A New Moon list of Frequently Asked Questions for alt.religion.wicca

Second posting by rbowman@reed.edu (first posted 20Feb95) - 2March95

Guard the Mysteries! Constantly reveal Them! - Lew Welch

This material is in the public domain. First compilation by Rain (rbowman@reed.edu). Thanks for comments and resources (so far) to John P. Onorato , The Wayward Mage , Janice Barlow , Anthony , Ounce and Karen Davidson .

1) What is this group for?

Alt.religion.wicca is a usenet newsgroup for discussion of Wicca, also known by some as Wicce, Goddess Worship, the Old Religion, Witchcraft (with a capital "W") or simply "the Craft."

2) What is Wicca?

"Wicca" is the name of a contemporary Neo-Pagan religion, largely promulgated and popularized by the efforts of a retired British civil servant named Gerald Gardner. Since then, Wicca has spread largely due to its popularity among feminists. As a Neo-Pagan spirituality, Wicca draws much of its inspiration from the non-Christian and pre-Christian religions of Europe. "Pagan" is a term derived from the latin "paganus" (country-dweller), and "Neo-Paganism" is a term referring to revivals and new religions largely inspired by these traditions, among others.

3) How is Wicca related to Neo-Paganism, Satanism and the New Age?

Wiccans for the most part see themselves as distinct from these other spiritualities, although there are some individuals who identify with more than one (see question 10 below). Neo-Paganism is a more general category which often includes Wicca, but many Wiccans have thealogical differences with Satanism and other Neo-Pagan or "New Age" groups, as discussed in question 8 below.

4) What god(s) do Wiccans worship?

Although Wiccans may worship many god(desse)s by many different names, most worship some form of the Great Goddess and Her consort, The Horned God. These duo-theistic forces are often conceived of as embodying complementary polarities. In some traditions worship of the Goddess is emphasized, although in others the Goddess and God are seen as complementary co-equals. The Goddess and God may be seen as associated with certain things (such as the Goddess with the earth or moon, God with sun and wildlife, etc) but there are no hard and fast rules. Some traditions worship the Goddess alone while others see Divinity as essentially beyond human understanding, with "Goddess" and "God" simply a convenient shorthand.

5) What tools and rituals do you use?

Some ritual items are common to almost every Wiccan tradition, including the athame (ritual knife) and chalice (ritual cup). Others may be used by some traditions but not others: bells, brooms, candles, cauldrons, cords, drums, incense, jewelry, special plates, pentacles, scourges, statues and wands. The meanings of these items, their use and manufacture will differ between traditions and individuals. Usually a Wiccan ritual will involve some sort of creation of sacred space (casting a circle), invocation of divine power, sharing of dance/song/food or wine and a thankful farewell and ceremonial closing. Rituals may be held at Wiccan "sabbats" or "esbats" (see below) or to mark life transitions such as births, coming-of-age, marriages/handfastings, housewarmings, healings or death.

6) Is there a set liturgy or liturgical calendar?

Most Wiccans mark eight holiday "sabbats" in the "wheel of the year," falling on the solstices, equinoxes and the four days midway between. The names of sabbats may differ between traditions, and many Wiccans also mark "esbats," rituals for worship in accordance with a given moon phase (such as the night of the full moon). Although there is no one source for all Wiccan liturgy, many liturgical items such as the methods for casting the circle, the "Charge of the Goddess," certain myths and formulaic expressions are common to many traditions. Some common formulaic expressions include "hail and welcome/farewell," "blessed be" (sometimes abbreviated on the net as B*B) and the closing "Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again." There is no one bible or book of common prayer for all Wiccans.

7) What is the "Book of Shadows?" How can I get one?

