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Frequently Asked Questions about|
Witchcraft, Wicca and Paganism
- by Wren Walker
Monday, March 1st, 1999
What is Witchcraft? Who are these Witches anyway?
A practitioner of a nature-based belief system or religion. Not all Witches follow the same belief system. Some practice what is called the "old religion" which has its roots in pagan pre-monotheistic folk ways and beliefs and usually follows the seasonal cycles. These belief systems or "traditions" of Witches are often based upon the particular culture from whence they originated. Many Witches believe in a polytheistic deity structure (usually based upon the local gods and goddesses of the area of origin), but some simply practice magick (sometimes spelled with a 'k' to differentiate it from stage magic). Witches may practice alone as 'solitaries" or in covens. There are also family groups or traditions which trace their practices and beliefs within the same close group throughout several generations.
A modern form of Witchcraft is called "Wicca." Traditional Wicca is based on the teachings of Gerald Gardner, is coven based and each coven can trace its lineage (line of teaching passed on by initiated Traditional priests and priestesses) back to Gardner himself. There are offshoots of Gardnerian Traditional Wicca such as Alexandrian Wicca, Georgian Wicca and many others. Traditional Wiccans are considered a 'mystery' religion, require initiation by the coven and have a "degree system" or different levels of rank based upon coven training and the readiness of the initiate to accept the duties and responsibilities of that degree. They have a core of inner knowledge-often called the "Book of Shadows"-which is known only to initiated Wiccans. Most Traditional Wiccans believe in the balance of male-female divinity. Traditional Wiccans are seldom solitary except for those 'Elders'-usually former priests and priestesses-who may have retired from active coven involvement.
Other Forms of Wicca:
A newer form of Wicca has developed since the 1970's which is looser in structure and practice than the Traditional Wicca. These practitioners may follow a mixture of various or "eclectic' pagan and/or non-pagan beliefs. Some have formed 'traditions' or covens of their own, with or without a degree system, and have written a "book of shadows" outlining their own belief system and coven structure. Many are solitary practitioners who practice their beliefs and formulate their rituals in their own way.
Since the terms Witch and Wiccan are often mistakenly interchanged, many simply call themselves "pagans" or Neo-pagans" when talking with others who may not be familiar with the complexity of the different belief systems. But just as not all Christians are Lutheran or Catholic, so not all pagans are Witches or Wiccan. Neo-paganism is a term used most often to describe people who follow an earth-based belief system or religion. Druids and the Norse tradition of Asatru (who tend to prefer the term 'heathen") are considered to be pagan belief systems, but their adherents are neither Witches nor Wiccans. Neo-paganism should also not be confused with the "New Age" movement as pagans are almost exclusively involved in distinctive nature religions or earth-based practices while New Age spirituality draws from many sources and esoteric spiritual techniques.
Q: Are you a good Witch or a bad Witch?
A: When you ask if someone is a "good" Witch or a "bad" Witch, it is the same as asking someone if they are a "good" Presbyterian or a "bad" Presbyterian. Wiccans adhere to the Rede, "An it harm none, do as ye will." Witches, Druids and other pagan belief systems and religions have their own ethical standards. There are good and bad people in every society and in every religion. When a person breaks the laws of society or the tenets of their religion, they are called to account for their actions. To judge a person as either "good" or "bad" based upon nothing more than their religious preference alone has a label, too. It is called bigotry.
Q: Do you worship Satan?
A: Satan is a part of the Christian and Muslim religions. Since pagans are neither Christian nor Muslim, Satan is not part of our deity structure at all.
We believe that each and every human being is completely responsible for his or her own actions. To us, evil is a choice, albeit a bad one, that a human might make, not an embodied entity to blame our actions upon.
If an individual chooses to do evil, most pagans believe they will be punished via the laws of karma or as a result of "cause and effect.". In other words, "What goes around usually comes around."
Many Witches and Wiccans believe in some form of reincarnation, that the results or karma of past deeds can follow a person from one life to the next. This may also help to explain why terrible things sometimes happen to wonderful people or why some people seem to have been born with certain skills and knowledge. It may also explain why some people seem to lead a 'charmed" life.
Some pagans believe in an after-life spent in another plain of existence. Known as Summerland, Avalon, Valhalla or simply the "Other Side', they believe that they will be reunited here once again with friends and family.
Q: So why do you use that "Satanic" symbol?
A: The pentagram, or five pointed star, is not Satanic. Pythagoras used it as a symbol of health and his followers wore them in order to recognize one another. In Medieval times, some Christian knights used the pentagram as their symbol. To modern Wiccans the pentagram means many things; The five points correspond to the elements Air, Earth, Fire and Water with the top point corresponding to "Spirit". The pentagram in a circle may also represent a human with their legs and arms outstretched, surrounded by universal wisdom or the "Goddess" - humankind at one with the environment. Many Witches and other pagan practitioners do not wear the pentacle at all, but have other symbols of special meaning to them.
Satanists turn the symbol upside-down, which puts the elements of Fire and Earth at the top (Fire symbolizes willpower and passion and Earth, prosperity and earthly goods) and Spirit, spirituality, at the bottom. Satanists also turn the cross upside-down. This, in itself, does not make the cross or pentagram a Satanic symbol. In some Wiccan traditions, the reversed pentagram is a symbol of "second degree" status - one who has been elevated from "initiate". To members of these traditions, the reversed pentagram is considered highly positive and has no connection to Satanism. A symbol is simply an image or mark in itself. It is the mind and the beliefs of the beholder which attribute to it a particular meaning.
