Below please find information on the modern religion of Witchcraft. After being the victims of hundreds of years of 'bad press', Witches are beginning to go public and to define themselves and their religion.
We hope, by this endeavor, to counteract the tendency to associate psychotic events or Satanic rites with the practices of our life-affirming beliefs. Moreover, we acknowledge the need to establish positive interfaith dialogue with members of other local religious communities.
Although there are a number of Witchcraft Anti-Defamation Leagues throughout the country, none are presently active in the Kansas City area. Thus, we at the Magick Lantern have compiled this information to provide an overview of Witchcraft, or Wicca, in its contemporary form. The Magick Lantern is a bookstore founded in 1984 to serve the occult community of Kansas City. Its owner, Mike Nichols, is an ordained minister of Wicca, with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of that office.
We have included in this outline a brief statement on each of the following:
Of necessity, we have merely highlighted these aspects for you. We cannot illustrate the entire panorama of our diverse religion, but we have tried to convey a basic understanding of the Craft of Wicca. On request we can furnish more detailed information or a representative authorized to speak on our behalf.
The MAGICK LANTERN
1715 Westport Road
Kansas City, MO 64111
[N.B. -- The Magick Lantern ceased operation in 1989.]
OCCULT -- occluded or hidden, secret; the study of secret or hidden knowledge. Secret societies include the Masons and Rosicrucians.
EARTH RELIGION -- a religion whose main tenet is that the worshipper be in harmony with the Earth and with all life. Such religions oppose the idea that the world is a resource to be subdued and exploited.
PAGAN -- a practitioner of an Earth Religion; from the Latin 'paganus', meaning 'country dweller'.
NEO-PAGANISM -- a modern Earth Religion which borrows and adapts from the best of pre-Christian Pagan religions, sometimes with additions from contemporary religious thinkers.
WITCHCRAFT -- a magical Neo-Pagan religion with many diverse traditions derived from various cultural sources (though mostly European) around which Covens and solitary practitioners base their practices. Modern Witchcraft traditions include: Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Dianic, Celtic, Traditionalist, Faerie, NROOGD, Druidic and others.
THE CRAFT -- another name for Witchcraft.
COVEN -- a congregation of Witches, usually at least three but no more than 13 members.
WITCH -- one who worships the Goddess(es) and/or God(s) of Paganism, practices magic, and considers her/himself to be a follower of the spiritual path of Witchcraft.
MAGIC -- the conscious use of psychic energy, accompanied by ritual, to accomplish a goal; often spelled 'magick' to distinguish it from stage magic (such as sleight-of-hand).
SABBAT -- any one of the eight seasonal festivals equally spaced throughout the year, celebrated by individuals and Covens of Witches.
ESBAT -- any one of the 13 lunar festivals throughout the year, celebrated by Witches at the times of the full moon.
PENTAGRAM -- a five-pointed star, ancient symbol of good luck and protection. Displayed with one point up, it is the most common emblem of Witchcraft. When displayed inverted (two points up), it MAY represent negative magic (or Satanism), but not necessarily; some traditions of Wicca (chiefly British) use it as a POSITIVE symbol of advanced rank.
Q. What form does the practice of Witchcraft take?
A. The form and context vary from group to group and between each ritual, and may run the gamut from elaborate ceremony to spontaneous ritual to simple meditation.
Q. How do you see the Goddess?
A. As the immanent life force; as Mother Nature; as the interconnectedness of all life.
Q. Do all Witches practice their religion the same way?
A. Yes and no. Wicca is a highly individualistic religion. Moreover, the number of different sects within the Craft may give the impression that no two groups practice the same way. Though practices may vary, most traditions have many similarities, such as the working of magic and a respect for nature. Most Witches find enough common ground for mutual supposrt and productive networking throughout the Craft community.
