The Star is the stream dedicated to witches and witchcraft, Wicca, ritual magick workers, and Neopagans of similar stripes.
What is Wicca?
Wicca is a particular branch of Neopaganism that describes a rather diverse group with some significant commonalities. Just like Christianity it has several denominations, usually referred to as “traditions.” Also just as in Christianity, there is a lot of debate within the Wiccan community about what is, and is not, Wicca. Because the Wiccan faith is based in praxis and not dogma, there is a lot of diversity.
Some common elements of faith include:
A belief in both a Divine Masculine and a Divine Feminine principle, sometimes referred to as “the Lord” and “the Lady.” Different traditions place different emphasis on the significance of each.
A belief in the sanctity of nature and the natural world.
A belief in the sanctity of natural cycles, manifesting in celebration of human rites of passage, the cycles of the moon (usually celebrated on the full moon,) and the celebration of four or eight seasonal festivals (called Sabbats). The Wiccan Sabbats include Imbolc, Brighid or Candlemas (February 1-2,) Ostara (the Vernal Equinox,) Beltane, Walpurgisnacht or May Day (April 30-May 1,) Litha or Midsummer (the Summer Solstice,) Lughnasadh or Lammas (August 1,) Mabon (the Autumnal Equinox,) Samhain (October 31,) and Yule (the Winter Solstice.)
A belief in the existence of magic, whether or not one chooses to practice it.
A generally consistent ritual format that may take a variety of forms. Loosely it could be qualified as:
- Casting Circle
- Calling Quarters
- Calling the Divine
- Main Body of the Ritual
- Ritual Blessing
- Cakes & Ale
- Thanking/Releasing the Divine
- Releasing Quarters
- Opening Circle
An ethical code that suggests that while we certainly should not actively do harm to others, neither should we carry excessive guilt for doing things that harm no one. There is no original sin, and good and evil are somewhat relative to a given situation. Yet we need to take responsibility for our actions, or lack of them. This is often expressed as a line that is part of a longer poem called The Wiccan Rede or The Witches’ Creed: An it harm none, do what thou wilt.
Wiccans have one common piece of liturgy known as the Charge of the Goddess. This is a poem, the original elements of which first appeared in Charles Leland’s book Aradia: Gospel of the Witches, which was later adapted by Doreen Valiente and then later Starhawk. Valiente and Starhawk’s versions are the most commonly used variations. Wiccans observe an unspoken ethical code founded on the principles delineated in this poem.
Wiccans also often (but not always) hold a couple of Valiente’s other poems as “inspired texts”, in particular The Witches’ Rune or the Ancient Call (two variations of the same poem.)
Many traditions (but not all) use sacred music and chant in their rituals. There is a common tradition of chants and songs that we share at festivals and gatherings. In some cases their authors are still with us. We try to attribute them correctly but are not always successful because it is a folk tradition.
Significant streams of Wicca include:
British Traditional Wicca – These initiatory Wiccan traditions descend from the work of Gerald Gardner and his contemporaries. They began in Britain the 1940s and spread all over the English-speaking world and they are strongly influenced by traditional British hedgewitchery and cunning folk, ritual magick and Thelema, and Eastern mysticism as understood by the Theosophical Society and similar movements. BTW witches believe in a balance of male and female divine principles, which is sometimes criticized as being gender-essentialist and not inclusive of LGBTQ people. They practice in covens and believe that “only a witch can make a witch,” meaning that you must be initiated into a tradition before you are included. As a result, British Traditional Wicca is often perceived in the community as rigid, hierarchical, and somewhat elitist. Rituals are strongly similar because part of traditional practice is to copy by hand the Book of Shadows that belongs to your coven of origin. North American BTWs tend to be more orthodox than European BTWs. Examples include the Gardnerians, the Alexandrians, the Georgians, and the Odyesseans (the Wiccan Church of Canada). This is still the primary stream of Wicca in the UK and Europe, and it strongly influences French-speaking witches all over the world as well.
Dianic/Feminist Wicca – Stemming from Z. Budapest’s book The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, Dianic Wicca grew out of the anthropological theories of the Burning Times as a persecution of women and the research of Gimbutas into ancient matriarchies. The theory is that all women of power are witches, and reclaiming the word “witch” reclaims feminine power, and Dianic witchcraft developed alongside the women’s rights movement. Dianics believe in worshiping primarily the Goddess, and male deities might not figure into Dianic practice at all. The only necessity for becoming part of their groups is to be a woman; they are embracing of all women but men are (usually) strictly forbidden. Lately the Dianic community has been deeply divided over the issue of inclusivity for transgendered women. Dianic witches may worship as solitaries, covens, or collectives. The stream originated out of the Bay Area in California and has spread up and down the West Coast of the American continent and somewhat inland also; though groups can be found pretty much anywhere English is spoken.