The Book of Shadows is sort of a customized reference book for Wiccans, containing useful information such as myths and liturgical items just mentioned. According to Gerald Gardner, such a book should be handcopied from teacher to student but in practice not every Wiccan has a "book of shadows" and few are exactly alike. There are many "books of shadows" available in print and on-line (leading to the "disk of shadows" or even "directories of shadows" several megabytes large). If you'd like to copy from these sources for your personal use, you may assemble your own book. See the annotated bibliography below for leads, but please observe copyright laws in your newfound enthusiasm.

8) Is there a basic Wiccan thealogy?

Some myths and associations are common to many Wiccan traditions, such as the Goddess' giving birth to the Horned God, the theme of their courtship and His death, the descent of the Goddess into the realm of death and others. Another thealogical point held in common by many Wiccans is the *immanence* of diety/divinity within the natural world and cycle of the seasons. This places value on the earth and this world, as distinguished from views of transcendent divinity and an unenchanted creation. Wiccans as a whole are very much "into" cycles: of life, of the moon and seasons. Cyclical change as an erotic dance of life, death and reincarnation is a popular theme in Wiccan imagery, ritual and liturgy. (_Thea_ is Greek for "goddess," by the way, so "thealogy" is not a typo here, but a way of emphasizing the Goddess).

Wiccans often distinguish themselves from Satanists by emphasizing this immanence and prefering a complementary view of divinity to an oppositional one. They may distinguish themselves from Christians in this view of immanent divinity and an embracing of ambiguity and polytheism (many gods). Unlike the Jewish, Christian or Islamic traditions, there is little emphasis on interpretation of "scripture" or a revealed text, and although many Wiccans may believe in some sort of reincarnation, they may distinguish themselves from Buddhists in seeing life as a journey or adventure without any desire to "leave the wheel" of creation. Some Wiccans may distinguish themselves from the "New Age" in their value for both the "light" and the "dark" aspects of existence (embracing both life and death), a do-it-yourself attitude and a distrust of money, hierarchies and gurus.

9) What are Wiccan ethics?

There are no ten commandments in Wicca, but there are some common expressions such as the "Wiccan Rede" and the "three-fold law." According to most versions of the three-fold law, whatever one does comes back to one multiplied, kind of an amplified karma. One short, rhymed version of the Wiccan Rede states "Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An it harm none, do what you will." Often "none" is interpreted to include the doer themself in analogy to the "golden rule" of other faiths. There are no universal proscriptions regarding food, sex, burial or military service and Wicca, as a rule, discourages proselytization.

10) Can I be a Christian/Jew/Druid/Shaman/Astrologer/Magician/whatever and a Wiccan?

Since much of Wicca is more worldview and ceremonial practice than anything else, there is no Wiccan proscription of such things from Wicca's end. Most traditions have no requirement to denounce any other faith and, indeed, Wiccans often look askance at "one true wayisms" which claim to have a monopoly on truth, divine revelation or enlightenment. "Christian Wiccans" probably face the largest skepticism, however, given the history and ongoing reality of allegedly "Christian" persecution.

11) What is initiation?

Some traditions of Wicca look on themselves as priesthoods or clergy and have formal initiation ceremonies or grades. Some people claim that "only a Witch can make a Witch" whereas others say that only the Goddess and God can make a witch. Doreen Valiente was initiated by Gardner himself, but slyly asks "who initiated the first witch?" Valiente and many others assert that for those who choose to "bootstrap" a coven into existence (by an initial initiation, or to use self-initiation) may do so.

12) What are the origins of Wicca?

This is a matter of some debate within Wiccan circles. Some Wiccan mythology holds that Wicca has come down from the stone age, persecuted by Christians but surviving secretly in covens for hundreds of years. Others hold that their Wicca is a long-held family tradition (or "fam trad"), passed down through villages and grandmothers. Aidan Kelly argues that modern Wicca was largely pieced together from bits of other traditions by Gerald Gardner, with significant revisions by Doreen Valiente (and others) since 1939.

13) Is Wicca the same thing as witchcraft? Do all Wiccans cast spells or practice magic?

