Wicca is a Neopagan religion founded by the British civil servant Gerald Gardner in the 1930s. Gardner claimed that the religion was a survival of matriarchal religions of pre-historic Europe, taught to him by an old woman called Dorothy Clutterbuck; many however believe he invented it himself, drawing on such sources as Aradia, Freemasonry and ceremonial magic.
The idea of primitive matriarchial religions was popular in Gardner's day, both among academics (e.g. Margaret Murray) and amateurs. But most academics now reject it on the basis of lack of evidence.
Wicca is part of a larger religious movement known as Neopaganism. Since its founding, various related traditions have grown up around Gardnerian Wicca, which is the term used for the specific beliefs and practices established by Gardner. However, not all of these groups consider themselves Wiccan, depending on how closely they adhere to those beliefs and practices.
Beliefs and Practices
Wiccans celebrate the four major Celtic seasonal festivals, Samhain, Beltane, Imbolc (or Imbolg) and Lammas, as well as the solstices and equinoxes (see Wheel of the Year). They also hold Esbats, which are rituals held at the full moon.
Some Wiccans join groups called covens, though others work by themselves as so-called 'solitaries'. Some solitaries do, however, attend "gatherings" and other community events, but reserve their "circle work" (Sabbats, Esbats, spell-casting, worship, magickal work, etc.) for when they are alone.
Wiccans weddings can be called "bondings", "joinings", or "eclipses" but are most commonly called "handfastings".
A much sensationalized, but true aspect of Wicca is that some Wiccans practice skyclad, or naked.
There are many different traditions of Wicca. Major traditions include Gardnerian Wicca and Alexandrian Wicca, formed by important Wiccan thinkers Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders; Faery Wicca; and Dianic Wicca. A generally accepted and informative book describing the various "paths" within the pagan community is Margo Adler's Drawing Down the Moon : Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today
Wiccan morality is ruled according to the Wiccan Rede, which stats "An it harm none, do what ye will." This very simplistic code leaves much up to the individual Wiccan, and that sense of personal reponsibility, rather than religious authority, is an innate part of Wicca.
See summary of Wiccan views on homosexuality on the Neopagan views of homosexuality page.
Wicca vs. Witchcraft
Though sometimes used interchangably, "Wicca" and "Witchcraft" are not the same thing. The confusion comes, understandably, because both practitioners of Wicca and practitioners of Witchraft are called witches. In addition, many, but not all, Wiccans practice witchcraft and vice versa.
Wicca refers to the religion; the worship of the God & Goddess (or just Goddess), and the Sabbat and Esbat rituals.
Witchcraft, on the other hand, is considered a craft, and is sometimes called the "The Craft". Witchcraft usually refers to the casting of spells and the practice of magick. Practicing witchcraft requires no belief in specific gods or goddesses and is much more like following recipes. There are "Christian Witches" and "Buddhist Witches" who practice witchcraft but who are not Wiccans.
The distinction between the two is, of course, not as black and white as this. There is a lot of crossover between Wicca and Witchcraft (for example: the mention of goddesses in spells, and the performance of spells during Sabbat rituals). However, the differences mentioned above are the general distinctions made between the two terms.