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What is Wicca?

Wicca is a variety of witchcraft founded on religious and magical concepts, and most of its adherents identify as witches. As such it is distinguished not only by its religious beliefs, but by its initiatory system, organisational structure, secrecy and practice of magic. Initiatory Wiccans tend not to proselytise, and even deny membership to some individuals, since once initiated a person is considered to be a priest or priestess, and expected to develop the skills and responsibility that that entails.

Initiatory Wicca has distinctive ritual forms, involving the casting of spells, herbalism, divination and other forms of magic. Wiccan ethics promote free will while requiring that magical activities not harm oneself or others, as expressed in The Wiccan Rede; some also believe in the Threefold Law of Return

Many Wiccans, though not all, call themselves Pagans, though the umbrella term Paganism encompasses many faiths that have nothing to do with Wicca or witchcraft.

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In typical rites, the coven assemble inside a ritually cast and purified magic circle. Prayers to the God and Goddess are said, the "Guardians" of the North, South, East and West are welcomed, and spells are sometimes worked. An altar is usually present in the circle, on which ritual tools are placed. Before entering the circle, some traditionsattribution needed fast for the day, and/or ritually bathe. After a ritual has finished, the God, Goddess and Guardians are thanked and the circle is reopened.citations needed

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Many Wiccans use a special set of altar tools in their rituals; these can include a broom (besom), cauldron, chalice, wand, Book of Shadows, altar cloth, athame (a knife used in rituals to channel energy), boline (or a knife for cutting things in the physical world), candles, crystals, pentacle and/or incense. Representations of the God/Goddess are often displayed. The tools themselves are just that — tools — and have no innate powers of their own, though they are usually dedicated or charged with a particular purpose, and used only in that context. For this reason, it is usually considered rude to touch another's tools without permission.

The Book of Shadows is a traditional book of Wicca, containing the core rituals, practices, and wisdom of a Wiccan tradition. It is normally copied by hand from that of one's initiator (High Priestess or Priest), who copied it from his or her initiator.

Ritual attire

A sensationalised aspect of Wicca, particularly in Gardnerian Wicca, is the traditional practice of working in the nude, also known as skyclad. Though many Wiccans do perform rituals skyclad, at least on occasion, others do not. In other situations Wiccans may work robed, often in white or black. Cords are worn, indicating rank, among other things.citation needed Some wear normal clothes. Even renaissance-faire-type clothing is not uncommon. Still others wear robes with stoles which represent their tradition and/or standing within the tradition.

The Elements

The classical elements are a key feature of the Wiccan world-view. Every manifest force or form is seen to express one of the four archetypal elements — Earth, Air, Fire and Water — or several in combination. This scheme is fundamentally identical with that employed in other Western Esoteric and Hermetic traditions, such as Theosophy and the Golden Dawn, which in turn were influenced by the Hindu system of tattvas.

There is no consensus as to the exact nature of these elements. Some hold to the ancient Greek conception of the elements corresponding to matter (earth) and energy (fire), with the mediating elements (water, air) relating to the phases of matter (fire/earth mixtures). Other exponents of the system add a fifth or quintessential element, spirit (aether, akasha).

The five points of the frequently worn pentagram symbolise, among other things, the four elements with spirit presiding at the top. The pentagram is the symbol most commonly associated with Wicca in modern times. It is often circumscribed — depicted within a circle — and is usually (though not exclusively) shown with a single point upward. The inverse pentagram, with two points up, is a symbol of the second degree initiation rite of traditional Wicca. In geometry, the pentagram is an elegant expression of the golden ratio phi which is popularly connected with ideal beauty and was considered by the Pythagoreans to express truths about the hidden nature of existence.

Each of the four cardinal elements (air, fire, water and earth) is typically assigned a direction, a color, and an elemental race. The following list shows a common categorisation, but different traditions of Wicca may use different "correspondences":

* Air: East, Yellow, Sylphs
* Fire: South, Red, Salamanders
* Water: West, Blue, Undines
* Earth: North, Green, Gnomes

Some variations in correspondences can be explained by geography or climate. It is common in the southern hemisphere, for example, to associate the element fire with north (the direction of the equator) and earth with south (the direction of the nearest polar area). Some Wiccan groups also modify the religious calendar to reflect local seasonal changes; for instance, most Southern Hemisphere covens celebrate Samhain on April th and Beltane on October st, reflecting the southern hemisphere's autumn and spring seasons.

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