History of Wicca

History of Wicca

dablink|This page has been split from a larger and more general article on Wicca.

Much uncertainty surrounds the history of Wicca. The religion first came to public notice in the early 1950s through press articles and a book entitled "Witchcraft Today" (1954) published by Gerald Gardner, a retired British colonial administrator. In his various writings and his authorised biography, Gardner reported that he had met a group of witches in Dorset, England immediately prior to the start of the Second World War in 1939. This group has become known as the New Forest Coven. From the 1950s onwards, Gardner was enthusiastic in initiating new candidates into the religion that he had brought to light, and Wicca soon spread dramatically both within Britain itself and in the United States.

Gardner claimed that Wicca was directly descended from pre-Christian British paganism and from the "witch cult" described in historical Christian writings. This view resembles the views of a number of other 19th- and 20th-century researches, including Margaret Murray, but it is not endorsed by present-day academic historians. It is still a matter of controversy within the Wiccan community as to whether Gardner discovered an authentic pre-Christian religion, encountered a modern revival of such a religion, or simply created the religion of Wicca himself.

Since the 1950s, Wicca has been popularised by Gardner and a number of other authors, such as Doreen Valiente, Alex Sanders, Fred Lamond and Philip Heselton. It has grown in popularity and spread throughout the English-speaking world and beyond. Professor Ronald Hutton has described it as the only religion that Britain has ever given to the world.


;Gerald Gardner's accountThe "canonical" version of the discovery of Wicca is found in the writings and recollections of Gerald Gardner: for example, in his official biography "Gerald Gardner: Witch" (which appeared under the name of Jack Bracelin but appears to have been written by the Sufi writer Idries Shah).

According to Gardner, after retiring from his career in Asia, Gardner encountered a group of witches in Dorset, England. They initiated him into their number in 1939, immediately before the start of the Second World War, in the house of a local worthy called "Old Dorothy". As well as Dorothy, Gardner spoke of a witch called "Dafo". During the War, Gardner and his fellow witches performed rites to avert a German invasion of Britain. In the late 1940s, Gardner produced his first published work relating to the beliefs and practices of the "New Forest Coven" to which he belonged -- a novel, "High Magic's Aid", which represented in fictionalised form certain aspects of the witches' religion which they would not consent to have revealed in a non-fictional publication. It was not until 1954 that Gardner produced his first non-fictional book on witchcraft ("Witchcraft Today"). In 1959, he published a further work, "The Meaning of Witchcraft".

Gardner claimed that Wicca (or "the witch-cult", a term more consistent with his own vocabulary) was a survival of the pagan religions of prehistoric Europe, which had descended to the 1930s via the witch cult that was alleged by Christian authors to have existed from mediaeval to early modern times.

;An ancient witch-cult?The idea of primitive matriarchal religions, which derived from the work of the Swiss lawyer Johann Jakob Bachofen, was popular in Gardner's day, both among academics (e.g., Erich Neumann, Margaret Murray) and amateurs (e.g. Robert Graves). Later scholars (e.g. Carl Jung and Marija Gimbutas) continued research in this area, and later still Joseph Campbell, Ashley Montagu and others became admirers of Gimbutas' theories of matriarchies in ancient Europe. Matriarchal interpretations of the archaeological record and the criticism of such work continue to be matters of academic debate. Some academics carry on research in this area (such as the 2003 World Congress on Matriarchal Studies). Critics argue that such matriarchal societies never actually existed and are an invention of researchers such as Margaret Murray. This is disputed by documentaries such as "Blossoms of Fire" (about contemporary Zapotec society).

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. [Hutton, R. (1999), pp. 33-51.] Both of these ideas were widely accepted in academic literature and the popular press at the time. [Hutton, R. (1999), pp. 151-170.]

;In search of the New Forest Coven
Doreen Valiente undertook important research into the identity of "Old Dorothy", whose surname was Clutterbuck. She refuted the claims of those who had suggested that Dorothy had been the product of Gardner's imagination. [Valiente, Doreen (1984). "The Search For Old Dorothy". In Farrar, J. & Farrar, S. "The Witches' Way." London: Hale.] More recently, it has been doubted (notably by Ronald Hutton [cite book
last=Hutton |first=Ronald |authorlink = Ronald Hutton|title = The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft|publisher = Oxford University Press |year = 1999|location = New York|id = ISBN 0-19-285449-6
] ) whether the historical Dorothy Clutterbuck, who was outwardly an observant Christian and a pillar of the local community, really was involved in occultic activities. On this view, Gardner used her name as a joke and/or as a subterfuge in order to conceal the identity of Dafo or some other individual. Such doubts have been vigorously contested by other researchers (notably Philip Heselton).

