Wicca for beginners theme with fresh herbs and magic potions.

When people think of modern witchcraft, Wicca is usually what comes to mind. Though it is only one of many religions with an ingrained magical tradition, it’s by far the most popular.

Wiccans honor nature through Earth-focused worship and a commitment to existing in harmony with the natural world, and express this worship through rituals based on the practices of the people of pre-Christian Europe.

Wicca has grown and changed a lot since its inception. While it traces its roots back to very old folk and religious practices, modern Wiccans have added and expanded the religion as necessary.

With all of that in mind, what does it really mean to be Wiccan?

What is Wicca?

Wicca is a modern earth-centered polytheistic religion with a magical tradition. It’s based on a conglomeration of ancient religious and folk magic practices, but the religion itself only developed in the early 20th century.

Gerald Gardner, an amateur anthropologist, introduced it to the public eye in the mid 1950s.

Triple moon symbol used in Wicca.

Originally, Gardner’s tradition was strictly initiatory and secret. It didn’t take long before the small core of original Gardnerian Wiccans began splitting off and forming their own covens and study groups.

Ever since then, Wicca has evolved to encompass a number of different traditions and pantheons, all united under one overarching structure and core set of beliefs.

Wicca Core Beliefs

Each Wiccan tradition varies slightly in what it believes and how it demonstrates these beliefs. That said, Wicca does have some core principles:

  • Do No Harm. Most, if not all, Wiccans believe that not intentionally causing harm is of prime importance. Some interpret this as never doing harm, even in self-defense. Others feel that causing harm to prevent a greater harm is permissible.
  • Following the Wheel of the Year. Wiccan holidays are based on the cycles of the seasons. They keep these major eight major holidays, or Sabbats. They may also celebrate twelve or thirteen minor Esbats.
  • The Threefold Law. Wiccans believe that a person’s actions will return to them multiplied by three. If you cause harm, you’ll get it back three times worse. If you do good, you’ll get that back instead.
  • The Afterlife. There is no heaven or hell in Wicca. Some believe in reincarnation, while others may believe in the Summerland. The Summerland is described as a non-physical reality where it’s always summer and there is no more pain and suffering.
  • The Divinity of Nature. Wiccans believe that the divine is present in all of nature, and must be respected. Many are passionate environmentalists.
  • Divine Polarity. In early Wicca, Gerald Gardner presented the idea of a polarized concept of the divine: one with male and female principles. This presents itself as worship of a Goddess and God. Some Wiccans still hold to this tradition, while others have expanded their concept of the divine to include other representations of sex and gender.

Types and Traditions of Wicca

Wicca has grown tremendously ever since Gardner first wrote about it. There are now multiple different traditions and types for a beginner to choose from:

Gardnerian Wicca

This tradition is closest to what Gerald Gardner envisioned. This tradition has a very strong basis in nature and elaborate ceremonies. Some of these are intended to subvert the dominant religious hegemony — knowing the divine isn’t reserved for an elite priesthood, and rituals should be performed in the nude.

Since Gardner had strong feelings about initiatory rites and secrecy, one must be initiated into an existing coven to practice Gardnerian Wicca.

See also: Gardnerian Wicca Guide.

Seax-Wicca

This tradition comes courtesy of a man named Raymond Buckland in the mid 1970s. Buckland, a former student of Gardner’s, created rituals based on Saxon traditions.

Unlike Gardnerian Wicca, Seax-Wicca is a bit more flexible. Practitioners can dedicate themselves to the tradition if they wish, and advance their knowledge through studying on their own.

Alexandrian Wicca

Alexandrian Wicca was created by Alex Sanders in the mid-1960s. Another student of Gardner’s, Sanders’ version of Wicca draws heavily from the Gardnerian tradition. The primary difference is the inclusion of some Judeo-Christian elements in ritual.

See also: Alexandrian Wicca Guide.

Georgian Wicca

Georgian Wicca was founded by George Patterson in the 1970s. It’s probably the first really eclectic Wiccan tradition — Patterson drew from both Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca, and encouraged practitioners to create their own rituals and do what works for them.

