~ A ~
afterlife - a witch's belief in the afterlife depends on their believing/not believing in reincarnation. Individual beliefs vary accordingly. Witches generally believe in the existence of an afterlife, but one which exists in between reincarnations and serves as a sort of "resting point" where the individual can reflect on their previous life, learn something from it and set new goals for the next life. There is no judgement or weighing of souls etc. since most witches believe in karma (which always manifests in the life in which a deed was performed, look under the term "karma"). The name Summerland is used to refer to the afterlife in Wicca. The term was originally coined by A. J. Davis in the middle of the 19th century. The Summerland doesn't have a fixed appearance; it can be different for everyone but it is usually believed that it resembles the physical world.
air - one of the four elements which are called upon during Pagan rituals as the manifestation of the forces of nature. Air is usually connected to the east (and is thus invoked on the east side of the circle), with life and with the soul in some magical and mystical traditions. Sylphs are the elementals of this element (have a look at the term "elementals" for more information). Air is usually depicted with the color yellow (which is why, when/if a candle is placed on the east quarter of the circle during a ritual, it is usually yellow). Certain notions such as communication (as sound waves travel through air), consciousness and the powers of the mind are also connected to this element. You can read more on this topic under the term "elements".
altar - a piece of furniture which is deemed the most sacred part of the space in which it is situated. In primitive societies, this was usually a large flat stone which was used for sacrifices, but today, it is simply a table used to hold the ritual tools. You will not come across any blood sacrifices in Wicca since it holds all life sacred. In all Pagan traditions, the altar is placed in the sacred space - the Circle (usually in the east or the north depending on the occasion and tradition). The tools which are placed as well as their layout varies from tradition to tradition as well as from each individual. Wicca also doesn't have strict rules about what the altar has to look like; it is up to the practitioner to decide whether they want a simple, highly decorated, large, small, round, rectangular altar etc. The only thing that is recommended is that it is made of natural materials (as goes for all the ritual tools).
altar candle - even though most people use only one candle and refer to it as their "altar candle", some prefer to have two altar candles on their altar which symbolize the God and the Goddess (so they call them the God and Goddess candle). Even though they are commonly represented by statuettes, or certain natural objects (e.g. sea shells for the Goddess and a pine cone for the God), candles are not an uncommon option. If using two candles, it is recommended that they differ by color; a few usual combinations exist (read: God-Goddess): gold-silver (assoc. the Sun and the Moon), red-greed (assoc. fire as a male element and earth as a female element), white-red (assoc. the color of sperm and menstrual blood) etc. If there is only one altar candle, it is usually white, although this can vary according to the practitioner's preferences (for example, if they're especially connected to a certain color), or the occasion/Sabbat (e.g. dark green is used on Beltane, brown on Imbolc, yellow on Lughnasadh, orange on Samhain, light green on Ostara, red on Litha, orange on Mabon, brown on Yule). Yellow altar candles are common for Esbat celebrations, white candles for initiations and purple for Requiems (rituals dedicated to deceased loved ones). Of course, these aren't rules and all of these correspondences can vary depending on the preferences of the practitioner or the group.
altar cloth - a cloth which is used to cover the altar either to protect its surface or to add to the solemnity of the ritual. Some prefer to leave the altar bare and put the ritual tools directly onto the surface, but this depends on one's preferences. The altar cloth, if used, usually varies in colors so the practitioner will often have several altar cloths for different occasions (each Sabbat and even Esbats have corresponding colors which add to their energy). In stead of this, there can be one altar cloth which is generally used; it is often of a neutral color (e.g. white) and can be used for basically all occasions. Altar cloths can be very simple, or perhaps intricately decorated (often by the practitioner him/herself as this adds more energy to this tool and ultimately to the whole ritual in which it will be used). This depends on what the practitioner likes. Before using it, it is necessary to cleanse and consecrate the cloth as would be done with any ritual tool.
amulet - a consecrated object which serves for protection, good luck, health, attracting something, or perhaps repelling something. It has to be a natural object (while talismans can be hand-made, although they serve basically the same purpose). Also, amulets are there to protect you from something, while talismans are more "active" in this sense because they are worn with a goal in mind (a new job, better health, finding a new friend etc.). Even though amulets are natural objects, they can be slightly modified (e.g. by engraving or by combining several amulets). Some believe that it is necessary to cleanse and consecrate the amulet before using it, while others find this unnecessary sine it is natural and therefore clean enough. Some examples are: gemstones/crystals, witch/hag stones, rabbits' feet (in European traditions), an elephant hair and lions' hairs and/or claws (in Africa), acorns (in Scotland), four-leafed clovers etc. The circumstances under which an amulet is found can also be important, but more on that in this book.
animism - its roots are in the Latin word anima, which means "soul" or "breath". It refers to the belief that everything in nature, animate or inanimate, has a consciousness, or better said a soul. Animism says that every being in nature has a soul which can outlive the physical death of that being. It is thought that this is the oldest belief known to mankind, that is that this is the way primitive man thought. It is often connected to nature and ancestor worship and is thus easily integrated into witches' views of the world. Animism can be compared to the Chinese art of Feng Shui which says that everything has living energy - Ch'i. In this lies the basis of animism, but Feng Shui goes a step further and says that there are three principles which define this energy, and those are the concepts that everything is alive, connected and ever-changing.
ankh - also known by its Latin name crux ansata (a cross with a handle) is made up of a tau cross (a cross in the shape of the letter T) and a loop just above it. It is a symbol of the unity of the male and female sexual organs (the cross representing the male and the handle the female sex organ). Because of this, the ankh is a symbol of fertility, life and regeneration. It is essentially an Egyptian symbol. The ancient Egyptians used the word ankh as a name for life and for a hand mirror. In Egyptian mythology, almost every deity is depicted holding an ankh which represents both their immortality and the everlasting life which they will bestow on their followers. The cross part of the ankh was usually painted white and the handle red (which are typical colors for the two sexes). The symbol itself was used (and still is used to this day) as a talisman for protection and fertility. Many Wiccans and Pagans wear this symbol, but it has also become a part of the usual ritual tools in the Church of Wicca which was founded by Gavin and Yvonne Frost. The whole coven shares a large ankh (165cm in size), while each individual has their own smaller version (82.5cm in size). In both cases, the ankh serves as a replacement for the athamé or the sword. This is thought to be quite unusual for this tradition since it is mainly inspired by Welsh and Celtic traditions. Nevertheless, certain traditions do exist in Wicca which are solely based on Egyptian mythology, faith and traditions and the ankh is a much more common symbol there (although it is used mainly in the form of jewelry or talismans).
astral - refers to the astral plane in which our astral body, as well as many other astral phenomena, can be/go. The astral plane is the first sphere above our physical reality. It is believed that this is where souls go after a physical death of a person (but keep in mind that this is a "universal" sphere, and not Heaven of Hell or something similar to that; the astral has neither negative nor positive connotations as in this example). But it is possible to travel to the astral plane during your life (during a trance, meditation, while dreaming etc.). All atoms around us vibrate at a certain frequency. Occultists believe that some places/beings simply vibrate at a frequency different than ours which results in us not being able to see them. Although, frequencies can be changed, thus enabling us to see the aforementioned. It is thought that every person has an astral body which is one form of the soul. Therefore, the astral plane is a place where the souls of the deceased go, although living souls can also go there. The difference between a "living" and "deceased" astral body is in that the astral body of a living person is still attached to the physical body via a "silver cord" which is broken only at the moment of physical death (note: the astral body as such cannot die, a person does't die if the astral body simply leavs the physical body nor do they die if they are suddenly awoken from a trance of something similar because the astral body instantaneously returns to the physical body by using this "silver cord"). You can read much more on this topic and astral projection in the section of this blog entitled "Astral Projection".
astrology - the art of studying celestial bodies, their movements and relationships to each other for the sake of understanding their impact on the Earth, people, interpersonal relationships and occurrences (it can be seen as a sort of divination technique). This discipline isn't necessarily a part of witchcraft, Wicca or Paganism, but many members of these groups do practice it. The belief that everything that occurs in the sky is reflected on Earth is best summarized in the sentence "As above, so below" which is one of the main principles of magic. By observing the planets, their movements and relationships, the astrologer is able to make a natal chart which depicts the sky as it looked at the moment of a person's birth (as seem from the place of birth). It is believed that positions of the planets at this time determine the person's character and fate. Astrology takes into account the following celestial bodies: the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Pluto. It divides the year into twelve houses (commonly known under the names of the twelve zodiac signs). When someone says that they are a Taurus in their horoscope, they actually mean that the Taurus sign was the first house at their time of birth. The first house is also knows as the Ascendant. Each house (irrelevant of the sing which is in it) governs over a certain aspect of a person's life and define a part of their character. Since all celestial bodies follow a pattern of movement, astrologers can predict the position of each body at a certain point in time and can thus see what the future may bring. Astrology as a discipline can be found in ancient Babylon and Egypt, not to mention that the Romans valued it greatly. It is believed that the Arabians were most skilled in astrology and that they did most to promote it. Astrology was forgotten during the 18th century, but was rediscovered in the 19th and 20th centuries (partly due to a sudden rise of interest in the occult). Pagans and witches believe that celestial bodies influence everything, including plants, crystals, animals and so on. This is why many of them take into account astrological circumstances when doing magic, cleansing or buying crystals, collecting plants and doing other activities. Several branches of astrology exist, each one specific in its own way. This only serves as proof of the complexity of this discipline.
athamé (/'æθəmei/) - the personal tool of every Witch. This is a knife which usually has a double-edged straight blade and a black handle. Certain symbols which say something about the practitioner, their religion and tradition are put on the handle and/or blade. The athamé's blade has to preferably be metal (traditionally iron). This knife is not used for inflicting injuries of any kind or for sacrifice. It is used for opening and closing the Circle, invocations and other ritual means. More information in the post entitled "Ritual Tools".
aura - it has been believed for centuries that some people, especially those who are spiritually enlightened, radiate in a certain way. This radiation is manifested in the form of a colored light which the human body emanates. This light can be visible just around the head (this is called a nimbus), or perhaps around the whole body (the aureola), but most common term would be "the aura". This term may be familiar to you from Christian art in which saints are depicted with halos (which are in this case visible only around the head). Pagans generally believe that everyone has an aura (not only saints) and that this aura reflects a person's life energy. Everyone has the ability to see auras; to some this comes naturally, while others have to pratice. Those who are able to see and feel it often use this ability to heal people since it is believed that the aura also reflects the physical health of an individual.
Autumnal Equinox (see Mabon)- also called Mabon, this is one of the eight Sabbats and is celebrated around September 21 (depending on the position of the Sun). This is the time of the last harvest with which we prepare for the winter to come. The goddesses Demeter and Persephone are especially praised as deities of fertility and agriculture (among other things). In connection to this, the myth of Persephone's abduction is referred to at this time. In almost all the Wiccan traditions, there is some kind of myth which includes the Goddess going to the Underworld as a symbol of the coming dormancy of the earth with the winter months. This is also a time for giving thanks for the food we have and also reaing the fruits of our labor. You can find more information about this Sabbat here.
~ B ~
Beltane (/'beltein/) - one of the eight Wiccan Sabbats which falls on the 1st of May. This is why it is also called May Day. The name "Beltane" has many spellings and synonyms: Beltane, Beltene, Beltine, Bael-Tene, Bealltain, Walpurgisnacht and so on. When cultures divided the year into summer and winter, this day marked the beginning of summer and the fertile period of the year. This is why the fertility Goddess was celebrated on this day as well as fertility in general. It is also one of the four Celtic fire festivals (during which fires were lit to serve as the center of the celebrations and rituals); people would jump over them for fertility, health, spiritual cleansing and in order to get protection for the following year. Couples would leap over the fire holding hands to cleanse and bless their relationship/marriage. It is for the same reason that cattle were led between two fires or through the leftover ashes. But more than anything, Beltane was (and is) a fertility festival. This aspect is acknowledged by the gathering of flowers, making of garlands and dancing (especially around the Maypole). You can read more information in the post entitled "Beltane".
binding - it refers to the tying of a practitioners hands and/or feet as a symbol of death and rebirth (untying). The person is often blindfolded int he process. The ropes and blindfold represent the restrictions and darkness of the womb before birth. This is a common practice in initiations which have palingenesis (a symbolic death and rebirth) as the central theme. Binding is in no way an act of aggression or subordination. It has become a part of tradition of many spiritual paths. In Wicca, there is a strictly defined way in which the initiate (person being initiated) is bound. Firstly, a reef knot (a.k.a. a square knot) has to be tied around the initiates left wrist. The hands are then brought behind the back and crossed in the wrists. The same knot is then tied around the right wrist (on the upper side). The two ends of the rope are brought up to the neck (one end on the left side, the other on the right), crossed on the front and brought back around where they are tied in a loose bow (as you would tie your shoe laces). It should look something like this in the end. Binding magic also exists and is used to prevent secrets from being spilled out. This magic doesn't do any harm to the person on which it is being performed; it simply makes them unable to tell a certain secret (which is specified during the magical act itself). In order to perform a binding spell, a photography/poppet representing the person/a piece of paper with their writing is needed. This object is then consecrated, it is specified that it is a representation of a specific person and then the object is tied (usually with silk). It is necessary to be very cautious with both types of binding because noone must be harmed in either case!
black magic - witches do not practice black magic. This is a misconception that originates from the middle ages when the Church wanted to get rid of old practices and religions which the witches of the time practiced intensively. By blaming witches of worshiping the Devil, they managed to turn the common people from them and also found a reason to persecute them (even though they didn't worship the Devil, of course, since they didn't believe in him because he is a Christian concept; the same goes for modern times). By definition, black magic would be bad magic, that which serves to harm someone. The concept of black magic stops to make sense here because magic, which is most simply defined as the control of energy (look up the term "magic"), cannot be good or bad. Only the intention can be good or bad, or perhaps the person performing the magical act. Magic itself cannot be good or bad and therefore neither black nor white, or pink, or orange with green dots. Also, each witch has a moral code which he/she sticks to, such as the Wiccan Rede for Wicca. It states, for example, that a witch can do whatever he/she pleases as long as there is no harm done to anyone. According to this, if a witch practices "black" magic, then he/she isn't a witch at all. Although, black magicians can exist. Basically, witches by the very definition of the term can't harm people, but this doesn't mean that there aren't other people in the world who use magic for negative purposes. If you want to read more on this topic, I recommend you read my earlier post "Magic and Wicca".
boleen (/bou'li:n/) - can also be spelled as bolline. This is a small knife with a curved blade which is used strictly for cutting herbs in Wicca. It is often confused with the white-handled knife which is used for engraving ritual tools and other objects that are of ritual use (it's worth noting that the athamé has a black handle). The boleen is usually about 15cm long (that is, about 3 inches) from the tip of the blade to the end of the handle, and the handle usually has a hole in it so you can put you thumb or index finger in (it makes it easier to cut the herbs). You will often see that the hand is made of cherry wood.
