..The Intuitive Times
Spiritual Practices


The World of the Witch: The Wiccan Tradition

by Vanessa Smith

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Say the word, "witch" and what comes to mind? Few words have such a diverse range of interpretations, ranging from the stereotype of the evil witch to Samantha, the TV witch or her contemporary media kindred on Charmed. From Hollywood sensationalism to negative stereotypes, none of these accurately reflect the reality of modern Wicca or Witchcraft. In truth, Wicca, as a spiritual path can be a challenge to define. Unlike many other religions, there are no sacred texts or singular spiritual leaders to reference. Spirituality within Wicca is strongly self directed, with the individual drawing from personal research as well as creative self expression to craft their version of Wicca.

Wicca is a positive, nature based path centred on reverence for the creative forces of the universe. Wiccans understand deity as a Goddess and a God, who together embody balance and all potential. Deity is immanent, dwelling within all of creation - the world around us - and within each individual. This balance of divine forces, the Goddess and the God, sets Wicca apart from many of the familiar religious traditions.

The Goddess in particular can be a challenging concept, but one that strongly resonates with many women and men who are searching for a more egalitarian religious outlook. The Goddess and God may be called upon by any of their many names from world mythology or may simply be understood as vast universal feminine and masculine forces. All Goddesses are one Goddess and all Gods are one God in Wicca, each distinct name or archetype is a facet of the whole. The Goddess is often symbolized by the moon in its phases. The Maiden aspect corresponds to the new moon growing in the sky, embodying youth, energy and beginnings. The Full moon is the Mother Goddess, a women in her creative prime, responsible and nurturing. The last, waning phase is the Crone aspect, the Wise Woman who has a wealth of life experiences to teach. The God too is a unique concept in Wicca. His associations are with the natural world and the sun in the sky. The archetypes worshipped in Wicca are those of a strong protector as well as a loving nurturer. The God as Horned God, the lord of the wild spaces, crowned with stag¹s antlers, is a popular aspect the masculine deity, and one that has been demonized in centuries past to equate the God of the nature religions of the pre-Christian era with Christian concept of the devil.

Despite the somewhat amorphous nature of Wicca, several principles do define what is and what is not Wicca. Of primary importance is the main tenet called the Wiccan Rede - If it harm none, do what you will - one sentence that calls on the individual to consider their words and deeds in terms of how they will affect their environment and to act with personal responsibility and consideration. Whatever energy is sent out into the universe returns to the sender threefold (remember the saying you reap what you sow?), If you are acting as a positive healing force in the world, that energy will return to you in the form of blessings whereas if you are deceitful or malicious, that too will return to you three times over.

Wiccans share a belief in a natural form of magic or earth based energy that can be tapped into achieve change and transformation. Magic and Witches have always been linked in the popular imagination but this is probably the most misunderstood part of Wicca. No lightning bolts from the finger tips here, but rather a reverence for the natural energies present within the earth and each person.

A Witch must always work within the context of the Rede when working magic, using the energies raised for positive work. And how does this all work, exactly? The energies used are not supernatural, rather they work completely within the natural order of the world. One of my favourite authors, Starhawk, likens the energy to a stream. You can redirect the stream to irrigate a field or dam it for a swimming hole but you can¹t force the water to run uphill or freeze solid mid-summer. A spell for healing a friend¹s broken leg won¹t heal the damage overnight but will assist the leg to mend as quickly as possible with no complications or pain. And if you¹re still feeling a bit skeptical about all this, remember that magnetism and the ability of a rock to attract metal was the height of magic centuries ago and today is an accepted scientific fact. Who knows what may be revealed in later years?

Also central to Wiccan practice is a strong belief in reincarnation, a conviction that the spiritual essence of each being returns again and again to learn and evolve with each life. Being a religious tradition grounded in observation of the natural world and its cycles, it seems logical and appropriate that humanity is a part of the spiral of birth, life, death and renewed life that we witness with the season¹s changes.

Lastly, Witches follow a firm conviction that each individual is called to find a spirituality that is appropriate to them. As such, Wicca is not seen as the only path, but one of many. Wicca is not a religion that seeks converts from other faiths. And you won¹t find your neighborhood Witch on your doorstep asking if you¹ve heard the word of the Goddess! Even the label that followers choose to identify themselves by can be hard to specify. Many prefer the term Wiccan, a word with less problematic baggage than its counterpart, Witch. Others choose to reclaim Witch and revive the original, positive meanings of the word. One should note that Witches can be either male or female, the term warlock is never used.

Wicca has its roots in the ancient pre-Christian societies around Europe and the Mediterranean, most notably those of the Celts, Greeks and Romans. The religious practices and customs of these diverse pantheistic cultures infuse present day Wicca with hymns to various Gods and Goddesses, myths that bring aspects of deity to life and rituals that create a basis for the rites of Wicca. While we have much to learn from these peoples who lived closer to the earth than today's world, this is not a spirituality bound to re-creating the past. Rather the best of the old ways are brought forward into a modern context. As a result you may find a 21st century Witch sharing a centuries old Goddess invocation with a friend via the very modern medium of the internet!

The present day forms of Wicca owe much to the work and writings of Gerald B. Gardner, who began publishing books on his experiences of English Witchcraft when the laws prohibiting Witchcraft were repealed in England in the 1950's. Together with Doreen Valiente and notable others, the basis of modern Wicca was laid out and the majority of practitioners today utilize information popularized by Gardner. In more recent years, a host of new authors have emerged to continue the evolution of the movement. Authors such as Z Budapest and Starhawk brought an American feminist perspective to Wicca and Scott Cunningham and Silver Ravenwolf spread interest in Witchcraft with clear, accessible books on the subject.

Search for Wicca or Witchcraft on the Internet an d you'll find a thousand and one sites. Many are well written and accurate, and, sadly, many are wildly inaccurate, so use caution. The best site on Wicca has to be "The Witches' Voice ‘ (www.witchvox.com) with a huge collection of articles and information. The Little Mysteries Books links page (www.littlemysteries.com) also features a selection of recommended sites. And if you're not online or just prefer a good old fashioned book here's some excellent starter titles: "Wicca - A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner" by Scott Cunningham), "Spiral Dance" by Starhawk, "Witches' Bible" by Janet and Stewart Farrar (relatively dense reading but very complete), "To Ride a Silver Broomstick" by Silver Ravenwolf (the cover is a bit fluffy but the information is down to earth), "Witchcrafting " by Phyllis Currotte (recently published by the author of Book of Shadows).

Vanessa Smith is an eclectic Celtic Witch living in Halifax, NS. She has been involved extensively in the local Wiccan and Pagan community, including serving on the executive of the Avalon East Pagan Gathering and as former host of The Witching Hour radio show on CKDU. She is also co-owner of Little Mysteries Books.

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