One issue that is often a bone of contention in the Pagan community is that we don’t have a universal set of guidelines – some of us may not even identify as Pagans, but as witches or something else. There have been repeated attempts to unify the various branches of the Pagan community, but in general, these are unsuccessful because we’re so diverse and varied in our beliefs and practices.
Back in 1973, a group of witches decided to give this a shot. Seventy or so individuals from a variety of magical backgrounds and traditions got together and formed a group called the American Council of Witches, although depending on who you ask, they are sometimes called the Council of American Witches. At any rate, this group decided to try to assemble a list of common principles and guidelines that the entire magical community could follow.
Spearheaded by Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, the president of Llewellyn Worldwide, the Council attempted to define what the standards of modern witches and Neopagans could be. They also hoped to find a way to combat stereotypes of what witches were and did, and to fight the failure of the United States government to recognize any Pagan paths as valid religions. What they came up with was a document that outlined thirteen principles of belief, published in 1974. In some versions, they are referred to as the “Thirteen Principles of Wiccan Belief,” although this is a misnomer, because not all Wiccans adhere to these guidelines. However, many groups – both Wiccan and otherwise – today use this set of principles as a foundation for their mandates and bylaws.
The principles are, according to the American Council of Witches, as follows:
- 1. We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the Moon and the seasonal Quarters and Cross Quarters.
- 2. We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique responsibility towards our environment. We seek to live in harmony with Nature, in ecological balance offering fulfillment to life and consciousness within an evolutionary concept.
- 3. We acknowledge a depth of power far greater than that is apparent to the average person. Because it is far greater than ordinary it is sometimes called "supernatural", but we see it as lying within that which is naturally potential to all.
- 4. We conceive of the Creative Power in the universe as manifesting through polarity - as masculine and feminine - and that this same Creative Power lies in all people, and functions through the interaction of the masculine and feminine. We value neither above the other, knowing each to be supportive of the other. We value sex as pleasure, as the symbol and embodiment of life, and as one of the sources of energies used in magickal practice and religious worship.
- 5. We recognize both outer and inner, or psychological, worlds - sometimes known as the Spiritual World, the Collective Unconscious, Inner Planes, etc. - and we see in the interaction of these two dimensions the basis for paranormal phenomena and magickal exercises. We neglect neither dimension for the other, seeing both as necessary for our fulfillment.
- 6. We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who have courageously given of themselves in leadership.
- 7. We see religion, magick and wisdom-in-living as being united in the way one views the world and lives within it - a world-view and philosophy of life which we identify as Witchcraft, the Wiccan Way.
- 8. Calling oneself "Witch" does not make one a Witch - but neither does heredity itself, nor the collecting of titles, degrees and initiations. A Witch seeks to control the forces within her/himself that make life possible in order to live wisely and well without harm to others and in harmony with Nature.
- 9. We believe in the affirmation and fulfillment of life in a continuation of evolution and development of consciousness, that gives meaning to the Universe we know, and our personal role within it.
- 10. Our only animosity towards Christianity, or toward any other religion or philosophy of life, is to the extent that its institutions have claimed to be "the only way," and have sought to deny freedom to others and to suppress other ways of religious practice and belief.
- 11. As American Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the Craft, the origins of various terms, or the origins of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with our present and our future.
- 12. We do not accept the concept of absolute evil, nor do we worship any entity known as "Satan" or "the Devil", as defined by Christian tradition. We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor do we accept that personal benefit can be derived only by denial to another.
- 13. We believe that we should seek within Nature that which is contributory to our health and well-being.
Equally as important as the thirteen principles was the introduction to the document, which said that anyone was welcome to be included, “regardless of race, color, sex, age, national or cultural origins, or sexual preference.” This was pretty radical for 1974, particularly the part about sexual preferences. After the “Thirteen Principles” were agreed upon and published, the American Council of Witches disbanded after only a year or so of existence.