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Wicca Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is Wicca?
  2. What is a Witch?
  3. Do you pray? To whom do you pray?
  4. How do you worship?
  5. Are you Satanists?
  6. What are your ethics?
  7. Do you do animal / human sacrifices?
  8. What is a familiar?
  9. Is Wicca a cult?
  10. Do you have gurus, leaders or masters?
  11. What do you think happens after death?
  12. What is magic? Does it work? How?
  13. Do you do black Magic?
  14. Do you cast spells?
  15. What are your holidays?
  16. How many of you are there?
  17. Do you raise your children in this?
  18. How does one become a Wiccan?
  19. How much does it cost to become a Wiccan?
  20. Books differ. Which way is right?
  21. How can I find out more?

About the Sabbats

  1. Samhain
  2. Yule
  3. Imbolg
  4. Ostara
  5. Bealtaine
  6. Litha
  7. Lughnasadh
  8. Mabon

  1. What is Wicca?

    Wicca (Witchcraft or the Craft) is a very old and very new religion. The modern revival of the Craft dates from the 1940s in Britain. Gerald Gardner learned that some people still practised elements of pre-Christian aboriginal British religion and fleshed it out with pieces from ceremonial magic, Freemasonry (who share our name "Craft" for what they do), anthropology and his own creativity.

    Movie portrayals such as The Craft bear about as much resemblance to Wicca as the Police Academy movies do to real police work.

    "Wicca" is an Old English word meaning magic user. See What is a Witch? below for the linguistic details. A male Witch is called a Witch, not a warlock.

    These days a Wiccan is a person who practises a life-affirming, nature-oriented religion. In general, Wiccans honour Deity in both female and male forms. Wiccans may also practice magic (see Magic) which some spell "magick" to differentiate it from stage illusion.

    The Articles of Faith of the Covenant of Gaia contain many of the beliefs common to the various traditions of Wicca. In addition, some traditions may encompass other beliefs. Some traditions are practiced by women only and recognise only Goddesses. Others include men and recognise male Gods in addition to Goddesses. Some folk traditions may date back many centuries, others have been in existence for only a few years. The strength of Wicca lies in its diversity. It is a living, growing religious tradition.

    As a religion the Craft is a revival and/or reconstruction of the pre-Christian religions of Europe and elsewhere. Many of us have turned for inspiration to the still living indigenous traditions of other lands, such as Australia, Asia, India and the Americas. Some of us, recognising that we are North American Witches, work with Deities and land spirits of local Amerindian tribes though we do not claim to be members of any Amerindian tradition.


  2. What is a Witch?

    The short answer: Witch comes from the Old English Wicce (masculine) or Wicca (feminine) meaning "magician or diviner." Note that "cc" in Old English was pronounced "ch", so Wicca should actually be pronounced "witcha" although almost nobody does. Our modern definition adds the concept of a specific religious affiliation that is not present in the original word.

    The word Witch is not related to Wizard (from "wys" (wise)) which means a wise man or philosopher. It is not related to "witch" or "wycch" (from "wice", to bend or be mechanically weak) from which we get "witch elm" and "witch hazel." It is not related to Vicar which comes from the Old French "vicaire" (same root as vicarious) and means "substitute."

    Warlock comes from the Old English Waerloga, meaning "oath-breaker." It was a title given to Satan or a man practicing black magic. It has nothing to do with Witches and does not mean a male Witch.

    Most Wiccans don't use the term Witch any more because of its negative connotations and the fact that it doesn't mean what we want it to mean.

    For more information see our dictionary.


  3. Do you Pray? To whom do you pray?

    Some Witches pray (in the popular sense of the word), some don't. Some Witches regularly meditate on the Deities of their choice; some only invoke Deities to empower a ritual or to work Magic.

    As to who or what our Deities are, you will get nearly as many answers as there are Wiccans. The majority opinion seems to be that there is a transcendent Divine, the sum of all that is and that everything partakes of that Divinity. That Divinity is more than the human mind can encompass or experience, so the idea of Divinity is broken down into few or many "mind-sized" pieces. Just as one must look at the sun through a filter, one can only experience a piece of the Divine. These pieces are conceived of in many forms. One of the primary forms Divinity takes for us is the Goddess, the Divine Feminine. She can have many names and many aspects; some Wiccans worship only the nameless single Goddess, others worship Her under one, a few or all the names by which she has been known to the ancients: Ishtar, Diana, Ceridwen, Athena, Isis, Demeter and many more. In addition, the Goddess can be seen in three aspects: the Maiden (youth, self-sufficiency, often love), the Mother (nurturing, fulfillment), and the Crone / Wise Woman (wisdom, mystery, initiation, and death / rebirth). The Moon, the Sea, and the Earth can all be personified as Goddesses, although saying that Wiccans worship the Moon is like saying Christians worship a fish or a cross. Don't confuse symbols with reality.

