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Wicca is a Neopagan religion and a religious movement found in various countries throughout the world. It was first popularised in 1954 by a British civil servant named Gerald Gardner after the British Witchcraft Act was repealed. Many of Gardner's ideas regarding the development of this modern faith, along with Margaret Murray's anthropological scholarship have been disproven by university scholars, since the time of their writings. Gardner claimed that the religion, of which he was an initiate, was a modern survival of an old witchcraft religion, which had existed in secret for hundreds of years, originating in the pre-Christian paganism of Europe. No one has been able to locate the persons from whom Gardner received his initiations, however much of Gardner's writings and initiation proceedures were lifted out of Freemasonry; Margaret Murray's book, "The Witch Cult in Western Europe" was found to have faulty scholarship in many areas by later anthropologists and historians. Scholars now know that while Europeans were polytheists, each tribe honored different deities and no tribe ever appeared to merge all goddesses into one goddess icon or iconic idea, and likewise, no gods were ever merged into a god icon or iconic idea in antiquity - in fact different tribes around Europe were unfamiliar of one another's deities with the exception of Odin/Woden, who seemed to be known in more than one area of northwestern Europe. Wicca is sometimes referred to as Wiccanism ("teaching of the sages") the Old Religion, or the New Religion of the Old Gods. The term "wicca" is from the Anglo-Saxon language, a "dead language", and it literally means "to bend or change in conformity with will". This loose definition was once applied to crafting and artisanship as well as spirituality, and is a term describing generic spirituality more than anything else. It simply means "submission to change", an idea held sacred in most major religions. In modern times, it has been popular to equate Ancient Celtic Culture with the modern religion of Wicca, however the two are separate entities and are not necessarily linked. To equate Bronze-Age Celtic Culture with a particular religion would be the same as equating modern American Culture with one particular religion - this situation simply did not exist in Ancient Europe because every tribe had their own pantheon and ceremonies; modern archeologists know little if anything about ancient European religious ceremonies or beliefs, and have only been able to locate the names of deities inscribed in remains of these ancient people. For example Celtic people groups existed all over Europe and were pushed northwest by other ancient people groups prior to the first century, losing much of what they themselves knew of their own culture in distant antiqity. As new cultures and religions presented themselves to remaining Celtic People groups in Ireland, Scotland, and like areas, Celtic Peoples absorbed these religions readily and without much resistance, aligning Celtic Culture strongly with first, Roman Paganism, and later Roman Christianity; When the Romans left, Celtic Peoples continued to interpret the influence of Roman religion in their own terms for many centuries, while maintaining much of their established culture and lifestyle. This merging of European Polytheism and the newer Christianity paved the way for the Witch Trials as individuals belonging to more formal Christian organizations began to look with suspicion upon those who maintained a blend of the two faiths. After the persecution of alleged witches ceased, the confusion of the era ebbed further into the darkness of the unknown. Finally, in the mid 19th Century modern Europeans in these areas become swept away with Gardner's and Murray's speculations and propositions about the religion of ancient Europeans. Most of what archeologists and anthropologists know about Bronze-Age Celtic religion and culture is yet unknown. A current scholar, Professor Julian Goodare of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, has diligently researched the witchcraft era in Scotland between 1300 and 1900, listing every legal document pertaining to individual trials of accused witches in Scotland; His research has determined that most, if not all individuals accused of witchcraft were in reality, only practicing herbal medicine, midwifing, and preserving folklore, but describes the era as a Christian social problem revolving around Christians accusing other Christians of practicing witchcraft, which was defined at that time as worship of the Christian Devil. In that era, a witch was determined based on that individuals worship of the Christian Devil; modern Wicca does not embrace the Christian Devil, therefore, the connection between modern Wicca and Medieval Witchcraft is not parallel - one was a social problem where persecution was created out of false suspicions among people of similar religious faith, while the other is a modern religion that can not prove its beliefs archeologically or historically, and merges more current new-age spirituality into the belief system along with spirituality from many faiths around the globe and is a type of agnostic mysticism and non-monotheistic unitariatism. Linking Medieval Witchcraft with Modern Wicca is not accurate, for the two are different situations entirely. Most accused witches during the Witch Trial Era (called "The Burning Times) were actually non-Catholic Christians, or "Celtic" Christians who merged their earlier folk-belief system with the popular Christian teaching of their day. They were considered "Pagan" in that the term "Pagan" literally means "country dweller" and many of these individuals had no access to Church attendance, living out in the country side, which did not indicate their personal faith beliefs, which were likely a merging of both Christian and Pre-Christian beliefs. Further, these individuals and the Celtic Culture as a whole had no concept of a Goddess figure during the Medieval era: they believed in differing types of fairies - a belief that did not forbid or interfere with newer religious beliefs that melded in with the old. Therefore, today the modern religion of Wicca, is based on the ideas of Gerald Gardner and Margaret Murray, where belief in one God and one Goddess are iconic representations of different energies belonging to a whole divine entity called "The All".

