Historical roots: Witchcraft is the ancient Pagan faith of Europe. This nature-oriented, agricultural, magical religion had no central organisation, but was passed through families. During the Christian era, particularly after the beginning of the systematic persecution of Witches in 1484, almost all the public expression of the Craft disappeared. Surviving in hidden and isolated places, Witchcraft has made a comeback in the twentieth century, partially spurred by the repeal of the last British Witchcraft Laws in 1951.
Current World Leadership: No central authority. Many Witches have, however, affiliated with the American Council of Witches, formed in 1974, to provide a structure for co-operation and mutual sharing.
Origins in the U.S.: Brought to the U.S. in the 17th century by immigrants from Europe. Since then, many Witches from many ethnic and national traditions have brought their religious practises to the New World. It survived in the isolation of rural settings and the anonymity in the city. The 1960's saw a significant revival of the Craft, and many Witches and "Covens" (local groups) became at least partially public. Many discovered others of like mind through the emerging Pagan press. A meeting in Minneapolis formed the American Council of Witches (1974) and a statement entitled "Principles of Wiccan Beliefs" was adopted.
Number of Adherents in the U.S.: Unknown: Between 10,000 and 100,000.
Organizational Structure: The basic structure is the Coven (local group) with 5 to 50 members (ideally 12-15) led by a High Priestess or High Priest. The Priest and/or Priestess derives authority from initiation by another Witch. Some Covens are tied together in fraternal relationships and acknowledge authority of a Priestess or Priest from whom orders are derived. Many are totally autonomous.
Leadership and Role of Priestess and/or Priest: The High Priestess and/or High Priest has authority for the Coven. Witches pass through three degrees as they practise the Craft: acknowledges one as a full member of the Coven and initiates the process of mastering the skills of a Witch; recognizes growth in ability and admits one to all the inner secrets; and admits one to the priesthood.
Who may conduct Worship services?: A High Priestess or Priest.
Is group worship required?: No, but it is encouraged.
Worship requirements: None, but Witches are expected to practise their faith, which includes mastering magick, ritual, and psychic development and the regular worship of the Wiccan Deities.
Minimum Requirements for Worship: The athame, or ritual knife; the pentacle, a metal disc inscribed with magical symbols; a chalice; and a sword. Various traditions will demand other items.
Facilities for Worship: Witches worship within a magick circle that is inscribed on the ground or the floor. The circle should be located so as to insure the privacy of the rituals.
Other Specific Religious Requirements other than Worship (see above): None.
Dietary Laws or Restrictions: None.
Special Religious Holidays: The four great festivals are seasonal: Spring Equinox, March 21; Summer Solstice,or Midsummer, June 21; Autumn Equinox, September 21; Yule, or Winter Solstice, December 22
These are joined by four cross festivals related to the agricultural and herd-raising year: Candlemas, February 2; May Eve, or Beltane, April 30; Lammas, July 31; Hallowe'en, October 31
Besides these eight, most Wiccan groups meet either weekly or bi-weekly (on the full and new moon).
Funeral and Burial Requirements: Practices vary widely. In case of death, the Coven to which the Witch belongs should be contacted.
Cremation: Many prefer it, but the local Coven should be consulted.
Autopsy: Generally no restrictions.
Medical Treatment: No restrictions.
Uniform Appearance Requirements: None are proscribed.
Position on Service in the Armed Forces: No official stance. Many witches are presently military personnel, while others are conscientious objectors, derived, from the generally pro-life stance of Wicca.
Is a Priest or Priestess required at time of death?: No.
Any practices or teaching that may conflict with military directives or practices: None, generally, though individual covens may have some. The local Coven should be contacted if specific questions arise.
Basic teachings and beliefs: Underlying agreements are summed up in the "Principles of Wiccan Beliefs" adopted by the American Council of Witches. Specific expressions of beliefs will vary widely, due to the ethnic roots or the traditions of the individual covens.
Creedal statements and/or authoritative literature (see also Basic belief): All Witches use two books, a Grimoire, or book of spells and magical procedures, and a book of shadows, or book of ritual. Each Coven will use a different grimoire and/or book of shadows.
Ethical practices: Wiccan ethics are summed up in the Law called the Wiccan Rede, "An Ye Harm None, Do As Ye Will".
How does Witchcraft recruit new members?: Witches do not proselytize, but they welcome inquiries from those who hear about the Craft by either word of mouth or the media.
Relationship with other religions: Co-operations with the whole pagan community is very high. Relations with other religions are cordial, except those groups which have sought to persecute or defame the Craft.