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Wicca is a modern Pagan religion created in the 1950s. It’s a modern religion yet it builds on ancient Pagan belief. Wicca is unique because it is a diverse and decentralized religion. This means there’s no official set of central principles. As a result, Wiccans are a unique and often misunderstood bunch.
However, Wicca is more pervasive than you might realize. In fact, the US Air Force Academy created an outdoor worship center for use by those with Earth-based religions like Wicca. How about that?!
And now, let’s get into Wiccan beliefs for beginners.
What is Wicca?
Wicca is a religion which worships the Earth and honors the natural energies which permeate every living thing. Most Wiccans accept a general principle of non-harm, and emphasize the healing and life-giving aspects of their craft.
Respect for nature is paramount, as is living in balance and harmony with the natural world. Being outdoors in nature is to experience the divine.
Many Wiccans believe in a spirit world, whether literal or figurative. Wiccans have festivals and celebrations which commemorate the lunar phases and seasonal changes. Many believe in personal responsibility and karmic reckoning.
Most Wiccans believe in a Goddess and a God and recognize the feminine divine power. They may worship other pagan deities and practice magick. Practitioners create their own unique brand of their Wiccan path, and often blend elements of other religions and spiritual practices.
Paganism is Earth-based religion or nature worship. The term “pagan” originated in Europe and was a derogatory way for Christians to describe the other religions that existed before Christianity. Paganism includes Wicca, but it can include other religions too. All Wiccans are pagan, but not all pagans are Wiccan.
Wicca is endlessly eclectic and for good reason– there is no central document or “holy book” outlining what the Wiccan ideology is like the Bible or Koran. In general Wicca is also not a dogmatic religion. Followers are not expected to think and behave a certain way.
There is also no central authority. There are no official places of worship, and in fact there is no actual requirement to worship with other Wiccans. Solitary practice is very common. It’s also common for worship to occur in nontraditional environments like in the outdoors.
Wicca’s decentralized nature is a huge part of its appeal. People from any religious background can practice Wicca. They don’t even need to give up their first religion like many religions who insist that their faith is the only path.
Wiccans can be atheists, agnostics, pantheists, or polytheists. Wiccans are encouraged to find their own personal spiritual practice– any practice which works for them. They can discover their own truths, whether or not it incorporates rituals, beliefs, or aspects of other religions. In this same spirit, Wiccans do not try to engage in proselytizing or forcing anyone to convert. Faith is an individual path that should be traveled without influence.
Although Wicca is a decentralized religion, there are some basic principles and generic world views which most Wiccans abide by. These tenets are described later in this article.
Wiccan Beliefs for Beginners: Morals and Ethics
Because of the decentralized nature of Wicca, and its lack of religious dogma, there is no official, universal statement that describes what Wiccans believe. However most Wiccans would generally agree that a principle of “harm none” should be followed.
There may be disagreements about how to interpret this specifically, but in general it deals with statements like:
- Magick should be used as a force for good.
- It should never be used to intentionally harm someone else.
- Magick should never be used to intentionally harm any element of nature, living or nonliving.
- It should not be used for manipulation, control, disadvantage, influence, or force.
- Magick should never be used on someone else without their express knowledge and permission.
- We should never assume we know what’s best for someone else.
- We should weigh our interests and motivations before doing magick, to ensure that they are benevolent.
- We should strive to live in harmony with our fellow humans and the Earth.
Wiccans also tend to accept personal responsibility. As unique and individual beings, we all must pursue that which is best for us. If we act freely though, we must be willing to accept the consequences of our actions. We should take responsibility for our behavior.
The Wiccan view also tends to be very realistic. There is not much discussion of perfection or utopias, as you may find to describe the Christian God or heaven. Rather, balance and completeness are sought.
Wiccans often accept that our universe, although beautiful, is also flawed. They realize that sorrow, pain, and anger are a part of life, just as death is. They are just natural parts of a cyclical world that contains both light and dark.