Book of Shadows (BoS for short) - this book (or notebook) is used to keep notes on witchcraft and to summarize a witch's knowledge of the Craft. This term is a relatively new one since witchcraft was until recently an oral tradition. Writing about witchcraft in any way wasn't present until the Middle Ages. Some believe that this is when the term was formed as witches had to hide "in the shadows". Doreen Valiente claims that this name came from an old manual which was written in Sanskrit which just so happened to carry the same name. The contents of this manual explained how to divine according to the length of a persons' shadow. If such books were used in the Middle Ages, then there would have only existed one per coven (since owning it meant certain death if it was found and so many lives simply could not have been risked). In time, each witch began writing their own Book of Shadows (often editing and adding to the coven BoS). This traditions has survived up to this day. Most covens still only have one BoS which is usually kept by the High Priestess or High Priest. In the case of Solitaries, each person has their own Book of Shadows. Coven Books of Shadows often keep various rituals written down (i.e. initiation rituals, Sabbat and Esbat rituals and so on) as well as the history of the coven, moral codes etc. Certain themes reoccur in almost every Book of Shadow (coven or individual), such as herbology, divination, energetic healing, spells (and magic in general), astrology, ritual dances, songs, chants and so on. It is usually said that the Book of Shadows must be hand-written in order to infuse it with the energy of its owner (this will also make it more powerful, significant, personal and magically potent). This "rule" has been somewhat distorted in this technologically-centered time in which these books are often typed out. The first page is often reserved for the line "This is the Book of Shadows of the Witch ___", and it is often decorated with some sort of drawing (often a pentagram or some other symbol of witchcraft or even a symbol which is personal to the owner). Some prefer to write normally in their book, while others use special codes and secred alphabets in order to keep the book's secrets hidden (or at least kept secret from those who are not a part of the Craft). Some prefer to decorate each page and write in calligraphy, while others keep things minimalistic. There are no rules regarding this or the appearance of the covers of the BoS or even its contents. All of this varies from person to person, from coven to coven and from tradition to tradition. You can read more on the history, uses and making the Book of Shadows here.
broomstick - in earlier times, brooms were made from the Scottish Broom plant (cytisus scoparius). Twigs, which were used for the actual sweeping, were tied to one end of the broom. Another well-known name for the broom is a besom (read /'bi:zm/). The terms was originally used for any object used for sweeping, but it came to by a synonym for the broomstick in time. The bottom end of the broom was usually made by tying together twigs of broom, heather or birch. The association of witches and brooms directly comes from the association of witches and women and subsequently women with brooms (as symbols of the domestic every since the Middle Ages). The stereotype of witches riding on broomsticks came from a medieval tradition where people would "ride" their broomsticks in a field, at the same time dancing and jumping around. This was a kind of fertility celebration used for encouraging the field to be fruitful. It was believed that the crops would grow as high as a person could jump in the air. Doreen Valiente even states that the term broom was used for a while as a slang word for the female sex organ. A tradition of jumping over a broom to perform a wedding rite existed in Wales (if done correctly, this was even thought to be a legal wedding!). This tradition exists in Wicca even today in some celebrations where it simply symbolizes fertility,one's wish for a long and fruitful relationship etc. (but not necessarily marriage). In modern times, the broom is used in Wicca to cleanse the ritual circle by sweeping its perimeter, while others will use it in stead of a sword, ili simply to reinact the old medieval tradition of dancing with a broom. The custom of jumping over a broom to perform a wedding ceremony exists in Wicca and is done during the Handfasting ceremony (look up the term "Handfasting, Handparting"). You can find more information on this ritual object in a previous post entitled "Ritual Tools".
burning times - this term refers the the period from the mid 15th to the mid 18th century. It is a direct association to the many witches that were burnt at the stake during the inquisition, or generally during the time of the witch persecutions. Burning at the stake was the most common sentence for practicing witchcraft in Europe, with the exception of England where the punishment was hanging. It actually wasn't only witches who were burnt alive, but basically anyone that was seen as a heretic in the eyes of the Catholic Church (i.e. the Inquisition at that time). This punishment was recognized by both secular and ecclesiastical courts. In Spain and Italy, the accused were burned alive at the stake, while it was usual in other countries for those who repented to be strangled before going to the stake. There really was nothing to repent as most of the "accused" were innocent (i.e. they were wrongly accused of practicing witchcraft). Actually, there was nothing to accuse them for except for practicing or believing in something other than what the Catholic Church approved of. Jean Bodin, in his work De la démonomanie des sorciers, says the following: "Even if the witch has never killed or done evil to man, or beasts, or fruit, and even if he has always cured bewitched people, or driven away tempests, it is because he has renounced God and treated with Satan that he deserves to be
~ C ~
Canon Episcopi - the name given to a passage of the Canon Law which originates in the 10th century, but was accepted into the Canon Law in the 12th century. It was believed to represent the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church towards witchcraft for a long time. In it, it is said that witchcraft is heresy and that only God possesses supernatural powers (so basically that all the stories of witches flying on brooms, communicating with various deities and doing magic were impossible). The Church completely changed this opinion later which resulted in extreme instances of the Inquisition. In short, this document claimed that witchcraft was fictional and that people who believe in its existence are heretics and the people who claim to be witches are actually possessed by the Devil/some kind of demon and thus deranged.
cauldron - it is a symbol of anything female/womanly in pagan traditions, but it primarily represents the Goddess' womb. Fertility was an obvious association for an object which enabled people to sustain life by preparing food. In ancient Babylon, cauldrons were used for ritual baths which were in themselves an act of cleansing and rebirth. The Celtic Goddess Cerridwen (Mother-Goddess and fertility goddess) is surely the most famous goddess when it comes to cauldrons. She used it to prepare potions which gave humans wisdom and inspiriation. The cauldron is used for both ritual and mundane things; from keeping the ritual decorations to cooking a group meal for one of the Sabbats.
cave art- it is presumed that the oldest dated cave drawing (about 20 000 years old) dubbed "The Sorcerer" from The Cave of the Trois-Frères in Ariège (France). Some believe that the God of the Hunt, who primitive people worshiped because they believed he brought them good game, is depicted in it (look up the term "Horned God"). Similar depictions exist throughout the world, such as the one in Fourneau du Diable in Dordogne (France) and in Val Camonica in Italy. It is assumed that these works of cave art, as well as a great many of all other cave art works, were connected to the religion of Paleolithic people, or more precisely, their rituals. What we call sympathetic magic nowadays (immitating something to make it happen in real life) can be found in these examples. In addition to the hunt, fertility also played a large role, from that of animals (a good example of which is the sculpture of two mating bison in the Tuc d'Audoubert cave), to that of humans which was definitely more important from the human perspective (e.g. the Venus of Willendorf and many other Venuses around the world who all have similar feature: no face, large breasts and bellies, wide hips, often disproportionally large genitalia and short of barely-existent legs). There are two theories about the Venuses: the first claims that these sculptures depicted tribal women and encouraged their fertility, while the second talks about the sculptures representing a general notion of fertility and thus the Mother Goddess who personifies it. Witches take these examples of cave art to be the beginning of magic and rituals which developed in time and took on the form they have today. Even though witches don't believe these prehistoric people to be the originators of witchcraft, they believe that this was surely a step in that direction.
censer - a ritual tool which is used to burn incense, which is why it is connected to the element of air in Pagan practice. The ecclesiastical name for it is "thurible". Censers are usually metal objects which can be hung from chains. Incense is placed inside it on top of burning charcoal (often a special kind primarily intended for burning incense). The aroma spreads through small holes in the metal body. By swinging the censer, the burning process is sped up and the aroma is dispersed better. The use of censers was a normal part of ancient Egyptian practices (where the censer looked more like a bowl with a handle) but also in Greek and Roman practices. Early Jewish practices also incorporated censers into their rites; their censers resembled the Egyptian ones but looked more like ladles. The censer is uses in Wicca for consecrating and cleansing the ritual space before each celebration, but also for cleansing and consecrating any new ritual objects which are brought into the circle.
Ceremonial Magic - also known as High Magic, is the practice of conjuring spirits (which have been called many different names up to now; entities, demons, angels etc.). In this process, the magician has to show his power over the entity by saying the words of power (which vary for each entity) thus demonstrating that he/she possesses the necessary knowledge. The details of these rituals were usually written down in grimoires (fr.. grimoire, meaning "grammar" in Old French). These texts were usually in Greek or Latin, and the necessary items were often hard to get because they were simply unusual or the instructions were too precise (and often wouldn't permit any deviations). Automatcally, a good financial backing was needed for this, as well as spare time and a lot of knowledge (especially that of Greek and Latin). People who had all three conditions (and often practiced Ceremonial Magic) were ecclesiastics; bishops, archbishops and even a few Popes (e.g. Pope Sylvester II, Pope Honorius III, Pope Urban V, the German Emperor Rudolf II etc.). It is worth noting that while Witchcraft was equated with heresy at the time, practicing magic was only thought of as a craft.
Cerne/Cernunnos - an alternate spelling is Kernun(n)os (which most closely mirrors the pronunciation of the name). This is a Pagan Celtic deity which represents for winter and the hunt. His name means "the Horned One" which is why he is often compared in Wicca (e.g. in the Gardnerian tradition) to the Horned God who is celebrated during the winter months. He i most often depicted as a bearded male figure with the antlers of a stag and is sometimes surrounded by stags and snakes. He is a symbol of manhood, strength, fertility, woodlan, life/death etc.
chakra (/'tʃakrə/) - a concept in Hinduism which refers to energetic and, according to some, even spiritual centers of power in the body. There are many chakras in the human body, but seven of them are emphasized: the root chakra (first, at the base of the spine), the sacral chakra (second, the genitals), solar plexus (third, just above the sacral chakra but a bit below the naval), the heart chakra (fourth, where the thymus is), the throat chakra (fifth, near the thyroid gland), the third eye (sixth, between the eyebrows), the crown chakra (seventh, on the crown of the head). In Wicca, chakras are often used for healing purposes. It is believed that well-balanced chakras enable the human organism to function normally (physically, emotionally and spiritually). You can find more information here.
chalice - look up the term "goblet".
channeling - it refers to the channeling (i.e. directing) of energy during a ritual towards a certain goal. The energy can be that of an individual, a group or a deity. In this sense, during Wiccan rituals, the High Priest or High Priestess channels the God/Goddess (the priest channels the Goddess into the priestess, and she channels the God into the priest; this ritual is called "Drawing down the Moon/Sun" - look this term up for more information). If channeling the energy of a deity as in this case, one is really performing an invocation i.e. the calling of a deity into the body of a person. When channeling group energy or the energy of an individual, it is important to have an intent, a goal and to concentrate on the method and path of channeling. In group rituals, it is important that every member has the same intent, visualization and goal when channeling energy.
chanting - the rhythmic repetition of sounds or syllables which is often used for magical and devotional purposes. The chants are usually connected with the goal of the magical/devotional work. Chanting functions by "hypnotizing" the brain; it starts to chant automatically after a certain period of time thus enabling the practitioner to focus on the goal without thinking about the words being said too much. A melody can, but doesn't have to exist, the only important thing is the presence of rhythm (which is why drums and other percussion instruments often accompany chants). The tempo is maintained when the goal is to reach a trance, but it should be quickened when the energy wants to be raised and channeled somewhere. In terms of repetition, chanting is very similar to prayer because repeating prayers is a well-known method of achieving contact with higher powers throughout the world. In order to remembers the chants easily, the practitioner, at least in witchcraft and paganism, often writes it themself and sometimes includes rhymes. Pagans and Wiccans usually chant inside the sacred Circle deosil (although dancing isn't obligatory) in order to raise the energy and channel it towards a goal (by which they actually perform magic).
Charge of the Goddess - a poem which is recited by the High Priestess (with some help from the High Priest) during a ritual called Drawing Down the Moon. The ritual's purpose is calling the Goddess into the body of the Priestess. If she does not come down, then the Priestess recites the poem speaking in the Goddess' behalf. Charles Godfrey Leland wrote it down according to a speech given by the infamous Aradia to a group of Italian Witches. It was then translated into English by Doreen Valiente. More information in this post.
circle - the ritual space isn't fixed in Paganism as it is in other spiritual practices; each Pagan can raise the sacred space i.e. the sacred circle wherever and whenever they see fit. The ritual circle can just as easily be closed as it can be opened and it is thought to be sacred during the duration of the ritual. The circle has been chosen for the form of the ritual space because of its symbolism and history. In ancient Rome, foreign ambassadors were untouchable if they drew a circle around themselves (even if it wasn't visible). The Babylonians used to draw circles with flour around sick beds to ward off evil spirits. Similarly, medieval Jews use to draw circles around a woman giving birth to keep evil energies away from her and throughout Europe, many cultures erected sacred megalithic circles (e.g. Stonehenge). The circle generally symbolizes cycles (natural ones of course such as Sun, Moon, earth, life cycles and so on). It was often thought to be the most perfect geometric solid which is why it was connected to the Divine. The circle is therefore a sacred space in Paganism in which a person can come into direct contact with higher powers and it is also referred to as the place which is "between the worlds". It is intended for performing rituals be they of a magical or religious nature. The traditional diameter of a circle (in Pagan practices) is 9 feet (have a look at the terms "cords" and "coven" for more information), although it can be larger or smaller depending on the number of people present during the ritual and on the reason for it even being erect. The main reason why a circle is opened is to create a sacred space, to keep bad energies out and good energies in (but also to hold in the energy that is raised during a ritual). Raising/opening the circle is a process which begins with the physical marking of the perimeter (with chalk, cords, stones etc. or sometimes with nothing if there is, for example, only one person performing the ritual and there is no need for coordination). The practitioner (usually the priest/priestess in covens) then traces the perimeter with a sword/athamé and/or cleanses it with a broom. This line (perimeter) is then cleansed with the four elements - with water (which is previously cleansed with salt), with incense and with a candle (i.e. fire, although this is sometimes left out). The circle is then erected energetically by means of visualizations. All movement inside the circle is performed deosil (i.e. clockwise). Candles are usually placed at the four cardinal points as signifiers. The term "circle" has also become synonymous for meetings as they are also usually held in circles. If you want to find out more on how the circle is opened/closed, what is done inside it and how, you can look at the section entitled "Rituals", or more specifically the posts "Ritual Form", "Opening Ritual" and "Closing Ritual".
Cone of Power - the name given to the energy raised inside a ritual circle. When Pagans and Witches raise energy during a ritual, they usually envision it rising upwards towards the center of the circle in the form of a cone. The base of the cone in this case follows the perimeter of the ritual circle. When the energy has reached its peak, it is projected towards a certain goal (usually continuing upwards), or it is drawn down into the cakes and wine. The peak is determined by the High Priest and High Priestess who serve to direct the energy itself; the other practitioners' primary function during this part of the ritual is raising the energy to this peak. Energy is usually raised by mantras, singing, dancing, playing drums and other instruments. In Wicca and most other Pagan traditions, this energy is not connected to any other forces other than human and earthly (i.e. the energy is taken from our being and the earth); therefore, there is no need to evoke any other entities in order to raise it. Some believe that it is necessary to ground oneself after this act (that is, send the excess energy back into the earth by visualizations and physically touching/slapping the earth), while others believe that this energy is welcome to stay in our bodies because it is only positive and cannot do any harm. You can read more on magic and the Cone of Power in my post "Raising Group Energy".
consecration - the act by which something profane (or mundane) is dedicated to the gods (or God or any deity form) and thus becomes sacred. Consecration and blessing are not the same because something that is consecrated cannot return to its previous unconsecrated form (it has already been changed in its core). Because of this, something can be blessed several times, but repeated consecration is pointless. Consecration is performed in many spiritual paths/religions, as it is in Paganism, by sprinkling or immersing something/someone in holy water (water that has previously been consecrated with salt, look up the term "holy water"), but it is also commonly performed with incense (so the smoke of the incense purifies the object/person). In some traditions, consecrating with holy oil is also accepted. Consecration is a normal part of Paganism and witchcraft as every ritual tools has to be consecrated before it can be used, the ritual circle has to be consecrated before every ritual as do all the practitioners that step into it.
cords - they are a common ritual tool in Wicca. There are usually three cords, each 9 feet (174.32cm) in length and red in color. In some traditions, only one cord is red while the others differ in color (depending on the individual's preferences). Some coven have three cords for the entire coven (which are kept on the altar), while others agree that each member should have their own cord which is then used as a cingullum (a cord belt with which the ritual robe is kept in place or simply tightened for aesthetic purposes). Cords can also be used for marking the perimeter of the ritual circle. Namely, 9 feet is the traditional diameter of a ritual circle in Wicca (because of the numeric meaning of the number). When the circle is marked, a stick/sword/athamé is pushed into the ground and the cord is then folded in half over it (so it is 4.5 feet in length). A practitioner then holds the ends of the cord and walks around the center point keeping the cord tight. Also, a white-handled knife can be attached to the ends of the cord; it can be used to physically mark the perimeter into the ground. Any way, the radius of the circle will them be 4.5 feet and the full diameter will be exactly 9 feet. The cords can also be used in knot magic where energy is raised and then stored in knots on a piece of cord (i.e. the knots keep the energy inside). That same energy can later be let out by simply untying that specific knot.
coven - the word itself originates from the verb "to convene" which basically means "to meet/gather". It is possible that it comes from the earlier English word "covent" which referred to non-witchcraft related groups, or in general to a number of people less than thirteen. This has become an accepted term for a group of witches (often smaller which gathers on a regular basis). Most members of the coven see it as being a sort of extended family. The word "coven" itself was first mentioned in 1662 on the trial of the Scottish witch Issobel Gowdie who also noted that thirteen was the ideal number of witches in a coven (although this isn't the first time that a group of witches was mentioned in general, just the first time it was referred to as a coven; the number thirteen has been mentioned as far back as the 15th century as the ideal number of coven members). Of course, the number of members did and still does vary and depends on the space which is available and number of interested people in the local area. Rituals are traditionally held in a circle 9 feet in diameter (about 2.7m) in which thirteen people can fit relatively normally (any more would be a bit too cramped). Also, a smaller group is often much closer and is thus more productive when working magic (although large groups are better for Sabbat celebrations). The coven is usually led by a High Priest and High Priestess. It is known that witches existed even before covens, but they works as solitaries. But during the persecutions, it is possible that witches started to gather because of security in numbers. Each coven is autonomous ; there is no leader for all of them because every coven functions independently. Cooperation with other covens is possible (especially in the cases of covens which stemmed out from a Mother Coven i.e. the central coven). Members usually meet once a month (during the full Moon, although it is possible to meet more often, and for every Sabbat. Members often try to find balance in the coven and it is thought that this balance is best achieved if there is an equal number of female and male members (although this isn't always possible and in no way obligatory and necessary for the group to function normally). On the Sabbats, the coven meets primarily to celebrate deities and nature (which is the essential goal anyway), but all other types of works (magic, healing, divination, initiations, lectures, workshops etc.) are done during the Esbats (basically any regular meetings, although most commonly during the full Moon). You can read a bit more on the realationship between solitaries and covens in this post.