Valiente assumed that Clutterbuck was the same individual as Dafo. More recently, it has become clear that they were different people.cite book |last=Heselton |first=Philip |year=2003 |title=Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration |publisher=Capall Bann Publishing |location=Somerset |id=ISBN 1-86163-164-2] Dafo seems to have been a teacher of music and elocution named Edith Woodford-Grimes, and there have been persistent suggestions that she and Gardner were lovers.

The work of Philip Heselton has gone a considerable way towards illuminating the composition and activites of the New Forest Coven, and several plausible candidates for its membership aside from Dorothy and Dafo emerge from his work.

;Sources for WiccaThe ritual format of Wicca shows the undeniable influence of late Victorian era occultism (even co-founder Doreen Valiente admitted seeing influence from Aleister Crowley), and there is very little in the ritual that cannot be shown to have come from earlier extant sources. [See Nevill Drury. "Why Does Aleister Crowley Still Matter?" Richard Metzger, ed. "Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult." Disinformation Books, 2003.] The religion's spiritual content, however, is inspired by older Pagan faiths (for example, in the veneration of historical pagan deities), with Buddhist and Hindu influences (e.g. in the Wiccan doctrine of reincarnation).

It has been posited by authors such as Aidan Kelly and Francis X. King that Gardner himself created the religion that he claimed to have discovered, rewriting the rituals of an older witchcraft tradition according to his own whim, [Kelly believed that the New Forest coven's rituals were identical with those of Rhiannon Ryall before Gardner rewrote them ("Crafting the Art of Magic" p. 41-2); King states "Louis Wilkinson went on to tell me various interesting details of the practices of these Hampshire witches — details which, I felt sure, made it certain that the group was not simply derived from the jaded tastes of middle-class intellectuals who adhered to the theories of Margaret Murray" ("The Rites of Modern Occult Magic" p. 178).] and incorporating elements from the thesis of Dr. Margaret Murray, sources such as "Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches" by Charles Godfrey Lelandcite book| last=Leland| first=Charles G. |authorlink=Charles Godfrey Leland |year=1998 |origyear=1899 |title=Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches |publisher=Phoenix Publishing |location=Blaine, Washington |id=ISBN 0-919345-34-4] and the practices of ceremonial magic. [Aidan Kelly's theories have been critiqued in detail by Donald Hudson Frew (1991): [http://www.wildideas.net/temple/library/frew.html Crafting the Art of Magic: A Critical Review] .]

The original material in the rituals brought to light by Gardner is not cohesive, and mostly takes the form of substitutions or expansions within unoriginal material. Roger Dearnaley, in "An Annotated Chronology and Bibliography of the Early Gardnerian Craft", [cite web |last = Dearnaley |first = Roger |title = An Annotated Chronology and Bibliography of the Early Gardnerian Craft |publisher = Kou Ra Productions |accessdate = December 9 |accessyear = 2005 |url = http://www.cyprian.org/Articles/gardchron.htm] describes it as a "patchwork". One element that is apparently distinctive is the use of ritual scourging and binding as a method of attaining an ecstatic trance for magical working. Hutton argues strongly that this practice in Wicca does not reflect sado-masochistic sexuality (he refers in this connection to Gardner's own collection of very mild, quasi-pornographic material, which showed no traces of such interests), but is simply a practical method of work alternative to drugs or other more strenuous methods. [cite book
last=Hutton |first=Ronald |authorlink = Ronald Hutton|title = The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft|publisher = Oxford University Press |year = 1999|location = New York|page = 235|id = ISBN 0-19-285449-6

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. (Doreen Valiente makes this claim regarding the "basic skeleton of the rituals," as Margot Adler puts it in "Drawing Down the Moon".) 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" (1919). Gardner is not known to have owned or had access to a copy of this book, although he met with Crowley towards the end of the latter’s life. Gardner admitted that "the rituals he received from Old Dorothy's coven were very fragmentary, and in order to make them workable, he had to supplement them with other material." [Julia Phillips, "HISTORY OF WICCA IN ENGLAND: 1939 - present day." Lecture at the Wiccan Conference in Canberra, 1991]

;Early 20th century revivalSome, such as Isaac Bonewits, have argued that Valiente and Heselton's evidence points to an early 20th century revival predating Gardner (by the New Forest Coven, perhaps), rather than an intact old Pagan religion. The argument points to historical claims of Gardner's that agree with scholarship of a certain time period and contradict later scholarship. Bonewits writes, "Somewhere between 1920 and 1925 in England some folklorists appear to have gotten together with some Golden Dawn Rosicrucians and a few supposed Fam-Trads to produce the first modern covens in England; grabbing eclectically from any source they could find in order to try and reconstruct the shards of their Pagan past."