Wiccans also may not expect their deities to be perfect beings and to have all the answers. Deities can be just guides to lead the practitioner in the right direction to lead a fulfilling, harmonious, and happy life. Further, elements which may be shunned or hidden in other religions are embraced in Wicca. Things like sex are viewed as natural, normal, and powerful parts of the human existence, and as such should be embraced with joy and respect, not hidden.
Probably the most well-known and widely accepted Wiccan teaching is that of the Wiccan Rede. The Rede was actually a longer poem describing Wiccan ethics, but most Wiccans are most familiar with a key phrase: “An it harm none, do what ye will.” This is often summarized as “do no harm” or “harm none”. It can be another way of stating the Golden Rule.
What this means essentially is that Wiccans should never purposely do harm to any other living being. Many also interpret the Rede as saying that unintentional harm should also be avoided.
This means that Wiccans expect each other to think carefully before acting and casting spells. They need to consider all effects of their actions, not only today but in the future. They also need to think about not just those who are directly affected today, but future generations too.
The Rede is taken very seriously, and it is one of the tenets which the majority of Wiccans can agree on. Most can agree that magick should only be performed for positive ends.
Rule of Three
In the same vein as the Rede, the Rule of Three is another maxim which emphasizes the Golden Rule and karmic justice. The Rule of Three is also called the Threefold Law or the Law of Return. It states that whatever energy or magickal action you perform, you will receive the same back to you three times.
So if you perform good acts, more good acts will come back to you in a greater quantity. And if you perform bad acts, those will also return to you in force. Not all Wiccans believe in the Rule of Three, but a large number do.
The 13 Principles
In the 1970 some American Wiccans wanted to create a document to clearly outline a general set of principles which all Wiccans could adhere to. This document had profound impact on Wicca, with its effects felt even today.
One of the largest impacts of the Principles is its inclusive definition of the overall guidelines of Witchcraft traditions. It embraces the full range of pagan and Wiccan beliefs. As a testament to this, the Principles are still embraced today.
Another notable legacy is to get governmental recognition of Wicca. The Principles were added to the US Army’s Handbook for Chaplains which is a huge achievement.
The Principles are listed below and were taken from the text of the Council of American Witches Principles of Wiccan Beliefs.
- We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the Moon and the seasonal Quarters and Cross Quarters.
- We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique responsibility toward our environment. We seek to live in harmony with nature in ecological balance offering fulfilment to life and consciousness within an evolutionary concept.
- We acknowledge a depth of power far greater than that is apparent to the average person. Because it is far greater than ordinary it is sometimes called “supernatural”, but we see it as lying within that which is naturally potential to all.
- We conceive of the Creative Power in the universe as manifesting through polarity – as masculine and feminine – and that this same Creative Power lies in all people and functions through the interaction of the masculine and the feminine. We value neither above the other knowing each to be supportive of the other. We value sex as pleasure as the symbol and embodiment of life, and as one of the sources of energy used in magical practice and religious worship.
- We recognize both outer and inner, or psychological, worlds — sometimes known as the Spiritual World, the Collective Unconscious, Inner Planes, etc. — and we see in the interaction of these two dimensions the basis for paranormal phenomena and magickal exercises. We neglect neither dimension for the other, seeing both as necessary for our fulfilment.
- We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who have courageously given of themselves in leadership.
- We see religion, magick and wisdom in living as being united in the way one views the world and lives within it – a world view and philosophy of life which we identify as Witchcraft – the Wiccan Way.
- Calling oneself a “Witch” does not make a Witch – but neither does heredity itself, nor the collecting of titles, degrees, and initiations. A Witch seeks to control the forces within her/himself that make life possible in order to live wisely and without harm to others and in harmony with nature.
- We believe in the affirmation and fulfillment of life in a continuation of evolution and development of consciousness giving meaning to the Universe we know and our personal role within it.
- Our only animosity towards Christianity, or toward any other religion or philosophy of life, is to the extent that its institutions have claimed to be “the only way,” and have sought to deny freedom to others and to suppress other ways of religious practice and belief.
- As American Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the Craft, the origins of various terms, the origins of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with our present and our future.
