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What is Wicca?

Wicca is a branch of Paganism, or, as some would have it Neo-Paganism. It takes its roots from prehistoric worship of a fertility goddess and her horned consort, and also from the Witchcraft practiced by the Celts in early Britain. However, Wicca as it exists today has only been around since the mid 1950s when Gerald Gardener went public with it after his initiation into the Old Forest coven in England. Most contemprary Wiccan beliefs and practices stem from Gardener, and exist most purely in the aptly named Gardenerian Tradition.
It is difficult to define Wicca for many reasons. First, until very very recently, Witches practiced only in secret, for fear of persecution. While this fear still exists today, our larger numbers and greater government recognition has allowed many of us to come out of the "broom closet." For more information of this type, look at the US Army Chaplain's Handbook section on Wicca.
Today, fortunately, things are much more open and safe. There are thousands of web sites related to Wicca, as well as many many books on the subject. Visit my barnesandnoble.com bookstore to see what I mean!
Wiccans are for the most part pantheistic, meaning that we do not believe in a supernatural deity. For us, the Divine is present in the air we breath, the food we eat, and the earth we walk on. Humans are not above the plants, rocks, or animals, and we do not rule them.
On the physical plane, there is Male and Female (Anima and Animus), above us on the astral plane there is the God and the Goddess, and Beyond the Veil there is the All. Wiccans worship Deity in the dual form of the God and the Goddess, naming them according to their particular pantheons. Neither deity is more important or more powerful than the other, although the Goddess is generally given more recognition. This is becoming less and less in recent years, except in Dianic Wicca, whose members worhsip only the Goddess.
Now I'm only gonna say this once...WICCANS DO NOT WORSHIP SATAN!!! Let me put it on the table -- Satan has horns. The Wiccan God also has horns. Well, I have brown hair, just like Hitler did -- does that make me a facist? When Christian missionaries came to England, they discovered a local god with horns who looked kind of like their Devil. Aha! They said. These poor souls are worshipping the devil and they don't know it! So they used this coincidence to not only convert large numbers of Witches to Christianity, but also to forever corrupt the word "witch" in the English language.
Witches CANNOT worship Satan because Witches do not BELIEVE in Satan, nor in any concept of absolute evil. The God and the Goddess are both creative and destructive -- there is no absolute good in the world either. Satan is a Christian entity. He always has been, and always will be. If you worship Satan, you must believe in him, and if you believe in him, then you must be a Christian! 'Nuff said.
The only dogma in Wicca is the Wiccan Rede.
It appears in it's entirety elsewhere in this BoS, but the most commonly known lines are "An it harm none, do as ye will." This is often simplified further to the phrase "harm none." This is what Wicca is about. It's about the freedom to choose so long as you do no harm to others -- including yourself!
Wiccans have two cycles of holidays, known as Esbats and Sabbats. Put simply, the esbats are full-moon rituals and the sabbats celebrate the yearly cycle of the sun. Symbolically, the sabbats tell the story of the God and the Goddess as they travel around the Wheel of the Year.
Wicca has divided itself up into Traditions, or sects. There are literally hundreds of Wiccan Traditions alive and flourishing in the United States alone. A Tradition is a set of beliefs and rituals that have been set down and are followed fairly strictly by their adherents Some Wiccan Traditions are Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Dianic, British Triaidionalist, Pecti, and Solitary. The best resource for learning about Wiccan Traditions is Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon, which has just been released in mass market paperback form.
Some Witches work in covens. A coven is a group consisting traditionally of 13, but it can be any number (larger than 13 is in general considered too big, smaller groups are quite common) who meet at the Esbats and Sabbats to perform rituals. A coven has a High Priest and a High Priestess, working as equals to lead the group. This doesn't mean that the other coven members are passive! On the contrary, all members of a coven work together to build energy, focus it, and send it out to it's purpose (usually worship or healing or both). Witches that are not part of a coven are called Solitaries. I am a Solitary witch, by choice and geography. Solitaries generally don't follow specific Traditions (which are geared towards coven work) and many call themselves Eclectic to reflect the fact that they bring the teachings of many different branches of Wicca into their worship.
Wiccans use magick. I have adopted the practice of spelling it with a "k" to make the point that I'm not talking about sleight-of-hand tricks. Magick is a way of tapping into the living energy of the earth and sending it forth with a purpose.

The "W" Words...
The word "witch" can refer to any person, male or female, who practices withccraft. Some use it interchangeably with the word "Wiccan," but for me, Witchcraft is the practice of magick, and Wicca is the religion. The two often coexist, but they are not the same.
A male witch is NOT a warlock! The word warlock comes from the Scottish for "beware Loki" and means Oathbreaker. It is a grave insult to call someone a warlock.
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