Each state has a set of guidelines for each religion that provides the details about the beliefs, practices, holy days and tools of that religion. Each institution uses this document, known as a Religious Technical Guideline, to define, in this case, how Wicca may be practiced within the institution, what tools are needed to practice Wicca, which days are to be considered holy days, and what the typical beliefs of Wicca are. The RTG is created from a recognized source for each specific religion. In the case of Wicca, since there is no one centrally recognized source of that information, it is gathered from various sources such as the Church and School of Wicca, the US Army Chaplain’s Handbook, the Celtic Connection, other recognized websites, as well as the RTGs from other state’s institutions.
The following is typical of what is included in the RTG for Wicca in many institutions:
Every person who practices Wicca uses what they call a “Book of Shadows,” which is actually a personal journal or book, that while initially blank, eventually includes handwritten invocations–as Wiccan prayers are called, rituals, and information related to the practice of Wicca. There is no “bible” for Wiccans (although some published Wiccan books may be entitled “bible”), though there are certainly many well recognized books on Wicca that are considered “standard” texts to be studied, such as The Spiral Dance by Starhawk, Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler, Living Wicca by Scott Cunningham, and many others.
Samhain: October 31 or November 1
Samhain is the traditional Wiccan New Year and is the most important Sabbat to many of us. It’s the time when we think of our the ancestors, and when we celebrate the harvest and all that we’ve done throughout the year.
Yule – Winter Solstice: December 21st or 22nd
Yule is both the longest night and the shortest day of the year. After this day, the days will begin getting longer. As such, some Wiccans consider Yule to be the true beginning of the year. Yule is when we celebrate the return of the light, and mark the solar turning of the tides. The newborn Sun gives us a new beginning, and as such, it’s a time of hope and renewal.
Imbolc: February 1st or 2nd
Imbolc is when we begin to prepare for spring. On this day, Wiccans clean and organize their home and hearth, along with the inner dwellings of their hearts and minds in preparation for growth. This is when we shake off the boredom of winter and metaphorically (and often physically), light the fires of creativity and inspiration.
Eostar – Spring Equinox: March 20, 21, 22, or 23
As this point Winter is over, and the light is increasing. In fact, this day is when the hours of light and darkness are equal in length–it’s the equinox. Spring is on its way. On Eostar, we celebrate birth, fertility, and renewal. For most of us, the ice is thawing, and the days of growth for plants and animals has begun—in fact, growth is the theme of Eostar.
Beltane: April 30 or May 1
Beltane is when we celebrate the marriage of the Goddess (Mother Earth) and the God (Green Man). It is one of the most ancient fertility festivals, and marks the first days of the planting cycle. Beltane was celebrated to ensure a healthy growing season and a plentiful harvest, and is fun and joyful holiday. Many handfastings (Wiccan weddings) are performed on this day.
Litha – Summer Solstice: June 20, 21, 22, or 23
Litha is the opposite of Yule, this is, it’s the longest day and the shortest night. Light wins the battle on this day, but it will now begin to give way to darkness as the days of Fall begin. The crops are in the field and are growing, and the plants in the forests have reached their full growth for the year. Litha is a time of abundance for all living things!
Lughnasad: August 1
In the days of old, the holiday of Lughnasad was a time when the people were full of hope, but also of fear. They hoped for a bountiful harvest with plenty of food, and feared that the cold months ahead, knowing that they could be filled with struggle and hunger. For modern Wiccans Lughnasad is still a day to confront their fears, and focus on developing their abilities, as they work to protect themselves and their families for the days ahead. It’s a time for preparedness!
Mabon – Autumn Equinox: September 20, 21, 22, or 23
Mabon is another Equinox, that is, a day and night of equal length. For most Pagans, Mabon is the time of the final harvests of grain, fruits, and the crops in the fields. Mabon is rightly called Harvest Home, and is the time of thanksgiving (and coincides with the traditional time of Thanksgiving). The long hot days of plentiful summer move on to the desolation of winter, and the darkness takes over the light.
Religious Personal Items
Holy book: Book of Shadows – usually a blank book they gradually fill up with spiritual writings
Tarot cards – many Wiccans use tarot cards on a daily basis for spiritual guidance, meditation, and direction, as such, they must be kept in their locker, and must be handled with reverence, just like any other holy item. There are many varieties of tarot cards, which consist of the Major Arcana, with 22 cards, and the Minor Arcana, with 56 cards. They may be interpreted in many ways, and there are many books on their meaning. They are not primarily used by Wiccans for “fortune telling.”