    Most Wiccans include the Divine Male, the God, in their worship. Our God is not limited to the Father aspect, though there are Divine Fathers. The Sun is often personified as a God, as is plant life. The dying and reborn Grain God is common to nearly all agricultural myths. Most hunter societies also have a God of the hunt, the forest and animal life. Some name Him merely "the Horned One", others call him by the names he had of old: Dionysus, Odin, Pan, Cernunnos, Herne and many others.

    When we invoke Deities and/or manifest them in ourselves where do they come from? Are they somewhere "out there" and do they come in? Or are they inside us, in our psyches, and do they come out? Do we "put on" a Deity, or do we remove our shell of humanity to let the divinity show through? We do not pretend to have the ultimate answer. Deities may be archetypes, they may be nature spirits, they may be forces outside our ken. Who or whatever they are, they are. Our Deities are both transcendent ("out there") and immanent ("right here").


  4. How do you worship?

    There are as many ways of worship as there are traditions of the Craft. Most rituals involve consecration of the ritual space in some way ("Casting the Circle"), invocation of a Deity or Deities, and a communal meal. Rituals can include music and/or dancing, poetry, masquing and drama (often in enactments of myth), sometimes with props and special effects.

    In general form, casting a circle involves banishing any negative influences from the area and participants (a common way is by sweeping them away with a broom). Next the circle is "cut" (the boundaries are established) with a knife, sword or wand. Outdoors the boundary is often inscribed in the ground. The area and participants are consecrated by the four classical elements: air (thought), earth (purpose), fire (will) and water (emotion). Consecration usually takes the form of incense (for air and fire) and salted water (for water and earth). The Deities of the group are asked to attend and usually presence candles are lit to indicate Their presence.

    There are eight holidays or sabbats corresponding to agricultural or astronomical events. In addition, many traditions meet on the full or new moons. The sabbats are part of the Wheel of the Year and have specific seasonal meanings. The esbats (full or new moons) are usually general worship and social occasions. Frequently people will gather on esbats to work Magic for a person who needs it. Examples include finding a person a good home or job and healing.

    After any worship or Magical work has been done it is usual for food and drink to be blessed and shared by the participants. Regardless of the traditional title of "cakes and ale", many groups now use something other than an alcoholic beverage because some people cannot or do not choose to drink alcohol. Fruit juice is common.

    After the ritual the sacred space is returned to normal. Devoking a circle is the reverse of casting it: Deities are thanked for their attendance as are the elemental archetypes.


  5. Are you Satanists?

    There are at least two modern meanings to the word Satanist and the answers are no and no.

    To be what we might call the "traditional Satanist", one must believe in Satan. The Judeo-Christian devil does not appear in our pantheons. The popular image of the goat-hoofed, pointy-horned devil is a deliberate corruption by the early missionary church of the European Pagan Horned God, who has been depicted in Greece as Pan, and in ancient Gaul as Cernunnos (who is pictured having a stag's antlers).

    Our Horned God is neither evil nor a source of evil. He is the energy of nature, of plant and animal life, which energy manifests for people in music and dance, intoxication and ecstasy, and all joyous activities including love-making.

    As far as we can tell from their published materials, the "religious Satanists" (such as members of the Church of Satan) don't actually believe in Satan in the Christian sense, but do hold views that are quite opposed to ours in many ways. In general they don't think very highly of us and seem to be even more appalled at being confused with us than we are with being confused with them.

    Would you have asked the question if we were any other religious group?


  6. What are your ethics?

    We believe that life is essentially good, and creation and destruction are part of natural cycles. Evil is that which causes harm and/or decreases the joy in the world. The source of evil is not any kind of devil or demiurge, but human action (note: not human nature). Evil is also subjective: what is good for one may be evil for another and vice versa. For example, a man kills an antelope for food -- the antelope's death is bad to the antelope, but good to the man who must eat to live.

    All that we do is directed, first and foremost, by the One Law (If it harms none, do what you will) and the One Suggestion (Whenever possible act to increase the joy in the world). It is also directed in part by the Law of Threefold Return: what you give out returns to you threefold. If you work ill, threefold ill comes back to you. If you work good, threefold good comes back to you. Guess which is more fun.

    The Law of Threefold Return works because all systems on the planet are interconnected, all life is one. When imbalance is caused in one area, the whole system is thrown out of balance. Acts of evil cause imbalance. The One Law (also known as the Wiccan Rede) teaches us to work toward balance and harmony and to try to engender good. If a Wiccan does do harm it is that person's responsibility to clean up the mess.

    In particular, the One Law requires any form of love or sexual expression to be completely consensual. Most Wiccans view love and sexuality as sacred. Although Wiccan ethics are situational, it is very difficult to imagine a situation in which abuse of these things could be anything other than wrong. This includes so-called "love spells" that try to force your will on another person.

    "Even the wise cannot see all ends." For that reason it is a common belief that one may not perform any religious or magical action on behalf of another person without that person's explicit consent.


