THE NATURE OF WICCA
One of the key questions that needs to be examined in order to understand Wicca is ‘is Wicca a religion’. In order to define this we need to answer the question what is a religion. There are two types of traditions which could theoretically be called a religion, those built on a person and those built on a place. Those that are built on a person are sometimes called cults, so strictly speaking Buddhism and Christainity are cults and those that are based in the land such as Shinto and Hula which do not carry the name of a leader but are linked to a place are not. There is a huge difference between the first two and the latter two. With religions based on an original leader, it is very difficult to get a clear understanding of what these religions actually stand for. In some cases this is because the traditions are esoteric, and therefore not properly open to criticism. In the case of others there seems to be a prioritisation of evangelism over explanation and a heavy resting on a requirement for faith. Faith is necessary in the case of magical elements of Wicca but not for the core tradition nor for the left hand path. A requirement for faith tends to reduce the requirement for an explantion of religious traditions. The same issue affects those in the second group too, however it does not need to be the case, it is generally based on the lack of a full understanding of the traditions. These traditions are not esoteric and do not necessarily require faith and therefore are able to be explained. Wicca falls into the second of these two groups being based in a place rather than on a person. The question of whether these last two are religions is debatable, they are folk practices based in the land. Critically they only recieved their name from outside. They were not branded from within. It does not seem to be credible to see something as a religion if it did not have a name. This is why there issues in defining Wicca as a religion, if that means it would be viewed as similar in nature to Buddhism. It can be perplexing when correspondances are drawn between Buddhism and Wicca. It is more reasonable to say that there are cults and there are folk practices, and Wicca is a set of folk practices. These can be termed a religion or a spiritual path.
Alexandrian and Gardnerian Wicca could be seen as cult versions of Wicca based around people. The essence of Wicca, however, is in its non hierarchical and chaotic nature and having authorised leaders seems contradictory. As a result nobody suggests that Gerald Gardner or Alex Saunders were Gods. They were simply people who led Wiccan groups. This does not qualify them to be cults.
Another issue to consider is whether Wicca has Gods. There are many trends within Wicca and no little dispute, but since Wicca is based in the land there are issues for some Wiccans in incorporating deities and places that are from outside the UK. The plethora of Egyptian and Greek Gods that have found a place in Wicca does not make for a coherant tradition and does not form a necessary part of an explanation of what Wicca is. Wicca is fundamentally about British Traditions. It is sometimes viewed as polytheistic and sometimes atheistic.The problem is that we tend to view God within a Christian context. When we talk about mother nature, father time, father Thames and so on we need to be clear about whether we are truly talking of deities. These are anthropomorphism of the physical world. This is very different from saying that a human being was the son of God. This is simply inconcievable in a Wiccan world view. There is no possible basis for thinking that man was built in the image of God. In my view someone from a tradition with a personal leader who was a God would rightly see Wicca as athiestic, although the tradition does have deities they are very different. Most Wiccans view the tradition as polytheistic but accept atheism as legitimate.
Once we have stripped away the layers can start to get to the heart of Wicca but when we do this we need to understand the clash of the two strands within the underlying native tradition of Wicca which needs to be addressed.
There are two native strands of the tradition. I am not including Druidry in regards to this, that is a large question which needs to be dealt with separately, but to the genuine British originating traditions. The first of these are those based on the circle and the second are the hooden traditions. There are connections between these two and Wicca is a fusion of these two traditions, so to understand Wicca you need to know where these two elements come from. In the case of the circle element of the tradition it seems clear that this is strongly connected to Stonehenge, and indeed Stonehenge is very important to understanding Wicca. The second element – the hooden tradition this seems to be linked to hunting.
It is reasonable to believe that the Hooden traditions date from the Stone Age and the Circle based traditions date from the Bronze Age. The Bronze Age, being technological, puts science at its heart, and Stonehenge is an Astronomical observatory. These two elements need to be looked at separately.