No, I haven’t left yet, I’m sorry, lol!

I have a collection of old documents some have been seen on the net, others’ haven’t. Most of the documents have been moved over to disc. I had a moment to catch my breath and drug some of the discs out last night. I ran across one that I am getting ready to put on here. It is about Gerald Gardner and a collection of writings that were written down by one of his followers. There was never an official Book of Shadows for the Gardnerian Traditional Witchcraft. So you can imagine any piece of writing that was contributed to Gardner was considered very sacred.

Some of the writing Gardner contributed to an ancient clandestine witch cult, which he claimed to have been initiated into. However, modern researchers have concluded that it was composed by Gardner. The text shows influences from English and Celtic Folk-lore, the Enochian system of John Dee, Thelema, the Golden Dawn, Stregaria, Tantric Yoga, the KJV Bible and even Kipling.

I know some revere Gardner as being the father of Wicca, the traditional Witch. I am thinking it so I might as well say it. How do you become the father of Wicca and then proclaim yourself to be a Witch at the same time? Curious. No matter how you feel about the man, love him or hate him. It is very seldom that you have the opportunity to look into someone’s thoughts and beliefs.. I think these few pages will give you an idea of how Gardner thought.

There is a lot of material on this site. But there is no cold, hard information from those who played an important part in our history. That is going to change. When I run across such information from now on, I am going to place it on the site. I know the Elders have probably already read the material. But we have several generations of new witches coming up. They need to know. If we don’t show the info to them and tell them, then who will.

The Ardanes: The Old Laws of Wicca

The Ardanes: The Old Laws of Wicca

By , About.com

Were the Ardanes ancient knowledge, or written in the 1950s?

In the 1950s, when Gerald Gardner was writing what eventually become the Gardnerian Book of Shadows, one of the items he included was a list of guidelines called the Ardanes. The word “ardane” is a variant on “ordain”, or law. Gardner claimed that the Ardanes were ancient knowledge that had been passed down to him by way of the New Forest coven of witches. However, it’s entirely possible that Gardner wrote them himself; there was some disagreement in scholarly circles about the language contained within the Ardanes, in that some of the phrasing was archaic while some was more modern. This led a number of people – including Gardner’s High Priestess, Doreen Valiente – to question the authenticity of the Ardanes.

Valiente had suggested a set of rules for the coven, which included restrictions on public interviews and speaking with the press. Gardner introduced these Ardanes – or Old Laws – to his coven, in response to the complaints by Valiente.

One of the largest problems with the Ardanes is that there is no concrete evidence of their existence prior to Gardner’s revealing them in 1957. Valiente, and several other coven members, questioned whether or not he had written them himself – after all, much of what is included in the Ardanes appears in Gardner’s book, Witchcraft Today, as well as some of his other writings. One of Valiente’s strongest arguments against the Ardanes – in addition to the fairly sexist language and misogyny – was that these writings never appeared in any previous coven documents. In other words, they appeared when Gardner needed them most, and not before.

The dispute over the origins of the Ardanes eventually led Valiente and several other members of the group to part ways with Gardner. The Ardanes remain a part of the standard Gardnerian Book of Shadows. However, they are not followed by every Wiccan group, and are rarely used by non-Wiccan Pagan traditions.

You can read the complete text of the Ardanes below:

The Old Laws

(1961)

[A] The Law was made and Ardane of old. The law was made for the Wicca, to advise and help in their troubles. The Wicca should give due worship to the Gods and obey their will, which they Ardane, for it was made for the good of the Wicca, As the [5] Wicca’s worship is good for the Gods, For the Gods love the Wicca. As a man loveth a woman, by mastering her, so the Wicca should love the Gods, by being mastered by them. And it is necessary that the Circle, which is the Temple of the Gods, should be truly cast and purified, that it [10] may be a fit place for the Gods to enter. And the Wicca should be properly prepared and purified, to enter into the presence of the Gods. With love and worship in their hearts they shall raise power from their bodies to give power to the Gods, as has been taught us of old, [15] For in this way only may man have communion with the Gods, for the Gods cannot help man without the help of men.

[B] And the High Priestess shall rule her Coven as representative of the Goddess, and the High Priest shall support her as the representative of the God, And the High Priestess shall choose whom she [20] will, if he have sufficient rank, to be her High Priest), For the God himself, kissed her feet in the fivefold salute, laying his power at the feet of the Goddess, because of her youth and beauty, her sweetness and kindness, her wisdom and Justice, her humility and generosity. So he resigned his lordship to her. But the Priestess should [25] ever mind that all power comes from him. It is only lent when it is used wisely and justly. And the greatest virtue of a High Priestess is that she recognizes that youth is necessary to the representative of the Goddess, so that she will retire gracefully in favour of a younger woman, Should the Coven so decide in Council, For the true [30] High Priestess realizes that gracefully surrendering pride of place is one of the greatest of virtues, and t hat thereby she will return to that pride of place in another life, with greater power and beauty.

[C] In the days when Witchdom extended far, we were free and worshipped in All their Greatest Temples, but in these unhappy times [35] we must hold our sacred mysteries in secret. So it be Ardane, that none but the Wicca may see our mysteries, for our enemies are many, And torture looseth the tongues of many. It be Ardane that each Coven shall not know where the next Coven bide, or who its members are, save the Priest and Priestess, [40] That there shall be no communication between them, save by the Messenger of the Gods, or the Summoner. Only if it be safe, may the Covens meet, in some safe place, for the great festivals. And while there, none shall say whence they come, or give their true names, to the end that, if any are tortured, in their agony, they can [45] not tell if they know not. So it be Ardane that no one may tell any not of the Craft who be of the Wicca, nor give any names, or where they bide, or in any way tell anything which can betray any to our foes, nor may they tell where the Covenstead be, or where is the Covendom, [50] or where be the meeting s or that there have been meetings. And if any break these laws, even under torture, The Curse of the Goddess shall be upon them, so they never reborn on earth, And may they remain where they belong, in the Hell of the Christians.

[D] Let each High Priestess govern her Coven with Justice and [55] love, with the help of the advice of the elders, always heeding the advice of the Messenger of the Gods, if he cometh. She will heed all complaints of brothers, and strive to settle all differences among them, but it must be recognized that there be people who will ever strive to force others to do as they will. [60] They are not necessarily evil, and they often do have good ideas, and such ideas should be talked over in council. And if they will not agree with their brothers, or if they say, “I will not work under this High Priestess,” it hath always been the old law to be convenient for the brethren, and to void disputes, any of the Third [65] may claim to found a new Coven because they live over a league from the Covenstead, or are about to do so. Anyone living within the Covendom wishing to form a new Coven, to avoid strife, shall tell the Elders of his intention and on the instant void his dwelling and remove to the new Covendom. Members of the old Coven may join the New one when it be formed, but if they do, must utterly void the old Coven. The Elders of the New and the Old Covens should meet in peace and brotherly love, to decide the new boundaries. Those of the Craft who dwell outside both Covendoms may join either indifferent, but not both, though all may, if the Elders [75] agree, meet for the Great Festivals, if it be truly in peace and brotherly love. But splitting the coven oft means strife, so for this reason these laws were made of old, And may the curse of the Goddess be on any who disregard them. So be it ardane.

[E] If you would Keep a book let it be in your own hand of write. [80] Let brothers and sisters copy what they will, but never let the book out of your hands, and never keep the writings of another, for if it be found in their hand of write, they well may be taken and enjoined. Each should guard his own writings and destroy it whenever danger threatens. Learn as much as you may by heart, and when danger is [85] past, rewrite your book an it be safe. For this reason, if any die, destroy their book if they have not been able to, for an it be found, ’tis clear proof against them, And our oppressors well know, “Ye may not be a witch alone” So all their kin and friends be in danger of torture. So ever destroy anything not necessary. [90] If your book be found on you. ’tis clear proof against you alone. You may be enjoined. Keep all thoughts of the Craft from your mind. Say you had bad dreams; a devil caused you to write it without your knowledge. Think to yourself, “I know nothing. I remember nothing. I have forgotten everything.” Drive this [95] into your mind. If the torture be too great to bear, say, “I will confess. I cannot bear this torture. What do you want me to say? Tell me and I will say it.” If they try to make you speak of the brotherhood, Do NOT, but if they try to make you speak of [100] impossibilities, such as flying through the air, consorting with the Christian Devil, or sacrificing children, or eating men’s flesh, to obtain relief from torture, say, “I had an evil dream. I was not myself. I was crazed.” Not all Magistrates are bad. If there [105] be an excuse they may show mercy. If you have confessed aught, deny it afterwards; say you babbled under torture, you knew not what you did or said. If you are condemned, fear not. The Brotherhood is powerful. They may help you to escape, if you stand steadfast, but if you betray aught, there is no hope for you, in this [110] life, or in that which is to come. Be sure, if steadfast you go to the pyre, Dwale will reach you. You will feel naught. You go but to o Death and what lies beyond, the ecstasy of the Goddess.

[F] ‘Tis probable that before you are enjoined, Dwale will reach you. [115] Always remember that Christians fear much that any die under torture. At the first sign of swoon, they cause it to be stopped, and blame the tormenters. For that reason, the tormenters themselves are apt to feign to torment, but do not, so it is best not to die at first. If Dwale reaches you, ’tis a sign that you have a friend somewhere. [120] You may be helped to escape, so despair not. If the worst comes, and you go to the pyre, wait till the flames and smoke spring up, bend your head over, and breath in with long breaths. You choke and die swiftly, and wake in the arms of the Goddess.

[G] To void discovery, let the working tools [125] be as ordinary things that any may have in their houses. Let the Pentacles be of wax, so they may be broken at once. Have no sword unless your rank allows you one. Have no names or signs on anything. Write the names and signs on them in ink before consecrating them and wash it off immediately after. Do not Bigrave them, [130] lest they cause discovery. Let the colour of the hilts tell which is which.

[H] Ever remember, ye are the Hidden Children of the Gods. So never do anything to disgrace them. Never boast, Never threaten, Never say you would wish ill to anyone. If you or any not in the Circle speak of the Craft, [135] say, “Speak not to me of such. It frightens me. ‘Tis evil luck to speak of it.” For this reason: the Christians have spies everywhere. These speak as if they were well affected, as if they would come to Meetings, saying, “My mother used to go to worship the Old Ones. I would that I could go myself.” 4 To these ever deny all knowledge. [140] But to others ever say, “‘Tis foolish men talk of witches flying through the air; to do so they must be light as thistledown,” and “Men say that witches all be bleared-eyed old crones, so what pleasure can there be in witch meetings such as folk talk on?” Say, “Many wise men now say there be no such creatures.” Ever [145] make it a jest, and in some future time, perhaps the persecution will die, and we may worship safely again. Let us all pray for that happy day.

[I] May the blessings of the Goddess and the God be on all who keep these laws which are Ardane.

[J] If the Craft hath any Appanage, let all brothers guard it, and help to keep it clear and good for the Craft, and let all justly guard all monies of the Craft. But if some brothers truly wrought it, ’tis right that they have their pay, an it be just, an this be not taking [5] money for the use of the Art, but for good and honest work. And even the Christians say, “A labourer is worthy of his hire.” But if any brotherswillingly for the good of the craft without pay, ’tis but to their greater honour. So it be Ardane.

[K] If there be any disputes or quarrels among the brethren, the [10] High Priestess shall straight convene the Elders and enquire into the matter, and they shall hear both sides, first alone, then together, and they shall decide justly, not favouring the one side or the other, ever recognizing that there be people who can never agree to work under others, but at the same time there be some people who [15] cannot rule justly. To those who ever must be chief, there is one answer, “Void the Coven and seek an other, or make a Coven of your own, taking with you those who will to go.” To those who cannot rule justly, the answer be, “Those who cannot bear your rule will leave you,” for none may come to meetings with those with whom they are at [20] variance; so, an either cannot agree, get hence, for the Craft must ever survive. So it be Ardane.