Q. Is Witchcraft a 'cult'?
A. No. Cults are groups that trade 'salvation' and a sense of belonging for the ability to think for oneself. They indulge in 'extravagant homage or adoration' (Webster's Dictionary) usually of an earthly leader of some sort. This is the antithesis of the Witchcraft experience. Most Witches come to the Craft through reading and communing with nature and later finding like-minded people. Witches are extremely individualistic.
Q. Do Witches have a bible?
A. No. A bible is supposedly the word of a deity revealed through a prophet. Witchcraft is a Pagan folk-religion of personal experience. A Witch may keep a 'Book of Shadows' which is more like an individual's workbook or journal -- meaningful to the person who keeps it -- containing rituals, discoveries, spells, poetry, herb lore, etc. Covens may keep a similar group book.
Q. Do Witches cast spells?
A. Some do and some don't. A spell is a ritual formula, or series of steps, to direct psychic energy to accomplish a desired end. Energy may be drawn from the Earth, concentrated and sent out into the world. Since Witchcraft teaches that whatever one sends out is returned threefold, Witches tend to be very careful never to send out harmful energy.
Q. Do Witches worship the devil?
A. No. The worship of Satan is the practice of profaning Christian symbolism, and is thus a Christian heresy rather than a Pagan religion. The gods and goddesses of the Witches are in no way connected to Satanic practices. Most Witches do not even believe in Satan, let alone worship him.
Q. Are Witches only women?
A. No, although women do seem to predominate in the Craft overall. In fact, some traditions have only women practitioners, just as others have only men. A male Witch is simply called a Witch, never a warlock.
Q. How can someone find out more about Witchcraft?
A. Ours is not a missionary religion, and we never try to make converts. However, for those who are interested, there are many excellent books, and many Witches teach classes or facilitate discussion groups. In this way, people may make contact with a like-minded Coven or form their own group. There are also Witchcraft networks, periodicals, and national and regional festivals through which a seeker can make contact with the larger Craft community.
Wicca, or Witchcraft, is an earth religion -- a re-linking with the life force of nature, both on this planet and in the stars and space beyond. In city apartments, in suburban backyards, and in country glades, groups of women and men meet on the new and full moons and at festival times to raise energy and put themselves in tune with these natural forces. They honor the old goddesses and gods, including the Triple Goddess of the waxing, full, and waning moon, and the Horned God of the sun and animal life, as visualizations of immanent nature.
Our religion is not a series of precepts or beliefs, but rather we believe that we each have within ourselves the capacity to reach out and experience the mystery -- that feeling of ineffable oneness with all life. Those who wish to experience this transcendence must work, and create, and participate in their individual religious lives. For this reason our congregations, called covens, are small groups which give room for each individual to contribute to the efforts of the group by self-knowledge and creative experimentation within the agreed-upon group structure or tradition.
There are many traditions or sects within the Craft. Different groups take their inspiration from the pre-Christian religions of certain ethnic groups (e.g. Celtic, Greek, Norse); in the liturgical works of some modern Witch poet or scholar (e.g. Gerald Gardner, Z Budapest, Alex Sanders, Starhawk, Raymond Buckland, Robert Graves); or by seeking within themselves for inspiration and direction. Many feminists have turned to Wicca and the role of priestess for healing and strength after the patriarchal oppression and lack of voice for women in the major world religions.
There are many paths to spiritual growth. Wicca is a participatory revelation, a celebratory action leading to greater understanding of oneself and the universe. We believe there is much to learn by studying our past, through myth, through ritual drama, through poetry and song, through love and through living in harmony with the Earth.
Despite competition from twentieth century 'life in the fast lane', the awesome spectacle repeated in the patterns of the changing seasons still touches our lives. During the ages when people worked more closely with nature just to survive, the numinous power of this pattern had supreme recognition. Rituals and festivals evolved to channel these transformations for the good of the community toward a good sowing and harvest and boutiful hunting.
One result of this process is our image of the 'Wheel of the Year' with its eight spokes -- the four major agricultural and pastoral festivals and the four minor solar festivals commemorating seasonal solstices and equinoxes. In common with many ancient people, most Witches consider the day as beginning at sundown and ending at sundown on the following day. Hence a sabbat such as November Eve runs through the day of November 1st. Solstice and Equinox dates may vary by a few days depending on the year.