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According to mainstream Wiccan theology, Wicca is a duotheistic religion worshipping a God and a Goddess, who are seen as complementary polarities, and "embodiments of a life-force manifest in nature." They are sometimes symbolised as the Sun and Moon, and from her lunar associations the Goddess becomes a Triple Goddess with aspects of "Maiden", "Mother" and "Crone". It is very important for an individual investigating this religion to understand that Wiccans do not literally believe in a deity God or Goddess, but instead embrace powerful energy (which is termed male, not for gender but as a descriptive of the "type" of energy radiated), and a gentle "female" energy (which, likewise is descriptive of the "type" of energy radiated and is not necessarily a real female deity). These energies may not be personal, but may be unconscious energies that envelope the universe and can be accessed by all beings, and are not similar to monotheistic ideas of God, who is considered a personal interactive being. The Wiccan idea of powerful and gentle energies merging to form a singular energy that gives way to creation is more like the Buddhist idea of agnosticism - an impersonal, but all pervading energy somewhat like electricity, only on a spiritual sense. Symbols of a Goddess and God are used to describe these deities so initiates have a good mental picture of the energies, while understanding they are not personal.

Some Wiccans see the Goddess energy symbol as pre-eminent, since she contains and conceives all; the God energy symbol is the spark of life and inspiration within her, simultaneously symbolized as her lover and her child. This is reflected in the traditional structure of the coven. In some traditions, notably feminist Dianic Wicca, the Goddess is seen as complete unto herself, and the God is not worshipped at all.

Wicca is essentially an immanent religion, and for some Wiccans, this idea also involves elements of animism. A key belief in Wicca is that the goddesses and gods are able to manifest in personal form, most importantly through the bodies of Priestesses and Priests via the ritual of Drawing down the Moon (or Drawing down the Sun). What really occurs is that the human priest or priestess draws into his or her own mind and body this inanimate energy, and directs its message or its will outward, and it is the human being who channels this energy which gives that energy its humanity. Without the priest or priestess, this energy would remain without conscience.

According to Gardner, the gods of Wicca are ancient gods of the British Isles: a Horned God and a Great Mother goddess. This idea was disproven by archeologists who investigated Gardner's claims - no European society in the Bronze Age or later believed in these types of deities, or merged all male or female deities into one male and one female deity respectively. Most Bronze Age Europeans were polytheists that never combined their deities, and never adopted the pantheons of other groups; As time went forward, many Europeans were known to believe in fairies, and had no concept of a God or Goddess at all. Christianity brought in these ideas later and the Christian God was widely accepted by Europeans as a personal deity. Gardner also states that a being higher than any of these tribal gods is recognised by the witches as Prime Mover, but remains unknowable. This is really a restatement of Agnosticism. Patricia Crowther has called this supreme godhead Dryghten. Most of these ideals were invented by Gardner and other modern writers as a new religion that developed since the 1950's, and have no connection to any ancient culture.

Some Wiccans have a monotheistic belief in the Goddess and God as One. Many have a duotheistic conception of deity as a Goddess (of Moon, Earth and sea) and a God (of forest, hunting and the animal realm). This concept is often extended into a kind of polytheism by the belief that the gods and goddesses of all cultures are aspects of this pair (or of the Goddess alone). Others hold the various gods and goddesses to be separate and distinct. Many who hole these views have Judeo-Christian or Islamic religious backgrounds, and continue to embrace some idea of the Hebraic Deity, Jehovah.

Still others do not believe in the gods as real personalities, but see them as archetypes or thoughtforms. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone have observed that Wicca is becoming more polytheistic as it matures, and embracing a more traditional pagan world-view. This view embraces an impersonal energy, but does not view deity as a personal, conscious and loving entity.

Wiccans who gather in covens (a word meaning "to convene" from Old English) develop and evolve their own ideas about what or who their deities are within their own group. This means that if an individual switches covens, they may also have to completely re-learn their belief system based on the tenets of the new coven - one coven may believe that the deities are energies, while another may believe they are literal individuals. Further one coven may embrace Irish deities, while another may embrace Mayan or Greek deities. The individual who earns a 3rd degree Initiation as Priest or Priestess in one coven, may have to begin as an initiate in a new coven due to the large measure of belief differences as well as format for ritual, between groups.

