A couple of weeks ago, I blogged an introduction to Paganism. This weekend, I was elevated to the third degree in Georgian Wicca. I figured it was a good time to get into it more.
As I mentioned in my previous entry, paganism is a blanket term that refers to a collection of spiritual practices. Wicca is one such practice.
It was once believed that Wicca, also referred to as Witchcraft, was the leftover of a British indigenous pre-Christian religion that survived by going underground. The theory was proposed by prominent British Egyptologist and anthropologist Margaret Murray in the 1920s and has since been discredited by historians. However it has had a significant effect in shaping Wicca and some Wiccans still cling to Murray’s Witch-cult hypothesis.
Wicca is a new religious movement born in England out of European Romanticism, Western esotericism (e.g. theosophy, Freemasonry, Hermeticism), folklore, folk magic, and ideas about the medieval witch hunts. It was popularized in the 1950s by a retired British civil servant named Gerald Gardner as a duotheistic (i.e. having a god and a goddess) religious form of witchcraft containing a system of training and initiation. The Craft was largely practiced in covens which met at the full moons and at seasonal festivals.
It wasn’t long before Gardner found he wasn’t the only kid in town. Other Wiccan groups soon appeared and the battles over which tradition is older and “more authentic” have been going on ever since. In America, we already had a few pagan groups and Wicca was embraced and also assimilated to the women’s movement, which gave birth to more denominations.
Today, Wicca as a whole is eclectic. There are conservative and traditional branches who have been performing the same rituals for many years, other groups that are more eclectic and write new liturgy and rituals, and plenty in the middle. There are covens and those that prefer to practice alone. Despite eclecticism, there is a persistent basic structure to Wicca:
- Duotheism of a divine couple. Rituals usually involve a god and goddess. Feminist groups may reduce to this to just a goddess and GLBT groups may have two gods or two goddesses.
- Sacred circle with cardinal points. Rituals are usually in a circle where four directions (east, south, west, north) have been distinguished.
- Esbats and Sabbats. Most Wiccans observe and perform rituals during the full moons (Esbats) and seasonal festivals (Sabbats).
- Blessing and sharing of food and drink. Wiccans like to eat yummy cakes and drink good wine. My coven is really, really good at this.
- Training and initiation. Some of the more traditional branches of Wicca have a training and initiation system with various degrees, but even most solitaries acknowledge the importance of learning and may even perform self-dedications or ask their communities to witness or perform a similar rite.
The branch I belong to is Georgian Wicca, founded in California in 1970 by George Patterson. Like many traditional Wiccan branches, it has three degrees in its training system. I’ve heard there may be a couple of Georgians down under somewhere and that Australia has a vibrant Pagan community in general. I have found a few websites and groups and have had a little contact with some local Pagans already. I look forward to meeting them and attending some local events.