is divine.
Principle 4: Psychic Power
Wiccans believe that psychic abilities exist, that they work, and that each of us is born with our own psychic gifts. If each of us is infused with the same divine force, and the earth and everything around us are too, we ought to be able to tap into that force to get information and do things beyond the realms of the five senses. We know that many things we encounter in nature occur in patterns, like the shapes of spiral nautilus shells and the patterns of leaves and branches on many trees, the geometry of which are related to the Golden Proportion. (The Greeks, among others, made great use of sacred geometry and the Golden Proportion in building their temples.) Wiccans believe that in addition to these well-documented natural phenomena, there are other, less scientifically verifiable patterns in nature and in the spiritual realms, and they work at understanding and using those patterns. Psychic ability is simply a sensitivity to and awareness of those patterns.
Psychic abilities help Wiccans with many things, like honing their intuition, divination (reading astrological charts or tarot cards, for example), and sensing things that science can't explain yet, like the spirits of the dead or the presence of the gods. Like many other talents, psychic abilities can be sharpened, and Wicca can help us harness these gifts. One of the most obvious but important ways in which Wicca does this is simply by teaching us that psychic abilities are real. After all, it's hard to use something that you don't believe exists. Wiccans also strengthen their psychic abilities through practice. They do meditation, magick, divination, and ritual, all of which require them to flex their psychic muscles.
Principle 5: Magick
Wiccans believe that magick is real, that it works, and that they can use it to better their lives and help them on their spiritual journeys. According to Aleister Crowley, magic is "the science and art of casuing change to occur in conformance with will."
Magick, like psychic ability, depends on knowledge of the patterns of the cosmos. But where using psychic ability means attuning to and understanding those patterns, magick means bending or working with them to bring about desired change. The philosophy of magick goes back again to the idea that everything is infused with the divine. If all things contain some divine energy, we can tap into that energy to affect things that seem--to the regular five senses, anyway--to have no connection to us. This idea is summed up neatly in the introduction to Magick in Theory and Practice, which opens with the following quote from The Goetia of the Lemegeton of King Solomon, a magical grimoire, or spellbook:
"Magic is the highest, most absolute, and most divine knowledge of natural philosophy, advanced in its works and wonderful operations by a right understanding of the inward and occult virtue of things, so that true agents being applied to proper patients, strange and admirable effects will thereby be produced. Whence magicians are profound and diligent searchers into nature; they, because of their skill, know how to anticipate an effect, which to the vulgar shall seem to be a miracle."
As with psychic ability, one of the ways in which Wicca helps people develop magickal abilities is simply by allowing them to believe that magick is possible. Another way is by teaching us that each of us must find our own path and moral compass--our magickal will. Magick is a tool for empowerment and personal growth. True, Wiccans use magick all the time for mundane things, like healing. But its ultimate purpose transcends the mundane.
Principle 6: Reincarnation
Although most Wiccans will tell you that they believe in reincarnation--the soul returning to the earth again in a new body or form after death--their views vary widely on what that means. Some simply believe that our souls are reborn into new bodies, and others think that our essence "recycles" after our bodies die and becomes cosmic energy. Some even believe that we all share one soul, and that this soul experiences the many possibilities of life by inhabiting all of our bodies at the same time.
This focus on reincarnation stems in part from what I called Wiccan Principle 3; that the earth is divine. As we've already seen, Wiccan practice is earth-focused; here-and-now-focused. It's natural, then, that Wiccans would believe that death is not the end of their existence, and that they're going to be back again in some form, some day.
Principle 7: Sex is Sacred
In Wicca, sex, the physical joining of two people, is a sacred act, one that brings joy and wonder, not shame and guilt. Sex is treasured and revered. Sexuality is considered a gift from the gods, a pleasure and responsibility that comes with a physical body, and a manifestation of the polarity of the God and Goddess and the fertility of the earth.
There is a lot of sexual symbolism in Wicca. The sabbats--the Wiccan holidays--include stories of the union of the God and Goddess. The chalice and athame (ritual knife) on the Wiccan altar represent female and male reproductive organs, among other things. And the focus in WIcca on the cycles of nature emphasizes fertility of both the earth and its people.
Does the prevalence of God-and-Goddess and fertility symbolism mean that homosexual sex is tabbo in Wicca, since gay sex doesn't involve both a female and a male? Absolutely not! Polarity is expressed whenever two consenting adults come together to make love, and homosexual sex is as much about enjoying our earthly humanity as heterosexual sex is.
Does holding sex sacred mean that Wiccans have ceremonial orgies? That's not the point of sacred sex in Wicca. Understanding the spiritual side of sex frees some people from society's tight constraints about sex, so they may be more likely to experiment with multiple partners (which is hardly an orgy).