Learn about Wicca, a goddess-worshiping, nature-based religion.
According to the American Religious Identification Survey, 8,000 American respondents identified themselves as Wiccan in 1990. In 2001, that number increased to 134,000. While the leap points to the increasing popularity of Wicca as a religious or spiritual choice for Americans, Wiccans are still a tiny minority, often misunderstood and subject to unfair prejudices.
Because Wiccans generally refer to themselves as Witches, Pagans or Neopagans, they are commonly mistaken for devil or Satan worshippers. The misconception has a long history rooted in religious propaganda that began in the late Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church began hunting down and burning at the stake those they considered Satan worshippers.
This grossly prejudiced "burning" lasted three centuries, and among the victims were those considered "witches," despite the fact that they had no association with Satanism. In fact, as a Judeo-Christian anti-God or anti-Christ figure, Satan had no place in Pagan or Wiccan traditions, religious or otherwise. But the link between witches and Satanism captured the popular imagination and continues to persist today.
Part of Paganism, a contemporary religious movement that is gaining popularity in North America, Wicca is a nature-centered religion recognized by the federal government. Like many other religions, including Christianity, Wicca uses symbols, observes religious days (often seasonally determined) and honors deities (often rooted in northern European Pagan traditions that sometimes predate Christianity).
Because Wiccans have been subject to violence and persecution stemming from ignorance and religious intolerance, Wicca has long been an underground religion practiced out of sight of the public eye. This secrecy, necessary for survival for many Wiccans, has unfortunately lent Wicca a shroud of mystery that has further perpetuated society's misguided suspicions.
With the publication of the works of the English civil servant and Wiccan-convert, Gerard Gardner, Wicca began to take off in England in the 1950s. The religion, sometimes practiced individually in isolation, has continued to attract members in North America and Europe. In the United States, Ford Hood, Texas, has become one of the centers for the Wiccan religion.
Wiccan religious leaders are permitted to marry people, function as chaplains in federal facilities and rent public facilities for their religious activities, among other rights granted to religious groups.
Because Wicca has multiple roots and influences, its exact genealogy and theology have been fraught with controversy and debate. Many scholars trace Wicca's roots to northern European pagan traditions, while others point to influences ranging from the Masonic Order and astrology to Jungian psychology, feminism and quantum physics.
However, there are generally accepted principles shared by most Wiccans. For instance, many Wiccans consider themselves pantheists (believing that God is everything) and adhere to the Wiccan Rede, "If it harm none, do what you will." They believe in the individual quest for a personal spiritual path that can coexist harmoniously with all humans and the natural world.
While information and religious freedom has granted Wiccans legal legitimacy and the security to openly practice their faith, the confusion of Wicca with Satan worship has produced ongoing debate among Wiccans.
For instance, some Wiccans have challenged the general Wiccan identification with the word "Witch." While many Wiccans worry that abandoning the term will erase Wicca's painful and unjust past, others contend that using the term continues to bring unnecessary harm to the community. After all, while it is important to remember the history of religious intolerance and persecution (which can crop up any time, even today) the term "Witch" continues to carry negative connotations.
The urgent issue for Wiccans is the misconception that equates Wicca with Satanism. Wiccans are not Satan worshippers. Nor are they anti-Christian. And while Wiccans call themselves Witches, not all Witches are Wiccans.
Wicca has fought a long battle to gain even minimal mainstream acceptance. But until the general public becomes more educated and less afraid of this gentle religion, Wiccans will continue to be marginalized.