  7. Do you do animal / human sacrifices?

    No. Stealing life from another being fits within our definition of evil (see Ethics).

    Blood does its job best when it is inside its owner. Some people have been known to use a drop or two of their own blood in a ritual to demonstrate sincerity when the need was very great, but another's blood is not ours to give. None of our deities require blood sacrifices.

    We would earnestly suggest that anyone wishing to make a ritual gift of blood do so by visiting the local blood bank. In this way you are helping others at the same time.


  8. What is a familiar?

    Shamans have power animals, friendly spiritual entities who help the shaman to do magical work. Power animals have no physical existence in the every day world.

    The Wiccan term for a power animal is "familiar." Not all Wiccans have them and they can be of any species. If you see a black cat in a Wiccan's house it is a black cat in a Wiccan's house, not a familiar.

    This should be comforting news to Wiccans with pet allergies.


  9. Is Wicca a cult?

    Probably not in the way you mean it. There are six current definitions for the word cult.

    Most theologians prefer to avoid the word altogether because there are so many conflicting meanings.

    If the actual question is "will my daughter or husband or grandmother or parakeet be safe and sane if they join a Wiccan group?" the answer is "as safe as joining any other group of people." There is no central registry of all "true Wiccans" you can call to find out if the person whose group you are joining sincerely adheres to Wiccan beliefs and ethics, so intelligent caution is always in order as it would be when joining any group. It is difficult to understand how adherence to the One Law might be injurious and if you don't like the existing group you can always practice alone or form your own group.

    On second thought, many of us have cats so the parakeet might want to seek elsewhere.


  10. Do you have gurus / leaders / masters?

    Every Wiccan is his or her own Priest/ess. We need no intermediaries between us and Divinity; each of us can have our own personal "revelation." Mostly, the Craft is too diverse and anarchic to follow any one leader. We have no infallible leader, no Poobah, no dogma. Many of us have our own ideas about what the Craft should be and how it works. We can rarely agree on points of religion -- the idea of all of us agreeing to follow one person is manifestly absurd.

    Each Circle or Coven may have a High Priestess and/or High Priest, or it may be democratic and operate by consensus. There will always be people with leadership tendencies; these are people who tend to do outreach work, networking between Wiccan groups or outside the Craft, or even teaching.

    Unlike most other churches, the Covenant's ministers are simply trained resource people. They do not (as ministers) lead religious services or carry more weight than any other person in a meeting by virtue of their position.


  11. What do you think happens after death?

    Taxes stop. Usually.

    Seriously, the answer is that Wiccan belief on this point varies.

    Most of us believe in reincarnation of some sort or other. Some believe that between death and rebirth the soul undergoes some sort of transformation (for which there are a number of metaphors) to prepare it for rebirth. Others believe that the dead join the Blessed Ancestors, who watch over, protect and advise their descendants. Most Wiccans are honest enough to say, "We don't really know, and there isn't any way to know."


  12. What is magic? Does it work? How?

    If you are looking for cool special effects then you have come to the wrong place.

    Magic involves calling upon the Divine power manifest in each person to bring about some result. We believe that we can change our lives by spiritual as well as physical means. Very little is preordained, except that we will die some day. In the meantime many Wiccans do divination to find out the possible directions their lives might take and then act accordingly on the information.

    Magic works. We can't turn people into frogs or levitate tables by mind-power but we can work healing, change our lives for the better, and discover the workings and balance of the whole system. Our Wills are our tools. "Faith without works is meaningless," and we work in the world, too. We are active in our communities and for the environment, but we back up our actions with magical intent. It is a potent combination.


  13. Do you do black Magic?

    The nature of Magic, like any power, depends on how one uses it. In that sense there is no "white" or "black" Magic. In the general sense that Magic might be used for harm, remember that everything we do is tempered by the One Law.


  14. Do you cast spells?

    If by "spell" you mean doing a ritual designed to produce a specific result then yes. "The Power of Positive Thinking" is a spell by this definition. So is a Catholic priest saying mass for a sick person with the intent of asking God for healing. However, if you expect any eye of newt in our spells you'll be disappointed (good news for the newts).

    For us, spells and rituals are a matter of arranging elements to encourage a frame of mind conducive to working Magic. This may involve burning candles and/or incense, making talismans of stone, wood or paper, chanting rhymes, using herbs or essential oils, turning down the lights and playing some atmospheric music, or whatever works for the participants. Spell work is like praying in symbols rather than words.

    The Threefold Return works powerfully here. If someone wishes to curse someone else, the curser must first build up the curse within her/himself -- guess who gets to feel it first! Acts of healing, on the other hand, are acts of profound love, and the healer often finds her/himself healthier after healing someone else. It is always easier to cast a spell on oneself than on another.


  15. What are your holidays?
    • November 1, Samhain (pronounced Sow-en in Ireland (with "sow" to rhyme with "cow"), Sah-ven in Scotland).

