HISTORICAL ORIGIN from U.S. Army Book
HISTORICAL ORIGIN: Wicca is a reconstruction of the Nature worship of
tribal Europe, strongly influenced by the living Nature worship
traditions of tribal peoples in other parts of the world. The works of
such early twentieth century writers as Margaret Murray, Robert Graves
and Gerald B. Gardner began the renewal of interest in the Old Religion.
After the repeal of the anti-Witchcraft laws in Britain in 1951, Gardner
publicly declared himself a Witch and began to gather a group of
students and worshipers. In 1962, two of his students, Raymond and
Rosemary Buckland (religious names: Lady Rowen and Robat), emigrated to
the United States and began teaching Gardnerian Witchcraft here. At the
same time, other groups of people became interested through reading
books by Gardner and others. Many covens were spontaneously formed,
using rituals created from a combination of research and individual
inspiration. These self-created covens are today regarded as just as
valid as those who can trace a "lineage" of teaching back to England.
In 1975, a very diverse group of covens who wanted to secure the legal
protections and benefits of church status formed Covenant of the Goddess
(CoG), which is incorporated in the State of California and recognized
by the Internal Revenue Service. CoG does not represent all, or even a
majority of Wiccans. A coven or an individual need not be affiliated
with CoG in order to validly practice the religion. But CoG is the
largest single public Wiccan organization, and it is cross-Traditional
BASIC BELIEFS: Wiccans worship the sacred as immanent in Nature, often
personified as Mother Earth and Father Sky. As polytheists, they may use
many other names for Deity. Individuals will often choose Goddesses or
Gods from any of the world's pantheons whose stories are particularly
inspiring and use those Deities as a focus for personal devotions.
Similarly, covens will use particular Deity names as a group focus, and
these are often held secret by the groups. It is very important to be
aware that Wiccans do not in any way worship or believe in "Satan,"
"the Devil," or any similar entities. They point out that "Satan" is a
symbol of rebellion against and inversion of the Christian and Jewish
traditions. Wiccans do not revile the Bible. They simply regard it as
one among many of the world's mythic systems, less applicable than some
to their core values, but still deserving just as much respect as any
of the others. Most Wiccan groups also practice magic, by which they
mean the direction and use of "psychic energy," those natural but
invisible forces which surround all living things. Some members spell
the word "magick," to distinguish it from sleight of hand
entertainments. Wiccans employ such means as dance, chant, creative
visualization and hypnosis to focus and direct psychic energy for the
purpose of healing, protecting and aiding members in various endeavors.
Such assistance is also extended to non-members upon request. Many, but
not all, Wiccans believe in reincarnation. Some take this as a literal
description of what happens to people when they die. For others, it is
a symbolic model that helps them deal with the cycles and changes
within this life. Neither Reincarnation nor any other literal belief
can be used as a test of an individual's validity as a member of the
Old Religion. Most groups have a handwritten collection of rituals and
lore, known as a Book of Shadows. Part of the religious education of
a new member will be to hand copy this book for him or herself. Over
they years, as inspiration provides, new material will be added.
Normally, access to these books is limited to initiated members of the
PRACTICES AND BEHAVIORAL STANDARDS: The core ethical statement of Wicca,
called the "Wiccan Rede" states "an it harm none, do what you will." The
rede fulfills the same function as does the "Golden Rule" for Jews and
Christians; all other ethical teachings are considered to be
elaborations and applications of the Rede. It is a statement of
situational ethics, emphasizing at once the individual's responsibility
to avoid harm to others and the widest range of personal autonomy in
"victimless" activities. Wicca has been described as having a
"high-choice" ethic. Because of the basic Nature orientation of the
religion, many Wiccans will regard all living things as Sacred, and show
a special concern for ecological issues. For this reason, individual
conscience will lead some to take a pacifist position. Some are
vegetarians. Others will feel that, as Nature's Way includes
self-defense, they should participate in wars that they conscientiously
consider to be just. The religion does not dictate either position, but
requires each member to thoughtfully and meditatively examine her or his
own conscience and to live by it. Social forces generally do not yet
allow Witches to publicly declare their religious faith without fear of
reprisals such as loss of job, child custody challenges, ridicule, etc.
Prejudice against Wiccans is the result of public confusion between
Witchcraft and Satanism. Wiccans in the military, especially those who
may be posted in countries perceived to be particularly intolerant, will
often have their dogtags read "No Religious Preference." Concealment is
a traditional Wiccan defense against persecution, so non-denominational
dogtags should not contravene a member's request for religious services.
Wiccans celebrate eight festivals, called "Sabbats," as a means of
attunement to the seasonal rhythms of Nature. These are January 31
(Called Oimelc, Brigit, or February Eve), March 21 (Ostara or Spring
Equinox), April 30 (Beltane or May Eve), June 22 (Midsummer, Litha or
Summer Solstice), July 31 (Lunasa or Lammas), September 21 (Harvest,
Mabon or Autumn Equinox), October 31 (Samhain, Sowyn or Hallows), and
December 21 (Yule or Winter Solstice.) Some groups find meetings within
a few days of those dates to be acceptable, others require the precise
date. In addition, most groups will meet for worship at each Full Moon,
and many will also meet on the New Moon. Meetings for religious study
will often be scheduled at any time convenient to the members, and
rituals can be scheduled whenever there is a need (i.e. for a healing).
