As it happens, the title of this post is the same title as an article my initiating High Priestess wrote when she returned to teaching Wicca as an elder in the last fifteen years of her life. I think there is an important distinction between “What is Wicca?” and “What Wicca Means to Me” because I have found that how I define Wicca and another priestess defines it can be two very different things even though we are describing the same thing. This does not make any one definition more valid than another, rather, the definitions grow and change shape depending upon one’s experiences and learning within the faith.
In the previous post I described Wicca as a nature-based religion that draws on the pagan practices of pre-Christian Europe that is informed by both the Western and Eastern philosophies of the modern day.
Let’s take a closer look at what this means.
Wicca as nature-based: A book can, and probably has, been written on this principle alone. All of the major themes of Wicca can be traced to something observable in nature. Most of the organisms that can be see with the naked eye reproduce sexually so the duality of male/female is critical to Wiccan philosophy, which is expressed in our belief of both a God and Goddess. Nature exists in cycles, cycles of seasons and life and death and night and day, which we celebrate in the Wheel of the Year and the lunar calendar. Much as the sun provides invisible energy to allow life to grow, we believe in invisible energies that can be manipulated to cause physical change: magick.
Pagan practices of pre-Christian Europe: There are several historical accounts of monks who traveled to pagan areas of Europe and observed the culture and traditions of the people they were hoping to bring into the fold of the Church. Some of these traditions still survive today in modern towns and villages, but instead of being based in faith, they are based in culture. For instance, there are several places in Europe and Russia that still dance the maypole. Christmas trees and Yule logs were appropriated from winter solstice celebrations. Easter bunnies were once Eostre’s bunnies, a Germanic spring fertility goddess, although the historical accuracy of this claim is challenged (I personally feel that the evidence is stronger in the “for” category, but nonetheless whether it was made up or not the symbols are still present and relevant to the point here).
Western and Eastern philosophies of the modern day: Allow me to clarify for the philosophy buffs. I did not take modern philosophy and, as such, I wouldn’t be able to identify a modern philosophy vs. an ancient philosophy. I only know that the philosophies I’m referring to are still presently active in our thought processes today. For instance, the mind-body problem of Descartes is still intriguing and a point of consideration in philosophy, and the “I think therefore I am” position informs a lot of our metaphysical occult practices. It is more commonly known as the Law of Attraction, but fundamentally it comes down to a belief in the power of our thoughts and how our thoughts impact and create our reality. This is definitely a Western philosophical theory. Eastern thought and philosophy is also present in Wicca, though. For instance, the Threefold Law is very similar to karma. We use the chakra system of Eastern philosophy and spirituality to understand the energies in our own bodies and effect healing.
These things are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg of what constitutes Wicca. It is both a complex philosophy, and also a simple and beautiful one.
So that brings us back to: What does Wicca mean to me? Wicca is a religion of balance and harmony. It is about living well, not only in spirit but also in body. It is about being kind, generous, and compassionate. It is about recognizing that we are not apart from the world, but part of the world. It is about understanding that our actions have consequences, both for good for ill, and while we cannot know everything, we should at least consider the possibilities of what we can and will effect. Wicca is the Old Religion, the religion of wisdom and learning and as such it must change, grow, and alter itself when new information and knowledge present themselves. It is also not a path to be undertaken lightly. There is loneliness in a Wiccan lifestyle–it is not common, and it is not commonly understood, and when people do not understand something, it sometimes leads to fear… which leads to disassociation. This is part of why I believe it is important to bring Wicca out of secrecy and to show people that while, yes, it’s different, it’s not counterculture. Our values and principles are very much the same as most of mainstream society, we just sometimes go about expressing it another way. As a fringe religion also tends to attract “fringe” people–the tattooed, pierced, other-sexual, very rich, very poor, purple haired, etc., so visually our faith can be a little off-putting, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up these individualistic expressions of who we are. There are, however, plenty of “regular” people who are Wiccan, such as myself. I have two college degrees, I work as a nurse, my ears are only pierced twice, my hair is its natural color, I’m married and I drive a Corolla. I wear bootcut jeans, flip flops, and t-shirts. My husband works in a warehouse. He actually wears more black than I do, and he’s not Pagan. He just likes to wear black (and with his dark hair and dark eyes, it suits him well). The only “tell-tale” sign is that I do wear a pentacle, but it’s wire-wrapped into a Celtic knot design and fairly innocuous.
(Note: I put quotations around fringe and normal because I do not like to categorize people, rather I am trying to illustrate a point by highlighting the thoughts and patterns of our mainstream society as a whole, which results in people being grouped by appearances and behaviors. I am broadly referring to groups of those who are considered normal and those who are considered to be not normal, but I personally feel that such patterns and groupings are divisive and part of the problem with hate and violence to begin with. However, since there is a tendency for us to decide if another individual is “weird” or not, I think that using this paradigm here illustrates a point about Wiccan culture that is poignant.)
Wicca is not, then, just for those who don’t belong in the mainstream, but rather it is an accessible path for anyone who feels called to it. All kinds of people from all backgrounds and walks of life have chosen to study Wicca and there is no reason to deny a soul based on bias or prejudice. All are welcome. That said, it is not a path for everyone. As I have stated, it can be a lonely path, and not everyone handles rejection well. It is also not for those who are seeking fame, notoriety, or money. It is a spirituality, not a show. Any time you are dealing with spirits and energy, too, there is danger and responsibility. Magick and ritual are never to be undertaken lightly or without preparation and training. Think of it as practicing medicine: armchair physicians using WebMD and a foreign pharmacy to diagnose and treat medical conditions without proper medical training and background can cause serious harm to others and find themselves in a world of hurt from threats and lawsuits against them for medical malpractice. Desperate people will sometimes take these desperate measures because they do not have the resources or knowledge to properly deal with the problem. We have a responsibility as a society to educate people to be physicians and then direct our friends and loved ones to proper care, and to make that care available to those in need. The same is true of the Wiccan. Manipulating energy without a full understanding of how it works can create harm, not only for yourself but for anyone who is at risk of being affected by what you are doing. It is not a game. It can be enjoyable, but it is not a form of entertainment, and it needs to be respected as a scientific art.
What is Wicca to me? Wicca is joy. Wicca is peace. Wicca is service unto others. Wicca is balance, beauty, and beneficence. Wicca is life in its utter totality. Wicca is enlightenment and humility. It is all of these things, and more, because to me, Wicca is everything.