Wiccans focus on nature

In an attempt to reunite humans with nature, Neo-Paganists revived the gods and goddesses of ancient religions, such as Mother Earth, Father Sky, the goddess of fertility, and the horned god Pan (see Chapter 1). Wiccans provide the best example of Neo-Pagan practices. Wiccan covens focus on one deity (a god) as a symbolic, unifying force in their rituals; contrary to popular belief, however, Wiccans do not worship the devil, who did not exist before the advent of Christianity (see Chapter 1). The central principle of Wiccan practice is the rede (advice): "An ye harm none, do what ye will"; that is, people are free to act as long as they do not harm others.

Wiccans hold eight primary festivals that are based on the seasons of nature and take place about every forty-five days; these celebrations recall ancient customs dating back thousands of years. The main Wiccan festivals are the winter solstice on December 21, the spring equinox on March 21, and Samhain (Halloween) on October 31—all of them linked to

Early pagans made sacrifices to the female healers and witches.

Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).

Wicca is a celebration of nature, the seasons, and unity with the universe.

Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).

holidays celebrated by other faiths, that have become part of popular culture. Many Wiccans also worship the phases of the moon, ocean tides, and agricultural seasons. Most meet in covens as independent groups headed by a high priestess or priest (spiritual leaders), but all members are given equal status. The traditions and activities of covens vary greatly and allow for flexibility in expression. For instance, some Wiccans adhere to traditional rituals led by a priest or priestess, while others give more freedom to the whole group and rely less upon a leader. Neo-Paganists who do not belong to covens worship independently and may attend special festivals or gatherings several times a year. Many conduct their rituals outdoors, usually in the nude ("sky-clad"), to express their closeness to nature.

A traditional Wiccan ceremony begins with the members of a coven gathering in a circle, usually measuring nine feet in diameter, with candles at four points to show the cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west). An altar consist

Wicca is a celebration of nature, the seasons, and unity with the universe.

Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).

ing of various objects, which represent the energy and power of nature, is located at the center of the circle or at the northern candle point. The ceremony customarily involves lighting the candles and "casting the circle," or creating a "healing" space within the circle of the participants' bodies. Most covens then share a cup of wine, bread, and cookies, and pass special items such as bowls, spoons, incense, and engraved tiles around the circle. The main purpose of the meeting is usually to celebrate a new moon or a holiday, to discuss new ideas, or hold nature-oriented activities. Wiccans observe other rituals, including the act of dedication, in which a person expresses an interest in joining a coven. This is followed by the initiation, in which the person is formally accepted as a Wiccan and takes a Wiccan name. The marriage ceremony is called a "handfast-ing"; the "parting of ways" ritual marks the end of a marriage. When a baby is born to Wiccan parents, a "Wiccaning" ceremony celebrates the child's entrance into the world; the child is free, however, to choose his or her own faith upon reaching adulthood.

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