wicca course introduction

WICCA

A path to the Western Mystery Tradition

Introduction to Wicca

by HP David
        We are the power in everyone
        We are the dance of the moon and the sun
        We are the hope that will never hide
        We are the turning of the tide

What is a Witch?

A Witch is a person, male or female who has special powers of magic. The man or woman in the African Village who cures ills or predicts the future by irrational means is a witch. You may call them a witch doctor but a witch nevertheless. I know or know of a Muslim witch, a Jewish witch and there are witches all over the world with or without any religious connections. The Witches we speak of in this context are Western Witches whose background is Witchcraft and the Old Religion of the British Isles and western Europe

What is Wicca?

Wicca is the nice modern name for western Witchcraft. It is an occult form of Paganism. Paganism is a term covering a number of religions and the particular form that Wiccans study is the Pagan religion of the British Isles and Western Europe, particularly Celtic based. In it's present form it is the most advanced form of Paganism on the planet (though Hinduism gets the vote for most complex). A Wiccan follows the Pagan religion but is also a Witch who can practice magick and healing. The concepts of white Witches and black Witches arises here: All Wiccans follow a path of respect for other people and for Nature. Our guiding rule or 'rede' is "An it harm none do as ye will" which means do just what you want as long as it harms no-one and no-thing. The primary task for a Witch is to heal. We heal through magick, through interpersonal skills and by the use of medicinal herbs. But Wicca is also a spiritual path that leads to the Mysteries. It is but one path, among many, that leads to the same goal: the Magnum Opus or Great Work.

The single most important difference between Wicca and the major (patriarchal) religions is the Goddess. The Goddess is a complex entity representing all that is female, nurturing, loving. But she is also the creatrix and sustainer of life, in short the planet Earth itself, often called Mother Earth. You must put aside any concept of a God you may already have when you think of the Goddess. She is not a female equivalent of the Christian God. The Gods of the Patriarchal religions Christianity, Judaism and Islam are like ghosts that follow you around, determining whether you have sinned too much to go to heaven. This is because the Gods of the major religions are super-natural i.e. above nature. These religions tend to put humanity above nature also. The Goddess of the Pagans is Nature and likewise humankind is part of Nature.

Wiccans also have a God that we call 'the Horned God'. This is because down the millennia the God has been the symbol of the hunt, closely associated with deer and later with farming animals such as goats. He has nothing to do with the Christian Devil and represents all that is male - protecting, providing and, of course, fertilising the female.

Besides the God and Goddess Wiccans work with four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Associated with these are the four quarters, North, East, South and West. The Guardians of the quarters are the spirits of the elements, for example the Guardian of the North is the spirit of the Earth. Again you must put aside any conventional notions of what a spirit is for these four characters and also, of course, the 4 elements have nothing to do with the periodic table!

An over-riding principle of Wicca and most Paganism is the equality of male and female. The God and Goddess are equal and Men and Women are equal. Note, however, not merely equal but equal and opposite just as the north and south poles of a magnet are equal but opposite. This is the principle of polarity.

So who are the Priests of this religion? Well for a start there are both Priests and Priestesses as becomes a religion where male and female are equal. Moreover every Wiccan is his or her own Priest/ess. In order to become a Priest or Priestess an initiation is necessary, just as it was in the old religious cults and mystery schools and even Christians initiate newcomers by submerging them in water. Initiate merely means begin and some traditions have second and third initiations as the Witch progresses and learns more and finally becomes a High Priest or High Priestess. Our own system theoretically has four degrees separating 5 phases of development. If you go beyond this module you enter the first phase or Air phase. When you are ready you can take the first degree initiation. Some traditions make you wait a year and a day for this. Then comes the Earth phase and so on. Although there are various opinions on this matter I take it that you are a Witch as soon as you decide to take the path that leads from here. After the first initiation or self dedication then you are a priest or priestess of the Goddess and God.

The tools of the Wiccan vary a little. Some use a wand, some use a ritual knife called an 'athame' (pronounced "atharmay"). Usually, also, there is an altar. It can be quite small and could be just a shelf in a corner. On the altar you might find candles, incense, maybe statuettes of the Goddess and God, the wand and/or athame and a pentagram. To create sacred space Wiccans 'cast' a circle using the wand or athame. The circle is marked by stones or candles at the four 'quarters', North, East, South, West.