Ritual jewelry is particularly important to many Wiccans. In addition to
being a symbol of religious dedication, these talismans are often
blessed by the coven back home and felt to carry the coven's protective
and healing energy.
ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE: Most Wiccans meet with a coven, a small group
of people. Each coven is autonomous. Most are headed by a High
Priestess, often with the assistance of a High Priest. Some are headed
by a High Priestess or High Priest without a partner, and some regard
themselves as a gathering of equals. Covens can be of mixed gender, or
all female or male, depending on the preferences of the members. Every
initiate is considered to be a priestess or priest. Most covens are
small. Thirteen is the traditional maximum number of members, although
not an absolute limit. At that size covens form a close bond, so Wiccans
in the military are likely to maintain a strong affiliation with their
covens back home. There are many distinct "Traditions" of Wicca, just
as there are many denominations within Christianity. The spectrum of
Wiccan practice can be described as ranging from "traditional" to
"eclectic," with Traditions, covens and individuals fitting anywhere
within that range. A typical difference would be that more traditional
groups would tend to follow a set liturgy, whereas eclectic groups would
emphasize immediate inspiration in worship. These distinctions are not
particularly important to the military chaplain, since it is unlikely
that enough members of any one Tradition would be at the same base.
Worship circles at military facilities are likely to be ad-hoc
cross-Traditional groups, working out compromise styles of worship for
themselves and constantly adapting them to a changing membership.
Therefore, the lack of strict adherence to the patterns of any one
Tradition is not an indicator of invalidity. While many Wiccans meet in
a coven, there are also a number of solitairies. These are individuals
who choose to practice their faith alone. They may have been initiated
in a coven or self initiated. They will join with other Wiccans to
celebrate the festivals or to attend the various regional events
organized by the larger community.
ROLE OF MINISTERS: Within a traditional coven, the High Priestess,
usually assisted by her High Priest, serves both as leader in the
rituals and as teacher and counselor for coven members and unaffiliated
Pagans. Eclectic covens tend to share leadership more equally.
WORSHIP: Wiccans usually worship in groups. Individuals who are
currently not affiliated with a coven, or are away from their home
coven, may choose to worship privately or may form ad-hoc groups to mark
religious occasions. Non-participating observers are not generally
welcome at Wiccan rituals. Some, but not all, Wiccan covens worship
in the nude ("skyclad") as a sign of attunement with Nature. Most, but
not all, Wiccan covens bless and share a cup of wine as part of the
ritual. Almost all Wiccans use an individual ritual knife (an "athame")
to focus and direct personal energy. Covens often also have ritual
swords to direct the energy of the group. These tools, like all other
ritual tools, are highly personal and should never leave the possession
of the owner. Other commonly used ritual tools include a bowl of water,
a bowl of salt, a censer with incense, a disk with symbols engraved on
it (a "pentacle"), statues or artwork representing the Goddess and God,
and candles. Most groups will bless and share bread or cookies along
with the wine. All of these items are used in individual, private
worship as well as in congregate rituals.
DIETARY LAWS OR RESTRICTIONS: None.
FUNERAL AND BURIAL REQUIREMENTS: None. Recognition of the death of a
member takes place within the coven, apart from the body of the
deceased. Ritual tools, materials, or writings found among the effects
of the deceased should be returned to their home coven (typically a
member will designate a person to whom ritual materials should be
sent). It is desirable for a Wiccan priest or priestess to be present
at the time of death, but not strictly necessary. If not possible, the
best assistance would be to make the member as comfortable as possible,
listen to whatever they have to say, honor any possible requests, and
otherwise leave them as quiet and private as possible.
MEDICAL TREATMENT: No medical restrictions. Wiccans generally believe
in the efficacy of spiritual or psychic healing when done in tandem
with standard medical treatment. Therefore, at the request of the
patient, other Wiccan personnel should be allowed visiting privileges
as though they were immediate family, including access to Intensive
Care Units. Most Wiccans believe that healing energy can be sent from
great distances, so, if possible, in the case of any serious medical
condition, the member's home coven should be notified.
OTHER: With respect to attitude toward military service, Wiccans range
from career military personnel to conscientious objectors. Wiccans do
not proselytize and generally resent those who do. They believe that
no one Path to the Sacred is right for all people, and see their own
religious pattern as only one among many that are equally worthy.
Wiccans respect all religions that foster honor and compassion in their
adherents, and expect the same respect. Members are encouraged to learn
about all faiths, and are permitted to attend the services of other
religions, should they desire to do so.
GENERAL SOURCE BOOKS:
The best general survey of the Wiccan and neo-Pagan movement is: Adler,
Margot. Drawing Down the Moon. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. 595pp
For more specific information about eclectic Wicca, see: Starhawk. The
Spiral Dance. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
For more specific information about traditional Wicca, see:
Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. Eight Sabbats for Witches. London:
Robert Hale, 1981. 192pp.
______________. The Witches' Way. London: Robert Hale, 1984. 394pp.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Pagan Military Newsletter c/o Terri Morgan, Editor, 829 Lynnhaven
Parkway 114-198 Virginia Beach, VA 23452
Because of the autonomy of each coven and the wide variance of specific
ritual practices, the best contact person would be the High Priestess or
other leader of the member's home coven.