Dispelling the myths about the Wiccan religion

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Wicca conjures images of secret meetings and the Wicker Man. But practising Wiccan Fiona Woodward, wants to set the record straight, as she tells reporter CARLY LEWTHWAITE the truth behind the lifestyle.

HAVING had several Wiccan friends over the years, it never occurred to me that not everyone is as accepting and open minded about different faiths and lifestyles.

My friends are not strange. They don’t sleep in coffins, or ride around on broomsticks, they are good, honest people who take little from the world around them, yet give back as much as they can.

When local Wiccan Fiona Woodward got in touch, and with Halloween (known to Wiccans as Samhain, the start of the Pagan new year) on the horizon, we decided there was no better time to get the truth behind this way of life.

Fiona (47) lives at Tallington Lakes near Market Deeping, with her husband, Harry, and has been Wiccan since 1999.

Although well-educated on a number of faiths, Fiona never felt “at home”, and said Wicca fitted in with other aspects of her life.

Wiccans believe that the Divine is present in nature, and so nature should be honoured and respected. Everything from animals and plants to rocks are sacred.

Fiona said: “Becoming Wiccan followed on from what I was doing on a psychic level, when I was part of the Christian spiritual movement.

“Although I have a great respect and tolerance of all religions, my only gripe is the amount of control they have.

“I wasn’t comfortable with that, because when you can make your own choices about life, it’s really empowering.”

The central purpose of Wicca is to strengthen the will of the individual without harming nature.

Despite sounding simple, Fiona said it can often be difficult to define.

She said: “It is hard to explain because people don’t realise that there is a spiritual aspect to it as well.”

Most Wiccans worship the Horned God and Mother Goddess, both associated with the natural world, in which everything has a balance, a bit like yin and yang.

Some do believe they exist, whereas others think of them as psychological archetypes (a model or ideal example) of the human mind which can be envoked and interacted with.

Currently employed in the public sector, Fiona said her husband and four children, Lynne, Scott, Mark and Louise were not practicing Wiccans.

“He is more of an atheist, but he is very supportive, along with the children.

“Harry does not mind what I do and he even used to help out when I had my own shop in Corby.”

As well as studying Wicca, Fiona also uses tarot cards as a means of guidance and divination.

She said: “For me it is just another element that I have personally chosen to use.

“You don’t have to be into tarot or anything like that to be Wiccan, it is just something I enjoy and like to use to help people.

“After Sahmain I might look at a few cards to see what the year ahead has in store.”

Almost like a tailor-made way of life, you can pick and choose the elements that appeal to you the most.

Fiona said: “I have a friend who has been looking into Wicca recently and she has become much more confident, because she is now in control of her life and that alone makes you feel so empowered.”

She added that covens do exist, but they are not easy to find.

“Some Wiccans join covens, but they don’t advertise them!

“You have to know the right people and find out by word of mouth. Others choose to practise alone.”

Far from the Hollywood interpretation of bubbling couldrons and pointy hats, covens are a source of support for those both new to, and familiar with the faith.

Fiona said: “A coven is a group of usually no more than 13 people, who worship the sabbats (eight noteable festivals, including Halloween) together.

“Covens tutor you a lot more and show you how to do things. There is a lot to learn and they have a criteria to follow before you can pass each initiation.”

Each of us has our own life force or energy, which is used to cast simple spells. The more people working on a spell, the greater the chance you have of succeeding.

She said: “If you are together in a group there is a lot of energy that you can put to good use.”

Casting a spell is not about hypnotising someone, or changing the way they feel. It is simply about removing “blockages”.

For example, she once knew a lady who had found her dream shop, but was having housing issues and really wanted to move into the flat above her new premises.

Unfortunately, it was already occupied, but the couple were having relationship problems and fought almost constantly.

So, rather than putting herself first, she started to cast spells for the couple, encouraging them to patch up their relationship.

After a few weeks they decided that the area wasn’t right for them. The long commute to work was keeping them apart, causing the rows.

When they moved they were happier and the flat became available as a result.

Fiona said part of the reason most Wiccans keep themselves to themselves is the reaction they get from others.

“I have heard that people think we worship the devil, use blood in sacrifices (we don’t actually sacrifice anything), and run about naked.

“Although that is how we are born, I am personally much more comfortable with my clothes on!”

Fiona used to have her own shop, selling a range of gifts and accessories.

She said: “Word got around the town that it was a witchcraft shop and quite a few people would refuse to come in, even though it was nothing of the sort!

“They would say it was wrong and evil, but I have never had a really hard time about it. Most people just make comments in passing but that’s fine, it is their opinion.

“I won’t go on the defensive about it, but if people give me the time to explain more about it they are often very interested in what I have to say.”

Fiona does have a cloak, but she explained this is simply a tool.

“Having special clothes is a way to help you focus on Wicca and forget about your everyday life for a little while.

“We try and incorporate as much as we can into daily life, which is why I feel it is more of a lifestyle choice than a religion.”

Another reason to keep your lifestyle private might be the fact that you could still be tried for witchcraft as recently as the 1950s – simply for being Wiccan.

With Sahmain just on the horizon, Fiona is looking forward to the new Pagan year ahead.

She said: “We believe that this is the time of year when the veil between us and those who have passed is at its thinnest.

“We will be preparing a silent feast which we enjoy while taking the time to think about those who have passed before us.

“It is a time to relax and energise ourselves as well as deciding on what we want to achieve in the next year.”

Fiona added: “It is hard to think that we are in the 21st century and have come so far with technology, yet people still think you are a witch.

“It makes you more aware of everything, especially on an environmental level.

“I love being Wiccan because I am following something that is an age-old tradition and has been passed down as part of our heritage and culture through the centuries.”

Fiona is holding a workshop called Introduction to Wicca and Witchcraft at the Exotic Pet Refuge, 102 Station Road, Deeping St James, near Market Deeping, on Sunday October 31.

The workshop costs £40 for the day.

There will also be a chance to try out a basic spell.

To book or find out more, call Fiona Woodward on 07518 893084 or email enchantyfae@gmail.com

Factfile on...Wicca

The last woman to be tried for witchcraft in the UK was Helen Duncan from Callender in Scotland in 1944.

She attracted the attention of the authorities whilst living in Portsmouth, when she accurately told of a navy vessel, HMS Barham, that had just gone down.

Officially covered up and the fate of the ship only revealed months later, Helen Duncan was arrested and remanded in custody by Portsmouth magistrates.

She was originally charged under section 4 of the Vagrancy Act (1824), under which most charges related to fortune-telling, astrology and spiritualism.

She was eventually tried by jury at the Old Bailey for contravening section 4 of the Witchcraft Act of 1735, and was ordered to serve nine months in Holloway Prison, London.

Helen was the last person in Britain to be jailed under the act, which was repealed in 1951 and replaced with the Fraudulent Mediums Act following a campaign by spiritualist and member of parliament Thomas Brooks.

Contrary to the belief that Wicca is evil, each member is reminded that attempting to control, dominate, harm or manipulate another person will come back on them (known as the Law of Three).

So the more good things you do for others, the better!

Paganism is an umbrella term used to define a number of different earth-based faiths.

Wicca falls under that heading, although not all Pagans are Wiccan.