Note: The following are my opinions. Yours will probably differ. If you have objections, feel free to write to me at shydavid@ airspeed.com You may also search this site.
Americans generally believe that their Constitution guarantees their freedom to worship as they please. That is a false belief. The USA Constitution recognizes that right: it is the citizen's duty (and obligation) to defend it. If this were Panglossís "best of all possible worlds" (Candide, by Voltaire), the United States government would defend that right against people who would deny other people that right. It does not.
Even as I write this, there is an appeal being filed in a child custody battle by a Fundamentalist Christian father that insists the child's mother (Isha Martin-Hammer) is "unfit" because she is Wiccan. That she is Wiccan has no bearing on her fitness as a parent: yet she has spent over US$50,000 defending herself. When I read part of the appeal, I was utterly appalled that the father's lawyers (Ledbetters & Associates) would write such a shameful, obscene document. In my opinion, the lawyers violated her Constitutionally- recognized right to worship as she pleases without harassment; it seems likely to me that if the mother had the financial resources to sue them, she could do so successfully. (A copy of that Appeal will be posted on this site eventually.) To explain how such an evil can happen in the United States, a excellent essay is available on this site: Understanding Fundamentalism.
Today in the United States Wiccans are submitted to an astonishing amount of abuse by people who object to their choice of worship (see "A Fundamentalist Christians Speaks Against Wiccans" for one person's "justification" for that abuse). The fact is that Wicca is eclectic and non-dogmatic and thus there is no danger in becomming another People's Temple or anything like it. And yet Wiccan clergy are still denied clerical privilages such as performing weddings, and even the USA Army at Fort Hood, Texas is drawing hate-filled angst at Wiccans exercising their right to worship as they please (see also my brief essay on the Fort Hood story.)
That intolerance and abuse often takes on a highly irrational, insane, shrill voice, as found in The Vile "File 18." The newsletter's author pays lip service to religious freedom at the top of his hate literature, all the while slandering Wiccan, neo-Pagan, and Earth-Centric religions and the people who follow / belong to those religions. He does this in the name of "protecting babies." He hides from his readers the fact that he is a Fundamentalist Christian with the desire to persecute non-Christians; he publishes his hate newsletter from the basement of his cult [see "cult" vs. "NRM"], while using a police department's mailing address.
And sometimes that intolerance makes some people deliberately confuse Satanism with Wicca. These intolerant, ignorant people first assume that Satanists are a threat to society (which is not supported by valid evidence), and then call Wiccans, neo-Pagans, and other members of Earth-centric religions "Satanists." They know that using the word "Satanism" gets people's interest and induces fear and concern in people. These intolerant, hate-filled people are emotionally manipulating their listeners and readers by calling non-Satanists "Satanists." A fine example is one hate magazine's list of "Satanic cults" of which only 0.56% of the churches and organizations listed are in fact Satanic. (The other 99.44% are Wiccan, neo-Pagan, Pagan, Druidic, ecological, Asatru, publishers, or progressives.) Such nonsense has even become a growth industry. The fact is that Wicca / Satanism are two seperate, distinct religions. A brief collection of Letters To Editor shows the ignorance of such people about Wicca: ignorance that ends up harming Wiccans. Wiccan students are even being denied the right to wear religious symbols in school (see discussion here) and a letter to the school board.
Latest update: Christian religious symbols are allowed in public schools, but Wiccan ones are NOT.
"Christians have oppressed Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Pagans, and each other throughout their centuries of power, preaching religious intolerance as the word of Jehovah whenever they had the military, political, or economic power to make it stick -- and then piously preaching brotherhood, peace, and toleration when they didn't." Isaac Bonewits
Mercury News reports the harassment Wiccans and other Earth-centric religious followers deal with from Fundamentalist Christians. Astonishing as it is, there have been Fundamentalist Christians pretending to be Wiccan, and representing themselves as such to the news media. (Is no lie too great for the greater glory of their god?) In the follow-up article Reborn Again? we read the truth. The fake Wiccan later suddenly discovers Fundamentalist Christianity (he did it for the attention and the money).
One article expresses dismay at the growth of Wicca in Salem, Massachusetts. The article notes that "Christian clergy" will pray and make plans concerning the growth of Wicca in their town. There is a glaring omission in the article: no where is it noted that Wiccans have every right to worship as they please in Salem, Massachusetts, just as in every other city, town, and burg in America.
Then there are the coy, compassion-sounding missives targeting Wiccans, such as "A letter to Witches" by Rev. Robert A. Morey. His confusion between Wicca and Satanism is complete; his ignorance about both is total; that has not made him hesitate to write about the subjects. He has utterly missed the intent and methodology of Wiccan magick: he assumes that Wiccans think magick works the way it does on television. His belief about Wiccan magick is contrary to Wiccan's belief about Wiccan magick. The result is that he appears the fool. Looking to him for information on the subject is like going to David Duke (the Ku Klux Klan twit) for information about Catholics, black people, and immigration policy. A parody from a nontheist answers Rev. Morey's "letter."
