Q&A: What Is the Wiccan Beliefs Regarding Life After Death?
General principles of Wiccan beliefs:
Wicca is an almost completely decentralized religion. George Knowles, a Wiccan author, has said: "“Wicca has no high authority, no single leader, no prophet and no Bible to dictate its laws and beliefs”. 1 Many, perhaps most, Wiccans are solitary practitioners. Others form small local groups called covens, groves, etc. Thus, there probably are almost as many sets of Wiccan beliefs as there are Wiccans.
However, in 1973, a group of about 73 representatives from many Wiccan paths and traditions met in Minneapolis to form a temporary "Council of American Witches" under the leadership of Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, of the well known Llewellyn publishing house that specializes in books dealing with alternative health and healing, astrology, earth-based religions, shamanism, Gnostic Christianity, Kabbalah, etc. The group successfully created a set of beliefs that harmonized the beliefs of the many Wiccan traditions in the U.S. at the time. The group disbanded shortly afterwards. However their 13 principles are still endorsed by many American Wiccans.
Of particular interest are:
bullet Principle #2 which stresses the importance of care of the environment. Recall that this statement was prepared over four decades ago.
bullet Principle #4 which affirms the equality of women and men. It briefly touches on sex magick. These are a belief and practice foreign to many of today's organized religions who continue to denigrate women and fear human sexuality.
bullet Principle #10 refers to the intense opposition and oppression experienced by many Wiccans at the time, typically from conservative Christians. This culminated in a lynching of a Wiccan, and two fundamentalist Christian pastors calling for government programs of genocide to wipe out Wiccans. This hatred has largely faded since these principles were written.
The 13 principles of Wiccan belief:
We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the Moon and the seasonal Quarters and Cross Quarters.
We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique responsibility toward our environment. We seek to live in harmony with nature in ecological balance offering fulfillment to life and consciousness within an evolutionary concept.
We acknowledge a depth of power far greater than that apparent to the average person. Because it is far greater than ordinary it is sometimes called ‘supernatural’, but we see it as lying within that which is naturally potential to all.
We conceive of the Creative Power in the universe as manifesting through polarity – as masculine and feminine – and that this same Creative Power lies in all people and functions through the interaction of the masculine and the feminine. We value neither above the other knowing each to be supportive of the other. We value sex as pleasure as the symbol and embodiment of life, and as one of the sources of energy used in magical practice and religious worship.
We recognize both outer worlds and inner, or psychological worlds sometimes known as the Spiritual World, the Collective Unconsciousness, the Inner Planes etc – and we see in the interaction of these two dimensions the basis for paranormal phenomena and magical exercises. We neglect neither dimension for the other, seeing both as necessary for our fulfillment.
We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who have courageously given of themselves in leadership.
We see religion, magick and wisdom in living as being united in the way one views the world and lives within it – a world view and philosophy of life which we identify as Witchcraft – the Wiccan Way.
Calling oneself ‘Witch’ does not make a Witch – but neither does heredity itself, nor the collecting of titles, degrees and initiations. A Witch seek to control the forces within her/himself that make life possible in order to live wisely and without harm to others and in harmony with nature.
We believe in the affirmation and fulfillment of life in a continuation of evolution and development of consciousness giving meaning to the Universe we know and our personal role within it.
Our only animosity towards Christianity, or towards any other religion or philosophy of life, is to the extent that its institutions have claimed to be ‘the only way’ and have sought to deny freedom to others and to suppress other ways of religious practice and belief.
As American Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the craft, the origins of various terms, the legitimacy of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with our present and our future.
We do not accept the concept of absolute evil, nor do we worship any entity known as ‘Satan’ or ‘the Devil’ as defined by Christian tradition. We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor accept that personal benefit can be derived only by denial to another.
We believe that we should seek within Nature that which is contributory to our health and well-being. 1
Detailed Wiccan beliefs about deity:
Beliefs among individual Wiccans differ:
bullet Monotheism: Some Wiccans believe that a single creative force exists in the universe, which is sometimes called "The One" or "The All". Little can be known of this force. Other Wiccans -- typically feminists -- worship the Goddess by herself.
bullet Bitheism (a.k.a. Duotheism): Many regard the Goddess and the God as representing the female and male aspects of the All. These deities are not "out there somewhere;" they are immanent in the world. Others regard the God and Goddess as two separate deities, representing the male and female principles.
bullet Polytheism: Many regard the thousand of ancient pagan Gods and Goddesses (Athena, Brigit, Diana, Fergus, Odin, Pan, Zeus, etc.) as representing various aspects of the God and Goddess. The term "Wicca" normally implies that the person's religion is based upon Celtic spiritual concepts, its pantheon of deities, and seasonal days of celebration. Other Neopagans include deities, beliefs, practices and symbols from ancient Pagan religions (e.g. Egyptian, Greek, various mystery religions, Roman, Sumerian) or upon Aboriginal religions (Native American Spirituality, Shamanism).