Crone - the third aspect of the Wiccan Triple Goddess. She is also known as the Dark Goddess and the Hag and is connected with the waning phase of the Moon. In various cultures there were many goddesses that represented this later time of a woman's life when she was past her physical peak, but when she compensated for this lack of physical fertility with her knowledge, wisdom and life experience. It is worth mentioning the goddess Hera and the Roman Carmenta who were both triple goddesses and manifested in the form of the Crone. This aspect is also connected to Hecate (the goddess of the underworld), Kali (the goddess of chaos and destruction), the Celtic Morgan and Cerridwen. Some believe that the name "crone" came from the term Rhea Kronia (Mother of Time). The Crone primarily represents that later, postmenopausal time of a woman's life when she is biologically no longer capable of conceiving. This aspect is also associated with the Underworld and death (although not in a negative way as Pagans look at death as another natural occurrence).
cross - the Latin cross is not the only type of cross known to humankind. Actually, the earliest found form of the cross is the Greek cross, or rather the equal-armed cross (basically the + symbol). This cross was primarily a Sun symbol and thus connected to solar deities. It was automatically a symbol of light and gained apotropaic attributes. There are four basic types of crosses: the crux quadrata (i.e. the aforementioned Greek cross), the crux immissa (the Latin cross with unequal arms; the vertical arm is longer than the horizontal), the crux commissa (i.e. the Tau cross, similar to the Latin cross but it can most simply be compared to the letter T, it is basically a three-armed cross), and the crux decussata (Andrew's cross which has diagonal arms, it is similar to the letter X). Another well-known type of cross is the Egyptian cross, also known as the ankh (the crux ansata, look up the term "ankh" for more information). The Celtic cross is also very popular among Pagans; this is actually a Greek/Latin cross with a circle around the intersection of the two arms. The swastika symbol is also very well-known throughout the world (a.k.a the crux gamita). Witches and Pagans usually prefer the Greek cross, its modification in the shape of the Celtic cross and the ankh, although their favorite symbol is the pentagram (look up the term "pentagram").
curse - a spell which is worked with the intent of doing harm to someone in any way. Such a spell can be performed without any words being spoken or gestures done, but it can also be performed as a part of an elaborate ritual. Witches, Wiccans and Pagans do not throw curses because their moral principles, as well as the Wiccan Rede, forbid it. An enormous amount of hatred is necessary for a real curse and this is in no way encouraged in the aforementioned groups. The stereotypical belief that witches throw curses is absurd and stems from the Middle Ages when people were accused of cursing just so other individuals could get their hands on their possessions, to get revenge or simply to pour out their hatred of these (often innocent) individuals.
~ D ~
demons - contrary to the belief of most people today, the word "demon" refers to an entity that can be good and bad. It comes from the Greek word daimon which carries the same meaning. The word itself gained a bad reputation when the Church proclaimed that all Pagan entities and gods were evil. During the Middle Ages, Witches were accused of having intercourse with demonds who, in addition to this, attended their Sabbats. This most definitely wasn't true and it was though completely impossible up to the 12th century, but it seems that everything became possible with the hysteria of the Inquisition. Even some very prominent Catholic figures like St Thomas Aquinac and St Augustine believed in the existence of incubi (male demons who sexually abused witches, and other people, in their sleep), and succubi (female demons who behaved equally repugnantly), but they equated them with the sylvans and fauns from Pagan mythology. Witches today don't believe in demons and, automatically, they don't worship them.
deosil - a word which signifies a clockwise, that is a sunwise motion, which is the most common movement inside the Circle. Movement in the opposite direction (i.e. anticlockwise) is called widdershins and doesn't necessarily have to mean anything bad; it is simply practiced less often and only for specific occasions (e.g. some prefer to move widdershins when closing the circle or during the waning cycle of the Moon etc.). Today, there are many discussions on the topic of which direction is "more correct", but in the end, both movements are accepted as long as the individual understands why he/she works precisely that way.
devil's mark - during the Middle Ages. or rather duuring the witch hunts, it was believed that witches worshiped the devil and that they had a pact with him (look up the term "pact with the devil"). This, of course, is not true, but it was believed that enough proof of this was the so called devil's mark. This mark could have been found in a hidden place on the body of the accused such as in the armpit, on the genitals or, in the case of women, below the breasts. A normal part of the trails of a witch was stripping them, shaving them completely and searching the body for the devil's mark (all of this in front of an audience to make the ordeal all the more embarrassing). This mark could have been a birthmark, scar, wart, blemish or any other kind of mark on the body, including even hemorrhoids. People with a third nipple were instantly accused because it was believed that such a nipple was used to feed the devil's demons/spawn/followers. This mark could basically get anybody a death sentence, most often unjustly.
Dianic Wicca - one of the several existing Wiccan traditions which focuses solely on the Goddess and on the female aspects of deity and nature. Dianic covens usually accept only women, although some less radical covens do accept men but only if they also only celebrate the Goddess. During their rituals, Dianic women invoke only goddesses and female energies. The founder of the tradition was Zsuzsann Budapest. The incentive for the founding (which occurred in 1971) was the rise of feminism in the USA (which happened around this time) as well as the Hungarian uprising of 1956. The first Dianic coven was named after an American defender of women's rights - Susan B. Anthony. Dring the following 10 years, Budapest lead Esbat and Sabbat celebrations and initiated many women who became priestesses of the tradition. The two most famous works which also represent this tradition and contain its manifesto are The feminist book of lights and shadows and The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries (both written by Z. Budapest). You can read the full manifesto in Buckland's The Witch Book (under the term "Dianic Wicca"), and if this still isn't enough, you can find out more here.
divination - the term itself comes from the noun "divine" so it can be said that divination (or the information which is obtained through it) is a gift from the divine/the gods. Divination is the art/discipline of foretelling the future using certain signs, omens, visions or divinatory methods (runes, tarot cards etc.). Of course, not only Pagans and Wiccans are interested in divination; followers of different spiritual paths and members of many cultures have been and still are fascinated with this practice. The most popular divinatory methods include astrology, cartomancy (reading tarot cards), chieromancy (palm reading), cleromancy (casting runes or dice), scrying (crystal gazing and so on. Many other methods exist, for example tasseography (using coffee sediment or tea leaves), oneiromancy (by interpreting dreams), lampadomancy (using a candle flame), numerology (using numbers), capnomancy (using smoke), radiesthesia (using a pendulum), leconomancy (pouring oil on water), pyromancy (gazing into a fire and seeing visions), zoomancy (interpreting animal behavior) and so on. Of course, these are all simply different paths which lead to gaining certain knowledge. The choice of the method or tool by which this understanding is gained is up to the divinator depending with what they feel most comfortable. The most important thing is the interpretation of the seen signs. No method gives direct answers; it is up to the divinator to decipher the codes in compliance with the situation. Today, people of different social backgrounds practice divination, but this practice used to be reserved for specially chosen individuals such as the sibyls in ancient Greece, the augurers of ancient Rome, special priest classes in Egypt, the Druids for the Celts and so on. Most divinators nowadays don't see divination as a way of foretelling the future but rather as a sort of psychoanalysis which can help an individual face their problems (both past and present) and thus give them the strength to change their future. More more information on different divinatory techniques, have a look at the divination blog section.
Drawing Down the Moon/Sun - in Wicca, the Moon is connected to the Goddess and the Sun with the God. In both cases, this is a ritual during which the Goddess/God is invoked into the body of the priest/priestess. After she is invoked, the Goddess may speak through the priestess (this is often compared to the communication of spirits through spiritual mediums). In case this doesn't happen, the priestess proceeds to recite the Charge of the Goddess (have a look at the entry here for more information on the Charge). You can find the whole ritual in the Opening ritual.
~ E ~
elements - the ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles (5th century BC) advanced the theory that everything was made up of four elements: air, fire, water and earth. This is an accepted theory among Pagans and occultists. With time, each element was assigned a cardinal point mainly for ritual use (east for air, south for fire, west for water and north for earth). Each element also has its symbolism. In this sense, air and fire are "positive", active and "male" elements, while earth and water are "negative", passive and "female" elements. The elements are important in Wicca and witchcraft because it is with them that any consecration or cleansing is done for all types of rituals. Also, each element has a long list of correspondences which are also used for magical purposes (colors, planets, ritual tools, characteristics, metals, precious stones, astrological signs etc.).
Esbat - a name for meetings of witches outside the Sabbat "frame" (since the eight Sabbats have fixed dates). It is up to the group (which may/may not be a coven) to determine the frequency of the meetings, but it is recommended to meet at least once a month, preferably during the full Moon, which results in thirteen meetings per year. The full Moon is appropriate because of its connection to the Goddess, and because of its history; when witches were prosecuted, they met under the light of the full Moon so as not to have to carry lanterns which would give away their hiding place. The following activities are common during Esbats: discussions, problem solving, lectures/training, initiations, magical rites, divination, healing, consecrations etc. An Esbat is usually an intimate meeting, usually of a smaller group (a coven?), while Sabbats are usually large celebrations with larger numbers of people. Etymologically, this word comes from the French verb s'esbattre (to amuse oneself). Even though this aspect is present, these meetings are primarily used to give thanks to the gods/God/Goddess for what we have and to perhaps ask them for something we may need. You can find more information on this topic in this post.
evil eye - a belief exists that some people possess the "evil eye", that is that they are able to curse or negatively effect someone just by looking at them. It is believed that this person doesn't even have to be aware that they have the evil eye. Many cultures such as the Egyptian, Assyrians, Babylonians and Sumerians accepted the existence of the evil eye. It was also believed that this is just a natural phenomenon which is manifested in the form of negative energy emitted through the eye. The main suspects were usually people with different eyes; dark-eyed people in a surrounding where light-eyes were dominant, people with one lazy eye, those who had a cataract or any other sort of anomaly. Since this was common with old people, they were often the first victims (in the Middle Ages, they were burned at the stake). Since people developed a fear of the evil eye, talismans and gestures were designed to protect them; with the Romans it was the mano pantea, for the Italians the mano cornuta, in other cultures the mano in fica, shamrock, garlic, barley, red ribbons, small bells, vivid blue pearls (and sometimes crystals such as the agate eye), charms like the blue eye, etc. Spitting was also though to protect one from the evil eye (in Greece, Rome and even today among Gypsies). Of course, witches don't possess the evil eye and harming anyone in any way goes completely against their moral principles.
evocation - an order to a certain spirit/being to appear. Invocation is different because it is actually a polite invitation extended to a certain spirit/entity. While invocations are common in Paganism, evocations are a more common practice in Ceremonial magic. Evocations are actually very long and tiring rituals during which a spirit is ordered to appear in the sacred space which is marked with a triangle on the floor and inside which sacred names of the spirit are written (i.e. the names by which the spirit is known and with which one can evoke it). The act of evocation is sometimes dangerous and must not be taken lightly. But, this concept can be interpreted in a different way. It can also signify the calling upon of certain forces (e.g. the four elements in Pagan rituals) but not with the goal of these forces entering the practitioner's body but rather the idea of the forces simply being present during the ritual.
Eye of Horus - a common symbol in Paganism which represents God's eye. It comes from Egypt where it is known as the udjat. It is believed that it can protect the its wearer from evil. It was originally a sigil which was placed on talismans, religious jewelry, sarcophagi and other funerary items. It also used to be painted on boats so it could guide them. Modern-day witches use this symbol as a talisman and as a symbol for the third eye. You can see a visual representation of the symbol here.
~ F ~
fertility - most ancient religions (and especially those that are labelled as Pagan) celebrated fertility in every aspect - the fertility of the land which gave crops, the fertility of animals which ensured meat for the people and human fertility without non of us would exist. Even while man was still living in caves, he performed sympathetic magic believing that he could attract fertility in this manner (or basically anything else he needed); he painted these needs on the cave walls and created clay figurines (such as those depicting two bison mating). Two almost archetypal exampels of this era are the Venus of Willendorf and the Cerne Abbas Giant who, each in their own way, celebrate female or male fertility. In older times, humans relied on their own labor in the field and with the cattle as well as on nature to survive. Moon cycles, the Sun's rays and rain - all of this affected the crops. When people realized this, they tried to better the fertility of the land with their own fertility and made love in the fields.This tradition was very normal indeed in pre-Christian times, but with the coming of Christianity, sex became mystified and became something bad (to some extent even the Devil's work). In the Middle Ages, witches used to be blamed for anything bad that happened - the fields going barren, cattle dying or even infant deaths that occurred at birth. The Church simply wanted to turn people away from Pagan practices by claiming such illogical things. One of the rare traditions that survived for a longer time is the Maypole dance. May Day (May 1) is celebrated even today in Neopagan faiths under the name of Beltane. This was (and still is) a fertility festival; people would dance around a maypole which represented a phallus. Ribbons were tied to the top representing flowing semen. In case there were also red ribbons, the white ones represented male fertility, while the red represented female fertility. People would hold the ribbons while dancing around the maypole thus creating elaborate patterns on the body of the pole. Celebrations such as these would often be followed by various sexual acts until the Church intervened and started forbidding traditions such as this one. This and many similar traditions managed to survive to this day and are still practiced in Neopagan faiths (such as Wicca) where fertility is almost always celebrated and where sex is believed to be sacred.
fire - one of the four elements which play important roles in Wicca and Paganism. Of the four cardinal points, fire is connected to the south which is why the candle which represents this element is always placed at the south quarter of the ritual circle. It is also connected with the God, or rather the Sun (since the Sun is a symbol of the God and the Moon a symbol of the Goddess). This correspondation also associates it with light, energy, healing, fertility but also with destruction (when it is too strong). Fire can also be a symbol of passion and desire. Its color s read and its elementals are salamanders (more information under the terms "elementals" and "salamanders").
folk dances and rhymes - both dance and song (be it poetry, with a musical background or nursery rhymes) often contain mythical and/or magical elements. This is how traditions of any country are preserved. Probably the most famous dances with a Pagan background in the world are the Morris dances. Of course, each country has its own fascinating folklore on which many books have been written, so I'll leave any further research to you.
futhark (/'fuðaʳk/) - an acronym of the first six letters of the Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet. This alphabet was used in some parts of Sweden from the 3rd century CE from where it arrived to Norway and, by the 5th century, to England. It was originally comprised of 24 characters, but the number rose to 28 and, by the 9th century, to 33. In early English, the word "rune" means mystery/secret. In Wicca, runes are rarely used as a writing system (sometimes for coding), and are commonly used for divination, making talismans and in magick in general. You can read more on them in the section entitled "Divination".