The short answer is no. Many cultures have a negative word like "witchcraft", often viewing it as malevolent, a magical tool used by the weak, old or malicious. Some people use the term "witchcraft" to cover more general skills, such as counseling, the occult and herbcraft. Some Wiccans call themselves "Witches," capitalizing it as a gesture of solidarity with the victims of the Burning Times, but this is a personal decision. Although many Wiccans today may cast spells and practice magic/k, these are not considered an integral part of Wicca by all Wiccans. Wicca is not traditional folk magic and folk magic is not necessarily Wiccan.

14) What were "the burning times?" "The Burning Times" is the term used by many modern Neo-Pagans and feminists to refer to the great European witch-hunts of the early modern period, coincident with the time of the reformation and seen by many as a crucial step in Christianity's crushing of the Pagan religions, driving these underground. Given that Barstow estimates that 85% of those executed during this period were women, this is often referred to as a "war against women" and Pagans. Some authors claim as many as 9-10 million people were killed in these hunts, while more recent scholarship puts the number of documented deaths at approximately 20,000 with estimates up to 100,000. Sometimes these numbers are doubled to account for non-judicial killings and deaths from torture, suicide, etcetera.

15) Do Wiccans engage in sacrifice?

Again, the short answer is no. The Wiccan Rede's 'an it harm none,' clause, passages in most versions of the Charge of the Goddess ("nor do I demand aught in sacrifice") and some explicit writings by Gardner on blood magic explicitly condemn sacrifice or (non-menstrual) blood magic of any sort. Some folk magic uses blood, but is not necessarily Wiccan. Many traditions forbid the ritual knife (athame) to touch blood at all, lest it be desecrated. Often a libation of wine or food-offering is made during the "cakes and ale" section of Wiccan worship, but it is not thought of as a "sacrifice" anymore than self-discipline or temperance would be. It is more a thankful offering for the bounty of the earth.

16) What are the major traditions in Wicca and where do they come from?

Aidan Kelly argues that all of Wicca derives from Gerald Gardner, with some crucial editing by his initiate Doreen Valiente. Alex Sanders is widely thought to have acquired a Gardnerian book of shadows, with which he started his own "Alexandrian" tradition. Other well-known traditions are Raymond Buckland's Seax Wicca, Victor and Cora Anderson's Faery Wicca and feminist Dianic Wicca, emphasizing the Goddess as put forward by such authors as Z. Budapest. There are also branches of Wicca identifying themselves with various ethnicities and traditions such as druidism, shamanism and so forth.

17) What is a coven and how do I join one?

The coven is the basic, cellular "congregation" for some Wiccans, but is often very formal, selective and closed. Most Wiccans begin in less formal ways such as attending festivals, public rituals, classes or more open groups (often called "circles"). Many Wiccans probably begin and continue practice as "solitaries," whether before, after or while a member of a coven. Solitary practice is a valid "tradition" in the Craft, but some good places to find other Wiccans are on the net, at public Pagan events or through occult, political or "new age" bookstores.

18) How do I witness to a Wiccan?

First of all, please note the answer to question one above, this newsgroup being primarily for discussions on Wicca and Wiccan practice. Those posting and reading here are adults, many of whom are or have been Christians, have read a bible, heard of Jesus and considered their beliefs as seriously as you have yours. The more you know about Wicca, the more intelligent you will seem. Reading this FAQ is a good first step, and in general it is a good idea to "lurk" and read for a while before posting to ANY newsgroup. Please keep in mind, however, Wicca's distrust of proselytization and conscious lack of an evangelical tradition. Posts which claim we are all going to hell [in ALLCAPS!!!] are generally not welcome, and will be ignored. This is doubly the case when the poster seems pushy or obviously uninformed.

19) How do I learn more about Wicca?

