Towards the Wiccan Circle

For those of you who have enjoyed the lessons posted here, you may also find the “Towards a Wiccan Circle” self-study manual which was based on the correspondence course offered by the authors of these free lessons by the same name.  More information on this highly practical book can be found at Avalonia Books – Towards the Wiccan Circle

PDF of Free Lessons

Download the Avalonia Free Wicca Lessons as a PDF document

Prepared for free distribution by Star Danser for Avalonia.

Lesson 1 – What is Wicca?

Lesson 1
What is Wicca?

“Wicca encompasses your whole worldview and way of life, and is always there in the way you look at and interact with the world.

Wicca is an experiential spiritual system of magick and ceremony that works with the divine as both Goddess and God, and emphasises growth through balance and discipline. This balance, be it of light and dark, feminine and masculine, or active and passive, acts as a dynamic tension to create harmony and enable the individual to progress in their development through understanding their relationship with themselves and the world around them.

The celebration of the Goddess and God is at the heart of Wicca. The patron Goddess of Wicca is usually associated with the Moon, although she is also often seen as having stellar, terrestrial and chthonian forms. The patron God of Wicca is usually associated with forests, plants and animals; he is also sometimes seen as having solar and chthonian forms.”

[Extract from CIRCLE OF FIRE by Sorita D’Este & David Rankine]

Wicca can also be described as a nature focused spirituality, which draws on the beliefs and practices of pre-christian cultures, blended with ceremonial magick, witchcraft, Gnosticism, Thelema and Hermetics.

The terms “Wicca” and “Witchcraft” are often used interchangeably, but it is important to note from the beginning of your journey that there are some differences. Keeping these differences in mind will help prevent misunderstandings and will help you focus your learning and practice in a direction which suits you best, rather than wasting time and energy arguing definitions! It is correct to say that all Wiccans are Witches, but important to keep in mind that not all Witches are Wiccans.

Wicca was first made “public” by a man called Gerald Gardner back in the 1950’s and has since grown and evolved. There are many debates about where the practices originated from (if you want to learn more about the history of Wicca, we recommend you read “Triumph of the Moon” by Prof. Ronald Hutton) but although it is important to have a firm grasp of the history of the tradition, it is also important to always keep in mind that as with all magickal traditions, it is the experience and understanding which comes through practice which is the most important aspect.

For many years Wicca was viewed as an initiatory tradition. That is, that in order to learn and experience the tradition fully, it was necessary to find a coven who are both willing and able to accept you as a trainee, work with them, receive initiation and then continue working with them for a few years until such time that you decide you wish to start your own coven.

In some respects not much has changed. It is still true that to fully understand and experience the tradition initiation into the tradition and work with a coven will be of great help. However, now that so much has been written about the tradition (books and websites) it is possible to gain a good understanding of both the spirituality and practices of Wicca. It is even possible to experience some of the mystical aspects.

Learning by yourself is however not an easy path, as you will need to read through dozens of books, spend a great deal of time and energy experimenting to find the methods which work best for you and learn to discriminate between the books which offer good information and those which have been written with a “fast buck” in mind. The latter often seems to be written by people with little understanding and experience of the tradition themselves. (Someone who learns the traditional way, by receiving initiation into a coven and then learning and practising, will typically take a minimum of 5 years to reach the point at which they are qualified to start teaching!)

Ultimately, to be a “Wiccan” you need to have a both an understanding of the tradition, experience of the spiritual and practical aspects of the tradition, and first hand experience of the mysticism inherent in the tradition. Wicca combines magick and mysticism with spirituality. In addition you will also need to actually be practising the tradition through celebration of the seasonal “Wheel of the Year” Sabbats, Moon Ceremonies (Esbats) and through applying the principles, ethics and spiritual life to your every day life.

It is not as easy as it sounds, nor does it suit everyone!

Wiccan ritual is not the same as every other tradition in the modern Pagan movement. It follows a set pattern, in which sacred space is created in the form of a magick circle, the Guardians of the Four Elemental Realms are invoked, the Goddess and God are invoked, celebrations and magickal workings are performed, cakes and wine are blessed and which ends when the circle is opened at the end. Many modern pagan traditions have taken their ideas from the Wiccan tradition and follow roughly the same structure, although they may apply different symbolism and ideals to each stage.

Witches may sometimes have the same spiritual beliefs as Wiccans, they may even share some of the same practices. However the term Witchcraft is applied in different ways in different cultures and can for this reason mean a variety of things. Witchcraft is a term which can be used to describe magick which draws primarily on the energies of Earth, for this reason Witchcraft is sometimes referred to as “Low Magick” rather than the “High Magick” of Magickians who more often draw energies from the stars and planets. Of course, yet again, there are overlap and Witches may sometimes also work with planetary and stellar energies, and Magickians may sometimes draw energy from the Earth. Witches tend to focus less on “ceremony” than Magickians, where as Wicca takes a bit from both worlds.

