History of Wicca and Witchcraft
June 23, 2009
The following statements are my personal opinion, based on educated research. Lash out if you want, but an opinion is just that. No one else is responsible for these words except me.
Section 1, Lesson Two
History of Wicca
I decided to start with this one first since there’s a lot of debate and speculation behind the history of this religion.
The father of Wicca was the late Gerald Gardner, who met witches who were part of the New Forest Coven. They introduced him to the ways of witchcraft. With time, Gardner’s new religion gained publicity, starting with his book “Witchcraft Today”, written in 1954. This was against the oath of the Gardnerian tradition to keep the ways of the religion secret. Wicca spread all over the British Isles in the 1960s, and even to Australia and the United States. Englishman Raymond Buckland (a Gardnerian initiate) and his wife, Rosemary, moved to the US and began to teach others about Wicca and even publicized their Book of Shadows for anyone to use within their own practice.
Around the time of Gardner spreading Wicca, people came forward stating they were “Traditional” or “Hereditary” Witches. Even initiated Gardnerian witches began to branch off and create their own traditions. Alex Sanders, also a Gardnerian witch, founded his own tradition now called Alexandrian Wicca. both Gardnerian Wicca and Alexandrian Wicca are now referred to as British Traditional Wicca. In the early 70’s, Algard Wicca was formed by Mary Nesnick. Raymond Buckland made his own tradition called Seax Wicca. Z Budapest created Dianic Wicca, mixing Wiccan practices with feminist politics.
In 1972, most traditions agreed that the Wiccan ways should be revealed to the public. The reasons were most likely for further publicity as well as the growing religious discrimination. In the 2000s, Wicca would reach other nations such as India and South Africa. With the creation of the Internet, the trend of Solitary Wiccans grew tremendously, and with it, religious discrimination diminished. The case of Dettmer v Landon in 1986 established Wicca as a legally recognized religion, and the first wedding to be legally recognized in the UK was in 2004.
Some older views on Wicca have now been proven false, and it is necessary to address these, for the sake of learning from history and remaining enlightened, not ignorant. Gardner claimed that Wicca was directly linked to ancient pre-Christian paganism, yet there is no evidence to confirm this. We may use their deities (the Mother Earth and the Horned God) and worship the Earth’s workings as they did, but Wicca itself is only about 50-60 years old. We also have Buddhist and Hindu influences, but there are no claims of Wicca beginning in Asia or the Middle East!
Another outdated belief of Wicca is that actual Witches were tortured and killed during the Burning Times (that being the times of the Inquisition and Witch Trials, where people accused of witchcraft were on trial). Again, there is no evidence to support that the poor people, children, and animals accused were more than just innocent victims of religious hysteria fueled by greed and superstition.
History of Witchcraft
In the primitive days, a witch was a follower of the Old Religion (paganism), and was a wise healer and mentor. People would seek out witches for help in many situations. Some of their magickal methods of healing are often used in our now modern forms of medicine and even criminal law. Druidism then became the religion of the British Isles. When Christianity was new, before the concept of original sin was created, many Christian churches taught reincarnation and even still kept the statues of Pagan deities in their church. Many witches were Christian. The difference was the depth of knowledge in topics that many common people did not know about, like herbalism, healing, and astrology. Soon, Christian leaders created documents stating that the witches were evil creatures serving the enemy of God, Beelzebub or Satan. This was due to the Old Religion still being followed. Leaders wanted to erase and even demonize the Old Religion to cause the followers to convert to the New Religion and turn on the others. Those healing others outside of the church, or the using “forbidden” knowledge of magic or spells (notice the difference. The magic perpetuated in their superstition is not the magick used by the witches of old times) were enemies of the Church. And because most of the practitioners were women, women often became the target of their superstition. Women were seen as creatures of temptation, having the power to turn men’s thoughts from matters of prayer or work to lust. They were even seen as the gateway to the Devil, based on the story of Adam and Eve. The Church blamed the physical and mental deformities, disastrous weather patterns, and disease on the healers, seers, sorcerers, and witches. Due to their knowledge of the Earth, they must be the ones that cause all of these horrors.
The first heretic to be burned at the stake died in France in the year 1022. This began the hysteria now known as the Witch Trials, or The Burning Times. During this time, anything to do with sexuality or even happiness was deemed against God. Beauty was evil, the act of procreation was disgusting and wicked, and the act of misogyny was created due to their belief of women. It was seen as a way to control them, and remain in power over their thoughts.
Even the matter of cleanliness was seen as horrid to the Middle Ages Christians. This was largely due to the fact that pagans practiced ritual baths, dating back to the Egyptian priests and Ancient Greeks. Dirt and filth was seen as holy, and cleanliness was an act of witchcraft. Baths were only taken at birth, marriage, and death. Cats and other animals were murdered at this time. They were seen as the witch’s familiar, spying on neighbors and going back to their owner with information of what they saw. Due to these facts, it is no wonder that disease ran as rampantly as it did during this time, with the mouse’s natural predator being out of commission.
Being accused of being a witch meant you faced death, or unspeakable torture. The methods of torture would be to either look for signs of a witch (such as “witch marks”) or to bring out a confession. Death would often come to those who did not confess, or even those who suffered from the witch’s test by water. After being tied to a rock, the accused would then be thrown into water. Those who floated were witches. Those that drowned were innocent.
During the Burning Times, it is said that at least 100,000 people, animals, and children were accused, killed and tortured during this time, in almost every continent. The last witch to be killed in England died in 1682. By the 1800s, the witch craze had all but disappeared in Europe and the United States. However, Africa still has executions for those accused of bewitching others.
Many of the superstitions and fears surrounding the word witch are now seen as unfounded and outdated. Some stereotypes remain, as a response to witchcraft being glamorized by Hollywood, but no one can dispute the power of the witch. Even by just saying the word, it invokes feelings mostly unfelt by other names. Be they good or bad feelings, the fact that Witches have remained a part of society shows how untouched by time they are.