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In 1954 the Wiccan, occultist and anthropologist Gerald Gardner presented through his book, Witchcraft Today, a new cult called Wicca, which was based on the tradition of European witchcraft and paganism and presented rituals and celebrations related to magic and the occult. Nowadays, Wicca has followers all around the world and, even if it has a decentralised structure, it still preserves the basic elements developed by Gardner.
What are the principles of Celtic Wicca? Which are its rituals, celebrations and symbols? How is it structured? What purpose does it have? We will reveal all that you need to know to be initiated in the Celtic Wiccan magic.
Wicca is a neopagan religious cult that combines some elements of Celtic paganism with the English Hermetic tradition to create magical and occultist practices, rituals and celebrations. It is based on the celebration of the solar and lunar periods included in the Wheel of the Year, which Wiccans celebrate by worshiping the corresponding gods.
Generally speaking, Wicca is defined as a positive journey into enlightenment in order to find free thought, artistic creativity, individuality, and personal, spiritual and psychic growth. All its followers around the world understand magic as a willpower that can be invoked through their gods: the Triple Goddess and the Horned God.
Wicca is based on tradition and legacy. Its knowledge and rituals are found in the Book of Shadows, although they are mostly transmitted orally. Its structure revolves around the celebration of solstices and equinoxes as a metaphor for the celebration of life and the forces of nature (animistic influence).
The Wiccan religion has a strong symbolic component since it encodes its principles and theological content through several representations. There are many Wiccan symbols associated with its shattered heterogeneity in several traditions, but we will present you only the main ones according to the canonical tradition introduced by Gardner.
The greatest symbol of Celtic Wicca is the Wiccan pentagram, whose shape can be related to a certain satanic tradition. However, it is important to remember that Celtic Wicca does not incorporate the concept of evil and therefore, it discards any satanic meaning.
The Wiccan pentagon is represented by a five-pointed star enclosed by a circle. The upper point symbolises the spirit and its power over the body. The upper right vertex represents the air, as power of thought, intelligence and reasoning. The upper left vertex stands for water, as a metaphor for the cycles of life. The two lower points represent the earth and the fire; the earth as security, growth and food, and the fire as a symbol of vigour and passion. The circle connects all these parts in the human being.
The cauldron represents witchcraft and the figure of the witch, who is the source and true matrix of the rituals devoted to the Triple Goddess. Basically, the cauldron is represented by the water element, although it also incorporates the other elements since it is placed on the ground, heated with fire and filled with water, which evaporates into the air.
In practice, the cauldron, usually made of copper, is the container used to prepare and produce magic potions and ointments for rituals and spells. Also, it keeps alive the fire and heat to burn incense or requests written on parchment.
The Eightfold path is a set of methods that allows you to reach enlightenment and happiness. Its structure and symbolic depth is described by Gardner in the Book of Shadows. The eight points of this symbol are represented by four crossed tangents enclosed in a circle.
These eight points represent meditation and concentration; trance state, clairvoyance and astral projection; drugs, wine and incense; dance, arts and rites; chants, spells and prayers; blood and breath control; the scourge; and the great rite.
The eightfold path is an adaptation made by Gardner of the Nobel Buddhist Path, which is a symbolic connection of eight points that shows the path to fulfilment and perfection through wisdom, ethical behaviour and mind training.
The Magic Circle is presented as a sacred space of purification, a setting for rituals. Its borders help to preserve the energy needed for the rites and spells to take effect, and it is also a protective parameter of external energies. Apart from being a boundary for the collective power, it offers a gate to the world of the gods.
It is drawn as a wheel with two crossed tangents: a vertical and a horizontal one.
On the one hand, it protects us from the invoked external energies, and on the other hand, it channels the magic energy created inside the circle. Once the circle is closed, nothing can get in or out, and it creates the perfection of the unit, the time cycle (life-death) and the seasons of the Wheel of the Year.
This is a lunar symbol related to the three aspects of the Goddess: the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. It has a labyrinth-like shape: inside a circle, there are twisting curved lines that form another small circle with a star in the middle. It is called Hecate’s wheel due to its Greek inspiration, which evokes the guardian goddess of the crossroads.