Sticking around and reading this group is one way, as are books and local contacts. Below is a list of contacts and resources: web sites, other internet newsgroups, mailing lists, ftp sites and a list of some Wiccan organizations and periodicals. Finally, this list concludes with a rather lengthy annotated bibliography of some useful books you may be able to find in your local library.

WWW (world-wide web sites)

Other Internet newsgroups

alt.pagan, alt.divination, alt.religion.asatru, alt.magick, alt.tarot, alt.religion.shamanism, alt.mythology, alt.satanism, soc.religion.shamanism Mailing Lists

FTP sites

Wiccan/Pagan Umbrella Organizations

Wiccan or Neo-Pagan Periodicals

Annotated Bibliography
INTRODUCTORY TEXTS (In order of Rain’s preference)

# Margot ADLER, _Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America Today_, 2nd edition (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987). ISBN 0-8070-3253-0. The best single survey of Neo-Paganism in North America published. Adler is a reporter with National Public Radio and this book serves as a survey not only of Wiccan groups and their history, but also of Neo-Druidism, Asatru, Norse and Egyptian revival traditions. Includes excellent appendices listing contacts, periodicals and the Bonewits cult evaluation form.

# STARHAWK [Miriam Simos], _The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess_ (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979). ISBN 0-06-067535-7, Second 1989 edition ISBN 0-06-250814-8. A literate and sophisticated introduction to Wicca as Goddess religion from an eco-feminist perspective. Contains the basic mythology of Wicca, dozens of practical magical exercises, chants, blessings, spells and myths. Erotic and politically awa re. Book of shadows scattered throughout. Well indexed with bibliography and endnotes.

# Scott CUNNINGHAM, _Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner_, (St Paul MN: Llewellyn, 1988). ISBN 0-87542-118-0. Simple and accessible introduction to the basics of Wicca, focussing on things one can do alone. Basics of Wicca and many simple recipes for food and incenses. Emphasis on daily connection. Contains a simple book of shadows as appendix, bibliography by subject.

# Scott CUNNINGHAM, _Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner_, (St Paul MN: Llewellyn, 1993. ISBN 0-87542-184-9. A more detailed introduction, with info on ritual design and consciously constructing one’s own book of shadows. Discussion of basic philosophy, including ethics of teaching, incorporation of Wicca into daily life.

# Silver RAVENWOLF, _To Ride a Silver Broomstick_ (St Paul MN: Llewellyn, 1993). ISBN 0-87542-791-X. The cover turns many people off, but this book practically addresses the basics of beginning Wiccan practice, issues regarding friends and family and how to begin connecting with other Pagans and the general community.

INTERMEDIATE TEXTS (in alphabetical order by author)

# Zsuzsanna BUDAPEST, _The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries_, (Oakland: Wingbow Press, 1989). ISBN 0-914728-67-9. Written by the founder of the Susan B. Anthony Coven #1, this book comes at magical practice as wimmin’s religion, incorporating Hungarian folk magic with a strong, modern feminist consciousness. An excellent example of a Dianic tradition written by a pioneer.

# Janet and Stewart FARRAR, _A Witches Bible Compleat_, (New York: Magickal Childe, 1984). ISBN 0-939708-09-4. A one-volume compilation of two books: _Eight Sabbats for Witches_ and _The Witches’ Way_. Now out of print, the Farrars did not choose this title.

# Janet and Stewart FARRAR, _Eight Sabbats for Witches: And Rites for Birth, Marriage and Death_, (London: Robert Hale, 1981). Currently published by Phoenix of Custer WA. ISBN 0-919345-26-3. Initiates of Alex Sanders, the Farrars practice an ecumenical form of Gardnerian/Alexandrian Wicca, with this book focussing on “Wicca as a religion, ritually expressed.” Detailed explanations of basic sabbat rituals, with philosophy scattered throughout . The ritualistic portions for a book of shadows.