[L] In the olden days when we had power, we could use our Arts against any who ill-treated any of the Brotherhood, but in these evil times, we may not do so, for our enemies have devised a burning [25] pit of everlasting fire, into which they say their God casteth all the people who worship him, except it be the very few who are released by their priests’ spells and Masses, and this be chiefly by giving money and rich gifts to receive his favour, for their Alther Greatest God [Greatest God of all] is ever in need of Money. [30] But as our Gods need our aid to make fertility for men and crops, So the God of the Christians is ever in need of man’s help to search out and destroy us. Their priests tell them that any who get our help or our cures are damned to the Hell forever, so men be mad for the terror of it. But they make men [35] believe that they may scape this hell if they give victims to the tormenters. So for this reason all be forever spying, thinking, “An I can but catch one of the Wicca I will scape this fiery pit.” But we have our hidels, and men searching long and not finding say, “there be none, or if they be, they be in a far country.” [40] But when one of our oppressors die, or even be sick, ever is the cry, “This be Witches Malice,” and the hunt is up again. And though they slay ten of their people to one of ours, still they care not; they have many thousands, while we are few indeed. So it is Ardane that none shall use the Art in any way to do ill [45] to any, howevermuch they have injured us. And for long we have obeyed this law, “Harm none” and nowtimes many believe we exist not. So it be Ardane that this law shall still continue to help us in our plight. No one, however great an injury or injustice they receive, may use the Art in any to do ill or harm any. [50] But they may, after great consultations with all, use the Art to prevent or restrain Christians from harming us and others, but only to let or constrain them and never to punish, to this end. Men say, “Such an one is a mighty searcher out and persecutor of Old Women whom he deemeth to be Witches, [55] and none hath done him Skith [harm], so this be proof they cannot, o r more truly, that there be none,” For all know full well that so many folk have died because someone had a grudge against them, or were persecuted because they had money or goods to seize, or because they had none to bribe the searchers. And many have died [60] because they were scolding old women, so much so that men now say that only old women are witches, and this be to our advantage, and turns suspicion away from us. In England ’tis now many a year since a witch hath died the death, but any misuse of the power might raise the Persecution again; so never break this law, [65] however much you are tempted, and never consent to its being broken. If you know it is being broken in the least, you must work strongly against it, and any High Priestess or High Priest who consents to it must be immediately deposed, for ’tis the blood of the Brethren they endanger. Do good, an it be safe, and only if [70] it be safe, for any talk may endanger us.

[M] And strictly keep to the Old Law, never accept money for the use of the art. It is Christian priests and sorcerers who accept money for the use of their Arts, and they sell Dwale and evil love spells and pardons to let men scape from their sins. [75] Be not as these. Be not as these. If you accept not money, you will be free of temptation to use the Art for evil causes.

[N] You may use the Art for your own advantage, or for the advantage of the Craft, only if you be sure you harm none. But ever let the Coven debate the matter at length. Only if all are satisfied that none may be harmed [80] may the Art be used. If it is not possible to achieve your ends one way without harming any, perchance the aim may be achieved by acting in a different way, so as to harm none. May the Curse of the Goddess be on any who breach this law. So it be Ardane.

[O] ‘Tis adjudged lawful an anyone need a house or land, an none will [85] sell, to incline the owner’s mind to be willing to sell, provided it harmeth him not in any way, and that the full worth is paid, without haggling. Never bargain or cheapen anything which you buy by the Art. So it be Ardane.

[P] It is the Old Law and the most important of all Laws [90] that no one may do or say anything which will endanger any of the Craft, or bring them in contact with the law of the land, or the Law of the Church or any of our persecutors. In any disputes between the brethren, no one may invoke any laws but those of the Craft, or any Tribunal but that of the Priestess and the Priest and the [95] Elders. And may the Curse of the Goddess be on any who so do. So it be Ardane.

[Q] It is not forbidden to say as Christians do, “There be Witchcraft in the Land,” because our oppressors of old made it Heresy not to believe in Witchcraft, and so a crime to deny it, which thereby put [100] you under suspicion. But ever say “I know not of it here, perchance they may be, but afar off. I know not where.” But ever speak so you cause others to doubt they be as they are. Always speak of them as old crones, consorting with the Devil and riding through the air. But ever say, “But how may men ride through the air an they be not [105] as light as thistledown?” But the curse of the Goddess be on any who cast any suspicion on any of the Brotherhood, or speaks of any real meeting place, or where any bide. So it be Ardane. [R] Let the Craft keep books with the names of all Herbs which are good for man, and all cures, that all may learn. But keep [110] another book with all the Banes [poisons] and Apies. and let only the elders and trustworthy people have this knowledge. So it be Ardane. [S] And may the Blessings of the Gods be on all who keep these Laws and the Curses of both God and Goddess be on all who break them So it be Ardane. [The following two sections were added after 1960.] [T] Remember the Art is the secret of the Gods and may only be used in earnest and never for show or vainglory. Magicians and Christians may taunt us, saying, “You have no power. Do magic before our eyes. Then only will we believe,” seeking to cause us to betray our Art before them. Heed them not, for the Art is holy, and may only be used in need. And the curse of the Gods be on any who break this law. [U] It ever be the way with women, and with men also, that they ever seek new love, nor should we reprove them for this, but it may be found to disadvantage the Craft, as so many a time it has happened that a High Priest or High Priestess, impelled by love, hath departed with their love; that is, they have left the coven. Now, if a High Priestess wishes to resign, she may do so in full Coven, and this resignation is valid. But if they should run off without resigning, who may know if they may not return w within a few months? So the law is, if a High Priestess leaves her coven, but returns within the space of a year and a day, then she shall be taken back, and all shall be as before. Meanwhile, if she has a deputy, that deputy shall act as High Priestess for as long as the High Priestess is away. If she returns not at the end of a year and a day, then shall the coven elect a new High Priestess. Unless there be a good reason to the contrary. The person who has done the work should reap the benefit of the reward, Maiden and deputy of the High Priestess.

 


Footnotes

My Lady Epona points out that this is precisely what Charles Cardell had claimed; that is, this paragraph is a response to Cardell, and so it was probably inserted into the Craft Laws after the run-in with the Cardells and Olive Green in 1959. This again is an indication that Gardner did not promulgate the Craft Laws as a document for the Book of Shadows until about 1960, when Mr. Q was initiated.

Gardnerian Wicca

Gardnerian Wicca

By Patti Wigington, About.com

Origins of the Gardnerian Path:

Gerald Gardner launched Wicca shortly after the end of World War II, and went public with his coven following the repeal of England’s Witchcraft Laws in the early 1950s. There is a good deal of debate within the Wiccan community about whether the Gardnerian path is the only “true” Wiccan tradition, but the point remains that it was certainly the first. Gardnerian covens require initiation, and work on a degree system. Much of their information is initiatory and oathbound, which means it can never be shared with those outside the coven.

The Book of Shadows:

The Gardnerian Book of Shadows was created by Gerald Gardner with some assistance and editing from Doreen Valiente, and drew heavily on works by Charles Leland, Aleister Crowley, and SJ MacGregor Mathers. Within a Gardnerian group, each member copies the coven BOS and then adds to it with their own information. Gardnerians self-identify by way of their lineage, which is always traced back to Gardner himself and those he initiated.

Gardnerian Wicca in the Public Eye:

Gardner was an educated folklorist and occultist, and claimed to have been initiated himself into a coven of New Forest witches by a woman named Dorothy Clutterbuck. When England repealed the last of its witchcraft laws in 1951, Gardner went public with his coven, much to the consternation of many other witches in England. His active courting of publicity led to a rift between him and Valiente, who had been one of his High Priestesses. Gardner formed a series of covens throughout England prior to his death in 1964.

Gardner’s Work Comes to America:

In 1963, Gardner initiated Raymond Buckland, who then flew back to his home in the United States and formed the first Gardnerian coven in America. Gardnerian Wiccans in America trace their lineage to Gardner through Buckland.

Because Gardnerian Wicca is a mystery tradition, its members do not generally advertise or actively recruit new members. In addition, public information about their specific practices and rituals is very difficult to find.

Who Was Doreen Valiente?

Who Was Doreen Valiente?

By , About.com

If Gerald Gardner is the father of the modern witchcraft movement, then certainly Doreen Valiente is the mother of many traditions. Like Gardner, Doreen Valiente was born in England. Although not much is known about her early years, her website (maintained by her estate) verifies that she was born Doreen Edith Dominy in London in 1922. As a teen, Doreen lived in the New Forest area, and it is believed that this is when she began experimenting with magic.

When she was thirty, Doreen was introduced to Gerald Gardner. By this time, she had been married twice – her first husband died at sea, her second was Casimiro Valiente – and in 1953, she was initiated into the New Forest coven of witches. Over the next several years, Doreen worked with Gardner in expanding and developing his Book of Shadows, which he claimed was based on ancient documents passed down through the ages. Unfortunately, much of what Gardner had at the time was fragmented and disorganized.

Doreen Valiente took on the task of re-organizing Gardner’s work, and more importantly, putting into a practical and usable form. In addition to finishing things up, she added her poetic gifts to the process, and the end result was a collection of rituals and ceremonies which are both beautiful and workable – and the foundation for much of modern Wicca, some sixty years later. For a brief period, Gardner and Doreen parted ways – this is often attributed to Gardner’s love of speaking publicly about witchcraft to the press, while Doreen felt coven business should remain private. However, there is also speculation that some of the rift was caused when Doreen questioned the authenticity of Gardner’s claims about the age of some of the items they were working with. At any rate, they later reconciled and worked together once more. In the 1960s, Doreen moved away from Gardnerian Wicca and was initiated into a traditional British witchcraft coven.

Doreen may well be best known for her incredibly evocative poetry, much of which has found its way into the lexicon of modern ritual format, both for Wiccans and other Pagans. Her Charge of the Goddess is a powerful call to invoke the Divine within us. The Wiccan Rede is often attributed to Doreen as well. Although the Rede is typically summarized in brief as An it harm none, do what ye will, there is actually quite a bit more to the original work. Doreen’s poem entitled The Wiccan Rede can be read in its entirety here: The Wiccan Rede.

Near the end of her life, Doreen was concerned about the many misconceptions about modern witchcraft, as well as the wide distortions of original teachings. She became patron of the Centre for Pagan Studies, described as “offering a facility for learned research and a non commercial environment.” She passed away in 1999.

Living Life As The Witch ~ Dedication and Initiation In Wicca

Witchy Comments

What are “dedication” and “initiation” in Wicca?

These things mean different things in different traditions. Usually
“dedication” ceremonially marks the beginning of Wiccan study, while
“initiation” may mark full membership in a coven/tradition (such as after
“a year and a day”) or may indicate elevation in skill or to special
clergy status. Some traditions look on all initiates as co-equal clergy,
while others have grades or “degrees” of initiation, which may be marked
by distinct sacramental ceremonies, duties or expectations within the
tradition.

Some people claim that “only a Witch can make a Witch,” whereas
others say that only the Goddess and God or demonstrated skill can make a
witch. Doreen Valiente was initiated by Gardner himself, but slyly asks
“who initiated the first witch?” Valiente and others assert that those
who choose to “bootstrap” a coven into existence (by an initial
initiation) or to use self-initiation may do so, citing the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Self-dedications are also quite common among
new practitioners and solitary Wiccans (“solitaries”).



~Magickal Graphics~

A Witch By Any Other Name (The Great Wicca vs. Witchcraft Debate)

Author: Mike Nichols

“A difference that makes no difference is not a difference.” –Ambassador Spock

It took more than twenty years before I first ran across the notion that Witchcraft and Wicca were not the same thing. I don’t remember where I first read it, but I do remember feeling bemused at such an assertion, and assumed the author had failed to do adequate research into the origins of the word “witch”. I also assumed I’d heard the last of it. I assumed wrong!

Over the years, I’ve seen this sentiment turning up more and more, in conversations, in online discussions and websites, and even in published works on Witchcraft. It is often stated with such conviction that one might conclude it is the very least one needs to know on the subject. The author is usually at pains to convey the distinction that Wicca designates a religion, whereas Witchcraft is merely the practice of magic. In recent years, I have come across three further amplifications: The first is that some groups identify themselves as practicing Wicca exclusively, as a religious or spiritual path. As such, they do not hold with the more “debased” practice of Witchcraft or other magic! The second is that some groups claim that Witchcraft predates Wicca (which they apparently believe was invented by Gerald Gardner) and is therefore more “authentic”. The third is that only practitioners who are in a lineal descent from Gardner or one of his covens may use the word Wicca to describe their tradition. All others would have to default to the word Witchcraft for their praxis.

Needless to say (or is it?), this so-called “distinction” between Witchcraft and Wicca came as a huge surprise, and a bit of a shock, to those of us who embarked upon this path back in the 1960s and ’70s. Although the term Wicca was known (as the origin of the word Witch), it was seldom used. We were Witches, pure and simple. And we practiced Witchcraft, or sometimes “the Craft”, or (based on a popular but incorrect etymology) “the Craft of the Wise”, or “the Old Religion”. But nobody practiced “Wicca”. Even Gardnerians called themselves Witches, typically modified by others to Gardnerian Witches. On the rare occasion when the word Wicca did come up, it was used interchangeably with Witchcraft. Most often, it was when someone was trying to dodge the issue. Potential father-in-law: “So what is this weird cult my daughter says you’re into?” Boyfriend (blood draining from face): “Uhhhhh….. OH! I think you must mean Wicca? yeah, that’s it… Say, how about those Dodgers?”

