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ADDRESS: No central address. Wiccan worship groups, called
covens, are essentially autonomous. Many, but far from all, have
Covenant of the Goddess
P.O. Box 1226
Berkeley, CA 94704
OTHER NAMES BY WHICH KNOWN: Witchcraft; Goddess worshippers;
Neo-Paganism, Paganism, Norse (or any other ethnic designation)
Paganism, Earth Religion, Old Religion, Druidism, Shamanism.
Note: All of these groups have some basic similarities and many
surface differences of expression with Wicca.
LEADERSHIP: No central leadership. The Covenant of the Goddess
annually elects a First Officer and there is a constitutional
limit of two consecutive terms, but in practice officers have
almost always served for one year only. In 1991, there are two
co-First Officers, Phoenix Whitebirch and Brandy Williams.
MEMBERSHIP: Because of the complete autonomy of covens, this
cannot be determined. There are an estimated of 50,000 Wiccans
in the United States.
HISTORICAL ORIGIN: Wicca is a reconstruction of the Nature
worship of tribal Europe, strongly influenced by the living
Nature worship traditions of tribal peoples in other parts of the
world. The works of such early twentieth century writers as
Margaret Murray, Robert Graves and Gerald B. Gardner began the
renewal of interest in the Old Religion. After the repeal of the
anti-Witchcraft laws in Britain in 1951, Gardner publicly
declared himself a Witch and began to gather a group of students
In 1962, two of his students Raymond and Rosemary Buckland
(religious names: Lady Rowen and Robat), emigrated to the United
States and began teaching Gardnerian Witchcraft here. At the
same time, other groups of people became interested through
reading books by Gardner and others. Many covens were
spontaneously formed, using rituals created from a combination of
research and individual inspiration. These self-created covens
are today regarded as just as valid as those who can trace a
"lineage" of teaching back to England.
In 1975, a very diverse group of covens who wanted to secure
the legal protections and benefits of church status formed
Covenant of the Goddess (CoG), which is incorporated in the State
of California and recognized by the Internal Revenue Service.
CoG does not represent all, or even a majority of Wiccans. A
coven or an individual need not be affiliated with CoG in order
to validly practice the religion. But CoG is the largest single
public Wiccan organization, and it is cross-Traditional (i.e.
BASIC BELIEFS: Wiccans worship the sacred as immanent in Nature,
often personified as Mother Earth and Father Sky. As
polytheists, they may use many other names for Deity.
Individuals will often choose Goddesses or Gods from any of the
world's pantheons whose stories are particularly inspiring and
use those Deities as a focus for personal devotions. Similarly,
covens will use particular Deity names as a group focus, and
these are often held secret by the groups.
It is very important to be aware that Wiccans do not in any
way worship or believe in "Satan," "the Devil," or any similar
entities. They point out that "Satan" is a symbol of rebellion
against and inversion of the Christian and Jewish traditions.
Wiccans do not revile the Bible. They simply regard it as one
among many of the world's mythic systems, less applicable than
some to their core values, but still deserving just as much
respect as any of the others.
Most Wiccan groups also practice magic, by which they mean
the direction and use of "psychic energy," those natural but
invisible forces which surround all living things. Some members
spell the word "magick," to distinguish it from sleight of hand
entertainment's. Wiccans employ such means as dance, chant,
creative visualization and hypnosis to focus and direct psychic
energy for the purpose of healing, protecting and aiding members
in various endeavors. Such assistance is also extended to non-
members upon request.
Many, but not all, Wiccans believe in reincarnation. Some
take this as a literal description of what happens to people when
they die. For others, it is a symbolic model that helps them
deal with the cycles and changes within this life. Neither
Reincarnation nor any other literal belief can be used as a test
of an individual's validity as a member of the Old Religion.
