Words Have Power - Defining Wicca
Article ID: 13896
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Posted: June 27th. 2010
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Probably everyone in the magical community has heard the statement that "Words have power".
In fact, I would go so far as to say that most people in English speaking countries have heard this phrase. This concept certain finds itself in the stories of creation in a number of cultures. Hindu cultures speak of the sound of creation: AUM. Jewish and Christian creation stories tell of God creating the Universe through spoken word: "And God said..."
Certainly, as Pagans, we understand the concept that "Words have power". With our rituals that build a bridge to the astral realm, that connect us to the Gods, bond us with our covenmates, or express our innermost desire as we chant a spell: we know our words have power.
But, then, I keep hearing things like "Not all Wiccans are Witches", "Not all Wiccans practice magic", and "Wicca is whatever you want it to be".
I admit it. Ten years ago, when I began to actively practice the Craft, I was a fluffy bunny. Though I practiced magic, I denounced initiation as elitist, and I even said, "Wicca is whatever you want it to be." It only took a short time before I started to question my own claims.
I was a part of a social Pagan group that met weekly at a local chain bookstore. One of the members invited us to participate in an open circle that she was hosting. The living room was packed that day. It was a lot of fun. I don't remember the theme of the ritual, or the occasion, but it awakened something in me that I have not forgotten. It awakened in me a very important question: if this was generic Paganism, but what I practiced was Wicca, then what was the difference?
If I am going to trouble myself with the label "Wicca", then, it should mean something, right? The ritual awakened in me the realization that words have power. Words have meaning.
Some claim that "it's just a label" and that labels don't mean anything. Certainly labels do mean something! What is a cat? If you describe something that is usually furry, has a tail, and meows then you understand why labels are important. If you ask me to feed your cat while you go on vacation and I leave a bowl of food for your piano, you (and your starving cat) will understand the importance of labels.
"Wicca" means something. What distinguishes "Wicca" from other forms of Paganism?
Wicca is a religion that is distinguished by its practices instead of beliefs. In more technical terms, it is orthopraxic instead of orthodoxic. A Druid may honor a God and Goddess, too, but it's what we do that creates a distinction. Similarly, one covenmate might see the Gods as archetypes, another might see the Gods as aspects of a greater whole, yet another might see them as distinct individuals, and I might be completely unsure of their exact nature, but certain they exist. We believe very different things, but we are all Wiccan because of what we do.
What are the defining characteristics of Wicca?
-Wiccans celebrate the cycles of the seasons as marked by the eight Sabbats and the 13 full moons.
-Wiccans cast circle (an act of magic itself) .
-Wiccans call upon four guardians, associated with each quarter point, to guard and observe their ritual.
-Wiccans honor a God and Goddess--typically a horned god and lunar goddess.
-Wiccans invoke the Goddess into the body of the ritual Priestess (if in a coven environment) .
-Wiccans work magic to help themselves individually, help friends/family, or help the community.
-Wiccans partake in a ritual food and drink to give thanks to the Gods and Their blessings.
-Wiccans achieve membership via initiation (into a coven) or dedication (if solitary) .
I am going to be so bold as to say that these are eight essentials. I might be missing one or two, but this is pretty much the basics. If you don't cast circle, for example, you are practicing another form of Paganism, but not Wicca. For those Wiccans who "don't practice magic", I would ask if you do cast a circle. If so, then consider revising your claim.
Notice, though, that I didn't say "All Wiccans believe in the threefold Law" or that "All Wiccans follow the Wiccan Rede." It might be true that all Wiccans believe in these things (even if we interpret them differently) , but without the eight essential practices, what would distinguish us from Jainists, Hindus, or just plain nice people? Most religions do teach that we shouldn't harm others or we'll face consequences for our actions.
It is these eight characteristics, these eight actions, which make us different. If we say that Wicca is "whatever we want it to be" then we have not defined Wicca at all! We have made it no more distinguishable from a pile of mush.
Ray Buckland, in an interview on the Correllian "Living the Wiccan Life" series, gave his opinion on the use of the Wicca or Witchcraft and how the use of these terms has changed over time.
Mr. Buckland states that when he began practicing the Craft, there was no distinction between Wiccans and Witches. This is an important point to remember. After some time, states Buckland, the trend became to use the word "Wicca" or "Wiccan". Eventually, though, "Witch" became just anyone who worked magic without honoring the God and Goddess or observing in the seasonal and lunar cycles. A more accurate term for a person who practices magic without the Witchcraft-specific religious practices would be a magician. He says,
"I think Witchcraft is becoming diluted to the point where it doesn't really mean anything. [...] It's got the point, almost, where anybody can say and do anything and say ‘this is Witchcraft’ and nobody can say 'No it's not' because we've lost the borderlines of it".
Words have power.
What is it about Wicca that makes people want to cling to such a label even if their practices hardly resemble anything Wiccan? Is it because the term is just more convenient or well-known? Is it because each of us realizes, even subconsciously, that words have power and that “Wicca” holds some power that people want to connect with?
Words do have power. If magic is the use of power with intent, let’s use our words with intent and reason.
Ray Buckland interview
Copyright: Matthaios, 2010
May not be reproduced without permission.
Location: Bethlehem, Georgia
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