in brief, some differences between Wicca and Celtic (Reconstructionist) Paganism

Standard

Cosmology
• Wicca uses a “four elements” cosmology deriving from medieval alchemy, which in turn, came from Greek philosophy. Wicca categorizes these four elements according to the cardinal directions, with a long list of associations for each.

• Celtic cosmology is based on threes. *A primary example of this is the “three realms” of Land, Sea, and Sky.

Deities
•**In Wicca, the deities are mainly thought of as archetypes: “all gods are one god, all goddesses are one goddess”. So they are mix and matched, the belief being that they all come from the same source, so it makes no difference. The deities are categorized as to their usefulness for spells. It is common to hear among Wiccans that they “use” this or that deity for a certain spell or ritual.

• Celtic Paganism is polytheistic, holding the belief that the gods are individuals. Celtic ritual emphasizes offering to, worshiping, the Celtic deities, Ancestors, and Spirits of Nature. Many Celtic gods and goddesses are triune in nature, however, none of the Celtic goddesses are referred to as “maiden, mother and crone”. That is a thoroughly modern archetypal concept found in Wicca. In Celtic cosmology, the deities are sometimes also our ancestors. Veneration of ancestors is also very important in Celtic Paganism.

Ethics
The Wiccan ethic is the individualistic “An it harm none, do what thou wilt.”

Celtic Pagan ethic is heroic in nature, with an emphasis on loyalty to family and tribe.

Sacred Space
Wiccans “cast a circle” to create sacred space.

In the Celtic viewpoint, all space is sacred space. Some places are simply more suitable for ritual than others.

Inclusion
Wicca is an initiatory and exclusionary tradition and is usually somewhat secretive. Groups are usually kept small and “closed”.

Celtic Paganism is inclusive with no degree systems nor initiations.

Symbols
The symbol of Wicca is the pentacle; a five pointed star (one point up) within a circle.

The most commonly used symbol used in Celtic Paganism is the triskele or triskelion; a symbol depicting three interlocked spirals that meet in the middle.

Origins
Wicca originated with Gerald Gardner circa 1951. Early Wiccan authors and leaders claimed that Wicca’s origins were an unbroken line reaching back to the Neolithic age. This doesn’t quite pan out with modern scholarship on the subject. Therefore, many Wiccans admit that the Wiccan tradition is only 60 years old. For a more information on the “Wiccan Myth”, read Why Bad History Matters.

Celtic Paganism is re-creation of ancient Celtic pre-Christian religious and cultural practices. Archaeological research, modern scholarship, and historical accuracy is very much emphasized. It is a modern reconstruction and there was never a pretense of an ancient origin or unbroken line of descent.

For a more in depth exploration of the subject, read Why Wicca Is Not Celtic.
*For more information on the Three Realms, see:
The Three Realms: An Introduction for Children
The Three Realms vs. The Four Elements

**Update: the form of Wicca described in this article is the kind most represented in published books on the subject, so there may be some variation on details between traditions (such as polytheism vs. duotheism, etc.).

Wiccan or Celtic Recon
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29 responses »

  1. I found your article to be very informative and insightful. However it kind of disturbed me in a more or less pleasant way insofar as it correlated rather strongly with feelings and sensibilities that I have had for quite some time without putting words to them. I am as you may well suspect a pagan, and have always considered myself to be a Celtic one of that brand. And yes I have in “practice” more or less gone with a rather Wiccan approach and mindset, while not always feeling totally at home or in complete agreement with it. As I said your article has set me to thinking on my own attitudes concerning concepts of personal and societal honor. Sense of tribe and our personal conection and avenues towards interacting and paying homage to the gods,that are and have been quite at odds with many of my other pagan brothers and sisters. At any rate I found it very refreshing to read another point of view that did not follow the standard rit and creed that seems to be generated at some philisophical mill. I was in my working career an archaeologist, so I appreciate it when I read somthing pertaining to beliefs and culture that has a scholastic leg to stand on.Sincerely Randall Webb aka Ivan Madboar.

  2. I am glad you enjoyed my article, Randall. You are right, the Celtic and the Wiccan paths are very different in many ways- not just superficial “on the surface” kinds of differences- they are deep down fundamental differences, the very spirit of which can be hard to put into words.