~ G ~
Gardner, Gerald Brouseau (/ga:ʳdəʳ, ʒerəld brusou/) - born 1884, died 1964. He is thought of as the founder of modern Wicca. During his life, he traveled a lot and learnt what he could from the various cultures he visited. His first encounter with Wicca was when he met and joined the New Forest coven. It was until 1947 that he founded his very own coven. He wrote many books about witchcraft as well as various other topics but his most famous work is probably his Book of Shadows which he edited along with Doreen Valiente to make it more organized and true to the nature of Wicca. Thanks to him, the first tradition of Wicca was born and named after him - Gardnerian Wicca. You can read more about the "father of Wicca" in the book at the top of this page and in the following posts: "The History of Wicca" and "Wiccan Traditions".
gray magic - the terms "white magic" and "black magic" have grown deep roots in contemporary society, whereas the term "gray magic" is somewhat new. According to some, the area of gray magic covers a whole specter of magical workings which are neither completely good ("white") or completely bad ("black"). Yet, both the good and bad aspects of magic are relative and depend on many factors. This is why the area of gray magic is much broader than many people think. For a more detailed explanation of this term, have a look at the post entitled "On Gray Magi: Why Black and White Magic Don't Exist".
Great Rite - a ritual which symbolizes the sacred marriage of the God and Goddess in Paganism. It is essentially a sexual ritual (although physical contact is by no means necessary; it can be performed in the metaphorical sense). It is in this way a symbol of the practitioner's unity with the divine. Even though it is mainly performed metaphorically (by dipping the athamé into the chalice), some will still "actually" perform it. So the Great Rite can also be a real sexual act, although not many choose to perform it this way. Since it is performed only by the High Priest and High Priestess, it is a rare occurrence when the two are married/in any sort of relationship or are willing to have sex. If they by any chance are willing, the Rite is performed in privacy (so the coven leaves them alone). This is no way just sex for the sake of sex; it is a spiritual act and must be thought of as such. You can read more on both the "actual" and metaphorical Great Rite in this post.
Green Man - the god of nature who is celebrated in Wicca and Paganism. He is often represented by a foliate mask or, in case of a wood/stone carving, as a man's face peering out through a bundle of leaves. He represents the spirits of the woods, flowers, trees and plants in general. Green is also connected to fairies. His face is most commonly seen around Beltane since this Sabbat celebrates nature which is at this time of the year bursting with life and is thus emblematic of spring.
Green Witch - another name for a Hedge Witch (see this term for more information). It is primarily used to refer to those witches who are skilled in the use of herbs (especially for medicinal purposes) or generally in herbology.
~ H ~
hare - a large number of Pagan civilizations believed the hare to be a sacred animal (e.g. the Icenes, who were a Breton tribe and were led by the famour Boudicca who had a Moon-Hare on hare banner). Hares are often connected to the goddess Eostre who is celebrated on the spring equinox. It is from this ancient symbolism of the hare and its fertility that the Easter bunny was born. The hare is a also a symbol of good luck (which is why a rabbit's foot is still thought to bring luck today). In ancient Greece, the hare was connected to the goddess Hecate (the goddess of the Moon and witches), in Germany, France and Holland, the hare is called the spirit of the corn and in Rome, augurers used to foretell the future by observing the hare's movements. For more information on the hare and its connection to the Pagan celebration of Ostara, feel free to read this post.
healing - witchcraft goes way back to the wise people of the villages (both men and women) which specialized in healing. Some witches still practice the old methods our ancestors used; these are herb healing and hands-on healing (a method of energetic healing). In any case, any witch must ask the patient for their permission to heal beforehand because every person has a right to free will; enforced healing would take away this right and is in no way in conformity with pagan ethics. Healing can be done by the hands-on method (the placing of hands on the patient) and controlling energy which is directed appropriately (by visualizing colors, pictures, controlling the chakras...), but also by using crystals, candles, chemotherapeutic methods and so on. Distance healing (i.e. absent healing) is also possible although direct contact is always preferred.
Hedge Witch - a term which is used to refer to all those witches who have great knowledge regarding herbs, their medicinal properties, as well as their mundane and magical uses in everyday life. If a person is a witch, they don't necessarily have to be Pagan or Wiccan, that is they don't have to have any connection whatsoever with the religious side of witchcraft. Hedge Witches practice "low magic" i.e. magic which is connected to the earth, mundane life, which doesn't include complicated ceremonies and so on (for more information, have a look at the term "Low Magic").
herbs - this usually refers to aromatic plants which are used for culinary purposes, or perhaps to plants used in medicine (as some witches use them in herbology), but it can also refer to the plants used in magic. In Paganism and Witchcraft, plants are most commonly used to heal and to perform magic, but they have also become a common part of culinary witchcraft which has recently become popular. The human need for finding and using medicinal plants emerges from their need to be healthy and strong. The pharmaceutical industry has replaced simple herbology; concentrated powders, pills and similar chemically modified medicines have replaces good old-fashioned plants. But, it is always worth keeping in mind that none of these medicines would exist without the plants which form their core. It's a well-known misconception that witches make potions from various herbs and use for all sorts of bad things in the process adding "spices" such as mouse ears, lizard's tails and frog's legs. Witches really do make potions; they are called teas. These are normal teas made from normal plants which are used only for medicinal i.e. healing purposes. All those names of animal parts are simply colorful folk names (nicknames) of various plants and nothing more. These plants were known under these names before they were given their Latin classifications under which they are known today worldwide. Plants were given these "nicknames" according to their color, shape or texture of their leaves and other physical characteristics. Thus, mouse ears were actually the plant Hieracium pilosella, the lizard's tail was what we now know as Saururus cernuus (a.k.a. the water dragon), frog's legs are actually Ranunculus bulbosus and so on. Witches use plants in herbology to prepare teas, syrups, tinctures, ointments and much more, but they also use them for magical purposes. It is believed that everything in the universe vibrated (i.e. that all atoms vibrate), but that the frequency of these vibrations varies from atom to atom and that it changes over time. It can be concluded that herbs/plants also vibrate. Magic is based on precisely this. In order for a plant to be magically adequate, it has to vibrate at a certain frequency that agrees with the frequency of the illness being healed. This is why plants are always gathered at a certain time (as their frequencies change from day to day). Witches usually gather plants using a bolline (a curved knife) which is used only for this purpose. Herbs are used as incense, for filling poppets (dolls which represent a person and which are used for healing; not for controlling that person!), but they can also be spread around a house, around a person or in a room for protection. Some people make aromatic baths to fill themselves with the energy of the plants (but this is also how tinctures function). Some incorporate them into talismans which they wear in order to attract something (and even this it is worth noting the frequency of the plant which is supposed to correspond to the frequency of that which is being attracted). These magical correspondences of plants (which have been proven over time) are no secret today and can be found in many books. Also, many ecnyclopedias have been written on the subject of medicinal plants. You can easily get your hands on them in pdf form or over the internet if not in your local bookshop. If you want to read a bit more on the subject, you can also have a look at the herbology section of this blog.
hereditary witchcraft - during the Medieval witch trials, witches passed down knowledge from parent to child because people could only trust their own families (if even them) not to turn them into the Inquisition. This is how hereditary witches came to be. Nowadays, a very small number of people actually comes from a long line of witches. More often than not, one may come across people who were either initiated into a coven or that performed self-initiation. It's difficult to confirm that a person is a hereditary witch because not many Books of Shadows were saved (you can take their word for it, or try to find other evidence which is usually not old enough to prove anything). This is why a person who is a second or third generation Wiccan is deemed a hereditary witch today. Many people are against this term because they believe it promotes a hierarchical system as well as inequality in Wicca.
hermetica - a religious philosophy which was named after the deity Hermes Trismegistos ("thrice great Hermes") who was a combination of the Greek god Hermes and Egyptian god Thoth. This newly-made god governed over wisdom, literature and learning. In addition to being a religious philosophy, hermetica also includes some aspects of astrology, magic and alchemy. It had a great impact on the development of modern Paganism and Wicca, among other things. A commonly emphasized similarity between hermetica and Paganism is a belief that in short reads: "as above, so below", which means that the microcosm of the Earth is a reflection of the macrocosm of the heavens (this is also the foundation of astrology and alchemy).
High Magic's Aid - a novel written by Gerald Gardner under the pen name of Scire. Gardner wrote it in order to tell the world about witchcraft and to show that it still exists, but his contemporary coven (the New Forest coven, also the first coven into which he was initiated) and its High Priestess Dorothy Clutterbuck wouldn't let him publish their rituals and private information unless it was disguised as a fictional book since there were still laws against witchcraft at the time. The book talks about three soon-to-be ceremonial magicians who are looking for the witch of Wanda to consecrate their ritual tools. The plot is set in thirteenth-century England and tells us much about the attitude of the medieval Catholic Church towards witchcraft and magic. The rituals in the book are slightly modified versions of the original rituals of the New Forest coven, and even the ceremonial magical procedures are accurately stated as in the english translation of The Greater Key of Solomon. This is one of the first books to correctly depict Wicca (and in a positive light at that!). It is also the first book on witchcraft to be written by a witch. If you want to read it, you can download it here.
hocus pocus - nowadays, these words are used only exclusively when performing magic tricks and, contrary to popular beliefs, don't have anything to do with witchcraft or magic and are not used in these practices. As far as the roots of this phrase can be traced, it has been found that they have been used for deception (in the sense that they were used to distract spectators so something else could be done). It is believed that they are derived from the name of a magician/demon from Norse mythology by the name of Ochus Bochus. Although, this theory has not been affirmed. Another theory claims that the words come from the Latin phrase "hoc est corpus" (this is the body) which is spoken by Roman Catholic priests while performing the transubstantiation (turning of the bread and water into the Eucharist, i.e. the body and blood of Christ).
holy water - it was once believed that holy water had the power to repel witches; this, of course, is not true. In fact, modern witches (but also Pagans and Wiccans) use holy water in their own rituals and they make it in the same manner as many other religions and spiritual paths; by adding salt and consecrating it. The practice of adding salt to holy water is slightly rarer in Christianity nowadays, but it used to be very common before. In Pagan practices, the water is cleansed with salt and consecrated by dipping the tip of the forefinger/athamé/wand into it and asking that all negative energy be expelled and only positive energy be left or allowed to enter the water.
Horned God - the God of Hunt was the main deity of the Paleolithic; people worshiped him because they believed her enabled them to hunt the animals which were necessary for them to survive. He was usually depicted with the horns/antlers of those animals which the people hunted (most often deer antlers). In time, he became known as the God of the witches, after which he became the God of Nature. He has kept this appearance (with deer antlers) in Wicca up to this age. The Romans called him Cernunnos (which means "the Horned One", read the term "Cernunnos"), or Cerne for short from which the name Herne came to exist in some regions. Ever since the Bronze Age, antlers/horns have been a symbol of the divine and the number of horns often reflected the importance of the deity. Contrary to popular belief, the Horned God of the witches is not Satan. In fact, witches don't believe in the existance of Satan and thus cannot worship him. In addition to this, Satan isn't depicted with horns anywhere in the Bible. In Paganism, the Horned God is accepted as the lord of winter and autumn, the Underworld, death (and all that comes after it), but also life, nature and fertility. You can read more on this topic in the post entitled "Wiccan Beliefs".
~ I ~
incantation - this is the recitation of a spell, although practitioners of magic see it more as commanding (as opposed to prayers which are requests), and not just a mere recital. In magic, both the written and spoken word have great power, which is why they are used to do magic, invoke a certian deity or other entities and much more. In Ceremonial magic, incantations are used to call upon many entities using different words/names of power. Witches and Pagans usually have a slightly different approach to magic and in/evocations; they don't order the entities to show up; the treat them with due respect. Therefore, incantation in this sense doesn't exist in Paganism (except in individual cases). But be it a witch's chant or an ceremonial incantation, the practitioner should always know what they are saying (so saying anything you learnt by heart without understanding its full meaning is simply not accepted). It is for this reason that it is recommended that every person write their own rituals and/or spells because every writer understands their own work and its implications better than anyone else. You can read more on incantations in Buckland's book The Witch Book under the term "incantation".
incense - its origins are in the Latin noun incensum which means "something burnt". The term actually refers the the aroma which is produced by burning certain resins, flowers, barks, roots, seeds or herbs in general. Burning incense has been a part of magical and ritual practices for centuries. This term was originally used only to refer to frankincense (a resin which comes from trees of the Boswellia genus which grow from Asia to Africa), but in modern times, it used to refer to basically any substance which is burnt and produces an aroma. The belief that the smoke of the plants carries one's prayers to the gods is connected to burning incense. This act itself originated in Egypt from where it came to Greece and Rome (where frankincense became widely accepted and used). Christianity didn't become familiar with this practice up to the 5th century, even though it had been a part of Judaism since the 7th century BC. Pagans like using incense in rituals because it creates a pleasant atmosphere and (if not used every day) sends a psychological message that something special is going on and that the mundane must be left behind (this in turn has a psycho-physical influence on the practitioner). Incense is used for several purposes in Pagan practices: cleansing the circle, cleansing objects, representing the element of air etc. It can be bought in many stores nowadays and in various forms (sticks, cones, powder etc.) and with various smells. Some prefer to make their own incense sticks by tying plants together and drying them, or simply burning dry herbs on coals (or even without them).
initiation - it originates from the Latin verb initiare ("to begin/originate from") but it gained its modern meaning (to introduce somebody to a practice or system) around the 1600s. Even though it slightly differs from tradition to tradition in Wicca, it has some basic characteristics which remain unchanged: the challenge, the oath of secrecy (although this is rarely practiced nowadays), the imparting of certain knowledge to the newcomer and the symbolic death and rebirth (paligenesis). The purpose of initiation is to produce a decisive alteration in the religious and social status of the initiate. Neopaganism is different from the ancient cultures in the way that self-initiation is now accepted, while initiation in the classic sense was the only way of entering a new faith in ancient times.
invocation - it is often confused with the term evocation. An invocation is an invite extended from a witch to a spiritual being/deity to accompany them in anything that is happening in the circle at that time. Evocations are performed in Ceremonial magic and are actually orders given to a certain spiritual being commanding them to appear inside the ceremonial space which is usually triangular (although other interpretations do exist, look up the term "evocation"). Each individual usually writes their own invocations and it is thought that they are most potent when they are written in a certain rhythm and when they rhyme. Another interpretation of this concept says that invocation is the act of inviting a divine energy into oneself (the divine then merges with the practitioner). In Paganism, the most commonly invoked are deities, although some even invoke the four elements in stead of evoking them. It is worth noting that invocation in Paganism isn't the same as obsession in Catholicism (where egzorcism is necessary). Invocation is the willing invitation of a certain divine energy into one's body where the two become One.