Dianic Wicca

This tradition was created by Zsuzsanna Budapest in the 1970s, and is named after Diana, Roman goddess of the wilderness and the hunt. It’s a very feminist branch of Wicca, and rituals typically focus on the role of the Goddess and downplay the God. Some covens are strictly women-only.

See also: Dianic Wicca Guide.

British Traditional Wicca

British Traditional Wicca attempts to reconstruct the practices and rituals of pre-Christian Britain. These groups tend to be very structured, with a strict hierarchy and training for members.

Black Forest Clan Wicca

This tradition is effectively a blend of Gardnerian Wicca, Druidry, and Celtic and Germanic practice. It’s intended to prepare members to be licensed members of the Wiccan clergy, and graduated High Priests and Priestesses go on to form their own covens within the tradition.

Eclectic Wicca

Eclectic Wicca is, as it’s name implied, eclectic. It doesn’t have a real initiatory rite or strict hierarchy, and many of its members are solitary. They don’t follow strict rules of secrecy, and can follow any pantheon or blend of pantheons they choose.

There’s often a large element of “personal gnosis” in Eclectic Wicca, meaning that practitioners make their own discoveries and add that to their body of knowledge.

See also: Eclectic Wicca Guide.

Initiation vs. Dedication

Some Wiccan resources offer suggestions for individuals who want to dedicate themselves to the craft without the need for a coven.

These are sometimes called “self-initiation” rites, but that’s a misnomer. There’s no way for an individual to initiate themselves, but they can dedicate themselves. The difference breaks down like this:

  • Initiation involves being brought into an existing tradition by a member of that tradition. Initiatory rights may vary from coven to coven, but always involve an existing tradition. A solitary practitioner embarking on a course of self-study isn’t entering a tradition, so no initiation is necessary.
  • Dedication involves devoting oneself to the study and practice of Wicca. It isn’t necessary to join a coven or follow a tradition for this — a person can dedicate themselves to the Craft as a solitary practitioner, and be just as good a witch as someone initiated into a tradition.

Wicca Rule of 3

The Rule of Three is the guiding moral precept in Wicca. It holds that whatever one puts out into the world, they will receive multiplied by three. If a person does good, they will receive good in return. If they do evil, they will receive evil.

Wicca places a tremendous importance on personal responsibility, and the Rule of Three emphasizes this. There is no heaven to reward good people or hell to punish bad ones — there are only the natural consequences of one’s actions.

If a Wiccan wants to cause harm, they must be prepared to suffer the inevitable aftermath.

13 Principles of Wicca

When people hear about magic and witchcraft, their imaginations often jump to the worst case scenario. In the 1970s, people often confused Wicca for Luciferianism, and believed that Wiccans worshipped the Devil.

This wasn’t helped by prominent figures in other religions spreading rumors and misconceptions about Wicca and witches. Unfortunately, as a decentralized, non-dogmatic religion, Wicca didn’t have a Bible to point to to clear up these falsehoods.

To remedy this, several Wiccan groups banded together to create the 13 Principles of Wicca.

The 13 Principles of Wicca include:

  • 1. Wiccans perform rituals to attune themselves with natural forces marked by the phases of the Moon, as well as the seasonal Quarters and Cross Quarters.
  • 2. They recognize that human intelligence gives people a unique responsibility towards the environment, and seek to live in harmony with nature.
  • 3. They acknowledge a depth of power far greater than what is apparent to the average person. The “supernatural” is part of nature.
  • 4. They believe the Creative Power in the universe manifests through a masculine and feminine polarity, and that this Power lies in all people and functions through the interaction of the masculine and the feminine. They do not value one above the other. They value sex as a pleasurable act, the embodiment of life, and one of the sources of energy used in worship and magic.
  • 5. They recognize both outer and inner worlds — sometimes known as the Spiritual World, the Collective Unconscious, or Inner Planes.
  • 6. They do not recognize an authoritarian hierarchy.
  • 7. They see religion, magic, and wisdom as united in the way one lives in and views the world.
  • 8. The only way to become a witch is to control the forces within oneself, and live wisely and without harm to others or nature. Calling oneself a “witch” doesn’t make a witch. Nor to degrees or initiations.
  • 9. They believe in the affirmation and fulfilment of life in a continuation of evolution of consciousness, giving meaning to their personal role within the universe.
  • 10. Their only animosity toward Christianity or any other religion is related to that religion’s attempts to position itself as “the only way,” and suppress other beliefs.
  • 11. They are not threatened by debates on the origins and history of Wicca.
  • 12. They reject the idea of an absolute evil, and do not recognize a Devil.
  • 13. They believe that they should seek health, solace, and well-being through nature.