# Janet and Stewart FARRAR, _The Witches’ Way_ (London: Robert Hale, 1984). Now re-published by Phoenix of Custer WA, ISBN 0-919345-71-9. This book is a companion to _Eight Sabbats_, putting forward the remainder of the Gardner/Valiente Book of Shadows, supplemented with chapters on basics of Wiccan philosophy and practice such as making of tools, ethics, reincarnation, self-initiation and sexuality.

# STARHAWK [Miriam Simos], _Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex & Politics_, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1982). Second edition ISBN 0-8070-1025-1. Discussion of social and group dynamics from a strong perspective of eco-feminist activism. Stirring story on the modern mythology of “the burning times” in appendix. Chants, songs and exercises for improving groups.

# Doreen VALIENTE, _An ABC of Witchcraft: Past and Present_, 1973 (Currently published by Phoenix of Custer WA). ISBN 0-919345-77-8. An encyclopedic survey of witchcraft trivia and spell history by the woman who helped co-write the Gardnerian book of shadows. Much material on medieval aspects of modern Wiccan customs and beliefs.

# Doreen VALIENTE, _Witchcraft for Tomorrow_, 1978 (Currently published by Phoenix of Custer WA). ISBN 0-919345-83-2. Discussion of Wiccan tools, philosophy and ethics. Contains a complete, modern book of shadows. Squarely addresses self-initiation on page 22.

# Doreen VALIENTE and Evan JONES, _Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed_, (Custer WA: Phoenix, 1990). ISBN 0-919345-61-1. A rather grim and stark take on Wicca, with the feel of a burning-times coven. Explication of coven tools, oaths and offices. Variations on standard sabbats and tools, a _de facto_ nucleus for a book of shadows.

HISTORICAL REFERENCES (in Rain’s order of preference)

# Aidan A. KELLY, _Crafting the Art of Magic, Book I: A History of Modern Witchcraft, 1939-1964_, (St Paul MN: Llewellyn, 1991). ISBN 0-87542-370-1. A historical examination of published works and papers, asserting that Gerald Gardner pieced together the modern Wiccan book of shadows from sources such as Margaret Murray, Leland’s _Aradia_, ceremonial magick and a dash of Crowley, actively promoting a Wiccan mythology under which this was “the old religion.” This thesis traces virtually ALL of modern Wicca to Gerald Gardner.

# Ronald HUTTON, _The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy_ (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991). ISBN 0-631-18946-7. Examines the pagan religions of the ancient British isles with an academic eye, touching on archaelogical and other evidence often used to support mythological claims of Wicca. Notes the many ambiguities of examining such evidence, touching on key ideas and authors such as Frazer, Gimbutas, Graves, Murray, et al from an academic perspective. A strong and compassionate academic analysis.

# Bengst ANKARLOO and Gustav HENNINGSEN (eds), _Early Modern European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries_ (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990). ISBN 0-19-820388-8. A collection of academic essays touching on the wide variety of the great European witch-hunts while discussing issues and methods of historiography on a very specific basis. Fascinating particulars to counter notions of a monolithic and uniform “burning times.”

# Anne Llewellyn BARSTOW, _Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch-Hunts_, (San Francisco: Harper, 1994). ISBN 0-06-250049-X. Addresses the witch-hunts from a feminist perspective and with academic particulars. Notes that 80% of those accused and 85% of those executed in these trials were women. Estimates 200,000 total dead during this period, with a “body-count” appendix, broken down by location.

# Brian P. LEVACK, _The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe_, (London: 1987). A classic I haven’t read, reportedly estimates total dead at 60,000.


# Lady Sheba [Jessie W. BELL], _The Grimoire of Lady Sheba_ (St Paul MN: Llewellyn, 1972). One of the earliest, widely published “books of shadows.” Influential because of its early publication date.