Wiccan tend to spend anywhere from a few minutes to an hour each day in quiet meditation. Since personal interpretation of what it means to be Wiccan allows for personal differences in daily routines, Wiccans may also conduct a form of personal worship, ritual, devotion, a reading of an invocation, or a tarot reading, as a part of their daily practice. They are able to do so during non-work hours, at or near their bunk, in their housing location, or in the prison chapel. If necessary, Wiccans may celebrate their holidays privately if group celebration is unavailable.
Worship in a Group Setting
As with all religious services in a prison setting, Wiccan worship services must be supervised by a volunteer or chaplain. That said, given that it is often difficult for prison Wiccan groups to find an outside sponsor or volunteer, most prison Wiccan groups tend to work on their own, with the prison chaplain being the official supervisor (though often as not, he is in the building but not in the room where the services are being performed). Also, security staff may supervise as needed, and most Wiccan groups are very open to the idea of staff observing their rituals and celebrations. The services are held in a sacred space that is sanctified and marked out by a circle (the circle may or may not be physical–it may be a circle of chairs, or string, or nothing at all). When possible and/or practical, an outdoor location is preferred.
The Wiccan circle is used for two major activities–celebrations and the practice of magical ritual (religious/spiritual “magic”, not performance sleight of hand type magic). This type of “religious magic” includes psychic healing, a channeling of raised energy, which is typically done to achieve positive personal or group goals, and rituals for the personal spiritual development of the group, often referred to as “the Coven,” and their families. Wiccans avoid negative magic, or “curses” as it goes against their main tenant, “An it harm none, do as ye will.”
If the Wiccan group does not have an outside volunteer, they may be likely to do rituals which do not require all the traditional Wiccan tools, many of which only a volunteer could bring to the group. These rituals typically include the channeling of raised energy, and guided meditation. Inmates may use their own tarot cards during ritual, or they may use a deck that is kept at the chapel for just that purpose.
Equipment Needed for Group Worship and Ritual
- altar cloth
- small chalice (ceremonial cup)
- sea salt
- tarot cards
- Wiccan reference books
- candles and candle holders
- small drum
- crystals and stones
- a medium-sized (typically cast iron) cauldron
- a small wooden wand
- a ceramic bowl for the salt
- a (rubber or soft plastic) knife known as an Athame, not used for cutting, but rather for the directing of energy
Any other tools and/or teaching materials, such as DVD movies on Wiccan-related topics, must be pre-approved by the chaplain, and/or must be brought into the prison by the volunteer, and removed from the institution by the volunteer once the service is completed.
Some, if not all, of the items listed above may be stored in the chapel for use by the Wiccan group during their services, if space is available for storage.
Clergy / Priesthood
Wicca does not have a traditional preacher or chaplain, because essentially everyone within the group is a priest or priestess. That said, within a traditional coven or group, a person designated the High Priestess is assisted by another who is designated at the High Priest, and both serve as the leader in rituals, as well as the role of teacher, counselor and social worker.
Basic Wiccan Beliefs
Defining the typical beliefs of a Wiccan is like defining those of a Christian, in that there are many different denominations of both religions, but they share a set of common beliefs no matter their differences. For Wiccans, those common beliefs include:
- a belief in a sacredness of nature, often personified as Gaia, Mother Nature, Mother Earth, Father Sky, the Green Man, etc.
- a wide variety of the names of divinity, that is, the names of many pantheons of mythology are used to call upon God and Goddess
- no belief in Satan, the Adversary, the Devil, or a personal evil diety
- the practice of magic, that is, the ability to change reality through the use of one’s will; this can mean using psychic energy, calling upon the energy of deity, or using the natural but invisible forces that imbibe and surround all living things
- a belief in the Wiccan Rede, “An it harm none, do as ye will” which is taken to mean no harm to ones self, or others. It is an ethical statement, and involves personal responsibility, but provides the autonomy to decide what is harmful and what is not.
- a belief in ecology, environmentalism, and the sanctity of all living creatures
- a connection with and to the cycles of life, the seasons and lunar cycles
The Catholic Conference of Kentucky has put together a pretty decent Wiccan RTG of their own for their ministers. You can view it in PDF form here.