      This is the Celtic new year. It is the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. At this time we gather to rejoice that we have survived another year and to honour those who have not. It is this association of communion with the dead that has led to the popular practice of Halloween. Samhain is not a Celtic god of the dead, despite novels by Ray Bradbury or the Ghostbusters cartoons. Samhain means November in Irish.

    • December 22, Yule (Midwinter).

      The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. At this time we celebrate the rebirth of the sun, after which the days begin to grow longer again. This holy day was adapted in Christmas along with many other Pagan customs: Yule logs, decorated trees, wassailing and giving presents.

    • February 1, Imbolc (Bríd's Day, pronounced Breed).

      Bríd (Brigid) is the Irish Goddess of wells, fire, healing, smithcraft and poetry. Bríd's Fire warms the Earth after Winter: This is the feast celebrating the returning light. This holy time is also called Candlemas.

    • 22 March, Ostara (pronounced Oh-star-ah).

      Named after the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the Dawn; origin of the word "Easter." This is the Vernal Equinox, Feast of Planting and Rebirth.

    • 1 May, Bealtaine (pronounced Byall-tan-ay).

      Also called May Day. Bealtaine is the Irish word for May. This is the first day of Spring, the beginning of the light half of the year. A feast of fertility and burgeoning life. For those with the facilities a bonfire is often lit.

    • 22 June, Litha / Midsummer.

      The Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. This is the Feast of the Sun or the Solar Hero; activities are mostly those to do with civilisation / culture. This is another fire festival.

    • August 1, Lughnasadh / Lammas (pronounced Loo-na-sa' or Lam-us).

      This is the Feast of Lugh, a Celtic hero / Deity. He undergoes a shamanic death / rebirth initiation. This is also the feast of the Barley God, who dies and is transformed into beer. Lammas is the Festival of the First Harvest.

    • September 22, Mabon (pronounced May-bon).

      This is the Celebration of the grain Harvest. It has its analogue in the American Thanksgiving which was originally a harvest festival.


  16. How many of you are there?

    In Canada the last census recorded about 6,000 people who identified themselves as Neo-Pagans. If the ratio is constant that would suggest about 60,000 in the U.S. This is in good agreement with the U.S. armed forces chaplain's manual which estimates about 50,000 in the U.S.

    Other reckonings estimate 200,000 Wiccans and/or Neo-Pagans in the U.S. alone.

    There are probably more Wiccans than the estimates indicate who are private about their religion for various reasons. Some feel that it is no one else's business what they believe, others fear persecution.


  17. Do you raise your children in this?

    Of course. All good parents wants what is best for their children and usually that means teaching the values and beliefs that have worked for them.

    Our equivalent of infant baptism (wiccaning) does not tie the infant to one religion because an infant cannot make informed decisions. Instead it asks for the blessings of the Deities and asks them to look out for the child until it can make up its own mind.


  18. How does one become a Wiccan?

    Some traditions of Wicca require family or tribal connection between members, most do not. In general you do not have to be born a Wiccan any more than you must be born a Christian or a Buddhist.

    You can become Wiccan by practicing Wicca. Read this web site, other web sites and books. Question the information you receive and make up your own mind. There are a lot of sources out there that rely more on good marketing than good information.

    If you are told that there is some special way that someone else has to make you Wiccan then ask yourself this question: How did the first Wiccan come into existance?

    Many people in the Craft have reported that when they first learned about Wicca it gave a name to something they had been doing on their own for some time.


  19. Books differ. Which way is right?

    There are many different traditions within Wicca and the one that's right for you is the one that's right for you. Here are some things I look for when I pick up a book on Wicca. Bear in mind that these are personal opinions. Caveat emptor.

    • Does the material have anything to do with real life? Wiccans should live in the world, not a fantasy land where nothing ever goes wrong and the orcas play with the dolphins.
    • Does the author give directions for any kind of "love" spell? So-called "love" spells usually try to force the other person to "love" you. At the least this is stalking. At the worst it is rape.
    • Does the author have a real name or is it something like "Argentum Pigeonfox?" If the latter, why does the author feel that such a name is necessary, bearing in mind that if an author wants to keep her real name secret she can use a pseudonym like "Dion Fortune?"

  20. How much does it cost to become a Wiccan?

    Lots and none at all.

    Adopting a new religion usually means making some changes in your life. These changes can be costly in terms of time and effort but if you feel that they are worth it then you will pay the cost.

    In terms of money, you don't need any physical items to practice the Craft. As with most other religions all that is really needed is devotion and heart.

    Having said that, many people have special items they use in their worship: A robe, a special chalice, various bought or handmade tools. The benefit of such items is that, in the words of Maxine Sanders, "when the kid sees the tea things laid he knows it's tea time." Incense, candles and clothing reserved for religious observances tell your mind that it is time to leave the cares of the world behind and concentrate on Deity. As such they are valuable aids.

