I'll try to keep this to a few sections:
1.the Goddess and the God, as well as deity in general;
I might throw other things in as I write.
1) The Goddess and the God
Most Wiccans celebrate a triune Goddess figure, from whatever culture you can think of. Most old cultures have a triune female figure, since the lifespan of a woman is naturally divided into three sections: pre-menarchial, menstrual, and post-menopausal. In about gezillions of old cultures, you'll find something like this, and the general pattern is called Maiden, Mother, and Crone (on occasion, Maiden will be called Virgin, but I feel that this is a misnomer, since the old meaning of virgin was "one complete within herself," in other words -- one who did not attach herself to any man. There was no implication of celibacy or not being a mother in the word. However, others may disagree. At any rate, the WORD hardly matters much). Unlike most religions around today, the post-childbearing years of a woman's life are considered a special blessing. A lot of old cultures considered that it was the time when a woman retained the blood of wisdom in her, so she was especially wise and important then. At any rate, it is a psychological paradigm that it very common in human history.
The Goddess's consort is the God, who often plays the role of son and sacrificial lover as well. Again, this paradigm is incredibly common -- the god figure who is the mother's lover, and son at the same time, and when he is born he is the father all over again -- witness even Christianity where God came to Mary and was born as the Christ, who was God all over again, but who was sacrificed and rose again. This paradigm existed in the pre-christian eastern European Attis cult, as well as the Isis/Osiris/Horus bit in Egyptian religion. The Goddess is often identified as the Earth, and the God is all that is grown from the Earth, is cut down, eaten, and comes to fruition again.
Since the Goddess is often also identified with the Moon (for obvious reasons -- even if it is coincidence, there are two cycles that are of paramount importance to humans -- the phases of the moon, and the cycle of fertility, both of ~28 days), the God is identified with the Sun many times. This is again why so many of the rebirth festivals of the God come around the winter solstice, again witness the birth of the Christ on the 25th of December. This is again psychologically common as horse-apples for humans.
So there's the basics on the aspects of deity celebrated by Wiccans. HOW these are visualized is often almost unbelievably diverse, as Wiccans on the whole (especially American ones) will steal from any source that doesn't move too fast. Since the paradigm is so common, most Wiccans will use whatever cultural icon for the Goddess and God that they feel comfortable with. MOST Wiccans are Celtic in origin (hell, "wicca" is a saxon word from the root "to bend/to shape" itself) and it can be said that as it is practiced now, Wicca is almost completely influenced by Celtic myth and practice (not completely, though, and I'll get into that later), so they may use Celtic names for the Goddess, such as Brigid, Tana, or Cerridwen. All I know is that Brigid is an old sun goddess (despite what I said above, there are some solar goddess and lunar gods around), Tana is something I've heard of and know nothing about, and Cerridwen is a wise crone, the typical image of the old woman over a cauldron.
I don't think you'd ever find a Wiccan who thinks of the Goddess and God as a woman and man sitting on a cloud somewhere looking at us. The idea of a personalized deity -- a Head Honcho in the clouds -- just does not exist for us. For most of us, the Goddess does not rule the Universe, she IS the Universe. It's the most basic immanent deity you can imagine. For myself, I consider the Goddess to be just the metaphor that I use to think of the creative universe with all its parts working well, and all the interconnections between those parts apprehended and understood. I could use any label I wanted; I could have called the total universe "Flekglot" if I wanted, but I prefer the term Goddess since I think that woman have been unfairly robbed of divinity in most religions, and that there is still a fundamental aspect of birthgiving to the universe's creative power. Again, keep in mind that I might give you a slightly different answer at another time (though not too different) and that you'll probably never find another Wiccan who goes in for everything I say here. More than likely, any other Wiccan'd say, "Yes, that's right, and on top of that -- " and proceed to add onto that another personal philosophy that isn't contradictory to this, just a different take on it. The best explanation I've ever heard of it is from a woman named Starhawk, who said once that the different opinions and feelings that Wiccans get is like looking at someone you love and saying, "Your eyes are as bright as stars," and "Your eyes shine like the sea." They aren't contradictory, and you don't have to say the same thing over and over again; they complement one another, and can be said at different times by the same person, while looking into the same set of lover's eyes!
The image of the God often used is as the Horned One, an image that Christianity later called the Devil (the painting of a major deity figure of Wiccan faith into a symbol of evil is kind of angering to many Wiccans, as well, since Wicca HAS no real figure of evil). It is not the image I use, since I do not follow Celtic ways in anything but the holidays. Again, I'll get into that later.
