H.H wrote:First of all, I must say my knowledge of Wicca comes mainly from online sources, most of them not academic in nature (or even very reliable), so I apologize if my tone seemed aggressive, as opposed to genuinely curious.
If indeed Wicca is almost entirely a new religion (in the sense that it is not reconstructed), what canonical texts do you use, if any? How "grassroots" (in the political sense, if you know what I mean) is it? How much do rituals constitute a part of your daily lives, and if that varies greatly among believers, is there something parallel to "sacraments" allowing you directly communicate with animistic or deity-like forces?
You never sounded aggressive, simply uninformed (which you just admitted to, so we're good. I'm always willing to inform). Wicca is, as a whole, highly unorganized, and thats just the way we like it. We have no sacred text as a whole. There are many, maybe even most, who take up some form a of sacred text, but its not universal. The religion is originally based on the book of shadows of Gerald Gardner, published 1957 (if my memory serves me). This writing shows strong influences from Margret Addler and Charles Leland. Addler was a (would be) archaeologist who looked at sources from the witch trials of europe and salem, operating under the belief that the witches being hunted were of an actual underground religion of witchcraft. However, there was so little actual over lap in what the "witches" testified to, that her conclusions aren't given much store. she is the one who generated the idea of ancient witches celebrating the solar points and midpoints (solstices, equinoxes, and certain points inbetween). While there is evidence of each these days being celebrated at various geographic cultures and over time, there was never one person who claimed to celebrate them all until Addler. She also put out other practices, but I'm not certain which ones beyond the holidays. Leland wrote _Aradia, or Gospel of the Witchses_. In it he describes how he gathered his stories from a certain, unnamed, woman from Italy who had practiced and gathered the stories herself. However, there is remarkably little evidence to actually prove that these stories were not produced solely by Leland (however, there is no evidence that he made it up, so...). Aradia is a true mythological figure in Roman mythology, daughter of Diana, who did have a strong cult following before the Christian conversion, and their practices could have been similar to the witchcraft described in the Gospel, but, still no real proof. This text described many of the beliefs of how magic operates (although there is a strong emphasis in threatening the Gods with pain and torment to comply that is utterly absent in modern practice). Also, it supplies many ideas of what a witch should and should not do, and how to practice. A common idea in modern wicca is that one should worship in the nude, because you have nothing to hide from your god, as though you could hide it anyway. This come almost verbatim from the Gospel.
Beyond these texts, many wiccan will pick up the mythologies of various cultures with which that identify (such as a person with a string English heritage would probably pick up English mythologies). Also many default to Greek and Roman mythologies, simply because they are so familiar with them. I have even heard of wiccans picking up the mythologies of christianity (which confuses me, but we won;t get into that). Some wiccans won;t pick up any text to be their guide, but simply do whatever they want.
The one absolutely universal defining belief is to do what you want, so long as no one is hurt in the process ("'An it harm none, do what ye will.") Beyond this, almost all wiccans practice some form of magic/witchcraft, which means the use of spiritual means to accomplish various goals, sometimes, but not always, appealing to some deity. Also, wiccans believe in the beauty and sacredness of nature, and hold life to be sacred. Many are vegetarians for the belief that taking the life of an animal is sacrilegious (but not all, I for one, like my hamburgers). They also celebrate the changing of the seasons and the wheel of the year, as it represents the cycle of life, from birth to death and being reborn.
As for our political nature, wiccans are almost universally liberal if I remember correctly, in America, a grand total of 15% of wiccans consider themselves conservative). Beyond that, we can be, but not always, be politically active. With the lack of central organization, its hard to give a yes or no question to whether we're grassroots or not. Some are, some aren't, some even work with other wiccans to accomplish goals.
As for ceremonies, its very widely varied. some do daily rituals, some would only enter a circle if their life depended on it (a circle refers to the common practice of spritiually defining a circle to work ceremonies). Some insist that the only true wiccans are the ones who have gone through some sort of initiation into a coven. An initiation is a sort of sacrament (by the fact you used this word, can I assume you have a primarily Christian background?) that involves dedicating oneself to a deity and to the coven. Its not really a binding contract, but its a general agreement to act in a way in line with the deity's apparent goals and attributes, and to act for the betterment of the coven, so on and so forth. I'm not really sure what an initiation involves, as I never plan on having one. The idea that only those who are initiated are true wiccans generally ended in 1980's when Cunningham published "The Solitary Witch," which opened up the practice to those who want to do it alone, and it has become more and more accepted since.
To communicate with deities, its generally believed that no ceremony is really needed, and that a sort of informal prayer is all thats needed, and if it works for you, its the best. There are ceremonies that can be done to do certain things, but they're simply considered meditative tools to get you into the right mind set to do what you want to do and to be receptive to the energies around you, so that you can get your feedback.
tl;dr: texts are Gardner's Book of Shadows, along with various mythologies
wicca is an earthbased religion, revering nature
wiccans are liberal
you can go through any variety of ceremony and sacrement you want, but they aren;t really needed