Wicca is one of the most influential traditions of modern Paganism. Also known by the name Witchcraft, it began to emerge publicly in its modern form in the late 1940's. It is an initiatory path, a mystery tradition that guides its initiates to a deep communion with the powers of Nature and of the human psyche, leading to a spiritual transformation of the self. Women who follow this path are initiated as Priestesses and men are initiated as Priests.
'Wicca is both a religion and a Craft. ... As a religion - like any other religion - its purpose is to put the individual and the group in harmony with the divine creative principal of the Cosmos, and its manifestation at all levels. As a Craft, its purpose is to achieve practical ends by psychic means, for good, useful and healing purposes. In both aspects, the distinguishing characteristics of Wicca are its Nature- based attitude, its small group autonomy with no gulf between priesthood and 'congregation', and its philosophy of creative polarity at all levels, from Goddess and God to Priestess and Priest.'
Janet and Stewart Farrar, Eight Sabbats For Witches, Robert Hale, London, 1981.
Wicca is sometimes called the Craft of the Wise, or, more commonly, the Craft.
Those wishing to be initiated must be at least 18 years of age. Wicca does not seek converts and initiation is never offered. Initiation must be asked for and is only given to those who have proved themselves suitable. It is traditional to wait a year and a day before being accepted into the Craft, although in practice this varies.
In Britain, there are a number of Craft traditions: Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Traditional, Hereditary (Family), Dianic and Hedgewitch. In other countries, other traditions have evolved to reflect their own culture. Gardnerians claim lineage from Gerald Gardner, who was most responsible for the revival of the modern Craft. Alexandrians descend from Alex and Maxine Sanders, who developed Gardner's ideas. Traditionalists claim their methods pre-date the modern revival and have been passed down from generation to generation. Hereditaries claim their traditions have been passed on by particular families through relations of blood and marriage. Dianic craft is based on feminist principles and Hedgewitches follow a more solitary path.
For some practitioners of the Craft, Witchcraft and Wicca are seen as two distinct paths, for others, the boundaries between the two are more blurred. Certainly, the word "Wicca" is less evocative and emotive than "Witchcraft" but whatever their perceived differences, they both share the same commonality in their beliefs and practises.
Witches celebrate eight seasonal festivals called Sabbats. Craft rituals, like all Pagan rites, are often conducted out of doors and involve simple rites to celebrate the seasons and the gift of life. Craft ritual is a means of contacting the Divine beyond our individual lives, but also a way of understanding our inner psyche and contacting the Divine within.
Witchraft is a path of magic and love, the movement of a deep poetry of the soul, a sharing and joining with the mysteries of Nature and the Old Gods.
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Many Pagan Druid orders draw their inspiration from Celtic traditions, working with the Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic Pagan past. Some work with whatever spirits are within and around the people they are working with. So when in America, for example, they honour the spirits of that land; when at Wayland's Smithy they might honour the Old Gods of the builders and the Anglo-Saxon Wayland. Also, they might be drawn to particular deities, regardless of tradition or culture, because of their own cultural/spiritual background or because these deities seek them out. (Thanks to Philip Shalcrass of the BDO for this amendment) Druidry stresses the mystery of poetic inspiration and explores healing, divination and sacred mythology. However, not all Druid orders are Pagan. Some are charitable organisations. Others follow particular esoteric teachings not necessarily sympathetic to Pagan beliefs, and some Druid orders are of an artistic or Christian nature.
Following the problems at Stonehenge in 1988, The Council of British Druid Orders was founded as a focus for communication between the various different groups. Some Pagan-sympathetic member orders are: The Glastonbury Order of Druids, which works with the Glastonbury mythos; The London Druid group, founded in 1986 which has associated Celtic and magical groups; and the Druid Clan of Dana, a daughter organisation of the Fellowship of Isis.
The British Druid Order founded in 1979, which is both Pagan and Goddess orientated, and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, which has both Christian and Pagan members left the CBDO to form the Druid Forum, which meets to discuss issues of relevance to modern Druidry.
A Druid explains:
'Druidry has no book of law, the only lessons being those learnt from nature. There are no gurus and hierarchy is kept to a working minimum. Central to Druidic belief is a love of nature combined with the pragmatic view that spiritual insight should be expressed in daily life. Druidry stresses the importance of working as a part of a group and working as an individual to develop the spiri tual life. Druidry is especially concerned with the ecological crisis faced by the modern world, and works in many ways for the healing of the Earth.