The symbol of the Wiccans is the Pentacle which is the five-pointed star design called a pentagram enclosed in a circle. The pentacle is the symbol of truth and even the Christians used it for a century or two until it was replaced by the cross, the symbol of suffering. The pentacle may be worn as a pendant or ring and also adorns most altars. Satanists also use a pentacle but hang theirs upside-down and glad we are there is some way of telling us apart. Note that Satan is a concept invented by the Christians and is not a part of Paganism or any other non-Christian religion except Islam. Wiccans have no concept of sin and no Satan. So there is no fiery hell to worry about either. A simple sense of good and bad are enough to guide their ways. Satanism is a rebellion against Christianity and what they consider to be weakness or stupidity. Understand that sin and evil are not the same thing. A sin can be defined by your church, evil is defined by common justice.

"Wicca is thousands of years old"
Is it?
Wicca is the tail end of a long process of development of Pagan thinking which is called the 'Western Mystery Tradition'. Nothing in Wicca can be placed accurately in any era and indeed most of Wicca is quite new. This is as it should be; Wicca is a modern belief system in tune with the people and needs of today's society. However there is a thread which goes back 1000's of years and appears to have no beginning. Always bear in mind, though, when someone says "In the old days it was done like this or that" you must ask "Who?" and "When?". Modern Wicca draws on whichever culture between 40 and 4000 years old that suits our purpose. It is not an exact science and there is no absolute measure, no scriptures and no laws.

How modern Wicca began

The old Pagan religions were virtually wiped out by the church of Rome using a combination of propaganda, torture and murder. Some people held on to the old religion. These were mainly the wisemen and women or 'Witches'. The church became impatient and began a purge beginning around 1484CE involving the execution of Witches and wholesale slaughter of thousands of people across Europe just on suspicion of being Witches. These are referred to as the 'burning times' though hanging was more common. Not surprisingly, in the face of such oppression the religion went 'underground' and Witches dedicated to preserving the religion formed themselves into secret groups called covens. The word 'coven' is related to convent and covenant and refers to a religious grouping.

Christianity's purge was so successful that the old religion was virtually extinct by the 1900s but in 1921 an English historian, Margaret Murray discovered that Witchcraft had indeed been a genuine religion and published a book, 'Witchcraft in Western Europe'. In the late 1930s a British ex colonial customs officer called Gerald Gardner began dabbling in the Occult and in the 1940s made contact with the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley. Crowley made him European head of the surviving 'O.T.O.' - Order Temporis Orientalis - but this collapsed. Some time around 1947 Gardner wrote out a grimoire called 'Ye bok of ye art magickal' (which is presently in Toronto). The source material for this manuscript is unknown but he added to it considerably over the next few years. Much of what he added came from Aleister Crowley (example) and other sources and he added and inserted all sorts of extra features familiar to modern Wiccans. His inputs were various: apart from Crowley we can see elements of Shakti Hinduism which Gardner might have learned about in his travels as a colonial administrator, elements of freemasonry (Gardner was a freemason) also woodcraft and classical influences. Between 1947 and 1952 therefore Gardner created Wicca in a frenzie of creativity. Recent research (by Professor Ronald Hutton) indicates there was no coven before that, no 'old Dorothy' as such and other rumours about the origins of Wicca have been shot down. So if we know the roots of Wicca are not genuine then why do we bother? Because of what Wicca is *today*, not what it was then. A great many people have searched for the real roots - the Western Mystery Tradition and gradually they have been found - in history, archeology and myth. Gardner's badly fitting jigsaw puzzle is being gradually straightened out and better pieces found.

In 1951 the laws against Witchcraft in Britain were repealed and Gardner published a milestone book on the subject, 'Witchcraft Today'. His coven was up and running, and Wicca was off the ground. His early initiates such as Doreen Valiente have all been instrumental in propagating the religion and especially Alex Sanders who plundered Gardner's rituals as his own and publicised Witchcraft in sensational fashion but was initiating new recruits in volume.

Since that time Wicca has grown in popularity. Today there are probably around a million Wiccans in the USA, around 10,000 in Britain (as against one million practicing Christians) and many more across Europe. Meanwhile the true followers of the old religion continued in parallel as it were. The old religion was frequently practised alongside Christianity as not going to church could cost you your job. Traditions were handed down in families and these were the so-called 'fam-trads' though 99% of so-called fam-trads these days are as fictitious as old Gerald's coven. (A genuine old tradition is described in 'Secrets of East Anglian Magic' by Nigel Pennick, pub. Hale.)

