What is Wicca? An expert in modern witchcraft explains.
September 17, 2021
Helen A. Berger is a resident researcher at the Center for Research in Women’s Studies at Brandeis University. This article originally appeared on The Conversation.
Wicca and witchcraft are popping up in pop culture these days, from teenage witches on TikTok to a Marvel comic book superhero called Wiccan. It even led The New York Times to wonder, “When did everyone become a wizard?”
Wicca, an alternative minority religion whose followers, regardless of gender, call themselves witches, began in the UK in the 1940s. Wicca and witchcraft are part of the larger contemporary pagan movement, which includes among others druids and pagans. All of these spiritual paths, as the pagans call them, base their practices on pre-Christian religions and cultures.
Since Wicca came to the United States in the 1960s, it has grown – sometimes by leaps and bounds, and other times more slowly. It is estimated that there could be around 1.5 million witches in the United States
As I know from my own research over 30 years, however, not all witches consider themselves to be Wiccans. According to my most recent survey data, approximately 800,000 Americans are Wiccans. The growing number of surveys and the growth of groups, such as those at TikTok, suggest that religion continues to grow.
The religion differs from more traditional religions, such as Christianity, by celebrating a goddess as well as a god. Additionally, Wicca lacks a formal institutional structure such as a church and places more emphasis on ritual and direct spiritual experience than on belief. Adherents see themselves as practitioners, not believers.
An annual cycle of rituals, called sabbaths, celebrates the beginning and climax of each of the four seasons in the northern hemisphere. Each ritual encourages participants to celebrate the changes that the seasons bring to nature and to reflect on how those changes are reflected in their own lives. For example, in Beltane – which takes place on May 1 in the height of spring – Wiccans celebrate the fertility of both the Earth and people’s lives. Rituals are constructed not only to celebrate the season, but to put the participant in direct contact with the divine.
Wiccans have an overarching rule, “Don’t hurt anyone and do whatever you want,” and no religious texts from which they derive their beliefs. Most Wiccans practice alone and are free to develop their own unique practice. They are nonetheless in regular contact, networking on the Internet and coming together in large gatherings to organize rituals, learn from each other about magical and spiritual practices and enter what they consider to be a magical space where they can. more easily to meet and embrace divinity.
A religion for the 21st century
Although many Wiccans claim to draw inspiration from ancient cultures, such as the Anglo-Saxon and pre-Christian Celtic traditions, it can be considered a religion of our time. The Goddess offers a feminine face to the divine, appealing to feminists and those seeking “girl power.” Wiccans see divinity in nature, which resonates with growing environmental concerns, especially among young people.
Most Wiccans practice magic, which they believe taps into a spiritual world often referred to as “the other world.” Others believe that the magic taps into an energy field that they see as surrounding us all. They do magic to heal themselves and others or to find a new home or a new job, among other things, and stress that magic must not cause harm. Magic is seen to change practitioners as much as their circumstances, encouraging adherents to pursue their growth and self-reliance.
There is currently an increase in the United States of those who have no formal religious affiliation, with just over a quarter of all Americans seeing themselves as spiritual but not religious. As sociologist Courtney Bender noted, many members of this group tend to avoid formal religious structures but instead engage in occult practices that enhance their personal development – thus echoing the spiritual practices of the Wiccans.