Wicca is a pagan, earth-based religion that has gained acceptance in early 21st century. It is an evolving religion that is based on hereditary tradition. Wicca's respect of the Earth, natural forces of nature and humankind may account for the religion's growing popularity. Today, Wicca is practiced by millions of individuals world-wide.
The word wicca comes from the ancient word wicce, which means “to bend or shape.” It is known as the Craft, the Old Religion and witchcraft. Wicca is a diverse earth-based religion that has no centralized seat of authority overseeing its practices, therefore, worship varies among individuals and groups. There are several categories or orders of the Wiccan faith, each with its own particular customs and rites. Wiccan practitioners may choose to be monotheistic honoring one Divine male or female being or polytheistic and worship goddesses and gods equally. A common thread in the practice of Wicca is the belief that all is sacred; plants, trees, water, air, earth, animals and humankind, and adherence to a rule that states, “And it harm none, do what you will.”
There is much debate regarding the history of Wicca because there is no formal authoritative source of documentation. This may be due to the fear of persecution. During the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts in 1692 more than 200 individuals, mostly women, were accused of performing witchcraft. In Western Europe persecutions of individuals charged as witches, known as The Burning Times, occurred between 1550 and 1650. It is unknown how many people were found guilty and hanged or burned. Therefore, accounts of the beginnings of Wiccan religious practices vary. They are purported to have evolved from Neolithic fertility rites and practices among the Celts, practices dating back to the Stone Age, and a fairly modern sect that began in the 1930's, loosely based on the goddess-worship of ancient Great Britain. Today Wicca is recognized as an official, legal religion in the United States. Approximately 700,000 people classified themselves as Pagan or Wiccan in 2008 United States Census data.
There are three main designations of Wiccan practitioners; those who practice in a coven, a circle and as a solitary. A coven is the most formally ordered having a static membership that is selected and is lead by a high priest or priestess. A Pagan or Wiccan circle is a more open forum which does not require specific commitments, therefore individuals attending worship may vary. While some circles have an open-door policy, others limit times when new practitioners may join. Some individuals choose to practice the Wiccan religion as a solitary and are not part of a particular coven or circle.
Worship for those practicing the Pagan faith of Wicca is organized around events known as sabbats that follow the Wheel of the Year. Using the natural calendar of the seasons, these eight sabbats are rooted in the Celtic agrarian society and recognize a cycle of birth and death. The new year, also known as the Feast of the Dead begins the wheel's cycle on October 31. It is followed by Yule on December 21, Imbolc on February 2, the Spring Equinox or Estara on March 21, Beltane on May 1, Litha or Midsummer Night on June 21, Lammas on August 1 and the Fall Equinox or Mabhon on September 21.
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