In working on various explanations and discussions of Wicca and Paganism, I’ve realized that like most religions, Wicca has a vocabulary of its own. This glossary is my effort to help people understand that language. What I say here is an attempt to explain succinctly how the words are used; it is a broad generalization and is not applicable to many situations. It is not an attempt to exercise authority over other Pagans or Wiccans or their use of terms. It’s very much a work in progress; I welcome feedback that helps me improve it or suggests additions!
For now, it’s specifically Wiccan, because I’m Wiccan, so that’s what I know best. I would love to have collaborators from other groups help me expand this.
Wicca, Wiccan, Witchcraft, Witch – Different individuals use these differently. Listen or ask about local or personal usage to be sure. Literata regards herself as both a Wiccan (practitioner of Wicca) and a Witch, so they are sometimes used here interchangeably. Wiccan is usually regarded as more neutral, Wicca is usually the name of the religion, Witchcraft usually refers to the practice or to doing magic, and Witch is someone who does Witchcraft.
Broomcloset, in the – Wiccan term adapted from QUILTBAG rights movement. To be in the broomcloset is to not identify as Wiccan or Pagan. People may be partially in or out, and out to some groups (friends) but in the broomcloset to others (family). This is a very touchy issue in Wicca and Paganism today, so it is good manners to regard someone’s status as a Pagan or Wiccan as a private piece of information until or unless you are told otherwise. It is not acceptable to “out” someone and may have major consequences ranging from ostracism to loss of job, loss of custody of children, and even death threats or outright violence. Paganism’s questionable legal status means that many laws against religious dicrimination are not always sufficient protection.
Craft name – Many Wiccans adopt a religious name, both to symbolize one’s self-created identity as a Pagan and to separate one’s Pagan persona from legal names and mundane activities.
Solitary – Someone who primarily practices alone. Many Wiccans today are eclectic solitaries who may attend open rituals at Sabbats.
Coven – Group of Wiccans who have decided to work together. May be large or small, formal or informal, hierarchical or not, and so on. Often gathers once a month at about the full moon for esbats and eight times a year for Sabbats.
HP, HPS – Abbreviations for High Priest and High Priestess. Traditional titles for the male and female leaders of covens or officiants at rituals.
Gardnerian, Alexandrian, British Traditional Wicca – British Traditional Wicca (BTW) is the group of traditions founded by Gerald Gardner in Britain shortly after World War II. Gardnerian Wicca traces its roots to Gardner, and Alexandrian to Alex Sanders, who branched off from Gardner.
Tradition, trad – A set of practices and teachings, or the group of people who follow them. Sometimes named after founder, as in Gardnerian, sometimes after form or other principles.
Lineage, initiations, degrees – BTW and similar trads are structured around initiations which are given as first degree, second degree, and third degree. Usually, a person who has a third degree initiation is a HP/S. Lineage is the sequence of initiators that can be traced back to a founding figure such as Gardner or Sanders. Not all Wiccans are members of trads like this; many feminist forms reject degrees or hierarchy entirely. Others have founded their own initiatory lineages or expanded the system to include more numbers of degrees, or self-bestowed degrees.
The Craft – Alternate name for Wicca or Witchcraft, borrowed from Masons.
Cowan – Impolite term for outsider, borrowed from Masons.
Feri, also several variations on F(a)er(ie/y) – A Wiccan tradition that focuses on ecstatic experience, especially physical and artistic, founded by Victor and Cora Anderson.
Dianic Wicca, also wicce – Loose grouping of traditions and approaches that emphasize extremely feminist ideas and normally exclude men and possibly trans women.
Eclectic – Usually means not adhering to any established tradition or set of practices, creating one’s own path and potentially drawing on a wide range of sources, mixing and matching as one sees fit.
Things Wiccans do and use
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. Many Wiccans do this, although theaological reasons given for it vary.
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. Usually found in BTW and not usually found in eclectic Wicca. Some people use the wand instead of athame.
Skyclad – Wiccan term for ritual nudity as a symbol of the trust and openness between participants. Almost always occurs 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.
Staff – Exactly what it sounds like. Usually considered a larger version of a wand. A stang, or forked staff, is used by some instead.
Sword – Exactly what it sounds like. Larger version of the athame, often owned communally by a coven. Used in BTW by HP/S to cast a circle.
Cauldron – Vessel used to hold liquid. Usually considered a larger version of a chalice. May also be used to hold a small fire, especially indoors.
Censer – Vessel used to hold incense; may be carried or used to cense people or objects as a form of symbolic cleansing or blessing.
Asperge – To ritually sprinkle with water or saltwater as a symbolic cleansing or blessing. Can be done with fingers, wand, branch, or other tool, or with an aspergillum made specifically for this purpose.
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.
Things Wiccans read and say
Wiccan Rede, “An it harm none, do as ye will.” – Meaning “If an action does not cause harm, it’s up to you to decide if you want to do it.” Commonly quoted as the ethical standard of Wicca; encourages individuals to think about the consequences of their actions, make choices, and take responsibility. “Harm” includes harm to oneself.
Law of Return or Threefold Law – Idea that the intent or “energy” a Wiccan sends out (in spells, prayers, and everyday life) will be returned to that person with three times as much force. Even for Wiccans who do not believe in a literal threefold return, is sometimes used to express the idea that everything is connected, so doing harmful things is not just stupid, it’s dangerous to yourself.
The Charge of the Goddess – Piece of literature written by Doreen Valiente, commonly used in ritual. One of the few things most Wiccans would agree on considering a foundational text.
The Descent of the Goddess – Piece of mythology and ritual drama originating within British Traditional Wicca. Similar to the myth of Inanna’s descent to the Underworld; told as a story of rebirth.
Blessed be – Blessing and statement of affirmation.
So mote it be – “Mote” is Middle English for “shall” or “must” here. Used as a statement of affirmation, much like “amen.”
Go if you must, stay if you will – Phrase often used in thanking the Powers and/or Quarters for their presence during ritual.
The Circle is open, never broken. May the peace of the Powers be ever in your heart. Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again! – Commonly used as the final statement in a ritual, much like the Aaronic blessing in Christianity. (“The Lord bless you and keep you…”) Sometimes “Merry Meet!” is used as a greeting among Pagans/Wiccans in reference to this saying.
Bright blessings – Common closing to letters and emails.