The attempt to make a distinction between the spiritual, devotional, or celebrational side of our religion, and the more utilitarian use of ritual and ceremony to effect desired changes in our world, would never have occurred to us. One of the principle tenets of Witchcraft is that the spiritual and material sides of life interpenetrate one another and cannot be meaningfully separated. To attempt to do so is to encourage the sort of Neo-Platonic dualism that has bedeviled our Western society for centuries and led to, among other things, the demonizing of sex and the body, and disdain for our environment. In fact, any attempt to separate Wicca from Witchcraft, the religious practice from the magical practice, is not only historically misguided, but politically dangerous. It plays us directly into the hands of our detractors. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The first question to tackle is where this idea came from. It clearly wasn’t there in the 1960s. Nor can it be found in the writings of the 1970s. In fact, an unambiguous reference to this idea does not occur until the late1980s! So the first thing to realize is that this notion is of far more recent vintage than most people would believe. Books about Witchcraft (such as Sybil Leek’s Diary of a Witch, in which she speaks of Witchcraft as a religion) began to be published frequently from the 1960s onward, yet they used the word Wicca quite sparingly. In fact, the first popular book to use the word Wicca in the title did not appear until 1988! This was Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Had this title appeared in bookstores in the ’60s or ’70s, the most likely reaction, even from Witches themselves, would have been “Huh?!” They would have recognized the word, but would have wondered why such an obscure term should have been preferred to a common one. Not coincidentally, Scott Cunningham was among the first writers to claim there is a difference between Wicca and Witchcraft.

But is there really a difference? In point of fact, “wicca” and “witch” are the same word. This cannot be overstated because few people today believe it. Nonetheless, it is true. Wicca is simply the earlier form of the word witch. Proof of this can easily be found in the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary. The O.E.D. (as it is known by scholars) is the highest court of appeals for questions of etymology. “Witch” comes from the Saxon word “wicca”. That is a noun with a masculine ending, and (hold on to your pointy hats!) it should properly be pronounced “witch’-ah”, not “wick’-ah”! In the Saxon tongue, nouns had either masculine or feminine endings, depending on their referents. The feminine form was “wicce”, properly pronounced “witch’-eh”. Note the same word was applied to both males and females (no ‘warlocks’ here!), with only the ending changed. As the word evolved into modern English, the gender ending was dropped, leaving us with a word that is pronounced “witch”, and ultimately spelled that way.

When you consider that the Saxon “cc” was pronounced “tch”, it becomes easier to understand how the modern word “witch” is derived from the Old English “wicca”, and how, ultimately, they are the same word. To say that they are different words, with a different provenance, and different meanings, is to ignore these simple facts. While we’re at it, here’s one more surprise: the word “wiccan”, although typically used by modern Witches to modify a noun (“This is a Wiccan ceremony.”), is not an adjective. It’s a plural noun. One wicca, two wiccan. That’s the masculine plural ending, obviously. The feminine plural form would be “wiccen” (rhymes with bitchin’). 😉 Although in modern English, the “s” or “es” plural ending is the most common, the “an” or “en” plural is not unknown, the most obvious example being child > children.

So how is it that Wicca came to be seen as distinct and separate from Witch, in both provenance and meaning? One might speculate that Gerald Gardner himself played a role. Not only did Gardner revive and popularize the craft of the witch, he also revived and popularized the older Saxon form of the word, wicca. In doing so, however, he spelled it with only one “c”, rendering it as “wica” in his writings. This tended to undermine the correct “tch” pronunciation of the original “wicca”, and thus to obscure its obvious connection with the word “witch”. Further, it may have encouraged the now common pronunciation of “wicca” as “wick’-ah”, an entirely new critter in our English lexicon. This criticism of Gardner’s spelling may actually be too harsh considering “wicca” dates to a time before dictionaries or standardized orthography were invented.

Incidentally, there are some authors today who are so convinced that Gardner invented modern Wicca, or Witchcraft (as opposed to simply reviving it), that they also mistakenly believe that he invented the word “wicca” itself! (Even more amusing, an article on a well-known Wiccan website recently claimed that Selena Fox invented the word Wicca in the 1960s!) Again, anyone who takes the trouble to do a modicum of research will discover the antiquity of the word. According to the O.E.D. (and as noted by Doreen Valiente), the oldest extant appearance of the word “wicca” can be found in the Law Codes of Alfred the Great, circa 890 C.E. Alfred was a Christian and zealous about converting everyone under his rule to his faith. Those who followed the pre-Christian “superstitious” practices of their Pagan ancestors were called Wiccan, whether they were Alfred’s own countrymen, or the Celtic people in the areas Alfred was conquering. What did the Celts themselves call these people, in 890? Not Wiccan, because that was the Saxon word for it. Very probably, they used some form of the modern word “druid”. That being the case, we have a scenario dating back over a thousand years, where the word “Witch” was applied to people who called themselves “Druid”. This is one reason I have always believed that Druidism is one of the tributaries (and a large one!) of modern Witchcraft. (This will no doubt give hissy-fits to all those authors who have written Wicca-Isn’t-Celtic articles.)

So now the question becomes, did the word Wicca become totally extinct at some time before Gardner resurrected it? The answer will come as a shock to many. It may have been “extinct” in the sense of being replaced by “witch” in common usage, but it continued to be known in its earlier form, “wicca”, even before Gardner came onto the scene. One quick and obvious proof of this is that J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, used the word “wicca” when drafting his earliest manuscript of The Two Towers. We know this because Tolkien’s son Christopher has meticulously documented his father’s creative process throughout twelve volumes of analysis. In volume seven, “The Treason of Isengard”, Ch. XX, “The Riders of Rohan”, Christopher mentions, in a passing footnote, that Tolkien uses the word “wicca” apparently to identify the characters Gandalf and Saruman, who were otherwise called “wizards” throughout the trilogy. The word “wicca” is written in the margin next to the scene discussing the identity of a mysterious old bearded man wondering Rohan. Tolkien was writing this draft in 1942, ten years before Gardner published his first treatise on Wica. So it is impossible for Gardner to have influenced Tolkien’s use of the term. Nor did Tolkien influence Gardner, since this marginalia was unpublished. These were totally independent uses of the same word by different authors working in different fields, with Tolkien giving the more common spelling a full decade before Gardner.

Therefore, if Wicca is merely an earlier form of the word Witch, and still extant in the decades before Gardner, it seems highly unlikely that Wicca and Witchcraft mean two different things. Of course, to make them perfectly parallel, one should give the latter the fuller Saxon form, Wicce-cræft. But what did the word Wicca actually mean? How does one define it? Before traveling too far down that road, it will be necessary to dismiss a couple of pop etymologies that have gained favor in recent decades. The first is that “wicca” is the origin of our modern words “wisdom” and “wise”. Hence, Wicce-cræft is the “Craft of the Wise”. This is a lovely concept, and one embraced by many practicing Witches today who call their religion “the Craft of the Wise”, or simply “the Craft” for short. Sadly, this etymology is no longer supportable. Still, it is easy to see how the confusion arose, since the two concepts touch each other at many historical points. It was a common practice for many centuries to refer to the village herbalist or midwife as either a “witch” or a “wise woman”. As Reginald Scott says in his Discoverie of Witchcraft (published in 1584), “At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, ‘she is a witch,’ or ‘she is a wise woman.'” We also know that the male equivalent of such a person was often termed a “wizard” (remember Tolkien’s wizards, also designated “wicca”), and wizard is etymologically connected to the words “wisdom” and “wise”. Finally, it will be recalled that King Alfred applied the word “wiccan” to people who very probably referred to themselves by a variant of the word “Druid”, which has been translated as “oak wisdom” or “oak wise”. So the connection between “witch” and “wisdom”, if not linguistic, is a long-standing and stubborn one.

A slightly more recent attempt at the etymology of “wicca” relates it to an ancient word that meant “to twist or bend”. Supporters of this theory “explained” it by saying that Witches are people who “twist or bend” reality ˆ a reference to their magical workings. The only thing that seems twisted or bent about this explanation is that it is strained almost to the breaking point. So if “wicca” doesn’t mean either “twisted” or “wisdom” (or Twisted Wisdom ˆ which would be a great name for a Pagan rock band), what does it mean? My own inclination is to follow the lead of historian Jeffrey Burton Russell and trace the word wicca back to its ultimate origin in the Indo-European root word, *weik2. Linguists now believe that *weik2 had a meaning that was about halfway between our modern concepts of “religion” and “magic”. It might best be explained by drawing a Venn diagram of two overlapping circles, one labeled “religion” and one labeled “magic”. *Weik2 would apply to the area where the two circles overlap. And this meaning is just what one would logically expect. (Interestingly, the only other word in any modern Indic language that is also traced back to weik2 is the word “Veda”, a word used to designate Hindu sacred scriptures, once again underscoring its connection to religious tradition.)

So then, is Wicce-cræft or Witchcraft a religion? Is someone designated as Wicca or Witch a follower of that religion? The short answer is that it all depends on what you mean by “religion”. Scholars of comparative religion will already know where I’m going with this. In our Western culture, we tend to think of religion in very narrow terms. We suppose it always comes with certain trappings and structures, and that it remains highly consistent over time. We might assume a religion must have specific beliefs, that it has sacred scriptures, that it has a recognizable clergy, that it has some connection to a God or Gods, that is has a specific set of rituals, that is has a hierarchy of followers, or that it champions a certain set of moral precepts. Surprisingly, as travelers to the Orient have discovered, many of the world’s great religions break one or more of these rules. All the more so do the hundreds of smaller, tribal, and aboriginal religions break them. Some of these religions are little more than a loose collection of rituals and devotions that change dramatically over time. They are not the large-scale, well-funded, organized religions typical of the West. Rather, they might best be described as “folk religions”. It is in this sense that Witchcraft is a religion. And always has been. And always will be.

No, of course Witches don’t practice their rituals the same way their Pagan ancestors did two thousand years ago. Neither do Christians still gather in catacombs to hold their agapes. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t followers of Christianity. Any more than Witches aren‚t followers of their own ancient religion. Of course Witches didn’t call their religion “Witchcraft” two thousand years ago. Neither did Christians call theirs “Christianity”. They didn’t even speak the same language! Any more than Witches did! Nor did they worship the same Gods! The Jewish religion once had many Gods (and Goddesses! ˆ see the work of Raphael Patai) and, according to archeological evidence, kept them well into Roman times, long after the monotheistic reforms were supposed to have taken place. (There’s something you won’t hear from your local Rabbi!) Early Christians had many Gods and Goddesses, too, as anyone familiar with the Nag Hammadi Library knows only too well. Yes, I’m speaking of “Gnostic” Christians, but remember they probably outnumbered the proto-orthodox Christians by the second century and, as recent archeological discoveries have shown, spread as far as the British Isles! What eventually became “normative” Christianity had to be painfully hammered out at Nicea and similar Church councils over the centuries. Most religions, including Christianity, have gone through just as many changes down the centuries as Witchcraft has, and yet we don’t doubt their continuity. Why should Witchcraft be held to a different standard?

When Christianity and Witchcraft first began to clash, Christianity certainly regarded Witchcraft as a competing religion. In the “Canon Episcopi”, a part of official Church doctrine, which may date back to the fourth century, Witches were accused of following the Goddess Diana. It wasn’t until later that the Church shifted its stance and began accusing Witches of devil-worship, instead. Although Margaret Murray is the scholar usually credited with the thesis that European Witchcraft was the remnants of the old, pre-Christian Pagan faith, she was by no means the first to suggest this. That honor should probably go to German linguist and folklorist Jacob Grimm (yep, that Jacob Grimm, of Grimm’s Fairy Tales fame). However discredited some of Murray’s ideas may have become, to jettison her core thesis (and Grimm’s) may be throwing the baby out with the bath. Modern historian Carlo Ginzburg, in his exploration of the “Benandanti” in sixteenth and seventeenth century Italy, has unearthed much well-documented evidence of the survival of ancient European Pagan spiritual practices well into the Christian era. Since this material has been widely accepted even by skeptics, could it also throw new light on that pivotal 1899 publication by Charles Godfrey Leland, Aradia, or The Gospel of the Witches, which examines the survival of Witchcraft practices in Tuscany? If one defines “religion” in the broad sense used by scholars of comparative religion, it seems clear that Witchcraft does indeed meet the criteria. But Witchcraft is even more than that.

It is also the practice (or the “craft”) of magic. As we have seen, “wicca” may have come from a word that mixes elements of religion and magic in equal parts. Why is this so important? Because it underscores the idea that religion and magic are not mutually exclusive, that they can exist side by side harmoniously: that religious people can use magic to improve their lot, and that people who use magic can be spiritual, religious, “good” people. Academics had long tried to drive a wedge between religion and magic. This can be traced back to the pioneering work of Sir James Frazer and The Golden Bough. Although modern occultists may honor him for codifying the “laws” of magic, he had another agenda. Like most social scientists of his day, he was overwhelmed by Darwinian thinking and began applying evolutionary theory to everything, even to areas where it didn’t fit. Consequently, magic, in Frazer’s view, was nothing more than a debased precursor to “true” religion. As he saw it, the evolution went something like this: Mankind started with a flawed version of cause and effect, called sympathetic and contagious magic. Then, as he evolved, he became animistic, invoking the spirits that inhabit every river, tree, and rock. Then, as he became still more enlightened, he became polytheistic, believing in many Gods and Goddesses, each with different functions. Finally, as man evolved into the paragon of reason that he is today (sic!), he became monotheistic, realizing there could be only One True God.