The labyrinth symbolises the power of the mind, the knowledge and life, and, unlike other labyrinths, it has a “Y” in the middle. Its goddess is worshipped on the 30th of November, at the celebration of Hecate Trivia (in Latin, Trivia refers to a three-way path).
The Wiccan religion contains a set of rituals that represents the entire tradition of witchcraft and white magic, and its relationship with the Celtic gods. These are some of the most relevant:
Samhain is one of the most important parts of the year for wiccans, because it is the moment to honour the God that dies in the summer solstice in order to go back to the Goddess’s womb and be reborn. This is the time when people can free themselves of weaknesses and bad habits.
This ritual must be preceded by a time of meditation in which people think of the deceased. In the original rite, a fire is lit inside a cauldron as a symbol of the God that returns to the Goddess’s womb, and parchments stating the weaknesses that are wanted to be left behind are burned.
Usually, the list is read and a prayer is recited to worship the Goddess, who makes the bad habits disappear when the paper is burned down in the fire. As this is also a renewal ritual (death-birth), a prayer of thanksgiving to the Goddess must be recited.
Imbolc represents the time when the Goddess has just given birth to the new God. This is a period of strength, light and vitality, in which everything is reborn again and starts a new life. Also, it is the dawn of nature and corresponds to one of the two equinoxes.
In this case, the ritual is carried out with an orange candle rubbed with musk or cinnamon oil that presides the altar. A prayer is said to invoke the light over the darkness and the Goddess who gave birth to the new God. Usually, people walk in circles holding a candle while reciting prayers, and then, a feast can be held.
Beltane symbolises the God’s reach of manhood, his union with the Goddess and her conception when she gets pregnant. Therefore, this ritual is used to celebrate the fertility and conception that will bring new life.
This ritual is carried out in a forest or an open field, as it is necessary to be close to a tree. Some cloth sachets can be made and stuffed with flowers, spices, herbs, etc. A circle is drawn around a tree and the sachets are hung in its branches.
A fire is set inside the cauldron and, wearing a floral crown on their heads, people dance while reciting a prayer. At a certain time, people jump over the fire as a sign of purification.
The theological basis of Wicca lies in its magical belief of two gods: a moon goddess that symbolises the life cycle and the soul that inhabits the living things, and a solar god that represents the death, the hunting and the underworld.
Within the pagan tradition, the Goddess is the soul that inhabits the different elements of nature, so she breathes life into the natural phenomena and endows the living things around us with spirit. In Celtic Wicca, the woman has a strong symbolic content in the cycles of life and is depicted according to them as the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone (the Triple Goddess).
She is represented by a lunar symbol that links a circle with two lunar quarters on each side, as a metaphor of birth and death, the regeneration ruled by the Triple Goddess over the living elements of the Earth.
By contrast, the Horned God rules over the underworld, as he is a symbol of death, magic and the occult. Since the Celtic Wiccan magic is closely related to the cycles of hunting-gathering and the agriculture of northern hemisphere, the Horned God is also a symbol of manliness and hunting that alternates with the cycles of the Goddess.
While the Triple Goddess has a lunar character, the Horned God represents the solar cycle and therefore, he is born in the winter solstice and dies in the summer solstice. He is depicted by a circle that has a lunar quarter on top (symbolising the antlers).
Wicca is a pagan religious cult of Nordic origin and hermetic, mystery and initiation transmission, which was founded on traditional Celtiberian roots. It is formed by a decentralised congregation of orders and branches that make clear the set of principles devised and transmitted by the creator Gerald Gardner in the mid-twentieth century.
These principles embrace the belief in a living, multiple and interrelated spiritual world, in which human experience is inserted. Nature is not something dissociated from human beings, but a living and sacred thing, where humans are integrated and which they depend on. In order to connect the human being and his experience with nature, there is a pantheon of gods that provide and help, and they must be worshipped.
Therefore, this is a polytheistic and animistic rite.
Wicca regards life as a cyclic event, death-birth or fertility-fecundity, and it relates these life cycles to agriculture and the seasons. That is why the celebration of life and death, procreation and fertility, is connected to farm labour and the harvest.
