History and Beliefs of Magick, Witchcraft and Wicca
Magick is the process of causing change to occur by the application and direction of energy through the use of your true Will.
Magick is a very general term which describes something that is unknown or not yet understood. The working of magick is a very personal undertaking. A process that works for one person may not work for another. There are many types of magick and many different ways to perform magick. Magick can be compared to the study of any broad subject such as engineering or medicine. Within each broad subject there are disciplines such as Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, General Surgery, Pediatrics, etc. In turn, within each discipline there are specializations; for example, within Electrical Engineering students can specialize in power systems, electromagnetic wave theory, or computer architecture, to name just a few. Within a given specialization it is possible to specialize even further. For instance, within power systems a student might further specialize in the transmission of vast amounts of power, or within computer architecture a student might specialize in microchip design. Magick is very much the same. Areas within magick include Elemental Magick, Sympathetic Magick, Herbalism, Aromatherapy, Healing, and many others. One of these areas is Witchcraft.
Witchcraft is a branch of magick that tends to deal with healing, home/hearth magick, protection, fertility, and many more topics. It is a branch of magick that is centered on techniques to improve the life of the practitioner and those around them.
Witchcraft is also a religion. Witchcraft as a religion is a nature-oriented religious system that believes in and worships the male and female creative divine force, the God and Goddess. It also recognizes and can use magick.
The origins of Witchcraft are impossible to state. It is generally believed that Witchcraft had its origins in the beliefs of nature and animism held by primitive man during the Paleolithic era and earlier. The earliest humans were part of a hunter/gatherer society. To this level of culture, the things most important to survival were the ability to find food (either through hunting or gathering from the land) and the reproduction of the species (fertility).
Early man most likely had very highly developed senses, including what we today would call the "sixth sense." These heightened senses allowed early man to survive. Further, the forces of nature, while awesome, dictated how things were done. Good weather aided in the ability to hunt and gather food; poor weather hindered it. Early man recognized the forces of nature and the spirits that governed them. This recognition lead to animism, the belief that the forces of nature are spirits, and that there were also spirits in all of the things within nature. In addition, it was recognized that other events unrelated to climate, such as hunting and reproduction, were also governed by spirits.
If the hunt were controlled by a spirit, and the animals had spirits, then a successful hunt could be aided by "hunting" an image of the animal and "killing" the image, or by making offerings to the spirit or god of the hunt. This is an excellent example of sympathetic magick work. Examples of this type of ritual can be seen in ancient cave paintings (25,000 years old) such as those found in the Caves des Trois Freres at Ariege, France (the figure in the painting is known as the sorcerer) and Fourneau de Diable in Dordogne. In addition, clay figures of bison have been found, some of the most famous of which are at Le Tuc d’Audoubert, Ariege. These figures have puncture marks where the figures were stabbed repeatedly and "killed." In more recent times, we can look at the practices of "primitive" tribes in Africa, Australia, and the Native Americans to find examples of these practices. The offering of gifts and food to the "Horned God of the Hunt" eventually developed over time into a religion.
In addition to hunting, reproduction was of supreme importance. Early man did not understand the "magick" of reproduction, other than that the woman mysteriously became with child at certain times. Looking back 20,000 years, we find figurines of pregnant females. These figurines were most likely representations of the spirit, or goddess, that governed reproduction. The figurines are most often referred to as the "Venus figurines," and they depict female forms with extended breasts, bulging stomachs, wide buttocks, open vulvæ , etc. One interesting aspect is that these figures are either headless or faceless heads; one would think that if an artist were doing a figure of a person, some type of face would have been made on the figures. Some other famous figures of this type are the Gravettian "Venus" figurine found at Willendorf, Austria; the Venus of Laussel ;and the Venus of Sireuil. These figurines all have the standard "Venus" features mentioned above.
In time, mankind changed from a hunter/gatherer society to an agricultural society. Instead of being nomadic, groups began to settle down, grow food, and domesticate animals. With this shift in culture, the God of the Hunt slowly assumed the role of the God of Death, and the Goddess of Fertility assumed the role of an agricultural Goddess. As humankind became more advanced, the rituals and beliefs governing the worship of the Goddess of Fertility and the God of the Hunt also became more detailed and defined.
This is a very brief overview of early history. For further information there are wonderful books on archaeology, anthropology and cultural anthropology. In addition, cultures from "modern" times should be explored for more information.