Wicca Magic

In the Craft, magic serves the function that prayer often does in other religions. Wiccans use a combination of natural tools — like herbs, water, and crystals — their own personal power, and the aid of the divine to achieve internal or external goals.

Wicca magic theme with candles.

Where a Christian might pray for a new job, a Wiccan would perform a spell to attract a new job opportunity to them. There are almost as many types of magic as there are individual Wiccans, but some forms are particularly popular. A few of these include:

  • Candle magic. An excellent first magic spell for beginners, candle magic involves putting one’s intent into a candle, then burning it to release the magical energy.
  • Herbal magic. All living things, plants included, have their own magical energies and properties. Herbal magic involves making sachets, poppets, potions, teas, and other tools using blends of herbs specifically chosen for these properties.
  • Crystal magic. Crystals, while they aren’t alive in the strictest sense, have a “living” magical aura just like herbs and people do. Each stone has its own magical properties, and Wiccans work with them in the form of jewelry, magical tools, and the loose stones themselves.
  • Divination. Divination is more than being able to see the future. While divinatory tools, like runes or tarot cards, can offer a “snapshot” of how events might play out, they are also tools for deep introspection, self-learning, and spiritual and emotional healing.
  • Energy work. While energy work isn’t part of traditional folk magic, many modern Wiccans have come to embrace it. This involves manipulating energy through visualization and movement.

See also: Wicca Magic Guide.

Wicca Herbs

In the Craft, plants are regarded as sacred manifestations of the four elements. They combine nutrients from the Earth, carbon dioxide from the Air, fire from the Sun, and Water from the rain to sustain their lives.

Back when herbalism was the dominant form of medicine, plants were recognized for their ability to heal and harm. Village wise men and women were the first witches, combining ritual and prayer with the medicinal properties of herbs to effect a cure.

Today, witches use herbs in a variety of ways. Since all herbs have magical properties, there’s guaranteed to be one out there for whatever the witch needs.

A cup of tea can be its own ritual, allowing a witch to take in the beneficial energy of a plant. Using a dream pillow can be another, combining fragrant sleep- and dream-promoting herbs to ward of nightmares, aid dream recall, and encourage prophetic dreams.

Herbs can be burned to release their power to the ether, taken internally to empower the user, or added to charms to lend their energy to a long term spell.

See also: Wicca Herbs: Herbal Magic Guide.

Wicca Crystals

While most people think of crystals as inert, they’re still part of the natural world. Each one has its own magical signature and set of properties, and some witches are naturally drawn to them.

Crystals are used to represent the element of Earth in rituals, as ingredients in charm bags or other spells, or on their own as amulets or talismans.

Crystals are helpful because they don’t decay or break down — even if a crystal shatters, the pieces still remain. They can be filled with an intent, like a kind of magical battery, and, as long as they are properly maintained, used for a very long time.

Some witches keep a small tumbled stone in a pocket or bag. Others might place a large geode in their home or on their altar. Still others might attach crystals to their other magical tools, in order to imbue them with the stones’ energies.

See also: Wicca Crystals: Crystal Magic Guide.

Book of Shadows

The Book of Shadows is a witch’s reference book. In it, they write down all that they were taught, as well as whatever knowledge they’ve discovered in the course of their practice.

It holds instructions for spells, rituals, traditions, magical ethics, and philosophy.

Some Wiccan traditions require neophytes to hand-copy their personal Book of Shadows from the coven’s Book. Eclectic Wiccans typically create their own from a combination of publicly available knowledge and personal discoveries.

It’s possible to buy spell books and ritual guides from a book shop, but these aren’t true Books of Shadows. A Book of Shadows is almost like a magical diary — it contains just as much about the witch who wrote it as it does about the spells themselves.

