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Foundations of Wicca
by Dianne Sylvan, Author of The Circle Within and Sibylline Priestess

People may argue with me over my interpretation of Wiccan philosophy/theology/practice, but most will concede that the following ideas are central to our religion in some form. Within each there is room for variation--I've heard it said that no two Wiccans follow the same Wicca--but then again, you could say that about most people who are self-realized enough to walk a spiritual path.

Feminine and Masculine Deity
Wiccans revere Deity as both feminine and masculine in nature. Whether one views those two as arising from a great One, or as discrete individuals, or as a whole pantheon of various and sundry, if someone does not honor God and Goddess in some form he is not a Wiccan. Pagan, possibly; Wiccan, no.

Many of us have a deeper relationship with one than the other, which is perfectly natural--everyone is closer to one parent. Most will find that it changes as they grow; I've been through periods when the Goddess dragged me around by my athame, and others when the God took the wheel. Time was, though, when Dianics and other such traditions (including anyone calling himself a Witch) used the W-word; that trend has mostly ended, as women's spirituality groups seek their own identity.

This is a relatively new word in theological circles, and hasn't even made it to the dictionary yet, but it's the only word I've ever seen that comes close to describing the whole of Wiccan theology.

Basically there are two traditional views of the Divine: immanent and transcendent. A panentheist's viewpoint is a combination of the two. Deity is both in the world and beyond it; the universe and everything that isn't the universe. There is nothing that exists that isn't made up of Divine energy.

How else can we claim that Deity created the universe but is also a part of it? The Christian Bible takes both stances at different points, but as its writers were separated by centuries and languages, the two were never reconciled in scripture. Theologians of course debate the matter hotly: if God is a distinct entity, something had to have created God, so God isn't the Supreme Being. But if God is wholly transcendent, existing way up there on a cloud, how can we hope to have a relationship with Him? Panentheism solves the problem, although it is a bit of an intellectual Gordian Knot, particularly regarding creation mythology.

You will find, however, that the majority of Wiccans don't give a lot of thought to where the universe and the gods came from, any more than we spend time worrying over the afterlife. That's thanks to the next concept:

Each Her Own Priestess
Wiccans place much higher value on what they themselves have seen, felt, and experienced than on anything found in a book. We study the words of others, true, but if those words fall to what we experience, we let them go. As such, Wiccans do not have a "clergy" in the traditional sense of the word; we are our own priests, and need no intermediary between ourselves and Deity. You won't find a Wiccan congregation listening passively to a sermon; we're more like the charismatic churches that are proliferating these days. Our gods talk to us in a glorious variety of ways, but that's the important part--us. Not someone on a pulpit or in a confessional. We conduct our own rituals and pave our own path, a concept vital to (but not unique to) Wicca.

There are individuals who are more "clergified" than others, meaning some are called to serve the larger community as leaders, teachers, writers, and so forth. Most of us end up finding some way to be of service, as leaving the world better than we found it is another cherished tenet. But at heart, our religion happens in here, our homes and private circles, not out there in a special building set aside for God. Wicca is purely participatory; it's not a spectator sport.

Another vastly underused word, henotheism is the belief in one (or some) gods, but without the exclusion of any others. Meaning? Just because I worship Isis doesn't mean that Yahweh isn't a perfectly wonderful deity for you.

Most Wiccans feel that the individual forms of the gods we follow are facets of a diamond, that they all emanate from the same energy and take on different shapes and sizes for our benefit. It's my opinion that they do this out of love and a desire to relate to us; whatever face of the Goddess calls to me, She will enter into that symbol and it becomes real in my perception. Hecate is not Kali is not Horus any more than I am my aunt Sandy or my brother, but we are all made up of the same stuff.

The Wiccan Rede
The closest thing we have to a law, the Rede is often interpreted as such, which has turned a lot of people off to Wicca. "Harm none, do what you will? Impossible! We have to eat! We have to be able to defend ourselves and our families! We can't just sit in the grass and smile at the squirrels all day!"

True enough. The word Rede, as many have pointed out, means "counsel, advice." Not law. I interpret the Rede as a statement of balance, a goal. My translation into modern English: "Don't be an asshole." We have to make our ethical decisions as best we can with what we know at the time and then take responsibility for what comes of them. It doesn't mean we sit picking apart every decision for possible harm-- every glass of water you drink is one someone else couldn't, so does that mean you shouldn't drink water?