Witchcraft and Wicca
The most common forms of modern Witchcraft center heavily on the history, culture, and practices from Europe, especially the Celtic traditions. The God of the Hunt in Celtic traditions was Cernunnos; his name is sometimes shortened to Cerne and Herne. The priesthood of the Celts were the Druids. The Druids were "wise men" and "magicians," and were common in many European areas. Irish Druids used the names of Hu and Cerridwen for the God and Goddess; they were also possibly known as Lud and Deva. Very little information on the nature of the Druids exists, because the Druidic tradition was mainly oral. Written communication systems, such as Greek and ancient Irish Ogham, were also available.
Early Witchcraft most likely borrowed freely from Druidic tradition. Both traditions have common holidays: Beltane, Samhain, and the Summer and Winter Solstices. The members of both traditions served as the wise ones: healers, diviners, lawyers, judges, farmers, hunters, religious leaders, etc. Both traditions were nature-based, and many of the practices were centered around the changing of the seasons.
To bring us to modern Witchcraft we must bring in another major influence: Christianity. Christianity is a very young religion (2,000 years) and is based on an older religion, Judaism. Judaism and Christianity borrowed heavily from then-existing religions. For example, the death and resurrection belief can be seen from many existing cultures of the time, one of those being the Sumerian/Babylonian myths of Dumuzi/Tamuz. These "myths" predate Christian beliefs by more than 4,000 years. It has been proven that one of the most effective ways to take over a culture is to absorb some of the beliefs of the captive culture and to vilify its deities. Christianity is very adept in this practice.
A great deal of the early history of the Church of Rome was concerned with subjugating the masses. A very effective way of doing this is to make everything "wrong" and deserving of severe judgment. Looking at the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, we can see how this is easily done.
The conversion of the populace of Europe to Christianity did not occur overnight, as the Church would have everyone believe. The first people converted were the upper classes and the monarchs; the common people were the last ones to be converted. For the first 1,000 years or so, Christianity, for the most part, coexisted with the other "old" religions. Beginning around 1000 A.D., there was a major push to eradicate all of the old religions in Europe and the rest of the world. This push was probably motivated as much by politics as by religion. One group of people particularly targeted were the "Witches", the wise women who were knowledgeable in herbcraft and midwifery. The Church initiated a massive campaign of lies blaming Witches for all the ills that befell a community. If crops failed, then it was because of a Witch. If the animals did not produce, it was because of a Witch. If children were stillborn or died early, it was because of a Witch. It didn’t take long for these lies, combined with the hellfire and brimstone attitude of the clergy, to give Witches a very poor reputation. This is a rather interesting accusation, since not long before, the "Witches" were respected; besides, if they actually were guilty of these acts, then—as members of the village—they, too, would suffer. These beliefs eventually spread to include all of the rituals of the old religions, and all of the festivals and ceremonies. Very quickly, the major belief in the Church became that if something were not Christian then it was anti-Christian. And of course, if something were anti-Christian, it must be associated with the Devil and therefore it was Satanic! This practice continued and increased in ferocity for over 400 years, until the appearance of the major blow against all the old religions: the Bull of Pope Innocent VIII in 1484.
The Bull was a general denunciation of all non-Christian religions, especially those dealing with fertility. The Bull of Pope Innocent VIII was released in December of 1484, and named two German monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger, both professors of theology, to be inquisitors of the heretical. Further, the Bull declared that all obstacles to the performing of their duties be removed. In short, these two men were given absolute authority over the ferreting out and judgment of Witches. Most popes since the 1200s had issued some type of Bull against Witchcraft- and fertility-based religions. With the advent of the printing press in 1452, religious doctrine could be spread at a much faster rate.
From a control standpoint, one of the quickest ways to subjugate the masses was to declare sex—except for procreation, and even then only during certain times and without pleasure—to be sinful. Until that time, this activity was most likely one of the few things that the common person could enjoy without guilt. After all, a good number of the "pagan" or country festivals dealt with fertility of some type (fertility of the land, animals, people—and then there were the harvest festivals).
The Bull of Pope Innocent VIII led to the creation of one of the most notorious books in history, The Malleus Maleficarum, or The Witches’ Hammer. This book was written by Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger. The book was to become the de facto standard text for hunting Witches, extracting confessions from them, and then prosecuting them.
The book is divided into three parts:
Moreover, the Bull of Pope Innocent VIII was included as the preface to the book. To give it even further credibility, Kramer and Sprenger forged the Official Letter of Approbation from the Theological Faculty of the University of Cologne. In 1898, the forgery was discovered by Joseph Hansen, the archivist of the University of Cologne.
