The Sabbat

Whereas Esbats are determined by the Moon, Sabbats recognize the shifting of the seasons. They're connected with old European planting and harvesting rites and ancient hunting ceremonies, as well as with the solstices and equinoxes.

These are sometimes known as "days of power," or "high days." And though daytime rituals would seem to be preferred for solar festivals, most Sabbats are held at night.

For covens these are times to gather and work their rites, a time to be reminded of the passing of the seasons and the changes at work within the Earth, which is especially important for city-dwellers. Again, Wiccans don't worship the Sun, but see it as a symbol of the God.

All religions have specific reasons for scheduling rituals. For Wiccans, the seasonal cycle determines the positioning of rituals.

In essence, the Sabbats tell a story of the God and the Goddess. In festival form they reveal a seasonal and agricultural Wiccan legend. Wiccan traditions vary a great deal in their myths. Much of this variance is due to the specific cultural context of the tradition, such as Celtic, Feminist, and so on. However, a generalization of the meanings of the eight Sabbats can be formed.

Many Wiccans begin their year with Samhain (October 31st). On this night they revere their friends and loved ones who have passed on to the other life. Because Wiccans accept the doctrine of reincarnation, this isn't a completely somber festival but a quiet recognition of the inevitable outcome of life. Many Wiccans also mark the symbolic death of the God on this night. Samhain is linked with the coming of winter and ancient hunting rituals.

This date will be recognized in the United States as Hallowe'en or Hallows Eve, a night on which adults and children dress in costume and attend parties, and newspapers blazon stories about Witches, curses, and ghosts across heir pages. These are folk memories of the old European customs that were played out at this time of the year. Wiccans usually ignore such occurrences, for this is a sacred night.

Yule (circa December 21st; the exact dates of the Solstices and equinoxes change every year) celebrates the rebirth of the God through the agency of the Goddess. Some might note the date and believe this to be a mockery of Christianity. Actually, that isn't quite the case.

Early Biblical scholars tried to place a date for the birth of Jesus. Coming up empty-handed, they adopted the Winter Solstice. This date was changed to December 25th so that it wouldn't vary year to year. Yule was probably chosen for this purpose because it is an ancient Pagan religious day-Mithras, for example, was thought to have been born then. Early Christians were noted for superimposing their religious symbolism and theology onto that of earlier religions, thereby attempting to speed conversion.

So Wiccans celebrate Yule as the date of the rebirth of the God (symbolically seen as the Sun). The Winter Solstice marks the depths of winter. From this night on, the hours of daylight grow longer until midsummer.

Imbolc (February 1st or 2nd) is the time when Wiccans celebrate the recovery of the Goddess from giving birth to the God. It is a festival of purification and of reverence for the renewing fertility of the Earth. Bonfires may be lit.

Ostara (circa March 21st), the Spring Solstice, marks the first day of true spring. It is a time of the awakening of the Earth (the Goddess in her terrestrial aspect), as the Sun grows in warmth and power.

Pagan rituals of spring, such as colored eggs, have survived to this time by being transferred to Easter celebrations.

April 30th is known as Beltane. At this festival the young God ventures into manhood. He and the Goddess (His mother/lover) join and produce the bounty of nature.

And before anyone thinks-aha! Their gods practice incest!-remember that this is nature symbolism. In Wiccan thought the Goddess and God are united, one-twin halves of a whole. They are dual reflections of the power behind the universe that can never be truly separated.

May Day is still a time of flowers, maypoles (once an openly sexual symbol), and chains of clover, even among those who don't practice Wicca.

Midsummer (circa June 21st) is the point at which the powers of nature (created by the union of the Sun and the Earth) are at their peak. Wiccans gather to celebrate and to practice magic. Huge bonfires may be lit in honor of the Sun. This night and its magic was honored in one of Shakespeare's plays.

Lughnasadh (August 1st) is the beginning of harvest. The God weakens as the first grains and fruits are cut. Lughnasadh is a ritual of Thanksgiving. Indeed, the American holiday of Thanksgiving is an echo of Pagan European harvest festivals. If the Pilgrims had planted their crops on time, Thanksgiving would more closely correspond to the date of Lughnasadh.