The magic dimension of Wicca considers magic to be an initiation path to knowledge, wisdom and spiritual growth. Thus, it is believed that the traditions of our ancestors are the living and encoded testimony of the historical past that transmits the Wiccan practices and doctrine.
In 1974, it was published for the first time a poem that spread the knowledge of what is called the Wiccan Rede, which is a golden rule meant to be followed by all Wiccans. The message of the Wiccan Rede is not to harm others and to be consistent with one’s actions. Thereafter, the concept of ethical reciprocity is developed.
One part of the text also emphasises the importance of the “True Will” as one’s duty, in opposition to whims and selfish will, but it does not make the guilt of inaction very clear. Either way, the Wiccan Rede is an advice rather than a law, and the Wiccan community follows it in a loose and intuitive way rather than compulsorily.
The Celtic Wicca incorporates celebrations that are related to the lunar and solar cycles. These celebrations are very important because one of Wicca’s purposes is to celebrate life and the seasons which create the Wheel of the Year. This is essentially based on the summer and winter solstices, and the spring and autumn equinoxes, which alternate with the hunting and gathering times, and the agricultural cycle.
The Wiccan celebrations are divided into Sabbats or festivals, and Esbats or covens. Within the Wiccan tradition, there are 8 festivals and 13 covens.
Wiccan purists reject the name “sabbat”, because it comes from the Hebrew tradition, which in turn rejects witchcraft. They prefer to call it a festival. Anyway, sabbats are seasonal festivals, particularly solar celebrations. There are four greater sabbats and four lesser ones:
The summer equinox symbolises the death of the God that returns to the Goddess’s womb to be born again. It is celebrated on the 31st of October and it is a former celebration of the Anglo-Saxon Halloween. Also, it marks the beginning of the calendar, according to the Wiccan rite, and it is dedicated to the ancestors, the deceased and the spiritual renewal. It is the time to leave behind bad habits and weaknesses.
It is the time when the Goddess gives birth to the new God and it corresponds to the spring equinox. In this case, the seeds are blessed and it is also known as the festival of lights as it celebrates the birth, the strength and the life that bursts. That is why the rituals carried out on the 1st of February are always surrounded by flames and fire.
It honours the God’s reach of manhood and his union with the Goddess, which will give place to a new life through impregnation. It celebrates fertility and reproduction, the continuity of life. It corresponds to the winter solstice, since it announces the arrival of summer (juxtaposition to Samhain). It is celebrated on the 1st of May and its rites have a strong sexual component.
This is the celebration of the end of the harvest and the gathering, and symbolically, it serves to thank the gods for the gathered goods and to ask for a good harvest in the next season. It coincides with the time of fairs and markets. It is celebrated on the 1st of August to commemorate the marriage of God to the Earth, so that the weddings were also blessed.
The Goddess gives birth to a son at Christmas, but any similarity with Christianism is coincidental. It is celebrated on the shortest day of the year and therefore, it is ruled by darkness. It is usually celebrated before dawn and the sunrise is considered a symbol of birth.
It is related to Imbolc, as it symbolises the change of the elements of nature, from the languid winter dream to the life burst of spring. During this festival, the gods are worshipped and thanked for the light, which is gaining hours to the darkness until they are even.
It celebrates the summit of nature’s power, when the elements have already reached maturity, and for this reason, it is directly connected to the Beltane festival. Fire is involved in the celebration and people jump over it as a symbol of energy, power and strength.
Mabon corresponds to the autumn equinox, that is to say, Lughnasadh, and to the moment when the God leaves his body to begin a path towards the invisible. Nature is fading away and the elements get ready for the winter’s slumber.
They are commonly called covens and, unlike festivals or sabbats, they are related to the lunar cycles as they are carried out every lunar phase. It is associated with the celebration of cycles, light, strength and femininity, because it is directly linked with the Goddess.
The lunar phases are related to the phases of the Triple Goddess: the crescent moon represents the youth, the full moon is maturity (the Mother), and the waning moon, the old age (the Crone). During Esbats, the Goddess is worshipped in a magical setting, with rituals carried out during the night, accompanied by meditation and prayers.