There were many tests to determine if a person were a Witch:
Inquisitors were allowed to go to any length to obtain a confession of guilt. Torture was a common tool used to make the guilty confess and repent their evil ways. Some of the methods used were: flogging, scourging, thumb and toe screws, racks, iron maidens, red hot pokers, pincers, sleep deprivation, starvation, water deprivation, water torture, stappado (pulling the arms from their sockets), large metal boots into which boiling oil or water would be poured, disemboweling, and pouring water into the stomach until it swelled and burst. After reading this, one must question if there is any length to which man will not resort to achieve the desired result. While these outright forms of torture are very rare today, they have been replaced by other means just as effective.
Assuming that the person survived the torture (or multiple tortures) the usual sentence was death by burning (in Continental Europe) or death by hanging (in England and America).
It took very little to be labeled a Witch. Disagreeing with the church on any belief; attempting to block the investigation of the inquisitors; accusation by anyone; owning a black cat (or any cat during some points of the burning times); owning a cock; saying something in defense of someone being charged with Witchcraft—all were offenses that could get one labeled as a Witch.
As the Inquisition slowly ended, another blow to Witchcraft occurred. This was the Witchcraft Act of James I (James VI of Scotland), passed in England in 1604, which made Witchcraft an offense punishable by death.
The Witch craze eventually followed the colonists to America. Until 1692, there were only a few (around 12) cases of Witchcraft in the colonies, most in Massachusetts. The Witch hysteria surfaced in the colonies in 1688 with the case of the Goodwin children. The laundress of the Goodwin home, Goody (Goodwife) Glover, was accused by Martha Goodwin of stealing some linen. Glover began spouting curses at Martha, who then fell down in a fit, and the other children followed suit. The fits continued; they would bark, howl, pretend to be deaf, run around on tiptoes trying to levitate, complain of being pricked with pins, and other such acts. One of the most infamous American Witch hunters and prosecutors, Cotton Mather, was involved in the case.
The most famous of the Witch trials in the American Colonies was the Salem Witch Trials. This case involved the Reverend Samuel Paris, his wife, his seven-year-old daughter Betty, his nine-year-old niece Abigail Williams, and two black servants, Tituba and her man John Indian. It transpired after the Reverend Paris took the position of pastor for Salem. Tituba and John Indian were from Barbados; did most of the household work, but the story goes that Tituba was lacking in energy at times and often convinced Betty and Abigail to help. She was easily persuaded to tell the children stories of Barbados; the stories, often told in the kitchen, became an entertainment for several of the village children. The group eventually included Ann Putnam, Mary Walcott, Elizabeth Hubbard, Elizabeth Booth, Susannah Sheldon, Marry Warren, Sarah Churchill, and Mercy Lewis. Ann Putnam quickly became leader of the group.
In 1692, Betty Paris began having episodes where she would stare off into space for long periods. When she came around, she would sputter, cough, and make sounds similar to a barking dog. Abigail began doing the same things shortly thereafter. The Reverend Paris prayed over the girls, to no avail, and the town doctor, Dr. Griggs, could not do anything to help them. He therefore determined that the fits were caused by Witchcraft! Other symptoms of the fits would include running, screaming, shouting, and throwing things (including the Bible). Soon, the other girls from the kitchen group joined in. The town elders were called to pray over the girls, but this did not help either. Clergy from the surrounding areas were called in. By this point, the girls were so caught up in their lies that they could not get out of them, so they kept the charade going.
The assembly of elders and other clergy kept asking the girls who had beWitched them. Eventually, Betty Paris mentioned Tituba’s name. Tituba was arrested and charged with Witchcraft. Once the first name was given, the other girls quickly agreed and other names were rapidly produced. Some of the accused were Sarah Goode, Sarah Osburn, Martha Corey, and Rebecca Nurse. For every name given, the children were praised. Often, the people named were those whom the children (or their parents) did not like or or for whom they held a grudge. In short order, 125 people had been arrested in the case and charged with Witchcraft. (To illustrate the prevalence of the hysteria: early on, John Willard had spoken out against the girls, saying that they were fabricating the entire story and should be sent to the gallows; he was immediately charged with Witchcraft!) The trial for these people was conducted by William Stoughton, Samuel Sewell, John Hathorne, and Jonathon Corwin; the latter two were also the magistrates for the pre-trial hearings.