Granted, this model was quickly dismantled, at least in academic circles. Theodore Gastor, professor of comparative religion, took Frazer to task for this idea, in his preface to a newer critical edition of Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Gastor rightly points out that even the most “primitive” magician does not typically perform magic without invoking a God or Goddess. And in even the most “sophisticated” monotheistic religions, there is still a goodly amount of magic, although it may be re-christened as “liturgy” and “prayer”. (In the West, the Catholic Mass is the parade example of magic as liturgy.) In fact, Gastor goes on to posit that religion and magic are inescapably found together throughout all cultures of the world, throughout all periods of history. Although academics have accepted this revision, non-specialists have been slower to catch on, and the Frazerian model still holds sway for many. It especially appeals to those “sophisticated” monotheists who believe they have already attained the zenith of theological ideals, and that the practice of magic could not possibly have a place in it. Apparently, there are even some new “Wiccan” groups that buy into this, seeing themselves as religious only, and holding themselves above such practices as magic.

To sum up, it seems that the current drive to separate Wicca from Witchcraft, to say that one refers to religion while the other refers to magic, is full of “Frazerian residue”. It appeals to those who are uncomfortable with the thought that religion and magic can happily co-exist. (I suspect that it appeals mainly to Witches who are recent converts from monotheistic creeds, yet have ported a certain amount of their previous belief system into their new faith.) Yet both historically and linguistically, it can be shown that Witch and Wicca are the same word, and that they both mean the same thing, a combination of religion and magic. I am perfectly aware, however, of something that linguists call the “etymological fallacy”, i.e. that a word means its etymology. We all know that the meaning of words can change over time. Maybe this has already happened to the word Wicca. Maybe too many people have too often repeated the newborn platitude, “Wicca and Witchcraft are not the same thing.” Perhaps it is already too late to turn the tide of opinion. Nonetheless, supporting this view would be a catastrophic mistake for a religion like ours. And more to the point, it could be politically dangerous.

It wasn’t long ago that Witches were sometimes arrested for the “crime” of “fortune telling”, e.g. for reading Tarot cards, etc. In many such cases, Witches were able to mount a successful defense by arguing that such magical practices were part of their religion. However, I can envision a scenario in the not-too-distant future where the prosecutor will counter with, “That’s not true! Her religion may be Wicca, but she was merely practicing Witchcraft!” In a culture like ours, in which all magic is seen as suspect by the increasingly political majority religion, it is perilous to allow a dark line to be drawn between religion and magic. Words like Witch and Wicca present us with a unique opportunity to erase that line. These words are the linguistic equivalent of a petri dish in which the cultures of religion and magic have been allowed to mix in equal proportions. I believe it is important for us to champion this unique mix of beliefs. When I first embraced Witchcraft as my path, I knew I was embracing both a religion and a practice of magic. Therefore, I will continue to proclaim that I am a Witch, and I am Wiccan, for it means the same thing. It is my religion, and it is my craft. It is my life.


Footnotes:
Most Recent Text Revision: February 25, 2006 c.e.

Proofing and editing courtesy of Acorn Guild Press.

Pagan Terms – A Little Humor

Pagan Terms

by Sylvana SilverWitch

humor

Just a few definitions for you beginners:

  • 1st Degree: A person who gets to do all the work.
  • 2nd Degree: A person who gets to complain about the 1st degrees and the High Priestess.
  • 3rd Degree: A person who never shows up at rituals.
  • Athame: A ritual knife; the bigger the knife, the less power the bearer has.
  • Book of Shadows: A messy, handwritten book that contains copies of everyone else’s rituals.
  • Ceremonial Magician: Someone with bad hygiene habits, who reads Crowley, takes drugs and practices looking menacing.
  • Circle: Some assemblage of people standing or sitting in an uneven, or oval shape.
  • Coven: A bunch of people who fight like family and get together several times a month to party.
  • Crowley: A weird guy whom lots of people worship because he died a syphilitic drug addict. (Kinda like Curt Cobain and Elvis).
  • Full Moon: Any Saturday that occurs sometime close to the actual calendar full moon.
  • High Priest: Whoever the High Priestess is sleeping with this week.
  • High Priestess: A self-appointed leader; must be bossy, opinionated and have a large ego.
  • Initiation: Status that you receive after a big party held in your honor.
  • Magick: Any weird result after you do a spell or ritual for something; may or may not have anything to do with what you were working for.
  • Maiden: An ambitious 2nd degree (usually a womyn) who aspires to be High Priestess, so she can do things right!
  • New Moon: A chance for the High Priestess to get really drunk and sleep with (and initiate) a new High Priest.
  • Pagan: A person who wears tie dye and practices the party religion.
  • Pagan Standard Time: If a ritual is scheduled for 6pm, people show up around 9, and the ritual finally gets started at 10:30.
  • Pagan Daylight Time: If a ritual is scheduled for noon, everyone usually shows up before dark.
  • Ritual: A reason to assemble with others, kvetch and eventually have some sort of ceremony.
  • Ritual Wear: A flashy dress or outfit that makes the wearer look like an actor in a bad fantasy movie.
  • Sabbat: Any Saturday close to the actual day, excuse for a big party.
  • Wiccan: Conservative person who wears normal clothes, lots of jewelry, recycles everything and used to be a witch.
  • Witch: Someone who wears lots of black and jewelry, reads Gardner and practices the party religion.

Ancient Craft, Modern Practice: Witchcraft in the 21st Century

Ancient Craft, Modern Practice: Witchcraft in the 21st Century

Author: Vikki Bramshaw

There have been many books written on the Craft over the last 50 years. Some of the first were published by those characters we call the founders of modern Wicca, such as Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, and Ray Buckland. Since then, witches who have initiated themselves from books, without any formal initiation through a lineaged coven, have formed many covens. There is certainly nothing wrong with this process – and by writing these books, our founders themselves provided the material for this process to happen.

However by the original laws, if you were not initiated by one of Gardner’s students, or indeed Gardner himself, then you were not actually ‘Wiccan’. This view has now become outdated, as the practice has expanded and the word ‘Wicca’ has grown to define a religion open to all; although, many traditional Wiccans still hold this view.

Whilst I am trained in traditional Wicca, I have also been involved in working with the Egyptian mysteries, the Old Craft, and other forms of magic and ceremony, which are very separate to Wicca. So, I describe my practice simply as Initiatory Witchcraft, which encompasses the many ritual practices of Paganism and modern witchcraft whilst incorporating much of the structure of Wicca. I believe this removes limitations that may be set by following one path alone, and allows the person to grow.

The aim of my essay today is to first give an introduction to modern witchcraft and Wicca, and briefly discuss my views on some of the practices. I also want to speak about some of the misconceptions of the Craft, and also discuss the future of the Craft, as both a religion and a practice.

Witchcraft and Wicca are branches of Paganism, an umbrella term of eclectic belief systems which are based on the practices of our ancestors, but adapted for a modern world. In order to truly understand witchcraft and Wicca, we have to first identify what Paganism is.

The term ‘Pagan’ is a broad one and many meanings have been given to it, including ‘one who worships false Gods; an idolater’ and ‘a person who has no religious beliefs’. The Middle English translation for the word Pagan comes from the Latin ‘paganus’, meaning ‘country dweller’ or, ‘one who lives off the land’. Looking at these definitions you can see that there is no reference to any religion, or even a belief system. Then again, when that belief system is so ancient that it precedes language, reasoning and the written word, it comes as no surprise that for every era in history people have viewed Paganism in different ways.

Paganism can embrace all pre-Christian religions, as well as other polytheistic religions: that is, religions that believe in many Gods, which have managed to continue through to today. These religions are normally very conducive with the ideals of Paganism, for instance Hinduism, Shinto and Shamanism. Like the Craft, these religions also pay reverence to the old Gods and Goddesses, and work with, and respect, nature. On the whole, polytheistic religions also embrace the feminine deity as well as the male, a key element to the practices of modern witchcraft – worship.

If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would become a religious person, I would have laughed at the idea. I cant really say I was brought up in an atheist household; because whilst my father never recognized a God as such, he was downright Pagan in many ways, living on a smallholding in Wales and planting his crops by the moon phases. Looking back, I realize now that I was taught to respect a non-descript Animist view, that deity is within nature – but nothing that at the time that I would have described as God.

But with Paganism and Craft, the deities start to become part of our everyday lives; they are there in the supermarket whilst we complain about rising food prices, they are there when things go wrong, and we need someone to talk to. And, like my father taught me, deity also lies in the earth, the trees, the vegetables, and even in death. They are also extremely forgiving; somewhat like a long-suffering parent, they roll their eyes at all our mortal mistakes and wild tantrums, and patiently wait for us to reassess the important things in life. But, as long as we are good people at heart, the Old Gods don’t judge, and they also accept us as who we are; people, with flaws, and no one is perfect.

By working with these inner aspects of the Goddess and God, we discover the realization of the divine self. It is only by recognizing the inner divine that we are able to appreciate and respect ourselves, and live our spiritual lives to the full. This Craft ideology reflects the contrast between the “we are not worthy” mindset of monotheistic religion and the pantheist belief of “we are god”.

The word ‘witch’ is a very broad, and very misunderstood term. I’m sure everyone has seen the word witch used to describe a haggard old woman? Someone who nobody likes? A stepmother? Perhaps an old lady, sat around a cauldron, on a dark and windy moor?

But, despite misconception, the meaning of the word ‘witch’ is not confined to any specific religion or country; neither does it point to any particular form of magic, gender, or ethics. The most popular theory for the origin of the word ‘witch’ is that it traces back to the Proto-Indo word ‘wie- ik’ (veek) , meaning ‘to consecrate’, and ‘to practice religion and magic’. This word was also associated with seasons, and cycles of the earth. The related Germanic word, ‘wikk-en’ meant ‘to use magic, divination and sorcery’. But, no matter which theory we favor, or where we look in the world, the witch has always been a symbol of power, transformation and magic.

So then, back to the Craft. If you ask 5 people what the Craft is all about, you will probably get 5 different answers. The reason for this is that the Craft is an intuitive and fluid practice – rather than defining an exact way of worship, it allows for creativity and diversity. It allows a person to make their own decisions as to which practices to follow, and how to follow them. Just like the word ‘Pagan’ the phrase ‘The Craft’ is also an umbrella term, this time used to describe a common ground of pagan magical traditions, and incorporates both modern witchcraft (which, as I mentioned, Gerald called Wicca) and other forms of witchcraft, such as Traditional Witchcraft, Italian Strega, and my own path of Initiatory Craft.

However, whilst the traditions of modern witchcraft vary, in general they all profess to be nature based mystery traditions, which work with the seasons, and acknowledge the cycles of life. We embrace old Pagan rites, develop our occult understanding and progress with our own personal development through the mysteries. It blends the early religions of Britain, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece; the mysteries of Freemasonry, and Qabalah; and the ways of the European Cunning Craft, whilst absorbing various different magical systems from around the world. Our modern Craft borrows all the ‘best bits’ of ancient and modern mysticism and combines them all, altering the way we see the world on both a conscious, and subconscious, level.

So, without trying to be too specific about the practices of the Craft as a whole, I will try to explain very briefly what is involved.

Unlike many other religions, the Craft does not advertise itself as being ‘a religion suitable for all’. In fact, many covens will actively work to put someone off joining as a test, if you will, of the persons’ commitment to learn. Nor is admittance to a coven given lightly; my own coven will meet with a potential member several times before a decision is made. The reason is, in my opinion, you have to be a certain type of person to work with the Craft.

An important quality for a witch is an open mind – a willingness to shed pre-conceptions, and learn the mysteries. The person must also have a reverence for the earth, the planet and all things. This doesn’t mean they all have to be tree-hugging hippies; what it does mean, is that they have a respect, and an understanding for the world they live in; that they appreciate the turning of the seasons and the cycles of the earth.

This doesn’t mean a witch has to be a vegetarian or a vegan, either; for the cycles of life are light and dark, and death is an integral part on the wheel of life. Many witches and pagans come from farming backgrounds, people who are already aware of the ebb and flow of the seasons and the cycles of life. For those of us living in towns and cities, the Craft gives us a way to understand and embrace the natural cycles that we might otherwise not be aware of.