Traditionally, it should also be handwritten and kept secret. The name “Book of Shadows” comes from this need for secrecy.

Most witches make their own Books of Shadows. You can either go through the effort of hand-making paper and bindings, or purchase a blank book for this purpose.

Some choose to use a three-ring binder, so they can re-arrange and organize at will. Others keep theirs in an entirely digital format for convenience.

Wiccan Altars

The altar is where rituals take place. While it’s usually a raised structure of some sort, like a table, it can be a flat rock, stump, or even a space on the ground.

It holds the tools used for casting spells and performing rituals. These may vary based on the spell being performed, or even the time of year.

Typically, a Wiccan altar will have the following tools:

  • The athame. The athame is a ritual knife. It’s never used to cut, however — the athame is only used to direct power, or open a doorway in a magic circle. It’s used to represent masculine energy. For mundane cutting tasks, witches use a separate knife called a bolline.
  • The broom. The broom is used similarly to a regular broom, only the bristles do not touch the floor. Instead, the broom sweeps out negative energy, cleansing the ritual space.
  • The cauldron. The cauldron symbolizes the Goddess. It’s also used to hold candles, burn incense, light petition papers, and generally do whatever ritual work requires a sturdy, flameproof vessel.
  • The chalice. The chalice holds libations. It’s used to represent feminine energy.
  • The pentacle or pentagram. This represents the element of Earth. The five points of the pentacle stand for each of the four elements, plus the fifth, Spirit, encircled in the totality of nature. Interestingly, old pentacles usually did not involve a five-pointed star — in old, non-Wiccan grimoires, the word was used to describe any magical talisman.
  • The wand. Wands, like athames, are used to direct power. Some Wiccans use the athame to project power, and the wand to receive it. Others use the athame to command power, and the wand as a gentler alternative. The wand represents either the element of air or fire, depending on tradition.

Altars typically hold other tools as well, including candles, incense, flowers, herbs, or crystals.

Wiccan Deities

Wicca is a polytheistic religion, though this polytheism may vary a bit from practitioner to practitioner.

Gerald Gardner believed that the divine was split into the male and female principles, and this continues to influence Wiccan thought.

Some modern witches believe that there is only one divine, which presents as a particular God or Goddess as it sees fit. Some believe that there are two, a God and Goddess, who present as different aspects of themselves. Others believe that all Gods and Goddess are discrete entities.

Gods and Goddesses are called upon for aid or invoked when their presence is needed. In some covens, the High Priest and Priestess act as the physical vessels of the deities during ritual.

The Goddess

The Goddess is the supreme female principle. She is the Cosmic Creatrix, the ultimate and eternal giver of life, and stands for feminine energy, nurturing, fertility, the harvest, and creativity.

She may be depicted as a general goddess of nature, or appear as one of the goddesses from the Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Celtic, or other pantheon.

The God

The God is the supreme male principle. He is the horned hunter, symbol of physical strength and virility. He may be depicted as the Horned God, or appear as one of the patriarchal figures from another pantheon.

The Triple Goddess

The Goddess is often recognized as existing in a triple form, mimicking the cycles of nature, phases of the moon, and points in a woman’s life.

Her first aspect is the Maiden, who symbolizes potential, youth, beauty, seduction, desire, the waxing moon, and the season of spring.

Her second, and most powerful, is the Mother, who symbolizes fertility, maturity, nurturing, the full moon, and the season of summer.

The third is the Crone, who symbolizes wisdom, protection, death, the end of the harvest, the waning moon, and the seasons of autumn and winter.

Some goddesses are thought to exist in a threefold form, while other Wiccans fill the roles of Maiden, Mother, and Crone with three different goddesses. One popular image of the Triple Goddess is the combination of Persephone as the Maiden, Demeter as the Mother, and Hecate as the Crone.

See also: Wiccan Deities: Wicca Gods & Goddesses Guide.

Wiccan Holidays & Festivals

In addition to the full moon esbats, Wiccans celebrate eight major holidays known as Sabbats. These commemorate the changing seasons and turning of the Wheel of the Year.

