Essay, Research Paper
The Significance of Symbols in Modern Witchcraft
Witchcraft, also known as wicca, is a religion with ancestry in an ancient Pagan religion of Northern Europe which pre-dates the Christian era (Simms 30.) It is an earth religion and its main deity is a goddess. Most participants worship the earth and belong to a coven, or group of believers, run by a high priestess. Most covens meet on days determined by solstices and equinoxes or on seasonal or full moon rituals(Luhrmann 46.) During such rituals, many symbols emerge so important that the ritual would not exist without them.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of modern witchcraft is that of the Goddess. She is very different from that of the Judeo-Christian god. She is considered both a deity that controls the earth and she is the earth itself. The Goddess is the personification of nature and is ever changing as the earth is ever changing. The Goddess is symbolized by the moon. It is said that each phase of the moon symbolizes a different time in the Goddess?s life or in the cycle of life. The new moon phase symbolizes the Goddess giving birth to the Sun Child and new light is born. The first quarter phase signifies the point just before life bursts forth and the chains of winter are broken. The full moon phase indicates the joining of the Sun King and the Queen of Summer, a time of abundance ad fulfillment. The last phase in the lunar cycle is the last quarter phase which designates a time of harvest, joy, and thanksgiving (Simms 148.)
Another important symbol used in witchcraft is that of the pentagram. Often viewed by Christians as satanic, it was not always seen as such. Early Christians viewed the five pointed star as symbolizing the five wounds of Christ. The pentagram originated as the symbol of a Goddess who was worshipped over an area which extends from present-day England to Egypt and beyond. Her name was Kore. Kore’s sacred fruit is the apple. When an apple is cut through its equator, both halves will reveal a near-perfect pentagram shape at the core, with each point on the star containing a seed. The pentacle, a pentagram with a circle around it is the working form the pentagram. The circle around the pentagram can also represent the sacred circle drawn by the Witch in ritual. Within the circle, the Witch calls each of these elements (each is associated with a different direction, North, South, East, or West) to guard the circle so that the energy raised by the magical working will remain within the circle. Today, many pagans wear the pentagram as jewelry and use it on their altars. The symbol is frequently traced by hand using an athame (a ritual knife) during Wiccan rituals. It is used to cast and banish their healing circles. Some Wiccans interpret the five points as representing earth, air, fire, water, and spirit: the four factors needed to sustain life with the addition of spirit (Simms 113.)
The four factors needed to sustain life are also seen as important symbols in modern witchcraft. These factors are earth, air, fire, and water. During a ritual, each is represented by a specific object. Air is characterized by a feather. Fire is denoted by a candle that burns throughout the entire ritual. The candle both gives light and can symbolize the Goddess and air when the feather is waved in the flame. Water is a feminine aspect and is represented by a chalice. The chalice is filled with a beverage to drink during the ritual. Wine is often used, but some covens use milk or water (Simms 117.)
One very personal tool used strictly in ritual is an athame. It is a double-edged dagger used to cut and direct energy. However, it is never used to physically cut anything. The athame is such a personal tool that only the owner uses. An athame is acquired about the time of their first ritual and is consecrated during initiation (Simms 113.)
?Beyond all else, magicians? immersion in symbolism is perhaps the most compelling element of their involvement, and the experience which has the greatest impact upon them? (Luhrmann 232.) The question of why these symbols are so important remains. Luhrmann attempts to explain the significance of the symbols. ?They specifically say that symbols transcend verbal limitations, that they engage the psyche?s pre-verbal core, that the ?secrets of the Mysteries? lie in experience, not intellectual knowledge, and cannot be communicated because the words cannot encase them? (Luhrmann 316.) For Wiccans, symbols provide and outlet for expression. They believe that the symbol is real and that it represents something real, therefore, it is real. ?Act as if the symbol is real, and it will be real for you? (Luhrmann 237.) Believing in the symbol is as important as the symbol itself. The belief is further installed through action.
Some Wiccans and other Neopagans bless themselves and others with the sign of the pentagram. Their hand passes from their forehead to one hip, up to the opposite hip and shoulder, across to the other shoulder, down to the opposite hip and back to the forehead (Pentacles and Pentagrams.) This blessing action further enforces the importance of the pentagram. It is comparable to the significance of the Christian?s crucifix or cross. Like the pentagram is a symbol of a special goddess, the cross is a symbol of Jesus, an important figure in Christianity. Without the belief and symbolism that the cross possesses to Christians, it would not exist.
It is imperative to recognize the importance of symbolism in any religion or faith. Each has their own that should not be questioned. It is the symbolism that can determine the vitality of a faith to its members. For as long as there is conviction and faith, the religion can survive.
Luhrmann, T.M. Persuasions of the Witch?s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1989.)
Simms, Maria Kay. The Witch?s Circle. (Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 1998.)
Pentacles and Pentagrams. Online. Available. http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_pent.htm