Mabon (circa September 21st) is the second harvest. The God prepares to leave His life behind Him as the last fruits are gathered to nourish the peoples of the Earth. The warmth is lessening day by day.

Samhain follows Mabon, and so the cycle of rituals is completed.

Remember, this is the barest outline of the Sabbats. Individual traditions possess rich lore concerning each day. Intricate, symbolic rituals are enacted on the Sabbats in honor of the God and Goddess, as reflected in seasonal changes.

Foods symbolic of each day are often placed on the altar and eaten during the sacred meal, sometimes known as "Cakes and Wine," which follows most Sabbats. Specific crafts may be worked which link with the symbolism.

Magical rituals may also take place, though many Wiccans reserve the Sabbats as times for worship only.

Samhain and Yule and all the others are, to Wiccans, what Christmas and Easter are to Christians. They are holidays (holy days) that Wiccans set aside each year to commune with the Goddess and God.

The Sabbats and Esbats can be seen on three levels. First, they're times of religious worship in which Wiccans meet with the Goddess and God-times of renewing contacts with the Deities in a structured ritual setting.

Second, these days of power are also specific times for working magic to help, heal, comfort, and protect Wiccans and their friends and loved ones. This is done with the assistance of the Deities.

Finally, these are also celebrations-times for laughter, shop talk, and feasting. When the religious and magical workings (if any) are over, and after the circle has been dispersed, the Sabbats and Esbats become parties.

These Wiccan rituals aren't parodies of other religions' most sacred ceremonies. In fact, the Sabbats are rooted in the earliest expressions of religion among humans, which predate Christianity by thousands of years.

If anything, they're based on rites far older than those of any other religion.

Chapter 14 - Wiccan Magic

Wiccans, in common with folk magicians, rouse, program, release and direct personal power to manifest needed changes. In other words, they practice magic. Though Wiccan magic follows the same rationale as folk magic, the techniques used may be quite different.

Folk magicians burn candles, manipulate quartz crystals, or use herbs and oils and other tools to effect magical changes. Wiccan covens usually perform group-oriented rites involving the raising of energy, and they use few or no physical tools save for the most potent of all-the human body.

The magic outlined in this chapter primarily refers to that practiced by covens and groups of Wiccans. Solitary Wiccans may utilize similar rituals or practice folk magic while calling upon the Goddess and God to assist them.

The goals of Wiccan magic are often similar to those of the folk magicians. Healing is perhaps the most common objective. Wiccan magical goals may also be concerned with love, finances, employment, protection, and many other goals. And despite popular ,misconceptions, Wiccans don't curse or hex. It simply isn't practiced or taught.

Wiccan magic may also tackle larger problems, such as world peace. Many covens began working toward this goal in the late 1960s, when it was common for covens to literally join forces in sending energy to halt the Vietnam War.

Wiccans also work magic to arrest exploitation of the Earth, to conserve its natural resources, and to send back to our planet in order to ensure its continuing ability to maintain life.

Wiccan magic is also used to create the sphere of power (magic circle) in which rituals are performed, as well as to purify and charge tools used in religious and magical ceremonies.

Wiccan methods of rasing energy were long kept secret, revealed only to coven members after initiation. Today, many of these have been openly published in one form or another. Some are peculiar to Wicca.

The most common form is known simply as the dance. Physical activity, as we've seen, generates personal power. Because the body is a storehouse of life-energy, muscular contraction produces power readily available for use in magic. Wiccans have long known this, and have used specific movements to build up energy during rites of magic.

After the religious rites have ended, the High Priestess, High Priest or some other coven leader discusses the goal of the magical rite to be performed by the group. In some covens each member works toward her or his own magical goal. Thus, eight or ten or thirteen Wiccans generate power simultaneously to send it toward their own personal needs. Most commonly, however, a group goal is utilized.

In any case, the desired outcome is clearly visualized in each Wiccan's mind. A symbol of it may be placed on the altar or written onto small pieces of paper, which are then burned. After this the magic begins.

The Wiccans join hands and move clockwise around the altar, maintaining the visualization. This is called the dance, simply because the coven circles the altar with linked hands-not because they're actually dancing to choreographed steps. During the Witch trials, many Witches were accused of performing the infamous "back-to-back" dances; however, these dances aren't performed.

