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’m new to Wicca/Paganism, and I’ve been going to some public events to try to meet people and learn more. The problem is people at the events all seem to know each other, and they barely notice me. Should I try something different, or give up?

First of all, it’s awesome that you’re putting yourself out there and trying to get to know people in your area. That’s a scary thing to do for many people, so give yourself props for taking the initiative. 

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Why are Wiccan ceremonies held in a circle? Do I always have to draw a circle when I’m going to do something witchy? 

Although we’ve all seen the popular horror movie trope of occultists drawing magical circles on the floor to protect themselves from demons and other nasties—a great example is the movie The Devil Rides Out, if you’re interested—the circle in Wiccan rituals demarcates sacred space and is meant to contain any energy you may raise inside it during your ritual. It can serve as a protection to keep out certain distractions or unwanted energies, but it’s not a demon-trapping device.

What Does It Mean?

The circle symbolizes different things to different Wiccans. Some say when they are inside the circle, they are “between the worlds,” meaning in a space between our material world and the otherworld or spirit realm. Other Wiccans believe the circle is a microcosm of the universe or cosmos, or the womb of the Wiccan goddess. And some believe more than one of these things.

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I’m new to Wicca, and everyone says I should get a special knife called an “athuhmee” or something like that. Do I have to have one to be a Wiccan? Knives are kind of intimidating.

An athame is a knife used in Wiccan ritual. The name is usually pronounced “A-thuh-may” or “a-THAW-me,” but there’s ongoing squabbling about the “correct” way to say it, so bringing it up at a Wiccan dinner party is a great way to start a lively argument if the conversation has gone stale. Traditionally the athame has a double-edged blade and a black handle—more like a dagger than a hunting or utility knife. However, modern athames are made of a wide variety of materials, and some have only a single-edge blade.

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What’s a Book of Shadows? How do I get one?

Amongst Wiccans and Witches, a book of shadows—often referred to as a BOS—is usually a collection of texts used in rituals, such as ritual scripts and stage directions, poetry and songs, spells, invocations, techniques and teachings, recipes, and sometimes ritual notes or journal entries. These items can be bound in an actual book, written into a blank book, stored in three-ring binders, or kept as Word or PDF files. We use the somewhat old-school “Great Green Three-Ringed Binder of the Arte” because it’s easy to rearrange pages and I don’t want to spill candle wax on a tablet. Everything in our circles seems to end up with wax on it. Some people even choose to write their books in calligraphy to infuse the book with their personal energy.

Types of Books of Shadows

There’s no one right way to keep a BOS, but they tend to fall into one of three categories.

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I’m going to my first public Pagan (or Wiccan) ritual, but I’ve never been to a ritual before. What should I wear? What should I bring? What should I expect in the ritual? What should I make sure to do (or not do) so I don’t accidentally insult someone or embarrass myself?

Public rituals are a good way to get your feet wet if you’re new to Wicca or Paganism. You can meet others who share your interests, and you can begin to learn about how rituals work and feel by participating in them. Public rituals usually feel a lot different from smaller, private ones, though, so if it’s possible, I recommend you try both kinds. I’ll cover private rituals in a later post.

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For as long as I can remember, Witches and Pagans have talked about whether or not they are in the “broom closet,” meaning whether or not they’re out about their religion publicly. Whether to be in or out and who to come out to (if anyone) are huge decisions for many Wiccans and Pagans, or at least they have been historically. Last month something happened to me that made me think long and hard about the broom closet, so I'm abandoning my usual question-and-answer format in this post to ramble a bit about my experience. 

The Broom Closet in the 1980s

When I first started getting into Wicca in the 1980s, we heard stories about people losing their jobs when their employers found out they were Wiccan, Wiccans being disowned by their families because of their religion, and Wiccans losing their children in custody battles against a parent who wasn’t Wiccan. It was considered unwise by many Wiccans to be out of the closet to anyone but close friends and family, and the general notion was even those people had to be chosen carefully.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Linette
    Linette says #
    Was married to an academic for 25 years, they look down on everyone for everything. I think it's the reason that they only talk ab
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Since you are now "out of the closet" (albeit unwillingly) this book might help you with your Christian relatives: http://www.amaz
  • Amber Manuel
    Amber Manuel says #
    I agree that no one should out another or pressure them to come out. I am very new to Wicca and was outed recently by a family mem
  • Thea Sabin
    Thea Sabin says #
    I'm so sorry someone outed you. That's just plain wrong. Have you heard Dar Williams' song "The Christians and the Pagans"? It's t
  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ says #
    I prefer to call myself a "Goddess feminist" in terms of my spirituality. I don't always offer either of those terms in everyday c

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

This question turns up in my inbox regularly. Sometimes when you’re searching for something, and particularly when you’ve been searching for a long time, a part of you wishes someone could just give you the answer so you can move on to the next step. I get it—really, I do. But the truth is the only person who can and should be answering this question for you is you.

One of the coolest things about Wicca, in my opinion, is that it makes you ask the hard questions and decide things for yourself. If you decide to pursue Wicca as your spirituality, you’re embarking on a path that’s not in the mainstream and doesn’t have a centralized leadership, structure, sacred text, or set of teachings. Exploring Wicca means jumping into the deep end without many of the usual societal supports. Nobody can truly tell you how to do it, although helpful people might be able to provide some guidance on the way. I realize that’s very uncomfortable sometimes, but nobody ever said spiritual growth (or any other kind of growth) is comfortable. If we’re too comfortable, we’re not likely to create change.

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