Witches are not all spiritual, although all Witches will have a belief in a higher power of some type. Witches do not all believe in or venerate a Goddess or God. Witches may have Christian, Muslim, Hindu or any number of other religions (even if those religions object to witchcraft!), for this reason it is a good idea to clarify the term when you are using it, this can be done, for example, by saying you are a “Pagan Witch”. The term “Witch” is considered by many to be a misappropriation of the term. It was used in the past to describe mythical haglike creatures who ate babies and could fly through the air, it was used to describe those who practiced negative magickal practices – or who were perceived to do so. For the purposes of this website the term is used to mean someone who practices Modern Western Witchcraft, within the context of modern Neo-Paganism.

So in summary: Wiccans follow a specific set of beliefs, and a specific way of performing ceremonies – although there is flexibility, it is certainly not the same as everyone who practice witchcraft or magick. For this reason, Wiccans may all be Witches, but not all Witches are Wiccan, nor are all who practice Magick Witches or Wiccans!

Exercise 1
a. Spend some time in a place where you will not be disturbed. Think about your own beliefs in regards to deity (God / Goddess), Nature, Life, Death and what happens to the soul after Death. Make some notes in your notebook. At a later stage we will return to these notes and re-examine them.

b. Write a short definition of the Wiccan tradition – based both on the information provided in Lesson 1 and other books / websites you have read. Write a list of questions for yourself in regards to points which you are unclear on and return to them as you progress through the lessons to see if you are able to answer all of them by the end of this short course.
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(c) Avalonia 2000
Made available here for free distribution.
The Free Wicca Lessons
www.avalonia.co.uk (2000-2008)

Lesson 2: The Origins of Wicca

Lesson 2
The Origins of Wicca

There are many debates about the origins of Wicca. Some say that Gerald Gardner “made it all up” whilst others argue that Gerald Gardner was only passing on rituals and beliefs which he himself was taught in the “New Forest Coven”. The history of Wicca is a huge subject and if you are interested in finding out more we would recommend you obtain copies of the following books for a rounded view:

  • The Triumph of the Moon – by Prof. Ronald Hutton
  • Wiccan Roots – by Philip Hesselton
  • Wicca Magickal Beginnings – Sorita d’Este & David Rankine

However, although the history is an interesting and important part of our inheritance, it is not necessary to be a historian in order to start exploring the beliefs and practices of the Wiccan tradition.

What is true is that regardless of where Wicca originated it has been largely practiced as an initiatory tradition for the last 60+ years. Key figures in its development in Britain include:

o Gerald Gardner
o Doreen Valiente
o Patricia Crowther
o Alex Sanders
o Maxine Sanders
o Stewart Farrar

There are of course many more and today many people continue to carry the torch for the tradition by making available information, sharing ideas, teaching, facilitating covens and giving workshops / lectures on the Craft to those who are interested.

When examining key texts of the tradition – such as those presented to initiates in the Book of Shadows (some of which has been published in “The Witches Bible” by Stewart and Janet Farrar) it is clear that the rituals (although not all the beliefs) has been heavily influenced by three older traditions of magick:

o The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (GD)
o The Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO)
o the Grimoire Tradition (Key of Solomon, Goetia, Heptamaron)

When examining the beliefs and spiritual components of the tradition it becomes clear that this has been influenced by:

  • Ancient Greek and Roman Religion and Magick
  • Celtic and British Folk Customs and Magick
  • Egyptian Religion and Magick
  • Hermetic, Alchemical and Qabalistic thought

Of course there have been many other influences also and it has become increasingly popular and accepted that individual High Priestesses and High Priests adapt their rituals and other workings through experience, passing on both the traditional and revised practices to their own initiates.

Exercise 2
a) Spend some time thinking about what influenced you to find out more about the Wiccan tradition. Was it something you read, experienced or did a friend spark your interest? Make notes about this under the heading “Sparking my Path” (or something like that!) in your notebook. Again this is something that you will return to in time.

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(c) Avalonia 2000
Made available here for free distribution.
The Free Wicca Lessons
www.avalonia.co.uk (2000-2008)

Lesson 3 – Initiation, Self-Dedication & Wicca

Lesson 3
Initiation, Self Dedication & Wicca

You would already have heard the term “initiation” in lessons 1 & 2. But what exactly does it mean within the context of the Wiccan tradition and how is it applied in the tradition?

Traditional “Gardnerian” and “Alexandrian” covens, as well as other derivatives which follow a Wiccan initiatory structure will typically have three degrees. These are usually:

o First Degree – Initiation as a “Witch & Priestess”; “Witch & Priest” or “Witch”.
o Second Degree – Initiation/ Elevation as a “High Priestess”/”High Priest” or “Priestess” / “Priest”
o Third Degree – Initiation/Elevation as a “High Priestess & Witch Queen” or “High Priest & Magus”

These titles are only used in regards to the tradition and only the REALLY pretentious and egotistical go around calling themselves anything of the kind all the time!