This introduces us to the Sabbats, the seasonal festivals. Witches meet at the eight Sabbats of the year – these are, the Winter Solstice in December, Imbolc in February, the Spring Equinox in march, Beltane in may, the Summer Solstice in June, Lughnassadh in august, the Autumn Equinox in September, and Samhaine, in October. At these festivals, we celebrate and give thanks to the abundance of the time of year: at Lughnassadh we give thanks for the harvest, whilst at Samhaine we give thanks for darkness, and rest.

The sabbats comprise of four ‘Greater Sabbats’ and four ‘Lesser Sabbats’. The practice of celebrating the eight festivals together as one system is a relatively new idea, which was designed by Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente in the 1950’s who named the system ‘The Wheel of the Year’.

However these sabbats are based on some very old festivals that, although not always practiced at the same time, nor by the same people, have been followed for thousands of years. Even today, outside of Pagan communities, these sabbats are celebrated in our bank holidays, village festivals, and culture.

The purpose of celebrating these sabbats is threefold. The first is that they allow us to connect with the cycles of life and the turning seasons of the year, which, in this modern world, we might otherwise forget. The second is to make the best of what is offered to us at that time of the year, to evoke the powers of the season and direct those powers, towards our goals in the form of magic. The third is to acknowledge and re-enact the myths of the seasons, which themselves have a subtle effect on our sub-conscious.

Some people argue that to follow the Pagan seasonal festivals is outdated, and we are trying to reconstruct something which is not relevant to modern life. But it is not simply a question of nostalgia. We humans are animals; we are part of the earth and her movements. Just like all other animals, and plant life, we are affected by the seasons on subtle levels, physically, mentally and spiritually. In this way, the seasonal cycles are inherently sacred, and act as a framework for celebrating the cycle of human life. Just as things change in nature, so changes take place within ourselves, allowing us to embrace the cycle of life and recognize our own relationship with the land, and the earth.

We also identify deities as a particular season, or seasons’ change; traditionally, their myths were designed to be read and re-enacted at certain times of the year, in order to help our inner-selves become more connected to the Wheel of the Year, and the cycles of life. The sabbats follow the progress of the sun, seen as a masculine deity, throughout the year; as the sun grows in power the days become longer, it draws to the height of its power at midsummer, and then, as it starts to wane, the nights become longer as we approach the longest night at Yule.

The sabbats are described as solar festivals, and are based on the solar year. A Solar Year is the period of time that the sun takes to travel across the heavens and back to the start of its journey. Along its path, the sun passes through four principal points – two Equinoxes, when both day and night are equal in length, and two Solstices, when either day or night is at its longest.

Astronomical reckoning says that these are the midpoints of the seasons, cross quarter days, like on a hot cross bun. These festivals are called the Lesser Sabbats, or ‘Solar Rites’. The remaining four sabbats mark the start of the energy of that season. These four festivals are therefore usually seen as being of a more agricultural significance, as they mark the beginning of that particular farming period. These festivals are called the Greater Sabbats, or ‘Nature Rites’.

Another cycle that is followed by witches is the Lunar cycle – the moon festivals, called the Esbats. Moon worship is as old as mankind itself. Our ancestors witnessed the moon as it reflected the rhythms of life, the cycles of the seasons, and the tides of the seas. They watched the moon move across the sky, transforming and changing – a beacon of light, that shone through the darkness of night. Women’s menstrual cycles were also effected by the phase of the moon, and in short, it seemed to our ancestors that the moon caused the rhythms of life that they relied on so very heavily.

The gravitational pull of the moon moved bodies of water, causing fluctuations in fishing, travel, and flooding. The weather was also affected by the changes in the moon and this also had a direct effect on mankind. Bad weather and storms were more likely around the time of the full moon, and rings around the moon predicted rain. A red moon signified the time for harvest or an impending death, called ‘blood on the moon’, whilst a lunar eclipse meant a time to perform magic to appease the moon and ask it to return its light to the earth.

In craft today, the esbats are rituals performed on the New and the Full Moons, which honor the moon and make use of its energy, although some may also work during the Dark Moon, later in their training. The structure of the Full and the New Moon esbats are fairly similar, although the magical working of the ritual often changes depending on the phase of the moon. It is normal for the members of the coven to bring along requests for the evening esbat: spells, chants, healing and so on, types of magic; which works by first understanding, and secondly transforming, the web of life.

Invocations are also performed on the Full Moon, better known as the ‘Drawing down the Moon’, which is carried out as a ritualized way of inviting the Goddess into the body of the Priestess. Contrary to belief, ‘Drawing down the Moon’ is not a modern rite, neither is its name; illustrations of female magicians performing this rite can be found depicted on old carved reliefs from Greece. The ‘Drawing down the Sun’ is performed in a similar way, to invoke the God into the body of the Priest, although this is more likely to be performed sabbats, the festivals of the Sun, in most covens.

The elements are also a core principle in European Pagan culture and ritual, and many ancient traditions from all around the world hold the concept of the elements close to their heart. The classical elements of air, fire, water and earth are the building blocks of life, both physically and spiritually; take one of these elements away and life as we know it ceases to exist. The air that we breathe, the fire that warms us, the water that hydrates us and the earth, which nourishes us are all in a fragile balance, which keeps us, and the world we live in, alive.

In the Craft, we learn to embrace each element and acknowledge its nature in our lives. The elements rule our emotions, our skills, our thoughts and our actions, and therefore an understanding of the elements allows us a greater understanding of ourselves and the world that we live in. We begin to appreciate things that seemed insignificant before, and understand their important roles in the cycle of life. We begin to not only embrace the sunny days, but the ‘rainy ones’ too, so to speak, and to see every part of our world as sacred.

The elements are also closely linked with the seasons, the festivals, the moon phases and even the time of day. They are of special significance in the tarot deck, and also play a part in a magic circle. In my opinion, it would not be sufficient to perform a ritual of air, without climbing the highest peak, and feeling the power of the wind upon your back. This is the nature of the elements: a part of the realization that the sacred can, indeed, be the mundane. As part of the degree system within the craft, each initiate is given a test, which usually incorporates the elements, a getting back to your roots, if you like.

The relationship between practitioners of witchcraft or Wicca and their Gods is also an interesting one. I’m sure that some of you have already had some experience of deities, either spiritually or religiously. But the misconception often is that witches/pagans are not religious. The problem is, both with Wicca and Paganism, is that it is so in depth and at times apparently complicated that you cant really describe what it all means in one conversation – or even in a short essay such as this.

People outside of the Craft seem to have a problem getting their heads around the idea that a magical tradition can be a religion, because many people still associate the word ‘religion’ with the main world religions only, such as Christianity and Islam. Others say, “I understand. It’s honoring nature. It’s not following a God. It makes sense, in this day and age.”

Well, maybe part of that is true, but on large these are all misconceptions which are born out of the monotheistic mindset – which very often says that to worship God is to worship something untouchable, unfathomable. How about worshipping the God within and without? Above and below? The all, everything, and ourselves?

Belief systems are not a science, and therefore defining your own view is not always going to be as easy as a, b, or c. In addition, it is very difficult to attribute modern witchcraft to just one theology, as it is a composite and eclectic practice, built upon many different traditions. My own coven identifies most closely with Pantheism, a belief system that deity and the universe as one. Yet, we also believe that the Gods reside in the rocks, the trees, the animals and the spirit of nature: the belief of Animism. But we also visualize the God and the Goddess in personified forms, such as Aphrodite the Goddess of Love, Cernunnos the Horned Lord, Artemis the Goddess of the Hunt, and Anubis the God of Death: the belief of Polytheism.

But what exactly happens when a witch starts to work with Deity on a ritual and a magical level? As we progress through Initiatory witchcraft, we start to work with deity on several levels. The first, and perhaps the most obvious level, is the role of the devotee – we begin to worship the Gods and research their history and mythology, a practice which is not dissimilar to any other religion – although unlike most other religions, witches start to incorporate the Gods into spellwork and ritual and begin working with them very closely.

The second phase – perhaps inevitability due to the connection that is forged between a mortal and a deity when working on a ritual or magical level – is that we start to build a relationship with them. This is a very different sort of relationship than what one might expect from a religion per-se; unlike most belief systems, Paganism does not place the deity on a pedestal, somewhere unreachable and unfathomable. Nor does it demand we speak only through ordained Priests. Whilst all due respect is always given, the Gods become almost friends and family to us, and, often, we start to recognize a God or Goddess who we particularly associate with.

Most people begin to undergo a transformation when they begin to connect with the Old Gods, but for those who want to further this connection and learn more about the Craft, there is ini-shia-tory witchcraft, and training covens who initiate their trainees through the Degrees.

This leads me on to the degree system of Wicca, and other types of Initiatory craft. Contrary to popular opinion, the Degree System is not a badge of power, or a status symbol. In true Craft, the witch is given an initiation to represent the hard work that he or she has undertaken in order to achieve a certain level of training. This training involves learning how to control the ego. Within this training, the student shifts the ego in order to unite self with spirit, with the aim to achieve full consciousness and the ability to transform fate.

Training leads to Priesthood; a journey, which takes the initiate through the Gods and Goddesses of the Craft. The initiate will spend a month, or more, immersed in the ways of the deity; wearing their colors, eating the foods native to their country of origin, and performing rites almost every day. The purpose is to become closer to that deity, and also in order to evoke the positive aspects of that deity – causing them to ‘rub-off’ on the initiate, if you like. The strength of Zeus, the beauty of Aphrodite, and the wisdom of the Egyptian Tahuti.

Of course, the Priestess or Priest guiding the initiate through this process can only give so much, and, – as with all Craft practices, – this journey is wholly in the hands of the initiate. The more effort they make, the more they will progress, and the more they will learn.

The training I am speaking of here relates to First Degree inner circle work, and therefore much of it is oathbound; but I can vouch for the fact that this process works as long as the initiate has the dedication to learn. The priesthood of the Craft is a way of life; it is unfortunate that we also have to do mundane office jobs to pay the mortgage, and perhaps even sleep occasionally – because any Priest or Priestess of the Craft will tell you there are just not enough hours in the day to fit it all in..!

Through the Craft mystery tradition, we find a way in which we can strive to understand the Gods, by identifying them within our own lives and experiences. Ultimately, modern witchcraft brings together the worship of the old Gods and Goddesses and combines it with a focus on self-empowerment, and transformation. In the words of Vivianne Crowley, ‘The Craft is a religion that looks to the good of human beings rather than to the evil, and seeks to bring out the best in a person, rather than dwelling on their faults.’

A difficult thing to achieve for many, after 2, 000 years of we are not worthy! Paganism and the Craft has been almost 200, 000 years in the making, and its rule stretched from the practices of early Neanderthals, right through to the Egyptians, the Greeks and even the early Romans, all polytheistic societies who revered both masculine and feminine aspects of deity: – a God and a Goddess, male and female – a balance lost at the rise of Christianity.

When modern witchcraft came to conception in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, much of the medieval dogma of the past was still reflected onto the practice. Whilst people were fascinated with witchcraft and wanted to learn more, there was still the underlying mediaeval fear, which was associated with witchcraft, magic, and worship of the old Gods.

Gerald Gardner was the first person to openly admit his beliefs and declare himself a practicing witch; other trailblazers, such as Alex Sanders, Robert Cochrane and Doreen Valiente, closely followed him. It is true that mistakes have been made since modern witchcraft started to be recognized, too much press coverage, misunderstandings, and practices having to be tweaked in order for them to truly work. But Wicca is a new religion, only 50 or 60 years young, based on ancient and fragmented practices. For 60 years, we have come a long way, and these people who stood at the forefront of a new religion did a fantastic job in bringing the old ways back.

And now, the future of the craft is in our hands. Since perhaps the late 90’s, the practice of Paganism, and in particular Wicca, has experienced a boom in interest from both the media and people seeking to practice the craft. In my opinion, it is a good thing that paganism and the craft is starting to be practiced by more people, although it should be said that statistics show that we are still only 0.07% of the UK population.

Paganism embraces all ages, all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and, to some extent, many faiths. The lifestyle that comes with Paganism encourages a respect for nature, a respect for one another, and gives an emphasis on self-development and balance. In my opinion, the more people living this lifestyle, the better the world will be.

It is a fundamental flaw in the culture of neo-Paganism that to be Pagan, one must turn their back on progression. Perhaps, people seek validation for the belief system, which they are following or perhaps they feel Paganism is an escape from ‘real life’. But, in my opinion, Paganism is the very opposite. In keeping with much of Pagan teaching, the key word here again is balance; the ability to embrace the modern world whilst not forgetting our origins and the earth beneath us, – which nurtures us, feeds us, and to whom we return when we die.

Wiccan Fundamentalism

Wiccan Fundamentalism

by Ben Gruagach
http://www.WitchGrotto.com
This article may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, providing that this original copyright notice stays in place at all times.