Most groups have a handwritten collection of rituals and
lore, known as a _Book of Shadows._ Part of the religious
education of a new member will be to hand copy this book for him
or herself. Over they years, as inspiration provides, new
material will be added. Normally, access to these books is
limited to initiated members of the religion.
PRACTICES AND BEHAVIORAL STANDARDS: The core ethical statement
of Wicca, called the "Wiccan Rede" states "an it harm none, do
what you will." The rede fulfills the same function as does the
"Golden Rule" for Jews and Christians; all other ethical
teachings are considered to be elaboration's and applications of
the Rede. It is a statement of situational ethics, emphasizing
at once the individual's responsibility to avoid harm to others
and the widest range of personal autonomy in "victimless"
activities. Wicca has been described as having a "high-choice"
Because of the basic Nature orientation of the religion,
many Wiccans will regard all living things as Sacred, and to show
a special concern for ecological issues. For this reason,
individual conscience will lead some to take a pacifist position.
Some are vegetarians. Others will feel that, as Nature's Way
includes self-defense, they should participate in wars that they
conscientiously consider to be just. The religion does not
dictate either position, but requires each member to thoughtfully
and meditatively examine her or his own conscience and to live by
Social forces generally do not yet allow Witches to publicly
declare their religious faith without fear of reprisals such as
loss of job, child-custody challenges, ridicule, etc. Prejudice
against Wiccans is the result of public confusion between
Witchcraft and Satanism. Wiccans in the military, especially
those who may be posted in countries perceived to be particularly
intolerant, will often have their dogtags read "No Religious
Preference." Concealment is a traditional Wiccan defense against
persecution, so non-denominational dogtags should not contravene
a member's request for religious services.
Wiccans celebrate eight festivals, called "Sabbats," as a
means of attunement to the seasonal rhythms of Nature. These are
January 31 (Called Oimelc, Brigit, or February Eve), March 21
(Ostara or Spring Equinox), April 30 (Beltane or May Eve), June
22 (Midsummer, Litha or Summer Solstice), July 31 (Lunasa or
Lammas), September 21 (Harvest, Mabon or Autumn Equinox), October
31 (Samhain, Sowyn or Hallows), and December 21 (Yule or Winter
Solstice.) Some groups find meetings within a few days of those
dates to be acceptable, others require the precise date. In
addition, most groups will meet for worship at each Full Moon,
and many will also meet on the New Moon. Meetings for religious
study will often be scheduled at any time convenient to the
members, and rituals can be scheduled whenever there is a need
(i.e. for a healing).
Ritual jewelry is particularly important to many Wiccans.
In addition to being a symbol of religious dedication, these
talismans are often blessed by the coven back home and felt to
carry the coven's protective and healing energy.
ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE: Most Wiccans meet with a coven, a
small group of people. Each coven is autonomous. Most are
headed by a High Priestess, often with the assistance of a High
Priest. Some are headed by a High Priestess or High Priest
without a partner, and some regard themselves as a gathering of
equals. Covens can be of mixed gender, or all female or male,
depending on the preferences of the members. Every initiate is
considered to be a priestess a priest. Most covens are small.
Thirteen is the traditional maximum number of members, although
not an absolute limit. At that size covens form a close bond, so
Wiccans in the military are likely to maintain a strong
affiliation with their covens back home.
There are many distinct "Traditions" of Wicca, just as there
are many denominations within Christianity. The spectrum of
Wiccan practice can be described as ranging from "traditional" to
"eclectic," with Traditions, covens and individuals fitting
anywhere within that range. A typical difference would be that
more traditional groups would tend to follow a set liturgy,
whereas eclectic groups would emphasize immediate inspiration in
These distinctions are not particularly important to the
military chaplain, since it is unlikely that enough members of
any one Tradition would be at the same base. Worship circles at
military facilities are likely to be ad-hoc cross-Traditional
groups, working out compromise styles of worship for themselves
and constantly adapting them to a changing membership. Therefor,
the lack of strict adherence to the patterns of any one Tradition
is not an indicator of invalidity.