During the hysteria, many horrible things happened. On the September 19, 1692, a most unusual death sentence was executed against Giles Cory. When a man is brought before court, he must plead innocent or guilty to the charge. If he did not plead, the trial could be prevented from taking place. To circumvent this, the law provided a terrible punishment, the peine fort et dure, literally "a severe and harsh punishment." This punishment involved laying the person on his back and stretching his limbs as far as they could be stretched. Heavy iron and stone weights were then piled upon his chest until he either pleaded or was crushed to death. Giles Cory became the only person in American history to suffer this fate; he was crushed to death after refusing to enter a plea.
The Witch craze started to wind down when very prominent people began to be charged with Witchcraft. Eventually, people realized what was happening, and in May of 1693 Governor Phipps ordered the release from jail for all those awaiting trial for Witchcraft. Five years later, Judge Samuel Sewell stood up in the Old South church and acknowledged his shame and repentance. Fourteen years later, Ann Putnam confessed her guilt and remorse over sending all those people to their deaths because of her actions.
By the 1700s, the Witchcraft craze which had swept Europe and America was almost over. In 1717, the last official Witchcraft trial in England took place; in Scotland, however, the trials lasted until 1727. In 1736, the Witchcraft Act of James I was repealed, but it was replaced by others in later times.
This period, from the 1200s through the 1700s, is commonly known as the "burning times." Though Witches were burned only in certain parts of Europe, the persecution they faced was rampant in both the Old World and the New. But even though the craze ended in the 1700s, it was another 200 years before Witches could finally publicly acknowledge their beliefs.
During the 1800s, many archeological expeditions took place, especially to Egypt. In England and many parts of Europe, it was the fashionable thing either to undertake or to support an archeological dig. I believe that this exposure to other cultures was partially responsible for laying the groundwork for Europe and America to be more open to other, older cultures. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, several works dealing with "folklore" and history were written. Some of these included The White Goddess by Robert Graves, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe and God of the Witches by Dr. Margaret Alice Murray. Also during this time one of the most famous early outspoken Witches, Gerald Gardner, was writing.
Gerald Gardner was born in England on June 13, 1884. During his early life, he traveled a good deal and worked at many different jobs. He was very interested in other cultures, and, wherever he lived, he spent a good deal of time learning about the local populations. In 1925, he obtained a position as a government inspector of opium establishments in Malaya. While there, he studied the culture and magick of the Malays, the Saki, and the Borneans. His job as an inspector allowed him a good deal of free time, during which he wrote his first book, Kris and Other Malay Weapons. (A kris is a wavy-bladed knife), and he quickly became the world authority on the subject. In 1936 he retired and returned to England, where he met several people interested in the occult. His interest in anthropology, weapons, and magick made an ideal match. His grandfather Joseph's second wife was rumored to have been a Witch. Further, one of his other ancestors, Grizell Gairdener, had been burned as a Witch in 1640 in Newborough, Scotland. Obviously, he must have mentioned these names to the "right people at the right time," because he was soon initiated into one of the surviving Witchcraft covens near Christchurch a few days after the beginning of World War II.
You can imagine Gardner's delight in finding a surviving coven in Europe. He initially wanted to share the knowledge with the world, but was not allowed to do so. This was partly due to the historical need for secrecy for, and partly because, until 1951, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was still in effect. Gardner was permitted to reveal some of the truth in a work of fiction, High Magick's Aid, which was written under his Witch name, Scire. In 1952, he purchased an old mill historically associated with Witchcraft. This eventually became home to his vast collection of weaponry and magickal apparata. After the old high priestess of the coven died, he convinced the other members to let him publish a true and factual book dealing with Witchcraft. In 1954, Witchcraft Today, the first book dealing with Witchcraft as a religion and a living system, was published. In 1959, Gardner published a second volume, The Meaning of Witchcraft. With the success of his books and his museum, he effectively became the world's first public expert on the subject of Witchcraft and, to a great extent, became the unofficial leader of European Witchcraft. By the middle of the 1950's, courses in Witchcraft were beginning to appear at colleges and universities. On February 12, 1964, Gardner died at sea while returning home from a winter vacation in Lebanon. Despite any personal feelings one may have, whether good or ill, the contributions of Gerald Gardner to modern Witchcraft must be recognized. Without his pioneering work, Witchcraft probably would still have resurfaced, but its re-emergence would have been greatly delayed. It is important to note that, after Gardner "came-out of the broom closet," many other people rushed to follow him. Alex Sanders came forward and claimed to have been initiated into a coven by his own grandmother. There was also Leo Martello’s Sicilian Wicca, which appeared to be very similar to Gardner's works.