Samhain means 'summer's end', for now nights lengthen, winter begins, and we work with the positive aspects of the dark tides. In the increasing starlight and moonlight, we hone our divinatory and psychic skills. Many Craft traditions, and the ancient Celts, consider this New Year's Eve. It is the one night when the veil that separates our world from the next is at its thinnest, allowing the dead to return to the world of the living, to be welcomed and feasted by their kin. The Christian religion adopted this theme as 'All Saints Day' or 'All Hallows Day' (Nov. 1), celebrating the eve as 'All Hallows Eve' or 'Halloween'. The alternative date of November 6 ('Martinmas' or 'Old Hallows') is sometimes employed by Covens.
'Yule' means 'wheel', for now the wheel of the year has reached a turning point, with the longest night of the year. This is the seedpoint of the solar year, mid-winter, time of greatest darkness when we seek within ourselves to comprehend our true nature. In virtually all Pagan religions, this is the night the Great Mother Goddess gives birth to the baby Sun God, because from this day forward, the days begin to lengthen, light is waxing. The Christian religion adopted this theme as the birthday of Jesus, calling it 'Christmas'. The alternative fixed calendar date of December 25th (called 'Old Yule' by some Covens) occurs because, before various calendar changes, that was the date of the solstice.
Actually, this holiday is most usually celebrated beginning at sundown on February 1, continuing through the day of February 2. 'Imbolc' means 'in the belly (of the Mother)' because that is where seeds are beginning to stir. It is Spring. Another name for the holiday is 'Oimelc', meaning 'milk of ewes', since it is lambing season. It was especially sacred to the Celtic Fire Goddess, Brigit, patron of smithcraft, healing (midwifery), and poetry. A Coven's High Priestess may wear a crown of lights (candles) to symbolize the return of the Goddess to her Maiden aspect, just as the Sun God has reached puberty. Weather lore associated with this sabbat is retained by the folk holiday of 'Groundhog's Day'. The Christian religion adopted a number of these themes, as follows. February 1 became 'St. Brigit's Day', and February 2 became 'Candlemas', the day to make and bless candles for the liturgical year. The 'Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary' adapts the Maiden Goddess theme. The alternative date of February 14 ( 'Old Candlemas', Christianized as 'Valentine's Day') is employed by some Covens.
As Spring reaches its midpoint, night and day stand in perfect balance, with light on the increase. The young Sun God now celebrates a hierogamy (sacred marriage) with the young Maiden Goddess, who conceives. In nine months, she will again become the Great Mother. It is a time of great fertility, new growth, and newborn animals. The next full moon (a time of increased births) is called the 'Ostara' and is sacred to Eostre, Saxon lunar goddess of fertility (from whence we get the word 'eostrogen'), whose two symbols were the egg and the rabbit. The Christian religion adopted these emblems for 'Easter', celebrated the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The theme of the conception of the Goddess was adapted as the 'Feast of the Annunciation', occuring on the alternative fixed calendar date of March 25 ('Old Lady Day'), the earlier date of the equinox. 'Lady Day' may also refer to other goddesses (such as Venus and Aphrodite), many of whom has festivals celebrated at this time. (The name 'Ostara' is incorrectly assigned to this holiday by some modern traditions of Wicca.)
