Thea's Inbox: Questions from Beginners

Wiccan essentials for beginning your path or getting back to basics.

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Thea Sabin

Thea Sabin

Thea Sabin is a writer/editor whose professional work currently focuses on web content management, curriculum development, and instructional design. She has taught a variety of subjects—including editing, high school English and theater, gardening, crafts, Wicca, and astrology—off and on for more than two decades. A practicing Wiccan since her teens, she first started teaching Wicca—very, very badly and long before she was ready—in college. She wrote her book Teaching Wicca and Paganism in the hope that it would help other teachers get a better start than she did. Her first book, Wicca for Beginners, was designed to help seekers new to Wicca build a foundation for Wiccan practice. Find Thea on Facebook or at www.theasabin.com.

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I’ve been studying Wicca, and it really appeals to me. But I was raised Christian. Can I practice both at the same time?

First off, you should know that this is a very loaded question, and you might receive different answers from different Wiccans, Pagans, and Christians. This is my two cents, but I don’t pretend to speak for everyone in these communities.

Can It Be Done?

I think it’s not impossible to practice Wicca or Paganism and Christianity fully at the same time, but it’s difficult, because there's a fundamental conflict over deity. Christianity asks Christians to accept Jesus as their savior, and the Bible makes it pretty clear that the Christian god is the only god for Christians. Pagans, however, usually worship gods other than or in addition to the Christian god. So it’s challenging to be a fully practicing Christian and a fully practicing Pagan at the same time, while still being true to both traditions.

That said, I have seen people have success with choosing one of the paths as their main path, and integrating elements of the other path into their practice. For example, one of the most beautiful and powerful rituals I’ve ever been in was one done by indigenous Mexicans, who called their traditional gods together with the Virgin Mary. And I’ve known some practicing Christians who add some Pagan ritual elements, like working with the elements, into their private devotional practice. Some churches, such as the Unitarian Universalist Church, are reasonably accepting of Paganism. Making this work requires being flexible. 

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Gerald Gardner opined that one could be an "...unorthodox christian and a witch at the same time. It seems to me easier than bein
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    Given the contradictions in the Bible, I don't know that any Christian today could follow all of its edicts. However, despite the
  • Jeanine Byers
    Jeanine Byers says #
    I've read both books. The first, by the Higginbothams, is perfect for people seeking to integrate both paths. The second isn't as

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

How about a list of books for absolute beginners?

After I posted my very long list of recommended Wicca books, a couple of people asked if I would post a list just for beginners. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.

The Spiral Dance by Starhawk

The Spiral Dance was written around 1979, when there were almost no beginner Wiccan or Pagan books on the market. Many, many people were introduced to the Craft through this book. It’s well-structured and full of great information and extremely useful exercises, meditations, and rituals. I have some quibbles with Starhawk’s view of the Goddess in history, and this book is a bit female-centric, but it is gorgeously written and can help women and men alike build a strong foundational practice. Get the most updated version if you can.

Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham

Some people have made the argument that solitary Wicca exists because of this book. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but Cunningham was certainly one of the first to take all of the core ideas and practices of Wicca and make them useful, accessible, and practical for solitary Wiccans. This book and the follow-up, Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, are clear, easy to follow, and deceptively simple. There’s a lot more meat in these titles than what’s obvious at first glance. A beginner could practice Wicca for quite a while using these two books alone.

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  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    Nice, diverse selection! (But I believe it's "Bonewits.")
  • Thea Sabin
    Thea Sabin says #
    Doh! Fixed. Thanks!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

I’m new to Wicca/I have been studying Wicca for a few years. What books do you recommend?

I am asked this question a lot! These are books I have liked myself and/or recommended to students. If you're a beginner--or even if you're not--don't feel like I'm telling you to read all of them. This is a starting point for further exploration. Pick what interests you, and leave the rest. 

Per the suggestions in the comments, I will put together a top ten for absolute beginners. The books below are for everyone, not just newcomers.

There might be editions other than those listed here, and some of these might be out of print, but if you use your Google fu, you should be able to find used copies somewhere.

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  • 1
    1 says #
    If I might make further suggestions? Much of modern paganry, in my experience, comes to us from Celtic and British sources. The
  • Thea Sabin
    Thea Sabin says #
    Excellent choices!
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    I echo Piparskeggr's recommendation: "Positive Magic" was the first how-to book on Magick I ever read, and one of the most down-to

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

I am learning about using energy in ritual and magic. What is energy supposed to feel like? How do I know I’m doing it right?

Wiccans and Pagans often use the word “energy” to mean the power that emanates from living things, deity, the earth, or all three. Geek that I am, I have likened it more than once to the Force from Star Wars, “It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” I have also likened it to the “qi” or “chi,” the core principle of tai chi and Chinese medicine.

Beginner Wicca and Paganism booksincluding mineoften include exercises for working with energy. Some of the benefits of doing this are to align with the natural world, to become more attuned to one’s own body, and, eventually, to work magic. It’s also extremely useful for stress management.