Some covens also have a stage before first degree which is called “probationer” or “neophyte” or “trainee” or “dedicant”. It is usual that a person starts their journey with a coven with a simple ceremony in which they pledge to study and walk the path towards initiation – this is done to both the Goddess and God, as well as to the coven they are working with as a sign of their commitment. Typically a period of “a year and a day” is spent in this pre-initiation stage of training, allowing time for the trainee to see whether or not Wicca is something they wish to pursue further and also for both the trainee and coven members to get to know each other, so that they can be sure that they wish to continue working together.

I like to describe the probationer stage as “dating before marriage” – for some it is immediately apparent that is the right thing, where as other relationships may take longer – so although the “year and a day” is the norm, it is not unusual to find that some people may be initiated sooner where as for others it may take several years before they are ready to take the step!

What is the purpose of initiation?
Initiation is one of the ways in which mysticism is expressed in Wicca. Those who undertake first degree initiation aligns themselves with the tradition through the experience knowing that everyone else who is of the same tradition has undergone the same experience too. Without the shared experience, alignment to the “current” (a term used to describe the energy of the tradition) is difficult, although not completely impossible.

Initiation is an entrance into the tradition and a commitment to it. It is also a commitment to the Gods and to oneself. Of course it is possible to make these pledges as a solitary, but they would take a different form – a process which is usually called “self-dedication” and at times incorrectly “self-initiation”.

Explore this subject further by also reading the following articles on this website:Self Dedication

Exercise 3
a) Consider the idea of initiation. Is this something you think you would wish to pursue at some point in the future? Why? Again make notes for yourself in your notebook.
b) Consider the idea of self-dedication. In such a ceremony, which is personal by its very nature, you will make a pledge to yourself and to the Gods to continue your learning and practice. Is this something which appeals to you? Why? Again make notes for yourself in your notebook.
c) What are the differences between initiation and self-dedication? Can you think of any other differences which we did not mention?
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(c) Avalonia 2000
Made available here for free distribution.
The Free Wicca Lessons
www.avalonia.co.uk (2000-2008)

Lesson 4 – What do Wiccans Believe

Lesson 4
Wiccan Beliefs

The Egyptians had many different practices, as did the Greeks and the Romans and the Celts. Wicca is one of the many that exist today and within Wicca there are many different traditions, all with slightly different practices and spiritual focus. All Wiccans do however share some common beliefs, although they may express and experience those beliefs in different ways.

Typically the shared spiritual beliefs include:

  • Divinity is plural – expressed through both the masculine (God) and feminine (Goddess). Wiccans may be henotheistic, polytheistic or pantheistic – or a combination of these.
  • That the Moon, Sun and Earth are important planetary bodies from which power can be drawn. That the Moon, Sun and Earth are all part of the sacred divine – usually expressed as the Moon Goddess, Sun God and Earth Goddess.
  • That the changing seasons on Earth yields important symbolic changes in our personal lives too. The celebration of the “turning of the wheel” (ie. The Wheel of the Year Sabbats) play an important role in Wicca.


Exercise 4

a) Write down the names of each of the seasons on a clean page in your notebook: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Under each heading write down notes for yourself on what the season represents for you and what your local area looks like during that season, what the trees are doing, which animals you typically see during each season etc.
b) Create a page for “Goddess and God”. Now make some notes on how you view divinity. Do you see the Goddess and God as being part of a greater whole, do you see them as individual, do believe that there are many Gods and Goddesses who all have individual names and individual personalities? Do you believe that the divine is inherent in all life – animal, mineral and plant?

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(c) Avalonia 2000
Made available here for free distribution.
The Free Wicca Lessons
www.avalonia.co.uk (2000-2008)

Lesson 5: Wiccan Ethics, The Wiccan Rede

Lesson 5
Wiccan Ethics

“An It Harm None – Do as ye Will”

The Wiccan Rede : “An It Harm None – Do as ye Will” is the central moral / ethical code of the Wiccan Tradition. Interpretation of this is down to the individual practicing Wicca, the stress is on personal responsibility for both magickal and mundane action.

(Note: There are various “poetic” versions of the Rede widely published today. Although some of them are very magickal sounding and beautiful, the Wiccan Rede itself is _only_ the eight words given above, the rest as they say, is just “poetry”!)

If you are unable to take responsibility for your actions, then practising magick (in any tradition) is probably a bad idea – regardless of whether or not you believe in the Rede or decide to follow it.

You may also want to read the following articles from the Avalonia Book of Shadows section of this site:The Wiccan Rede by Iris and Wiccan Ethics – Extract from Circle of Fire

Exercise 5
a) Note down the Wiccan Rede on a clean page in your notebook.
b) Spend some time thinking about what the Rede means to you and what it means to you? Is this something you could apply to your life? How would you apply it to everyday situations? Make notes on the various issues you can think of where the Rede would be helpful and where it may seem impossible.
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(c) Avalonia 2000
Made available here for free distribution.
The Free Wicca Lessons
www.avalonia.co.uk (2000-2008)

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