There’s an old saying that if you ask any ten Wiccans about their spiritual beliefs, you’ll get at least fifteen different answers. That’s not far from the truth, because with hundreds of thousands of Americans practicing Wicca today (and the actual numbers remain unclear), there are thousands of different Wiccan groups in existence. There is no one governing body over Wicca, nor is there a “Wiccan Bible” that lays down a universal set of guidelines. While specific practices vary from one group to the next, there are a few ideals and beliefs common to nearly all modern Wiccan groups.
Keep in mind that not all Pagans are Wiccans, and not all Pagan traditions have the same set of principles as the core beliefs of modern Wicca.
Origins of Wicca
Wicca as a religion was introduced by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s. Gardner’s tradition was oathbound, initiatory, and secret. However, after a few years, splinter groups began forming, and new traditions were established. Today, many Wiccan groups owe their basic foundation to the principles laid out by Gardner. Wicca is not an ancient religion, but Gardner did incorporate some old esoteric knowledge into his original tradition, including Eastern mysticism, Kabbalah, and British legend.
Calling Upon the Divine
Wicca acknowledges the polarity of the Divine, which means that both the male and female deities are often honored. A Wiccan may honor simply a non-specific god and goddess, or they may choose to worship specific deities of their tradition, whether it be Isis and Osiris, Cerridwen and Herne, or Apollo and Athena. In Gardnerian Wicca, the true names of the gods are revealed only to initiated members, and are kept secret from anyone outside the tradition.
Initiation and Degree Systems
In most Wiccan covens, there is some form of initiation and a degree system. Initiation is a symbolic rebirth, in which the initiants dedicate themselves to the gods of their tradition. Typically, only an individual who has attained the rank of Third Degree dedicant may act as a High Priest or High Priestess. Study is required before an individual may advance to the next degree level, and often this is the traditional “year and a day” period.
Someone who is not a member of a coven or formal group may choose to perform a self-dedication ritual to pledge themselves to the gods of their path.
The belief in and use of magic and spellwork is nearly universal within Wicca. This is because, for most Wiccans, there’s nothing supernatural about magic at all. Instead, Wiccans view magic as the harnessing and redirection of natural energy to effect change in the world around us. In Wicca, magic is simply another skill set or tool. Most Wiccans do use specific tools in spellcrafting, such as an athame, wand, herbs, crystals, and candles. Magical workings are often performed within a sacred circle. The use of magic is not limited only to the priesthood; anyone can craft and perform a spell with a little bit of practice.
In some magical traditions, there are guidelines as to how and why magic should be performed. For instance, some Wiccans adhere to the Law of Threefold Return, or the Rule of Three, and others may follow the Wiccan Rede. This is not necessarily universal, though, so if you’re not part of a group that mandates these guidelines, you might opt not to follow them. Magic can be incorporated into ritual, or it can be used as a stand-alone practice.
The Spirit World is Out There
The concept of an afterlife is typical in most branches of Wicca, and there is a general willingness to accept interaction with the spirit world. Seances and contact with the unknown are not uncommon among Wiccans, although not all Wiccans actively seek communication with the dead. Divination such as tarot, runes, and astrology are often
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