Religious fundamentalism is characterized by literal belief in specific spiritual claims, often about a particular religion’s history, regardless of any available evidence. A particular dogma is promoted as the One True and Only Way and anything that deviates is considered heretical.

The Roman Catholic church has an office within its organization called the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. In previous times this office had another name: the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Despite the name change the office’s role has remained the same. It is responsible for keeping doctrinal discipline and confronting and eliminating deviations in doctrinal thought. It’s all about maintaining the authority of the Vatican and the Pope and ensuring that all Roman Catholics are following the same religion and respecting the established hierarchy.

Wicca is a religion based on autonomy. It draws its basis from Pagan religions of the past but primarily from lore about witches and witchcraft. Most today consider Wicca to trace back directly or indirectly to a single man, Gerald Gardner, who promoted the religion starting in the 1940s or early 1950s in Britain. Gardner described Wicca as based on covens with each coven being autonomous. If there was dissent within a coven the rules as Gardner presented them allowed for the dissenting parties to separate and form new covens. This way of dealing with conflict resulted in encouraging diversity within Wicca and reinforced the idea that there was no central authority which would dictate that one coven was wrong and another right on matters of philosophy or practice.

Gardner also insisted that there were other Wiccans out there that he did not know about who had been practicing before he was initiated. He did this partially to promote the debatable claim that he was merely passing on an intact ancient religion. One consequence of this is that it left the door open for others to come forward and claim they were witches or Wiccans too from a common mythical ancestry and Gardner could not really insist they were wrong. Even if these other Wiccans practiced things differently, Gardner’s “old laws” clearly made it acceptable for variety in the way covens and practitioners did things. He might not have intended to do so but Gardner’s decisions regarding how to handle things in his own group had set the stage for Wicca to become much more than just his own teachings in his own groups.

The result of all this was that Gardner essentially gave away the right to exclusive ownership over the label Wicca for his groups and those directly descended from them. He might not have anticipated this possibility but in any case it is what happened. Many groups, sometimes with conflicting philosophies and ways of doing things, have come forward under the banner of Wicca. New groups have been created and old ones have splintered into other quite distinct groups. Autonomy was there so of course it was exercised!

Not everyone has been happy about this. Some of Gardner’s direct spiritual descendants have argued that only they and a few select groups that they approve of should have the right to call themselves Wiccan. However the autonomous structure had already been set up and no one group has the authority to dictate to the rest of the community. Wicca did not have a central authority structure in the past and it does not have one now. It is highly unlikely at this point that a central authority could be established which the majority of Wiccans would respect.

There have been attempts to seize power and establish a central Wiccan authority but these have all failed. One example is when Alex Sanders proclaimed himself the King of the Witches but it was quickly pointed out, particularly by Gardnerian Wiccans, that he did not have any authority outside of Alexandrian Wiccan covens. Another example is when in 1974 at the Witchmeet gathering in Minnesota, Lady Sheba (a.k.a. Jessie Wicker Bell) declared herself the leader of American witches and demanded that everyone hand over their Books of Shadows to her so that she could combine their contents and then establish a single authoritative Book of Shadows which all American witches would be expected to follow. She was laughed at and needless to say was not successful in establishing the central authority she sought.

It was at that same 1974 Witchmeet where we had probably the closest thing to a central Wiccan authority created in the declaration of the Principles of Wiccan Belief. This set of thirteen principles attempted to outline in a very general way the basic foundation of Wiccan philosophy. The concept of autonomy of both groups and individuals is clear in the document. It also specified that lineage or membership in specific groups was not a requirement in order to be Wiccan. Many Wiccans, both as groups and individually, consider the Principles to be the foundation of their spiritual path. However, true to the autonomy inherent in Wicca, there are some Wiccans who do not consider the Principles to be part of their individual or group philosophy.

Some are not satisfied with how things are in the Wiccan community and actively work to establish a central authority with their own particular outlook of course identified as the One True and Only Way. They are not satisfied with the fact that the autonomy they personally enjoy in Wicca also means that other Wiccans are free to follow their own different paths. These are the Wiccan fundamentalists who see variety as heresy. As far as they are concerned, if you’re not practicing things the way they personally do, and don’t believe things exactly the way they personally do, then you must be wrong and should either correct your ways or else stop calling yourself a Wiccan.

Perhaps these attitudes are carried over from previous religious education where the idea of One True Way was key, such as in many varieties of monotheism, particularly the evangelical and literalist varieties. Often the Wiccan manifestation of the One True Way idea comes through as a literal and absolute belief in the truth of a particular teacher’s work. Most often the teacher elevated to the status of never-to-be-questioned guru is Gerald Gardner since he was the one who began the Wiccan movement in the middle of the twentieth century. In the mind of many Wiccan fundamentalists, if Gardner taught it then it must be absolutely true!

Unfortunately for the literalists Gardner has turned out to be a mere human being just like the rest of us. Some things he got right and some things he got wrong. The history of Wicca that Gardner presented, especially the part that explains what came before Gardner was initiated, has proven to be largely speculation with very little evidence to support many of its major claims. Historians aren’t completely ignorant of what happened prior to the 1950s in England. We have enough evidence to know that Gardner’s historical claims were not completely accurate nor were they completely supported by the evidence.

A religion’s value does not depend on the literal truth of its historical claims. Many millions of people find Christianity to be meaningful despite the fact its history is not absolutely settled. Buddhists seem to still find their religion to be valuable despite the questions regarding the provable history of the religion’s founders. Wicca too is a precious treasure for those who practice it even if they don’t believe one hundred percent of the historical claims made by Gardner.

Some religions do consider blind obedience to authority to be a virtue the faithful are expected to cultivate in themselves. Wicca though cherishes autonomy and this is in direct conflict with blind obedience. Wiccans who value blind obedience are welcome to make that a part of their religious practice but they are out of line in expecting others to abide by their dictates. Wicca does not have an Office of the Holy Inquisition and many Wiccans will actively fight against the establishment of such. And that is to be expected.

Wiccans who play the fundamentalist mind-game of proclaiming that those who do not agree with them are not “true Wiccans” deserve the same reaction that Lady Sheba got back in 1974 when she declared herself Witch Queen of America – they should be laughed at and then ignored. Wicca is not a One True Way religion and never has been. Those who would make it over into one are in for a long hard struggle that they will likely never win. Is it really worth it for them? After all, if they wanted a One True Way religion there are plenty of those out there for them to join. Wicca is for those of us who are free-thinkers, rebels, nature-worshippers, who laugh and love and dance in the name of our Gods and Goddesses in spite of what the stiff-shirt self-declared authorities around us tell us is right and proper. Others can try to co-opt our religion and turn it into yet another fossilized dogma of right and wrong to be blindly followed on pain of excommunication or threats of torment in other lives. The witch’s cat is already out of the bag and has been for some time now, and we’re all enjoying the nighttime revels and the daytime ignoring of arbitrary conventions too much to just follow what someone else tells us is the One True Way.

References

Bonewits, Isaac. “Witchcraft: A Concise Guide.” (Earth Religions Press, 2001.)

Heselton, Philip. “Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration.” (Capall Bann Publishing, 2003.)

Hutton, Ronald. “The Triumph of the Moon.” (Oxford University Press, 1999.)

Lamond, Frederic. “Fifty Years of Wicca.” (Green Magic, 2004.)

Valiente, Doreen. “The Rebirth of Witchcraft.” (Phoenix Publishing, 1989.)

Origins Of Wicca

Origins Of Wicca

The history of Wicca is a much debated topic. Gardner claimed that the religion was a survival of matriarchal religions of pre-historic Europe (see V?), taught to him by a woman named Dorothy Clutterbuck. Many believe he invented it himself, following the thesis of Dr. Margaret Murray and sources such as Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles Godfrey Leland, and the practices of Freemasonry and ceremonial magic; and while Clutterbuck certainly existed, historian Ronald Hutton concluded that she is unlikely to have been involved in Gardner’s Craft activities. While the ritual format of Wicca is undeniably styled after late Victorian era occultism, the spiritual content is inspired by older Pagan faiths, with Buddhist and Hindu influences. Whether any historical connection to Pagan religion exists, the aspiration to emulate Pagan religion (as it was understood at the time) certainly does.

Gardner probably had access to few, if any, traditional Pagan rites. The prevailing theory is that most of his rites were the result of his adapting the works of Aleister Crowley. There is very little in the Wiccan rites that cannot be shown to have come from earlier extant sources. The original material is not cohesive and mostly takes the form of substitutions or expansions within unoriginal material, such as embellishment of Crowley lines.

Philip Heselton, writing in Wiccan Roots and later in Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration, argues that Gardner was not the author of the Wiccan rituals but received them in good faith from an unknown source. He notes that all the Crowley material that is found in the Wiccan rituals can be found in a single book, The Equinox vol 3 no. 1 or Blue Equinox. Gardner is not known to have owned or had access to a copy of this book.The idea of primitive matriarchal religions, deriving ultimately from studies by Johann Jakob Bachofen, was popular in Gardner’s day, both among academics (e.g., Erich Neumann, Margaret Murray) and amateurs such as Robert Graves.

Later academics (e.g. Carl Jung and Marija Gimbutas) continued research in this area, and later still Joseph Campbell, Ashley Montagu and others highly esteemed Gimbutas’s work on the matrifocal cultures of Old Europe. Both matrifocal interpretation of the archaeological record, and the foundations of criticism of such work, continue to be matters of academic debate. Some academics carry on research in this area (consider the 2003 World Congress on Matriarchal Studies). Critics argue that matriarchal societies never actually existed, and are an invention of researchers such as Margaret Murray.

The idea of a supreme Mother Goddess was common in Victorian and Edwardian literature: the concept of a Horned God–especially related to the gods Pan or Faunus–was less common, but still significant. Both of these ideas were widely accepted in academic literature, and in the popular press. Gardner used these concepts as his central theological doctrine, and constructed Wicca around this core.

Modern Witchcraft

Modern Witchcraft

 
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

Traditional Witchcraft and Wicca

Traditional Witchcraft and Wicca

How many times have you seen a sentence start with “Witchcraft, or Wicca, is..” leaving the reader with the impression that these are one and the same thing. Such generalizations are unfair to the practitioners of both, and more than a little confusing to those who wish to learn some form of the Craft. Yet, in an age of electronic information, it becomes difficult to set the boundaries that would allow one to study witchcraft or Wicca as distinct disciplines. There are many pagan web sites that proclaim connections to Wicca, although few are truly Wiccan. I must admit that my own web site often fails to make a clear distinction.

Chat rooms and message boards are filled with arguments over whether this or that act is within the perimeters of the Wiccan Rede, yet the chatters are not Wiccan. Perhaps the argument concerns how many traditional witches are needed to call the guardians of the Watchtowers, but the well-meaning participants are unaware that traditional witches usually do not call the guardians. It’s difficult to even find terms to use that haven’t already been so blended as to obscure any divisions.

If you are a newcomer, you might ask why this is so important. When you start out to study to be a doctor, you wouldn’t want to study only psychiatry if you planned to become a surgeon. If your goal in life is to be a great violinist, would you forego violin lessons in favor of piano lessons? In the first case, both are medicine and in the second, both are music, but you certainly wouldn’t want a psychiatrist performing your appendectomy nor would you wish to sit through a violin concert performed by a pianist. You need to know where you are going in order to map out a path that will get you there. If you don’t follow some plan, some path, but just pick up a little information here and there, you’ll never get anywhere at all.

The following sections give some of the differences between Traditional Witchcraft and Wicca, though certainly not all. Before beginning, let me explain my choice of terms. The term Wicca is obvious in that its practitioners use the term to define their religion, and as it has been recognized as a religion by the US government for some years now, the term is widely accepted.

Traditional Witchcraft is a bit more difficult to justify. To some degree it is a continuation of the religion practiced by early European pagans, called witchcraft by the conquering Christians. However, as practiced today it is still a form of neo-paganism, as is Wicca. In other words, it has been revived and reinvented in modern times. It is traditional in the sense that it is not derived from the work of a single founder. The term as I use it should also not be confused with the traditional witchcraft of hereditary witches. Families of witches may indeed practice what I call Traditional Witchcraft, but the designation is not limited to such families.

In discussing the differences between these two religions, it should also be remembered that they have many things in common, particularly when contrasted to the world religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. In fact, they are far more alike than they are different. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to explore the differences. These differences fall into several categories: history, beliefs, ritual, and ethics.

Wicca

Most students of the Craft are at least vaguely aware of the historical origin of Wicca, but have much less precise ideas about the origin of Traditional Witchcraft. This is not particularly surprising. Wicca originated in modern times and has the advantage of being set out in written texts and even in the memories of living people. Traditional Witchcraft, on the other hand, is tied to ancient cultures and myths, and to largely unverifiable ideas about practices and beliefs.

