Tuesday, August 12, 2014

We're off to see the Wiccans, the wonderful Wiccans of Utah

This week, I'll be stopping in on a public Wicca ceremony held by The Order of Our Lady of Salt in Salt Lake City. Wicca is a fascinating religion to me as it's a modern religion based on ancient and modern elements that is heavily misunderstood by mainstream society.

Because of this, I'm starting this blog out with a list of things Wicca is not based on misconceptions about the religion

Wicca is not:
  • It is not Devil worship. Wiccans don't believe in the Devil. Most Wiccans actually don't believe in absolute good or absolute evil. So a Devil has no place in their beliefs.
  • It is not like the movies or TV shows. Witches aren't engaged in a cosmic battle to protect the forces of good from the evil, dark magical forces. Again, battles of absolute good and absolute evil are foreign concepts to Wicca. Wiccans don't hurl fireballs, shape shift, etc.
  • It is not just a teenage fad. For many it is often a phase of adolescence that comes and goes. But for many, including teenagers who practice it, it is a lifelong religion. You will find practitioners of it in every age and background.
  • Wiccans do not perform animal sacrifice at all.
  • Wiccans don't seek to indoctrinate children, destroy Christianity, or convert the world. Wicca is viewed as a personal choice and they don't believe in missionary work or converting others.
A bit of background on Wicca:

Wicca is a modern religion started by a man named Gerald Gardner in the first half of the 20th century. While Gardner claimed to have been initiated into an old pagan order called "Wica" that had survived through the centuries, most believe he took elements of Norse and other European pagan traditions and infused them with ceremonial magic, Gardner himself having belonged to the Rosicrucians, a ceremonial magic system based on Kabbalah which also influenced Thelema.

Whether you believe Gardner was initiated into an old world order and added his own elements, or created the religion, it nonetheless continued on as a spiritual system based on covens, magic, and worship of two main deities, the Great Mother Goddess, and the Horned God.

Originally Wicca was only practiced in small groups called covens which were ruled by a high priestess who was assisted by a high priest. However, several authors, Raymond Buckland and Scott Cunningham primarily, took what they had learned from the covens and wrote books allowing individuals to practice the religion alone. This led to the religion spreading much faster and easier as people no longer needed to be initiated into a coven to practice, but could do so on their own using the materials from the books.

The exact number of Wiccans is unknown as there is no formal centralized bodies and many people practice in secret and no great census of it has been done. It's estimated there are more than 140,000 in the US, possibly more.

Wicca is a largely personal religion, and it's hard to say what is essential for someone to be a practitioner of Wicca. Individuals are encouraged to find their own path and discover what makes sense for them and what doesn't. There are some unifying themes found among most practitioners of Wicca.

Beliefs and practices most Wiccans share:
  • Belief in a supreme spirit which is beyond human comprehension. This deity is expressed through its male and female energies, called the God and the Goddess. Neither is greater than the other, but essential to the existence of the other. Most Wiccans see all the other gods mankind has worshiped as different aspects of the God and Goddess and will worship them as such. Thus, Wicca has elements that are polytheistic and monotheistic.
  • The Goddess is often represented usually as a lunar deity with three primary aspects: maiden, mother, and crone. She acts in these roles at different times in the lives of mankind, and in different seasons of the year.
  • The God is represented usually as a horned god of the forest, representing the primal nature of mankind, or as a solar deity to compliment the Goddess. He is seen as the child of the Goddess, her lover as the maiden, and the slain God who dies to continue on the cycle of life.
  • Wiccans have eight major holidays called the Sabbats. These correspond to the equinoxes, solstices, and four other holidays between them. These holidays are taken from various ancient European pagan cultures and most correspond to a holiday celebrated by the Catholic Church. These holidays mean different things to different Wiccans, so the list below is a guideline. They are:
    • Yule - The winter solstice, corresponding closely to Christmas. It celebrates the rebirth of light and the rebirth of the slain God.
    • Imbolc - February 1st, often celebrating the Goddess Brigid and the returning light. Corresponds to a lesser known Catholic holiday called Candlemas or the Purification of the Virgin Mary.
    • Ostara - The spring equinox corresponding closely to Easter. It represents the emergence of the Goddess as the maiden and the beginning of spring.
    • Beltaine - May Day. Not a Catholic holiday, but the old European celebration of Spring. This holiday represents fertility to Wiccans and is often seen as the mystical union between the God and Goddess bringing fertility to the earth.
    • Midsummer - The summer solstice, corresponding to the Feast of John the Baptist. This feast represents the God at the height of his power, the day being the longest of the year. In some traditions he is the Oak King replaced by the Holly King at this time.
    • Lughnasadh - August 1st with no major Catholic equivalent. It is the first harvest festival.
    • Mabon - The fall equinox. Corresponds closely to the Catholic holiday of the Feast of Michael and All Angels or Michaelmas. This is the second harvest festival and a time to celebrate the abundance of the harvest.
    • Samhain - October 31st or November 1st. This corresponds with Halloween and All Saints Day/All Souls Day. This holiday honors the sacrifice of the God and his death so to continue the circle of life. The Goddess also becomes the crone on this day. It is one of the biggest holidays for Wiccans and many believe the veil between the living and dead is thinnest at this time.
  • Wiccans also celebrate the cycles of the moon and full moon ceremonies (in some traditions new moons as well) are held called Esbats. (Interesting to note, Esbats and Sabbats are both derived from the word Sabbath which corresponds to the Hebrew word Shabbat.)
  • Wiccans have one commandment most live by, called the Wiccan Rede, "An it harm none, do what thou wilt." In other words, "If it harms nothing, do what you will."
  • Wiccans believe in the classical four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. These are united by a fifth element of spirit.
  • Most Wiccans use the pentacle (a five pointed star) as a symbol of their faith. This symbol to them has nothing to do with Satan, but rather symbolizes the universe or the Gods, each point representing one of the five elements mentioned above.
  • In addition to the pentacle, there are ceremonial objects that represent the elements to them as well: a wand representing air, a dagger (called an athame) representing fire, a chalice representing water, and a plate or pentacle representing earth. The element of spirit is often represented by images of the deities, a special candle or flame, or some other item.
  • Most Wiccans believe in magic and perform spells or practice forms of divination. Most Wiccans don't curse others as they believe whatever they send out comes back to them three times.
  • Most Wiccans revere nature as part of the God an Goddess and thus seek to preserve and celebrate nature. Many are involved in environmentalism.
  • Most Wiccans are fairly positive on sex and human sexuality. Thus sex is seen as something to be enjoyed and celebrated. Most have no issue with homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgendered people. Many are fine with polyamory as well.
  • Most believe that people should be free to explore their beliefs and forge their own path. As such, they do not discriminate based on religion nor how others live their lives unless it harms another.
  • Most believe in some form of reincarnation, though it varies as to the degree and type of reincarnation.
  • Most believe life and nature run on endless cycles of life, death, and rebirth.
Again, Wicca is a very diverse religion with many expressions and beliefs within it. The above mentioned items are general things most believe, but many don't believe in all of these things.

It should be interesting to see, I will let you know how it goes.

Until then, peace be with you.

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