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Introduction to the Wiccan Religion and Contemporary Paganism

by Selena Fox

The Wiccan religion, also known as "The Craft," "Wicca," "Benevolent Witchcraft," and "The Old Religion" is a diverse and decentralized religion that is part of contemporary Paganism/Nature Spirituality. Today, there are thousands of individuals and groups practicing various forms of the Wiccan religion and other Pagan/Nature Spirituality paths throughout the United States and around the world.

There are many forms of the Wiccan religion. Hereditary/Family Tradition, Shamanic, Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Celtic, British Traditionalist, Dianic, Faerie, Circle Craft and Eclectic are just some of the variety of Wiccan traditions, or paths. In addition to Wiccans, Contemporary Paganism includes Pantheists, Goddess Spirituality folk, Druids, Heathens, Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Polytheist Reconstructionists, Animists, Ecofeminists, ChristoPagans, and other Nature Spirituality practitioners. Within most Wiccan and other Pagan traditions, there are a variety of types of groups as well as individual practitioners. Groups differ widely in size, structure, purpose, orientation, symbology, ritual practices, and other ways. There is even more variation among those practicing Wiccan/Pagan spirituality on their own without being part of a group that meets regularly. Some Wiccan and Pagan traditions are initiatory; others are not. Initiatory practices vary from tradition to tradition and include initiations by deities and spiritual helpers through dreams and vigils/vision quests, self-initiations, and initiations by teachers and groups.

Although there are many differences, there are also some spiritual practices and philosophies that Wiccans and other Pagans tend to have in common. They love and respect Nature and seek to live in harmony with the rest of the ecosphere. Many have personal communication and friendships with various animals, plants and other lifeforms. They honor the cycles of Nature. Many do rituals at New and Full Moon times and also at the eight seasonal Festivals, called Sabbats, spaced six to seven weeks apart throughout the year and coinciding with the Solstices, Equinoxes and midpoints between, usually called the "Cross Quarters." Samhain, popularly known as Halloween, is the New Year in most Wiccan and many Pagan traditions.

The Wiccan religion and other forms of Paganism are pantheistic in that the Divine is seen as everywhere and in everything. They also are animistic in that every human, tree, animal, stream, rock, and other forms of Nature is seen to have a Divine Spirit within. Many traditions have a monotheistic dimension in that there is an honoring of Divine Unity. They also are polytheistic in that the Divine is honored in a variety of Divine forms, including Goddesses, Gods, and other spiritual forces.

Wiccans and other Pagans also honor the Elements of Nature -- Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Spirit -- and their associated directions -- North, East, South, West, Center -- in the sacred Circles where rituals are held. Rituals usually include a combination of meditation, invocations, movement, music, and the use of magical tools.

As part of their spiritual practice, many Wiccans and other Pagans develop their intuitive abilities and practice magic, directing psychic energy for particular healing and helping purposes. In working magic, Wiccans adhere to the Wiccan Rede, a form of the Golden Rule, which is the central ethical law of the religion: "An it harm none, do what you will." Most Wiccans acknowledge that whatever magical force is sent out returns magnified to the sender. Wiccans do not perform evil magic and do not worship the devil or Satan, which is the anti-God of the Christians. The Wiccan religion is pre-Christian and post-Christian, not anti-Christian.

Although the Wiccan religion and other forms of Contemporary Paganism draw on ancient roots, especially from pre-Christian Europe, they also embody the new. Many practitioners are creating new chants, meditations and rituals, and are sharing them with others through publications, correspondence and face-to-face contact at gatherings, festivals, conferences, and conventions that bring those of many paths together.

To become more involved with Wiccan, Pagan, and Nature Spiritualities, we suggest:

  • Read, watch, and listen to Wiccan and other Pagan publications, blogs, websites, podcasts, videos and social media from a variety of sources in order to learn about different viewpoints, practices and philosophies. 
  • Read Wiccan and Pagan books, such as The Spiral Dance by Starhawk; Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler; Paganism: An Introduction to Earth Centered Spirituality by River & Joyce Higginbotham; and Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham. These and other books are available from a variety of sources, including Circle Sanctuary's online and on-site Resource Shop.
  • Attend Pagan festivals and meet a wide range of practitioners from different Wiccan/Pagan paths. One of the largest, oldest and most well known of these kinds of festivals is the Pagan Spirit Gathering which we sponsor each year at the Summer Solstice.
  • Contact others in your area through social media and email, and if and when it seems right, make face-to-face contact. If you are not yet legally an adult and want to get involved with adult practitioners face-to-face, you should discuss this with your parents first and get their permission, or wait until you reach the age of consent and focus on doing reading and personal practice until then. Most groups, teachers and festivals are not open to involvement with those under 18 years of age unless parental permission has been obtained.
  • Visit Wiccan/Pagan centers and sacred sites. Circle Sanctuary, where our center is headquartered, is open to visitors during our Sabbat Festivals, Full Moons, classes, visiting days, and other events throughout the year.. 
  • Take part in classes, seminars, retreats, and/or other learning experiences. Workshops and other training are offered by Circle Sanctuary in person and online through podcasts, as well as through other centers, groups, and traditions.
  • Become a Circle Sanctuary Member.  Membership is open to Pagans and those on related paths of Nature Spirituality who practice forms of spirituality that incorporate a reverence and respect for Nature and have a code of ethics that promotes well-being for self, others, and the planet, and is consistent with the Wiccan Rede (An it harm none, do what you will). Your name and contact information will be kept confidential, unless you elect to have them published through one or more of our networking periodicals.
  • Spend time spiritually communing with Nature. When you feel ready, do some of the meditations and rituals published online and/or in print.  Keep a journal and record your experiences.

Blessed Be!

Copyright 2016, Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary,
(revised & updated from prior versions December 2016)

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