# Sir James FRAZER, _The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion_, 1890. A Victorian folklorist and early anthropologist, Frazer helped popularize the notions of European “fire festivals” and the “dying god” of vegetation, which would strongly influence modern Neo-Paganism. His methodology is now outdated, but his theories of magic are largely carried down to the present day. Available in several editions.

# Gerald B. GARDNER, _Witchcraft Today_, 1954. The book in which Gerald Gardner claimed to have found a surviving coven of witches, an extant remnant of the pre-Christian religions of Britain. It strongly parallels the ideas of Margaret Murray, who wrote the introduction. Currently published by Citadel under ISBN 0-8065-0002-6.

Robert GRAVES, _The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth_, 1948. A speculative, mythic history of poetry as religion, touching on Celtic mythology and themes such as the Ogham tree alphabet and the Lunar Muse in her various aspects of maiden, mother and fearsome crone. Helped popularize many Goddesses such as Brigid and Cerridwen, enriching modern Neo-Paganism. One, second edition ISBN 0-8446-5983-5.

# Charles G. LELAND, _Aradia: Gospel of the Witches_, 1890 (Republished 1990 by Phoenix of Custer WA). ISBN 0-919345-10-7. A manuscript purported to have been given to American folklorist Charles Leland by a witch named Madellena in her own handwriting. Contains many elements which were later adapted into Gerald Gardner’s book of shadows, including the nucleus for Valiente’s “Charge of the Goddess.” Places Goddess as primary and popular with many Dianics.

# Margaret A. MURRAY, _The Witch-Cult in Western Europe_, 1921. Currently out of print. In this popular work Egyptologist Margaret Murray examines the European witch hunts as social history, conjecturing on the existence of a pre-Christian, pan-European witch-cult. Crucial to Gardner, this work popularized the idea of sabbats and esbats

# Margaret A. MURRAY, _The God of the Witches_, 1931 (Now published by Oxford University Press, London). ISBN 0-19-501270

# Elliot ROSE, _A Razor for a Goat: A Discussion of Certain Problems in the History of Witchcraft and Diabolism_, University of Toronto Press, 1962. Paperback ISBN 0-8020-6768-9.

RELATED SUBJECTS (in alphabetical order by author)

# Renee BECK and Sydney Barbara METRICK, _The Art of Ritual: A Guide for Creating and Performing Your Own Rituals for Growth and Change_ (Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 1990). ISBN 0-89087-582-0. An excellent, general-purpose book on designing and putting o n basic rituals for any occasion. Not particularly Wiccan, but Pagan-friendly and Wicca-informed. Sort of a Martha Stewart of ritual design.

# Ralph BLUM, _The Book of Runes: A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Viking Oracle, the Viking Runes_, 3rd edition (New York: St. Martin’s, 1987). ISBN 0-312-00729-9. The one book which has most helped to popularize runes among the more popular, new age market.

# Isaac P. BONEWITS, _REAL MAGIC_. An intelligently breezy look magical theory, with bits of occult history scattered throughout. Now in second edition, but the real secrets are on page 29 of the first one.

# Michael HARNER, _The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing_ (New York: Harper and Row 1980). ISBN 0-553-25982-2. Another new age title, offering instructions for a basic shamanism based on anthropological fieldwork.

# Anton Szandor LAVEY, _The Compleat Witch: Or, What to Do When Virtue Fails_, (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1970). Republished by Feral House as _The Satanic Witch_, ISBN 0-396-06266-0. A book on vamping and seducing men, discussing practical psychology of hucksterism in fortune telling, manipulation of people. Written by the founder of the original Church of Satan.

# T[anya] M. LUHRMAN, _Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England_, (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1989). ISBN 0-674-66324-1. A woman’s doctoral dissertation in anthropology, discussing her work as a participant-observer in a contemporary British coven.

# Luisah TEISH, _Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Sourcebook of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals_, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985). ISBN 0-06-250859-8. A discussion of sprituality from an earthy, African-American perspective, drawing on the spiritual heritage of New Orleans Voodoo.