Wicca is a Neopagan religion founded by the British civil servant Gerald Gardner in the 1930s. Gardner claimed that the religion was a survival of matriarchal religions of pre-historic Europe, taught to him by a woman named Dorothy Clutterbuck. Many believe he invented it himself, drawing on such sources as Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles G. Leland, Freemasonry and ceremonial magic; and while Clutterbuck certainly existed, Ronald Hutton concludes that she is unlikely to have been involved in Gardner's Craft activities.

The conventional wisdom is that the term wicca derives from the Indo-European root word of '*wic' & '*weik', meaning 'to bend or shape'. Another version of its origin is that it derives from an archaic/Old English word for wise.

Both these theories, however, are unlikely to be true. Wicca is simply the Old English word for 'wizard' or 'sorcerer', corresponding to the feminine form wicce, which gives Modern English witch. Despite widespread belief to the contrary, the word is untraceable beyond the Old English period. Derivation from the Indo-European roots '*wic' or '*weik' is impossible by phonological laws.

The idea of primitive matriarchial religions was popular in Gardner's day, both among academics (e.g., Erich Neumann, Robert Graves, Margaret Murray) and amateurs. Later academics (e.g., JJ Bachofen, Carl Jung and Marija Gimbutas) continued research in this area, and later still Joseph Campbell, Ashley Montagu and others highly esteemed Gimbutas's work on the matrifocal cultures of Old Europe, but since her death her interpretation of the archaeological record has been called into question, and her theories of universal female deity are no longer considered credible in the mainstream. Some academics carry on research in this area (consider the 2003 World Congress on Matriachal Studies), and many amateurs are enthusiastic about it, but most academics hold serious reservations.

Wicca is part of a larger religious movement known as Neopaganism. Since its founding, various related traditions have grown up around Gardnerian Wicca, which is the term used for the specific beliefs and practices established by Gardner. However, not all of these groups consider themselves Wiccan, depending on how closely they adhere to those beliefs and practices.

Table of contents
1 Beliefs and Practices
2 Wiccan Traditions
3 Morality
4 Wicca vs. Witchcraft

Beliefs and Practices

Most Wiccans worship two deities, the Goddess and the Horned God, but Dianic Wiccans mainly worship the Goddess; the Horned God plays either no role, or a diminished role, in Dianism.

Wiccans celebrate eight main holidays: four cross-quarter days called Samhain, Beltane, Imbolc (or Imbolg or Oimelc) and Lammas (or Lughnasadh), as well as the solstices, Litha and Yule, and equinoxes, Ostara (or Eostar or Eostre) and Mabon (see Wheel of the Year). They also hold Esbats, which are rituals held at the full and new moon.

The names are of ancient Germanic, Saxon or Celtic holidays held around the same time; ritual observations may include mixtures of those holidays as well as others celebrated at the same time in other cultures.

Some Wiccans join groups called covens, though others work alone as so-called 'solitaries'. Some solitaries do, however, attend "gatherings" and other community events, but reserve their "circle work" (Sabbats, Esbats, spell-casting, worship, magickal work, etc.) for when they are alone.

Wiccans weddings can be called "bondings", "joinings", or "eclipses" but are most commonly called "handfastings". Some Wiccans observe an ancient Celtic practice of a trial marriage for a year and a day, which some Traditions hold should be contracted on Lammas (Lughnasadh), although this is far from universal.

A much sensationalized, but true aspect of Wicca, particularly Gardnerian Wicca, is that some Wiccans practice skyclad, or naked.

Many Wiccans use special set of altar tools in their rituals; these can include a broom (besom), cauldron, Chalice (goblet), wand, Book of Shadows, altar cloth, athame (personal knife), altar knife, boline, candles, and/or incense. Representations of God/dess are often also used, which may be direct, representative, or abstract. Aspurgers are sometimes also used.

There are different thoughts in Wicca regarding the Elements. Some hold to the earlier Greek conception of the classical elements (air, fire, water, earth), while others recognize five elements: earth, air, water, fire, and spirit (akasha). In either case, these are the elements of nature that symbolize different places, emotions, objects, and natural energies and forces. For instance, crystals and stones are objects of the element earth, and seashells are objects of the water element. Each of the four cardinal elements, air, fire, water and earth, are commonly assigned a direction and a color:

  • Air: east, yellow
  • Fire: south, red
  • Water: west, blue
  • Earth: north, green

Elemental, directional correspondences, and colors may vary between traditions, however. It is common in the southern hemisphere, for instance, to associate the element fire with north (the direction of the equator) and earth with south (the direction of the nearest polar area.) Some Wiccan groups also modify the religious calendar to reflect local seasonal changes; for instance, in Australia Samhain might be celebrated on April 30th, and Beltane on October 31st to reflect the southern hemisphere's autumn and spring seasons.

