Witchcraft is the ancient Pagan faith of Pre-Christian Europe.
This nature-oriented, agricultural, magical religion had no central
organization, but was passed through families. During the Christian
Era, particularly after the systematic persecution of Witches in 1484,
almost all public expressions of the 'Craft disappeared.
Surviving in hidden and isolated places, Witchcraft has made a comeback
in the Twentieth Century, partially spurred by the repeal of the last of
the British Witchcraft Laws in 1951.
Current World Leadership:
No central authority. Many Witches have, however
affiliated with the American Council of Witches, formed in 1974, to
provide a structure for cooperation and mutual sharing.
Origins in the U.S.:
Brought to the U.S. in the 17th century by
emigrants from Europe. Since then, many Witches from many ethnic and
national traditions have brought their religious practices to the New
World. It survived in the isolation of rurual settings and the
anonymity in the city. The 1960s saw a significant revival of theCraft,
Witches and 'covens' (local groups) became at least partially public.
Many discovered others of like mind through the emerging Pagan
press. A meeting in Minneapolis formed the American Council of Witches
(1974) and a statement entitled 'Principles of Wiccan Beliefs' was
Number of Adherents in the U.S.:
Unknown: between 10,000 and 100,000. (Please
note: It has been our experience that our teachings have touched
millions of people around the world. We have sent over 3,000,000 pieces
of information mailed out of our office alone. The Covenant of the
Goddess states 50,000 practicing Witches in the United States. This, to
us, is a
low estimate. Bronwyn, December 2000)
The basic structure is the coven (local
group) with 5 to 50 members (ideally 12-15) led by a High Priestess or
High Priest. The Priest and/or Priestess derives authority from
initiation by another Witch. Some covens are tied together in fraternal
relationships and acknowledge authority of a Priestess or Priest from
are derived. Many are totally anonymous.
Leadership and Role of Priestess and/or Priest:
The High Priestess and/or High Priest
has authority for the coven. Witches pass through three degrees as they
practice the Craft:
(1) acknowledges one as a full member of the coven and initiates the process of mastering the skills of a Witch;
(2) recognizes growth in ability and admits one to all the inner secrets; and
(3) admits one to the priesthood.
Who May Conduct Worship Services?
A High Priestess or a Priest.
Is Group Worship Required?
No, but it is encouraged.
None, but Witches are expected to
practice their faith, which includes mastering magick, ritual, and
psychic development and the regular worship of the Wiccan deities.
Minimum Requirement for Worship:
The 'atheme,' or ritual knife;
the 'pentacle', a metal disc inscribed with magical symbols;
and a sword.
Various traditions will demand other items.
Facilities for Worship:
Witches worship within a magick circle
that is inscribed on the ground or floor. The circle should be located
so as to insure the privacy of the rituals.
Dietary Laws or Restrictions:
Special Religious Holidays:
The four great festivals are seasonal:
(1) Spring Equinox, March 21;
(2) Summer Solstice or Midsummer, June 22;
(3) Autumn Equinox, September 21; and
(4) Yule or Winter Solstice, December 22.
(Please note: The Church and School of Wicca does not adhere to specific festival dates, understanding that these are based on solar and lunar events, not on a calendar's traditional needs. We do not celebrate a 'mass' either as that is not a Pagan ceremony.)
These are joined by four cross festivals related to the agricultural and herd-raising year:
(1) Candlemas (Imbolc), February 2;
(2) May Eve or Beltane, April 30;
(3) Lammas (Lugnasad), July 31; and
(4) Halloween (Samhain), October 31.
Besides these eight, most Wicca groups meet either weekly or bi-weekly (on the full and new moon). Major holidays are termed sabbats, and weekly or bi-weekly meetings are esbats.
Funeral and Burial Requirements:
Practices may vary widely. In case of death, the coven to which the Witch belongs should be contacted.
Generally no restrictions.
Many prefer it, but local coven should be consulted.
Uniform Appearance Requirements:
None are prescribed.
Position on Service in the Armed Forces:
No official stance. Many Witches are presently
military personnel, while others are conscientious objectors, derived
from the generally pro-life stance of Wicca.
Is a Priest or Priestess Required at Time of Death?
Any Other Practices or Teachings Which May Conflict with Military Directives or Practices:
None, generally, though individual covens may have some. The local coven should be contacted if specific questions arise.
Basic Teachings or Beliefs:
Underlying agreements are summed up in the 'Principles of Wiccan Beliefs' adopted by the American Council of Witches:
( 1) We practice Rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the Phases of the Moon and the Seasonal Quarters and Cross Quarters.
( 2) We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique responsibility toward our environment. We seek to live in harmony with Nature, in ecological balance offering fulfillment to life and consciousness with an evolutionary concept.
( 3) We acknowledge a depth of power far greater than is apparent to the average person. Because it is far greater than ordinary, it is sometimes called 'supernatural,' but we see it as lying within that which is naturally potential to all.
( 4) We conceive the Creative Power in the Universe as manifesting through polarity - as masculine and feminine - and that this same Creative Power lives in all people, and functions through the interaction of the masculine and feminine. We value neither above the other, knowing each to be supportive of the other. We value Sex as pleasure, as the symbol and embodiment of life, and as one of the sources of energies used in magical practice and religious worship.
( 5) We recognize both outer worlds and inner or psychological worlds - sometimes known as the Spiritual World, the collective Unconscious, the Inner Planes, etc. - and we see the interaction of these two dimensions as the basis for paranormal phenomena and magical exercises. We neglect neither dimension for the other, seeing both as necessary for our fulfillment.
( 6) We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach. Respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who have courageously given of themselves in leadership.
( 7) We see religion, magick, and wisdom-in-living as being united in the way one views the world and lives within it - a world-view and philosophy-of-life, which we identify as Witchcraft, the Wiccan Way.
( 8) Calling oneself a 'Witch' does not make a witch - but neither does heredity itself, or the collecting of titles, degrees, and initiations. A Witch seeks to control the forces within him/herself that make life possible in order to live wisely and well without harm to others, and in harmony with Nature.
( 9) We acknowledge that it is the affirmation and fulfillment of life, in a continuation of evolution and development of consciousness, that gives meaning to the Universe we know, and to our personal role in it.
(10) Our only animosity toward Christianity, or toward any other religion or philosophy-of-life, is to the extent that its institutions have claimed to be 'the only way' and have sought to deny freedom to others and to suppress other ways of religious practice and belief.
(11) As American Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the Craft, the origins of various terms, the legitimacy of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with the present, and our future.
(12) We do not accept the concept of 'absolute evil,' nor do we worship any entity known as 'Satan' or 'the devil' as defined by the Christian tradition. We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor do we accept the concept that personal benefit can be only derived by denial to another.
(13) We acknowledge that we seek within Nature for that which is contributory to our health and well-being.
Specific expression of beliefs will vary widely, due to ethnic roots or the traditions of the individual coven.
Creedal Statements and/or Authoritative Literature:
(See also 'Basic Beliefs') All witches use two books, a 'grimoire' or book of spells and magical procedures;
and a 'book of shadows' or book of ritual. Each coven will use a different grimoire and/or book of shadows.
Wiccan ethics are summed up in the law called the Wiccan Rede,
Witches do not proselytize, but welcome inquiries from those who hear about the Craft by either word of mouth or the media.
Relationship with Other Religions:
Cooperation with the whole Pagan community is very high.
Relations with other religions are cordial, except those groups which
have sought to persecute and defame the Craft.