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Help! Recently I went into a new age store looking for some supplies for my Wiccan altar, and a woman at the store told me Wicca was dangerous and I should stop practicing it right away. I’m new to Wicca, and this woman really freaked me out and got me worried that I could harm myself or my family. Is Wicca really dangerous?

Wicca is a life-affirming, celebratory path. Its focus is on understanding our place in the natural world and living better lives by being more in harmony with nature. In my opinion, it’s a path that can help seekers with self-empowerment and self-improvement. Most of the negative ideas about Wicca are born out of fear and lack of understanding, rather than knowledge.

For example, I have heard non-Wiccans say that Wicca is dangerous because it has no moral code. I find this particularly frustrating for two reasons. First, it implies that humans can’t be ethical without a god or a book to tell them how to be good people, which is ridiculous and insulting. Second, we DO have a code, the Wiccan Rede.

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Wicca is dangerous to Christians because we are non-Christian. Wiccans don't attend church and obey their ministers or Priests.
  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter says #
    If we only had a nickle for every time we were told it's bad, we could all retire. Great post.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

I get some variation of this question in my inbox at least once a week, if not more often:

I’m thirteen. Will you be my teacher? And by the way, don’t tell my parents I emailed you.

I’m sixteen, but I can’t find a teacher in my area who will teach me unless I’m eighteen or older. Isn’t that discrimination?

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  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter says #
    This is a great article, thank you for addressing one of those topics we all experience, yet don't really talk about much. I agree

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

The techniques for finding a teacher—at least initially—are similar to those for finding other Pagans or Wiccans in your area. Check out my post on finding other Pagans to begin your search. But before you try to actually connect with a teacher, it helps to answer some or all of the following questions for yourself.

Questions to Ask Before Your Search

  1. What do you want to learn? Are you interested in learning about Wicca or Paganism in general or a specific tradition or path? It’s helpful to do a little research to see what traditions appeal to you, or, putting the egg before the chicken, to see if any of the traditions taught in your area resonate with you. Or are you interested in studying a specific deity or pantheon, a magical system, or a skill, such as herbalism?
  2. What is your goal in taking the class or working with the teacher? Are you hoping just to gain some knowledge, or do you want to train toward membership in a specific path?
  3. Are you looking to join a coven or circle, or do you want to practice solitary? Are you willing to practice solitary for a while if you can’t find the right group, or practice with a group for a while if you can’t learn what you need to while practicing solo?
  4.  How far are you willing to travel and how often? If you don’t have your own transportation, is there public transportation available?
  5.  What are the qualities you’d like the teacher to have? Are you willing to work with a teacher who doesn’t fit your preferred profile if he or she is the only one available or is the only one teaching what you want to learn?
  6.  How much can you afford to pay for classes if the teacher charges? Many people charge for classes, but some traditions forbid charging for teaching.
  7.  How much time can you devote to your learning? Can you meet the requirements of the particular classes or teachers you’re considering?
  8. Are you willing to take online courses if you can’t find a teacher in your area? If so, does online coursework suit your learning style?
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I am a scientist to the core. How would you advise someone who is trying to believe again that there's more than science out there or that [science and religion] sometimes work hand-in-hand?

Choosing to walk a spiritual path pretty much requires finding an answer to this question for yourself—one you can live with and that feeds, sustains, and resonates with you. So consider this post simply a starting point for exploration rather than a concrete answer. I wouldn’t want to rob you of the experience of sorting this out for yourself. Or not, as the case may be. Besides, one post is not nearly enough space to cover this topic.

I love this question, but in my opinion, the fundamental problem with it is its underlying assumption that science and religion must be at odds. I think this is a false dichotomy brought about by rigid thinking about what science and religion are and what their value and purpose are.

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Recently a thirteen-year-old girl wrote me. She told me she’d just been to Salem, MA, and a card reader there told her she was a Witch. The girl wanted me to tell her if she really was a Witch.

This pissed me off. Not at the girl, who was understandably confused, but at the irresponsible, thoughtless card reader who would tell a thirteen-year-old girl such a thing and send her on her merry way, apparently without concerns about the possible consequences for her young client, which could (and apparently did) range from confusion to fear to freaking out.

(And let’s not forget, folks, that one of the few things most Witches appear to agree on is that we don’t proselytize. This was dangerously close to that.)

Anyway, the boneheaded card reader did inadvertently bring up a question that I get regularly in one form or another, mostly from teens, but also from older folks:

How do I know if I’m a Witch?

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When you write something—a book, a blog post, a song, a tweet—and release it into the world, whatever you wrote is no longer really yours, in a sense. Other people read it, think about it, use it, interpret it, and comment on it, and it becomes something more than what you created. And sometimes people respond in ways you never anticipated.

 Maybe I’m a little thick, but when I wrote Wicca for Beginners a few years ago, I had no idea how many emails, letters, and Facebook and instant messages I’d get from beginning Wiccans and Pagans looking for a little help. Many are from teens and prisoners, and there are messages from adult seekers from all over the world too. If my inbox is any way to judge the state of Pagandom, there are a lot of beginners out there, and they have a lot of the same questions.

So in this blog I’m going to answer questions from my inbox—or questions inspired by questions in my inbox. And I’m going to start with the one I get most often:

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