The Token Witch
Everything that follows is solely my own opinion. Even moreso than with most religious discussions, because wicca is so new and so varied that you could ask ten witches (if you could find ten witches) what their beliefs are, and you would get ten different answers.
What follows is the basic stuff that most of us agree on. ?? I thought about including my own beliefs and the tradition I’m part of–but that would take years. But if anyone has any specific questions, I’ll try to answer them.
Most witches (I’ll use the term interchangeably with wiccan for this, though for some folks they’re separate) are panentheists, which means that deity is in the world. Everything material is a manifestation of the divine, from the smallest microbe to the universe itself. The wiccan concept of deity holds that god/dess is destructive and creative, good and bad. Death is considered part of life, and destruction the necessary precursor to creation.
The divine is personalized as both a god and a goddess, who are two manifestations of a single nameless deity. The names of the god and the goddess vary by tradition; and in many traditions, they are also considered to have a thousand faces–the minor gods and goddesses.
There are two basic sets of beliefs regarding the god and the goddess. In one, they are equals; in the other, the goddess is primary. The latter is also sometimes referred to as goddess worship or Dianic witchcraft/wicca. It is more common so far as I know to regard them as equals. Because there is a god and a goddess and they are considered equal, witchcraft believes in sex equality (though perspectives on the differences between the sexes can vary greatly).
It is also an earth religion, which means that practice is based on where you live. Religious observations depend on the phase of the moon and the season. So, for instance, on Ostara or Eostre (the spring equinox), observations include fertility symbols that reflect spring and burgeoning life, such as eggs, rabbits, flowers, etc. If that sounds familiar, it should; when the evangelists say that Easter is based on a pagan holiday, they’re right. Yule, celebrated on the winter solstice, celebrates life in the midst of death, because while it is the darkest day of the year, it is also the day when the light starts to return; evergreens, holly berries, gifts, bonfires are all features of the holiday. Again, this may sound familiar.
Because wicca/witchcraft is an earth religion, and because it’s panentheistic, environmentalism is very strong. Other living things and their habitats are considered sacred. Which isn’t to say that nothing must ever be cut down or destroyed, but that if it’s going to be, you have to have a very good reason.
The stickiest issue is magic and spells. It’s true that witches cast spells; but it’s not a solitary person with a vendetta twisting the arm of reality to make a dishonest buck. The definition of magic most often used is “the art of changing consciousness at will”–not reality, consciousness. The focus of change is explicitly on the self. And spells are most like prayers, only instead of words, you use objects–candles, or paper, or plants, or whatever. You are asking the universe or god/dess for what you want; but that doesn’t mean you’ll get it.
I know the bookstores are full of crap in the wicca sections with bright pink covers and titles like “how to turn your boyfriend into a frog,” but this drivel has as much in common with wicca and witchcraft as books about how to use your guardian angel to become wealthy have to do with christianity–which is to say, not much.
The last thing worth pointing out is that witchcraft is not evangelical. We don’t believe that there is one True religion; all of them are equally true, so to us/me, it really doesn’t matter what faith you believe in so long as you’re not trying to interfere with my rights to practice my own. Every once in a while, someone goes nuts over the perceived subliminal intentions of books like The Wizard of Oz or Harry Potter, believing that they are a sneaky way of getting young people to adopt wicca. Trust me when I say, first of all, that they have nothing in common with our beilefs, and secondly, we have absolutely no interest in doing so.