Wiccan Traditions

There are many traditions, sub-traditions, lineages etc. of Wicca, some of the more well-known are Gardnerian Wicca, Alexandrian Wicca, Dianic Wicca, Seax-Wica and Faery Wicca. Also worth mentioning is the Feri Tradition, though this is not always considered Wiccan.

A generally accepted and informative book describing the various "paths" within the American pagan community is Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon : Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today.


Wiccan morality is ruled according to the Wiccan Rede, which states "An it harm none, do what ye will." ("an" is an archaic word meaning "if".) This very simple code leaves much up to the individual Wiccan, and that sense of personal reponsibility, rather than religious authority, is an innate part of Wicca. However, it may be construed as actually being far more restrictive on behavior than the "Golden Rule", being (mis)understood to proscribe practicing anything that will result in any harm to anything.

There are two basic applications of the Wiccan Rede. One is the old construction which views the Rede as saying that what does not harm is acceptable, and all other actions are up to the individual to make the moral decision. The other is a modern reconstruction, adopted to deflect the unfounded criticism that Wicca has any relation to Satanism, that the Rede is a prohibition against causing harm.

Most Wiccans of the latter interpretation, however, realize that life on this planet survives by consuming other life, and so they modify the Rede (in practice if not in word) to "... harm none needlessly." This has applications beyond mere survival, as well; few Wiccans, for example, would have a problem harming a rapist in the act of his or her crime if that harm stops the crime.

Many Wiccans also promote the "Law of Threefold Return", or the idea that anything that someone does may be returned to them threefold. In other words, good deeds are magnified back to the doer, but so are ill deeds. See also Karma.

Many Wiccans also follow, or at least consider, a set of 161 laws often refered to as Lady Sheba's Laws. Many other Wiccans, however, find these rules to be outdated and counterproductive.

For a summary of Wiccan views on homosexuality, see Neopagan views of homosexuality.

Wicca vs. Witchcraft

Though sometimes used interchangeably, "Wicca" and "Witchcraft" are not necessarily the same thing. The confusion comes, understandably, because both practitioners of Wicca and practitioners of Witchraft are called witches. In addition, many, but not all, Wiccans practice witchcraft and vice versa.

Wicca refers to the religion; the worship of the God & Goddess (or just Goddess), and the Sabbat and Esbat rituals.

Witchcraft, on the other hand, is considered a craft, and is sometimes called "The Craft". Witchcraft usually refers to the casting of spells and the practice of magick. Practicing witchcraft requires no belief in specific gods or goddesses and is much more like following recipes. There are "Christian Witches" and "Buddhist Witches" who practice witchcraft but who are not Wiccans.

The distinction between the two is, of course, not as black and white as this. There is a lot of crossover between Wicca and Witchcraft (for example: the mention of goddesses in spells, and the performance of spells during Sabbat rituals). However, the differences mentioned above are the general distinctions made between the two terms.

Some distinguish between high magick (ceremonial, ritualistic magick) and low magick (day-to-day, practical magick).

Some also distinguish between magick performed with coercion or unjust gain as its end, and term this practice the "left-hand path", and magick performed in accordance with the Wiccan Rede and general principles of not interfering with others unless the action has been requested by the others, termed the "right-hand path".

The history of Wicca is a much debated topic, and even many Wiccans are not sure of it. Generally, it is believed that Wicca is a modern invention in the style of old Pagan religions, following the thesis of Dr. Margaret Murray. There is good evidence, however, that while the ritual side of Wicca is undeniably styled after late Victorian occultism, the spiritual side is deeply inspired by the old pagan faiths, and this is why it is sometimes called "the Old Religion." Gardner probably had access to few, if any, traditional Pagan rites and it is believed that many of his rites were the result of his expounding on the works of Aleister Crowley. It is important to the understanding of Wicca to realize that while Wicca as we understand it is modern, both the practice of magick and the worship of the Mother Goddess and Great Horned God are ancient. It would be fair to say Gardner merely took the idea and ran with it, though perhaps his claims that the religion was the "Old Religion" has hindered, rather than helped, Wicca gain widespread acceptance.

See also : Paganism, Neopaganism, witch, witch trials, New Age, Pan-Wiccan