To make this section easier to follow, I’ve broken it up into more aesthetically pleasing tabs. In this section, you’ll find information about the origins of witchcraft as well as how witchcraft played a major part in the development of Wicca.
Fair warning: the historical topic of witchcraft & Wicca is a pretty meaty subject. In the spirit of brevity, there are a number of topics that I haven’t covered in this section. But you’ve gotta start somewhere, right? Check out my blog, where I go into more detail about various topics.
With that being said, let’s dive in.
In order to fully understand what Wicca is, we must first take a look at its origins. Although Wicca, as a belief system, has only been around since the mid-1950s, it is a belief system that has roots that go back hundreds of years, to pagan practices in England.
Many of these things will be explored in this section. For instance, people used to think that a woman in “hysterics” was a witch. Again we’re presented with a somewhat ambiguous term, but it basically meant any kind of odd behavior. Flipping out on someone could very well land you on the business end of a noose back in the 1600s.
Just as we have evolved a better sense of understanding in things like “hysterics,” so, too, has the generally held definition of “witchcraft.”
Witchcraft Defined (well, sort of)
Dozens of books have been published to explore the definition of witchcraft in depth. I list these books on this page if you really want to deep-dive into the subject. But, rather than try to make witchcraft fit into a nice little well-defined box, let’s instead talk about what witchcraft is NOT.
Witchcraft is the same as the occult.
No, it’s not. The occult is derived from the Latin word occultus, which means “knowledge of the hidden.” In modern times, however, the occult has come to mean workings in “dark magic” or Satanism.
Witchcraft is the worship of the Devil (Satanism).
Wrong again. Wiccans actually do not believe in the existence of the Judeo-Christian perception of the Devil (but more on that later). Witchcraft has nothing to do with worshipping or clandestinely doing the “bidding” of any kind of supreme evil being.
Witchcraft involves human/animal sacrifices.
Only if you displease us. Kidding. While animal (and maybe human?) sacrifices are practiced in many cultures and different religions, witchcraft is not among them.
“But wait,” you may be saying, “there HAVE been reports of witches doing those things!” Well, that may be true. Certainly we’ve heard stories of the quintessential witch who lives in the woods and kidnaps children and sacrifices them. I mean, we’ve all seen The Blair Witch Project, so it’s obviously true, right?
The simple fact of the matter is, however, that many stories of evil witches flying on their broomsticks at night are just that… stories. Have there been people who have practiced occult-style practices, worshiped the Devil, then subsequently label themselves as witches? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that they are one.
Since we’ve visited a few of the “what’s NOT a witch” topics, let’s explore some of the “what IS a witch” topics.
Witchcraft is casting spells.
Witches use spells in their daily practices. But they aren’t quite what Hollywood has made them out to be. There’s relatively little “bubble, bubble, toil ‘n’ trouble” in spell work.
Think of spells as a hybrid of meditation and “prayer” (though witches don’t pray or otherwise supplicate to any deity, at least not in the conventional Judeo-Christian style) with some added props. You can get an idea of what spells are in my Spells section.
Spells, for the most part, are done for good (and that holds true for most pagans who use spells). Sure, there are those who use spells for less-than-honorable purposes. But many modern witches (especially Wiccans) abide by the Wiccan Rede: “An harm to none, do what you will.”
Witchcraft is working with nature.
This is particularly true for Wiccans, but any pagan-type witchcraft generally deals very heavily in working in and with nature. The pentagram signifies the four elements (earth, air, fire, water) with “spirit” atop the other four.
Fun fact: while the inverted pentagram has been vilified by Judeo-Christians (and even secular) historians as being “Satanic,” the pentagram (called a pentacle when it is surrounded by a circle) is not evil. It signifies the oneness of all the elements, including spirit.
Witchcraft can be performed alone or in a group.
There are some witches that are just meant to fly solo. By this, I mean that many witches prefer to practice their magick alone rather than in a group. Others prefer to work in a group (generally a coven) when they practice their Craft. It’s really just a matter of personal preference.
A coven has many benefits, including the whole social aspect of being around like-minded people. I talk more about covens in my article “Flying Solo vs. Flying in a Group“. However, just as there are benefits to being in a group, there are also benefits to working solo. And it’s perfectly okay if you like a little of both.
Witchcraft is meant to enhance self and, as such, is not subject to the stringent rules that many belief systems contain.
Witchcraft is closely related to the concept of “sorcery,” which can be traced back to many different ancient societies such as the ancient Egyptians, Greco-Roman, and Hebrew civilizations. As with basically any other topic that has to do with Wicca, examining the origins of witchcraft is a topic which can easily span hundreds of pages.
Let’s look at the high-level evolution of how witchcraft (and, ultimately, Wicca) came into existence.
Origins In Sorcery
So, what is sorcery? A good general description is “the knowledge and power to control and/or influence the connection between the physical realm and the ‘cosmic’ realm with the intention of achieving certain results.” The more detailed specifics vary from civilization to civilization, and time period to time period.
For example, in Greco-Roman and Hebrew civilizations, the opinion was that there were forces of good and forces of evil; the use of sorcery was meant to call upon the forces of evil to perform maleficent deeds. Ancient Egyptians, on the other hand, held a more “neutral” view of the power of the cosmos. They believed that the power held within the cosmos were neither good nor evil, and that the sorcerer could use that neutral power for good or evil. This is more in line with the modern belief systems of Wicca.
