Paganism; Past & Present
Witchcraft & Wicca
Witchcraft is one of the more well known ancient pagan religions which has its roots in ancient folk ways and beliefs, usually following the seasonal cycle. Witchcraft is an earth based religion which worships the life force of nature on the planet and in the skies. Many forms of ancient Goddess worship were polytheistic. A "witch" meant different things in different societies. In some cultures they were tribal "witch doctors" or healers. The form of witchcraft we are looking at is the ancient pagan religion, sometimes called the "Old Religion."
There are several forms of worship in witchcraft. These vary from elaborate rituals to simple meditation. Wicca is a modern, revived and updated form of pre-Christian religions concerned with Goddess worship, primarily witchcraft. There are, however, several variations between modern and ancient witchcraft which will be explored in this essay. As a result of the persecutions of witches in the middle ages, much of the religion was lost. Thus any revival of the ancient religion is imperfect and fragmented. As a result of the changing needs and requirements of modern people modifications and reforms were made to the Old Religion. To understand these differences we must first look at the ancient pagan religion of witchcraft.
Witchcraft was an ancient religion based on a fertility cult practiced by peasants. Its origins have been traced to Neolithic cave paintings. Witchcraft means "Craft of the Wise Ones" and is also known as the "Old Religion." Witchcraft (or aspects of it) seems to have survived alongside Christianity up until the middle ages where the Church became powerful enough to almost completely wipe it out through propaganda, torture and genocide. Whomever remained of the religion were forced to go into hiding or risk death.
Both modern and ancient Witches believe are monotheistic. They believe in one God and one Goddess but worship them as many gods. This is because they believe that all gods are aspects of the Goddess and the God. There are many different names and forms to the God and the Goddess.
The Goddess is the mother of all things, of nature and of earth. She is also known as the Huntress, Gaia (mother earth), Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Ceridwen, Diana, Arionrhod and Brigid. She is represented by the moon, and is seen to be a symbol of fertility and life. Her power is greatest during the fertile months of May to October. An important Wiccan belief is "The Charge of the Goddess,"which is the word of the Goddess commanding all believers to worship her and respect all life on earth.
The God is symbolised in the woodlands, in the sun and in the hunt. The God is known as the consort of the Goddess and the horned one as the ancient people hunted horned animals. This represents his majesty, skill and strength. His power is at its peak in the dark half of the year, from October to May.
Witches, (as all pagans do) believe that the gods are immanent. They believe that the gods not only live above us, but, more importantly they live all around us and inside us. Witches believe that the divine is in all things, from the smallest pebble to the tallest tree. This beliefs partly explains Witches deep respect and affinity with nature.
"Drawing down the moon"
Unlike Christians, Witches do not build churches or temples, rather, they worship outdoors, in gods creation. Witches worship through meditation and prayer. Witches worship and celebrate within a ritual 'circle.' Within the circle worship and the practice of magic occurs. Magic is performed at certain times which coincide with the phases of the moon. They believe that the moon is very powerful as it symbolizes the goddess. Both modern and ancient Witches use certain tools to aid in the performance of magic. These include; spells, visualization, chants, candles, amulets and meditation. Much of the ancient forms and practices of magic have been lost over the centuries, therefore modern magic is slightly different to ancient as Wiccans have been forced to change and adapt their worship to a modern setting.
Magic is a conscious direction of ones will to cause change, for good or bad. However, Witches are prevented from using black or evil magic through their belief in the Wiccan Rede and the three fold law. The Wiccan Rede. is; "An thou harm none, do what thou wilt." Witches believe that whatever they do will come back to them three fold, therefore they are prevented from harming anyone. They also celebrate their oneness with life and the earth and the passing of the tides and the seasons.
Witches do not believe in the after life as such, rather they believe in re-incarnation. Witches accept that they keep coming back to purify themselves and attain perfection, when they have reached a certain level of attainment, they are absorbed into the godhead and do not return.
Wicca appeared in the 60s and 70s led by a man called Gerald Gardner. It was a modern spiritual movement, based on witchcraft but with modern themes and issues. Wiccans were generally disillusioned with the mainstream religions and turned to Witchcraft in the hopes of finding spiritual fulfillment which they thought to be lacking in the materialistic, fast paced modern world. By returning to nature and ancient practices Wiccans have found an outlet for their spiritual and emotional needs. Although the modern form of Witchcraft is not an exact replica of ancient Witchcraft, it fulfills the same needs and longings ancient people felt and modern people feel. Wicca symbolizes a return to the old way of life which sustained the people of the earth for so many thousands of years and proves that one may try and stamp out and ridicule others beliefs but if they satisfy a basic human necessity they will survive.