Real History of Wicca
Partly real; Partly imaginary
How much of Wicca can be traced to the
Wicca is a religion based, in part, on ancient,
northern European Pagan beliefs in a fertility Goddess and her consort,
a horned God. Although the religion is a modern creation, some of its
sources pre-date the Christian era by many centuries. Most Wiccans
do not believe that their religion is a direct, continuous descendent
of this earlier religion. They see it as a modern reconstruction.
Joanna Hautin-Mayer has written:
"We know tragically little about
the actual religious expressions of the ancient Celts. We have
a few myths and legends, but very little archeological evidence
to support our theories. We have no written records of their actual
forms of worship, and the accounts of their culture and beliefs
written by their contemporaries are often highly biased and of
questionable historical worth." 1
Ms. Hautin-Mayer is particularly critical
of recent Neopagan books which she demonstrates to be largely fictional
accounts of the history of Witta 3 (presented as
an Irish Pagan tradition), Faery Wicca 4 (presented
as an ancient tradition), and 21 Lessons of Merlyn 5 (a
somewhat racist and sexist account of Druidism).
Silver RavenWolf wrote in 1998:
"Wicca, as you practice the religion
today, is a new religion, barely fifty years old. The techniques
you use at present are not entirely what your elders practiced
even thirty years ago. Of course, threads of 'what was' weave through
the tapestry of 'what is now.' ...in no way can we replicate to
perfection the precise circumstances of environment, society, culture,
religion and magick a hundred years ago, or a thousand. Why
would we want to ? The idea is to go forward with the knowledge
of the past, tempered by the tools of our own age." 2
Writings that formed the basis
Much of modern-day Wicca can be directly
traced back to the writings of:
|| Charles Leland (1824-1903)
published a book in 1899: Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. 8 Leland
was the founder of the Gypsy Lore Society, editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin,
and a prolific author and folklorist. Aradia deals mainly with
the Goddess Diana. It is presented as an ancient document which recorded
the doctrines of La Vecchia Religione (The Old Religion) -- Italian witchcraft.
Leland claims to have received the information from an Italian strega
(sorceress) named Maddalena. How much of this is a valid account of La
Vecchia Religione is anyone's guess. However, the book played a significant
role in the later development of modern-day Neopaganism.
|| Margaret Murray (1863
- 1963) authored The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The
God of the Witches. 6 These books promoted
the concept that some of the Witches who were exterminated
by Roman Catholics and Protestants during the "Burning
Times" (circa 1450-1792) were remnants of an earlier,
organized, and dominant pre-Christian religion in Europe. Her
writings have not been well received by anthropologists. However,
they were very influential in providing background material
for the Neopagan traditions.
|| Gerald Gardner (1884
- 1964), a British civil servant, who:
|| has written
that he joined an existing Wiccan Coven in 1939, taking
the (then) usual vows of secrecy
the coven to let him write a book in 1949 about Wicca
in the form of a novel, High Magic's Aid. He
carefully revealed a few of the Old Religion's beliefs
and the historical persecutions that they endured.
|| added many
rituals, symbols, concepts and elements from ceremonial
magick, Freemasonry and other sources to "flesh
out" the coven's beliefs and practices, most of
which had been long forgotten.
|| wrote Witchcraft
Today in 1954 in which he described additional
details about the faith. 7
|| wrote The
Meaning of Witchcraft which described in detail
the history of Wicca in Northern Europe. 7
Theories about the origins of
There are many beliefs concerning the origins of Wicca:
|| According to Gardner,
|| began in
prehistory, as ritual associated with fire, the hunt,
animal fertility, plant propagation, tribal fertility
and the curing of disease.
into a religion which recognized a Supreme Deity, but
realized that at their state of evolution, they "were
incapable of understanding It" . Instead,
they worshipped what might be termed "under-Gods":
the Goddess of fertility and her horned consort,
the God of the hunt.
their predominately Moon based worship, even as a mainly
Sun-based faith of priests, the Druids, developed
and evolved into the dominant religion of the Celts.
By this time, Celtic society had gradually spread across
Northern Europe into what is now England, France, Germany,
Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland etc. They never formed
a single political entity, but remained as many tribes
who shared a common culture and religions.
the Roman, Saxon, and Norman invasions by going underground
major loss in numbers during the active Christian genocides,
which continued into the 18th Century
|| reached a
low ebb by the middle of the 20th century. Much of
the theology and ritual had been lost; Wiccan covens
had become so isolated that they had lost contact with
|| was revived
in the UK by himself, his High Priestess Doreen Valiente,
(1922 - 1999) and others, who took the surviving beliefs
and practices, and fleshed them out with material from
other religious, spiritual and ceremonial magick sources.
Gardner has claimed that
after he wrote his books, he received many letters from members
of isolated covens who had believed that their groups had been
in continuous existence for generations or centuries.
|| Other individuals
discount this belief system and maintain that there was no
continuous Wiccan presence from Celtic times to the 20th century.
They maintain that present-day Wicca was created by merging
a few ancient Celtic beliefs, deity structure, and seasonal
days of celebration with modern material from ceremonial magick,
the Masonic Order, etc.
|| Still others trace
Wicca back to a little known faith group in New England in
the early 20th century.
Recent Wiccan history:
There is general agreement that Wicca
first became a mass movement in recent times in England during the
1950's with the publishing of books by Gerald Gardner. It has expanded
at a furious rate in North America and Europe.
Wicca is one of the largest of the minority
religions in the United States. There are no reliable estimates of
of Wiccans in this country. Our best estimate is on the
order of 750,000. That would make Wicca about the 5th largest
organized religion in the United States, behind Christianity, Islam,
Judaism, and Hinduism. However it is virtually unknown by the general
public. This is because almost all Wiccans hide their religious beliefs
and practices. Those who allow their faith to be known publicly are
very heavily persecuted in North America; on a per-capita basis,
they are believed to be victimized more often than members of any
other religious group. Many assaults, arson, economic attacks are
reported yearly. There have even been shootings, one public mass
stoning and one lynching in recent years! Reports circulate frequently
of misinformed child protection officers seizing children from the
homes of Wiccans because they feared that they would be killed or
abused in some Satanic ritual. The perpetrators
of this religious hatred are usually very devout, very concerned
but terribly misinformed people. They believe the misinformation
that has been spread about Witches continuously since the Middle
Ages. It is only in Eastern Massachusetts, Southern California and
in a few cities elsewhere in North America that most Wiccans feel
secure enough to come out of the (broom) closet in large numbers.
In other areas, they tend to avoid persecution by keeping their religious
faith secret. Unfortunately, this policy can have negative results;
some people speculate that because Wiccans remain underground, they
must have something to hide. This is a "no-win" situation
with no obvious solution.
Finding your way around
Silver Ravenwolf, Llewellyn's 1999 Magickal Almanac,
Llewellyn Publications, (1998)
Kisma Stepanich, "Faery Wicca," Llewellyn,
(2 volumes; 1994-95; Out of print).
Gerald Gardner, "Gardner Witchcraft Series," Mercury
Publ. (Reprint; 1999). Includes his two books Witchcraft Today & The
Meaning of Witchcraft, with a CD containing some historical
reviews/order this set.
Charles Leland & Mario Pazzaglini, "Aradia:
Gospel of the Witches," Phoenix Publ., (Expanded edition,
1999). The book corrects many of the original translation errors
of Leyland's original. Read
reviews/order this book
Copyright © 1995
to 2001 incl. by
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2001-FEB-21
Author: B.A. Robinson