In 1964, Raymond Buckland established a coven in New York. His workings, in part, led to the awakenings of Witchcraft in the United States. Soon after he started his coven (an offshoot of one of the Gardnerian covens), many other covens began to appear. Naturally, this led to some friction between groups, and eventually led to a good deal of "my coven is better than your coven" mentality. There were sharp differences in opinion of how things should be done (such as initiation, length of learning period, etc). These differences, in part, led to the many denominations or traditions of Witchcraft and Wicca in existence today.
Both Witchcraft and Wicca are "new" religions. They have their roots in older beliefs, but the Witchcraft and Wicca of the modern era cannot trace a direct lineage beyond a certain point. This does not invalidate in any way the religion of Witchcraft or Wicca. As new religions, they spawned many new traditions, or denominations. A few of these traditions will be discussed briefly a little later.
A great deal of time has been spent in the discussion of the possible original beliefs that led to the development of Witchcraft, as well as on the history of persecution. Many people would ask, "Why do you do this?" I do it, because I feel it is important to have at least a general idea of where the ideas came from.
Further, at least in the United States, public opinion has the tendency to perform overnight, 180-degree shifts in thought. Witchcraft, Wicca—Paganism in all its forms—is just beginning to gain a secure foothold, but this foothold could very easily be lost. The religious right-wing people in the United States are constantly funding political campaigns to get their people into positions of power. In the past two months before this writing, in October of 1999, court cases have sprung up which challenge the theory of evolution, the right of a woman to obtain an abortion, etc. The rights of people in military service are being challenged in Texas. The Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 165-13, "Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains," gives instructions regarding the religious rites of Wiccans (as well as other groups). Wicca is an "official" religion recognized by the military, and yet there are several senators who want it removed from military installations!
President Ronald Reagan gave an extra incentive to get the drinking age in the states raised to twenty-one by setting aside a large amount of money for highway repair in the states. All a state had to do to get the money was to raise the drinking age to twenty-one. It was inevitable that this incentive influenced the decision on raising the drinking age throughout the country. If such an incentive can be used to get this idea pushed through, what other incentives might be used to push through other ideas?
Some students will instantly cry out, "But what about personal freedom? Won’t those ideas protect us?" Just remember that "personal freedom" is not a right, but a privilege. It is granted by those in power—despite common opinion (just look at the number of people laboring under the idea that the United States is a democracy as opposed to a republic). There are some that believe the burning times will return, and woe be unto those who do not recognize the warning signs and attempt to stop it. "He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future."
Witchcraft, Wicca,and many of the pagan belief systems today share many similar beliefs. Unlike Christianity, with all its "Thou Shalt Not" rules, pagan systems are usually less rigid. Both Witchcraft and Wicca are firmly rooted in nature and have a respect for all that is in nature. The major holidays (Samhain, Winter Solstice, Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Midsummer's Eve, Fall Equinox, Lammas) are seasonal celebrations tied to planting and harvesting. Both Witchcraft and Wicca recognize a higher creative force manifest in the archetypes of the Goddess and the God, and possibly through their various aspects. Both recognize the energy of all things and attempt to work with these energies through what is commonly called magick. Both Witches and Wiccans believe that one must take responsibility for individual actions, that one should avoid hurting others if at all possible, because all actions will return in some form. Further, many Witches and Wiccans believe in some form of reincarnation. These are just a few of the general ideas that will be discussed.
The root of the Wiccan belief system comes down to three basic ideas:
(It is important to note that the word "An" is an archaic English word meaning "if" or "as long as." This word should not be confused with the modern conjunction "and."
Notice that all three of these ideas address the same basic belief: treat others the way you would like to be treated. No one really wants to be attacked, demeaned, manipulated, etc.
It should be noted that these are beliefs, not absolute holy writ. They are, however, a set of ideas by which people should strive to live. In addition, these ideas stress that YOU are responsible for your own actions. YOU have the ultimate choice of whether you want to do something. True, one can be coerced or manipulated into performing an action, but the individual nevertheless bears the ultimate responsibility for his/her actions.
Many people take exception to the first idea, "An it harm none, do as you will." They claim that by following this precept, one cannot do anything, because every action taken harms something, perhaps even one’s very existence. This, of course, takes an argument to an absurd extreme in an attempt to invalidate a belief. Some people would prefer to leave off "An it harm none," thereby creating the belief "Do as you will; that shall be the whole of the law." Using that reasoning, Hitler was perfectly justified in torturing and executing over 12,000,000 Jews during World War II. Or that Jim Jones acted properly in the Guayana tragedy. Or that Jack the Ripper owed no accountability to his victims. They were, after all, simply following their will were they not?