What's it all about?

Wicca has two sides to it: the religious side, a belief system which includes a Goddess and a God, a religion of love and reverence for Nature; and what is called the science of Witchcraft which includes such things as magick, divining, mind reading, healing, herbalism and so on. Some people are atracted to the religious side, with it's spiritual benefits, and some to the science side.

Wicca is a mystery religion and Wiccans are the Priesthood of what is known as the western mystery tradition. Therefore Wiccans study the 'mysteries', those secrets of humanity largely lost from today's society. Some have been rediscovered by such people as the great psychologist Carl Jung, others may be read in the great myths of Arthur, the Holy Grail and Parcival, Celtic, and Greek and Roman myths too.

One of the things Wicca is about is the balance and interaction between male and female. Whereas the two major patriarchal religions are concerned with Good and Evil as opposites, Wicca is concerned with the opposites of male and female, as in this simple diagram:

          Good
           |
female ----+---- male
           |
          Evil
To the Wiccan, good and evil are but opposite sides of the same coin. Of course we prefer good to evil but the contention between the two is not the primary focus of our religion. The balance of male and female is the primary focus. For this reason there is alot of sexual symbolism in Wicca, and the ultimate celebration of the God and Goddess is the Great Rite, which celebrates union of God and Goddess. This may be celebrated by actual union of Priest and Priestess. This is a sacred and reverent act of worship and not an excuse for a fuck in spite of what detractors may say. For those who do it (and it is entirely optional), it is the most beautiful and spiritual sacrament possible yet the patriarchal religions regard it as sinful. Clearly this is one aspect than can never be reconciled with the patriarchal religions. Wiccans on the other hand regard the concept of Hell and Satan as a tool for frightening their subjects into submission, a kind of terrorism, and thus regard that concept as evil in itself. This too cannot be reconciled, however there is still alot of scope for mutual respect among religions and, above all, tolerance.

What Witches do

Wiccans celebrate eight sun-based festivals or Sabbats each year. They comprise the four solar quarters i.e. the two solstices and the two equinoxes plus four Celtic seasonal festivals. All these mark important events in the cycle of life for example Lammas (loaf mass, the harvest festival), Beltane (May day), Yule, and of course Samhain or All Hallows Eve (Halloween). In ancient times it was the Witches who conducted these major ceremonies for their communities.

Whilst the festivals are sun based Wiccans may also celebrate thirteen Esbats, or full moons. They are not as rigorously observed as the solar festivals but are important for successful working of magic and certain rituals. Wiccans have no fixed temples in which to worship but instead make a circle around all the celebrants (or the celebrants themselves form a circle) in a room or in a clearing or on a beach - anywhere private. The space within the circle is a sacred space, known as 'between the worlds'.

Modern Witches try to learn the historical skills of their medieval predecessors- herbalism, magic and so on, known generally as 'the craft'. Herbal healing is becoming widely accepted now that the chemicals in the various herbs are better understood. Often conventional medicine is a 'sledge-hammer to crack a nut'.

A major aim of the Witch is self development. Above some ancient temples were the words "Know Thyself" and so it is with the modern Witch. Wiccans find much in common with the discoveries of the psychologist Carl Jung and seek to integrate the personality and become 'whole'. This is equated with the search for the Holy Grail, a pre-Christian concept which, in simple terms means finding the true self.

As you can see Witches can be male or female. They often work solo, sometimes called 'hedge Witches'. Some prefer groups which may be organised as 'study groups' or (less often these days) covens. A coven was probably always a seminary or working group of Priests and Priestesses. Traditionally covens have a maximum size of 13 people but study or ritual groups can be any size. Often also Witches work in partnerships of male and female. As such they can still be part of a group or might work only with each other. Covens may be less popular because secrecy is no longer necessary to preserve the religion. Those who practise branches of Wicca traceable to Gerald Gardner are in the minority because their very secrecy prevents the spread of their ideas. Gardnerians regard themselves as superior to other Wiccans because of unbroken 'lineage' traceable back to Gardner and (they think) long before. Whether lineage is important or not is debatable. Alexander Sanders was refused entry to Gardner's covens so produced his own version virtually identical with Gardner's and was responsible to a much greater extent for the rapid growth of Wicca.

Incidentally the magical number 13 comes probably from the fact that there are 13 moons in a year. The number is significant in all sorts of situations for example one judge and 12 jurors, Jesus and 12 disciples.

