exWitch Australia
Glossary of Wiccan, Neo-Pagan and Occult Terminology

a.k.a. The Old Religion, The Craft of the Wise or, simply, The Craft

The modern "Wiccan" and "Witch" both derive from the Old English "wicce."   Although popular belief has attempted to connect this word with the root for "wise" (Old English "witig"), there is no possible etymological association between the two.   The word "wicce" comes from an Indo-European root meaning "to twist or bend," a root connecting it with the concept of Norse concept of Wyrd.

This Old English term for a Witch, first appearing in a manuscript dating from the 9th Century when it was applied to identify a Sorcerer.   During the purges of the 16th and 17th Century, it was associated with anyone practising diabolism.

Wicca is the principal branch of the Neo-Pagan revival to which most modern Witches adhere and which principally sustained modern Witchcraft between the 1940's and the 1980's (although since the late 1980's there has been a growing interest in other forms of Paganism to the extent that the opening statement may, according to some authorities, no longer present an accurate view).

Wicca first emerged, publicly, in the late 1940's and commenced, effectively, with the repeal of the Witchcraft Act (UK) in 1951.

The movement was started in England by Gerald Gardner and spread first to the United States, then to other English-speaking regions of the world and, more latterly, to non-English-speaking European countries.

Wicca relies on a syncretzsation of beliefs some of which are drawn from known ancestral religious practices, including those of the Celts, some from the tenets of Freemasonry and others from Classical themes.   In terms of modern cults it is most closely related to Druidry.

Its religious calendar celebrates eight seasonal festivals or Sabbats.

Wicca may be regarded as a mystery religion, subscribing to a path of Initiation into a Coven and the 'deeper' Mysteries of Wicca, though many 'newer' branches of Wicca, particularly self-taught and/or 'Teen Witches', practice a form of self-Initiation that is often not recognised by older, more experienced Coven-trained Wiccans.   Such self-taught Wiccans are often disparagingly referred to as "fluffy bunnies".

Its principles include a profound communication with the natural world and the implicit understanding that each and every individual possesses innate Psychic abilities which, if properly channelled, can both foresee the future and influence events in the present through the application of Magic.

Its symbolism is that of Kabbalistic (see KABBALAH) and Ritual Magic.

It is emphasized by Wiccans that theirs is more than a religion, it is also a Craft.   A fundamental feature lies in that its members practise magick and achieve practical objectives through Psychic abilities which are applied for beneficial purposes, be they for healing or for good in other ways.

There is an important distinction that a member of the Wiccan faith is a witch, but a witch is not necessarily a Wiccan.

In Wicca there is, in some Covens, little sense of an hierarchical gulf between an active clergy and a passive congregation, familiar in more orthodox religions, while in others a strict hierarchy is more apparent.   This is often reflected in the name of a Coven e.g. "Temple of..." usually denotes a Coven with a fairly rigid hierarchy, and "Circle of..." usually denotes a Coven without a strict hierarchical gulf between clergy and congregation.

NOTE: This is by no means a hard and fast rule, but rather a 'rule of thumb' that I have personally found to provide a generally accurate insight into the structure of other Covens during my time as High Priest of the 'Circle of the Mystic Moon' - though our Coven did eventually make a conscious decision to leave the Wiccan 'fold' and follow the 'Left-Hand Path', become somewhat 'stricter' in its heirarchy as we moved further away from the groups original Wiccan roots.

In many Wiccan Traditions, a Wiccan becomes a priest or priestess at their 1st Degree Initiation (though in the Coven I was originally Initiated into this did not hapen until the 2nd Degree Initiation), the only restriction usually being that the Initiate must be at least eighteen years of age, and has studied with the Coven for a period of a year and a day.

In common with many other branches of modern Paganism, Wiccans do not generally proselytize and exceptions are quite rare.   Wicca traditionally takes the form of an Occult spiritual discipline that is adopted by a limited number of people - though this is changing.   Its object is to follow a spiritual path which generates personal fulfilment and which allows for the development and use of Psychic and magical strengths.

Around the world Wicca is divisible into four main branches, Alexandrian, Gardnerian, Hereditary and Traditional and (with the exception of newer 'self-created Traditions' that often are not recognised by older, more experienced Wiccans) more or less all other Traditions have evolved from these.

In practice the distinctions between Alexandrian and Gardnerian have largely merged.

Contrary to popular belief, many Wiccans do not belong to, or even have contact with a Coven, prefering to follow a solitary path, worshipping alone and subscribing to no particular branch.

In Britain these solitary witches are not usually called Wiccan, but are Witches in a wider sense.

In general Wicca asserts that human consciousness is not dependent on the physical world of the body but can extend beyond its temporal limits.

Emphasis is placed on the equal values of the spiritual and temporal worlds and, in contrast with the Christian faith, it does not equate "pleasures of the flesh" with sinbut considers that physical Incarnation is a gift which is to be enjoyed and explored to the full.

Wiccan beliefs, however, are not fixed but are interpreted and modified according to the experience and understanding of the individual practitioner.   Its beliefs and rituals are thus presented in outline form at this site which, although they will have certain common threads, are often developed according to personal preferences.


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One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.

Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans.   Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.

Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church.   Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.

- Jean-Luc
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