The coven circles faster and faster until it becomes a blur to anyone who watches. During this time the Wiccans are steadily increasing their energy. At the appropriate time, when the coven's power has risen to its peak, the group leader signals the members to release their energy, and through visualization, send it toward the goal. In some groups each member projects personal power to the leader, who then directs the power outward to the Goddess and God or to its final destination.

After the dance, the magical rite is over. The Wiccans may feel temporarily exhausted, for this is an expenditure of power. But soon everyone returns to normal, often helped by a ritual meal.

If a folk magician can raise a sufficient amount of energy to effect magical changes, it follows that a group of persons working toward the same goal can produce a tremendous amount of power. Group magical workings, whether Wiccan or not, can be spectacularly effective.

Perhaps a few words should be said here concerning clockwise (deosil) movement. In Wicca, clockwise motion is thought to generate energy with positive qualities. Conversely, counter-clockwise (widdershins) motion draws energy with negative qualities. Some say this is simply symbolism, but others claim it to be more than this.

The term "clockwise" refers not to the motion of the hour, minute, and second hands of a modern clock, but recalls an earlier timekeeping device.

Sundials have been used for untold millennia. These consist of a base marked with numbers at appropriate angles around its rim. A thin shaft rises from the center of the sundial. As the Sun moves across the shy each day, this pointer's shadow moves in an arc from left to right, denoting the hour. Thus clockwise originally referred to the motions of this shadow.

Now, if the Sun casts a shadow in this way, and the Sun is related to all that is good and bright and nourishing on our planet, if follows that motions in the opposite direction are its anthesis.

Thus through the centuries, counterclockwise movements have been used in negative magical workings. This has been called the "left-hand path." Most Wiccans avoid widdershins movements during their rituals.

This is why the Wiccans dance around the altar is a clockwise direction. Some Wiccans south of the equator-particularly in Australia, which has a thriving Wiccan population- reverse these directions. That is, of course, their prerogative.

Back to Wiccan magic. The dance is but one form. There are others, but most are similar. In one, the coven is arranged in a circle around the altar. The members may stand still, link arms, and chant or hum, while visualizing the magical goal and raising personal energy. As before, the leader determines when the available power is at its greatest concentration, and again informs the coven to release its energy.

Or a symbol denoting the magical goal may be marked onto a piece of paper or wood and placed on the altar. Gathered around it, the coven raises personal energy, and through their athames, projects it into the symbol. This is finally burned or buried to release the power to go to work.

Other Wiccan groups utilize variations on the above forms-or may even practice a type of ceremonial magic to achieve their goals. No matter what type of coven magic is used, it is usually effective.

Folk magic, as we have seen, is governed by one basic dictum: harm none. As a religion embracing magic, Wicca follows the same rule, though it is often differently worded:

"An it harm none, do what you will."

(The an used here is an archaic form of if, not a variant of and.)

This phrase is almost universally known to English-speaking Wiccans. Its origins remain shadowy. Many feel that it was put into these words in the 1940s or 50s, and was based on the magical motto of ceremonial magician Aleister Crowley: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law; love under will."

While the origins of this phrase are misty, its message is quite clear. Wiccans don't practice negative magic. They don't break up marriages, force persons to fall in love, or harm others through their rituals. Sure, Wiccans get angry. They may get into fist fights or toss a drink in an obnoxious man's face. But they'd rather cut off their right arm before "hexing" or "cursing" another human being.

In the popular mind, magical power seems to be equated with the lack of morality. This is as absurd as thinking that the possession of a knife inclines its owner to stab everyone she or he meets. At best, true mastery of magical power only occurs within individuals who subscribe to "An it harm none, do what you will."

The possibility of misuse of Wiccan magical techniques was one of the rationales for secrecy in the past. "Don't reveal magical methods to the untrained," some Wiccans said. "They may misuse them." While there may have once been some logic behind this idea, it is no longer valid. Wiccan magical techniques have been openly published. Anyone with ten dollars (or a library card) can read most of these "secrets."

I'm sure that there have been some groups who called themselves Wiccan and practiced negative magic. But to call these groups Wiccan or use them to judge the majority of Wiccans would be as incorrect as calling those unfortunate souls who perform satirical masses and desecrate the host "true Catholics"-or Wiccans.