Inquisition - even though the Inquisition had already started in the 12th century, it wasn't until 1234 that Pope Gregory IX accepted St. Augustine's theory (who lived from 354-430 CE) in which he says that "not only every pagan, but every Jew, heretic, and schismatic, will go to the eternal fire, which is prepared for the Devil and his angels". This theory was later developed by inquisitors such as Nickolas Eymeric and Thomas Aquinas. The Papal Inquisition as such was formed between 1227 and 1233. The first burning at the stake occured in 1275 in Toulouse (France). It was during the Inquisition that most myths surround witches were formed (from their supposed attending black masses, to their riding broomsticks; most of this was just nonsense or, in the least, stories which were blow out of proportion and proof of misunderstandings such as the broomstick theory). In most European countries, burning at the stake was practiced, while in England, witches were killed by hanging. But one thing they all had in common was torture which was inflicted on the accused until they confessed their ""felonies". These so called felonies were often made up and the "culprit" wrongly accused (jealous neighbors accused one another, powerful people were accused of heresy so others could confiscate their wealth, men accused women who didn't want to sleep with them and so on). It is almost impossible to estimate the people who were burned at the stake; estimates vary from 500 000 pa to 9 million (which does seem a bit too much). But there are documents in which individual inquisitors boast of how many deaths they have causes (Bartolomeo Spina - more than 1000 only in the year 1523, Nicholas Remy - 900 people in ten years etc.). The last death penalties occured in different times in different countries (1717 in England, 1727 in Scotland etc.). Modern witches look on the Inquisition as a time of iniquitous prosecutions and pointless deaths which were proof of religious intolerance, human jealous and frustration. You can find out more information on the witch hunts and the acts that ended them in this post.
~ J ~
jewelry - even though this word usually refers to the mundane type of jewelry (which Wiccans and Pagans do wear and often to express their faith), jewelry also plays an important part in rituals. Wearing jewelry during a ritual is not mandatory; some don't wear jewelry at all while other feel comfortable with it. Every piece of jewelry is personal and connected to the wearer. Just as any other ritual tool, its use outside the circle is not recommended and neither is lending it to others (i.e. letting others wear it). Apart from personal choice, certain setups do exist in certain traditions. Om Gardnerian Wicca, everyone in the circle wears some kind of necklace (the symbol of the circle of rebirth, often made of jet or amber). All of the coven members can wear one or two rings but excess is not recommended. The High Priestess usually wears a wide silver bracelet. The High Priest usually doesn't wear any jewelry but does wear a horned helmet for the Samhain ritual as a symbol of the Horned God. There is another "rank" which is "above" that of the High Priestess and this is when she becomes a Queen of the Sabbat (a.k.a. a Witch's Queen). She achieves this status after one or more of her students have left the coven and formed their own covens (which makes her coven the "Mother" coven). She is then free to express this status by wearing a thin silver crown with the triple Moon symbol on the front as well as by wearing a garter (which is usually made of green leather and has a blue silk border). The garter has as many buckles on it as she "has" covens (i.e. her coven and the number of covens who sprung from it). The High Priest who leads the coven alongside a Witch's Queen is usually called a Magus in the Gardnerian tradition and expresses this status by wearing a golden bracelet. Of course, these aren't rules but merely traditions of just one Wiccan denomination. They vary in denominations and covens, and each individual has the right to alter that which doesn't fit them.
~ K ~
kiss - kisses play an important part in Wicca and Paganism. This is traditionally a kiss on the lips, although a kiss on the cheek has become equally accepted in most modern-day practices. It is common in most Pagan traditions for a kiss to be given when transferring a ritual object inside the circle (i.e. during a ritual). In this case, the kiss is a symbol of the transferal of energy along with the object as well as trust and mutual love. Ritual kisses are usually called salutes. They are very common in Wiccan initiations in those traditions which recognize a degree system. In fact, three "types" of kisses exist in these traditions - the three-fold kiss, the five-fold kiss and the eight-fold kiss. As their names may give away, each of them is actually a series of kisses given on three, five or eight body parts (depending on which kiss is given and what level of initiation is being given). The symbol of the first degree in Wicca is the downward pointing triangle. The downward facing pentagram is the symbol of the second degree while the first degree is represented by an upward facing pentagram surmounted by an upward facing triangle. You can see these symbols here. The three-fold kiss is thus the first-degree kiss in which the mouth, right breast, left breast and mouth (again) are kissed in order to form a triangle. The five-fold kiss is appropriate for the second-degree initiation; kisses are then given just above the genitalia, on the right foot, left knee, left foot, right knee and above the genitalia again. The eight-fold kiss i.e. the kiss of the third degree is a combination of the aforementioned two kisses. You can read more on kisses and especially on the five-fold kiss, its performance and meaning in this post.
knot magic - this kind of magic used to be practiced in ancient Egypt and has been connected to witches ever since the Middle Ages., Knot magic is usually performed by inserting a specific intention and/or energy into a knot while tying it. This same energy/intent can only be released by untying the knot. This is why this technique is appropriate for almost any sort of magic, from connecting two people to preventing a certain event from happening (e.g. a secret being spilled out). The most famous knot is the knot of Isis which was used in Egypt as a talisman for fertility, health and luck but also for tying ritual robes (in time, the knot itself became a symbol of the human genitalia and thus of fertility). Such knots were/are known among other ethnic groups (e.g. among Gypsies) and in other cultures (e.g. among the Celts).
kundalini - a term which is well-known in many occult fields and which is closely connected to chakras. The kundalini is the resting energy inside every human being. It is usually depicted as a snake which stretches from the base of the spine to the crown of the head along the spine. The process of awakening the kundalini is thus called "waking the fiery serpent". It is believed that it can be awakened by means of certain yogic practices and occult methods which results in the "serpent" uncoiling itself from the base of the spine and stretching up the spine through the chakras thus activating those chakras it passes through. Pagans and witches often use this method to prepare themselves for certain magical works because it is believed that waking the kundalini begins the flow of energy through the body (which is later channeled towards a certain goal during the magical work) and also because it is supposed to enhance the psychic abilities of the practitioner.
~ L ~
libation - an offering to the gods. This tradition existed in ancient cultures and has survived to this day. In Pagan traditions, the libation is performed during the ritual of the Cakes and the Wine during which the first sip of the drink is poured onto the ground/into the fire/into a cauldron (or into a libation dish if the ritual is being held indoors) instead of it being drunk. More information under the term "sacrifice".
lingam - an Indian term which refers to the erected male reproductive organ, and is thus a symbol of male fertility. As a symbol, it is connected to the Roman god Priapus (a male fertility deity). Romans used to carry a depiction of Priapus' lingam as a talisman (which was then called a Fascinus). It was common to place a lingam on a grave in ancient Rome and Greece, which symbolized eternal life and a kind of defiance of death. In Pagan ritual practice, the wand and the athamé symbolize the lingam (whereas the goblet symbolizes the yoni). This is clearly visible in the act of consecrating the cakes and wine during which the priest lowers the tip of the athamé into the drink (so the athamé symbolizes the male reproductive organ, the goblet symbolizes the female reproductive organ and the act itself is a symbol of their unity). Lingams in witchcraft can also be found on the Priapic wand (a wand shaped like a phallus, or something that symbolizes a phallus) and on brooms (where the pole, which is often shaped like a phallus, represents the male and the branches into which the pole is stuck represent the female reproductive organ).
Litha (/'liθə/) - one of the eight Sabbats, or more precisely, one of the four solar (or "minor" Sabbats. It is usually celebrated on June 21, so that would make this the summer solstice. This was a fire festival in most European countries. On this day, the Sun is at its zenith (at its highest point in the sky, and thus at the height of its power) and also when the day is the longest. In Wiccan mythology, this day also marks the end of the Oak King's reign and the crowning of the Holly King. Detailed information on this topic can be found in this post..
love magic - a type of magic which includes one person trying to make another person fall in love with them by means of magic. This type of magic is thought to be very negative in Wicca because, by doing it, you are harming another person and taking away their free will. But, there are alternative options which you can read about in this post.
Low Magic - it is the opposite of the term "High Magic" (which usually refers to Ceremonial Magic where everything is strictly defined; the words which are spoken, the ritual forms, the ways of carrying out rituals, when something can/cannot be done and so on). Low Magic differs in that not much is strictly defined but is rather left to intuition. Low Magic used to be performed by the wise men and women of the countryside and is still practiced by many Pagans today. This term should by no means be understood as pejorative because the word "low" simply refers to this magic's relationship with the earth and its gifts, whereas Ceremonial Magic is "high" (but not necessarily better in any way) in the sense that it focuses on "higher things" (higher powers, other planes of existence etc.). Also, the ritual tools are strictly defined in Ceremonial Magic and are often very expensive and/or difficult to make; in Low Magic, ritual tools can be gifts of nature such as sticks, rocks and plants. Another things is that the energy used in Low Magic (and energy is of course necessary in any magical work) comes from the earth or the practitioner him/herself. In Ceremonial Magic, energy is asked from higher beings (such as angels, deities etc.). Low Magic is alwo called Folk Magic or Natural Magic.
Lughnasadh (/lu:'nasə/) - one of the eight Sabbats which is held on July 31 (or on August 1). It got its name after the Celtic fire god Lugh. The Christianized version of this Sabbat is Lammas (August 1) and means "loaf mass" in Old English. This is the time of the first harvest i.e. the time when wheat was gathered to make bread. This was the primary factor in creating the atmosphere of this festival which was merry and filled with giving thanks to the land for its fertility and praying for the harvest to be good the next year (as it hopefully was that year). This is also the time for thinning out plants for a better harvest, which is why this is thought to be a good time of year to get rid of all the negative influences in our lives. More information on this Sabbat in my post entitled "Lughnasadh".
~ M ~Mabon (/'meibon/) - look at "autumnal equinox" or read this post.
magic / magick (/'mædʒik/) - both words have come to mean the same thing today, but modern occultists try to differentiate them so they prefer to use the term "magic" when referring to the things that magicians do on stage (e.g. illusions). They distinguish the term "magick" which refers to the parapsychological alternative which is most commonly defined as a discipline of altering reality in conformity with our will, in the process of which we use our own will and ability to direct energy (towards a certain goal). It isn't taken as a serious mistake to use these terms interchangeably, but it's worth knowing the difference. For more information on magic/magick, you have have a look at the section entitled "Magic".
magician - any person who practices magic. Neither magic nor magicians have to have any connection to any religion (although this is is possible). Magic as such does not have to be connected to any form of higher power nor does a magical ritual have to include a celebration or work with the Divine. Respectively, a magician doesn't have to believe that the energy behind magic comes from a divine source; the magician develops his/her own perception of magic regardless of religion or notions of the Divine (although a person can be both a magician and follow a certain religion/spiritual path). It can be concluded that magical rituals can be performed outside of religious rituals and that the term "magician" differs from terms such as "witch" (which has different connotations), "Pagan", "Christian", or religious labels.
magic squares - squares which are divided into a certain number of fields inside which numbers are written. In this arrangement, it is important that every row and column, plus both diagonals add up to the same number. This number is called the constant. Also, each number can appear only once in a magical square. These squares, as the name implies, were (ans still are) used for magic (they were usually engraved/written and used as talismans). They were used in ancient India and China from where they came to Europe. In modern times, they can b found in many books and especially in those which deal with ceremonial magic. There are seven standard magical squares which Cornelius Agrippa established in the 16th century in his work entitled De Occulta Philosophia (each square is connected to one of seven planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Veneus, Mercury and the Moon). The oldest is Saturn's square which can even be found in the Chinese I-Ching. Other authors followed Agrippa's example and studied magical squares. It is worth nothing Francis Barrett (who wrote The Magus) and Eliphas Levi (who wrote Transcedental Magic). These authors recommend using different magical squares for different purposes (health, giving birth, happiness, love etc.). Many techniques exist today for making magical squares and often every square has its own instructions, warnings and characteristics so there would be no point in generalizing here. In addition to this, many individuals often make their own magical squares depending on their personal needs.
Maiden - one of the three aspects of the Triple Goddess which is associated with virginity, youth, innocence, potential for growth and learning etc. Her symbol is the waxing Moon. This term is also used for referring to a young woman who is training to become a High Priestess one day (in some Wiccan traditions which accept the degree system, she would be Second Degree and learning to become Third Degree which would officially enable her to become a Priestess and thus take on the leadership of the coven or perhaps form her own coven).
Malleus Maleficarum - in translation "the Witches' Hammer" is a book of instructions for witch hunters and judges which gave them advice on recognizing, questioning and torturing witches (as well as appropriate questions to ask them and appropriate answers to these questions which the witch should give). It was written in 1486 during Pope Innocent VIII reign whose bull against witches just so happened to be in the preface of the book. It was thanks to the invention of the printing press that this book became famous throughout Europe. Among other things, the book states the following: that heretics are not only witches but also people who believe in witchcraft, that witches make pacts with the Devil (look up the term "pact with the Devil"), that midwives can be witches (and that they sacrifice children to the Devil), that witches have the ability to conjure up a storm, kill cattle and so on. As this is a book of instructions, it talks a lot about court procedures (if one can call them that) which precedes the actual judging and torture (a large part of this is the attempt to find "the Devil's mark on the witch's body). The authors of the "hammer" were the two Chief Inquisitors for Germany (who were also Dominican monks) - Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer.
May Day - look up the term "Beltane".
meditation - many Pagans (and non-Pagans) practice meditation in order to learn how to listen to their inner voice and close their mind to external influences thus focusing solely on that which is happening in their minds and spirits and with their emotions. Meditation can help Pagans and witches in magic by bettering their concentration and visualization abilities, both of which are important in magical practices. Many believe that meditation can help us grow both mentally and spiritually which is of interest to any person who look for spirituality, the Divine or any form of higher power/energy. Meditation came to Europe from the East where people have been practicing it for centuries; it is these cultures that taught us how to get rid of the negativity in our lives and how to use our minds to better our mental, spiritual and physical health. Numerous meditation techniques exist today, but they all have one thing in common - they are used to calm the mind and conscious so we are able to hear all the messages that we are supposed to hear and which can be of use to us in our lives.
mirror - because of their significance in tradition, mirrors have become an important ritual tool or divinatory method for many Pagans and witches. Mirrors usually represent the human soul (some believed that they could catch the soul, others that one's reflection could say a lot about that person's soul and even the superstition that a broken mirror brings seven years of bad luck stems from these beliefs). In witchcraft, mirrors are usually used for divination (the user looks into it just as they would into a crystal ball). Some mirrors are painted black and others are concave all so that the focus can be on the mirror and the central image and not on any exterior surrounding elements. Many historical figures and important occultists used such mirrors (which were most often black) for divination (e.g. Catherine de Medici and John Dee).
mystery religion - Wicca and Witchcraft are often referred to as mystery religions (although the term "religion" should be taken with a grain of salt). When this is said of a spiritual path, it implies that some kind of initiation is involved as well as the transfer of some secret knowledge which is known only to initiates (along with secret rituals and other secret practices). The initiations of almost all the mystery religions are made up of the same parts: catharsis (purification), palingenesis (the symbolic death and rebirth during which secret knowledge is given to the initiate), heiros gamos (the sacred marriage with the divine), orgion (a Greek phrase referring to the experiencing of very strong emotions; it is in no way connected to orgies) and ekstazis. Ancient mystery religions include the famous Eleusinian mysteries, other Greco-Roman mysteries such as those of Orpheus and Dionysus, or the Persian god Mithra and the Egyptian Isis. In modern times, initiation has become an optional part of these paths, though some authors believe that both Wicca and Witchcraft have essentially remained "mysterious" because it is left to the individual to find out these mysteries for him/herself, or rather through contact with the Divine (therefore, there doesn't have to be a mediator such as a priest nor does there have to be any kind of teacher like those that were necessary in ancient times).
