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Wicca is a religion of Nature, which venerates Nature by worshiping both the feminine as masculine aspects of Divinity. Its spiritual roots go back to pre-Christian belief and practices in Europe. Wicca first attained public attention through the efforts of Gerald B.Gardner in the 1950s, as it was portrayed as the remnant of an ancient European fertility cult. Those practicing Wicca refer to it as the Old Religion, or the Craft of the Wise. Outwardly modern Wicca appears to be a system of folklore and folk magic, but its composition consists of pre-Christian European Mystery Teachings.
The main philosophical teachings of Wicca teach that the Divinity is composed of both masculine and feminine principles, which most Traditions personify as a Goddess and a God. (see The Horned God) Other Traditions teach that the supreme Deity is the Goddess who possesses within Herself the polarities of masculine and feminine energy.
Such Wiccan theology dates back to Neolithic, if not Paleolithic, times. Many debate whether modern Wicca is the survival of the Old Religion or a new religion, but it contains remnants of Old Religion theology. Others vigorously argue that nothing resembling modern Wicca ever previously existed. The truth may remain uncertain, but one certainty is that Wicca has been influenced by Masonic, Hermetic (see Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), and Kabbalistic elements as well as various tenets of Western Occultism and Eastern mysticism.
As it will be shown there exists a debate as to whether modern Wicca shares a linkage with the past. Even though some deny any association with the past others truly believe in such a linkage and gain a spiritual strength from it. Although some currently may try to separate Wicca from Witchcraft, this appears to be a hard feat to accomplish especially Wicca embodies the veneration of Nature and the Goddess as a supreme Deity. Archeology has discovered paintings on wall depicting female figures giving birth to children. Ancient female figurines with enormous breasts were elsewhere found; both the paintings and figurines give evidence that even the primitive people knew the birth, or generative, process resided within the female. It was the feminine energy that was first acknowledged before the recognition of the male energy appeared. Coinciding with the recognition of this feminine generative process was the natural recognition and acknowledgement of the agricultural surroundings. Even primitive people soon realize that they had to eat to survive. This is not meant to be a demeaning statement, but rather a statement of fact. Food came from the earth; there were times when the earth gave forth more food that at other times. Out of this knowledge the concepts of the seasons and year were later formed. However Wicca may have changed, essentially it is a religion of Nature.
Most Wiccans celebrates the eight seasonal sabbats, marked by the solstice and equinox as well as the midpoints of the calendar between each period. Some Traditions hold rituals during the time of the full moon while others observe the time of the new moon. The worshipping of the various deities along with the conducting of various rites are pretty much dependent in the cultural foundation of the Tradition. Cultural Wiccan Traditions include Celtic, Germanic, Nordic, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Polish, Hungarian, Italian, and many others. Each Tradition mainly possesses particular cultural elements; some of the popular Traditions emphasize Irish, English, and Welsh elements.
Gerald B. Gardner gave emphasis to Wicca by presenting it as the Old Religion, a surviving sect of Witches practicing a form of pre-Christian religion. Wicca entered the United States in the early 1960s where it quickly took root. Also helping to form the foundation of the new Craft were several works that included Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough (10), Robert Graves' The White Goddess, T. C. Lethbridge's Witches, and Erich Neumann's The Great Goddess, from which the new Wiccans drew inspiration.
During the 1960s Wicca was commonly associated with the goddess Diana and Rex Nemorensis, the King of the Woods (see Slain God). Also during this period many Aegean/Mediterranean influences intermixed into the modern Wiccan structure. This also was the time of the peace-loving hippies who were drawn to the ecological message of this Nature religion. A distinguishing characteristic of Wicca during the 1960s was a longing for a linkage to an ancient religion evolved, which gave birth to stories of a grandmother who was secretly a Witch and had passed her teachings onto her children.
In the 1970s Wicca began to be thought of as a Celtic religion. This was helped by the writings of Dion Fortune, Aleister Crowley, and Kabbalistic teachings, which began merging with Wiccan beliefs and practices. This was a time the many new systems were evolving, particularly within the United States, which generated in some a feeling of lost. The romantic fantasy of the ancient Celts being noble savages filled this void for many during the 1970s. Along with this experience came an increased interest in Celtic literature and many Witches turned to Celtic mythology including such early works as the Mabinogi, a collection of heroic tales, myths, and legends.
During the 1980s Wicca experienced the effects of the New Age movement that promoted the self-styled Wiccan, whom stopped using the word "Witch" and made distinctions between Witchcraft and Wicca. A self-interpretive approach to Wicca lead to the turning away from structured Traditions and time-honored practices. There was a sharp increase in the number of people choosing Wicca for their religion, the majority of these individuals lack connections to established Traditions as guidelines or initiated Witches as teachers. The definitions of Wicca and Wiccans of the previous two decades now changed. The practitioners of the 1980s held more divergent views. There was a combination of vestiges of Judaic-Christian morality and philosophy imported from these religious backgrounds along with gender politics and sexual preferences, which transformed Wicca during the decade.
The Wiccan elders returned to the community in the 1990s, many of whom wrote influential magazine articles and books. The decade saw an effort to move toward a balance, an attempt was made to blend tradition, training, and structure, together with the self-styled systems carried over from the past decade. Although the elders continued to write and teach throughout the decade, many Wiccans, especially the younger practitioners, thought the teaching was too "preachy" and looked on it with disfavor, but gradually the two philosophies edged closer together in balance. A.G.H.
Sources: 28, 28-29; 78, 395-397.