Wicca, from the old english word meaning 'wise one,' is an earth-oriented, positive religion with roots that are pre-Christian. It celebrates nature and life.
Wicca as we know it today is largely attributed to the works of Dr Gerald Gardner in the 1940's. Before this time the basic principles still existed, but Gardner was first to put them together in the way we recognise today. The gardenarian book of shadows writen by Gardner and Doreen Valiente still underpins most Wiccan traditions. For many years Witches were feared and persecuted and some stigma still remains attached to being a witch or Wiccan* today. In many cases those persecuted were merely midwives or knew how to make natural remedies.
Wicca is what some may call a do-it-yourself religion in that it is extremely flexible. Some Wiccans practise alone as a solitary or 'hedge witch', while others seek out a coven to practise with a group.*.
Wiccans believe in many gods, either literally, or as externalised aspects of the self. Most however venerate the Goddess, the femine aspect. In some traditions the Goddess is held in higher esteem than the God, though equally as many if not more traditions view them as equal. Unlike many religions, including Christanity, sex and sexuality is not a 'sin'. It is believed it was the coming together of the god and goddess, the masculine and feminie aspects of nature, that created the universe and sex is celebrated. However ex withi the coven is taken very seriously and you will find no wild orgies in Wicca!
Common deities are Isis, Pan, Horus, Aphrodite and Hecate, though they can be taken from any panteon and is a matter of personal choice. One may feel a draw towards a particular deity or sk for one to make him/herself known in meditation.
Contrary to some beliefs about Wiccans, they do not worship the devil or infact even believe in him! He is a solely Christian invention and many believe a bastardisation of one the horned god of witchcraft, Cerunnos.
The four elements are used along with a protective circle in most spells and rituals. Other tools include a special knife called an athame, incense, candles and perhaps even a cauldron style pot.
Wiccans practise magick, that is spell casting and ritual magic, almost exclusively for the benefit of others or the earth itself. It is held as serious business by Wiccans, not something to be taken lightly or fooled around with. Magick is about empowerment and projecting one's intentions with such focus as to create them.
Many Wiccans also practice herbalism and divination. The tarot and black mirror are very popular divination methods. Some may go on to attempt to develop their psychic abilities such as mediumship.
There is only one rule by which every Wiccan is morally bound: 'An it harm none, do as ye will', though they also believe strongly in the threefold law, that all one's actions come back to them threefold.