Most Wiccans agree that Wicca is a form of "Mystical Agnosticism" where what or who is worshiped is an unknown, and therefore less important than how worship takes place. Therefore orthopraxy (how the ritual is performed) takes precedence over orthodoxy (to whom the worship is directed); Often, individuals gather together who have vastly different beliefs inside the same group. In this sense Wicca may be seen as a type of Unitarian Universalism under the umbrella of Agnostic beliefs.

The afterlife is viewed as a perpetual recycling process - unending rounds of reincarnation; This is because the earth is the only place where the human soul resides. Wiccans therefore consider themselves an earth religion, not only because they honor the earth or view the earth as an embodiment of the Goddess, but because the soul remains earthbound as the only form of eternal destiny - there is no other place for the soul to be or to go. It remains earthbound throughout eternity, recycling perpetually. This type of reincarnation is unlike Hinduism and Buddhism, which teach that if an individual can disconnect from earthly desire, they can break free from reincarnation and enter an unconscious soul, joining with it to become unconscious as an individual. Wicca never seeks to break free from the perpetual recycling process, but remains forever earthbound, re-entering life to continue learning and working.

Beliefs in the afterlife vary among Wiccans, though most support this modern and non-traditional view of reincarnation. Reincarnation has only become a 'traditional' Wiccan teaching within the last 50 years, traditional is questionable because most religions hold that a tradition must exist for several generations before it is considered a tradition, yet Wicca, as a new religion in and of itself, adds an even newer belief and yet considers that belief "traditional"; It would be better stated that the belief has become all-accepted, or accepted by most, and then wait to see if the belief remains for several generations of believers before being counted as a traditional belief.Raymond Buckland holds that a soul always reincarnates into the same species, though this belief is not universal.

Selected biography

Miriam Simos, also known as Starhawk, is an american writer, anarchist activist, and self-described witch. She is well known as a theorist of Paganism, and is one of the foremost popular voices of ecofeminism, and is currently writing a column for Belief.com and On Faith.

She is internationally known as a trainer in nonviolence and direct action, and as an activist within the peace movement, women's movement, environmental movement, and anti-globalization movement. She travels and teaches widely in North America, Europe and the Middle East, giving lectures and workshops. She also is a founder of Reclaiming, a tradition of Witchcraft that she co-founded in the late 1970s.

She is currently residing in San Francisco with her husband David Miller.

Selected holy day

Lughnasadh is one of the four principal festivals of the Irish calendar and one of the eight Wicca sabbats, and was also celebrated by many other peoples, including the Scotts and the Gaelic people. Also known as Lugh or Lammas most commonly, it is primarily dedicated to the god Lugh.

It is most commonly celebrated on August 1st (or, February 1st in the southern hemisphere), as a symbol of harvest and life. Lugh, in which Lughnasadh is primarily dedicated too, is the god of the harvest and life. There are many different tellings of the mythology surrounding Lughnasadh. One of the primary Wiccan tellings, is that it is the second harvest festival (preceded by Midsummer, and followed by Mabon), in which the Horned God gives his life away, for the grain and people.

In different cultures, Lughnasadh was also often celebrated by the druid, Gauls, pagan, and other cultures, and known as Lùnastal in modern Scottish Gaelic, Calan Awst in Welsh, Lugunassatis to the Gauls, Lughnasa, Lughnasad or Lughnassadh in Old Irish, and Lá Lúnasa in modern Irish.

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"Call upon the Goddess and God to protect you and teach you the secrets of magic. Ask stones and plants to reveal their powers - and listen."

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Did you know...

...that because Wicca is a season based religion, many people in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate holidays in opposing times of the year, compared with the Northern Hemisphere?
...that Wiccans often identify as witches, but Wicca and Witchcraft are not necessarily the same thing?
...that Gerald Gardner is credited with re-introducing the word 'Wicca' into the English Language?
...that Wicca was previously an Old English word (pronounced: 'wee-cha'), meaning a male sage or shaman and 'wicce' was the female form?
...that Wiccans observe eight seasonal Sabbats of the year and 12-13 Esbats each year? there are many forms of Wicca. People also state that only women can be Wiccan; not true! people also say that all men that practice Wicca are shamans. No, they are still known as a witch!

WikiProjects

Project Neopaganism
Defining Neo/Paganism at WikiPedia
When should Wikipedia use the term "paganism" as opposed to "neopaganism"? Should these terms be capitalized? Discuss at the project NeoPaganism talk page.

  • WikiProject Egyptian Religion
  • WikiProject Mythology
  • WikiProject Occult

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