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One of the most mysterious faiths in the world, the Wicca religion has been known for nature worship and magic. Most of their religious symbols are derived from ancient paganism and have been altered to fit contemporary beliefs. Here’s an exploration of the most important Wiccan symbols.
What Is Wicca?
The term wicca comes from the ancient word wicce that means to shape or bend, referring to witchcraft. Wicca is a diverse nature-based pagan religion, which includes ceremonial magic and worship of both a male god and a female goddess, typically the Horned God and the Earth or Moon Goddess. Rituals in the religion are centered on solstices, equinoxes, phases of the moon and the elements. Wiccans also celebrate the festivals of Beltane, Samhain and Imbolc.
Developed in the early 20th century in England, Wicca is a religion of relatively recent origin—but its beliefs and practices are derived from a number of older religions. According to Gerald Gardner, the founder of the religion, the term Wicca was derived from Scots-English and meant wise people. It was first mentioned in his book Witchcraft Today in 1954 as wica, but it didn’t get its contemporary name until the 1960s.
Wicca is influenced by the traditions of several religions and cults in medieval Europe. Many cite the works of folklorist Margaret Murray, including the 1921’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, as the basis of its ancient origin. Written by Gardner, the Book of Shadows is a collection of spells and rituals significant to the Wiccan faith. In 1986, Wicca was recognized as a religion in the United States, and gained increasing social acceptance in other parts of the world.
Common Wiccan Symbols
Like many religions, Wicca has its own symbols that carry spiritual significance. However, there are many different beliefs and tradition that make up the religion, so the meaning of the symbols may also vary among Wiccans.
1- The Elemental Symbols
Derived from ancient Greek philosophy, the elements of air, fire, water and earth are often invoked in Wiccan rituals, though the choices on how to represent them may vary. A few traditions of Wicca include a fifth element, often referred to as the spirit.
- Often drawn as a triangle with a line through it, the air element is associated with life, knowledge and communication.
- The fire element is symbolized by a triangle. Sometimes known as the living element, it’s associated with power and the principle of duality, as it can create and destroy.
- Represented by an upside-down triangle, the water element is associated with regeneration, purification and healing.
- Similarly, the symbol for the earth element is an upside-down triangle but it has a horizontal line through it, representing the foundation of life, fertility and family roots.
2- The Pentagram
The pentagram is an upright five-pointed star, where the top symbolizes the spirit and each of the other points represents one of the four elements. In Wicca, it’s a symbol of protection as the spirit brings the elements into balance and order, which is the opposite of chaos. The Wiccans believe that everything is connected, so they use the pentagram to combine the elements.
When the pentagram is depicted inside a circle, it’s called a pentacle. The earliest known example of a pentacle appears on a signet ring worn by a Pythagorean sect in southern Italy, around 525 BCE. Today, the Wiccan pentacle symbol is also engraved on veterans’ headstones, indicating the faith of fallen soldiers.
3- The Circle
A primary Wiccan symbol, the circle denotes infinity, wholeness, and unity. On the other hand, the so-called ritual circle, or the circle of the arts, serves as the sacred space where Wiccans perform rituals and spells. One of its earliest usage can be traced back to the 17th century, and was featured in the book Compendium Maleficarum.
4- The Triple Goddess
In Wicca, the moon goddess is seen as a triple goddess—maiden, mother and crone. Her symbol is the triple moon, where the maiden is associated with the waxing moon, the mother with the full moon, and the crone with the waning moon. The moon goddess has been associated with fertility, and was known as the bringer of life and death. The Wiccan belief can be traced back to the fertility cults of pre-Christian Europe, as the ancients thought that the moon influenced a woman’s menstrual cycle.
5- The Horned God
Another major deity in Wicca, the Horned God is the male counterpart of the moon goddess. He is represented by a full moon topped with a crescent moon that resembles a pair of horns, and sometimes portrayed as a man with a horned helmet. Parallel to the maiden, mother and crone, the symbol represents the master, father, and sage.
Over the course of time, the horned god evolved to include the goat-horned god and the bull-horned god. It’s said that the symbol became associated with the bull when humans were pastoral nomads and with the goat when they settled into agricultural communities. In Wiccan tradition, priests wear a piece of horn on a necklace, or even a set of stag horns to symbolize their priesthood.
The ritual dagger of Wiccans, the athame is traditionally comprised of a wooden handle, typically black, with a steel blade. It’s one of the four elemental tools used in Wicca, along with the pentagram, chalice, and wand. Usually, the handle is painted or engraved with various symbols associated with spirits or deities. It’s said to symbolize the ability to make choices and bring change. Representing the element of fire, it isn’t used as a mundane knife for carving or cutting.
A symbol of containment and womb of the goddess, the chalice is used to hold wine during Wiccan rituals. It’s also associated with the element of water, as a portion of wine left in the chalice is said to be poured out as a libation to the goddess. Originally, a large shell or a gourd was used to hold sacred liquids, but over time, silver became the preferred material for the chalice.
Depending on the Wiccan tradition, the wand may be associated with either air or fire. It’s a religious tool used in magic, and the origin of its use can be traced back to ancient tree worship. Traditionally, it’s taken from one of the sacred trees after giving an offering to a tree spirit. Many Wiccans still use the wand to bestow blessings and charge ritual objects.
9- The Witches’ Ladder
A length of cord tied with thirteen knots, the witches’ ladder is used in modern Wicca during meditation or chanting. Its purpose is to keep track of counting, where a Wiccan would slide his or her fingers along the cord during the chant. It can also be used in magic, where symbolic charms are tied within the knots.
A significant symbol in Wiccan practice, the besom or broom is symbolically used for purification or cleansing, as well as sweeping negative influences away from any place. It’s traditionally made of ash, willow, or birch twigs. In wedding ceremonies, the newlyweds jump over the besom to ensure fertility, longevity, and harmony.
One of the mystery symbols of Wicca, the cauldron represents transformation. It’s also associated with the Celtic goddess Cerridwen and Roman goddess Ceres. In many European tales about witchcraft, the cauldron aids in the casting of spells, and serves as a vessel for offerings. Originally, it appeared as a wooden vessel or a gourd, but when metal cauldrons became popular, the symbol became associated with hearth and home.
12- The Wheel of the Year
The calendar of pagan festivals, the Wheel of the Year marks the Wiccan holidays or sabbats. It’s symbolized by an eight-spoke wheel that indicates each solstice and equinox. Rooted in ancient Celtic beliefs, it was first suggested by mythologist Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology in 1835, and fixed in its present form by the Wicca movement in the 1960s.
In Wicca, there are four greater sabbats and four lesser ones, though they may vary depending on the region. In northern European traditions, the greater ones include Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. In the southern European traditions, the agricultural sabbats are regarded as the greater ones, including the Fall Equinox (Mabon), Winter Solstice (Yule), Spring Equinox (Ostara), and Summer Solstice (Litha).
13- The Seax-Wicca Symbol
Also known as Saxon Witchcraft, the Seax-Wicca was introduced as a new Wiccan tradition in 1973 by Raymond Buckland. The symbol of the tradition features the moon, the sun, and the eight sabbats. Even though the tradition doesn’t claim any descent from Saxon times, the Saxon background became its foundation, and Freya and Woden are the names used for the deities.
Wicca is a Neo-Pagan religion developed in the early 20th century in England, but its belief and symbols can be traced back to ancient times. Some of the Wiccan symbols are used to represent the four elements in rituals, while others, such as the pentagram and the triple moon, represent religious concepts. It’s likely that the religion’s respect for the Earth and natural forces of nature contributed to its growing popularity in modern times.