'Beltane' means 'fire of Bel', Belinos being one name for the Sun God, whose coronation feast we now celebrate. As summer begins, weather becomes warmer, and the plant world blossoms, an exuberant mood prevails. It is a time of unabashed sexuality and promiscuity. Young people spend the entire night in the woods 'a-maying', and dance around the phallic Maypole the next morning. Older married couples may remove their wedding rings (and the restrictions they imply) for this one night. May morning is a magical time for 'wild' water (dew, flowing streams, and springs) which is collected and used to bathe in for beauty, or to drink for health. The Christian religion had only a poor substitute for the life-affirming Maypole -- namely, the death-affirming cross. Hence, in the Christian calendar, this was celebrated as 'Roodmas'. In Germany, it was the feast of Saint Walpurga, or 'Walpurgisnacht'. An alternative date around May 5 (Old Beltaine), when the sun reaches 15 degrees Taurus, is sometimes employed by Covens. (The name 'Lady Day' is incorrectly assigned to this holiday by some modern traditions of Wicca.)
Although the name 'Litha' is not well attested, it may come from Saxon tradition -- the opposite of 'Yule'. On this longest day of the year, light and life are abundant. At mid-summer, the Sun God has reached the moment of his greatest strength. Seated on his greenwood throne, he is also lord of the forests, and his face is seen in church architecture peering from countless foliate masks. The Christian religion converted this day of Jack-in-the-Green to the Feast of St. John the Baptist, often portraying him in rustic attire, sometimes with horns and cloven feet (like the Greek god Pan)! Midsummer Night's Eve is also special for adherents of the Faerie faith. The alternative fixed calendar date of June 25 (Old Litha) is sometimes employed by Covens. (The name 'Beltaine' is sometimes incorrectly assigned to this holiday by some modern traditions of Wicca, even though 'Beltaine' is the Gaelic word for 'May'.)
'Lughnassad' means 'the funeral games of Lugh', referring to Lugh, the Irish sun god. However, the funeral is not his own, but the funeral games he hosts in honor of his foster-mother Tailte. For that reason, the traditional Tailtean craft fairs and Tailtean marriages (which last for a year and a day) are celebrated at this time. As autumn begins, the Sun God enters his old age, but is not yet dead. It is also a celebration of the first harvest. The Christian religion adopted this theme and called it 'Lammas', meaning 'loaf- mass', a time when newly baked loaves of bread are placed on the altar. An alternative date around August 5 (Old Lammas), when the sun reaches 15 degrees Leo, is sometimes employed by Covens.
In many mythologies, this is the day the Sun God, the God of Light, is killed by his rival and dark twin, the God of Darkness -- who was born at Midsummer, reached puberty at Lammas, and lives a mirror-image life of the Sun God. From this mid-Autumn day forward, darkness will be greater than light, just as night becomes longer than day. So it is a festival of sacrifice, including that of the Sun God in his aspect of Spirit of the Fields, John Barleycorn -- for this is the final grain harvest. The Christian religion adopted it as 'Michaelmas', celebrated on the alternative date September 25, the old equinox date (Old Harvest Home). (The Welsh word 'Mabon', meaning 'son', is used by some Witches for the name of this holiday, although such usage is recent and not attested historically.)
The roots of the religion called Wicca, or Witchcraft, are very old, coming down to us through a variety of channels worldwide. Although any general statement about our practices will have exceptions, the following will attempt to present a basic foundation for understanding. Some of the old practices were lost when indigenous religions encountered militant Christianity and were forced to go underground for survival. The ancient mystery religions were lost when the practice of the rites were stopped and the old verbal traditions were no longer available. Parents transmitted their traditions to their children down through the centuries with parts being lost and new parts created. These survivals, along with research into the old ways, provide a rich foundation for modern practice. Other factors contributing to the revival of the Craft are archeological and anthropological studies of the religious practices of non-Christian cultures, the works of the Golden Dawn and other metaphysical orders, and the liberalization of anti-Witchcraft laws.
Modern Witches hold rituals according to the turning of the seasons, the tides of the moon, and personal needs. Most rituals are performed in a ritual space marked by a circle. We do not build church buildings to create this ritual space -- all of Earth is in touch with the Goddess and so any place may be consecrated to use for a rite.