- We do not accept the concept of absolute evil, nor do we worship any entity known as “Satan” or “the Devil”, as defined by Christian tradition. We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor do we accept that personal benefit can be derived only by denial to another.
- We believe that we should seek within Nature that which is contributory to our health and well-being.
Wiccans vary widely in their specific interpretations of deities. This is an important point to understand when learning about Wiccan beliefs for beginners. Wiccans may have different theological tendencies– atheistic, agnostic, monotheistic, duotheistic, polytheistic, or pantheistic. Deities may be seen as actual beings that exist, while others may see them as archetypes or personifications of energies, qualities, and natural forces.
Wicca has what’s termed a “divine polarity” in Wicca where both male and female deities are present. These opposing forces represent the cycle of life and death, creation and destruction, and the passing of the seasons. They are similar to other polarities you may see in other traditions like yin and yang. Although the forces are opposite, both are equally powerful and both are required to maintain balance in the universe.
The Goddess is the female side to the divine polarity. She is feminine, emotional, intuitive, and wise. She represents the Earth, all natural life, fertility, rebirth and renewal, and healing. She’s often portrayed as a goddess with three forms to represent the phases of life– youth and purity, motherhood and wholeness, and old age and knowledge.
She is also associated with the moon and is worshipped often during new and full moons. She’s responsible for tidal forces, rebirth and regrowth in the spring, and keeps the Wheel of the Year turning. She is in continual change and can be invoked to create change within your own life.
The God is the male side in the polarity. He is the partner of the Goddess who she gives birth to, he later dies, and then is reborn again by her. His life cycle moves the seasons and agricultural season along. He sometimes Cernunnos or the Horned God, and also sometimes represented by two archetypes– the Oak King and the Holly King.
The God is associated with the Sun and its waxing and waning. He is also associated with the animal world, especially horned animals and hunting. The God has nothing to do with the Christian Devil.
Atheism is possible in Wicca with the view described above that the deities are just personifications and not actual spiritual beings. Thus no spiritual god is necessary.
Similar to the atheistic Wiccans, no spiritual deity is necessary if the goddesses and gods are figurative.
One of the more common Wiccan theologic structures, duotheism is worship of two deities– in Wicca this is the Goddess and the God. Each deity encompasses distinct male and female aspects, and are separate and divine beings in their own right. Duotheism is a special case of polytheism (described below).
While duotheism believes in the existence of a spiritual goddess and god, some Wiccans may worship only a single deity. This can be done by condensing the deities into one single deity, viewing the Goddess and the God as two sides of the same coin– just representations of the female and male aspects of one deity. Other Wiccan sects like Dianic Wicca may choose to worship only the female deity.
If the deities are regarded as actual spiritual beings, then a Wiccan can be a polytheist. Many Wiccans worship one or many of the myriad pagan deities. There are many pagan pantheons to choose from. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Sumerian, Celtic, Norse, and Germanic civilizations.
More recently native deities are being incorporated such as from Native American and Aboriginal spiritual traditions. Practitioners may worship within multiple pantheons, or restrict themselves to one. Choice is entirely up to the practitioner.
Other magical beings can also be worshipped such as faeries, angels, and gnomes. Individuals may view the pagan deities as distinct deities in their own rights, or rather as a smaller part or representation of the God and Goddess.
Wiccans may also be pantheists, which means that the universe and nature itself is divine. In other words, the divine is not a specific being but rather present everywhere.
Wicca doesn’t have any particular stance on the afterlife or karmic reincarnation. Practitioners each hold their own beliefs, ranging from zero continuity after death, to multiple cycles of reincarnation, to everything in between. Wicca also does not typically accommodate the Christian concepts of heaven and hell. This is incredibly important to realize when learning about Wiccan beliefs for beginners. Here are a few examples of what Wiccans might believe.
No continuity after death
Some may view human life and the “soul” as a set of chemical and biological processes like consciousness, thought, memory, emotions, etc. Once the host dies, the “soul” ends along with it and there is no form of life after death.