While many Wiccans meet in a coven, there are also a number
of solitaries. These are individuals who choose to practice
their faith alone. The may have been initiated in a coven or
self initiated. They will join with other Wiccans to celebrate
the festivals or to attend the various regional events organized
by the larger community.
ROLE OF MINISTERS: Within a traditional coven, the High
Priestess, usually assisted by her High Priest, serves both as
leader in the rituals and as teacher and counselor for coven
members and unaffiliated Pagans. Eclectic covens tend to share
leadership more equally.
WORSHIP: Wiccans usually worship in groups. Individuals who are
currently not affiliated with a coven, or are away from their
home coven, may choose to worship privately or may form ad-hoc
groups to mark religious occasions. Non-participating observers
are not generally welcome at Wiccan rituals.
Some, but not all, Wiccan covens worship in the nude
("skyclad") as a sign of attunement with Nature. Most, but not
all, Wiccan covens bless and share a cup of wine as part of the
ritual. Almost all Wiccans use an individual ritual knife (an
"athame"_ to focus and direct personal energy. Covens often also
have ritual swords to direct the energy of the group. These
tools, like all other ritual tools, are highly personal and
should never leave the possession of the owner.
Other commonly used ritual tools include a bowl of water, a
bowl of salt, a censer with incense, a disk with symbols engraved
on it (a "pentacle"), statues or artwork representing the Goddess
and God, and candles. Most groups will bless and share bread or
cookies along with the wine. All of these items are used in
individual, private worship as well as in congregate rituals.
DIETARY LAWS OR RESTRICTIONS: None.
FUNERAL AND BURIAL REQUIREMENTS: None. Recognition of the death
of a member takes place within the coven, apart from the body of
the deceased. Ritual tools, materials, or writings found among
the effects of the deceased should be returned to their home
coven (typically a member will designate a person to whom ritual
materials should be sent).
It is desirable for a Wiccan priest or priestess to be
present at the time of death, but not strictly necessary. If not
possible, the best assistance would be to make the member as
comfortable as possible, listen to whatever they have to say,
honor any possible requests, and otherwise leave them as quite
and private as possible.
MEDICAL TREATMENT: No medical restrictions. Wiccans generally
believe in the efficacy of spiritual or psychic healing when done
in tandem with standard medical treatment. Therefore, at the
request of the patient, other Wiccan personnel should be allowed
visiting privileges as though they were immediate family,
including access to Intensive Care Units. Most Wiccans believe
that healing energy can be sent from great distances, so, if
possible, in the case of any serious medical condition, the
member's home coven should be notified.
OTHER: With respect to attitude toward military service, Wiccans
range from career military personnel to conscientious objectors.
Wiccans do not proselytize and generally resent those who
do. They believe that no one Path to the Sacred is right for all
people, and see their own religious pattern as only one among
many that are equally worthy. Wiccans respect all religious that
foster honor and compassion in their adherents, and expect the
same respect. Members are encouraged to learn about all faiths,
and are permitted to attend the services of other religions,
should they desire to do so.
GENERAL SOURCE BOOKS:
The best general survey of the Wiccan and Neo-Pagan movement is:
Adler, Margot. _Drawing_Down_the_Moon_. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. 595pp
For more specific information about eclectic Wicca, see:
Starhawk. _The_Spiral_Dance_. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
For more specific information about traditional Wicca, see:
Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. _Eight_Sabbats_for_Witches_. London: Robert Hale, 1981. 192pp.
______________. _The_Witches'_Way_. London: Robert Hale, 1984. 394pp.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Pagan Military Newsletter
c/o Terri Morgan, Editor
829 Lynnhaven Parkway 114-198
Virginia Beach, VA 23452
Because of the autonomy of each coven and the wide variance of
specific ritual practices, the best contact person would be the
High Priestess or other leader of the member's home coven.