Wiccan magic is performed for positive ends. It is engaged in for coven members, for friends and relatives, for the Earth, and for all its peoples. It is a positive, participatory aspect of the religion of Wicca.

Chapter 15 - Nudity, Sex, And Wicca

These are hot topics-in more ways than one. In the first draft of The Truth About Witchcraft, the booklet that preceded this work, I excluded the section on sex and Witchcraft. I added it to a later draft and it appeared on pages 21-22.

When it came time to write this book, I hesitated to include this chapter. I was unwilling to add fuel to the arguments of narrow-minded outsiders who gleefully claim that Wicca consists of nothing more than orgies. However, common sense told me that to ignore these aspects of Wicca might led some to believe that nudity and sex are more prevalent within Wicca than is the case.

Hence this chapter.

Let's get right down to the point here: nudity doesn't always lead to sexual activity. And indeed, complete nudity isn't even necessary for sex (as evidenced by centuries of Asian erotic art). While the two can be, and certainly are, complementary to each other, doffing one's clothing isn't necessarily a prelude to sex.

The state in which I live, California, led the fight for legally recognized clothing-optional beaches in the early 1970s. Police reports show that the number of occurrences of sexual activity on the infamous Black's Beach (a once-legal nude recreation area) was actually lower than that of other conventional beaches. What does this seem to say?

Just this: that to persons who are comfortable with social nudity, who have no hang-ups regarding the naked human form, nudity is a truly social-not sexual-state.

What does this have to do with Wicca? One aspect of the religion that has been most attacked is the fairly common use of ritual nudity. That is, religious rituals performed without clothing. This is the antitheses of wearing your Sunday best, a doing away with the elaborate ritual attire often worn in other religions.

Many Wiccans-perhaps the majority-wear robes during ritual. Some even enter the magic circle in street clothing. Others wear nothing.

Outsiders, on hearing of Wiccan ritual nudity, sneer and say, "See? They're naked during their rituals. That Proves that they have orgies!"

This belief is the product of a prejudiced, unnatural state of mind. What could be more natural than the unclothed human body? As has been pointed out numerous times in the past, none of us are born wearing clothing.

Sociological studies of peoples around the world affirm that the use or non-use of clothing is a matter of local customs. What we (or any society) judge to be a decent coverage of the human body may be thought of as outrageously indecent in some other society.

The idea of practicing ritual nudity certainly isn't strictly Wiccan. AmerIndians, Polynesians, Amazonian Indians, Europeans, certain ethnic groups that settled in the United States, and many other peoples of various cultures have removed clothing for religious purposes. To this day in India, the saddhus are allowed to walk the streets naked as a symbol of their sanctity. It seems that our Western minds are quite closed when it comes to the sight of our own bodies.

Why is this? Pre-Christian cultures such as those of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome accepted social nudity. When Christianity came along, its early leaders equated nudity with earlier (Pagan) religions. Thus nudity-even while bathing-was firmly linked with the enemy of this religion and was roundly forbidden. At some times, even individuals in the privacy of their own homes weren't allowed to remove their clothing.

When social nudity disappeared as a common practice in the West, twisted ideas concerning it festered in the popular mind. Nudity is dirty, filthy. Nudity is evil. Nudity leads to sex. Sex is bad.

The false, unnatural belief that nudity is evil and inevitably leads to sex is the product of 1500 years of prudery, and it is fostered by a new religion determined to erase all teraces of Paganism.

But any rational, well-adjusted person who has visited a nude beach, a clothing-optional resort or nudist camp realizes that nudity soon loses its novelty. When persons are naked for reasons other than sex, the arousal quotient of such a state quickly vanishes.

Some Wiccans claim that all their rituals in the past were conducted without clothing. This simply isn't true. Though there is much precedent for ritual nudity, most of Europe was far too cold for such practices.

Some Wiccans perform nude rituals because they see this as a natural state, the closest they can be to the Goddess and God. Others don't take off their clothing because they prefer not to. Far from ritual nudity being a requirement in Wicca, many Wiccans vehemently condemn the practice. When it is used, ritual nudity is engaged in for specific purposes, not for the titillation that rolls around in the minds of outsiders.

Wicca, as has been frequently mentioned, is a religion of individuals.