~ N ~
New Age - a modern term referring to a spiritual movement that originated in the 1960s. It includes the practice of meditation, the acceptance of reincarnation, unconventional religions, an interest in astrology, tarot, holistic medicine, crystal therapy etc. In short, everything that used to be labelled as "occult", but without the negative connotation.
nudity - this refers only to ritual nudity. This isn't and wasn't as uncommon as it my seem because many cultures practiced nudity in ritual and magical works - the Persians, Greek and Romans as well (who were all very comfortable with their bodies). You may notice that witches are depicted naked in most artistic works (while riding a broom, performing rituals etc.). It would have been normal for them to do their rituals naked, but the verity of the other aspects that these depictions show is questionable (for instance, they didn't sacrifice children to the devil, they didn't rede on broomsticks etc.). All in all, ritual nudity was a common and accepted practice in Pagan communities, bur it was repressed with the domination of Christianity. Neopagans today are divided when it comes to this topic. It seems that ritual nudity is preferred in Europe, while American Pagans prefer to work robed. This is by no means a rule so the decision is usually left to the individual (or a coven if we're dealing with group rituals). Some Wiccan traditions (such as Gardnerian Wicca) insist on ritual nudity, although this rule keeps becoming ever more flexible. When a person performs a ritual nude, this is called being skyclad (i.e. clad by the sky, look up the term "skyclad").
~ O ~
occultism - the study of the occult. The origin of this word is from the Latin verb occulere which means "to conceal", and it can also be connected to the noun occultus which refers to hidden or secret things. If something is occult, it doesn't mean it is necessarily bad. In fact, psychic phenomena, supernatural influences, magic and divination all fall under the category of the occult. It is only due to various misconceptions that this word has gotten a negative overtone.
offering - this is a sacrifice made to the God/Goddess/gods. In Paganism, this doesn't refer to any kind of blood sacrifice. The Pagan offering is a gift of food and drink which is given before a meal to the gods as a sign of thanks for everything we have (more information under "sacrifice" and "libation"). The food and/or drink is poured into a fire, a libation dish or onto the ground depending on the circumstances. The giving of an offering is an essential part of the cakes and wine/ale ceremony (have a look at the term "cakes and wine"). Gifts of food and drink are appropriate for any part of the year, but especially during harvest time because this is the time of the year when it is most obvious what we have to give thanks for as we are surrounded by the earth's bounties.
oil - some Wiccan traditions use oil when consecrating/cleansing people before they enter the Circle (the sacred space), and some individuals also choose to use oil in every ritual to consecrate themselves. It's not unusual to consecrate objects with oil, although consecration with the four elements is more common. The use of oil for such purposes in rituals is an ancient tradition which existed in ancient Egypt, Greece (where the deceased were buried with large containers full of oil called lekythoi) and Rome (where oil was poured over the ashes of the deceased). The act of consecrating with oil was a common practice for coronations (and has to this day remained a part of the coronation of the English monarch).
Old Religion - another name for Wicca which contrasts the term "New Religion" (Christianity). Even though Wicca is a very young religion, its roots predate Christianity. This terms is adequate for all Pagan religions because Paganism actually predates Christianity (even though Wicca itself does not), but this term also covers Wicca since it is a (Neo)Pagan religion. Namely, when the process of christianization began (from 313 AD onward when Christianity was legalized in Rome with the Edict of Milan), Paganism didn't simply disappear. Christianity spread steadily and primarily in cities whereas the people who lived in the countryside stayed loyal to their Pagan beliefs much longer. They were thus labelled the followers of the "Old Religion", while those who (mainly) lived in urban areas were called followers of the "New Religion".
~ P ~
Paganism - this term originates from the Latin noun pagani which could be translated into "dwellers in the country" (farmers, peasants). Obviously, the words "Paganism" and "Pagan" (which is used to refer to a person of a Pagan faith) have the same roots. When Christianity started spreading, it was firstly accepted by city dwellers, while the country dwellers lead a very different lifestyle which was centered around natural cycles. They stayed faithful to Pagan religions i.e. the old religions since they suited their lifestyles and world views more. This is how Pagan religions got a collective name - the Old Religion. In time, this term got a negative overtone. In order to avoid any negative associations, many modern Pagans prefer to refer to themselves as Neopagans and they call their faith Neopaganism (for more information have a look at the term "Neopaganism" just above).
pentacle - this symbol was usually equated with the pentagram symbol, but recently, this term has come to refer to a wooden/metal ritual plate with engraved magical symbols (among which a pentagram can almost always be seen). In the Gardnerian tradition, the pentacle is made of copper and engraved with the three degree symbols as well as the symbols for the kiss, scourge and God and Goddess (example). Other traditions will use different materials and symbols, but be that as it may, it's worth differentiating the pentacle and pentagram.
pentagram - a five-pointed star with one point facing upwards. The origins of this symbol go far far into the past, and throughout history it has symbolized the life force (something similar to the Egyptian ankh symbol), the theory of the Microcosmic Man (a man with his extremities outstreched over a pentagram; similar to the Vitruvian man) which was popular in medieval times and which claimed that man is a microcosm in himself. The five points of the pentagram symbolize the five elements (water, fire, earth air and spirit/akasha). A pentagram with two points facing upwards doesn't not symbolize evil (what it will represent depends on the person who is using it), although Satanists often use this type of pentagram BUT with a goat's head as an additional graphic element. This "reversed" pentagram has a completely positive meaning in Wicca because it is used to represent the 2nd degree initiation into a coven for some traditions.
phallus - also known by the name lingam, is a term which refers to the male reproductive organ (usually in erection). It is a fertility symbol (not only of human, physical fertility but also of that of the earth etc.). It is often depicted disproportionally, that is larger than it should be in order to emphasize this aspect. Some gods who were connected to it were (and are) the Greed god Dionysus and the Egyptian Osiris. Pagans don't share the Christian belief that sexuality is dirty; they find it sacred. Many others before us have shared this view, as confirmed in cave art, Egyptian hieroglyphs and many other examples in Africa, Rome, Greece, Ireland, Japan etc. As witches worship fertility, this symbol is often found in their practices (as it was found long ago) on the tips of broomsticks (which used to be ridden to make the land/fields fertile), priapic wands and other ritual tools, paintings, sculptures etc. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend you read a previous post entitle "The Great Rite and Sexuality in Wicca".
poison - witches are often connected to poisoning and doing other harmful things. This is a stereotype that has no basis in reality but rather in historical myths and prejudices. Witches were experts in the field of herbology much earlier than they were even named witches. Herbology was actually the primary occupation of many wise men and women in villages where they played the role of doctor in a surrounding with practically nonexistent healthcare. Their knowledge of plants wasn't limited only to those of a medicinal nature; they also knew much about poisonous plants. Of course, they had to if they wanted to know how to cure a poison and find an antidote. Also, some poisons can be used for healing if consumed correctly and in smaller doses, which additionally explains the benefits of having knowledge about poisonous plants. The first time witches were publicly called poisoners was in a wrong translation of the Bible in the time of King James in England when the Latin noun venefica (poisoner) was transferred into "witch". You can still the wrong translation in many Bibles today: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (Exodus 22: 18). In the Middle Ages, many physicians found it very practical to blame their own failures on their unprofessional (i.e. those without a title) competition, even if it was clear as day that it was they (the physicians) who were to blame. In fact, a law was passed which "confirmed" that any disease which medicine (or at least the medicine of that time) could not cure was the work of sorcery. And thus witches gained a part of their bad reputation.
polytheism - is the belief in and revering of many gods. Etymologically, it comes from the fusion of two Greek words: polys (many) + theos (god). The earliest human belief systems included the worshiping of many gods/spirits among which were the spirits of nature, the elements (water, fire, earth, air), rivers, forests, the sky, hunting, fertility and so on. It is well known that many ancient cultures were polytheistic (the Sumerians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians) and polytheism has survived even today through individuals and tribes in Africa and throughout America (just to name a few). Paganism doesn't have strict rules regarding any individual's beliefs so everyone is free to perceive the god(s) as they please. Although Neopaganism is essentially duotheistic (as is Wicca), it is left up to the individual to decide how they understand the God and Goddess. Some find it logical for them to simply be two aspects among many (so these people are basically polytheists), or perhaps see the God and Goddess as two parts which fuse together to form a central universal force (so these people are essentially monotheists).
potion - the meaning of this word has become completely distorted over time. Nowadays, potions are connected with spells and curses, with witches that try to cause harm to someone or love magic in which "love potions" are used to make someone fall in love. None of this is true. A potion is nothing more than an ordinary drink which is used for medicinal purposes; this can be your everyday tea, some sort of decoction or an infusion. Witches often practice herbology with the goal of understanding plants in order to help those around them who are in need of help (it was the same even in the Middle Ages with the wise men and women who were simply the oldest, wisest and most experienced people in the village who knew most about herbs and their uses). A potion can be therapeutic or poisonous depending on which plant or plants is/are used. Although, it is worth noting that if one wants to really practice herbology, they have to know their poisonous plants because in order to cure a poison, you have to know which poison you're dealing with. Also, some poisons can even be medicinal if taken in smaller doses and consumed correctly. You can read more on plants and their medicinal properties (as well as methods of making various herbal "concoctions") in the section of this blog entitled "Herbology".
prayer - although this term is nowadays usually connected to the main religions of the world, certain forms of prayer also exist in Wicca and other Pagan faiths. Prayer is essentially some sort of petition directed towards the gods/God/a force or any sort or whatever you want to call it. Most religions today prefer the fixed form of prayers while Pagans still prefer the free form (i.e. prayers come from the heart; they are often spontaneous and spoken according to ones own feelings). Prayers in the general sense can vary from desperate pleading, polite asking, irritating insisting to rude threatening of a deity. They can be performed standing, sitting, kneeling, lying face down (prostration), with the head covered or uncovered and so on. All of this varies from faith to faith. Prayer used to be accompanied by sacrifice in order to "pay" the deity for their help. This sacrifice was usually a blood sacrifice (though such a thing exists even today in faiths such as Voodoo, although it is generally rare), in Christianity the burning of a candle is a symbolic sacrifice and in Paganism, sacrifices are also symbolic although they vary according to the situation (seeds can be buried, plants watered, a sacred object or the earth can be kissed etc.). Some compare prayer to magic because in both cases, an important part of the whole process is sending some message to the Universe with a certain intent.
priapic wand - a type of wand in Pagan practices which was named after a Greed fertility god called Priapus. He was supposed to resemble a faun and was almost always depicted with an erection. According to Greek mythology, he was the son of Aphrodite and Dionysus and guaranteed the fertility of the land, animals and people also. The reason for his being depicted as "ugly" and with a constant erection is because Hera supposedly cursed him while he was still in the womb. In Priapus' honor, this type of wand is modeled to resemble a phallus or even like an actual phallus. If it only slightly recalls this phallic symbolism, then it is usually made by putting a pine cone at the tip of the wand (or modeling it to resemble a pine cone). This wand has basically the same functions as a normal wand, although some will prefer to use it only for special occasions when they are trying to emphasize/invite fertility and/or spring (for example when performing sexual magic or for Sabbats such as Imbolc).
priest/priestess - Pagan priests (who were also the leaders of covens) originally carried the title of the Presbyter (Gr. presbyteros = wise person, elder; Lat. presbyter = priest). The priest and priestess serve religious and magical rituals even today. In Wicca (and many other Pagan paths), it is believed that each person is a priest/priestess in their own right. This is why the priest/priestess in a coven don't necessary play the role of the plenipotentiary, or rather the mediator between the gods and the practitioners. In order to differentiate any individual as a priest/priestess and the individuals that also lead covens, the term for the latter is High Priest and High Priestess. In some traditions, the High Priestess plays a more important role than the High Priest (e.g. in Gardnerian Wicca) so the priestess may lead rituals or any group meetings by herself but the priest may not. By contrast, other traditions give equal importance to both the priest and the priestess. Traditionally, the High Priest and High Priestess are the two constant leaders of a coven which are in charge of organization but also of the spiritual work of the group, although less traditional groups change priests and priestess periodically or as the occasion requires.
~ Q ~
~ R ~
retribution - something that is requited/recompensated. In the concept of karma, this refers to the rewards and/or punishments a person receives in a lifetime as a result of one's actions in a previous life (look at "reincarnation"). Wiccans believe that everything they do in one lifetime comes back to them in that same lifetime (and not in another as Hindus and Buddhists believe).
ritual - a form of religious or magical ceremonies which usually follows a certain structure. It is claimed that the term comes from the Latin word re(i) which means "to count/number" which indicates the formality of rituals and the importance of form and order. The ritual is usually divided into things spoken (legomena) and things done (dromena). Van Gennep divides rituals into three parts: separation, transition and incorporation. While performing a ritual, a person has to separate him/herself from the physical reality in order to enter another, spiritual reality. The transition happens inside the ritual space (which is the circle in the case of Paganism) when the practitioner finds themselves between these two realities. Incorporation refers to the reflection of changes which occurred during a ritual onto the physical reality. Successful rituals should activate all the senses, cause a change in a person's consciousness and enable other ways of thinking. In order to make this happen, various objects are used as aids such as robes, altars, ritual tools and so on. It is also normal for there to be some singing, praying, dancing, playing instruments etc. Most Pagan paths (including Wicca) are familiar with two kinds of rituals; religious (i.e. devotional) rituals and magical ones. Devotional rituals include the celebrations of the eight Sabbats as well as rites of passage (which mark a birth, initiation, marriage, separation, aging, death). Rituals can be performed in a group and are usually led by a priest and/or priestess (which can be assisted by other group members), but can also be performed by only one person or even a small group made up of only two or three people. You can read more about Pagan rituals in the section of this blog entitled "Rituals".
~ S ~
sacrifice - most people are familiar with the concepts of human and animal sacrifice throughout history, but this term doesn't have to be connected with blood. A sacrifice is given to someone/something as a gift. This act can be an appeal/prayer, conciliation or an appeasement, but it is mainly an act of praising the subject. The most common sacrifices today are food and drink and small objects which a person is willing to give up for this cause. In Wicca, the Cakes and Wine ceremony is a normal part of any ritual. In it, the first bite of the food and the first sip of the drink are given to the gods. This act is the very sacrifice that we are talking about here, and it can also be a kind of toast of libation (have a look at the term "libation"). Other common sacrifices in Paganism are: flowers, seeds, fruits, nuts etc. Blood sacrifices do not exist in this context.
salamanders - a type of elemental which personifies the element of fire. According to mythology, salamanders taught the human race to create and use fire and are often depicted as balls of light drifting over bodies of water, or perhaps as lizardlike creatures. For more information, look up the term "elementals".
salt - this to us common condiment is thought to be of supernatural origins and it has long been thought that it has the power to protect a person from evil. As it was very rare in the beginning, and thus valuable, the Greeks and Romans, among others, offered it with bread as a sacrifice to their gods. Another reason for this is that salt is vital to the human organism (which makes it even more valuable and which is why it became a symbol of life), but also because it was used to preserve meat and therefore was taken as a symbol od durability. In magic, it is used as a protective agent against evil. Because of this, medieval people used it as for warding off and killing witches (which is ironic and, of course, absurd; look at the terms "wicca" and the post The Difference Between Pagans, Wiccans and Witches for a detailed etymological explanation). It is used to cleanse baptismal water and water used for exorcisms, whereas in Wicca, it is used to cleanse the water on the altar, cleansing the circle as well as any other object. It is connected to the element of earth due to its source.