So. A triune Goddess, and a God consort who is born of a divine Goddess mother, loves her, and is born again from her as her son and consort. The Moon is usually identified with the Goddess, as is the Earth, and the Sun with the God, although you'll find differences. Some Wiccans celebrate an exclusively female pantheon.
As for what *I* think -- the Celtic pantheon holds no pull for me. I am much more drawn to the Mediterranean pantheon, what I call the ways of sun and sand and raven hair. My Goddess figure is a Minoan trinity of Goddesses called Britomartis, who was later turned into Artemis, Diktynna, the mountain-mother for whom Mount Dikte on Crete is named, and Eileithyia, who is the Goddess of caves and childbirth. She is not QUITE a Crone, but close. Britomartis is definitely the Maiden, and Diktynna the Mother. They are very close to the other images of the Goddess that many other Wiccans hold, even the Celtic Wiccans. The God figure is, however, QUITE different, and those of you who know my taste in men may smile at this. The Celtic God consort is often called the Horned One, and is sensual and wild without being an asshole. He is often visualized as a bearded, vibrant man with antlers (keep in mind that this is ONLY A MENTAL IMAGE AND NOT A PICTURE OF A GUY ON A CLOUD SOMEPLACE THAT IS "BELIEVED" IN!) and a vivid sexuality; he's the sort of person you can imagine having a booming and wonderful laugh. My God consort is the Minoan one again, called Zeus Kouros, or Zeus the Boy. This image of him later became the Greek Zeus, the ultimate Big Daddy God Figure, of which I am not fond. The Kouros is, however, a little more relaxed than that. He is often shown as a beautiful young man walking among flowers and butterflies, VERY relaxed and serene. Sometimes, he is called the Master of Animals; one seal ring shows him picking up two lions like kittens and holding them by the scruffs of their necks. In the present ideals of manhood, he'd be called fey, but he is the youthful and very beautiful consort of the Mother, the Lady of the Labyrinth, as she is often called. As a mental shorthand, I sometimes call him the Sacrificial Bull. The Kouros is the man who is so relaxed and confident in his manhood that he fears nothing from tucking a flower behind his ear. He's unafraid to catch girl germs from butterflies.
This is, however, one woman's opinion. Again, there is an entire living and vibrant pantheon identified with the Celtic deities, and others that concentrate on the Middle East and the new world. My own position is a minority one -- many Wiccan positions are minority ones! We tend to be a plurality of minorities that do not contradict one another. :-)
Any way, there's MY take on the Goddess and God -- my trinity is Britomartis, Diktynna, and Eileithyia, and my God the Kouros. The Goddess for me is the holistic universe, and the God is simply the male figure I feel the most relaxed around.
The most stunning difference between the most common ideals of womanhood and manhood and Wicca is that the Goddess is frankly sexual; when the Earth produces food and drink for us, it is not out of a Mother's self- sacrifice (or only that), but because it FEELS GOOD for the Earth to do it. Her fertility results in our food and drink (and us) but She does not pursue it exclusively to create us. She pursues it for her own pleasure. This is a metaphorical way of saying that the Earth is NOT here to create humans but only to go about its planetary business on its own terms, and that we are one of a thousand consequences of that. But the Earth was not MADE for us, any more than we are made to support a cold virus should one of them seek refuge in our throats, although the virus might be under that misapprehension. Femaleness and sexuality are celebrated, though never promiscuously and NEVER callously. Menstruation is seen as a great blessing -- even though it's a blessings that can make you blow chunks once a month sometimes. :-/. Childbirth is not the sowing of a seed planted by men, as if the woman were a passive pot of soil that simply nurtures the entire seed of humanity, which is contained in the sperm only. Childbirth is a tremendous acknowledgement of female genitive power, a partnership BETWEEN men and women, not a using of the woman as soil in which male seed is laid.
The God figure is not a ruler or a judge or any kind, and he doesn't lay down any laws whatsoever. He does not demand worship (a lot of Wiccans will say that they celebrate the deities rather than worship them, or will define the word worship differently from most people in a lot of organized religions). He's rather slippery in a way. He loves pleasure and loving his Goddess, and he smiles and laughs easily, in general. When he loves the Goddess, he's not physically conquering her but sharing pleasure with her, and finding his own pleasure in her. He's the sort of man who CANNOT be psychologically castrated.
Most Wiccans, myself included despite the fact that I'm not Celtic, celebrate eight solar holidays and a number of lunar ones. The solar holidays are the solstices and equinoxes, and the cross-quarter days; there are special Celtic names for these, but I don't recall all of them. They are the following:
November 1st or October 31st, which is called by Celtic Pagans "Samhain," pronounced sow-when, and is the Pagan New Year. It was seen as a time when the veil between the worlds thinned and communication with departed loved ones was possible. This is why Halloween today is seen as a time when ghosts and goblins are running around, and why the next day is often a celebration of dead loved ones.