There will be outraged cries that this is not really the intent, but that it is supposed to be True Will (or Higher Will), and "True Will" would never be guilty of such evil. The only logical response is, "How can you really know the True Will of anyone, even yourself?" Last time I checked there was no such book called, "The True Will of Everyone," available at the local bookstore for $9.95.
"An it harm none, do as you will," is a goal by which to live. The word "harm" seems to be what troubles people—after all, how does one define harm? Is harm limited to physical harm? Does it include mental harm? Is a parent who spanks a misbehaving child doing harm? And, conversely, is a parent who DOES NOT spank a misbehaving child doing harm? If someone hits you, are you prevented from striking back? There can be no ultimate definition of harm without creating a system similar to the Islamic laws or the Christian book of Leviticus, wherein an attempt is made to define every situation that can occur and what actions to take. Such an attempt would create a hopelessly complex series of laws—and the inevitable exceptions, exemptions, and loopholes.
"Harm" must be defined by the individual, but based on some common ideas. Webster's dictionary defines harm as "physical or emotional injury or damage." This sounds good, but it does create a problem, i.e., wouldn’t the existence of Witches cause emotional damage to many Christians? What about the existence of, and intermingling with, other races? Or the existence of people who are homosexuals? It seems that all of these issues cause emotional injury to someone. Therefore, we need to go a bit further in trying to assess harm.
Without initiating a discussion that would last for many weeks and fill multiple volumes, I would prefer to base the definition of harm on "any action that prevents, restricts, retards, or impedes the physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual growth of another individual." While this is not a perfect definition, and still leaves many things undecided, I must hope that there is some common sense used in the application of this idea.
I believe that each individual has the right to exist, to grow, to learn, to experience, and to advance. The rights of each individual extend to the point that they interfere with the rights of another individual.
When applying any idea by which to live, one must use common sense. For every "law" and belief, there can be postulated some situation wherein the idea does not work. Does this invalidate the idea? No. It just means that in that particular situation, the application is not quite so clear cut and requires some refining.
You must decide for yourself how far you will take the meaning of the word "harm." Generally, you are pretty safe in your actions if you follow the idea of, "Would I want someone to do this action to me under normal circumstances?" If someone breaks into my house to kill me, then they’d better expect to be killed themselves, because the boundaries of individual rights have been overstepped. However, were I to enter someone else's house to kill them, then I’d better expect to be killed myself. Remember that the ultimate decision on whether or not to do something rests with YOU. Taking responsibility for your actions is a major point, whether or not it is explicitly stated.
The second major belief is commonly called the "Threefold Law" and is really a restatement of the idea of Karma. The "law" states that whatever you do will return to you threefold. This does not mean that if you give someone in need a dollar, you will have three people give you a dollar, or one person give you three dollars. It means that your act of kindness will result in an act of kindness being done to you. Some people do not like this idea, because they cannot see, or claim not to see it in action. I think they just haven't looked and refuse to see what is there before them. In magick, one of the basic ideas is that "like attracts like" and "as above so below, as below so above." In the study of Hermetic Philosophy, we will see these ideas in more detail.
Does something return threefold? It’s hard to say. If the ideas of karma were strictly adhered to, then a threefold return would create an imbalance. Is it really that important how many times something returns? Or is it more important to know that your actions will have consequences? I think the latter is the more important idea. Doing something for others should not be done with the express intention of "getting something in return." You do something for someone else simply because you can.
The third major belief, "Do nothing to interfere with the free will of another," is yet another restatement of the belief that one should treat people the way one wishes to be treated. However, this can become an interesting problem. For example, how much can one do for someone else without interfering with their free will? How much would you want or allow someone else to do for you without your express permission? Keep these questions in mind; in a later lesson we will deal with magickal ethics.
When the three basic ideas are taken together, we have a concise statement of a set of values by which we should strive to live. These ideas are not meant to be an absolute statement in every circumstance, nor should they be applied in the extreme. They are simply guidelines, and—as with all guidelines—the intent or idea can be taken too far. When applying these criteria, the individual must take into account the time, location, and circumstances under which the situation occurs. Just remember to ask yourself if you would really want someone else to do the same action to/for you?
