If you get three pagans together, you’ll get four definitions of paganism. That’s because the fourth person, though she dances naked around bonfires and worships a Goddess, will insist she’s not a pagan.
Given the lack of general agreement about the definition of paganism, since Wicca is a subset of paganism its definition is even more uncertain. There’s no central authority to impose meaning to the word. Please take it for granted that for every statement you see on this page (including “Wicca is a subset of paganism”) you will find those who disagree with it.
Wicca is animistic, pantheistic, and polytheistic. Which means, of course, that we worship animals, panthers, and polyesters.
Or it means:
- animistic: deity can be found anywhere.
- pantheistic: we potentially worship and accept all deities.
- polytheistic: we worship multiple deities.
The above describes many different pagan traditions. What distinguishes Wicca from others is from where it derives its cultural and religious associations. Heathenism or Asatru takes its inspiration from Norse traditions; Druidry from the practices of the priestly class of the Celtic tribes of Northern and Western Europe. Wicca is derived from the folk beliefs and practices of those same Celtic tribes.
A typical image assocated with Wiccan practice is the old wise woman living on the outskirts of town, dispensing folk wisdom, recipes, and charms. In other words, witchcraft.
To put it another way, Wicca is our belief system. Witchcraft is how we worship.
It can be hard to define what Wiccans believe. Unlike most major religions, Wicca has no Doctrine and no Dogma; that is, it doesn’t have any written text to which everyone is supposed to refer and it doesn’t have a set of things you must believe in order to called yourself Wiccan.
With that said, Wicca is an Earth-based religion. We generally speak of “the Goddess” as a central religious figure: a living personification of the life-force of the planet. But we also sub-divide our concept of deity as it suits us: the Goddess and the God; the Goddess as Maiden, Mother, Crone; the God as the Hunter and the Stag, fertility and sacrifice; the pantheons that are part of Western Civilization such as the Greek and Roman gods.
Wiccan worship typically involves casting a ceremonial sacred Circle. Within that Circle we invoke elements (e.g., Earth, Air, Fire, Water) and the Gods. We offer blessings to the Gods, and accept their blessings in return. With those blessings we perform acts of magic.
If you’d like to see the closest anyone has come to a common description of the religious qualities in Wicca, I recommend The Principles of Wiccan Belief. Many Wiccans also take The Charge of the Goddess to be central to the practice of Wicca.
For more details, see the FAQ.