Now to the more explosive of these two issues-sex. Any mention of the word Witchcraft usually brings to mind orgies. Sex and Witchcraft, outsiders believe, are inextricably linked. As with many myths, this one simply isn't true.

A few-not many, but a few-Wiccan traditions do utilize sex for its mystical and magical properties and to alter consciousness.

But such rites-as rare as they are-are only performed in private between two consenting adults. Ritual sex is never engaged in before other Wiccans or anyone else. Coven orgies are nonexistent. Wicca is not a swing club; Sabbats and Esbats aren't excuses to have sex.

After all, most of us have enough excuses along these lines. Wiccans certainly don't need to hide behind their religion to make whoopee.

Those Wiccans (and they are in the minority, believe me!) That utilize sex have no apologies for doing so. They see Wicca as a fertility religion, and so deem sex a natural component of its rituals. Centuries of Christian sexual repression, they say, is responsible for the public's horror of ritual sex, as well as sex itself in any of its variant forms.

Our morals are thrust upon us by the society in which we live. Our society is dominated by the idea that sex should be engaged in only by married couples and solely for procreative purposes. Therefore, sex for any other reason is deemed sinful, even by married couples. In the public's mind, combining sex with religion is an abomination.

Wiccans could argue that it's really none of their business, but that wouldn't get anyone too far.

What most people don't understand is that there are sexual elements in every religion, even in Christianity. The Bible is filled with rapes and ritual intercourse. The very word "testament" derives from a practice that was quite common in Biblical times. When one man was swearing an oath to another he grasped his testicles. Most of the sexual aspects of Christianity have, of course, been covered up with confusing translations, or have been conveniently left out of the authorized versions of the Bible. But they are there.

So a few Wiccans may utilize sex as a joyous, energy-raising experience during ritual. But they do so only with their partner-generally within an established emotional relationship, such as that existing between husband and wife. Wicca is not a sex religion, and most Wiccans don't integrate sex into their rituals.

But what is sex really? Strip off those old bugaboos and prejudices and look at it: Sex is a union with self, with another individual, with the human race as a whole, and with the Deity or Deities that created us. One variety of sex is the first step toward the creation of human life. When viewed with an open mind, uncluttered by artificial morality, sexual rituals are indeed religious and sacred in the old pre-Christian sense of these words.

Wiccans don't believe that the pleasures and wonders of sex are unnatural or evil. They don't believe that the God and Goddess created sexuality as a test of the goodness of humans, and they truly can't conceive of such a thing. They see sex as a joyous part of life, and so some Wiccans celebrate this in ritual.

Wicca is a unique religion, one with great variety. The fact that sex (and ritual nudity)

plays a role in some Wiccan covens and traditions doesn't mean that all Wiccans give it the same ritual importance.

Those that do see it as an act of love, power, and spirituality.

Chapter 16 - Dangers and Troubles

Every human being should have the right to practice any religion that he or she wishes. Though laws upholding the freedom of religion have been enacted in many nations, many others continue to persecute those with certain religious beliefs. And indeed, legislation doesn't change popular opinion, as evidenced in the intervening years since the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Religious persecution has been with us as long as there has been religion. Wars are still raging due to (at least in part) doctrinal differences. Many persons hide behind religion, using it as an excuse for greed, racism, sexism, bigotry, prejudice, and of course, murder. What should be a spiritually uplifting force has often been perverted and twisted to suit personal needs.

Religion is used as a weapon against other religions. This becomes clear as we view what has happened to Wicca in the last twenty years or so.

In Chapter One we looked at the reasons why many of the old Pagan traditions died out in Europe, as well as the uproar among orthodox religions when occultism experienced an upsurge of interest in the late 1960s. Even now, in he late 1980s, this controversy is still raging, often with increasingly violent effects.

As we've seen, Wiccans don't kill humans. They don't mutilate or kill animals. They don't sign pacts with Satan-in blood or in ink. They don't call up evil demons, and they're certainly not out to rule the world. All they desire is the freedom to practice their own religion.

In many cases, Wiccans are denied this simple, basic right. Stories originating from all parts of the country attest to the fact that when Wiccans are publicly known, they often suffer.