Another example, Watchman Fellowship's angst over religious freedom, mentions "Witchcraft and Paganism infiltration," with no mention of the fact that the people their article castigates and denounces have every right to worship as they please. Considering the fact that the Jehovah's Witnesses are considered by many Christian cults to be a destructive cult makes one wonder why they have not themselves learned religious tolerance. What goes around comes around.
In Bill Schnoebelen's Big Black Lie we read about a self-proclaimed "Witch" who claims to have de-converted or re-converted or whatever back into Fundamentalist Christianity. He incorrectly uses the words "Satanism" and "Wicca" to mean the same thing: darn good evidence he has no idea what he's talking about. Rowan Moonstone asks Bill a question about his beliefs but was ignored. There is a Book Review here.
It is lies such as Bill's (above) that get Wiccans shot at. Other covens are subjected to harassment by their neighbors. Craft-friendly stores have been attacked. (Fortunately, some times the anti-Witch activities are mearly stupid / humorous, such as when a Textbook Panel Goes Witch-Hunting.) As one newspaper article pointed out, the United States Government often only pays "lip service" to religious tolerance: abuse of non-Christians in the USA is rampant. One Wiccan's fight against religious descrimination has caused her Christian neighbors to abuse and threaten her. One school girl was suspended because another student claimed the girl had "cast a spell on her." Another newspaper article on the same subject claims it was "all a misunderstanding." There is even a case where a Christian poses as Wiccan in order to extract money from Wiccans and Pagans, which ceartainly harms the Wiccan community.
There are some very bizarre attacks against Wiccans making the rounds. One is the hoax called "The Seven WICCA Letters," which one may read here. (It is a re-make of the hoax written at the turn of the 20th century called Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion which has long been known to be a hoax.)
Some times the target of such a hoaxes are Mormons as in the article Mormon Leaders Fight [nonexistant] Satanic Infiltration, even though experts are skeptical the "Satanism Problem" even exists: it is very clear that false memories are involved. (Many false memories are later retracted, but most are not.)
There have been several attempts to educate the public about the harm religious persecution against Wiccans, neo-Pagans, Pagans, and other Earth-centric religions experience. The Project Witch Hunt Watch newsletter is one example. The fact that Wiccans are not a threat to society seems blatantly obvious to those who have examined Wiccans and Wicca; sadly, far too many do not bother to examine the slanderous claims and accept them as true.
One fine example of public education was Cult Watch Response. It is very unfortunate that the people who published this excellent resource have ceased doing so. In some ways, the anti-Wiccan hysteria of the early 1980s has decreased; yet the persecution continues. As Wicca grows in popularity, opposition to it will increase. Education is the key to religious tolerance; people in the USA have unprecedented access to factual information about Wicca--- the problem is that there is also a great deal of anti-Wiccan hate literature out there as well.
Another positive report, Special Report On Wicca and Paganism, by Religious Movement Resources Center's director Hal Mansfield, lets his readers know that Wicca and Paganism is not a threat.
It is also fortunate that some police officers learn about Wicca and Paganism from informed individuals. This is not always the case: it is much more often the case that law enforcement hears the hysterical, insane voices of those who, for whatever reasons, hate and fear Wicca. When a reserve police officer speaks skeptically of Satanic Ritual Abuse, it is a good sign that intelligence and "cooler heads" can at times prevail.
It is also fortunate that many Christians are speaking against their co-religionists about the harm they are committing against Wiccans when they speak out of hate, fear, and ignorance. It is very unfortunate that these tolerant Christians seem to be far too few in number.
Some Pagans have been working to coordinate educational organizations such as the Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions. There are also many attempts to build community: a great many have been, and are, very successful. That progress owes much of its success due to Wiccan / Pagan self-and constructive-criticism.
Those who wish to deny Wiccans their right to exist will just have to accept the fact that we are here to stay. Wiccans are members of Western society, and those who do not like that fact will just have to adjust to it.
The "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s and early 1990s has decreased in incident and ferocity, but the repercussions still exist. This link is to an article about one of countless many that has been harmed by such ignorance and misplaced zealotry.