Wicca began with the writings and teachings of Gerald Gardner in the 1930s. Gardner was initiated into the New Forest coven in England by Dorothy Clutterbuck. He published both fictional and non-fictional accounts of witchcraft, the first non-fictional book, “Witchcraft Today,” appearing after the last of the anti-witchcraft laws in England were repealed in 1954. Believing that the Craft was dying out, he dedicated himself to reviving it. In his coven, many things were secret, so his writings combined some things from the coven along with elements of ceremonial magick (Kabbala), Masonic ritual, various versions of the Craft, Celtic mythology, eastern philosophies, Egyptian ideologies, and even fictional ideas from mystical works along the lines of Lovecraft and Hubbert. The elements (earth, air, fire, water) which form an important part of Wiccan ideology are from Classical Greece. Gardner was clearly a learned man to combine diverse philosophies and religions in such a way that it not only stopped the decline of the Craft, but led to the powerful and influential religion that Wicca is today.

Gardner’s students had an important role to play in the evolution and spread of Wicca. Doreen Valiente added the poetic quality to many of the rituals that have been passed down. Others whom Gardner initiated took the new practices to distant lands, while still others branched off forming their own traditions such as the Alexandrian tradition begun by Alex Sanders. In America, many new traditions appeared, among them Dianic witchcraft and the faerie traditions, both of which are further from Gardnerianism than the direct descendents, but still clearly influenced by Gardnerian Wicca.

Traditional Witchcraft

What we’re calling Traditional Witchcraft has an older history than Wicca in some ways, but a much less well-defined one. Witchcraft has been around since the beginning of mankind, long before people could write about it. Our ancestors did leave a few clues such as goddess statues and drawings, but not much can be learned about the nature of their beliefs and practices. Anthropologists surmise that primitive cultures of modern times have at least a passing resemblance to the long dead cultures of the past, and nearly all have some form of witchcraft or magic. However, the witchcraft practiced by most neo-pagans today is clearly of European origin, and even the most traditionally minded witches rarely try to trace the origin of their practice back further than the Middle Ages.

We do know a few things about these times. The native peoples throughout Europe believed in spirits or gods, usually associated with the Earth, Sun, and Moon, and they saw their lives and the lives of the gods as having a cyclical pattern, following the yearly cycle of seasons. The latter part is typical of native peoples everywhere. When one lives by agriculture or hunting and gathering, knowledge, and if possible, control of the seasonal forces of Nature are vital to existence. Thus, the development of a religion in which the seasons are recognized and celebrated and through which one might attempt to control the more violent and destructive aspects of Nature is quite understandable.

Most of our knowledge of European witchcraft comes from the writings of Christian conquerors and priests. In fact, it was the Christians who first called the practice witchcraft. Before the invasion there was no need to give the religion a name. It was simply what all people were brought up to believe. Some specialized roles existed with special names, though the names reflect the language of the region rather than a common system of belief.

Christians suppressed the native religion, in part, by adopting many of their rituals and customs. Yule became Christmas and Oester became Easter, and all became a part of Christian tradition. However, not all pagans abandoned their beliefs when they “became” Christians. Many of the practices simply went underground and were passed from generation to generation in families. Since most people could neither read nor write, these oral traditions were the only means of keeping the knowledge alive. Without written records, we know very little of these ancient traditions. The records we do have are often distorted, having been written by priests of the inquisition or taken from the inquisitions records themselves.

That isn’t to say that we know nothing of Traditional Witchcraft. A little knowledge trickled down and scholars often preserved the mythologies of conquered peoples. Archaeological evidence helps a little too. The neo-pagan revival has attempted to recapture the spirit of the ancient religion, if not its actual practices. Be a little skeptical of those who profess to practice the Old Ways, unless they recognize that they are reinventing those ways rather than reviving them.

Beliefs

There are some fundamental differences in the beliefs of traditional witches and Wiccans. It is vital that any student of the Craft understand these differences, especially if the student is still seeking a path to follow. How can you know if your path is to be Wiccan or that of Traditional Witchcraft if you have no knowledge of the beliefs associated with them?

Perhaps now is a good place to comment on the eclectic witch. All too often newcomers to the Craft grab onto that label because it seems to mean they can believe and do whatever they want without having to adhere to any particular belief or ritual system. That’s simply not the case. To say something is eclectic does mean that it is composed of elements drawn from various sources. However, there must be sources for such eclecticism in the Craft. It does not mean that you can make up your own way of doing everything, your own way of thinking, and still call it the Craft. It does not mean that you can incorporate every New Age idea, regardless of how appealing it may be to the individual, and then claim that what you do is the Craft. An eclectic witch carefully chooses a path that has elements from different witchcraft traditions, making sure that there are no contradictions or conflicts among the element chosen, and that each is well understood. There are some limits. Not only can the path not be entirely idiosyncratic, but it must be clearly pagan.

Some will argue against this, but in my opinion, it is impossible to be simultaneously Christian and a witch without sacrificing important components of one or the other. Conflicts between the two belief systems are immediately apparent, and some are impossible to resolve. Witches of whatever tradition are not monotheistic nor do they follow any revealed scripture (Torah, Gospels, Quran, Book of Mormon, etc.). There are many other conflicting elements, but that must be put aside for another essay.

It’s worth noting again that neither Wicca nor Traditional Witchcraft is traditional in the sense of strictly adhering to the beliefs and practices of our ancestors. Like it or not, this is neo-paganism, for we simply have no choice. Most likely the religion of the original European pagans was quite different, but we have arrived at the point where we need to look at the traditions being practiced today rather than the “old ways,” though with some references to the latter when possible.

The first, and I believe the most important, difference between Wicca and Traditional Witchcraft is the relationship to Deity or deities. Wiccans worship a Goddess and sometimes a God, regarding them as supreme beings. Traditional Witches do not worship any entity as their superior, though they recognize the existence of other entities. They believe in the equality of all beings in the Universe, seeing them as different, separate, but never superior or inferior. This difference is often a source of confusion. A traditional witch may speak of the god and the goddess, usually referring to the female and male aspects of Nature, and while they revere and respect Nature, they do not worship it or its representatives. A Wiccan may speak in similar terms but Wiccan rituals make it clear that the Goddess and God are seen as superior beings to be worshipped. This dualism forms the basic foundation of Wiccan theology, the necessary feminine and masculine components of creative energy. Traditional Witchcraft, however, is polytheistic and animistic, incorporating a number of spirits/deities into a meaningful whole.

Let me make this a little clearer by example. When a Wiccan calls upon the Goddess and the God in ritual, she/he means exactly that – “the” Goddess and God, the ones who appear so prominently in the mythologies that inform this belief and the rituals associated with it. The Goddess is a Triple Goddess and may be called by different names in different circumstances, but most Wiccans believe these different names and personalities are aspects of the one Goddess rather than different entities. Traditional witches, however, may call the Goddess and the God as representatives of the creative force of the Universe, but will usually call on other spirits as well, each being seen as a separate and equal entity.

In Traditional Witchcraft there is a Spirit World or Other World where these other entities reside. Most do not see this as actually separate from this world, but rather a part of it that is usually unseen. Thus, the spirits who are contacted during ritual are already there but may be conjured or evoked to facilitate communication. This is an important point in that Traditional Witches see the interaction between this world and the Other World as constant and not wholly dependent on ritual. Wiccans rely more on ecstatic ritual to obtain contact with the Goddess and to increase ones spirituality.

There are some who say that traditional witchcraft is not a religion at all, because no deities are worshipped. From a strictly anthropological standpoint, that would be a fair statement in that religion may be defined as a system of belief which includes the worship of a superior being or beings. However, to say that the practice of witchcraft lacks spirituality is simply untrue, at least among modern witches. For many witches today, it is the spiritual enlightenment offered by the practice of witchcraft that draws them to it, even if their approach to the deities is somewhat different than that found in other religions, including Wicca.

Ritual

Any discussion of the gods inevitably leads to consideration of the rituals performed in connection with them. In Wicca, rituals tend to be compulsory or at least advised. One must celebrate the Wheel of the Year with its eight holy days that represent parts of the mythic cycle. Traditional Witches often observe the same days as they correspond to solstices and equinoxes, but do not relate them to a specific mythology. In Traditional Witchcraft it is the seasonal changes themselves that are honored, not the lives of gods and goddesses associated with them. Both Wiccans and Traditional Witches observe Moon phases and other natural phenomena.

The sacred circle is central to Wiccan practice. Wiccans generally create sacred space for their rituals by casting a circle, using techniques of visualization and raising energy. Placing more significance on ritual and ceremony, Wiccans create and perform beautiful rituals, filled with symbolism, to mark the seasons of the Earth and the seasons of life.

In Traditional Witchcraft, all space is sacred and all life is ceremony. When ritual or magick is performed, the Traditional Witch is likely to go to a place that has special qualities such as a stream or mountain, but practitioners also recognize that the local park or someone’s backyard is equally sacred. I’m not saying that Wiccans don’t see the Earth as sacred; they do. However, most Wiccans still cast a circle (define sacred space) before performing a ritual. These differences are often a matter of degree and emphasis.

It is often difficult for urban witches to gain any practical experience of the countryside. Perhaps the absence of daily opportunities to be in direct contact with the Nature draws so many of them to the more formal and symbolic rituals of Wicca. The separation from natural settings may also have led to the intense concern with environmental issues among both Wiccans and Traditional Witches.

No consideration of ritual in witchcraft would be complete without some discussion of magick. Magick is central to Traditional Witchcraft, whereas many Wiccans do not practice the magickal arts. However, there is a sense in which all religions use magick, as it may be defined as any attempt to effect the outcome of a given situation by supernatural means (though in Traditional Witchcraft these means are seen as natural). Prayer, for example, is a form of magick.

When practiced, the magick of Wicca tends to be more ceremonial, whereas in Traditional Witchcraft it is more practical. Herbal healing, for example, is a traditional practice which may or may not be part of a Wiccan’s custom. Also, the magick of Traditional Witchcraft may include hexes and curses without a specific rule to prevent such acts (see Ethics section).

A more important difference, however, concerns the presence or absence of spirituality in magick. Some say that magick is never spiritual. Since there are often spirits or deities involved, a better way to look at it might be to consider the relationship between the witch and the spirit in performing magick. The idea noted above in relation to defining religion is also applied to magick, that when witches work with spirits in performing magick, it is not spiritual unless the spirits are worshipped. Regarding spirits as a natural part of the witch’s environment and as equal beings in the Universe would deny any spirituality to the magick of Traditional Witchcraft. Wiccans, on the other hand, perform magick in which a goddess or god is appealed to for aid and paid homage to during the magickal act. By the previous definition, this would be seen as spiritual. I’m not at all convinced that seeing spirits as natural and enlisting their aid without worshipping them reduces the magick of Traditional Witchcraft to something that is merely practical and without a spiritual component.

Rites of passage are also an important part of the ritual structure of both Wiccans and Traditional Witches. Initiatory rites of passage are central to Wicca, at least as practiced in covens. Within each coven there is a hierarchy among the members based on the levels or degrees each member has attained, with the High Priest and Priestess at the pentacle. As a member goes through the levels, she/he learns the Mysteries from someone in authority. The degrees are determined primarily by what the witch has studied and for how long so that the hierarchy, at least theoretically, is one of knowledge.

In Traditional Witchcraft, there are usually rites of passage of some kind, though groups tend to be less hierarchical than Wiccan covens. In some cases, rituals are performed at different stages of a person’s life, while in other cases, rites may reflect the individual’s choice to dedicate herself to some aspect of the Craft. The only thing that can be said with certainty about rites of passage in Traditional Witchcraft is that they are variable, and are determined more by the specific group or individual than by a conventional structure.

Ethics

Wiccan ethics is based primarily on one rule, the Wiccan Rede (advice or creed), “an it harm none, do as ye will.” A true follower of the Wiccan path will know that this does not translate into “do anything you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.” A person’s “will” is the path chosen after careful reflection, not just the whim of the day. Discovering your true will is part of the path you take to spiritual enlightenment, tolerance of others, service to the Universe, and ultimately a fulfilling life. The second most important feature of Wiccan ethics is the Threefold Law, that what you do will come back to you threefold (with three times the energy). This is a karmic principle that has it’s origin in eastern religions and replaces the concept of sin and retribution found in Christianity. In other words, if you harm someone (sin), you will be repaid times three (retribution).

Traditional Witchcraft has neither the Wiccan Rede nor the Threefold Law. There is no morality test, only personal responsibility and honor. Also, there is no good or evil, only intent. Humans have the ability to make decisions and act on them, and they may choose and act with good or evil intentions. Traditional Witchcraft does not set out laws as to what actions and intentions are evil, but followers of this path take responsibility for them. In practical terms, this means that using curses, hexes, and the like are not ruled out on principle. If provoked or threatened, the Traditional Witch may act for self-preservation or the protection of family and home. These are considered honorable acts. Yet if there are negative consequences, the Traditional Witch is willing to suffer them.