Pantheism: Some Wiccans believe that the universe is divine and should be revered. Pantheism identifies the universe with God but denies any personality or transcendence of such a God.
bullet Agnosticism: Some Wiccans are actually Agnostics, who take no position on the existence of a supreme being or beings. They often look upon the Goddess and the God as archetypes, based on myth.
bullet Strong Atheism: Some Wiccans are strong Atheists and maintain that no deity exists. They often view the God and Goddess as concepts or principles, not as living entities.
It must be stressed that Wiccans have no supernatural being in their pantheon of deities who resembles the quasi-deity Satan found in Christianity and Islam. This belief was quite common among conservatives of other faiths. It is now fading since so many Wiccans have come out of the closet and gone public with heir faith.
An example of Wicca/Neopaganism/Pantheism influence in the culture:
Perhaps the best example of the merger of Pagan and Pantheistic beliefs in popular culture is found in James Cameron's "Avatar" movie. released during 2009-DEC. 4 Ross Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times, commented somewhat unhappily:
" 'Avatar' is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world. ... The Na’Vi [race] are saved by the movie’s hero, a turncoat Marine, but they’re also saved by their faith in Eywa, the 'All Mother,' described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing. ..."
"If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that’s because pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like 'The Lion King' and 'Pocahontas.' And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force 'surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together'."
"Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them. From Deepak Chopra to Eckhart Tolle, the 'religion and inspiration' section in your local bookstore is crowded with titles pushing a pantheistic message. ..."
"At the same time, pantheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps 'bring God closer to human experience [while] depriving him of recognizable personal traits'." 5
Other beliefs of Wiccans:
bullet Respect for Nature: Wicca is a natural religion, grounded in concern for the earth. Some Wiccans believe that all living things (including stars, planets, humans, animals, plants, rocks) have a spirit of some type. Many Wiccan rituals deal with bringing harmony and healing to nature. The vast majority of Wiccans share a great concern for the environment.
bullet Gender equality: Wiccans celebrate the sexual polarity of nature. For example, the fertilizing rain is one manifestation of the male principle; the nurturing earth symbolizes the female. Females are respected as equal (and sometimes at a slightly higher rank) to males. In a coven -- a local group of Wiccans -- a priestess is often the most senior person. They aim for a female-male balance in most of their covens (local groups), although men are typically in the minority.
bullet Human sexuality: Sexuality is valued, and regarded as a gift of the Goddess and God, to be engaged in with joy and responsibility, and without manipulation or coercion. Wiccans generally accept the findings of human sexuality researchers that there are three normal, natural, and unchosen sexual orientations: heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality. Some Wiccans celebrate "the Great Rite" which involves ritual sexual intercourse. However, it is consensually performed by a loving, committed couple in private.
bullet Afterlife: Wiccans have a wide range of beliefs about life after death:
bullet Some believe in ancient Celtic legends of a Summerland where souls go after death. Here, they meet with others who have gone before, review and integrate their previous lives on earth, and are eventually reincarnated into the body of a newborn. Some believe that after many such cycles -- perhaps some as female and others as male; some lives with a high standard of living and others in poverty; some in positions of power and others suffering oppression -- that the individual accumulates sufficient experience to go on to another level of existence about which we know nothing.
bullet Some see an individual's consciousness, personality, memory, abilities, talents, etc. as functions of the human brain, which degrades and disintegrates at death. They no not anticipate any form of personal continuity after death.
bullet Other Wiccans anticipate continuity after death in some very narrow senses:
bullet That the molecules that go to make up our bodies may in turn be incorporated in other living entities;
bullet That our influences on children, friends, and society in general will continue to have an impact on the next generations. Even as our influence on each descendent fades in importance with each successive generation, it is spread among a continually increasing number of individuals. And so, the effect of our lives remains constant over time.
bullet Three-fold Law (a.k.a. the Law of Return) The law states that:
"All good that a person does to another returns three fold in this life; harm is also returned three fold."
This belief strongly motivates each Wiccan to avoid attempting to dominate, manipulate, control, or harm another person.
bullet The Wiccan Rede: This is the prime Wiccan ethical teaching. One form is: "A'in it harm none, do what thou wilt." In modern English this may be rendered: "As long as it doesn't harm anyone including yourself and future generations, do whatever you want to." This has been criticized for being too permissive. However, the Rede is actually quite demanding because it requires a Wiccan to carefully evaluate all of the effects that each of their decisions have on themselves, other people, future generations, the environment, etc.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
George Knowles, "The 13 principles of Wiccan Belief," Controverscial.com, at: http://www.controverscial.com/
The home page of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. is at: http://www.llewellyn.com
Definition of Pantheism taken from Wiktionary at: http://en.wiktionary.org/
"Avatar" reviewed by IMDb, at: http://www.imdb.com/
Ross Douthat, "Heaven and Nature," New York Times, 2009-DEC-20, at: http://www.nytimes.com/