Traditional Wicca - Class 1

What is Wicca? What is paganism? Wiccan Ethics • Misconceptions
(Rev. 8/9/01)

Before beginning with Class 1 we recommend that you read the following pages first:

“What is Wicca?”

“Frequently Asked Questions”


1. Origin of word "Wicca":

The Oxford Unabridged Dictionary provides us with a variety of examples of early spellings and uses of the word "witch". Study of Old English shows us that consistency in spelling and word usage was slow in developing, and some variations of any given word may be found only once in old documents.
The word "witch" was spelled many ways including: wych, wice, wic, wyc, wyche, weyche, wich, wicca, wiccian, wytche, wysshyn, wycchyn, wycca, witche, wiech, weche, weach, vytche, vyche and weech.

Other words found using the root word of "wych" are:

"wicca" A wizard, soothsayer, sorcerer, magician
"wicce" A witch, sorceress
"wicce-craeft" Sorcery, magic art
"Wicce-dom" Witchcraft, sorcery, magic
"Wiccian" To practice witchcraft

The word wicca was originally pronounced "wich-a" and would have pertained to an action or a person performing and action (witch-er) rather than applying to a religion. Gerald Gardner chose the word "wicca" (and pronounced it wik-a) as the name for his newly created religion.

The Teutonic prefix of "wik-" means to bend, and is applied generally to various forms of trees which have pliable branches. These would include trees whose branches were used to bake bows such as the "Wych Elm". Other pliable trees include "Witch-wood" (Mountain Ash or rowan-tree), witch alder, and witch hazel. These are all so named because of the flexibility of their branches. As far as we are able to determine the people who came to be called "witches" were so named because of their use (or supposed use) of various pliable branches in their work. Use of a branch for "witching" water (a divining rod used for finding underground water sources), for example, pertains first to the use of a flexible branch for the process, and only later to the person using the branch.

2. Origin of the religion of Wicca:

Gerald Gardner is said to have studied with, and been initiated by witches who had been practicing in England for several generations. The actual truth and details of his background have been the subject of much speculation and are probably known only to those who personally studied with him. Gardner created what we know as "Wicca" by drawing rituals and traditions from many sources, and incorporating both folk magic and ceremonial magic.

In 1949 Gerald Gardner wrote a book entitled, "High Magic's Aid" which is a novel about a coven of witches, and in 1954 he published, "Witchcraft Today", which is a non-fiction book on the history and practice of witchcraft. He had suspected that his was the only coven in existence, but after his books came out he began receiving letters from other witches from all over the world. Today covens descended from Gardner's original coven can be found in many countries. All covens which we call "traditional Wicca" trace their lineage to Gerald Gardner. Most solitary practitioners of Wicca and eclectic Wiccan groups also (sometimes only loosely) base their practices on the religion designed by Gardner.

3. Meaning of paganism and neo-paganism:

The Latin: Paganus - is generally thought to mean "a country dweller, a peasant or countryman." The earliest use of the word referred to country people outside the city of Rome who refused to join the Roman army. It gradually came to mean anyone not keeping up with the beliefs and changes in the progressive city of Rome, and then eventually it was applied to anyone not of the most modern religions. Today most people define "pagan" as someone who is not Christian, Jewish or Muslim, and/or more specifically someone who follows a polytheistic religion such aboriginal Australians, the Kogi of South American, and many other indigenous, tribal peoples including many native American tribes.

We call modern Earth religions, such as Wicca, which borrow early polytheistic religions, "neo-pagan" to differentiate them from the pagan religions who's practices have changed little since pre-Judeo/ Christian times.

4. What traditional Wicca is:

The religion of Wicca has several components which most all be present for it to be traditional Wicca.

a. Spirituality:

Wicca is a way of life and a way of relating to the world around us. Wicca provides a way for each individual to find his or her best way of relating to deity. We acknowledge a force in nature which is around us and within us, but not above us or "in charge" of us. Wicca enables to see the beauty and the magic in everything we sense and do. Wicca is about developing relationships with the gods, goddesses and elements for a better understanding of how we can work with them to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

b. Enlightenment:

Traditional Wicca is an initiatory mystery religion - based on the ideas found in the ancient mystery schools. Mysteries can not be taught, lectured about, written down or explained. The mysteries of life can only be understood through experience and revelation. We are on a constant quest for answers and explanations to questions such as: "Who are we?", "Why are we here?", "What is our place in the grand scheme of things?", "What does reincarnation mean to us?"
The purpose of a mystery school is to create an atmosphere which can enable the student to come to a certain understanding of the. There are no guarantees. The level of understanding a student achieves will depend on many factors not within the teacher's control.