Others may believe that there is some continuity after death. For example, there may be physical continuity as the body is composed of matter and chemicals, after death these components will go on to form a new living being. Some may also believe in a karmic, but not spiritual continuity. For instance the way we live our lives today will affect others’ lives after our passing through generosity, leadership, service, stewardship, etc.
Belief in spiritual reincarnation is probably the most prominent view of the afterlife held by Wiccans. Here there is a “spirit” or “soul” of the individual which lives on after physical death. The Law of Threefold Return echos karmic sentiments in that our actions today, good or bad, will affect us in the future.
Even for those who believe in reincarnation, there are different opinions of how reincarnation occurs. Some believe that humans will only be reincarnated into humans again. Others believe we can be reincarnated into other life forms, like animals and plants.
Still others believe that witches will only be reincarnated into other witches. Reincarnation may go on for many cycles, and some think that after many cycles with enough accumulated life experiences, joys, and hardships, we may end up reborn in a totally different actuality and existence which we have never seen.
Contact with the deceased
There is an ancient Celtic myth about a place called Summerland where souls rest after death but before reincarnation. It’s consistent with the general, although not absolute, belief that there is a spirit world that we can interact with. Many Wiccans believe that we can contact those who have passed on through seances, tarot cards, dumb suppers, and other divination work.
Wiccan holidays, or sabbats, hold a strong place in Wiccan beliefs. Sabbats signal the change of the seasons and position of the Earth while orbiting the sun. Each of the eight sabbats are a spoke in the Wheel of the Year. which visualizes that time is cyclical and seasonal. Each sabbat falls on a solstice, equinox, or season change.
There is a story about the Wheel of the Year in which the female divine gives birth to the male divine on the winter solstice, and he eventually dies in the fall and is reborn once again. Wiccans use the sabbats as times to honor the Goddess and God, the annual planting and harvest cycle, and the natural cycle of life and death. The Wiccan sabbats are Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lammas, and Mabon.
Covens or Solitary Practice
Wiccans usually engage in solitary practice or join a coven to practice as a group. Solitary practice is possible because Wiccans believe that you are answerable only to your deities.
Solitaries often do a self-initiation ritual in which they declare that they are a witch. Solitary practice allows witches to construct their own unique and diverse practice.
Often solitary witches incorporate elements from other faiths, such as Eastern religions (chakra work, yoga, meditation), Shamanism (voodoo, Native American practices), and metaphysical practices (Reiki, feng shui).
Covens are the traditional route of practice, and have fallen in favor recently. Covens are often difficult to find because of their secrecy. One must ask to become a part of a coven and traditionally pass through a period of a “year and a day” of study before formal membership.
Joining a coven is a mutual endeavor– simply requesting to join is not enough. The coven must determine if you will get along harmoniously with the members and have a like minded outlook. When officially joining a coven, there is an initiation ritual.
Typically there are three degrees of initiation– first for new inductees, second for deepening knowledge and belief, and third to become a High Priestess or Priest.
Magick is a manipulation and control of the natural forces that make up the universe. It is part of the Wiccan craft, equal parts science and art (although not understood by modern science.) Magick is performed to cause changes in the physical world according to our will. It’s used to manifest specific objectives by manipulating the natural energies all around us.
“Performing” magick means to carry out a ceremony composed of a sequence of deliberate actions, using a variety of tools, to create an intimate connection with the forces of nature.
The belief and use of magick is not held by all Wiccans, but by a large majority of them. And some Wiccans do not feel they understand how magick works, but rather use magick because they see the cause and effect relationships between spellwork and manifestation. Most witches also believe that magick is not supernatural; rather it is just a harnessing of the natural powers which permeate all natural things.
Also note that it’s often spelled “magick” in the pagan community as opposed to “magic” to differentiate from magicians and performance magic. The practice of magick is referred to as witchcraft. Understanding this is a huge foundation for Wiccan beliefs for beginners.
Witchcraft and the practice of magick isn’t exclusive to Wicca, and indeed it is much older than the Wiccan religion. Folk healing, shamanism, Gnosticism, voodoo, and hoodoo have all practiced witchcraft for centuries. Magick is also a craft and not a belief system. It can be practiced by anyone of any faith and has no requirement to any particular set of beliefs or worldview.