Learning About Wicca
There is no guidelines on what all, or even the majority, of Wiccans believe. Judy Harrow's Exegesis on the Wiccan Rede is an excellent attempt, but since Wicca is not an organized religion, has no leaders, is eclectic, and predicated upon each individual's experiences, needs, and practices, there will never be a consensus on "what Wiccans believe." There is no Wiccan version of the Catholic Church's Holy Office to seek out and punish unorthodoxy. Since self- initiation is generally considered by the Wiccan community to be as valid as High Priestess- and High Priest- initiation, anyone who honestly, sincerely believes herself or himself Wiccan may pretty much be considered so--- even when they may know little or nothing about Wiccan practices, ideals, theology, and ideology. That is a situation one must accept when a religion has no set dogma or set orthodoxy.
However, there are many Traditions ("Trads") within Wicca: the Trads do, for the most part, have guidelines, lesson plans, teachings, dogmas, and the like as part of their religions. Many Trads have "degrees" that a member may work towards and study for ("First Degree," "Second Degree," etc.). These are goals a Trad sets for members to judge their learning progress and their commitment to their own personal growth, their Wiccan community (in the form of Clergy services), and to the wider (non-Wiccan) community. Most First Degrees require theological and thealogical study, comparative religion study, ritual and rite practice, and community work such as volunteering at animal shelters, women's shelters, community libraries, fire- fighting, litter cleanup... whatever benefits the neighborhood and its citizens.
So I must reiterate: the Wiccan religion has no set dogma. It is eclectic, and mutable to fit its member's needs, skills, and abilities. However, Wiccan Traditions offer members a more structured, goal- oriented form of worship and study, and a means of which to judge progress in those studies. Therefore, when one says one is a Wiccan, one can accept that self- determination; if one says one is Alexandrian, Heathen, Asatru, Druidic, Ar nDraiocht Fein Isian, Faery, Dianic, or one of many other Trads, one can generally know the beliefs and practices of that person. I stress this point because a great many Wiccans do not belong to Trads: there is therefore no simple way of knowing for sure if someone is a Wiccan except to take the person's word for it.
Not all Wiccans worship and / or revere the same Goddesses and Gods; indeed, Wiccans view the Goddesses and Gods in many different ways. Some see Goddess and God as supernatural beings immanent in the world; others see Them as symbols or archetypes (individual or universal, respectively) of one's own unconscious or soul expression. (Yes: this means there are Wiccans who are, in the vernacular, non-theists and yet have a theism.)
Wiccans invoke Deity by becoming Her or Him. This is an act of gnosis. The methods used to acomplish this are many and varied; Trads may teach one or more methods, while Solitary practitioners may find their own method. Drawing Down the Moon is one such ritual. A Full Moon Ritual may also be viewed here. Please note that these two written rituals are the author's techniques: not all, or even most, Wiccans would perform these rituals as written: they would modify them to suit their needs, or discard them as personally unsuitable.
How does one "become" a Witch / Wiccan? Here is one person's opinion. Another person's opinion is available here, though please keep in mind that other Wiccans will happily disagree with his / her opinions. To show the diversity of Wicca, here is another opinion on what Wicca is. Note that Wiccas are not Luddites, as a rule.
For one person's history of Witchcraft, one may look here, but again I stress that the text is just that person's opinion: many Wiccans will dissagree. Here is a basic course outline for one "Wiccan 101" class. There are some suggestions on how to contact Wiccans / Pagans you may wish to review. Here is a brief overview of Wicca by Janis Cortese, and one may read about Wiccan Aspects by Ryuujin Airrider. I speak very briefly about death and Wicca here.
Wiccans celebrate life in many ways. There are many festivals, such as Yule, and several other common festivals among Wiccans, Pagans, and other Earth-centric religions. One festival, Beltane, is generally celebrated by most Wiccans. And of course Samhain. They also celebrate life by writing magickal stories, such as The Dragon by Dave Anderson; songs such as John Barleycorn Must Die, and lessoning / storytelling such as The Coming of Lugh by Iarwain.
And that favorate of all: CHARGE OF THE GODDESS by Doreen Valiente and modified by StarHawk.
- The Spiral Dance : A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. by Starhawk. Paperback - 304 pages 10th anniv edition (November 1989) Harper San Francisco; ISBN: 0062508148 ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.93 x 9.17 x 6.10.
- Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today by Margot Adler. Paperback - 584 pages Rev&Exp edition (March 1997) Penguin USA (Paper); ISBN: 014019536X; Dimensions (in inches): 1.53 x 7.94 x 5.30.
- Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions by Starhawk, Anne Hill, Diane Baker. Hardcover - 608 pages (November 10, 1998) Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub (Trd); ISBN: 0553100165; Dimensions (in inches): 1.17 x 9.48 x
- Truth or Dare: Encounters With Power, Authority, and Mystery. by Starhawk. Paperback - 384 pages Reprint edition (February 1990) Harper San Francisco; ISBN: 0062508164; Dimensions (in inches): 1.16 x 9.19 x 6.13.