Q: Do you do blood sacrifice?
A: Goddess NO! The nature of sacrifice is to give up something of one's own in order to gain something more important. Wiccans believe in the sanctity of all life. Most pagans believe that animals are part of the same natural cycle of life as humans are. Witches have long been associated with animal companions known as "familiars." Check out the TWV "Cats of Witchcraft" page. Do these animals look abused to you?
Q: Do Witches and Wiccans cast spells?
A: Yes. Well, some do anyway. However, the term "spell" is widely misunderstood.
Spells, are somewhat like prayers and are used to create needed change in one's own life or the life of a loved one. But while prayers are a petition to an external Deity to create the change, most Witches and Wiccans believe that Deity is present in everything, including ourselves. Spells, then, are the channeling of our own divine selves, our own energies, to create the change.
Spells such as those which use love magic to gain the attention of a specific individual, or curses, are considered "manipulative". Most Wiccans believe that anything manipulative-that goes against the free will of another-is considered wrong. Many other pagan paths have similar codes of conduct based upon the tenets of their tradition or belief and almost all believe that the responsibility for their actions will lie with them.
Q: Are Witchcraft or Wicca cults?
A: A cult by definition is a group of people who blindly follow one leader. As Witches, Wiccans and pagans tend to be free-thinkers, there is no one person that we consider to be THE leader. Thus we cannot be called a cult.
Q: Do you have ritual orgies?
A: These rumors come from our lack of taboos regarding sex. We have no rules which prohibit homosexuality, nudity or pre-marital sex. Sex as the generative force in nature is seen by most pagans as something utterly sacred. We feel that the physical act of love is to be approached with great respect and responsibility.
Q: Why do all Witches/Wiccans wear black?
A: We all don't. Many Witches/Wiccans actually seem to favor green and/or purple. Black, however, is in many cultures a symbol of clergy. Priests, Ministers and Rabbis all favor black as the main color of their ritual garb.
Scientifically speaking, color is energy. The colors you see are the ones which are reflected and not the ones absorbed. Therefore, what appears to be white, which is the culmination of all colors in the light spectrum, is actually reflecting all colors and absorbing none. What appears to be black, is absorbing all colors and reflecting none. This is evident in the fact that when one is wearing white, one feels cooler - as the fabric is sending the heat energy outward, and when one wears black - the heat energy is absorbed in the cloth that one is wearing, making one feel warmer. Many Witches feel that wearing black attracts and holds more natural energy.
Q: Aren't all Witches Women?
A: No. Neither are Wiccans or those in other pagan paths. Witches can be either men or women. The term "Warlock" is never used to describe a male Witch as it is considered to be a religious slur. "Warlock" is an old Scottish word meaning "traitor" or "oath-breaker". Men and Women alike can be Witches, Wiccans or pagans.
Q: Why would anyone want to be a pagan, a Witch or Wiccan?
A: People are generally drawn to Wicca and other pagan paths for several reasons. Many women feel left out of more mainstream religions because of the lack of feminine divinity. For them, the Wiccan concept of the Goddess as Mother of all Living fills an empty space in their spiritual search. As a nature based religion, Witchcraft also appeals to those who feel a strong need to "get back to the Earth" and places a major importance on protecting the environment, which we are a part of, not apart from. People drawn to the mystical find pagan belief systems much more accommodating as we do not see anything unnatural about psychic ability or the use of magic to create needed changes in one's life. It gives us the freedom to make our own decisions about what is best for us.
Q: How do you convert new Witches/Wiccans/pagans?
A: We don't. We feel that the attempted conversion of others is a form of religious bigotry. i.e. If one tries to convert another to his/her religion, s/he assumes that the other person's beliefs are not as valid as his/her own. We feel that all paths are equally valid as long as they do not infringe upon the basic civil rights or free will of another. According to our beliefs, it is up to the individual to choose his or her own path. We do not try to manipulate others into our way of thinking, we only try to educate others about our religion so that they may better understand us. We do, however try to help guide those who have already expressed an interest in the pagan belief systems or religions.
Q: So what do Witches/Wiccans/pagans DO?
A: Pretty much what everybody does. We come from all walks of life. We raise families, go to work, throw steaks (or vegetables) on the "barbie" and hang out with our friends. We practice our religions and belief systems, celebrate our holidays with festivals and continue to study and explore our past while contemplating our futures.
Many covens and groups meet once a month to worship together under the moon. Pagans tend to hold ceremonies or "circles" out of doors as we feel that being with nature brings us closer to the divinity who creates it.
Some pagan beliefs may seem strange to those who have not heard much about them before. Pagans, on the other hand, are usually very well versed in the beliefs of other religions. They find the various religious systems interesting and often encourage their own children to learn about these other religions. Pagans believe in free will and free choice and that an educated choice is always better than blind obedience to any religion or dogma. We are not "against" other religions. We have simply made our choice to be pagan and we expect others to respect that choice as we respect theirs.
All that we ask is that we are allowed to practice our religion without prejudice or interference as is our right guaranteed here in the United States under the Constitution and as outlined within the constitutions of many other countries. The freedom to practice religion -or no religion-as you choose-whether it be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Pagan-is the freedom to follow your spirit and your heart. This precious freedom must be defended, protected and treasured by all or it will no longer be guaranteed for anyone.
These updated basics F.A.Q.'s of Witchcraft were adapted
from the original version (1996) as composed by...
Paula Murphy, Ainsley Friedberg
J.Kyle Sweeney & Lisa Tonner
Surf to the...
Connecticut Wiccan and Pagan Network
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