Wiccan Glossary Draft: Things Wiccans Do or Use

See also the first concept cluster: Names.

Ground and center – Fundamental practice of Wicca in which the practitioner metaphorically connects her personal “energy” with the earth (grounding) and draws on that to move into a balanced and relaxed frame of mind (centering). Usually the first step in any ritual or moving into an alternate state of awareness, also the term or procedure used to finish a ritual or working. Usually done with simple visualizations along with deep breathing.

Visualization, guided meditation – Process of using imagination to construct an internal sensory experience, usually with symbolic meaning. Guided meditation or guided visualization is done when an individual or group wants to follow a particular path. Often done in groups with one person leading the group by giving verbal guidance or prompts.

Esbat – Ritual of worship and possibly magic working, done by an individual or a coven gathering, often at or near full moon, but not necessarily.

Casting a Circle – Usually the beginning of a Wiccan ritual, where the ritual space is defined as separate from “normal” space. May be done symbolically by visualization or with a semi-literal outline or barrier (sprinkling sand or laying down flowers to outline the edge of the circle, for example). The reverse process, which ends a Wiccan ritual, is called Opening the Circle.

Circle – A synechdoche for Wiccan ritual. Ex.: “What did you do in Circle last week?” means “What did you do at ritual?”

Calling the Quarters – After the Circle is cast, usually the four Elements are invited or invoked to be present, one in each of the cardinal directions, referred to as the Quarters. At the end of ritual, immediately before the Circle is opened, the Quarters are thanked and bid farewell.

Drawing Down the Moon (or Sun) (DDM, DDS) – A ritual where the High Priestess invokes the Goddess into her, in a form of ritual embodiment or playing the role of an avatar. Also used for High Priest to invoke the God in some groups, then called Drawing Down the Sun.

Cakes and Ale – Wiccan ritual meal consumed during Circle. May be nearly any combination of a liquid (not necessarily ale or even alcoholic; may be mead, wine, tea, or juice as well) and a small snack or piece of bread.

Great Rite – Sacramental blessing of wine or other drink for Cakes and Ale by the HPS and HP, where the athame is lowered into the chalice in symbolic representation of union between the God and Goddess.

Skyclad – Wiccan term for ritual nudity as a symbol of the trust and openness between participants. Almost always occurs only in closed groups.

Cone of Power – When doing spellwork in a coven, the combined energy raised is often visualized by members as a cone growing over the Circle, which is built up by the coven’s actions and then released to serve a specific purpose, after which the coven grounds and centers again.

Elements or Quarters – The four conceptual Elements of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Dates back to the ancient Greeks; today usually regarded as something more like qualities or properties than elements. Literata capitalizes them to distinguish them from the chemical elements like hydrogen, potassium, gadolinium, et al. Sometimes a fifth Element, variously called Spirit, Ether (Aether), or Akasha, is added, as in the pentagram. Sometimes Spirit is invoked or called in the center of a circle after the other Quarters have been called.

Deosil, widdershins – “Clockwise” and “counterclockwise” respectively, borrowed from Irish roots. (Deosil is pronounced, variously, as “DAY-a-sil,” “DEE-oh-sil,” and with a sound like the “th” in “this,” “THEH-sil.”) Deosil symbolizes things that are growing or increasing, or proceeding forwards. Widdershins movement is regarded as “backwards,” and is used to symbolize undoing or diminishing. Deosil comes from a word meaning literally “sun-wise,” so some Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere regard deosil as counterclockwise. Most Wiccans cast a Circle deosil and open it widdershins, for example.

Athame – A ritual knife, used as a symbol of Air or Fire, depending on the Witch. (Another great pronunciation debate! Competitors include ATH-a-may, a-THAM-ay, AR-thame, and many more. YMMV.)  Traditionalist Wiccans see the athame as a Witch’s primary tool for directing energy, but never use the athame to cut anything physically and prefer the athame to be double-edged and have a black handle. Some feminist Wiccans refuse to use a knife or blade at all.

Bolline – For traditionalist Wiches, knife used to gather herbs, or to cut physical symbols like cords in ritual. Some may also use it to do practical things from scratching a name or symbol on a candle to scraping up the spilled wax afterwards (religious hazard of being Wiccan). Traditionally single-edged and white-handled, may have a curved blade almost like a small sickle.

Chalice – Cup used in ritual, may be almost any kind of drinking vessel. May be one for each person or a communal one for the coven. May also be used as a symbol of the Element of Water.

Besom – Broom. Used symbolically or literally for cleansing, and sometimes jumped over as a symbol of the leap into married life after handfasting.

Pentacle – Often used interchangeably with pentagram. Technically and historically, the term means something with a symbol (often a pentagram) worked on it, sometimes used as a plate or paten in Wiccan ritual. May be used as a symbol of the Element of Earth.

Pentagram – A five-pointed star. Often described as representing the four Elements plus Spirit, with the top point corresponding to Spirit; attributions of the other four points vary. Invoking and banishing pentagrams (starting from different points on the star) are sometimes traced in the air with the finger, athame, or wand as part of Calling the Quarters.

Wand – Exactly what it sounds like. May be made from wood, metal, or other substances, may be nearly natural or highly worked, depending on the individual’s preferences. Some Wiccans use the wand in most places others would use an athame. May symbolize Air or Fire, depending on the Wiccan’s interpretation.

Book of Shadows – May belong to an individual or to a group; may include any mix of rituals, spells, procedures, information, reflections, journaling, records of trance journeys or experiences, and more.

Sabbat – One of the eight festivals that make up the Wheel of the Year. Names and dates may vary slightly, but in the Northern Hemisphere they are usually: Samhain, Oct 31st – Nov 1st; Yule, winter solstice; Imbolc, Feb 1st; Ostara, vernal equinox; Beltane, May 1st-2nd;  Litha, summer solstice; Lammas or Lughnasadh, Aug 1st-2nd; Mabon or Harvest Home, autumnal equinox.

Wheel of the Year – The cycle of Sabbats, often also expressed as a mythical cycle of stories about the God and Goddess and the seasons.

Wiccaning or saining – Child blessing ritual usually done shortly after birth, somewhat analogous to Christian baptism, although it usually does not include a promise to raise the child as Wiccan, but rather to help the child grow into the best relationship with the world and deity for him- or herself.

Handfasting – Wiccan commitment ritual; this may be a sort of trial marriage, with a term specified (“a year and a day” is the most common one), or it may be a full marriage; may or may not be legal in a particular jurisdiction, since not all Wiccan clergy are recognized by the state, and Wiccans have typically been very welcoming to people in nontraditional relationships, from marriage equality to polyamory. If people who have been handfasted wish to separate, they may or may not seek to perform a handparting ritual. This has no legal significance as a divorce.

Crossing Over – One of many names for a Wiccan funeral, which celebrates the life of the deceased and gives the mourners opportunity to express grief and seek healing together.

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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3 Responses to Wiccan Glossary Draft: Things Wiccans Do or Use

  1. Grafton says:

    Couple thoughts. Given the closing statement under Athame and ongoing discussions we’ve had, I’m somewhat surprised there isn’t a similar proviso under Great Rite. Also, given the pronunciation guide for deosil, I was surprised not to see one for widdershins (dd is usually a soft th in Celtic languages). Definitely a good start!

  2. Literata says:

    Good point. Actually, I’ve heard widdershins pronounced exactly the way it looks, so that one’s up for grabs too. Eggcorns abound!

  3. Pingback: Wiccan Glossary Draft: Things Wiccans read and say | Works of Literata

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