December 21st, called "Yule." This is the birth of the God, when the days begin to get longer. I ceberate the birth of the Kouros in a Cretan cave this day, when he was surrounded by other women and guarded with noise and stuff since his father Chronos wanted to axe him.
February 2nd, called "Candlemas" or "Imbolc," meaning "in the belly." This is the fallow time for the Earth, a feast of waxing light. March 21st, called "Eostara," but I'm not too sure of this one. This is the time of spring's return, when the Earth is awakened and starts producing. May 1st, called "Beltane." This is the festival of fertility, which later became
Easter (the name "Easter," BTW is from a Saxon goddess called Eostara, and may be related to Astarte and Ishtar). Even nowdays the most prominent symbols of Easter are fertility symbols -- eggs and bunnies. This was, in some old Celtic cultures, a pretty licentious holiday. Having been conceived at
Beltane was a special blessing for a person. June 21st, called "Litha," or sometimes something else the name of which I can't recall. This is the heyday of the God consort, the day when his power starts to wane.
August 1st, called "Lughnasad." This celebrates the ripening of the harvest, of the fruits of the Earth.
September 21st, called "Mabon." This celebrates the harvest itself, the reaping of the fruits. Many cultures have harvest festivals this time of year.
And the whole thing starts over again. All the holidays are explicitly tuned to the procession of the seasons and the Earth's fertility. There are NO Wiccan holidays that are removed from this cycle. Indeed, the idea of a linear beginning and end to most things is anathema to Wicca; Wicca works in circles, not straight lines.
The lunar days are monthly holidays that are identified with the Goddess. The waxing moon is identified with the Maiden, the Full with the Mother, and the waning or new with the Crone. Ways of celebrating this are usually VERY individual and differ GREATLY from coven to coven. Often, since a lot of Wiccans are women (though by no means all; it simply holds a special attraction for women since our bodies and divinity are affirmed and called good) this is intensely personal. We often celebrate the Moon and the Goddess with very personal and individual things, by ourselves, or with a circle or coven of friends. Our monthly cycles often play a big role in this.
THIS is the one where you'll get a lot of differing opinions, all equally valid. Preface EVERYTHING you read here with an "IMHO."
The most important thing about Wicca is that there are no hard and fast rules of conduct, no commandments. Like I said earlier, no commandments against stealing keeps one from stealing something. What Wicca encourages is for each person individually to think their way to these rules; once you've derived them for yourself, they make more sense than following something blindly. Again, the best example I've heard is why Wiccans do not steal: it's not good for YOU to steal. It makes prices go up, it makes you have to look at everyone suspiciously ("Do they know?") and erodes your sense of self-esteem since you can't provide honestly for yourself. No commandment needed; it's just not sensible to steal. You don't steal not because you're told not to but because any short term gain you get from it is far outweighed by what is called the Threefold Rule of Return, more a guideline than anything else. ALL guidelines for conduct can be boiled down to this one, guideline against stealing, against killing, against adultery, against lying. ALL of them go down to a general saying that runs "What you do returns to you three times over." If you act like a jerk, you'll be miserable. Simply put, it's just not in your best interest to be a jerk. No rules needed. You act in a loving way toward people because it MAKES SENSE to do so. And in order to figure this out, you can't point to a rule. You've got to study and understand the ways that your actions are connected to the world around you. You must understand how what you do impacts others, and via that, how it impacts yourself. I think of it as deriving rules instead of memorizing them. Have you ever dealt with people as students of yours or fellow students who will ask, "What equations do I have to memorize for the test?" This is how I view hard and fast commandments and rules. If you can DERIVE them on your own and see how it's in your best interest to act properly, you'll remember them and not do something scummy. Again, it's best for YOU to be nice -- the road to evil is NOT broad and well paved. It's filled with rocks. It's the road to good that is wide and pleasant. It's not unpleasant or really difficult to be nice, but most people have been convinced that it is.
Another aspect of Wicca is its practicality. A Craft saying runs "Solve the problem; no more, no less." If something's up, study it and determine what the problem is, then propose a workable solution. Don't waste time bemoaning it -- or if you do, bitch while you work. ;-) This is why a lot of Wiccans are often environmentally aware and do volunteer political work, though by no means all. If you see something you don't like, work to solve it.
Good references can be found under the books link in the previous page. There isn't one central book that you have to read of believe or anything like that. You're expected to do it as you go, to create it for yourself. So don't take anything in this text as gospel; read up on it, ask questions, and don't be afraid to think someone else is wrong!
Copyright 1996 by Janis Cortese.