The reason for this, of course, is ignorance. The mass media delights in spreading misinformation concerning Wicca. Wiccans give interviews to the press and are symbolically burned at the stake for speaking of their religion. Articles about Wicca are rarely carried in the religious section of newspapers, and quotes from priests and ministers are often included in an attempt to malign the religion.

Would they end an article about an upcoming Jewish holiday with, say, a born-again Christian's diatribe against this religion?

Like many other Wiccans, I've been verbally assaulted while on television by snickering talk-show hosts and hostile audiences. We've suffered through hours of televison specials portraying Wiccans as mentally deranged, twisted, Satanic murders. One hour-long show aired recently on a major network attempted to link a positive Wiccan group with murder.

Despite the media's bigotry, certain Wiccan traditions have been recognized by the I.R.S Department of Army Pamphlet No. 165-13, entitled "Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups-A Handbook for Chaplains" notify Army personnel that Wiccans are as much entitled to religious rights as followers of any other religion. Many prisons also allow inmates to practice Wicca.

But such recognition is slow in coming. Though many televangelist have fallen from grace lately, those still in business often preach about the dangers of "Witches." A woman who had "infiltrated" a Wiccan coven appeared on such a show I watched a few years ago. She had attended rituals, read the books and periodicals, and had in every way been exposed to Wiccan philosophy and spirituality.

And yet she spent the entire show saying over and over again that Wiccans-she used that word-worship the Devil and are out to conquer the world.

Such blind faith, or conscious twisting of facts, has led to dangerous situations. A Wiccan coven in California decided to perform one of their rituals in a public park. This is a fairly common occurrence in urban areas. Well in advance of the ritual they had obtained the required meeting permit to avoid any unpleasant situations. The day arrived and the coven, wearing robes, set up their altar in full daylight and began their simple rite.

They cast a circle and invoked the Goddess and God. Halfway through the ritual, somebody saw them, sized up the situation from their point of view and called the police.

"Satanists!" the informer said in an agitated voice. "Human sacrifice. They're-they're killing babies in the park!"

Not long afterward several patrol cars pulled up, and law enforcement officers poured out. They rudely broke up the ritual and disturbed the tools on the altar while the astonished Wiccans helplessly looked on. Then the interrogations began. It could have been a scene out of the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, not California in the 1980s.

By the time the rightfully outraged Wiccans showed the officers the permit and convinced then that they were simply conducting a religious rite, and not a murder, the ritual area was a shambles. All thoughts of proceeding with the ritual or even of beginning again, were quickly forgotten.

One person's willful, intentional lies had violently ended a Wiccan ritual. Because the call was anonymous, she or he was never charged with the crime of disturbing a religious ceremony.

Another variation on this theme occurred in the Midwest. A Wiccan group began hosting Esbats on their land in the countryside. Soon after news of their religious meetings spread, a staunch churchgoer decided that these persons were Satanists. People interviewed by local newspapers informed reporters that they were keeping their children inside on the nights of the Full Moon so that they wouldn't be killed by the Witches. Slanderous allegations spread through the rural community for several weeks, all directed against a nature-loving, life-affirming group that was legally recognized as a religious organization.

Such incidents are far from isolated. The persecution continues out of ignorance and deceit.

As we've seen, Wicca was once a secret religion. Its rituals were performed far from prying eyes, certainly not in public parks. Interested persons were sworn to secrecy, initiated, and trained.

Some of the reasons for this secrecy are clear, taking into account the above stories. Ignorant persons can wreak havoc for contemporary Wiccans. Four hundred years ago these groups would have been legally executed, an act that would have sent a warm glow of satisfaction through the populace. Even today, public disclosure of Wiccan membership can result in tragedy.

At least one Wiccan ended his life after his religion became publicly known through the actions of an unscrupulous outsider. This wasn't from shame but from the emotional, psychological, and financial persecution that resulted from this undesired and vicious revelation.

Being a Wiccan in this world isn't easy. Wiccans have been punched in the mouth and beaten on city streets for wearing pentagrams. They have been assaulted by rock-throwing "Christians."2 Wiccans have been burned out of their homes. They've lost jobs, housing, husbands, and wives. Their children have been abducted by mates who misunderstood their religion.

Fundamentalist Christians picket outside Wiccan gatherings, and bomb threats are made. Occasionally Wiccans are even murdered for their religious beliefs. And over and over again they're accused of murder, Satan worship, cattle mutilation, child molestation, orgies, and even influencing the lyrics to rock and roll music.