    Such special tools can be found anywhere. Follow your instinct and if something appeals to you then use it. Anything used in a circle can be consecrated by the user. Beware of people who insist that you need to buy "specially prepared" tools at their store.

    Many, though not all, traditions forbid a teacher to charge students for their lessons, although asking for costs is usually allowed. See Choosing a Teacher for details.


  21. How can I find out more?

    There are a number of good books available on the various traditions of the Craft. Here are a few of them:

    • Drawing Down The Moon, Margot Adler, Beacon Press 1979/1986 ISBN 0-8070-3253
    • Witchcraft Today, Book One, The Modern Craft Movement, Chas Clifton, Llewellyn Publications, 1992 ISBN 0-87542-377-9
    • Witchcraft Today, Book Two, Rites Of Passage, Chas Clifton, Llewellyn Publications, 1993 ISBN 0-87542-378-7
    • Cunningham, Scott. Living Wicca.
    • Cunningham, Scott. Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner.
    • Anything by Janet Farrar/Stewart Farrar/Gavin Bone. Don't be put off by "The Witches' Bible Compleat". The title was chosen by the North American publisher. All of their books are good although "What Witches Do" by Stewart is now quite dated.

    You can also talk to your friendly neighbourhood Wiccan.


Bealtaine

This is one of the fire festivals, and the source of a lots of bawdy jokes and allusions. For example, "Hurray, Hurray, the first of May: Outdoor suiving starts today!" refers to making love outdoors. By the first of May in Europe, it's fairly safe to take your beloved out for a romantic encounter. Alas, here in Calgary, the first of May is not generally regarded in such a light. There is always the chance for another snowfall.

Be that as it may, Bealtaine is a fertility festival, to celebrate the spring planting and to ask the Deities to make this a fruitful and bounteous year, both of the fields and the domestic animals. It is also a time for weddings for the pagans of today.

Many people today seem to think that June is the marrying month, and indeed there seem to be more honking parades of gaily bedecked cars during June than any other month. But let's think back to our ancestors, and ask ourselves why early May is a good time to get married.

It is a lull time. The cows and other animals have given birth and ploughing and planting has just finished, or will be shortly. There isn't that much happening around the farmstead. People have time to celebrate.

A side effect of weddings is pregnancy. If a woman becomes pregnant at Bealtaine, then she will deliver in late January or early February. The hard work of harvest is over and the hard work of ploughing and planting is yet to come.

How was Bealtaine celebrated in those early days? We know that bonfires were built, usually on the top of a sacred hill or mound. Cattle and other livestock were driven between the fires, so that they might be blessed and be healthy and fruitful during the year. There was probably dancing and singing, and food and drink to be enjoyed. This was an all night celebration, with the youngsters being sent home after dark and the grown-ups continuing the party all night.

Bealtaine has the reputation of sexual licence, of being outside the normal bounds of social interaction. It seems not to have mattered who you were with on Bealtaine night. It might not have been your spouse. This is also where the weddings fit in, with newly married couples jumping the fire together and then going off to consummate the marriage.

Other couples jumped the fires together as well, to ask the blessing of Deity on themselves as they had asked for it for their livestock.

The Wheel mythology tells us that the God has now grown to young manhood and is married to the Goddess at Bealtaine. She becomes pregnant and so the Wheel turns.

Today, we jump the Bealtaine fires to ask for the blessing of Deity without the fertility of the body that our ancestors asked for. People jump with spouses, friends and to affirm commitments with others. We look forward to seeing the fields fill with grain and other foods, and to see the mighty trees leaf out in all their splendour.

Ostara

One of the astronomical Sabbats, held on the day of the Equinox. A slightly variable Sabbat, since the actual time of the equinox varies from year to year.

It is attributed to a Goddess, Eostre or Ostara, from whom the Christians supposedly took the name Easter. According to the Farrars' The Witches' Goddess, Ostara is a Teutonic Goddess who is a Maiden aspect of Earth. She may be related to Ishtar and Astarte.

In some traditions, this is the Festival of the Maiden, who at Bealtaine will marry the God who was born at Midwinter. Their union, and Her resulting pregnancy, brings fertility to the crops for the next year.

It is also a balance point in the year, where the hours of light and darkness are equal. There are some folk customs that indicate that our ancestors used the Fall and Spring Equinoxes to indicate the conflict between light and darkness. In Spring, the light wins and so the days become longer and summer will come. If the light lost, we would be trapped in winter. The Egyptians had a similar myth that described the battle that Ra must win with the Serpent Apep to allow his solar barge to rise in the morning.

Another myth describing the origin of Spring is the Greek one of Persephone. In this myth, winter is caused because Hades takes Persephone to his Realm as His Queen. Demeter, Persephone's mother, is distraught and swears that nothing will grow and the fields will be barren until Persephone is returned to her. Eventually she is returned and Demeter allows things to grow again. Each year the cycle of winter is repeated since Persephone ate some pomegranate seeds while in Hades's Realm. To eat a meal in that Realm means that one must stay forever. Persephone argues that the amount she ate wasn't a full meal, so she shouldn't have to stay there all the time. It is a myth of the coming of age of a young girl to the status of womanhood, despite the actions of her mother to keep her a child.