Nudity

Wiccans, in fact Pagans in general have no fear of nudity; we are what the Great Mother made us. Some Wiccans practise their devotions nude, or skyclad as it is called but these are in the minority. Most prefer to don ceremonial robes. Either way the objective is the same, to make some dramatic change from day clothes which tie the devotee to the mundane world. Wiccans do not have naked orgies - see the numerous FAQs on this subject. In our own system we are always robed except for initiations and special private ceremonies.

Religious Persecution:

Be warned. If you become a Wiccan you may need to conceal the fact, especially if you are going to call yourself a Witch. The propaganda campaign against Pagans was so successful that even non Christians believe it. It comes as a surprise to many new Wiccans how much the Christians hate them - more even than if they were Muslims or Hindus or even Jews. This applies almost equally to all the majority of people who never go to Church but are still unwittingly part of the Christian culture. Even members of other religions, for example Jews, carry the Christian image of what a Witch is. Why? Because Paganism was the enemy within. The church of Rome was determined to stamp it out by any means available and successfully built up an image of evil around Witches so that even today ordinary people think Witches sacrifice babies, perform evil spells and so on.. Good advice is to wait a while before you go telling everyone you're a Witch. Wait until you are sure this is the path for you, and above all wait until you know a lot more so you can hold your own in any debate.

Children

Remember Wicca is non-Christian not anti-Christian. Wiccans do not hate Christians. However it is wise to fear them because they can do alot of harm and this particularly applies to children. Some Pagan children in Scotland were rounded up by social workers under 'place of safety orders' some years ago because of allegations of ritual abuse and Satan worship. Imagine the horror for those families as their children were dragged from their beds in dawn raids by social workers supported by police. The children were finally returned by the courts five years later, police support long since lost and the Judge concluding there was no evidence to support the allegations. Some children could hardly have remembered their parents. Families were destroyed by the dark side of Christianity. These Draconian laws don't just exist in England and Scotland. The Christian fundamentalists are just as powerful in the USA and most of Europe.

Social workers have powers to remove children without sufficient evidence under laws designed to protect children from potential danger while investigations continue. Clearly such laws are open to abuse by social workers with fanatical religious ideas. And the prejudice exists in many places. A friend of mine was told recently in a divorce case that she would lose custody if she did not give up Wicca. That is why many Wiccan parents are scared to death of admitting their beliefs publicly.

It is also generally agreed within Wicca that there is no place for chidren 'in circle'. This is not because anything evil takes place though I have heard it said many times "You must be ashamed of what you do or children would be admitted". It is simply that Wicca is the Pagan Priest/Priestesshood and members should be mature adults, just as you would not expect to find children in a Christian seminary, or for a better analogy a Christian mystery school (where they study the Book of Revelations and so on).

Sex

Sex for a Wiccan is not a casual event. It is not a power play. Sex for a Wiccan is a sacrament, a sacred act emulating the God and Goddess and symbolising the very life forces that pervade Nature and the Earth. Thus it becomes not a question of taboo or no taboo but an integral part of the religion whether you have a partner or not. Moreover, it is the union of opposites, the fusion of male and female into a single being - Earth and Sky, Shakta and Shakti, Yin and Yang, Goddess and God into the Great Spirit. The Great Rite is mystical sexual union between priest and priestess. It is part of the third degree initiation. Some intimate Wiccans may go further and practise what is known as sex magick but this is not an integral part of our system.

Organisations

Wiccans often practise alone, working private rituals to celebrate the seasons and festivals or doing magick alone and studying alone (see on-line course below). Some may join teaching groups such as WIcca 101 groups or study groups or join practicing 'circles' which are loose groups of people with common (but not necessarily identical) beliefs. The closest kind of circle is the 'coven', a word related to convent, which means a religious grouping. Traditionally the number in a coven was 13 but these days it can be any number that is workable. Larger umbrella groups such as the Pagan Federation exist to promote the rights of Wiccans and Pagans in society in general. Some organisations such as COG (covenant of the Goddess) go further, and too far in my opinion, towards organized religion and a hierarchy, with particular criteria you must meet to join. One of the appeals of Wicca is self empowerment and ones own connection to deity and the trend towards hierarchy is (in my opinion) a step back towards the patriarchal religions like Christianity.


On-line Wicca Study Group

I am sorry. I am not accepting any more students.

