Friday, June 21 will be the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. And for one religious group it's a time to celebrate the Oak King falling to the Holly King.
We take a look at the often misunderstood Wiccan religion. Recently they’ve made inroads into popular acceptance, but practitioners still say there's more to be done. Owen Davies, author of the book America Bewitched, joins two local Wiccan practitioners, "J" and "Thorgo" to discuss the Wiccan faith locally and internationally.
First, Owen Davies talks about the history of the the Wiccan religion as an offshoot of Paganism, much like Heathenry or Neo-Druidism, although Owen Davies is quick to point out, "There is no continuous line of witchcraft from Paganism to today."
Modern Wiccan religion began in earnest in 1939 when Gerald Gardner was initiated into the New Forest coven. Often regarded as the father of the Wiccan religion, Gardner wanted to revive some of the Pagan practices of the Pre-Christian era.
From there Owen Davies has been charting Wiccan's steadily growing popularity through the alternative culture of the 1960s to the prevalence of pop culture witches in the 1990s with shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed (First Episode Title: "Something Wicca This Way Comes".)
In terms of modern practices, both "J" and "Thorgo" are high priests/priestesses of their covens, and they have been involved in Wicca for a number of years. They spoke a great deal about the current practices of a typical Wiccan.
"Wiccan religion is all about self-empowerment. We believe that a deity is within us, but that we are responsible for our own actions," says J. "We don't think that magic is supernatural. In fact, it's just the opposite. Magic is a part of nature, and exists all around us."
"Casting spells is like saying prayers," says Thorgo. He also mentioned a Wiccan tradition of eating bread in place of the skin of a goddess and drinking juice or wine in place of the blood, which sounds very close to the Catholic communion practice.
And as you may have noticed, both also have unusual names. These are called "craft names," and they are partially used to protect their reputation, but mostly it's a matter of self-expression. "Choosing your name is just another way of creating your own personal identity within the coven," says J, whose craft name is Glenweaver Weird.
However, J and Thorgo were also interested in mentioning the practices they do not follow. "No blood is spilt during a Wiccan ceremony, not even symbolically," says Thorgo, "In fact, we're very family-friendly, and we love having kids at our ceremonies."
J says that she is tired of people confusing Wicca with Satanism. "Believing in Satan would require believing in at least some aspect of Christianity, and since Paganism holds no Christian beliefs, we would never worship a Christian figure like Satan."
There are many misconceptions about the Wiccan religion. As Owen Davies explains, "Nearly every modern religion has taken and mixed elements from Paganism and witchcraft."
"Even the names of the days and the months owe a lot to these Nordic and Roman Gods," says Thorgo, "even after 2000 years of a dominant Christian faith, a thread of Paganism runs through everything we do.
If you'd like to know more about Wicca or Paganism, there will be a national Pagan Pride Day on September 15th, where Pagans celebrate their culture and heritage. It boasts fun for both Pagans and non-Pagans alike!