The symbolism of the eggs, chicks and bunnies that one associates with Easter today may be hold overs from earlier times. According to the Farrar's Witches' Bible I: The Sabbats, the eggs represent the World Egg, coming from the Goddess and kept warm and hatched by the light of the Sun God.

Other festivals around this time are:

Dionysus Festival -- March 16 -- A two day festival to promote the grape harvest.

Summer Finding -- March 23 -- Norse festival acknowledging the power of the sun having become greater than the darkness.

At any rate, the Equinox is a time when spring is on its way, the rigours of winter are past and one can see the buds on the trees swelling. Summer is on the way.

Imbolg

In Celtic countries, this Sabbat is dedicated to Brigid (Bríd or Bride are alternate spellings). She is called a daughter of the Dagda (the Good God) and may have originally been three goddesses, all daughters of the Dagda with three different wives. In Christian lore she became Saint Brigid, the midwife of Mary and foster Mother to Jesus. The Saint also has the same triple identity as the goddess. This is not the familiar Maiden, Mother, Crone trio, but more like three sisters or women of similar age.

She is goddess of the field and the smithy, the hearth, bardic inspiration and child bed. She is the goddess of civilisation, of villages, not of cities. She is present in the fire on the hearth and Her aid is asked in banking those fires overnight. Relighting a fire is not easy and it would be feared that Bríd's protection had been withdrawn from the house if the fire went out. It could also be fatal in the depths of winter.

In the Christian tradition, this is also the time when Mary goes to the Temple to be purified after giving birth with the Saint walking before her with candles that keep burning the wind. The goddess's sanctuary in Kildare near Dublin became a Christian shrine and nunnery until the Dissolution in the 1500's. The abbey was re-established. The fire that burned for many years was rekindled about two or three years ago on February 1. And since then, the "troubles" in Northern Ireland have receded.

This time of year is also when the amount of daylight is noticeably increased, letting people know that spring is really going to come. At midwinter, one only knows that the low point has been reached, but by this time, everything is gearing up for spring. In Ireland and Britain, this is really the start of spring, not as we experience it up here, with another two months (if we're lucky) of winter still to come. Lambing and calving are beginning, buds are growing on the trees and the grass is starting to grow. By Ostara, flowers that now start to poke up out of the ground will be up and blooming.

Other names for this Sabbat include Candlemas and Imbolg (Imbolc). As well, Groundhog day shares this time of year. At Candlemas, the candles to be used to light the house during the year will be blessed. All these festivals concern the approach of spring and the increasing day length. The candles used in this Sabbat reflect the growing power of the light. This Sabbat can be a time of initiation, of new beginnings. Many people do take time to either make vows or to renew them. In our modern culture, the New Year's resolutions may be a remnant of that practice.

Witch's Goddess, Farrar and Farrar.

Celtic Myth and Legend Poetry and Romance, Charles Squire.

Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom, John and Caitlin Matthews

Litha

Midsummer is one of the four astronomical Sabbats, along with midwinter Solstice (Yule), and the two Equinoxes (Spring and Fall). Various traditions call Midsummer by differing names, but Litha is one that seems to be used locally by a number of peoples.

Midsummer is the height of the sun's power, the longest day of the year. In some traditions coming from northern Europe, the Oak King and the Holly King share the year, changing at midwinter and midsummer. The Oak King reigns from Yule to Litha, the period of growth and expansion while the Holly King rules the other half of the year, the period of withdrawal and rest. In most versions of their tales, they are brothers who fight to gain ascendancy over the world. Despite the fact that one is considered "light" and the other "dark", neither is "good" or "evil" in the Christian sense. They are both necessary for completeness.

One cannot forget that Litha marks the height of the sun's power. After this day, the days' length starts that slow decline into winter. It also marks the mature manhood of the God born at Midwinter who marries the Goddess at Bealtaine. Soon he will fade into his dotage and die at Samhain.

Nearer the equator, this is a less important holiday, since there is not the scale of the seasons that occur further north. The closer one gets to the equator, the less difference there is between day length at midwinter and midsummer. At the equator, it is 12 hours all year long, give or take a minute or two. According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the day length at Ottawa is 15:40 hours at midsummer and 8:44 at midwinter. We are north of them by a fair margin and the time of twilight (about three hours at midsummer) extends the "day" even further.

How did our ancestors celebrate? Some didn't bother going to sleep. The Long Dance, as some call it, celebrates the power of the sun in dance, song and contests. In The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin, she describes the Long Dance on the open Sea and how the people believed that the song and dance must continue for the whole night. If it did not then great disaster would befall the people. Our ancestors have done similar things through the ages.