Many outsiders say that Wiccan secrecy covers up what they're really doing. Again, old misconceptions die hard. In the light of the real dangers awaiting publicly known Wiccans, there seems to be only one solution to the problem-education.

2 I put quotes around this word because such persons certainly aren't following the teachings of Jesus.

Tell the non-Wiccans what Wicca is about, many Wiccans are saying. Assure them that Wiccans are normal, everyday citizens who just happen to practice a different religion. Let them know the truth about Wicca.

Thus many Wiccans are emerging from the shadows. They write books about their religion, appear on television, and speak to the public about Wicca. Frankly, some of them enjoy the attention that is directed to them. After all, they're only human.

Many of them have been persecuted for their trouble. All have been rewarded by a slow but growing understanding of Wicca among the masses. Perhaps Wicca hasn't been accepted in the United States as a viable, alternative religion. Neither has Shintoism or Buddhism or many other ways unfamiliar to the West. But the groundwork has been laid, and is already providing positive results. The very fact that this book could be published and distributed is proof of that.

The Wiccans are speaking.

Chapter 17 - A Wiccan Ritual

Because rituals constitute the outward expression of religions, it might be illuminating to look at a basic Wiccan ritual. The following example is, once again, an excerpt from Wiccan: A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner.

Wiccan rituals are varied. Particular Wiccan traditions have specific rituals that are often adhered to rigidly. Other non-traditional Wiccans may create new rituals for each occasion. And some groups (or individuals) perform spontaneous rites-chanting or moving or speaking as they feel compelled to do, using a few objects symbolic of the season.

Most Wiccans rituals follow the pattern outlined in the next few paragraphs. There are many variations; these are generalized only.

Prior to the ritual, the celebrant may bathe to cleanse the physical body as the spiritual. The area to be used is often purified with incense, salt, or some other tool.

The ritual itself begins with the creation of sacred space- the magic circle. Next, the Goddess and God are invoked to witness the rites. How they're invoked is up to the group or individual involved. Most rely on words; others may chant, sing, make music, or dance. The form isn't important. What is important is that the invocations are successful in attuning the Wiccans with the Goddess and God.

Once they have been invoked, the actual workings begin. If the meeting is a Sabbat, a seasonal rite (such as the one below) is enacted. This may involve spoken passages, sacred plays, or dramatic demonstrations of the season's attributes.

If the ritual is an Esbat, an invocation is spoken, sung, or chanted to the Goddess in Her lunar aspect. A meditation may occur next, following by the magical workings. Scrying (the act of gazing into a crystal sphere, pool of water, candle flame) may follow. In a coven new initiates may be taught basic Wiccan techniques.

On Sabbats the seasonal rites precede the magic, if it is done at all. Afterward, some Wiccans practice various forms of divination. Samhain is one Sabbat at which this is traditional. Through divination, Wiccans seek glimpses of the coming winter months.

Following this is a simple ritual meal, sometimes known as Cakes and Wine or Cakes and Ale; in the below ritual it is termed The Simple Feast. The meal usually consists of wine, ale, or fruit juice, and crescent-shaped cakes. The cakes (usually cookies) are more commonly found at Esbats. Bread may also be substituted.

Far from mocking Christian communion, Wiccans are following the forms of ancient Middle Eastern and Greek rituals in which such meals-including the crescent cakes-were enjoyed. The ritual meal also echoes the wild feasts once held during agricultural rituals in rural Europe two or three hundred years ago.

It is widely known that Christianity borrowed ritual practices of earlier traditions when it was being organized. Ask any theologian about the veracity of this statement.

After the meal the magic sphere is "broken" or "opened." This is the ceremonial dispersing of the power that created it. When a coven gathers for a Sabbat, a feast often occurs after the ritual.

Here, then, is the Standing Stones Tradition's Mabon Sabbat ritual. It is celebrated on the Autumn Equinox, the exact date of which varies from around the 19th to the 23rd of September each year. It is symbolic of the second harvest, when winter is settling in, and the fertility of the Earth diminishes with each sunset. The God, echoing the waning of the growing season, prepares for death.

Here is the ritual in full, with comments in parentheses when necessary:

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