She stands alone, her hands raised high, beneath the full moon. The smoke of the incense curls around her feet, and the flames of the candles flicker in the slight breeze. Her nudity strengthens her; She is proud of her woman's body. She begins to chant and dance, the words forming themselves on her lips. The energy in the air increases as she dances, and soon the air itself is singing along. She knows herself to be accompanied by her deities, the Goddess and God. The power flows around her and with a great shout, she releases it and sends it to do its work. She is a Witch.
I'll say this once. Witches and other pagans do not worship Satan. They are not satanists. They do not even believe in the Christian devil. Satanists exist but they are not considered to be Witches or pagan.
Witchcraft, also known as Wicca, is a polytheistic earth based religion which has many different branches and methods of practice. Its followers hold sacred the Goddess and the God, with many Wiccans choosing to worship multiple gods and goddesses.
Religions of the Goddess do not necessarily require one to reject his or her current, mainstream religion, and are not exclusive to women, but welcome men.
A Bit of History
"When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil"
Before the advent of the "great" patriarchal religions, the people worshipped the Mother Goddess. Women were wicce- "wise ones." They worshipped the Goddess as the source of all life, and her son-lover-consort, the Horned God of the hunt and animal life. When Christianity began to spread, the two at first coexisted peacefully, though the Church did try to convert pagans to Christianity. In fact, Christian authorities placed the Christian holidays to coincide with pagan holidays to encourage the pagans to convert. For example, All Saint's day coincides with Samhain, the pagan day of the dead, and Christmas is a few days after Yule, the pagan holiday celebrating the birth of the sun.
However, in the 13th and 14th centuries, the Church began to desire the power that these women held, and began persecuting the wicce, as well as Jews other people who disagreed with what they said. An estimated nine million people died, perhaps 80 percent female, tortured into confessing their "crimes" and convicted by the malleus maleficarium-the witches hammer.
Propaganda was unleashed against the witches. Supposedly they worshipped the devil. Yes, the God of the witches has horns, but that is where the similarity to the Christian Devil ends. They were said to perform disgusting, obscene rites. To those who were repressed about their sexuality, and viewed the human body as disgusting and dirty, the freedom and openness that the ancient pagans practiced were disgusting. But they did not (and do not) fornicate with animals or molest children. These beliefs persist even today in the belief that witches are ugly, evil old women.
A question commonly asked of witches is "Do you cast spells?" Spells ARE a part of being Wiccan, but, for most people, they are secondary to worship of the Goddess and God. Magick (spelled with a k to differentiate between common "rabbit in a hat" party tricks and true magick) is the raising and directing of energy. Energy is recognized as having form and substance. It is generally recognized that when one buys a "potion" or "charm", one is buying a tool, and that the real power to make such things work comes from the direction of energy toward that goal.
"Are you part of a coven?" is often the question immediately following "Do you cast spells?" For many Wiccans, the answer is yes, while for many others the answer is no. A coven is a closely knit group of witches who perform ritual together, and often are good friends. For many people this is ideal. However, for some people it is hard to find like-minded people willing to form or allow a person to join their coven. For other solitary Wiccans, a decision was made consciously to practice alone. Both choices are valid ones, and neither has more intrinsic value than the other.
The Goddess is not something that is believed in, but She is something that is known in everyday life, and recognized in every action. She is an empowering concept to women and men, representing as she does a strong female image and the sacredness of personal power. Power, as I am referring to it, is not power over others, but the power that emanates from within a person who is secure in their self worth.
Recognizing this power in yourself and in others is the key to knowing the Goddess. She is in everything, in the new green growth of spring, in the leaves that crunch beneath your feet in the fall, in the phases of the moon, in the laughter of children, in music, in the cycles of creation and destruction that surround our daily lives, and, most of all, in ourselves. Creation, of children, of art, of dance, of poetry, of anything that emanates from your heart, is sacred and a source of pride. Our bodies and sexuality are sacred, not something dirty to be scorned, but something to be revered and celebrated.
-a saying attributed to the Goddess
Connecting with the Goddess within is an important way of affirming one's own worth. This can be done in simple ways, such as taking time out from a busy schedule to relax in your preferred way, whether it be reading, taking a warm bath, making love, talking to an old friend, or meditating. The important thing is that you are taking time out for yourself.
If you prefer a more elaborate ceremony, you can create an altar of objects you consider sacred or you feel affirm your self-worth. These objects can include religious relics, a photograph of yourself that you particularly like, things you have created and are proud of, and objects you admire for their beauty. It is often a good idea to have plants, as they are alive and good reminders of the Goddess. Light candles or incense and listen to calming music to create a relaxing mood. Let the stresses of your day recede from your mind. When you feel calm, you can sing or chant words that make you feel good, or meditate on the goodness you find in yourself and your daily life. A simpler, less time consuming alternative is to look in a mirror and tell yourself that you love yourself. Say it out loud and really mean it. You'll be surprised how well this self affirmation works, especially when it so done on a daily basis.
Don't feel tied down to what I have said here. Find your own beliefs and create your own rituals. After all, knowledge of the Goddess is not something that you can be handed, but is something you must find on your own.
This article is not intended to convert anyone to Wicca, but rather to inform people that there are Goddess oriented religions in existence. I have tried to provide a fairly general view of the religion as a whole, but since our spirituality is so personal, some people may disagree with some things that I have said. Wicca is a religion with many variations and it is difficult if not impossible to provide a view of the entire religion in all of its aspects in three pages. Blessed be.
The pagan federation info pack entry on Women's Traditions
Under Shekhina's Wings cross-cultural women's spirituality.
Mama Rose's Kitchen
Z. Budapest: Psychic, Wiccan, Author
Conversations with Margot Adler