Wicca emerged as a modern Pagan religious movement in the 1st half of the 20th century in England. Gerald Gardner is credited with introducing it to the general public in 1954. The movement is based on various ancient pagan rites and 20th-century hermetic motifs. The religion is decentralized, and its beliefs and practices were initially penned in the 1940s and 1950s by both Gardner and Doreen Valiente. The pioneers of the religion published books and passed down oral teachings and secretly written stipulations to their initiates.
Theological views within the movement differ, and it accommodates atheists, agnostics, pantheists, polytheists, duotheists, monotheists, and theists. A section of the adherents regards the movement's deities as entities having a literal existence while others consider them as symbols. Nearly all of the early Wiccan communities observed the worship of a Horned God of fertility in addition to a Mother Goddess. These early adherents believed that these deities had been worshipped by the hunter-gatherers who lived in the Old Stone Age and that the veneration of the deities had been secretly passed down. This theology was based on witch-cult claims proposed by Margaret Murray where although the cult had worshipped a Horned God in the recordings of the Early Modern witch trials, it has venerated Mother Goddess centuries before. Gardner also approved of the Horned God/Mother Goddess theology, and it is still the fundamental theological basis of the Gardnerian tradition. The Horned God assumes various names in different traditions which include Atho, Cernunnos, and Karnayna. The Horned God is commonly associated with nature, animals, hunting, wilderness, and the afterlife. The Mother Goddess is seen as representing fertility and life and has been proposed as a perfect role model for women. Some Wiccans have adopted other deity forms such as portraying the Goddess as a Triple Goddess consisting of Maiden, Mother, and Crone Goddesses representing virginity, fertility, and wisdom. Still, other conceptualizations have venerated the Goddess as a Menstruating Goddess and as a Moon Goddess.
There is no universal afterlife belief among Wicca's adherents as it varies between traditions. Wiccans believe that humans possess a spirit which survives death. The Feri Wicca believe a human has three souls. Gardner subscribed to the notion of incarnation which is observed by many Wiccans. A section of the adherents believes that a human's soul can incarnate into another life form while others believe that a person's soul can only incarnate into the bodies of humans. Gardner suggested that any Witches will be reincarnated as Future Witches. Gardner further taught that a human soul rested for an amount of time from bodily death to incarnation. This resting place is named the Summerland. Many Wiccans believe in the ability of mediums to communicate with the spirits of the dead, and Spiritualism influences this belief system.
Most Wiccans subscribe to the belief in magic, a concept described as a manipulative force undertaken via the practice of sorcery. Many Wiccans accept the idea that magic is a law of nature even as it continues to be disregarded by modern science and, therefore, do not consider it to be supernatural. Some Wiccans consider magic to be the use of all the five senses with the end goal of achieving surprising results while others do not claim to be aware of how magic works and they believe it works because they have witnessed it to be so. Ritual practices among Wiccans are mostly performed in a sacred circle. The adherents cast spells with the intention of invoking real and physical change in the world. These spells include those invoked for protection, healing, and fertility. Such early Wiccans as Alex Winfield, Alex Sanders, and Sybil Leek referred to the magic they practiced as "white magic" to differentiate it with "black magic" which they linked to Satanism. Sander also used the "right-hand path" term to describe magic invoked with good intentions in contrast with "left-hand path" magic to denote evil magic. The use of this terminology is credited to Helena Blavatsky, an occultist who used it in the 19th century. Some modern Wiccans have however discarded the terminology.
Wiccans do not adhere to a universal ethical code. Most of the adherents observe the Wiccan Rede which simply states that "an it harm none, do what ye will." The code's interpretation has been a cause for debate, and most Wiccans believe that the code's spirit is in doing good not only for other people but oneself as well. Various Wiccan traditions interpret "none" differently, and it can include plants and animals. The Rede instructs a believer to follow their true will and in doing so ensure that the act of following one's will does not harm another person or thing. The Rede encourages Wiccans to assume personal responsibility for one's undertakings. The Law of Threefold Return is another element directing the morality of Wiccans. This law stipulates that whatever good or malicious actions one does will return to him/her with triple power or with equal force on the person's mind, spirit, and body. This law exhibits similarities with the eastern concept of karma, and it was first suggested by Monique Wilson and developed and popularized by Raymond Buckland. Most Wiccans seek to embody the eight virtues noted in charge of the Goddess by Doreen Valiente. The virtues are compassion, mirth, beauty, humility, power, reverence, strength, and honor. Homosexuality is embraced in Wicca's traditions, and some like the Minoan Brotherhood have based their philosophy on the teachings.
Most Wiccan traditions observe the five classical elements which are regarded as symbols representing the phases of elements. The elements are the spirit, air, water, fire, and earth, and they are invoked during numerous magic rituals. The spirit, also called aether, unites the rest. Some analogies have been formulated to explain the idea of the elements. Ann-Marie Gallagher, a Wicca adherent, used that of a tree which is made up of air through oxygen creation from Co2; water in the form of moisture and sap; fire through photosynthesis; and earth through soil and plant matter, and all of them are thought to be united through the spirit. The Gardnerian tradition associates the elements with a cardinal point in the compass such that air is east, water is west, fire is south, the spirit is the center, and earth is north. A section of Wiccans has criticized this analogy claiming that the set cardinal points only apply to southern England's geography which is the cradle of the Wicca movement and that Wiccans should establish which directions are suitable for the elements in their region. The five elements are represented by the five-point Wicca's pentagram.