Before I leave this topic, I want to point out that many of these ideas seem to go right out the window when issues of a sexual nature arise, particularly when tackling the question of sadomasochism (S&M). In this instance, we have to consider whether the event is taking place between two or more consenting people who are past the age of "accountability," and who desire to participate in such activities. In short, these are mutually agreed-upon actions. We will revisit this topic when we discuss magickal ethics.
Witches, Wiccans, and many Pagans recognize that we, as human beings, are part of nature and nature is part of us. Generally speaking, they have a greater respect for the Earth and the environment in general. Also, much of the work of the Witch is based on the seasonal cycles. The seasonal cycles and holidays will be discussed in more detail in later lessons.
Wiccans and most Witches also accept that there is a higher creative force in the universe, which manifests in two main aspects, one male and one female. These aspects are generally referred to as the God and the Goddess, and the aspects are either revered and worshipped in their archetypal forms, or they are viewed in a more granular system as specific deities.
The God force is generally thought to have two aspects: the Young King and the Old King. The Young King aspect is the young man just coming to power; he may have children, and he is just beginning in his reign. Normally, this aspect holds sway over the spring and summer months of the year. The Old King aspect is the man in his later years, at the end of his power, no longer quite so strong in body as in earlier times, but stronger of will and possessed of great amounts of knowledge. The Old King is generally thought to hold sway during the winter months. Often, when specific deities are used, Pan takes the aspect of the Young King and Cernunnos takes the aspect of the Old King. Generally, the male aspect of deity is seen as the sun.
The Goddess force is generally thought to have three aspects: the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. The Maiden is the young woman just coming into the true aspects of womanhood; she is young, beautiful, and sexual but has not yet borne children. The Mother aspect represents the mature woman; she has borne children, is wiser, and is generally more settled. She is also the nurturing aspect. The Crone aspect represents the older woman; she has raised her children and moved on to the life stage wherein she has amassed a great amount of knowledge and personal power. This aspect is often called upon in matters of justice and legal issues. The Goddess is normally seen in the phases of the moon, i.e., each phase is a different aspect. Some deity associations for the Goddess aspects are as follows: Maiden/Diana, Mother/Selene, Crone/Hecate.
This breakdown seems to be a bit lopsided. I personally work with three aspects of deity: Prince, Young King, and Old King. The Prince is the male aspect of the Maiden. The Young King is the male aspect of the Mother. The Old King is the male aspect of the Crone. However, there are as many aspects of the God or Goddess as an individual needs. In some traditions you may find a fourth aspect of the Goddess worshipped: the male Warrior aspect or the female Dark aspect.
Witches and Wiccans also recognize the forces and energy within nature. These forces are generally divided into four main element energies: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Some traditions, mainly Eastern, will use a fifth element, Spirit. Each of these element energies has its own hierarchy and beings that are native to that element. These energies can be used for a wide variety of magick, and the native beings may be asked for assistance. In general, each element has its own characteristics. Normally these basic characteristics and their associations are defined as follows:
There are other systems that use different associations for the elements and directions.
Many Witches and Wiccans believe in reincarnation. Reincarnation is the belief that the soul, the Higher Self, is eternal and manifests in physical form to learn and interact with other souls. The soul goes through many manifestations as a physical form until it finally achieves a state of spiritual enlightenment that allows it to move on to the next stage of existence. Some Wiccans and Witches believe that the final destination of the soul's journey is Summerland. Summerland is ruled over by the "Horned God of Death," and everyone goes there. It is a place of rest and peace.
Witches and Wiccans can work either as solitary practitioners or in a coven. Each type of working has it benefits and drawbacks. For example, in a coven there are the psychodynamics of a group, but one generally has more energy with which to work. As a solitary practitioner, one doesn’t have to be concerned about other people; however, the amount of available energy may be less.
A coven is a group of people who have agreed to work together. It takes at least two people to constitute a coven. In older books and in Hollywood it is thought that there must be 13 people in a coven; that is not so. Some covens believe that there must be a balance between the number of men and women; others think that the male and female aspects of the individuals themselves should be balanced. In the past, covens usually operated in a small area called a covendom, generally three miles; in modern society, that limit is rarely observed. A coven usually meets in a defined location known as a covenstead. Members of a coven gather for the high holidays and on predetermined meeting times, such as the phases of the moon. The holidays are often called Sabbats ,and the phases of the moon meetings are usually called esbats.
