Bewitched by Wicca
Sometimes called the Goddess movement, Goddess spirituality or the Craft, Wicca is one of the fastest growing religions in America today.
It was recognized as an official religion by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986, and today there are more than 200,000 adherents of Wicca and related, "neopagan" faiths practicing in the United States.
"Wicca" is derived from the old English word, wic-a meaning "witch" in its use as the umbrella name for modern religious witchcraft.
Wicca was invented by Gerald B. Gardner (1884-1964) in England, and was meant to be a goddess-centered, nature religion.
However, in the decades since it came to the United States, Wicca has mushroomed into a vast array of beliefs encompassing ancient Celtic, Greek, Roman and Egyptian religions, as well as many forgotten traditions, including shamanic healing circles and Toltec wisdom.
Brooks Alexander of the Spiritual Counterfeit Project in Berkeley, Calif., writes that contemporary "witchcraft is individualistic to the point of being anarchic, with no centralized authority or even any agreed-upon definition of what a 'witch' is."
Alexander adds: "In effect, a witch is whoever says they are a witch, and witch beliefs and practices amount to whatever individual witches actually believe and do."
Wiccans pride themselves on making things up as they go along, but there are four commonly held beliefs.
First there is the belief that divinity is immanent in all of nature (harking back to animism, polytheism and pantheism). Second, Wicca is either female-centered and goddess-oriented or it is centered on a paired god and goddess. Third, it does not believe in the concept of sin and the uniqueness of Christ. Fourth, it espouses spiritual reciprocity "what goes around comes around."
Wiccans also generally follow a basic ethic known as the "Wiccan Rede." The Rede is usually written as, "An it harm none, do as ye will." not because the motto is as ancient as it sounds, but because Wiccans like to couch things in obsolete terms to give them the appearance of antiquity, according to Alexander.
In modern English, their Rede translates, "As long as it doesn't hurt anyone, do whatever you want."
There is no central authority or established organization in the Wiccan religion. In fact, it's unofficial "church" is the Internet where there are a variety of Wiccan sites for people of all ages, including chat rooms, coven-finders and bulletin boards.
Many Wiccans belong to covens or circles, which usually consist of 13 people.
"The covens are governed by a high priestess and a high priest, with the high priestess being the leading figure in the coven," according to Donald H. Thompson, a retired police officer and cult expert for the Baltimore police department. Thompson's writing includes a chapter in the book, "Today's Destructive Cults and Movements," which has been compiled by Father Lawrence J. Gesy, cult consultant to the Baltimore Archdiocese.
"Their purpose is to guide members to achieve a nature-based attitude and to instruct them in the ways of the Craft, with its rituals and initiations," Thompson writes.
"There are rituals for initiation, rituals for healing and protection, rituals for the sun and the sea, and it goes on and on," he says. "You can look at witchcraft as a religion expressed in rituals."
Wicca rituals are commonly held in homes or out in the open, and some are conducted "skyclad," meaning without clothes.
"Most Wiccan witches believe in reincarnation, that at the time of death the soul is reborn," Thompson goes on. "They believe this is possible over and over again to increase their mental powers. Most witches practice clairvoyance and divination, usually starting with tarot cards; however, crystal balls (the larger the better) flasks and black mirrors all become part of the rituals to develop clairvoyance and divination."
One of the most startling of all Wiccan practices is astral projection. Wiccans believe that when the body is relaxed, through the powers of concentration, a person can transfer his conscious mind into the air around him.
"While this may seem absurd to many of us, let me assure you that these powers are possible to achieve," Thompson writes, "and many have succeeded in obtaining these powers and having out-of-body experiences."
Where the powers come from is of grave concern. Although Wiccans do not worship or believe in Satan, some of their practices are rooted in occult traditions.
Father Gesy said he believes the reason why many people are falling into the snares of New Age movements, including Wicca, is because they're searching.
"The rapid growth of Wicca is the perfect example of how these false religions attract people who are searching," he said. "They're vulnerable, lonely, hurting and perhaps 50 percent of them are either not practicing their faith or don't have a faith. When something happens, and they have a 'religious revival,' I hate to say it, but the first group that gets there gets them."
That may be where Wicca's extensive use of the Internet comes in. And then there are some youth subcultures that seem to be attuned to Wicca, such as the self-described "Goths" teenagers whose personal style, attitude and musical choices are dark, gothic and disaffected.
"You take someone who isn't popular at school but who gets in with the wrong group and all of a sudden, people are paying attention to them, to the way they dress and behave," Father Gesy said. "It's not positive attention, but it's still attention."
Unfortunately, many of these young people are then introduced to Wicca, which leads them into the worship of false gods.
Wiccans believe in the ancient gods of the British Isles the Horned God of hunting, death and magic, and the Great Mother, a goddess who supposedly gives regeneration and rebirth to souls.
"The practice of Wicca is incompatible with Christianity because it is based on the worship of pagan deities, and is therefore a sin against the First Commandment," Father Gesy said. "Wicca is basically a pantheistic religion, which means it is a worship of nature. It's pagan, which means it is also polytheistic, in that it worships multiple gods and goddesses."
"On the other hand, we are monotheistic, meaning we worship the one true God," he added.
When it comes to Wicca and other New Age spiritualities, Father Gesy said, the best way to assess whether a religion is compatible with Christianity is to ask a simple question: "Is it leading you to put your faith in creatures or in the Creator?"
(This article originally appeared in The Catholic Standard and Times, the Philadalphia archdiocesan newspaper.)
Other articles in this series:
PART III: Reiki and Healing Touch
PART IV: The Enneagram: What's Your Number?
PART VI: Bewitched by Wicca
PART VII: Ouija Boards and Tarot Cards
PART VIII: Energy Medicine: Part One The Science
PART X: The Exercise of Religion: Yoga
This item 8759 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org