In its original form in the New Forest Coven, the word "wica" was a plural term that applied to the members of the coven, and was not a term used to denote the religion or practices. It wasn't until 1959, with the publication of Gerald Gardner's book The Meaning of Witchcraft, that the term "wicca" became popularized, and shortly thereafter it started to be used as the name of the religion, rather than its practitioners. Practitioners of Wicca are now called "wiccans".
The following are the beliefs, rules, and practices of Wicca:
The Goddess and The GodEdit
Wiccans believe in a moon goddess and a horned male god. In the original Gardnerian Wicca, the goddess is Aradia (a character from the 1899 book Aradia) and the horned male god is Cernunnos (a celtic pagan deity). In Alexandrian Wicca, Aradia is replaced with Cerridwen (a mythological witch, who was never considered a deity prior to Wicca). The Gardnerian and Alexandrian books of shadows (the original books that describe the religion of Wicca) state that wiccans should worship the gods. However, some wiccans do not worship the gods, but rather describe their relationship with the gods as "working with" him/her.
The Watchtowers and their LordsEdit
Wiccans believe that there are multiple supernatural 'watchtowers', of an unspecified quantity, in each of the four cardinal directions
(north, south, east, and west), and that those watchtowers are manned by powerful but unspecified supernatural beings,
who are referred to as 'lords' or 'mighty ones'. Those lords are believed to bear witness to the wiccan rituals.
Wiccans believe in reincarnation. The recitations in various wiccan rituals state that after death, people become reborn into new bodies.
The Wiccan LawsEdit
The wiccan laws are various rules (they are not actual laws, as they are not enforced by a government) that were created by Gerald Gardner,
and are written in the Gardnerian and Alexandrian books of shadows, and in Ye Bok of ye Art Magical which preceded them.
Wiccans are expected to follow these rules to some extent, but some of the rules are anachronistic, applying to the time when
witches were hunted, interrogated, tortured, and killed, or at least considered criminal, so some of such rules are disregarded by most wiccans.
For more information, see the article wiccan laws.
The Wiccan RedeEdit
The central ethical principle of Wicca is the wiccan rede. The wiccan rede is: "if it harms none, do what you will".
For more information, see the article wiccan rede.
Wicca does not have any explicit dietary restrictions, but many wiccans are vegetarians as a result of applying the wiccan rede to animals.
The Rule of Threefold ReturnEdit
The rule of threefold return states that a witch should return three times the good that another person does to them,
and return three times the bad that another person does to them. In other words, it is three times reward and three times revenge.
That rule blatantly contradicts the wiccan rede, as well as the statement 'harm none' that repeatedly appears in Gerald Gardner's wiccan laws.
It especially contradicts sentences from the Gardnerian wiccan laws that state:
"So it is ordained that none shall use the art in any way to harm any, however much they have injured us.", and
"No one, however great an injury or injustice they receive, may use the art in any way to do ill or harm any.".
Those statements are also present in the Alexandrian wiccan laws 108 and 109.
It is likely that the rule of threefold return was invented by the New Forest Coven rather than Gerald Gardner,
which would explain why it contradicts Gardner's wiccan laws and wiccan rede.
The rule of threefold return was first mentioned in chapter 17 of Gerald Gardner's 1949 book High Magic's Aid,
and in the second-degree initiation ritual which is described in Gardner's book of shadows.
The wording of the rule in High Magic's Aid and in Gardner's book of shadows is identical, and in both cases it applies to scourgings.
That wording is: "Learn, in witchcraft, thou must ever return triple. As I scourged thee, so thou must scourge me, but triple.
... But mark well, when thou receivest good, so equally art bound to return good threefold."
In 1986, Raymond Buckland published the book Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft,
in which he falsely portrayed the rule of threefold return as being a karmic law of the universe rather than a rule of conduct.
That false threefold rule states that whatever good or bad a person does to others will karmicly return to them threefold.
Due to the popularity of Buckland's book, his lie about the threefold rule became widely believed.
Rituals play a very important role in the beliefs of wiccans, as it is closely tied to the mystery aspects of the religion.
The wiccan rituals include the initiation and elevation rituals, the sabbat rituals, and the esbat rituals.
Ritual tools are a major aspect of wiccan rituals.
Information on this subject is at the article ritual tools.
Wicca has three levels of initiation: the first-degree initiation, the second-degree initiation, and the third-degree initiation.
The second- and third-degree initiations are sometimes alternatively called 'elevations', though that term was not used in early Wicca.
In the first-degree initiation, the initiate is given the title of 'priest(ess) and witch'.
In the second-degree initiation, the initiate is given the title of 'high priest(ess) and magus (for males) / witch queen (for females)'.
In the third-degree initiation, the initiate is not given a new title.
Because Wicca emphasizes gender polarity, a person may be initiated only by a member of the opposite gender.
The only exception to this rule is that a parent may initiate their child, regardless of the gender of the parent and the child.
Most wiccan groups claim an initiatory lineage to the New Forest Coven on the southern coast of England,
and the subsequent Bricket Wood Coven north of London.
Wiccans celebrate 8 holidays, called sabbats.
The sabbats are spaced at approximately equal intervals throughout the year.
In order, those 8 sabbats are as follows, going by their original names:
1. febuary eve, 2. the spring equinox, 3. may eve, 4. the summer solstice,
5. august eve, 6. the autumn equinox, 7. november eve, 8. the winter solstice.
Some time in the 1950s, Gerald Gardner renamed febuary eve to Candlemass,
renamed august eve to Lammas, and renamed november eve to Halloween.
Other, later wiccans have made additional alterations to the sabbat names.
In addition to the sabbats, there are group rituals called esbats, which may be done on any day, but are preferentially done during a full moon, in which case they are called 'full moon esbats'.
Although some self-identified wiccans claim not to practice magic, those of a more traditional background and training will argue against this as it has traditionally been seen as a fundamental aspect of practice and necessary for development.
Wiccans are permitted to wear any form of clothing, but for ritual practice it is important to have robes worn only for this occasion as part of the shift into a magical state. It is also more traditional for rituals to be performed without clothing, known as being skyclad, which has an important symbolic meaning and other spiritual benefits when working within a coven.
There are several different sects of Wicca.
The original and oldest sect of Wicca is Gardnerian Wicca, which was created by Gerald Gardner in or around 1946,
and underwent modifications during the 1950s, in large part due to Doreen Valiente.
The second-oldest sect of Wicca is Alexandrian Wicca, which was created by Alex Sanders starting in the mid 1960s,
and does not deviate much from the original Gardnerian Wicca.
Various new wiccan sects were created during the 1970s, including Dianic Wicca in 1971, Algard Wicca in 1972,
Seax-Wica in 1973, Blue Star Wicca in 1975, and Odyssean Wicca in 1979.
Elements taken from other sourcesEdit
Wicca is a highly syncretic religion that combines elements from several different sources.
Those sources are: the two witch-related books by Margaret Murray (The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches),
the book Aradia by Charles Leland, The Druid Order, a poem by Rudyard Kipling, the fiction books of H.P. Lovecraft, the Key of Solomon,
Freemasonry, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley, and BDSM practices.
The many specific elements of Wicca that were taken from those sources are listed at:
Elements of Wicca that were taken from other sources