Samhain (/ˈsaʊwɪn/) - one of the eight Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year, or more precisely one of the four Greater Sabbats. It is usually celebrated on December 31 (or rather the night on December 31 to November 1) which is why it is often connected to All Saints' Day. This night marks the beginning of the New year a well as winter for many Pagans (the latter is only valid if we divide the year into only winter and summer as the old Celts did; in this system, Samhain marks the beginning of winter and Mabon, May 1, the beginning of summer). It is believed that the veil between the worlds is thinnest on this night and that this makes it easier to communicate with spirits and entities "on the other side" (and thus with our ancestors also). This is also why divination is a common practice on this night. Incorporating all this, the modern-day Halloween was created. You can find more information about this Sabbat here.
scourge - a ritual tool which is usually used in coven works (usually in the Gardnerian and Alexandrian tradition). In Paganism, the act of scourging/flagellation is never an act of violence! It is better to describe it as a symbolic "caressing" of the body with the scourge (i.e. the scourge is simply passed over the body or only lightly touches it; it should never cause pain!). The goal is actually to speed up the blood flow and thus raise the energy of the ritual. Scourging is a normal part of the initiation ritual in which the initiated has their hands tied and eyes blindfolded in addition to the scourging. These three acts together symbolize the rebirth of the practitioner which occurs during the initiation. The scourge itself is made up of the handle and the cords (of which there are usually three, seven of nine because of the symbolism of these numbers and their magical properties). In order to avoid and causing of pain (even accidental), the cords are rarely made of leather and do not have knots died at the ends. In fact, they are much more often made of finer materials such as silk.
séance - the word is originally French (séance) and is literally translated into "a sitting". The sitting is actually a meeting between one/more individuals with one/several spirits. For a séance to be held, there has to be a spirit/several of them towards which the communication is targeted and a medium (i.e. an intermediary) who has the ability to travel from this world to the next. All of the people present usually hold hands (often around a table). Meditation is also used in séances to help the emdiator achieve a trance during which he communicates with the spirit(s). He/she then conveys a certian message to those present. Witches usually don't hold séances, although most of them do believe in the ability to communicate with the spirits of the deceased (especially during Samhain).
skyclad - this phrase literally means "clad/clothed only by the sky". Witches use this term as a synonym for nudity. If you look at older artistic depictions of witches, most of them really do show them as being naked during any kind of ritual activity. Today, being skyclad during a ritual isn't obligatory; individuals choose for themselves when they work alone, and covens agree on it as a group. Nudity during a ritual is a symbol of spiritual freedom where there doesn't have to be a single hint of sexuality. Witches celebrate the human body as a part of nature, as something that nature itself created and that isn't shameful or perverse, but rather beautiful and sacred.
smudge sticks - these aren't sticks per se, but rather a bundle of plants tied together which merely resemble a stick. The concentrated variation of the homemade smudge stick can be bought in many stores and is also known as an incense stick. If you prefer the homemade version, its enough to gather several stems of the plants of your liking, tie them together with a thread (taking care to tie loops around the plants so the stick doesn't fall apart during the burning process) and then leave them to dry until the plants are completely dry. Only then are the plants ready to be burnt i.e. ready for smudging. You can find out more information on smudging and the adequate plants under the term "smudging".
smudging - the act of burning aromatic plants/herbs for cleansing a space/object/person with the smoke. In Paganism, a more common way of cleansing is by sprinkling salt water over the subject, but smudging has become another popular method which is very often used along with the aforementioned technique. Smudging originates from the Native Americans who used to burn from one to many many plants. The most common plants they use include sage, sweetgrass, calamus, red willow bark, dogswood bark, cedar needles or bark and tobacco. The plants are usually ground or finely chopped and then burnt in a small bowl or on a plate (or basically anything that is slightly rounded). The smoke of the plant(s) is then wafted onto the subject using feathers. Pagans most commonly use sage, sweetgrass and lavender. Although, any plant which smells nice when it is burnt can be used for smudging. Another common practice is making smudge sticks which simplify this process because one does not need feather or anything else to spread the smoke around. You can read more on this under the term "smudge sticks".
Solitary Witch - also referred to as simply a Solitary, is a witch who doesn't belong to any coven but rather works alone. This has recently become completely normal as it was long before the first covens can along when witches (who were then the wise men and women of the towns) steered clear from others of their kind because of political/historical reasons or because they were simply the competition. Since initiation was the usual way of introducing someone to witchcraft, this ceremony was incorporated into solitary practices and was names self-initiation (also sometimes called self-dedication). In any case, the Solitary can do everything the coven can do; celebrate deities, do magic, practice healing, herbology and much more, but the essential rule for witches ("Harm none") applies equally to all. You can read more information about the relationship between covens and Solitaries here, and I suggest you also read the post on self-initiation.
sorcery - it is directly connected to spells and the making of charms for magical purposes. The term comes from the Latin word sors (genitive: sortis) which means fate/lot/luck. It is closely related to folk magic (also sometimes called low magic). In western traditions, sorcery isn't connected to and sort of worshiping of deities. It is different from the term "witchcraft" because it usually has more negative connotations, even though sorcery doesn't necessarily have to be negative in any way. Both notions include magic (look up the term "magic"), but in sorcery, it is used to manipulate natural forces and powers to achieve something. Basically, the main different is in this wish to control natural forces behind which both good and bad intentions can be placed. Witchcraft also includes magic in its practices (and thus some elements of sorcery), but goes far beyond this notion.
soul - although this term usually refers to some animating principle of each individual, or their essential energy, it can also be used to refer to the spirit of a deceased person, or even the divine essence in a person. Sometimes it is used to name different entities (such as angels or deities). Etymologically, it comes from the Latin word spirare which means "to breathe". In this sense it can be called the divine breath in every person. Some spiritual paths claim that only humans have souls, while others claim that all living beings have souls (including animals and plants). The Wiccan and thus the general Pagan belief is quite animistic (one could say Shamanic) because most Pagans believe that everything around us has a soul, and even non-living things (such as rocks and crystals) or natural occurrences (the Sun's rays, the rain etc.).
spells - the form the basis of any magical act. Spells are the ritual act of bringing about a desired result caused by magic (which is defined as the act of changing reality in conformity with our will by using our will and ability of directing energy towards a certain goal). Spells fall under the "oral" part of any ritual (rituals are divided into "things said" i.e. legomena and "things done" i.e. dromena). Rhythm and rhyme are important factors of spells, which is why they are often sung, or perhaps recited. More often than not, they are chanted. Chanting as such, with its repetitive approach (to words and to rhyme) serves to lead the practitioner into a state of trance and enhance the effect of the spell. But spells do not have to rhyme to be successful, nor does the person have to be a good singer to sing/chant them. Prayers are examples of spells which don't rhyme, but they make up for this with great sentimentality (after all, prayers are desires directed to a deity, with thoughts aimed towards the accomplishment of a certain goal). In Paganism, spells are usually performed inside the Circle to protect the practitioners from any negative energy. You can find more information on magic and spells here under the "Magic" section.
spring equinox (also known as Ostara) -the roots of this festival's name (which is counted among the eight Pagan Sabbats) can be found in mythology, that is in the names of the Teutonic solar goddess Ostara and the Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess Eostre. It is from these names the the term Easter is derived from. Easter celebrated more or less the same things as Ostara and is often celebrated around the same time. The date on which Ostara falls varies from the March 21-23 depending on the date of the spring/vernal equinox. You can read more information on this Sabbat here.
staff - a part of the ritual tools of the Scottish tradition (also known as PectiWicca). The followers of this tradition use the staff as followers of other traditions use the sword, athamé, or wand. They open and close the ritual circle with it and also direct energy during magical works (as would normally be done with the aforementioned tools). The staff is traditionally made from oak, yew, walnut or ash wood. Of course, this tool isn't only reserved for the followers of this tradition; other witches may also use it but they usually do so privately. Some Wiccan elders carry a staff as a symbol of their status (also wisdom and authority - characteristics of the above mentioned trees). The staff is also another symbol of male fertility.
Stonehenge - a circular megalith (a structure made of huge stones) surrounded by an earthwork which is located nor far from Salisbury in England. It was believed that the Druids built this complex, but it has since been discovered that Stonehenge actually predates the Druids by several centuries. It actually dates back to the late Neolithic period. This has been approved by several ceramic findings int he area which date back to about 1848 BC, although the building itself could have started as early as 2800 BC. Even today, there are only a number of speculations regarding why this monument was built, although modern Druids to celebrate the Midsummer solstice there. Nevertheless, Stonehenge is not connected to witchcraft of Wicca no matter how beautiful or important for other Pagan traditions it may be.
summoner - during the time when witches had to keep their beliefs and practices a secred, the role of the summoner was to inform all the members of a coven of the time and place of the next meeting/ritual. He was usually sent by the High Priestess of the coven, or if several covens were invited, he was sent by the Queen of the Sabbat (for more information look up the terms "High Priestess" and "Queen of the Sabbat"). The summoner was also referred to as the Messenger of the Gods and could be recognized by the red garter he wore. This role could be assigend to any member of the coven, but preferably one who was familiar to all the other coven members. Typically, men were chose for this role. The summoner's duties also included carrying messages between coven leaders and sometimes even to individuals outside the coven (he was actually a courier). He also often acted as an escort when needed.
sword - a ritual tool in Wicca which is used for almost the same things as the athamé, although some covens differentiate their functions. It is often used for opening the circle by marking its perimeter (more on this in the post on ritual form). The sword usually belongs to the whole coven, while individuals use their personal athamés for private use. The sword is thus used only in coven rituals. It is sometimes also used in stead of the wand/athamé when channeling energy towards something in magical works. The sword has become a common part of Gardnerian rituals where it has even developed a standard form: a brass cross hilt (such as this one) on which two crescent moon back-to-back are depicted. The pommel is usually circular (like this one) and has a pentagram engraved on each side.
sympathetic magic - a type of magic which is based on imitating/recreating that which the practitioner wishes to achieve. This is why this is also called imitative magic. There are numerous forms which sympathetic magic can take, but what they all have in common is that they are functio n according to the "like attracts like" principle. Sympathetic magic has its roots in prehistoric times, but it is still present in modern witchcraft in the form of candle magic (the candles imitate people), poppet/image magic (they literally depict a person) and so on. No matter what equipment is used in this magic form, the main point is that some kind of equating happens and that the practitioner behaves towards these objects as he/she would to the real thing/person. Of course, as with all forms of magic, it is important to always keep in mind the final goal and the initial intent.
~ T ~
tarot - a divination method using a special system of cards. The cards themselves are called Tarot cards and originate from the tarocchi cards. Their origin is not known, although some believe they come from ancient Egypt or even from China. The most likely possibility is that they were brought to Europe by the Roma. The earliest dated Tarot cards date back to the 14th century. In modern times, there are many existing Tarot sets each stylistically adapted to the needs of different tastes; according to this, their names, illustrations and correspondences vary. But, every Tarot set has 78 cards which are divided into two groups - the Major Arcana (22 cards) and the Minor Arcana (56 cards). The Minor Arcana is further divided into four suits (groups) the names of which also vary from deck to deck. The most traditional names are those of wands, pentacles, swords and cups. Each of these groups consists of 10 cards (Ace, Two, Three etc. until 10) and of four more cards: a Page, Knight, Queen and King. In some Tarot sets, each card depicts several characters doing many things from which a whole story can develop, while other decks are much simpler in this visual sense and depict only symbols of that suite (e.g. 7 crossed swords and so on). Each card has its meaning depending on its number, colors, characters and corresponding elements, archetypes, natural processes and many other factors. A Tarot reading (the process of divining with the cards) begins with the reader (the person using the cards) shuffling them and them spreading them out in a certain way (many spreads also exist and are chosen depending on the situation and goal). Many books have been written on the subject of Tarot cards, some even dedicated to specific decks (as many of them vary significantly from others and their meanings need special attention). It is worth noting that the modern playing cards developed from Tarot cards (or rather the Minor Arcana). This refers to the usual deck consisting of hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. In the process, the Page was renamed into the Jack, the Knight was dropped out of the deck and the Joker was added (he was actually taken from the Fool card from the Major Arcana). Many Witches and Pagans today practice divination methods with Tarot cards but also use them as a method of understanding themselves and their surroundings, solving dilemmas and problems and also as a way of personal consultation (which is what they are actually intended for).
theism - in a wider sense, the belief in God. Although a conscious belief in God (or a divine force) is implied, which means that a philosophy behind the religious aspect is also expected. Pagans are usually referred to as polytheists (polytheism=the belief in many gods), or sometimes pantheists (the belief that the Divine is within all of nature i.e. that the divine and nature/the universe are the same). Some pagans my prefer to be associated with other types of theism, for example panentheism (not the same as pantheism; the belief that the universe is part of the Divine), ditheism (the belief in two Gods/Goddesses/divine forces which are equal), animism (the belief that everything has a spirit and that everything is alive), or perhaps monolatrism (the belief that several divine forces do/might exist and that they are all an expression of the one supreme divine force), and so on. Paganism enables each individual to develop their own philosophy, which is why you won't hear a completely united philosophy of beliefs in the Pagan community. In order to make all these different aspects of theism more clear to you, I recommend you have a look at this site and that you read this article on the topic of dual faith by Deniver Vukelić which I found extremely interesting (it is in Croatian, but at least the conclusion is in English).
third eye - a spot just above the midway point between the eyebrows where the pineal gland is located (it is responsible for secreting melatonine - a hormone which regulates the sleep-wake cycle, it also connects the nervous system with the endocrine system thus controlling the secretion of hormones and; it also affects the sexual development of the individual). The sixth chakra can be found here (also known as ajna chakra in yoga). The third eye is a common focus point in meditation in many Oriental systems.
thirteen - nowadays, it is connected with superstition and is thought to be a very unlucky number. The ancient Romans connected it to death and misfortunes. This perception still lives today because it is only one unit larger than the number 12 - the "ideal" number (the number of months in a year, hours in a day, hours in a night, signs of the zodiac etc.) which means that it is no longer ideal or stable. It is worth noting, though, that it has remained a positive reputation in Pagan and esoteric circles. It is of great meaning to Witches and Wiccans because it is connected to the Moon (there are 13 full Moons in a year), and thus the Goddess. This is also, as anthropologist Margaret Murray states, the ideal number of members in a coven (although there is no solid historical evidence of this). Regarding other spiritual paths, it can also be found in Christianity (Jesus+the 12 apostles=13), in alchemy where it is the number of necromancy and in Kabbalah where it is connected with love.
