So let’s jump a head a couple 100 years and see how this applies to us today. Neopaganism begins with the 18th century era of Romanticism. A surge of interest in Germanic pagan Shamanism, with a Viking revival in Britain and Scandinavia begins to develop. Neo-Druidism is established in Britain by Iolo Morganwg from 1792, and is considered by some to be the first real Neopagan revival.
By the 19th century, these revival projects heighten and we find Germany’s Völkisch movement. During this time renewed interest in Western occultism rises in England and various other European societies. These early views of Occultism attempts to merge the early beliefs of the Celtic and German Shamans, Druids, Greeks and Egyptians into a documented reconstructionalized system of belief. It’s here that we see the formation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis.
Many prominent writers and artists become involved in these new occult studies. Writers and artists such as Arthur Edward Waite, William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, and Aleister Crowley begin writing about their experiences publicly. Many returning colonials and missionaries bring home to Britan and the Americas, perspectives and practices of native traditions from developing cultures. One of the best known works comes from anthropologist Sir James George Frazer in his book “The Golden Bough” (1900).
The Victorian Era is in full swing now and many in the elite society were also increasing their interest in divination and magik. Supernatural phenomena becomes the “in thing” for this late 19th century and early 20th century culture. Madame Blavatsky is a pioneer in this movement. Creating the Theosophical Society in 1875 with Col. Olcott, William Q. Judge, and others. calling her message Theosophy. Her views and perspectives are the talk of New England and spread quickly to other continents.
Many family traditions see this resurgence of pagan beliefs as a sign that society is ready to accept their religious practices on their merits and not through the bigotry of old. In the 1880s and 90s, many new covens, clans and groves begin to pop up out of the wood work and meet in public gatherings. In the U.S. these family traditions are often mixes of European paganism and Native American beliefs. One of the most common mixes come from the merging of Celts and Cherokee in the south east. But other meldings of belief and culture can be found throughout the Americas.
As a label, “Neo pagan” first appears in an essay by F. Hugh O’Donnell an Irish Minister in the British House of Commons. In 1904 O’Donnell writes a critique of the plays of of W. B. Yeats and Maud Gonne. In his essay, he criticizes their work as an attempt to “marry Madame Blavatsky with Cúchulainn”. Yeats and Gonne, he claimed, openly worked to create a reconstructionist Celtic religion which incorporated Gaelic legend with magic.
Cúchulainn from Irish Legend is the pre-eminent hero and an undefeatable warrior. His mother was Deichtine, sister of king Conchobar mac Nessa; his father was either the god Lugh the Long Armed, or Deichtire’s mortal husband Sualtam. This alone made him a great legend in Irish lore.
In the 1920s Margaret Murray writes that Witchcraft as a religion existed underground and in secret, and had survived through the religious persecutions and Inquisitions of the medieval Church. Most historians reject Murray’s theory, as it was partially based on the similarities between the accounts given by those accused of witchcraft. If we believe that family traditions exist today; then there’s no reason to think they didn’t exist through out the 18th to 20th centuries. Family traditions have a great oral history that shares the beliefs, practices and implementations of belief and magikal efforts.
Murray’s theories generated interest, which are recounted in novels by prominent authors. Such as Naomi Mitchison’s “The Corn King and the Spring Queen” published in 1931. More and more covens move out of the broom closet and let their existence be known to the world.
In the 1920s through 1940s, Gerald Gardner begins his research and initiation into Witchcraft. In the early 1940s, Gardner becomes initiated into a New Forest coven led by Lady Dafo. Many suggest Dafo is actually Dorothy Clutterbuck. Gardner had already written about Malay native customs and various other books about Witchcraft. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Gardner develops his own set of teachings which is a culmination of his life long study. Gardnerian Wicca is born and begins to spread through out America and Europe. Some say this new public offering of neopaganism gives rise to other Witchcraft traditions, such as Alexandrian and Dianic Wicca. There is some debate about this time line however. But certainly Gardner is not the only High Priest setting out on his own at the time.
The the 1960s and 70s a resurgence in Neo-druidism, Germanic Neopaganism and Norse Ásatrú begin to take hold in the USA and Iceland. In 1975, Wicca/Witchcraft is added to the US Army Chaplin’s Handbook giving official recognition to the beliefs and practices of Witchcraft.
The expansion of practices and belief extend into the 1980s. Many of the general metaphysical principles practiced in Witchcraft are slightly rewritten and help support the New Age movement. The 1990s show an increase in the interest of pagan principles and practices. CNN reports that Witchcraft is the largest growing religion in the United States. More and more, Television and Movies begin to show witches in a good light. Offerings such as The Witches of Eastwick, Practical Magic and the movie remake of Bewitched; bring in box office dollars and attempt to turn the negative evil personification around. Even cartoons get into the act with a Scooby Doo movie featuring the hero as a young Wiccan girl.
We’ve come a long way since the Burning Times of the middle ages. And there are still battles to fight. But modern Witchcraft is a religion with a long past, and an even brighter future