Wiccans are the modern day Priest/Priestesshood of the Western Mystery Tradition and the Old Religion as well as being Witches. It is also a spritual path of self development, understanding and personal power. The Study Group Materials comprise a simple course on this site, plus a Yahoo group for discussions with other students. Along with the course are assignments which are found on the Yahoo group files section.
If you think this is for you and wish to join the group and try the on-line course then email me.
This course is not a course in the conventional sense. There are no stages, no tests, no assignments and no assessment. Each module in the course is a kind of signpost, showing you the way to a new subject but not actually covering the subject in depth.
When you join the course we also subscribe you to the Yahoo group, TwinPaths online coven in which we encourage discussion among our members and sharing of experiences, as well as questions to the HP (me) and HPS (florence) of the group which we answer as best we can. Once you have joined the group you have access to the assignments, one assignment fo each module in the course. Also access to lots of other assignments and information.
The course is free but treat it as if you were paying; don't waste it. You are given only the first, elementary part of the course(Air phase). When you complete this course you can decide if you wish to dedicate yourself to the path in which case you can do a self dedication, examples of which are given in the course. You can then apply for the second part (Earth phase) after completing a test which I will set you.
To apply just include these 5 bits of information:
name
(given name)
age sex
(if not obvious)
location
(town, state/country)
Brief Wicca background i.e. how long interested, what books you have read.
Send email to me, David, email address HPDavid[at-sign]isle-of-avalon.com. Please put the words Wicca Course in your subject. I helps me spot them amongst business and spam.
Have you included all 5 bits of information?

If you don't hear from me try requesting a second time.
Note to users who use spam blocking. Please remember to add my email address to your list of un-blocked addresses or else I can't reply to your email.

The course

Since Gerald Gardner's original conception Wicca has opened out and become the most eclectic religion ever. My course is eclectic Wicca, with a core of Garderian/Alexandrian rituals but drawing on all the related subjects from other cultures, for example the Qabala from the Hebrew system, Chakras from the Hindu system, Jungian psychology, Alchemy, the Tarot and many other concepts. Where I have been able I have grounded our system on the ancient practices providing they fit with the way we live today. These are our roots. In other cases I have drawn on the innovative practices of new thinkers like Starhawk, Vivianne Crowley, Ellen Cannon Reed and many others. These are our branches. At no time have I invented new ideas except in the case of some of the rites.

In other words there are 5 main sources for this course:

  • Alexandrian/Gardnerian practices from the 1950s with its roots in 1900s Occult.
  • Related systems such as the qabala, chakras etc.
  • Modern thinkers and writers.
  • Actual ancient Pagan practices that we know about, mainly Saxon and Celtic.
  • Additional rituals by myself and other followers of the same tradition.

    The course is entirely text based. There are no assignments. The course is issued in modules; each module is a key or signpost to further reading as indicated in the module. You are expected to join a yahoo support group moderated by several teachers, initiated priests and priestesses. You then post to the group what you have learned and ask any questions, or post subjects for discussion with otherstudents. These posts comprise the coursework and you need to post to get the next set of modules. The group also exists for the teachers to pass on guidance ad hoc.

    Subjects covered

    The Air Phase - first year
  • set 1
  • Introduction to the Air phase
  • The Seasons and festivals
  • Recommended books
  • set 2
  • The Goddess
  • The Horned God
  • set 3
  • The Elementals and the pentagram
  • The Magic Circle and Sacred Space
  • set 4
  • Rituals
  • set 5
  • Magick
  • set 6
  • The Shadow and the Self
  • set 7
  • Energy Centers (Chakras)
  • set 8
  • Sex in Wicca
  • set 8b
  • Self Dedication - a self dedication ritual.
    The Earth Phase - second year
  • Introduction to the Earth phase
  • Meditation
  • Magickal Partners
  • Advanced magick
  • Alchemy
  • The Qabala
  • The Tarot
  • Advanced chakras
  • Initiation
    At the end of the Earth phase is a self initiation ceremony that you can perform.
    For details of our physical groups and witch camps email me at HPDavid [at] isle-of-avalon.com

    Who am I?

            Not hard to answer...
    
            I make naked the word
            In small space I have foregathered
            The cattle of cognisance
            The stream of science
            The totality of teaching
            The captivation of kingdoms
            The legacy of legend

    copywrong 1996, HP David. May the Gods be with you.