Magick is often divided into white magick vs black magick. There is a similar duality with the terms right-hand path vs left-hand path. White magick, or magick on the right-hand path, is good magic. It is not harmful and is performed with good intentions. Examples of white magick are spells for removing hexes, repelling negativity, divination, fertility, healing, and protection.
Black magick, or left-hand path magick, is meant to do harm or is not performed with ill will.
Wiccans are expected to operate within the realm of white magick, in the spirit of the “do no harm” principle. Within white magick, there is a huge variety of what can be done. Healing, protective spells, divination, creating charmed objects (talismans and amulets), cleansing, dreamwork, and inner spiritual development.
Many witches take the non-harm principle so far as to avoid spellwork on third parties, meaning that even if a spell on someone else has good intention, but that person is unaware of your spell and has not given consent, it can do harm.
There are also a variety of tools which witches may use in their practices. (Check out my intro to Wiccan altars which describes the tools in detail.) Many consider the most fundamental tool of witchcraft to be the athame. This is ritual knife is a general purpose tool used to gather and direct energy. The same can be said for wands.
Other tools may include candles, incense, chalice, cauldron, natural elements like feathers and dirt, magickal crystals, herbs, oils, tarot cards, runes, pentacles, mirrors, crystal balls, and more. Witches assemble their tools on an altar upon which they practice.
Altars may be simple workspaces or may contain elaborate and sentimental reflections of their user. Altar items may serve purely functional purposes, or may be included for associative and aesthetic purposes.
Spellwork is usually done within a sacred space, and so the first step is to draw a magickal circle. This serves as a special area of protection and attunement with the universe’s energies. The witch will use any (or none) of the altar tools as required, perhaps lighting some candles or mixing some herbs in a cauldron.
Many spells call for chants or recitations, and sometimes periods of meditation. Magick can be done on its own or incorporated as a part of that witch’s normal rituals.
The Five Elements
Many Wiccans believe in the classical elements which are the elementary ingredients making up the universe. They are commonly used to draw circles before starting magickal work, or invoked in other rituals and spells for energetic assistance. The elements are Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. Spirit is sometimes called Aether or Akasha. It is present in, and joins together, the other four elements. Elements are symbolized on the pentagram, a sacred Wiccan symbol, with each element representing a specific point.
Each element also has a cardinal direction it is associated with. These directions are used when conducting rituals.
- Earth- North
- Air- East
- Fire- South
- Water- West
- Aether- Center
Many Wiccans have an element which they primarily associate with.
Devil and Satanism
Wicca has no connection to either the devil or Satanism, as is often misconstrued by the general public. In fact, Wicca does not even recognize Satan (or hell), as those are purely Christian inventions. There is just no equivalent of a personification of evil in Wicca.
Within Wicca sex is viewed as a life force and a blessing from the deities. It is to be enjoyed, performed with care and responsibility, and should be consensual between both parties. Although there is a lot of emphasis on the feminine and masculine energies giving balance to each other, it’s generally viewed that homosexuality and bisexuality are a perfectly natural orientations that fit organically into Wicca.
Some covens practice in the nude, or “sky clad.” This is not for sexual reasons. It is a way to reveal the true essence of each person, as without clothing there is no way to hide or disguise, there is no way to identify rank or class, it shows all imperfections, and encourages honesty and trust. Everyone is equal and encouraged to accept themselves.
There is a ritual known as the Great Rite which has traditionally used sexual intercourse. Today, this rite can be done symbolically either nude or clothed, or with inanimate objects (chalice and athame). It can also be done consensually in private between committed couples.
Wicca is a pagan religion which is Earth-based and believes that the divine is all around us. Power is given to us through nature. Because of this, we must respect and honor nature. This includes the smallest creatures, plants, and “nonliving” things like rocks and sand. Wiccans are commonly involved in environmental causes and engage in eco activism. They want to keep the Earth clean, and available to all for years to come.