;Order of Woodcraft ChivalryIt has been proposed, originally in the Druidic journal "Aisling" [ Steve Wilson "Woodcrafting the Art of Magic", "Aisling"8 (1996)] that Gardner's New Forest coven was the pagan section of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry; this order performed rituals in the New Forest in the early 1920s and its pagan section honoured a moon goddess and a horned god, and believed in ritual nakedness. One of Ronald Hutton's informants reports that Gardner was familiar with this order at least by the 1950s. A major difficulty with identifying this group with the New Forest coven is that it does not appear to have met in the New Forest between 1934 and 1945. Gardner records a working by the coven in the New Forest in 1940 against the projected Nazi invasion. [cite book
last=Hutton |first=Ronald |authorlink = Ronald Hutton|title = The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft|publisher = Oxford University Press |year = 1999|location = New York| page= 216| id = ISBN 0-19-285449-6

;George Pickinhill's covenA theory advanced by Bill Liddell is that the New Forest coven derived from a set of covens created by the nineteenth century cunning man George Pickingill, who lived in the Essex village of Canewdon. [cite book |last=Liddell |first=William|year=1994 |title= The Pickingill Papers |publisher=Capall Bann Publishing |location=UK |id=ISBN 1-898307-10-5] This claim is not widely accepted, although it does focus attention on the well documented and widespread "cunning folk" and their contribution to the history of British witchcraft. [cite book |last=Hutton |first=Ronald |authorlink = Ronald Hutton|title = The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft|publisher = Oxford University Press |year = 1999|page = 293| location = New York|id = ISBN 0-19-285449-6

Later developments

;Gardnerian WiccaWicca has developed in several directions since it was first publicised by Gerald Gardner. Gardnerian Wicca was an initiatory mystery religion, admission to which was limited to those who were initiated into a pre-existing coven. The "Book of Shadows", a workbook that contained the Gardnerian rituals, was kept secret and was only obtainable from a coven of proper lineage. Despite the fact that several versions of the Book of Shadows have now been publicly published, many traditions of Wicca still maintain strict secrecy regarding the book and certain other aspects of the religion.

;Wicca in the United States
Raymond Buckland introduced Wicca to America after moving to Long Island. Although Buckland always scrupulously followed the Book of Shadows as he received it from Gardner, when the coven was eventually turned-over to Theos and Phoenix they enlarged the Book of Shadows, adding further degrees of initiation which were required before members could found their own covens. Interest outstripped the ability of the mostly British-based covens to train and propagate members; the beliefs of the religion spread faster by the printed word or word of mouth than the initiatory system was prepared to handle. [Accounts of would-be Wiccans who compiled rituals out of published sources together with their own imaginative reconstructions, without formal initiations, appear in Hans Holzer's "The New Pagans" (Doubleday, New York: 1973)]

;The Neopagan MovementOther non-Wiccan witchcraft traditions appeared that gradually brought more attention and adherents to the extant Neopaganism movement. Some claimed roots as ancient as Gardner's version, and were organised along similar lines. Others were syncretic, incorporating aspects of Kabbalah, romanticised polytheistic Celtic pre-Christian concepts, and ceremonial magic. In 1970 Paul Huson published "Mastering Witchcraft" [Huson, Paul" Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks, and Covens", New York: G.P. Putnams, 1970] a book purportedly based upon non-Wiccan traditional British witchcraft and indeed the first do-it-yourself manual for the would-be witch, which became one of the basic instruction books for a large number of covens. [Luhrmann, T.M. "Persuasions of the Witch's Craft", Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989, p.261 "Core Texts in Magical Practice"] [Kelly, Aidan A. "Crafting the Art of Magic: A History of Modern Witchcraft", Minnesota: Llewellyn, 1991, p.61, on "the First Degree Initiation"] [Clifton, Chas S. "The Paganism Reader", New York: Routledge, 2004 p.4 "Revival and diversification texts", pp. 170 - 185, "Paul Huson: Preliminary Preparations"] [http://www.witchesworkshop.com/Circle/workshop_books.html] In 1971 "Lady Sheba" (self-styled "Queen of the American Witches") published what she claimed was a version of the Gardnerian "Book of Shadows", although the authenticity of this book has never been validated. Increasing awareness of Gardner's literary sources and the actual early history of the movement made creativity seem as valuable as Gardnerian tradition. Fact|date=February 2007