Within this sacred circle, two main activities occur -- celebration and the practice of magic. Celebration is most important at the major seasonal holidays, called Sabbats. At these times the myths of that particular holiday are enacted and dancing, singing, feasting, and revelry are all part of the festivities. On these occasions we celebrate our oneness with Life. Magic is more often performed at gatherings called Esbats, which coincide with the phases of the moon. Types of magic practiced include psychic healing sessions, the channeling of energy to achieve positive results, and work toward the individual spiritual development of the coven members. Magic is an art which requires adherence to certain principles. It requires a conscious direction of will toward a desired end. It is an attribute of magic that what you direct your will toward will return to you three times. Therefore, Witches are careful to practice only beneficial magic.
When the celebration, teaching, or magical work is finished, the blessing of the Goddess and God is called into food and drink which are shared by all. The circle is opened and the space is no longer consecrated.
To create the circle and the working of magic, we use tools to facilitate a magical mood in which the psychic state necessary for this kind of work can be achieved. The tools are part of a complete and self consistant symbolic system which is agreed upon by the participants and provides them with a 'map' for entry into unfamiliar psychic spaces. Such a system, like a map, is arbitrary and not 'true' in an absolute sense; it is a guide to a state which is ineffable and can be most clearly reached through poetry and 'starlight' vision.
A primary tool, which is owned by most Witches, is an athame or ritual knife. The athame is charged with the energy of the owner and is used as a pointer to define space (such as casting a sacred circle) and as a conductor of the owner's will and energy.
Other important tools are the symbols on the altar which denote the elements: earth, air, fire, and water (some 'maps' include spirit). A pentacle (a pentagram traced upon a disk, like a small dish) is often used to symbolize earth and its properties -- stability, material wealth and practical affairs. Alternatively, a small dish of salt or soil can be used to symbolize the earth element. A ritual sword is usually used to symbolize air and its properties - - communication, wisdom, and understanding. Alternatively, a thurible of incense or a bell may be used to symbolize the air element. A candle or wand is used to symbolize the element of fire and its properties -- will, transmutation, and power. A chalice of water is used to symbolize the element of water and its properties -- cleansing, regeneration, and emotion. In traditions which include the symbol of spirit, an ankh, quartz crystal, or some other object is used to symbolize spirit and its properties -- perfection, balance, illumination and eternity.
There are many other minor tools which are used for some specific purpose within magical workings, but the tools described above cover the basic tools used in the practice of the religion of Wicca.
Since these tools are merely the conductors of personal energies, as copper is a conductor for electrical energy, most covens provide some degree of training in psychic development to strengthen each memeber's ability to participate in the religious activities. Each individual decides what level of such training is useful for them. We see psychic abilities as a natural human potential. We are dedicated to developing this and all of our positive human potentials. The energies raised by these practices and other religious activities are directed toward healing ourselves and the Earth, and toward diverse magical workings.
'Drawing Down the Moon' (revised ed.) by Margot Adler
'Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft' by Raymond Buckland
'What Witches Do (2nd ed.)', 'Eight Sabbats for Witches', 'The Witches' Way', 'The Witches' Goddess', all by Stewart (& Janet) Farrar
'The Spiral Dance' by Starhawk
'Witchcraft Today' and 'The Meaning of Witchcraft' both by Gerald Gardner
'The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries (V. 1 & 2)' by Z. Budapest
'ABC of Witchcraft', 'Natural Magic', and 'Witchcraft for Tomorrow' by Doreen Valiente
'The Truth About Witchcraft', a Llewellyn Educational Guide
NOTE: Much of the foregoing information was originally issued as a 'press release' by Covenant of the Goddess. While whole portions were left basically intact (aside from the correction of spelling errors), other sections (especially the material on holidays) were substantially rewritten and expanded by Mike Nichols, who assumes full responsibility for any inaccuracies thus incurred.
Original Document Copyright © 1984, 1998 by Covenant of the Goddess.
Text Revisions Copyright © 1986, 1998 by Mike Nichols.
This document may be re-published only as long as no information is changed, credit is given to the authors, and it is provided or used without cost to others. Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Covenant of the Goddess and by Mike Nichols.
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