The coven is led by a high priestess and, usually, a high priest. It is important to note that in Wicca all believers are inherently both priest and priestess—there is no need for an intermediary to interact with deity. High priest and priestess functions require a great deal of knowledge and training, and most covens require that their individual members go through some form of training or be able to demonstrate equivalent knowledge. I say "most," because there is no single or centralized governing body for covens, Witches, and Wiccans. There is no national register, but there are many online services for locating covens and magickal people. Once a person is accepted, there is usually some type of initiation ceremony; the ceremony form differs from coven to coven, but it is an outward dedication of the individual to the beliefs, to the deity, and to the other coven members. Some covens require that members be secret about their association, and some do not. Covens and coven dynamics will be discussed in more detail in a later lesson.
It is important to note that Witches and Wiccans make the separation between "white" and "black" magick. This would more appropriately be termed "positive" and "negative." A Witch is by definition a "white" Witch, or concerned primarily with working positive magicks. A person who continually performs negative magicks and claims to be a Witch is not really a Witch but ,rather, a person playing with magick.
Followers of Wicca are called Wiccans or Witches. However, not all Witches are Wiccan. In part, this has to do with how people wish to identify themselves. There are many similarities between Wicca and Witchcraft. Generally, Wiccans follow a more defined ethical code than that of a follower of the religion of Witchcraft, but this is not always true. The difference lies in how one wishes to be identified.
There are many different "denominations" of Wicca and Witchcraft. The denominations vary in how things are done, when they are done, etc. Listed below are some of the major denominations and general statements about them:
Gardnerian: Founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s, formed from part of the coven into which he was first initiated. It is a degree-oriented, very structured system.
Alexandrian: Founded by Alex Sanders in England in the 1960s. Alex Sanders took the title "King of the Witches." Very similar to Gardnerian. I believe that this tradition prefers to use a sword as opposed to an athame.
Ceremonial: Combination of Wicca and ceremonial magick. Draws heavily on Egyptian beliefs. Also draws on Qabbalistic ideas.
Dianic: A very Goddess-oriented form of Wicca. Some Dianic covens are extremely feminist in nature; others are more balanced.
Eclectic: This is the hardest group to pin down. They follow the basic Wiccan beliefs, but tend to be very relaxed and informal. This denomination has no qualms about using ideas from other cultures, belief systems, or any age of time that suits their needs. It is the "Chinese buffet" of Wicca … pick and choose what you like, so long as you stay within the basic framework.
Frost’s Wicca: Created by Gavin and Yvonne Frost in the early 1970s. Degree-oriented system. It is also a system which uses sex as part of its ritual.
Pictish: A Scottish variation of Witchcraft and Wicca. Most followers tend to be solitary. It is a very nature-oriented denomination.
Seax: Developed by Raymond Buckland in the 1973. Based on the Gardnerian tradition.
Strega: An Italian version of Witchcraft.
These are just a few of the major denominations of Witchcraft and Wicca. Please consult the reading list for more information.
The Tarot is a very old divination system. The Tarot is used to see the most likely events to occur at a future time, provided that nothing changes during that time. Tarot is most useful for revealing things that might occur over a short time span. The exception to this is when a major or critical event occurs in a person’s life. The future is like a giant system of rivers; some of the rivers are major channels of water, and others are minor streams. Some events cannot be avoided, but other events can be changed or shaped to one’s own will. The Tarot can be useful for helping to decide the most appropriate course of action and to present the major alternatives for any given action or event.
The Tarot is a deck of cards divided into two major groups: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards and represents major forces affecting the person at the time of the reading or at some point in the reading. The Minor Arcana consists of four suits of fourteen cards each, and provides clues as to what is happening and why it is happening. When performing a reading, one can either work exclusively with the Major Arcana or can use both. Most people tend to use both Major and Minor Arcana.
The Fool is the first card of the Major Arcana, and is numbered 0. The Fool represents the individual at the beginning of a journey or exploration. The person is just beginning, starting from scratch, being "tabula rasa." The Fool is neither male nor female, but has aspects of each. It is the unborn potential.
The mountains in the card represent the material possessions and knowledge already accumulated from previous incarnations. In many decks, the Sun—the light of Wisdom—is shown over his crown chakra, indicating innocence and purity. Upon his head sits a cap with a feather boldly sticking out. In Egyptian mythology, the feather is associated with the Goddess Maat or Mayet. She wears an ostrich plume which is used to judge the weight of the souls of the dead. The Fool is depicted looking off into the distance, never paying attention to where he is going. He walks blindly forward, trusting that the higher forces will guide him to his destiny.