Wicca is the largest of the Neopagan religions. wiccans have great reverence for the Earth and for their Goddess and her consort, the horned God. Their main rule of behavior is The Wiccan Rede which forbids them from harming people, including themselves, except in some cases of self-defense.
During the 20th century interest in witchcraft in English-speaking and European countries began to increase, inspired particularly by Margaret Murray's theory of a pan-European witch-cult originally published in 1921, since discredited by further careful historical research. Interest was intensified, however, by Gerald Gardner's claim in 1954 in Witchcraft Today that a form of witchcraft still existed in England. The truth of Gardner's claim is now disputed too, with different historians offering evidence for or against the religion's existence prior to Gardner.
The Wicca that Gardner initially taught was a witchcraft religion having a lot in common with Margaret Murray's hypothetically posited cult of the 1920s. Indeed Murray wrote an introduction to Gardner's Witchcraft Today, in effect putting her stamp of approval on it. Wicca is now practised as a religion of an initiatory secret society nature with positive ethical principles, organised into autonomous covens and led by a High Priesthood. There is also a large "Eclectic Wiccan" movement of individuals and groups who share key Wiccan beliefs but have no initiatory connection or affiliation with traditional Wicca. Wiccan writings and ritual show borrowings from a number of sources including 19th and 20th-century ceremonial magic, the medieval grimoire known as the Key of Solomon, Aleister Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis and pre-Christian religions. Both men and women are equally termed "witches." They practice a form of duotheistic universalism.
Since Gardner's death in 1964 the Wicca that he claimed he was initiated into has attracted many initiates, becoming the largest of the various witchcraft traditions in the Western world, and has influenced other Neopagan and occult movements.
Many, perhaps most, are solitary practitioners. Others form small groups of believers, called covens, groves, etc. Because of centuries of religious propaganda and misinformation, many conservative Christians, and others, associate Wiccans with Satanists even though the two belief systems are as different as Christianity and Atheism.
Our essays on Wicca are very different from those on Christianity.
- Wicca is a very decentralized religion; many Wiccans develop their own beliefs, rituals, and other practices. The latter are often not known outside the solitary practitioner or Wiccan coven. So we describe the beliefs and practices that most Wiccans hold in common.
- Most of Christianity is highly centralized within denominations whose beliefs, rituals, and other practices are well documented and available to us. So we describe the diversity of Christian beliefs in great detail.
Wicca is a religion based, in part, on ancient, northern European Pagan beliefs in a fertility Goddess and her consort, a horned God. Although the religion is a modern creation, some of its sources pre-date the Christian era by many centuries. Most Wiccans do not believe that their religion is a direct, continuous descendent of this earlier religion. They see it as a modern reconstruction.
Joanna Hautin-Mayer has written:
"We know tragically little about the actual religious expressions of the ancient Celts. We have a few myths and legends, but very little archeological evidence to support our theories. We have no written records of their actual forms of worship, and the accounts of their culture and beliefs written by their contemporaries are often highly biased and of questionable historical worth." 1
Ms. Hautin-Mayer is particularly critical of recent Neopagan books which she demonstrates to be largely fictional accounts of the history of Witta 3 (presented as an Irish Pagan tradition), Faery Wicca 4 (presented as an ancient tradition), and 21 Lessons of Merlyn 5 (a somewhat racist and sexist account of Druidism).
Silver RavenWolf wrote in 1998:
"Wicca, as you practice the religion today, is a new religion, barely fifty years old. The techniques you use at present are not entirely what your elders practiced even thirty years ago. Of course, threads of 'what was' weave through the tapestry of 'what is now.' ...in no way can we replicate to perfection the precise circumstances of environment, society, culture, religion and magick a hundred years ago, or a thousand. Why would we want to ? The idea is to go forward with the knowledge of the past, tempered by the tools of our own age."
There are many beliefs concerning the origins of Wicca:
- According to Gardner, Wicca:
- began in prehistory, as ritual associated with fire, the hunt, animal fertility, plant propagation, tribal fertility and the curing of disease.
- developed into a religion which recognized a Supreme Deity, but realized that at their state of evolution, they "were incapable of understanding It" . Instead, they worshipped what might be termed "under-Gods": the Goddess of fertility and her horned consort, the God of the hunt.
- continued their predominately Moon based worship, even as a mainly Sun-based faith of priests, the Druids, developed and evolved into the dominant religion of the Celts. By this time, Celtic society had gradually spread across Northern Europe into what is now England, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland etc. They never formed a single political entity, but remained as many tribes who shared a common culture and religions.
- survived the Roman, Saxon, and Norman invasions by going underground
- suffered major loss in numbers during the active Christian genocides, which continued into the 18th Century
- reached a low ebb by the middle of the 20th century. Much of the theology and ritual had been lost; Wiccan covens had become so isolated that they had lost contact with each other.
- was revived in the UK by himself, his High Priestess Doreen Valiente, (1922 - 1999) and others, who took the surviving beliefs and practices, and fleshed them out with material from other religious, spiritual and ceremonial magick sources.
Gardner has claimed that after he wrote his books, he received many letters from members of isolated covens who had believed that their groups had been in continuous existence for generations or centuries.
- Other individuals discount this belief system and maintain that there was no continuous Wiccan presence from Celtic times to the 20th century. They maintain that present-day Wicca was created by merging a few ancient Celtic beliefs, deity structure, and seasonal days of celebration with modern material from ceremonial magick, the Masonic Order, etc.
- Still others trace Wicca back to a little known faith group in New England in the early 20th century.
Recommended books (Free download):
William Lammey - Karmic Tarot
Medieval Grimoires - The Picatrix
Louise Huebner - Witchcraft For All
Marian Green - A Witch Alone