Table of Contents
- History and Philosophy of Witchcraft
- Tools, Clothing, and Names
- Getting Started
- Covens and Rituals
- The Sabbats
- Meditations, Dreams, and the Minor Sabbats
- Marriage, Birth, Death, and Channeling
- The Power of the Written Word
- Getting Set Up
- Solitary Witches
When exactly the Neopagan Movement, which includes Wicca, Asatru, Druidism, and others, began can be fuzzy. The Church of Aphrodite was founded in 1938, and for centuries before many poets and artists made references (usually tongue-in-cheek) about returning to the sexual liberation and nature-based life of the pagans. Even as far back as the Italian Renaissance a major interest in old myths and gods can be seen. For practical purposes, 1954 is considered by most to be the birth of Wicca, and the momentum it took gave way to the other Pagan religions of today.
The Inspirations of Modern Witchcraft
It is important to remember that what Dr. Margaret Alice Murray wrote down in her book The Witch Cult in Western Europe was not meant to be taken as a history lesson. She proposed a theory, like all other scholars do, and that theory was subjected to much scrutiny. Regardless of what was wrong with her theory, it gave us a valuable starting point and much to think about. No one truly knows where religion originated, and her theories are still of valuable.
In 1951, England repealed its last law against witchcraft, and in 1954 Gerald Gardner published Witchcraft Today which described his discovery of, and initiation into, a coven of witches. He portrayed it not as a collective of evil-doers or occultist, but practitioners of an ancient, nature-based religion. How ancient it truly was will probably never be known and is frankly unimportant. What Gerald Gardner discovered was fragmentary at best, and being a lifelong student of the occult, he used various sources to flush it out, from Ceremonial Magic to sources such as Aradia, Gospel of the WitchesCharles Godfrey Leland. This information, compiled into a book known as Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical, become the foundation of what is called Gardnerian Wicca.
When Gerald Gardner discovered this religion, his desire was to see it continue rather than die out with the current members. A major roadblock to this, however, was the oath of secrecy each member was bound by to protect the identities of the other members (in a very similar manner as other ancient secret societies such as the Masons and Hellfire Club). To circumvent this and the laws against witchcraft still in effect, Gardner wrote a fictional book titled High Magic’s Aid in 1949. Then after the repeal of the law and getting permission from his coven, Witchcraft Today was Gerald’s announcement of this new Old Religion to the world. He followed it up in 1959 with The Meaning of Witchcraft.
There are many opinions regarding Gerald Gardner and his claims, both from outside Wicca and within, with some traditions claiming that they are the oldest. Some claim that Gardner was a close friend of Aleister Crowley (an infamous occultist and magician) and the two of them made the entire thing up together (although there is plenty of evidence to dispute this). However, as has been said before, the legitimacy of the Wiccan religion does not rest on anything historical, and we all owe a great debt to Gerald Gardner, and Witchcraft Today should be treated with respect even by those who are not Gardnerian Wiccans.
Wicca in America
Most of Gardner’s influence was in England, but in the United States it was relatively unknown. Raymond Buckland was an English-born scholar of the occult who, after reading The Witch Cult in Western Europe and Witchcraft Today, become interested in Wicca. After a correspondence with Gardner, he traveled to Scotland and was initiated by Gardner’s High Priestess Monique Wilson into the Craft. He then brought Wicca to the US and is the first person known to declare himself a Witch there.
By this time, Gardnerian Wicca had grown, and daughter covens had been created from the original, and new traditions that either claimed to be older than Gardner’s, or just different, developed. Many of these had a degree system in place similar to the Masons and other organizations, and Dr. Buckland began to notice a recurring issue: often these degrees became power plays, and those of a lesser degree were often just there to observe the rituals performed by the High Priestess and High Priest. Understanding that history did not legitimize a religion, Raymond founded his own tradition, cutting out the Ceremonial Magic that Gardner had added and swapping out the Celtic/Welsh façade and replacing it with a Saxon one, and the Seax-Wica tradition was founded in 1973 with the publication of The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft. Seax-Wica also left behind the notion of an Oath of Secrecy and opened the religion up to the idea of solitary practice. By this time, there was also Frost Wicca, Alexandrian Wicca, PectiWita, and others.
The pattern of new traditions emerging continued, and continues today, to the point where the ‘typical’ Wiccan is not only solitary, but practices in their own unique way, there relationship to the Gods a personal one without compromise. This rampant eclecticism can be both a strength and weakness, but either way it is the new standard, and traditional denominations such as Alexandrian, Frost, Gardnerian, and even Seax-Wica are now the minority.
Despite this, Wiccans as a community are closer and more open now than ever, and the legitimacy and recognition of the religion has been hard-won in court cases across the world. There have been pagan festivals for decades now, and prisons and the military have guidelines for the practice of the faith in their institutions.
With all the eclecticism of today, and people pulling from all cultures and philosophies, it is difficult to pin-point exactly what Wiccans believe anymore. Some seem to go out of their way to go against the traditional teachings of Wicca and still call themselves Wiccan, but this is just as absurd as someone denying the existence of Jesus and calling themselves a Christian. No one should compromise on their own spiritual identity, but they should respect the tenets and beliefs of Wicca if they wish to call themselves Wiccan.