A final word

I hope this essay will serve two purposes. For those of you studying the Craft and trying to learn a little about the rather confusing terminology applied to its practitioners, perhaps this will be a starting point, but only that. Don’t take what I’ve written as gospel. Many others will have a different view of these issues, but these few words may help you find the questions to ask. For those of you who saw a movie last week or read a web page somewhere, I hope it will make you think twice about calling yourself a “witch” or “Wiccan.” Without the training, knowledge, and dedication, neither designation is appropriate.

May the ancient gods guide you in whatever path you choose.

Wiccan Fundamentalism

Wiccan Fundamentalism

by Ben Gruagach

This article may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, providing that this original copyright notice stays in place at all times.

Religious fundamentalism is characterized by literal belief in specific spiritual claims, often about a particular religion’s history, regardless of any available evidence. A particular dogma is promoted as the One True and Only Way and anything that deviates is considered heretical.

The Roman Catholic church has an office within its organization called the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. In previous times this office had another name: the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Despite the name change the office’s role has remained the same. It is responsible for keeping doctrinal discipline and confronting and eliminating deviations in doctrinal thought. It’s all about maintaining the authority of the Vatican and the Pope and ensuring that all Roman Catholics are following the same religion and respecting the established hierarchy.

Wicca is a religion based on autonomy. It draws its basis from Pagan religions of the past but primarily from lore about witches and witchcraft. Most today consider Wicca to trace back directly or indirectly to a single man, Gerald Gardner, who promoted the religion starting in the 1940s or early 1950s in Britain. Gardner described Wicca as based on covens with each coven being autonomous. If there was dissent within a coven the rules as Gardner presented them allowed for the dissenting parties to separate and form new covens. This way of dealing with conflict resulted in encouraging diversity within Wicca and reinforced the idea that there was no central authority which would dictate that one coven was wrong and another right on matters of philosophy or practice.

Gardner also insisted that there were other Wiccans out there that he did not know about who had been practicing before he was initiated. He did this partially to promote the debatable claim that he was merely passing on an intact ancient religion. One consequence of this is that it left the door open for others to come forward and claim they were witches or Wiccans too from a common mythical ancestry and Gardner could not really insist they were wrong. Even if these other Wiccans practiced things differently, Gardner’s “old laws” clearly made it acceptable for variety in the way covens and practitioners did things. He might not have intended to do so but Gardner’s decisions regarding how to handle things in his own group had set the stage for Wicca to become much more than just his own teachings in his own groups.

The result of all this was that Gardner essentially gave away the right to exclusive ownership over the label Wicca for his groups and those directly descended from them. He might not have anticipated this possibility but in any case it is what happened. Many groups, sometimes with conflicting philosophies and ways of doing things, have come forward under the banner of Wicca. New groups have been created and old ones have splintered into other quite distinct groups. Autonomy was there so of course it was exercised!

Not everyone has been happy about this. Some of Gardner’s direct spiritual descendants have argued that only they and a few select groups that they approve of should have the right to call themselves Wiccan. However the autonomous structure had already been set up and no one group has the authority to dictate to the rest of the community. Wicca did not have a central authority structure in the past and it does not have one now. It is highly unlikely at this point that a central authority could be established which the majority of Wiccans would respect.

There have been attempts to seize power and establish a central Wiccan authority but these have all failed. One example is when Alex Sanders proclaimed himself the King of the Witches but it was quickly pointed out, particularly by Gardnerian Wiccans, that he did not have any authority outside of Alexandrian Wiccan covens. Another example is when in 1974 at the Witchmeet gathering in Minnesota, Lady Sheba (a.k.a. Jessie Wicker Bell) declared herself the leader of American witches and demanded that everyone hand over their Books of Shadows to her so that she could combine their contents and then establish a single authoritative Book of Shadows which all American witches would be expected to follow. She was laughed at and needless to say was not successful in establishing the central authority she sought.

It was at that same 1974 Witchmeet where we had probably the closest thing to a central Wiccan authority created in the declaration of the Principles of Wiccan Belief. This set of thirteen principles attempted to outline in a very general way the basic foundation of Wiccan philosophy. The concept of autonomy of both groups and individuals is clear in the document. It also specified that lineage or membership in specific groups was not a requirement in order to be Wiccan. Many Wiccans, both as groups and individually, consider the Principles to be the foundation of their spiritual path. However, true to the autonomy inherent in Wicca, there are some Wiccans who do not consider the Principles to be part of their individual or group philosophy.

Some are not satisfied with how things are in the Wiccan community and actively work to establish a central authority with their own particular outlook of course identified as the One True and Only Way. They are not satisfied with the fact that the autonomy they personally enjoy in Wicca also means that other Wiccans are free to follow their own different paths. These are the Wiccan fundamentalists who see variety as heresy. As far as they are concerned, if you’re not practicing things the way they personally do, and don’t believe things exactly the way they personally do, then you must be wrong and should either correct your ways or else stop calling yourself a Wiccan.

Perhaps these attitudes are carried over from previous religious education where the idea of One True Way was key, such as in many varieties of monotheism, particularly the evangelical and literalist varieties. Often the Wiccan manifestation of the One True Way idea comes through as a literal and absolute belief in the truth of a particular teacher’s work. Most often the teacher elevated to the status of never-to-be-questioned guru is Gerald Gardner since he was the one who began the Wiccan movement in the middle of the twentieth century. In the mind of many Wiccan fundamentalists, if Gardner taught it then it must be absolutely true!

Unfortunately for the literalists Gardner has turned out to be a mere human being just like the rest of us. Some things he got right and some things he got wrong. The history of Wicca that Gardner presented, especially the part that explains what came before Gardner was initiated, has proven to be largely speculation with very little evidence to support many of its major claims. Historians aren’t completely ignorant of what happened prior to the 1950s in England. We have enough evidence to know that Gardner’s historical claims were not completely accurate nor were they completely supported by the evidence.

A religion’s value does not depend on the literal truth of its historical claims. Many millions of people find Christianity to be meaningful despite the fact its history is not absolutely settled. Buddhists seem to still find their religion to be valuable despite the questions regarding the provable history of the religion’s founders. Wicca too is a precious treasure for those who practice it even if they don’t believe one hundred percent of the historical claims made by Gardner.

Some religions do consider blind obedience to authority to be a virtue the faithful are expected to cultivate in themselves. Wicca though cherishes autonomy and this is in direct conflict with blind obedience. Wiccans who value blind obedience are welcome to make that a part of their religious practice but they are out of line in expecting others to abide by their dictates. Wicca does not have an Office of the Holy Inquisition and many Wiccans will actively fight against the establishment of such. And that is to be expected.

Wiccans who play the fundamentalist mind-game of proclaiming that those who do not agree with them are not “true Wiccans” deserve the same reaction that Lady Sheba got back in 1974 when she declared herself Witch Queen of America – they should be laughed at and then ignored. Wicca is not a One True Way religion and never has been. Those who would make it over into one are in for a long hard struggle that they will likely never win. Is it really worth it for them? After all, if they wanted a One True Way religion there are plenty of those out there for them to join. Wicca is for those of us who are free-thinkers, rebels, nature-worshippers, who laugh and love and dance in the name of our Gods and Goddesses in spite of what the stiff-shirt self-declared authorities around us tell us is right and proper. Others can try to co-opt our religion and turn it into yet another fossilized dogma of right and wrong to be blindly followed on pain of excommunication or threats of torment in other lives. The witch’s cat is already out of the bag and has been for some time now, and we’re all enjoying the nighttime revels and the daytime ignoring of arbitrary conventions too much to just follow what someone else tells us is the One True Way.

References

Bonewits, Isaac. “Witchcraft: A Concise Guide.” (Earth Religions Press, 2001.)

Heselton, Philip. “Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration.” (Capall Bann Publishing, 2003.)

Hutton, Ronald. “The Triumph of the Moon.” (Oxford University Press, 1999.)

Lamond, Frederic. “Fifty Years of Wicca.” (Green Magic, 2004.)

Valiente, Doreen. “The Rebirth of Witchcraft.” (Phoenix Publishing, 1989.)

Where Have All the Gardners and Crowleys Gone? (An Answer)

Where Have All the Gardners and Crowleys Gone? (An Answer)

Author: Juniper

In the last couple of weeks a question, or rather a few similar questions, have been coming across my radar, again and again. I do try to pay attention to such things, when they come my way. One or more of these times were in articles posted on Witchvox, while other times this question has been uttered to me by friends. Here are the questions:

“Why are there no more Gardners and Crowleys?”

“Where are the women like Doreen Valentine and Janet Farrar and Dion Fortune in younger generations?”

“Where have all the good Elders gone?”

“Why are there no impressive High Priest/ess any more?”

… And such similar ponderings.

Despite the fact the fact that I am no Crowley, nor Starhawk, nor Elder, I think I may have hit upon an answer. It’s an ugly answer, and I know that sharing it may only cause me problems. Yet, I feel compelled to share it. So folks, if you are easily offended, please … keep reading. Bear with me, let me sit upon a “high horse” for but a moment and allow me to say some things you may not want to hear.

Gardner and Crowley were trailblazers. They were bold and daring, they said and did outrageous things. People like Gardner, Crowley, Cochrane and Hutton (to name a few) were eclectics, they tried stuff out, and they mixed and matched. They mixed pantheons and traditions. Nowadays we pagans use the word “eclectic” like a dirty word, an insult to be slung at anyone who dares to mix traditions or practices.

Because our watered-down version of paganism and occultism does not breed such people, does not encourage them. In fact, we make them pariahs. We are not comfortable with controversial leaders. We don’t want teachers with a reputation for being eccentric. We don’t like it when someone walks through the mall wearing a giant pentagram, or purple hair or a black dress. We don’t want to rock the boat. We don’t like it when someone says or does something new or different or outside the box. We are uncomfortable with pagans who don’t fit neatly into some label.

There are no more good elders for two reasons.

One, we treat them horribly, you know it and I know it. We give them no reason to participate in the community. We are pleading and demanding and completely lacking in respect. We expect them to do all the work for us, with barely an introduction. We never finish what they work so hard to help us start.

Two, many of our elders and pagans who have been around for a while have become jaded and disenfranchised. They have decided to give up on us and are hiding away somewhere. Far too often now, when they do decide to show up, it is either for our adulation or to make fun of other less experienced pagans… which only leads to a lack of respect for our elders. And thus we create a vicious cycle.

We all understand cycles do we not?

Because we seem to think that High Priestess and other spiritual leaders and teachers of such caliber are “born”, not slowly grown over time. We think that once a pagan reaches 40, they should just magickally turn into a great leader, teacher or guru. We think we do not need to support our young leaders and teachers. We feel that we do not need to help them to grow into great elders.

No, instead we pick and snipe at them and demand to see credentials and examine their birth certificate as if age is what matters. Because we forget that people like Janet Farrar, Doreen Valentine, and Starhawk were in their twenties when they first made their claim to fame. We forget, and we treat our young witches and priestesses like idiot children.

Because we buy white-lighter, easy-to-read, fluffy little books when we should be buying the books Chapters and Barnes and Noble refuse to sell. How many of you actually have books written by Gardner, Valentine, Farrar, and Crowley? How many of you have more books written by the likes of Sylvia Browne than books by our great old Elders?

There are no more Gardners and Crowleys because we are afraid. Afraid of controversy, afraid of not being politically correct, afraid of being judged, afraid of ourselves, afraid of what the neighbors might think. Afraid of what the rest of the pagan community might think or do.

Because we are afraid to try something that no one has done before, we need to read three instructional books on how to do it first. We need an author, teacher, or Internet friend to assure us that nothing bad might happen, that it will be fun and safe … and boring. Because we panic when a hedgewitch posts Flying Ointment recipes on her blog.

And we are lazy. We have become a community whose majority are little more than armchair pagans. We study more than we practice and we think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Paganism, witchcraft, magick … these are PRACTICES. You have to practice them! These pissing contests about what you know are meaningless. We need to focus on ourselves and our practices, not on what someone else has memorized.

Because we have made paganism too commercial, too user friendly, too easy, too accessible. We are more comfortable with a clean, neat, organized, sterilized version of spirituality. We don’t want something messy, sexy, nitty and gritty. We want something that matches the row upon row of identical pink stucco houses that litter suburbia.

Because we don’t want to have to work hard to find wisdom. We want it handed to us in a textbook format.

There are no more Gardners and Crowleys and the like because you’re supposed to be one.

That’s right. YOU.

Who else is going to do it? So what’s stopping ya?

You want more visionaries, teachers, and leaders? You want to see the next generation of Gardners and Crowleys crop up? Then go and do it yourself. Because chances are everyone else is too yellowbelly to do it for you. And why should anyone do it for you anyway?

Think about it.

*climbs off high-horse and raises shield*