All countries have an indigenous spiritual tradition which existed before monotheism. In Japan it is Shinto, in Hawaii Hula. In Britain the indigenous tradition was termed Wicca by the Saxons. The word itself dates back to 890 when it was used in the laws of Alfred and there are many other pre 1951 references. Sometimes the word Wicca is used interchangeably with Witchcraft, however Witchcraft is a generic word to describe all native traditions globally, whereas Wicca is purely the native British strand. Native traditions were often surpressed by the rise of monotheism, however following the second world war the law was changed. The Witchcraft Act of 1951 allowed the publication of material on British pagan traditions. This led to the free flow of information and was a key reason for the new age movement.
The central purpose of Wicca is to strengthen the will of the individual without harming nature. The heart of the tradition is facilitating that people decide what they want to do and help its achievement. The methods used to achieve the will of the individual are a central feature of the Wiccan tradition. In general they are based on forming a circle and carrying out practices within that framework with other Wiccans.
There are two main strands of Wicca. These are linked to the fact that the British diaspora has spread the tradition all over the English speaking world.
Where there are no local sites or folk traditions Wicca is largely based on written material often mixing British mythologies with those from other parts of the mediterranean. These traditions such as Stregaria, Seax Wicca and Blue Star Wicca are widespread across the USA, Australia, and Canada, and also have practicioners in Britain.
Within the UK local control over sacred sites, original texts, and folklore based traditions has tended to result in forms of Wicca that claim a more significant pre 20th Century base for their practices. These consist of traditionals who claim that their practices go back into the medieval period and beyond, hedgewitches who follow traditional paths, Glastonbury and Goddess centered groups,Shamanic and Folk Dance based traditions.
The pre Iron Age Wiccan traditions have manifested themselves in two distinct strands. The first of these are those from the neolithic period prior to 2300BC. These traditions were based around hunting and the moon and are centred on cloven hooved animals particularly the deer. Other traditions emphasise the horse. These traditions are shamanic in nature and include the Derby tup, The Mari Llwyd, the Gloucestershire bull and the hooden horse. They are tied closely to particular areas. The traditions coming out of the Bronze Age are based on the circle. Amongst those that emphasise the circle are Wiccan traditions including the Gardnerian strand. These traditions do also give a role to the horned god. The direct connection of the circle based traditions to the prehistoric period is weak, however the case for a connection for the hooden traditions is reasonable.
What Wiccans believe varies from one individual but the main thread is that the tradition is polytheistic with locus dei or local spirits linked to rivers, mountains and the natural features. There is also an overriding deity, mother earth. The protection of the natural world is very important to Wicca. Wicca has an afterlife concept, Avalon, to which everyone is admitted, good or bad, from whatever tradition. There is no concept of evangelism in Wicca, as Wiccans generally have no wish to include or exclude anyone from the tradition.
When Wiccans meet they almost always cast circles as the circle, where all are equal, is sacred to the tradition. When the circle is cast gods and godesses are invoked, generally by calling the four quarters, or invoking the gods of north, south, east, and west. Then various activities take place focusing on strengthening the will of the participants or celebrating native British (or other) traditions. These often include trance or imagination sessions. Next the sharing of cake, cut with a knife and alcoholic liquids, in a cup, takes place. This is a symbolic reconstruction of the grail feast. Finally the circle is closed.
Wiccans hold sacred many sites around the UK, particularly stone circles, of which the most important is Stonehenge. These sites are not required for Wicca, however, as it is based in the land. The use of public land and private homes is the key to Wiccan ritual. Despite the fact that convenient public land is the preferred option in most cases Wiccans are to be found at Stonehenge and other magalithic sites at the solstices, and equinoxes, however the rituals are generally run by Druid group. Some sites are also used at the cross quarter festivals and for lunar cycle based celebrations.
Wiccan traditions in the UK today tend to consist of groups of friends casting circles, although there are groups that are open to varying degrees. Many groups are formed on a fairly ad hoc basis and then close or break up into private groups.
Wicca believes in the individual creating their own strong will to carry out what they need to do, and the purpose of the tradition is to strengthen the will of the individual without harming the natural world. Most Wiccan groups also have a taboo against harming others with the motto ‘An it harm none do thy will’ being widely accepted.
There is a lot of cross over between these groups, and relations between all sections of the Wiccan movement tend to be good.