North American (Reclaiming) Wicca – Starhawk’s classic book The Spiral Dance spawned the Reclaiming tradition. Strongly influenced by both Z. Budapest and the Feri Tradition (an initiatory Pagan tradition that looks a lot like Wicca but claims no connection to it,) Reclaiming is founded in women’s empowerment, political action as magick, and collective decision-making. Rituals tend to be more simplistic and organic than those of BTW witches, often involving more music and chant, and while the female divine principle is worshiped in preference to the male divine principle, the God is also an important principle in Reclaiming myths. It is inclusive towards LGBTQ people but heterosexual men sometimes perceive that they have been vilified in Reclaiming circles. Other common criticisms include tradition-wide peer pressure, cults of personality, and pricing of events, services and training. Witches sometimes create collectives or circles as part of the larger community, and occasionally they practice on their own as well. Reclaiming witchcraft also originated in the Bay Area and it has strongly influenced many North American traditions, groups, and organizations.
Modern Eclectic Wicca – In the mid-eighties, books began to appear that instructed individuals on the essentials of Wiccan belief and practice. The most prominent of these was Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham. At the time highly controversial because it broke with a tradition of secrecy, Cunningham’s book was simplified and offered neither initiation in any tradition nor oath-bound material. A plethora of such books besieged the market and the Pagan publishing industry was born, partially driven by the Satanic Panic making all Wiccan books controversial. Often criticized and even scoffed at by witches of other traditions and practices as being “fluffy bunny” eclectic Wicca is a simple earth-based spirituality strongly influenced by the New Age movement. Other common criticisms include lack of consistency in belief and limited understanding of Wiccan mystical concepts and practices. Eclectic Wiccans are usually solitary, though they also develop loosely-organized groups that often do not last long due to a lack of experience in group dynamics. Today, most of us start here and indeed, solitary Wiccans are in the vast majority.
Please note that “common criticisms” are presented to supply a full and transparent picture of each stream, and the team who maintains this website does not take any position on any of them. Individual groups will, of course, be different, as will your experience.
What is Traditional Witchcraft?
Traditional witchcraft embraces traditional European folk magic practices and combines them with an animistic/shamanic spiritual practice. This may have some elements in common with Wiccan theology but also might not. Many traditional witches claim descent, or at least inspiration, from the Clan of Tubal Cain (the work of Robert Cochrane). Sometimes traditional witchcraft is also linked to hedgewitchery (shamanic witchcraft with an emphasis on the practice of herbalism). It is difficult to pinpoint the common beliefs of traditional witchcraft, but in general, traditional witches believe in the sanctity of the natural world, the practice of magick, shamanism, herbal healing, and shamanic journeywork to aid and heal others and oneself. They may follow a variety of deities, some of whom bear a resemblance to some of the Wiccan deities; guardian or totemic spirits as opposed to deities; or nothing at all.
What is Ritual Magick?
Ritual magick is the magic of the Western occult tradition. It draws primarily upon the Jewish Kaballah, Greek and Egyptian religion and mysticism and medieval alchemy and was originally typically characterized by membership in secret occult orders, such as the Rosicrucians or the Order of the Golden Dawn. Some common spiritual beliefs include:
A belief in a single Divine Creator that can be subdivided into Male and Female divine forces; sometimes understood in a Judeo-Christian context as the Logos and the Sophia.
A belief that humanity is meant to ascend to a higher form of spiritual existence, and thus transcend this world of matter.
In some cases, that transcendence is only believed to be possible through finding one’s Soul-Mate, or other half, and thus form the Divine Androgyne, who understands both masculine and feminine elements of Creation. Others believe the Divine Androgyne must be found within oneself.
A belief that each of us has come here with a specific purpose and that we have a responsibility and natural desire to express that purpose. This is known as the “True Will.”
Some significant groups that practice ritual magick include:
The Order of the Golden Dawn – One of the oldest occult orders, with origins in the Renaissance, the Order of the Golden Dawn is an order of hermetic magicians and Kaballists. It has been disbanded and reformed many times. Many significant writers of the Western occult tradition were significant in the Golden Dawn, including S.L. MacGregor Mathers, Aleister Crowley, and A.E. Waite who published the first publicly available Tarot card set (the now famous Rider-Waite deck.)
The Ordo Templi Orientalis (O.T.O.) – This order was founded on the philosophy of Thelema by Aleister Crowley. It blends the philosophies of Eastern mysticism and the New Age movement with Hermetic magickal practice, and was a strong influence on the development of modern Wicca. While most modern occult groups can trace connections to the O.T.O., many independent Thelemic groups have since formed based due to differences within the organization.