The Law of Return
Often phrased in terms of the Threefold Law (what you send out returns to you, for good or ill, three times over); I have personally discarded that interpretation since my experience has shown me you cannot quantify karma.

The concept of return is more a way of looking at the universe than a rule; the universe is a vast web, and each and every motion, no matter how insignificant it may seem, causes the whole web to vibrate. Those vibrations eventually travel back to us; the Law of Return tells us that we are intimately connected with each other and all life, and that our actions have consequences. It is a reminder to pay attention to how you treat people, the Earth, and our fellow creatures, for eventually the negative crap you spew out into the universe will get all over you too.

The Sacred Circle
Wiccan ritual is conducted in a cast and consecrated Circle. The Circle is a sort of porta-church, which we build and take down every time, unless we have taken pains to set up a permanent Circle (which is usually only in our homes; we never leave a Circle up out in public, that's very irresponsible psychic littering). There is a common set of steps for casting, although the way they are handled and their order varies from tradition to tradition. Usually it goes: purification of oneself, purification of the ritual space, altar setup, calling the Elements, the actual casting, calling Deity, then the ritual action. The process is reversed to take the Circle down, and the site is left just as it was (if not a little neater) when we found it.

The Elements
In our world view everything in the universe is composed of Five basic Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air with the fifth being Spirit (if you can call that an "element"). These Elements combine in different ways to give people, creatures, things, events, and feelings their particular character. Water, for example, is the primary constituent of the ocean, tears, love, dreams, the astrological sign of Scorpio, and Kool-Aid, to name a very few. We utilize these Elements in our rituals and in magic, and seek to balance their influence within ourselves.

The Wheel of the Year
The Wiccan calendar has eight major holidays occurring on the Equinoxes, Solstices, and points in between. Our concept of time is cyclical; everything returns, be it months or days or lives, even as it returns changed. Death must always give way to life and vice versa. We also typically honor the Full Moons and a variety of personal milestones.

Reverence for Nature
If everything in Nature is holy, it follows that we would give it reverence. That includes the human body, the Earth, the stars, hamsters, everything. Many Wiccans develop an ability to communicate with the spirits of the land, plants, animals, rocks, and so forth. We're tree-hugging dirt worshippers, so you'll often find us in environmental organizations lobbying for better treatment for our besieged planet. We plant trees, grow herbs, collect stones, have lots of pets, recycle, and spend as much time as we can outdoors in spite of sunburn and biting flies.

Original Sanctity
Another outgrowth of panentheism: Wiccans do not feel that humans are inherently flawed; we have no concept of sin, since our gods do not judge us, so we do not believe people are born sinners. We come out a clean slate, beautiful and full of potential, and from the moment we draw breath we are actively involved in the universal web.

While we do have a deep and abiding respect for life, we also understand that death is its partner. Something must be destroyed to create something else. That's why we're not all rabid pro-life or anti-death-penalty politicos; we each have to decide for ourselves where the boundaries are, where life begins and where it should be paid for by another life. There are no easy answers in these kinds of ethical dilemmas, and there isn't a Wiccan party line on how we should vote or place our allegiance. The majority of Pagans are liberal, but that's hardly an absolute.

Speaking of birth and death, most Wiccans go for one form of reincarnation or another. Life isn't a one-shot deal; many religions the world over agree at least with that much. Do we choose our lives before we're born? Can we come back as animals or trees or the opposite sex? Where do we go, exactly, while we're waiting for a new body? Your guess is as good as mine. There is a widespread concept called the Summerland, a place where we get to rest and look back over the life just ended, figure out what we learned and what we still need to learn.

There are also varying theories about whether we eventually finish reincarnating, shuck this mortal coil, and rejoin the Great All of It; as I've mentioned, however, we don't put much effort into the afterlife, since it's what we're doing here that matters. One thing is certain: we don't have a hell. While some may argue the lack of threatened damnation would let us do whatever the heck we want without regard for the consequences, I would point back up to the Law of Return. The consequences of our actions return during our lives, not in between. We try to be ethical people, not because we're worried about hell, but because to be honorable and respectful of others is to emulate the love and compassion of Deity. We try to act out of that love, not out of fear or guilt.

Dianne Sylvan, is twenty something writer and native Texan, currently living in Austin with her psycho cat Cosmo. The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition, her first book, was published in September 2003 by Llewellyn Publications. She is a Priestess of the Sibylline Order and founder of Blessed Ways Temple (


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