  3. Most scholarly, informative, and interesting; I’ve learned more from this article, than I have from all the books, and all the persons with whom I’ve spoken in years gone bye.

  4. This was very interesting. It’s strange in regards to my religion, since I identify with Wicca as a religion, but my family is very Celtic in origin and I follow some of the beliefs passed down through them.

  5. For those interested in CR, I suggest the website gaolnaofa.org. It has a list of suggested readings that will explain a bit more in depth than this blog post.

    • Thank you, csavage. I wrote this post five years ago as a very brief clarification to get the word out to people who may not have time (or the inclination) for in-depth reading. So much misinformation was prevalent then. I’m glad my post is continuing to reach folks, and leading to further study.

  6. i LOVED this article ! Have shared it on my facebook too (:
    Finally somebody tells it how it is and sets the separations where they should be -excellent work Thank You (:

  7. I loved this article! I would really like to read more but your link to “Why Wicca Is Not Celtic” isn’t working

  8. I would like to ask a personal question if I may. Since the symbol of pentagram in a circle is described above as being Wiccan, and runes are clearly Celtic, why are these powerful symbols often used on jewellery together – if they are supposedly so very different? Is there no connection whatsoever?

    • Futhark runes are actually Norse, or do you mean something else when you say “runes”? (Do you mean Celtic knotwork designs?) The pentagram is from ancient Greek and Roman Paganism. Jewelry makers are not historians, and so make whatever they are inspired or commissioned to make. I hope that answers your question.

      • Thank you for your answer. I mean runes as in old Celtic ‘alphabet’. Those that can be imprinted on stones, crystals, wood etc. and be used as a form of foretelling the future. As per your answer above, where you mention that ‘the pentagram is from ancient Greek and Roman Paganism’ (which may explain the combination of designs on my pendant), how did it get linked to witchcraft in the first place? Is there literature that you would recommend to answer questions around the history of these please?

  9. Ah I see, by Celtic runes, you mean the Ogham. To answer your other question, the pentagram became associated with witchcraft during the time of the inquisition. In early Christianity, it was used as a Christian symbol for the five wounds of Christ. Just as the upside down cross became associated with “Satanism”, so too did the inverted pentagram, because everything about Satanism was thought to be opposite in Christianity. That is also where witchcraft got the terms “Sabbat” and “Esbat” (variations on the word “Sabbath”).

  10. Thanks for the right term here (Ogham), this gives me a starting point in my further research. Five wounds of Christ? Were there not only four? Hence the symbol of the cross?

  11. I know where you are coming from, I feel the same way (2 feet, not just one). But some might perceive it as four since the legs were crossed over. But the reason they were crossed over in the first place was because there was the cross, only one piece of vertical wood, not two diagonals for both legs. But that means that Pagans viewed the crucifixion in a different way entirely…to the point so that they created their own symbol for it.

  12. I’m having a monologue here with myself about the ‘for and against’ possible reasons and how it all links together, which one REALLY derives from which etc etc. Is there a website or a good book that you may be aware of that may cover this info, please?

  13. Well, it wasn’t the Pagans who came up with the pentagram to symbolize Christ’s wounds, it was the early Christians. Christianity started in Rome and the pentagram was already in use there by the followers of Pythagoras and by the cult of Venus, so they probably just co-opted it for their own use. I don’t know of any good books about the pentagram but there are many articles about it on the internet. Take them with a grain of salt though, some of them claim that the Celts used the pentagram, but site no historical evidence. Though the wikipedia article on the subject is good: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagram

  14. Can the Pentagram be used by Celtic Pagans as well, as I know many religions and cultures use it as a symbol of protection.? Celtic mythology was what got me into Paganism but somewhere along the way I couldn’t find a Celtic religion (I was young and not as resourceful,) and I was led to Wicca. I want to be possibly a Celtic Wiccan if that is possible, as I believe lots of things from both. Any advice? Thanks for your answer ! 🙂

    • Jess, in all I’ve read about the pentagram, whenever there was a small mention of it being used by the Celts or for protection, there were no sources sited. As a modern Pagan, you can do whatever you are inspired to do, but it would be more accurate to say that you are a “Celtic-inspired” Wiccan, rather than a Celtic Wiccan. Celtic magical practitioners were called draoi (druid).

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