The timing of these celebrations vary — some follow them according to the official timing of the seasons, some pay attention to seasonal changes in their local environment and time them that way, and Wiccans in the southern hemisphere may invert the timing of certain celebrations.

These are the major Wiccan holidays, their meanings, and their generally recognized dates:

1. Yule (December 20th-23rd)

This is celebrated at the winter solstice, or midwinter. It’s a Sabbat of Germanic origin, and celebrates the return of the sun to warm the world again. Celebrations typically involve lighting candles (as representations of the sun), and decorating the home with evergreen boughs.

2. Imbolc (February 1st-2nd)

Imbolc is a day dedicated to the Celtic Goddess, Brigid. It celebrates the start of spring, and is associated with the spring sowing and beginning of the lambing season.

Celebrations typically revolve around literal or metaphorical sowing (preparing for the harvest later in the year), and observing the changes in the landscape that herald spring.

3. Ostara (The spring equinox)

This is a Germanic holiday dedicated to the Goddess Eostre. This is spring’s official arrival, and one of two days when the day and night are of equal length. It’s a celebration of literal and metaphorical fertility, as symbolized by rabbits, hares, and eggs.

4. Beltane (Evening, April 30th, to May 1st)

This is a Celtic fire festival and derives from the sun God Belenus. It’s opposite Samhain on the Wheel of the Year, and is another time when the gates between the physical world and the other worlds are more open than usual.

In the past, it was also a celebration of sexuality. Today, it’s typically celebrated with bonfires, maypoles, and the Great Rite.

5. Litha (June 20th-22nd)

This is the longest day of the year, and the time when the solar God’s power is at its height. It’s the beginning of summer, and a celebration of the harvests to come — everything is green and growing, and things are ramping up toward their culmination.

Observances typically include giving thanks, making or reaffirming vows, and performing outdoor rituals to take advantage of the warmth and longer daylight hours.

6. Lughnasadh (July 31st-August 1st)

Pronounced “lunasa,” this is a Celtic Sabbat associated with the sun God, Lugh. It celebrates the first fruits of the harvest, and giving thanks for all of the bounty yielded by the spring sowing.

Grain-based foods are traditional, as is feasting on seasonal produce. Celebrations may also include performances of poetry and song, or unveiling artwork or crafts.

7. Mabon (Autumnal equinox)

This is the second harvest festival, when autumnal seasonal foods have reached ripeness. It’s a time for contemplation, preparation for winter, and celebrating the fruits of one’s labor throughout the year.

Celebrations typically involve autumnal comfort foods, rest, and acknowledgement of the beginning of the dark half of the year.

8. Samhain (October 31st)

Samhain, pronounced closer to “sow-en” or “saw-hin,” is a Sabbat of Celtic origin. It’s effectively a celebration of the new year — the harvest is done, and winter is coming. It’s also when the veil between worlds is said to be at its thinnest.

Celebrations include lighting lanterns for the dead, serving meals to deceased loved ones, and leaving offerings for ancestors. Rituals include themes of death and rebirth, the falling of the sun, and reflection on the year before.

Timing the Sabbats

There is some controversy when it comes to timing the Sabbats. Wicca was developed in the northern hemisphere, and the idea of the Wheel of the Year was based on Celtic and Germanic festivals. That means that these seasonal celebrations are rooted in the seasons as they appear north of the equator.

Wiccans who live south of the equator have two choices when it comes to timing their celebrations. They can either celebrate them on their “official” dates, even though they won’t be experiencing the same seasons. They may also discard the original dates entirely, and celebrate them based on the seasons in their area. This means that Samhain, for example, would occur on October 31st in the northern hemisphere, and May 1st in the south.

There is no right or wrong answer here, and the choice is entirely up to the individual practitioner or coven.

While Wicca is a fairly modern religion, its roots are deep and ancient. In the short time that it’s been in the public eye, it has grown to encompass hundreds of thousands of individuals, each with their own unique, beautiful interpretation of its structure and precepts.

It can seem daunting to a beginner, but those embarking on the path of the Wiccan neophyte will soon find themselves in a world of poetry, legend, and ancient lore, surrounded by the support of their fellow witches.