Druidry represents another branch of the flourishing tree of Pagan spirituality. Druidry grows from strength to strength, answering in its own voice the call of the Divine.
'O knowledgeable lad, whose son are you?'
'I am the son of Poetry Poetry, son of scrutiny Scrutiny, son of meditation Meditation, son of lore Lore, son of enquiry Enquiry, son of investigation Investigation, son of great knowledge Great knowledge, son of great sense Great sense, son of understanding Understanding, son of wisdom Wisdom, son of the triple Gods of poetry.'
(The Colloquy of the Two Sages- Celtic Traditional)
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Northern Traditions (Odinism, Asatru, Vanatru)
Odinism is a modern revival of the pre-Christian Pagan traditions of Northern Europe. These Traditions take many forms, but are centred around two distinctive groups of divinities - the Aesir and the Vanir. The Northern Tradition draws upon both the Norse and Anglo-Saxon mythology, from various sources including Iceland.
The Aesir, as described in Scandinavian myths, are sky Gods and include Odin, often seen as the High God or All-Father principle, his wife Frigga, and Thor, Tyr, and Balder, amongst others. The Vanir are Gods of the Earth, agriculture and fertility. The best-known Vanir deities are Frey and Freya.
Today, Pagans following the Northern tradition often worship Gods from both the Vanir and Aesir, although some specialise in working with one or the other. Some Pagans practising the Northern Traditions prefer to use the word Asatru to Odinist. Asatru, meaning belief in the Gods or loyalty to the Aesir, is a more general term and also more accurate, given that Odinists do not only worship the God Odin.
Modern practice of the Northern Tradition is rapidly evolving. It explores the mythologies of Northern Europe and the mysteries of the runes. It is a way of life embracing values of loyalty, honour, courage and good fellowship. It emphasizes communing with the Divine as well as embracing the practice of magic for healing and spiritual development. Followers of Asatru celebrate seasonal festivals and are deeply concerned with environmental issues.
In the past, the role of women has been less well- developed in Asatru than in other Pagan traditions. This should not be surprising given the strong influence of Odin, often seen as the most important of the Gods. The predominantly male orientation is now being remedied by the work of a number of women and men taking their inspiration from the Goddesses of Northern mythology and the role of women in Old Northern society. The work of Freya Aswynn is particularly valuable (see reading list) and gives a clear account of the role of the Volva or Seidkona who were the Priestess-practitioners of magic and divination in the Northern Tradition.
Followers of Asatru organize themselves into small groups and form a community of their own which interacts with other parts of the wider Pagan movement.
'Well-being I won, and wisdom too. From a word to a word I was led to a word, From a deed to another deed.'
From the Old Norse, The Poetic Edda, (ca. AD 1200)
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The male mysteries have always had their place in the many expressions of the Pagan religion. For a Pagan, male spirituality is honoured as an expression of the God in his many forms. Pagan men seek inspiration from the Horned God and other aspects of the male Deity; reaching within to embrace a vision of wisdom, strength, and love. The Men's Movement is a gathering force world-wide and is a more general expression of a newly-awakening male spirituality. Men are questioning the roles given them by society and are looking within for a new understanding of the male spirit.
In searching for a deeper male spirituality, men's traditions of spiritual expression take many forms. Some men work in the established Pagan traditions, while others have created specific male mystery groups dedicated to exploring men's relationship with the Divine. Some male mystery groups have turned to the ancient myths and traditions of tribal society and others to the ancient Pagan initiatory cults such as those of Mithras, the God of the Roman legions. Some other groups base their work on the literature of R J 'Bob' Stewart.
Two men who have had a strong influence on how men are seeking to find themselves are psychologist John Rowan in his book The Horned God and poet and author Robert Bly in his best selling book Iron John. They are both contributors to Choirs of the God, a book exploring male spirituality.
The search for alternative images of male divinity begins for many men with the pagan gods and mythical figures suppressed by Christianity. Celtic mythology and Western occultism underlie several recent attempt to re-vision masculinity. To sense 'Male Power on Earth' or contact 'The God Within' brings home the reality of maleness in the modern world, while giving us the visions - from the past, the unconscious, or the realm of the gods - of a different way of being men.
John Matthews ed, Choirs of the God: Revisioning Masculinity, Mandala, 1991.
For a Pagan, the masculine is essentially beautiful, lithe, strong, burning with a deep passion calling out in the joy of creation.