Wiccans are not afraid to question anything and everything about the world around them, and best of all, we do not feel a need to find the "one and only true right answer". Answers lead to more questions, which leads to more meditation, and more enlightenment. We never stop learning. We believe that the greater our understanding of nature, the better able we are to work with the energies found there. Enlightenment is not a goal - it is an on-going process.

c. Magic:

We use the energies around us to strengthen the power within ourselves. We do not use this power for "power over" others, we use this power to help ourselves, the Earth, and others in positive, non-harmful ways. We believe that the ability to do magic is a gift from the gods which must not be abused. In return for this gift we must always do what we can to help and preserve Nature.

d. Responsibility:

Practicing Wicca means accepting responsibility for one's own choices and actions. Whether the action is a working of magic, teaching magic to a student, raising a child, driving a car or writing a book we muse be aware of the consequences of all that we do and always be thinking ahead. Traditional Wiccans do not look to blame others when things go wrong in the world around them. They look for the lessons in all things and apply what they learn to all that they do.

e. Lineage:

While Wicca can be practiced in a traditional manner without Lineage, it is the Lineage to Gardner that ensures that a tradition of Wicca is being taught and carried on by initiated witches who were initiated by witches who were initiated by witches…and so forth…directly back to Gardner himself, and thereby better assuring that at least some of original flavor and intent of Gardner's Wicca is present.

4. What is not Wicca:

Unfortunately as Wicca has become more and more popular the practice of it has moved further and further away from the original practices and beliefs of Gardner and his followers. Movies, television shows and the Internet have caused an enormous influx of young people who believe that becoming a witch or a Wiccan is a matter of just declaring yourself so.

Calling yourself a witch to shock friends and relatives is NOT the making of a good Wiccan. Dungeons and Dragons, UFO's, Ouija Boards, seances, hanging out in grave yards, and communing with the spirits of the dead are not what Wicca is about. We do invite our loved ones who have passed over to visit with us at Samhain, but ghost hunting and summoning spirits is not part of Wicca. Wiccans sometimes dabble in these things for fun, but they should not be interwoven in Wiccan rituals.
The Christian Bible and Jesus are NOT part of Wiccan theology. It is not possible to be both Christian and Wiccan at the same time. While Christians may dabble in witchcraft it is not possible to serve the gods of Christianity and the Old Gods at the same time.

Wicca is NOT a fantasy world where you can expect to escape from all your problems, nor is it a Twelve Step program for solving your problems. Sure, everyone has problems, and developing spirituality may help. It is not fair, however, to join a coven and make your problems the center of attention. Remember the personal responsibility aspect of Wicca.

Wicca is NOT about putting curses or hexes on people. Wicca is about helping, not harming. The Three-Fold-Law makes this very clear, and all Wiccans are harmed when someone claiming the title of, "Wiccan" goes around threatening others with their ability to do witchcraft.

5. Ethics:

Ethics consist of standards of conduct combined with moral judgment and moral philosophy. There is no one set of morals or ethics which can apply to all people at all times in history. Ethics are very much based on local and current standards. Traditional Wiccans are expected to have an above average level of common sense and therefore they should not need a long, detailed list of laws and rules, but there are certain customs which most traditional Wiccans hold to, on which we will elaborate in future lessons. Common sense is the strongest guide for human as well as Wiccan ethics. As an added guide in Wicca we have the Wiccan Rede and The Law of Threefold Return (also called the Three-Fold Law).

a. Three-fold law:

The Three-fold law reminds us to think before we act, and this means in all things we do and say, not only when we do deliberate magical acts.

Ever mind the Rule of Three
Three times what thou givest returns to thee
This lesson well, thou must learn,
Thee only gets what thou dost earn!

b. Wiccan Rede:

“An it harm none, do what ye will”

There are several long poems which are sometimes referred to as the Wiccan Rede, but the Rede itself is actually just those simple words above. The definition of “rede” is “advice” or “counsel”, and bids all Wiccans to: “Think before you speak and act.” The rede is simple, but at the same time can take years of study and meditation to understand fully.

A long version purported to be written by Dorren Valiente can be found here.

This poem, sometimes erroneously called the “Wiccan Rede”, was transmitted by Lady Gwen Thompson, founder of The New England Coven of Tradionalist Wicca, and first published in Green Egg Magazine Vol III #69, 1975. The author is said to be Lady Thompson's grandmother, Adriana Porter, written originally in 1910 (however, there is some skepticism surrounding its date and origin).