Getting up to watch the sun rise at midsummer is easier if one hasn't been to bed yet. Give it a try this year. The whole world seems a quieter and more magical place at four in the morning.

References:

Old Farmer's Almanac.

The Witch's God, Farrar and Farrar, Phoenix Publishing, ISBN 0-919345-47-6

The Farthest Shore, Ursula K. LeGuin, Bantam Books.

Lughnasad

This is the beginning of harvest, time to thank the Deities for a successful year and to celebrate. This is one of the Cross-Quarters, the date set by convention to August 1.

In our ancestors' time, there were limited means of storing produce, so fruits had to be dried or pickled, grain harvested and stacked in shocks, hay piled in stacks and the cows allowed to graze among the stubble. This was a crucial time of year. If you don't have enough stored away, you might starve this winter. Today we have markets year round and there isn't much danger of not having food this winter if you don't store things away. Yet there is something about watching one's freezer and cold room fill with yummy things to brighten the winter doldrums.

In harvesting the grain fields, a common method was for a group of farmers to join forces, since harvesting is hard work and there may be some specialised equipment that would make the job easier, but the equipment is too expensive for each farmer to own it. Such co-operative efforts still exist in rural Wales. The horse drawn reaper was owned by one and the group would gather to help each other harvest in turn.

The fields are harvested toward a corner, not the back and forth, or round and round methods we see with mechanised farming today. The rationale is that the fertility of the ground is in the grain. By harvesting toward a corner, the fertility is concentrated in the last stems. These are harvested carefully to bring the fertility with them. This is the origin of the Corn Dolly or the Corn Maiden, where the last of the grain is formed into a roughly humanoid figure and treated as an honoured guest at the feast that marks the end of the harvest. Today Corn Dollies are made in many elaborate shapes, from humanoid figures to cornucopias and fans. In order to ensure that the fertility returns to the fields, the Corn Dolly is burned in the Bealtaine Fire and the ashes scattered on the fields.

This also the time of John Barleycorn, the subject of song and story. He is a form of the Vegetative or Green God, who is dies and is reborn each year. He is the male form of the Corn Maiden. He is born, grows to manhood and is killed as the grain is harvested. He is transformed, however, after the harvest: he becomes bread and more importantly to our ancestors -- beer.

What can we do at Lammas? Consider growing your own grain, in a part of your garden, so that it will be the last thing you harvest and making a Corn Maiden. Or donate part of your garden's produce to some place like the food bank or a shelter for women or the homeless. Although many people donate to such places at Christmas, it is perhaps more appropriate for us to give to these charities at Lammas, the time of harvest and plenty.

Welsh Folk Customs, Trefor M. Owen.

Little Sir Hugh, a folk-song adapted by Steeleye Span.

Mabon

One of the astronomical Sabbats, held on the day of the Equinox. A slightly variable Sabbat, since the actual time of the equinox varies from year to year.

It is the time of the completion of the harvest, when all grain harvesting is finished at the homestead and the work shifts to that of the winter months. The fruits of the harvest are dried or stored and thus it is a time of celebration.

It is also a balance point in the year, where the hours of light and darkness are equal. There are some folk customs that indicate that our ancestors used the Fall and Spring Equinoxes to indicate the conflict between light and darkness. In Fall, the darkness wins and so the days become shorter and winter will come.

It is associated with the god Mabon, a Welsh deity with a sort of Persephone-like story, except that he was stolen from his mother (Modron) at the age of three days and she wept and the earth was barren until he was returned to her. His name means "Great Son" and he became a great hunter, with a swift horse, Gwynn Mygdwn, and a wonderful hound, Drudwyn. He is a solar deity, who becomes associated with the Arthur legends and is rescued from imprisonment by Arthur and his knights and helps them in return with their quests. Involved in the rescue is a series of challenges, including asking the oldest animals if they know Mabon's location. The Ousel of Cilgwri, the Stag of Redynvre, the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd, the Eagle of Gwern Abwy and finally the Salmon of Llyn Llyw are consulted before he is found. This type of searching story is common to Celtic tales and may be part of the original story then incorporated into the Arthurian tapestry.

In Spiral Dance, Starhawk uses this sabbat as a time of change in one's life. As the group dances, things that aren't wanted are shouted out. The phrase is echoed by the group and then another phrase is shouted. A banishing Cone of Power eliminates all these unwanted things. After that, cords are made with natural materials, shells, seeds, stones, are made, incorporating the things that people want in their lives.

Scott Cunningham recommends something similar, in which the person admits that they have done things and there has been a return of energy. One then asks the Deities to aid in only doing things that have love and joy as their basis, not misery or hate.