'I am a stag of seven tines, I am a wild flood on the plain, I am a wind on the deep waters, I am a tear the Sun lets fall, I am a hawk above the cliff, I am a salmon in the pool, I am a battle-waging spear, I am a wave of the sea, Who but I knows the mystery of the unhewn dolmen?'
From The Song of Amergin, Celtic Traditional.
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Women's spirituality is one of the richest and most dynamic forces in modern Paganism. Women are respected in all Pagan traditions and have enriched Paganism with a powerful vision of the Goddess - the long-ignored feminine aspect of the Divine. In Paganism, women are Priestesses in their own right, strong and proud, with their own vision.
As well as working in the various traditions of Paganism, women have established their own traditions. These traditions have many forms and are often deeply entwined with the aspirations of the Women's Movement.
Drawing upon the inspiration of the image of the Goddess, women explore their own feminine mysteries. For some women, this involves a denial of all things seen as patriarchal; for others it is a spiritual calling to throw off the conditioning chains of society's stereotypes of women. These women see themselves as reclaiming or creating a new understanding of what it is to be female. They explore the mythologies of the world to discover the deeper meaning of what it is to be a woman. They seek to bring their discoveries to life in their own lives, sharing this new found knowledge by way of myth, song, dance and, where needed, political action.
One of the best known women's traditions is the Dianic movement, named in honour of the Goddess Diana. There are many expressions of this tradition. Two of the founding streams were developed by Z. Budapest and Morgan McFarland in the USA. Greatly inspired by the idea of matriarchy, many Dianic groups exclude men and see their tradition as a sisterhood, as wimin's religion. Others work with men, but see their role as less important than that of women.
Many Dianic groups worship only the Goddess and those that acknowledge the God see the male deity as a part of the mystery of the Goddess.
Women's traditions are often eclectic and loosely- structured. They tend to be highly creative with many spontaneous elements. Some women's traditions are modelled on Wiccan practice and use rituals and celebrate seasonal festivals in a similar way. Other groups are more Shamanic. Others have blended aspects of different traditions to create new unique pathways.
Women's traditions have an especially powerful vision of the Earth as the Goddess and are deeply involved with caring for the Earth and protecting her from the rape of modern civilization. They are concerned with the healing of the Earth and with the healing of the image of women.
'The Goddess awakens in infinite forms and a thousand disguises. She is found where She is least expected, appears out of nowhere and everywhere to illumine the open heart.'
Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, Harper and Row, NY, 1989 edition.
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Modern Shamanism is perhaps the most diverse of all the forms of Pagan practice and is less clearly defined as a tradition than other Pagan paths. Shamanic practices are an underlying aspect of all expressions of Pagan religion and there are those who would describe themselves as Wiccan, Druidic or Women's Mystery Shamans. Bearing this in mind, there are, however, a growing number of men and women who see themselves on a specifically Shamanic path.
Those who see themselves as Shamans place great emphasis upon individual experience. Shamans may sometimes work together in groups, but the ethos of this way of working is more of a solitary path. Shamanic practice is characterized by seeking vision in solitude and is deeply rooted in the mysteries of Nature.
Shamanism is an ecstatic religion with an essential belief in the reality of the spirit world. The Shaman, through training or calling, is one who is able to enter that world and work with the unseen powers. The Shaman acts as an intermediary between the spirit world and the everyday lives of men and women. He or she may also guide others to experience the spirit world for themselves and so deepen their spiritual lives. Through contact with the spirits, the Shaman can work acts of healing, divination and magic - revealing by way of vision, poetry and myth the deeper reaches of the human spirit.
'Shamans are healers, seers, and visionaries. .. they are in communication with the world of gods and spirits. Their bodies can be left behind while they fly to unearthly realms. They are poets and singers. They dance and create works of art. .. they are familiar with cosmic as well as physical geography; the ways of plants, animals, and the elements are known to them. They are psychologists, entertainers, and food finders. Above all, however, shamans are technicians of the sacred and masters of ecstasy.'
Joan Halifax, Shamanic Voices , E P Dutton, NY, 1979.
The Shamanic practice of today ranges from those trained in the paths of traditional societies such as the Native American tribes, to those reconstructing Shamanic practice from historical accounts and from their own experience. Shamanism in its pure form, as practised in tribal society as a part of tribal religion, is less accessible than other Pagan paths, but modern reconstructions are growing in popularity.
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