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OK, so what is Wicca, exactly? How is it different from other kinds of paganism?
Wicca is a syncretic modern religion which takes its inspiration from pre-Christian paganism. Its beliefs and practices stem from a blend of European pagan folk tradition and 19th-20th century occultism. In its current form, it probably dates to approximately the late 30s or early 40s, but some aspects of it may go back further (this is a matter of some debate, as we'll see later on).
There are many different traditions within Wicca, just as there are many denominations within Christianity, and it has grown considerably more diverse over time. Not all of the traditions that now exist share all the characteristics that Wicca originally did, but the distinguishing characteristics of Wicca in its most traditional form can be summed up as follows:
Like we said, Wicca itself contains a lot of diversity, and not all forms of Wicca include all these elements, but most include most of them to some degree, and the more of them a given tradition, group or ritual includes, the more sense it makes to describe it as"Wiccan" rather than simply "pagan".
- Wicca is an initiatory, oathbound mystery religion...
- ...which is polytheistic, honouring a variety of gods and goddesses...
- ...but also dualistic, seeing individual deities, at least to some extent, as aspects of one God and one Goddess...
- ...and pantheistic, viewing divinity as immanent within the natural world.
- It centres around the mysteries contained within the Charge of the Goddess and the Legend of the Descent of the Goddess...
- ...and encompasses the practice of magic...
- ...as well as religious devotion.
- Its ethical basis is expressed in the Wiccan Rede ("An it harm none, do as ye will")...
- ...and the Threefold Law ("What ye send returns three times over").
- Ritually, it involves casting a circle as the basic setting for spiritual and magical work...
- ...and emphasizes the Platonic four elements of earth, air, fire and water...
- ...plus some form of gender polarity, be that theologically in the image of the God and Goddess, and/or mundanely in the physical gender of participants as well...
- ...and usually incorporates some form of the "Great Rite" (union of the God and Goddess), frequently symbolized in the blessing of the ritual wine by the conjoining of the athamé (ritual knife) and chalice (ritual wine cup), as seen in the WCC logo.
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