A Witches Bible Part I: The Sabbats -- Farrar and Farrar

Celtic Myth and Legend Poetry and Romance -- Charles Squire

Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom -- John and Caitlin Matthews

Spiral Dance -- Starhawk

Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner -- Scott Cunningham

Samhain

In Celtic belief, this is the beginning of the year. It is the last of the Fire Festivals and the time when the final tallies of supplies are made for the winter. In Celtic countries it is the time when the pig herds are thinned and the meat preserved for winter meals. Hunting season also begins, since the deer and wild boar have raised their young to self sufficiency. Any crop not harvested by Samhain is left for the Pookas. In modern Craft, it seems that many traditions and groups use a Celtic based ritual to celebrate this Sabbat.

Samhain is also a time of mourning. In an agricultural setting, the people might not have leisure to fittingly mourn those who have died during the year. As the festival of the dead, we remember all who have died and make peace with our loss. The jack-o-lanterns that we put out today to guide children to the candy seems to have originated as lights to guide the souls of the dead to the Land of Summer. In the days before pumpkins, candles were placed in hollowed out turnips. In those times, this was a more fearsome festival then it is today. Many pranks and tricks were played as late as the early years of this century, such as placing an outhouse on top of a barn. Such were attributed to the Little People, but today more people are worried about rumours that someone has put razor blades into the apples they are giving to the children.

In many groups, this Festival is an opportunity to see beyond the Veil, into the Other World. scrying is said to work well at this time and there is also the chance to communicate with those who have entered the Other World through death. Starhawk uses the thinning of the Veil to do a journey to the Isle of Apples to meet with the Lord of the Underworld and to scry for the coming year.

Scott Cunningham adds that at Samhain, one can ask the Gods to remove something, be it a bad habit, a disease, or perhaps an emotion. Write the offending thing on a piece of paper. Burn the paper and let those things you wish to lose be removed by the fire. Keep the paper small if you are indoors and there are lots of people, otherwise smoke alarms may add unwanted excitement to the ritual.

Cunningham also reminds people that it is a good idea to remember those who have died at this time, but don't try to bring them back for a seance. The soul may have been reborn and so the summoning would cause harm to the new incarnation. Leaving a meal out for them or having a Dumb Supper to honour them is appropriate. Another possible activity is to scry back in your own past lives, to see who and what you have been. And remember that you may have been a tree or an animal in the past, not just a human being.

Spiral Dance, Starhawk, Harper San Francisco ISBN 0-06-2508140-8

Wicca and the Solitary Practitioner, Scott Cunningham, Llewellyn, ISBN 0-87542-118-0

The Family Wicca Book, Ashleen O'Gaea, Llewellyn, ISBN 0-87542-591-7

The Witch's Book of Fairies, Edwin McCoy, Llewellyn, ISBN 0-87542-733-2

Yule

Yule is the nadir of the sun's power, the shortest day of the year. In some traditions coming from northern Europe, the Oak King and the Holly King share the year, changing at midwinter and midsummer. The Oak King reigns from Yule to Litha, the period of growth and expansion while the Holly King rules the other half of the year, the period of withdrawal and rest. In most versions of their tales, they are brothers who fight to gain ascendancy over the world. Despite the fact that one is considered "light" and the other "dark", neither is "good" or "evil" in the Christian sense. They are both necessary for completeness.

Many peoples in the Northern Hemisphere kept track of the winter solstice and celebrated the time when the days started to get longer. There is still the rest of the winter to endure, but the people knew that the spring would come. Eventually.

In many cultures this is a time of feasting and celebration. In general, by this point in the winter, one has a good idea of the severity and how the stocks of food correspond to the needs of the group. The fires of the hearth are allowed to go out on this night and are re-lit from the sacred fire kindled by the priestess or priest from the first of the sun's rays. Modern churches echo this by having candlelight services, where one is given a candle during the service and tries to get it home without going out. With a candle lantern or other container, it can be accomplished. Our ancestors would have lit the hearth fire from that sacred fire. Today we can lit pilot lights on furnaces, stoves and water heaters.

Kindling your own sacred fire from the first rays of the sun can become a family tradition. A magnifying glass, a steady hand and some tinder is all that is really necessary. Focus the light through the magnifying glass on to the tinder and have more things ready to add to the fire. You'll need a fairly large magnifying glass (approximately 4 inches in diameter) and patience. IF the day is cloudy, use other methods. (Flick the Bic only as a last resort.)

The Yule log can also be incorporated into the modern pagan's celebration. One custom of the Yule log is that it can't be purchased. It can be a gift, or cut from one's own land. Much is made of the log when it is brought into the house and it should be ritually purified and libations of food and drink poured or scattered over it. Part of the log should be saved to help light next year's log. In Northern Europe, oak was the preferred wood.

One of the oldest holidays at this time of year is Saturnalia from Rome. The Roman calendar had several intercalary days, when normal society was turned upside down. there were feasts and frolic and the Lord of Misrule reigned over all.

References:

WiccaCraft for Families, Margie McArthur, Phoenix, ISBN 0-919345-52-2.

The Golden Bough, Sir James George Frazer, MacMillan and other publishers.


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