Threefold Law - a concept which is very similar to karma. It states that whatever we do will be returned to us times three or three times the intensity. Wiccans believe that this return happens during this lifetime, while the law of karma usually includes the possibility of something returning back to you in another lifetime. The Threefold Law is directly connected to the Wiccan Rede which, in its shortened version, states: " 'An ye harm none, do what thou wilt". If a person really is ethical and does no harm to anyone then no harm will be returned to them. Some Witches don't interpret this law as a literal return of your deeds times three, but more as a "tooth for a tooth" law, although the most widespread belief is the one explained here. More on this topic in the posts "The Wiccan Rede" and "The Ethics of Witchcraft".
tools - witches use certain tools when performing their rites. They can belong to an individual, or to a whole coven (in which case one copy of an item is shared among the coven members and only during coven rituals). Not every Wiccan traditions uses the same tools since some objects have several functions so their role can change from occasion occasion and from coven to coven etc. These are common ritual tools: a sword, a wand, a white-handled knife, cords, a censer, salt, water, a scourge, a pentacle, athamé, a broom, a staff, candle(s), a bell, a cauldron etc. Each individual has a different opinion of what is important to have during a ritual, so the repertoire of tools changes accordingly. More information on the aforementioned tools and their general uses can be found in my post entitled "Ritual tools".
traditions - just as several denominations exist in Christianity, there are also several traditions in Wicca. The oldest among them is the Gardnerian tradition which was name after its founder Gerald Gardner and emerged in the 1950s. Many others followed including the Alexandrian tradition (its founder was Alex Sanders) which was inspired by the Gardnerian tradition and Ceremonial magic and emerged in the 60s. In Godine 1973, Raymond Buckland founded the Saxon tradition (a.k.a. Seax-Wicca) which somewhat differs from previous traditions because it didn't claim to have ancient roots as was the case before, it was much more democratically organized and it didn't base itself on the Gardnerian tradition as others did. Traditions developed by nationality and evoked the history of that nation as well as their customs (e.g. the Scottish, Italian, Welsh etc. traditions)., while others developed as a result of social movements of that age (e.g. the Dianic tradition which emerged in the 70s along with feminism). Many covens and individuals don't follow any specific tradition; these are called eclectic. If a person is eclectic, they create their own path and incorporate in it any aspect of any tradition/religion/spiritual path which agrees with their world view. Despite these differences, all Wiccan traditions follow the same moral guidelines and celebrate the same eight Sabbats. Many differences do indeed exist in covens, traditions and among individuals also. Some celebrate the God, some only the Goddess while others revere them both equally; some accept a degree system while others do not, some covens insist upon an equal number of both men and women while others feel that this isn't necessary and so on. Still, all these traditions celebrate nature and all forms of life, they all follow the Wiccan Rede and try to harm nobody (as reflected in the basic rule of Wicca: "Harm none"). If you feel like reading more about some of the existing Wiccan traditions, you can read the post entitled "Wiccan Traditions".
trees - since Pagans and Wiccans worship nature, they also worship trees. Trees symbolize the power of nature and have always seemed immortal in comparison to the short life span of humans. Trees have been worshiped since ancient times in many ways; altars were placed before them, menhirs and other megaliths were erected to represent them and the trees themselves were even engraved/carved to reflect the deities and spirits which dwell in them. Anceint cultures such as the Egyptians and Persians understood trees to be the homes of spirits. The most famous among the tree-worshipers are surely the Druids which especially revered oaks. Many female entities connected to trees can be found in mythology such as the dryads (the nymphs of forests and trees), the hamadryads (the nymphs of oak trees), the meliae (the nymphs of ash trees), Leuke (the nymph of the white poplar) and epimeliades (the nymphs of apple trees). It was believe that beings such as these died only when their tree died. In Scandinavia, there was a belief of moss-covered men and women who live beneath trees, while in some Arab countries there was a belief that evil spirits (called jinns) lived in trees (a similar belief existed in Egypt). In Great Britain and the surrounding countries, some trees became especially sacred for their ability of warding of evil and protection such as the oak, birch, ash, hawthorn, elder, rowan, hazel and holly. The Druids even developed an alphabet and calendar based on these trees (which you can find here). Of course, each tree has its own symbolism and is used for achieving different things. Accordingly, certain trees can also be used in certain magical works.
triangle - the triangle is connected with the number three and in many cultures, it is thus the symbol of the trinities such as that of Isis, Osiris and Horus in Egypt, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in Hinduism (known as the Trimurti), Selene, Artemis and Hecate in Greece and the Holy Trinity in Christianity. In Wicca, this trinity is recognized in the Triple Goddess which has three aspects: the Maiden, Mother and the Crone. The triangle can also be a symbol of the four elements; pointing upwards it is the symbol of the element of fire, pointing downwards of water, pointing upwards with a line going horizontally through it it represents air and pointing downwards with a line through it it is the symbol of earth. A plain triangle with the point facing downward (the symbol of air) is also the symbol of the First degree of initiation in Wicca (look up the term "degree system"). An upward-facing triangle surmounted over a pentagram is the symbol of the Third degree of initiation in Wicca. The capital letter D in the Greek alphabet (delta, Δ) is shaped like a triangle and is also called the symbol of the vulva and the "Holy Door". The triangle has become a universal symbol of everything female possibly because of its connection to the female reproductive organs (it can be seen in the urogenital triangle and the pubic mound which is also called the "mound of Venus").
Triple Goddess - in Wicca, the Goddess is also acknowledged alongside the God and she is often thought to have three aspects (hence the adjective "triple"). These aspects are: Maiden, Mother and Crone. The Maiden is virginal (not necessarily unsexual, simply unmarried and without children), pure and indepentant. When dealing with her, the focus is more on physical strengh and less on life experience and wisdom which she is yet to gain. The Mother is the creator, she has a sensual body with many curves, she is ripe, fully-develloped in the physical and mental sense and so on. The Crone is almost the opposite of the Maiden because her asset is wisdom and knowledge since her body has grown weak in time. Although, she is not unsexual as many would think; she just cannot reproduce any more. Many cultures had similar triple deities. Such examples can be found in Norse mythology where Freya (the goddess of love and beauty), Frigga (the mother) and Hel (the goddess of the underworld and death) are connected. In Greek mythology, the symbol of the triple Moon (used to represent the Triple Goddess) also exists (as id does in Wicca) in the trinity of Artemis (the huntress, represented by the Waxing Moon), Selene (the Moon goddess, represented by the Full Moon) and Hecate (the goddess of death, destruction and the nocturnal hunt, represented by the Waning Moon). You can find more information about the Triple Goddess here.
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~ V ~
~ W ~
warlock - this term is rarely used in its correct context. Witches used the term "witch" to denote both a male and a female witch simply because of historical and etymological reasons. The term itself comes from the Old English word waerloga which means traitor/oath breaker. It is well known that witches were tortured during the Inquisition in order to get information about their practices out of them as well as names of other witches (although the tortured often didn't have anything to do with witchcraft so they just said anything to make the torture stop). If it really was a witch being tortured and if he/she broke down during torture and gave up some names, he/she was from then on called a warlock. It is possible that such traitors (or even possible traitors) were killed in prison to stop them from giving up more names and thus causing more deaths. To make it known that the murder was committed for this reason, a garter was loosely tied around the neck of the deceased.
watchtowers - It is believed that these watchtowers guard the ritual circle. There are four of them and they are all connected to the four cardinal points. Basically, they are symbolic, etheric structures which are raised/called upon during a ritual in order to protect it from any negative energies/entities. The ceremony of Opening and consecrating the circle includes calling upon the guardians of these watchtowers who stand on these four points and protect the circle. There are also four guardians each corresponding to the cardinal point which they protect or the element which corresponds to this cardinal point. We can thus talk of the guardian of the east/air, the guardian of the south/fire, the guardian of the west/water and the guardian of the north/earth. You can read more about the guardians of the watchtowers here.
Wheel of the Year - this term is used in Wicca to refer to the changing of the seasons. The spokes of the wheel represent the Greater/agricultural Sabbats (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain) and the Lesser/solar Sabbats (the equinoxes and solstices i.e. Yule, Ostara, Litha and Mabon). This is a symbol of the passing of the year and life cycles (life and death, periods in one's life etc.). There are traditions that acknowledge an altered wheel, but it is present in most Pagan traditions in some form or the other. You can find a simplified depiction of the Wheel here. For more information on the Sabbats that make up the Wheel of the Year, have a look at the section entitled "Sabbats".
white handled knife - the third type of knife which is used in Pagan practice (the first being the athamé, and the second the bolline/boleen, look up the appropriate terms for more information). In order for it to be differentiated from the athamé (which usually has a black handle), this knife has a white handle, and can be single or double-bladed. While the bolline serves solely for cutting herbs, the white handled knife is used for altering other ritual tools (that is for cutting, engraving and even for actually shaping them). It is possible that this knife came into Pagan practices from Ceremonial Magic (even though it is used for slightly different purposes there). You can find out more on the topic here.
white magic - this is an inadequate term which is used to refer only to that magic which is based on good intentions, which has positive outcomes and which is used for helping people., Under the term "black magic", I already explained that magic cannot be black or white because magic (which is defined simply as the controlling and channeling of energy) isn't good or bad. The factors which define the nature of magic are the intention of the practitioner and the practitioner him/herself. Therefore, the intention can be good or bad, but magic cannot. If any term should be used to refer to magic, then it should be the term "grey zone" because magic can be formed and directed towards any goal (which can result in a wide array of possible outcomes none of which are completely good or bad). The very definition of the words "witch" and "Wiccan" as well as witches' morals imply that they can only practice "white magic" (I once more emphasize that the terms "white" and "black magic" are inadequate, but I use them just make communication easier) and that a witch is not a witch if he/she practices "black magic". Examples of magic behind which good intentions and good goals stand are, among others, protective magic and energetic healing.
Wicca (/wikə/) - a positive, Pagan, nature-based religion. It is partly based on pre-Christian faiths. Some take this term to mean the same thing as "witchcraft" (although many prefer the term "Wicca" because it doesn't have any negative overtones). The roots of this word are debated even today, but it is usually thought that the founder of this religion was Gerald Gardner who used the term "wica" for the first time (people today usually spell it with two c's i.e. Wicca). Some believe that it comes from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning "a wise person", while others believe its roots are in the Old English word wiccian meaning "to work sorcery", or perhaps the Old English word wican which means "to bend". Many words have existed to refer to Witches, and among them were wicca (a "wizard", or more precisely a male witch since "wizard" isn't completely etymologically correct), wicce (a female Witch), wiccacraeft (witchcraft), wiccung (also meaning "witchcraft") and the verb wiccian (to use witchcraft). Similar words such as the Anglo-Saxon wita/io/ge, witeg/a i witga have been used to refer to sages, wise men and prophets. The Irish-Gaelic term "Witta" is also used today and some claim it to just be another name fro the Anglo-Saxon term "Wicca". People who follow the Wiccan path today call themselves either Wiccans (singular: Wiccan) or Witches. More information in the post "What is Wicca?".
Wiccaning - this is one of the three main rites of passage in Paganism. One could say that it is the equivalent of Baptism in Christianity, but there is a big difference; this ritual doesn't initiated the child into any religion/spiritual path, he/she is simply given a name and the gods/God and Goddess are asked to protect him/her. Some believe that the child is dedicated to the gods during this ritual but (I wouldn't agree with this, although it depends on how the ritual is written and what is said), but nevertheless, this doesn't influence the child's further spiritual development because he/she is, at any point in the future, free to change their name, choose a different spiritual path or perhaps continue on the Pagan path and be initiated. The child is spiritually cleansed during the Wiccaning (but this mustn't be confused with the baptismal cleansing from sins as Pagans have a completely different understanding of sins); he/she is sprinkled with salted water (i.e. the water is cleansed with salt beforehand) and is passed through the smoke of the incense. A similarity with Baptism is that the parents are free to choose the God(dess)mother and/or Godfather (regardless of their religious beliefs) who are then also present at the ritual. You can find out what the ritual looks like and read more on this topic in the post entitled "Crossing rituals".
Wiccan Rede - in Wicca, there are no 10 Commandments or holy books or any doctrines of this sort. The only "law" reads: 'An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will (note that the word "an" is archaic ad means if/while). This sentence is often shortened to just two words: Harm None. I emphasize that this is a (so called) "law" because it isn't really a rule, it's a suggestion; a guideline by which one is encouraged to lead their life. Wiccans believe that they will feel the consequences of their actions, or better said that everything they do will come back to them. In this sense, causing harm to someone will only bring more harm to the wrong-doer. This approach to moral isn't unique for Wicca; similar principles exist in other religious/spiritual paths of the world like Brahmanism, Buddhist, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Taosim, Zoroastrianism and so on. But, as opposed to Wicca, most of these faiths have more laws/rules which support the aforementioned rule; this doesn't exist in Wicca. You can find the full text of the Wiccan Rede and its analysis here if you wish to find out more on the subject.
widdershins - the term for moving in an anticlockwise direction. There are many discussions on the topic of if and when to use this motion (since deosil i.e. the Sun's direction is more common). Some find this completely acceptable, while others will use this movement only in specific occasions e.g. when closing the Circle, for rituals held during the waning phase of the Moon, during banishing spells etc. The negative reputation of this word comes from its roots which can be found in the Anglo-Saxon phrase with sith which means to walk against something (i.e. moving opposite of the Sun's direction which is thought to be the most natural way of movement).
Wild Hunt - originally a Teutonic myth, although it has become known under many names in countries all over Europe (in France as Chasse Maccabei, Chasse Artu, or Mesnie Hellequin). It is actually a procession of entities often including gods/goddesses which travels through the sky (or rarely on country paths). The role of the leader is usually given to the goddess Diana (even though this name also varies throughout Europe; in Germany the deity is called Perchta, Berhta, or Berta; in France Abundia and Satia; in Italy Befana, Befania, or Epiphania). It was often believed that witches accompanied these deities on these "hunts" (especially on the nights of the Sabbats). The Wild Hunt was first mentioned in the Canon Episcopi (look up the term "Canon Episcopi") which claims that these entities were demons. Another belief was formed in which the Devil himself was the leader of the procession. Of course, witches didn't really fly nor did the Wild Hunt actually exist. This is truly a folk tale and a myth which has come to define the reputation of witches. If this topic interests you, I recommend you read the post "Broomsticks (Can Witches Really Fly?)".
winter solstice - look at "Yule"
witch - this word is derived from the Old English word wicce (look under the term "wicca"). Both words are connected to knowledge and wisdom. This notion has been used since the 15th century to describe a person who practices magic. Witches are in no way connected to "black magic" or Satan, but they have been pejorized over time and the word has come to mean everything that it is not. For more information, you can have a look at the term "wicca" and read this post.
witch doctor - a term used to refer to a shaman or a person who practices magic and healing in primitive cultures (e.g. some cultures of Africa, Haiti, Polynesia, Australia etc.). In these societies, wise men and women make talismans, medicine and perform spells to help those around them. To the outsider, such people are known as witch doctors. Although witch doctors and witches (in this case "modern" witches) have some similar interests (for example, herbology), their traditions and practices can vary greatly and they cannot truly be equated.
women's mysteries - refers to all that is female and explicitly connected to women. These mysteries have manifested themselves into Wicca in the form of the Dianic tradition which is connected to the women's liberation movement and which promotes all that is female. Women's mysteries can be found in other cultures where they were also celebrated (e.g. the Vestal virgins and schools of Artemis in Rome as well as the Eleusinian mysteries where the goddesses Demeter and Persephone were celebrated). When their temple was destroyed, or better said when the Eleusinian mysteries died, so did women's mysteries and the cult of the Goddess in Europe. Zsuzsanna Budapest formed Dianic Wicca in order to renew women's mysteries and the cult of the Goddess by incorporating feminist ideas into the tradition itself. Raven Grimassi claims that women's mysteries existed even while people were still living in caves and that they emerged in the form of primitive women trying to understand phenomena such as menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth (basically all that made them different from men and that illustrated their power). Thus, women's mysteries were primarily fertility celebrations focused on all that is womanly.
~ Y ~
Yin, Yang - according to Chinese philosophy, these are the two main (and opposite) principles which the whole universe depends on. Yin is the female (negative and dark) principe, while Yang is the male (positive and light) principle, although each needs the other to be whole. The yin-yang symbol looks like this and shows that each half contains a small part of the other half (just as every man has a feminine side and every woman a masculine side). It is thought that energy can be balanced out and positive energy gained if yin and yang are in balance. This concept is very similar to the God and Goddess idea in Wicca, and you will find that most Witches value this male-female balance both in ritual work and in everyday life.
yoni - an ancient symbol that represents the female reproductive organ, and thus fertility. This term is primarily used in India where sexuality is often connected with divinity (the same goes for its male equivalent - the lingam symbol). The symbolism of fertility and insemination can be found in the Wiccan cakes and wine ritual where the food (which is placed in a bowl) and the wine (or other drink which is in a goblet) are consecrated using the athamé. In this act, the athamé represents the male reproductive organ and the bowl/goblet represent the femal genitalia. You can find a visual representation of this symbol and more information on it in this post.
Yule - one of the eight Sabbats which falls on the winter solstice (usually between December 21 and 23) when daytime lasts for the shortest time and when night is the longest. The name of this festival comes from the Norse word Iul which means wheel. This wheel symbolizes the restarting of the Wheel of the Year because, in Wiccan mythology, this is the day when the God is reborn to the Goddess who is once again in her Maiden aspect. The Yule log (which is often a tree) is a tradition that symbolizes fertility which is to come with spring. It is from this custom that the Christmas tree came to be. If you want to find out more about this Sabbat, have a look at the post which is dedicated to it.