;Feminism and WiccaAnother significant development was the creation by feminists of Dianic Wicca, or feminist Dianic Witchcraft. This is a specifically feminist, Goddess-oriented faith that had no interest in the Horned God, and discarded Gardnerian-style hierarchy as irrelevant. Many Dianic Wiccans felt that witchcraft was every woman's right and heritage to claim.This heritage might be best characterised by Monique Wittig's words on the subject: "But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent." This tradition was comparatively (and unusually for that time) open to solitary witches. Rituals were created for self-initiation to allow people to identify with and join the religion without first contacting an existing coven. This contrasts with the Gardnerian belief that only a witch of opposite gender could initiate another witch.

The publications of Raymond Buckland illustrate these changes. During the early 1970s, in books such as "Witchcraft - Ancient and Modern" and "Witchcraft From the Inside", Buckland maintained the Gardnerian position that only initiates into a Gardnerian or other traditional coven were truly Wiccans. However, in 1974, Buckland broke with the Gardnerians and founded Seax-Wica, revealing its teachings and rituals in the book "The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft". This tradition made no claims to direct descent from ancient Saxons; all of its then-extant rituals were contained in that book, which allowed for self-initiation. In 1986 Buckland published "Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft" (colloquially known as "Uncle Bucky's Big Blue Book" or simply "The Big Blue Book"), a workbook that sought to train readers in magical and ritual techniques as well as instructing them in Wiccan teachings and rituals. Unfortunately, even after Buckland wrote his revised edition of this book there were still points from his original work that were in contention with some.

;Government AcceptanceThe first Wiccan Wedding to be legally recognised in the UK (by the Registrars of Scotland) was performed in 2004. [Wiccan celebrant George Cameron ("The Hermit"), Grand Master of the "Source Coven" said: "This is the most important event since the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951. I am delighted because I have been trying to make this happen for many years. It is the biggest thing to hit pagan witchcraft for years. This is very significant as the ceremony is classed as a religious ceremony, which gives credence to the Craft and recognises it as a religious faith." ("A nice day for a witch wedding", "The Scotsman Evening News", 16 September 2004.)]

ee also

* Wicca
* Magic (paranormal)
* Magick
* New Age
* Witchcraft


Bibliographical and encyclopedic sources

* Raymond Buckland, "The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism" (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2002).
* Anne Carson, "Goddesses and Wise Women: The Literature of Feminist Spirituality 1980-1992 An Annotated Bibliography" (Freedom, California: Crossing Press, 1992).
* Chas S. Clifton and Graham Harvey, "The Paganism Reader", New York and London: Routledge, 2004.
* James R. Lewis, "Witchcraft Today: An Encyclopedia of Wiccan and Neopagan Traditions" (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1999).
* J. Gordon Melton and Isotta Poggi, "Magic, Witchcraft, and Paganism in America: A Bibliography", 2nd ed., (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1992).
* Shelly Rabinovitch and James R. Lewis, eds., "The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism" (New York: Kensington Publishing, 2002).

Academic studies

*Nikki Bado-Fralick, "Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual" (Oxford University Press, 2005)
*Chas S. Clifton, "Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America" (AltaMira Press, 2006)
* Ronald Hutton, "The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft" (Oxford University Press, 1999)
*Laura Jenkins " (Otago University press, 2007)
*Zoe Bourke" (Otago University press, 2007)
* Helen A. Berger, "A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States" (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999).
* Jon P. Bloch, "New Spirituality, Self, and Belonging: How New Agers and Neo-Pagans Talk About Themselves" (Westport: Praeger, 1998).
* Graham Harvey, "Contemporary Paganism: Listening People, Speaking Earth" (New York: New York University Press, 1997).
* Lynne Hume, "Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia" (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1997).
* James R. Lewis, ed., "Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft" (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996).
* T. M. Luhrmann, "Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England" (London: Picador, 1994).
*Sabina Magliocco, "Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America" (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004)
* Joanne Pearson, Richard H. Roberts and Geoffrey Samuel, eds., "Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World" (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998).
* Sarah M. Pike, "Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community" (Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001).
* Kathryn Rountree, "Embracing the witch and the goddess: Feminist Ritual-Makers in New Zealand" (London and New York: Routledge, 2004).
* Jone Salomonsen, "Enchanted Feminism: The Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco" (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).
* Allen Scarboro, Nancy Campbell, Shirely Stave, "Living Witchcraft: A Contemporary American Coven " (Praeger Publishers, 1994) [http://doi.contentdirections.com/mr/greenwood.jsp?doi=10.1336/0275946886]

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