Rede of the Wiccae - Being known as the Counsel of the Wise Ones

1. Bide the Wiccan laws ye must in perfect love and perfect trust
2. Live and let live, fairly take and fairly give.
3. Cast the Circle thrice about to keep all evil spirits out
4. To bind the spell every time, let the spell be spake in rhyme.
5. Soft of eye an light of touch, speak little, listen much
6. Deosil go by the waxing moon, sing an dance the Wiccan Rune.
7. Widdershins go when Moon doth wane, An the werewolves howl by the dread wolfsbane.
8. When the Lady's moon is new, kiss the hand to her times two.
9. When the moon rides at her peak, then your heart's desire seek.
10. Heed the North wind's mighty gale, lock the door and trim the sail
11. When the wind comes from the South, love will kiss thee on the mouth.
12. When the wind blows from the East, expect the new and set the feast.
13. When the West wind blows o'er thee Departed spirits restless be.
14. Nine woods in the cauldron go, burn them fast and burn them slow.
15. Elder be ye Lady's tree, burn it not or cursed ye'll be.
16. When the wheel begins to turn, let the Beltane fires burn.
17. When the wheel hath turned a Yule, light the log and let Pan rule.
18. Heed ye flowers, bush an tree, by the Lady blessed be.
19. Where the rippling waters go, cast a stone and truth ye'll know.
20. When ye have need, harken not to others greed
21. With the fool no season spend, or be counted as his friend.
22. Merry meet and merry part, bright the cheeks and warm the heart.
23. Mind ye Threefold law ye should, three times bad an three times good.
24. When misfortune is enow, wear the blue star on thy brow.
25. True in love ever be, unless thy lover's false to thee.
26. Eight words the Wicca Rede fulfill, 'An it harm none, do what ye will.'

I do not know the author of this rede-related poem. If anyone knows please e-mail me so I can give proper attribution.

Bide the Wiccan Law Ye must
In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill
In it harm none, do what Ye will
What Ye sends forth comes back to thee
So ever mind the Rule of Three
Follow this with mind and heart
And Merry Ye Meet, and Merry Ye Part.

6. Misconceptions:

Most of the misconceptions about Wicca up until the 1990's stemmed from the stereotype of witches and witchcraft passed down for centuries through church teachings. We were, and still are accused by some of sacrificing animals and babies, worshiping Satan or the devil, putting hexes on people, and other ridiculous things.

There are also those who accuse Wiccans of being "phonies" because the are sure that Wiccans themselves believe they are following an intact, ancient pagan religion. This misconception While this may have been the belief of some Wiccans many years ago, most are now well aware of the origins of the religion and set the record straight when confronted with such accusations.

Our greatest defense is to live as decent human beings and show the world that we are not like the stereotypes.

While a lot of the misconceptions Wiccans have to deal with are held by those of other religions, but we also have to contend with misconceptions held by some claiming to be Wiccans themselves. We'll address some of them here:

• Wicca is a religion which includes the worship of pre-Christian pagan gods, yet some people claim to be atheist Wiccans or even Christian Wiccans. Now atheists and Christians can certainly practice witchcraft if they want to, but Wicca is a neo-pagan religion involving connecting with pre-Christian deities. Christ is considered, by Christians to be a savior or messiah. There is no such concept in Wicca. To advance in traditional Wicca involves dedicating one's self completely to the old gods. To the pagans of old the gods were individuals - each with his or her own personality and responsibilities and traits. They were not "aspects" of one god-head, nor were all goddesses aspects of one goddess or all gods aspects of one god. To get to know the gods on the level required for advancement in traditional Wicca a student must respect the gods as individuals and get to know them as such. Traditional Wiccans recognize the importance of working with gods and goddesses who are part of the same pantheon.

• For years Wiccans have claimed that there were nine million people put to death during the middle ages for the crime of witchcraft. Newest studies of original trial transcripts puts the number closer to one hundred thousand. Traditional Wiccans should make every attempt to study the latest and most reliable archaeological and historical information on the craft to avoid carrying outdated information forward.

• Somewhere along the line Wiccans have come to believe that Wicca is an, "anything goes" religion. While indeed there is much leeway in how one practices Wicca, there are still basic tenets which must be present, and others which must not be included or the practice ceases to be recognizable as Wicca. Traditional Wiccans need to understand the meaning of the word "tradition" and understand the significance of tradition and how traditions are carried forward. Wicca remains traditional only when it retains the significant elements included in it by Gerald Gardner and other early practitioners.

7. Keeping a journal:

If you don't have a journal or a diary this is a good time to start one. You should get in the habit of writing in it every day, even if its only a line or two. You can use it for recording your dreams, what you learn about nature, your encounters with the gods and elements, poetry, and anything else you like. Its especially interesting to write down your thoughts on Wicca and the gods so you can go back in a year and see how far you have come.


1. Reading assignment: Beaufort House Index of English Traditional Witchcraft

2. Write a few paragraphs on why you believe traditional Wicca should be preserved.