The European perspective on sorcery, unfortunately, was more heavily influenced by the Greco-Roman & Hebrew perspectives. This led to kings and societal leaders fearing that acts of sorcery could be used against them.
Since they did not fully understand the practices of sorcery, their fear resulted in laws being passed that outlawed sorcery. The Romans had especially harsh penalties for the practice of sorcery, and it was from these Roman statutes that witchcraft laws & penalties were developed.
Evolution Of Sorcery
If you had to define the evolution of sorcery in 200 words or less, it would go something like this:
1) Sorcery began as a purely mechanical exercise (using herbs to cure ailments and simple spells & incantations for example).
2) From there, sorcery began to be linked to the invocation of spirits to perform acts.
3) Religious society began to view this practice as hostile to society in general (though the truth is they viewed it as something that was contrary to their beliefs and, therefore, must be labeled as dangerous).
4) Then it was a short leap to claiming that the invocation of spirits by sorcerers was hostile to God.
5) Since the practice of sorcery was hostile to God, then they found it logical to assume that anyone who practices sorcery must be in league with the Devil.
And, presto-change-o, sorcery went from being a generally benign practice into something that was the source of all evil.
Good Versus Evil
Religious society ultimately painted the picture that sorcerers were calling up spirits and compelling/manipulating them to do their bidding. The Christian perspective was that “good” spirits (such as angels or saints) could not be “compelled” to do anything. They could only be supplicated to (“Hey, Archangel Michael, can you put in a good word for me with the Big Guy, we need rain in order for our crops to survive. Thanks, dude!”). Since sorcerers were, in the Christian opinion, bossing around the spirits they conjured, then these spirits must be… GASP!… DEMONS!
Enter The Witch
In 900 CE, the Catholic Church published the canon Episcopi, which described witchcraft as Devil-worship. This is one of the earliest records of the actual word “witchcraft” being used. Initially, the canon condemned the BELIEF in witches & witchcraft. According to the canon, the Church could punish someone (by forcing them to do penance) for the mere belief that witchcraft existed.
The canon decreed that witchcraft was a superstition and should not be taken seriously. However, in later centuries, the canon would be referred to many times as the basis for punishing PRACTITIONERS of witchcraft. Basically, the Catholic Church went from saying witchcraft didn’t exist to prosecuting and executing people who practiced it.
The “popular” view of witchcraft began to emerge around the 15th century CE. The picture of a witch was created and perpetuated by the Christian Church. The commonly held perspective of what witchcraft was all about consisted of the following:
* Practitioners of witchcraft rode by night, whether on broomstick or an animal (yes, really)
* Practitioners of witchcraft made a “pact” with the Devil
* Practitioners of witchcraft formally renounced Christianity
* Practitioners of witchcraft met in secret at night
* Practitioners of witchcraft performed a desecration of the Eucharist (communion) and the crucifix
* Practitioners of witchcraft participated in orgies during their meetings
* Practitioners of witchcraft sacrificed babies
* Practitioners of witchcraft engaged in cannibalism
Killing babies? Making a pact with the Devil? How could anyone do such horrid things? Well, the truth is, this was all a fabrication of the Christian Church. There is, in fact, no reliable evidence of ANY of these things occurring. DID they occur? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean the people who carried out any of these deeds were practicing actual witchcraft.
As the term (and definition) of sorcery went out of vogue in favor of witchcraft and witches, the sensationalism surrounding witchcraft grew. The sensationalism reached a fever pitch around the mid-1400s, which gave rise to the “witch craze” in Europe.
Such is the case with the witch craze that began in the 15th century CE. The witch craze (also referred to as the “witch hunts”) came about as the result of the Christian Church’s perpetuation of the “witch stereotype” which, as is discussed in the previous section, included pacts with the Devil and sacrificing babies, among other fictitious atrocities.
In 1486, German Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer (his last name has been translated into Latin as “Institoris”) published a treatise known as the Malleus Maleficarum (loosely translated as “Hammer of the Witches” or “Hammer Against the Witches”).
The Malleus became the standard used by the Church and municipal courts to accuse, prosecute, and ultimately execute individuals accused of practicing witchcraft. This document was just one in a long line of edicts, bulls, and laws passed by the Catholic Church from the 1300s & 1400s.
In most areas, the people who were most often singled out and accused of witchcraft were isolated outsiders (such as villagers with no family, transient residents, etc.) and old widows or spinster women. However, during the height of the witch craze, which occurred over a hundred year period between the mid-1500s to the mid-1600s, it seemed as if no one was safe from accusations.
Torture became commonplace when attempting to get someone to confess to being a witch. Historians maintain that the vast majority of confessions received were given for no other reason than to end the torture. Of course, the inevitable conclusion to a confession of witchcraft meant that you would be put to death. But death was a welcome relief after being subjected to all manner of torture. Here are just a few of the methods that were used during the witch craze:
“Swimming the witch.” This involved tying a person up by their hands and feet and throwing them into deep water. If you floated (as one tends to do, being buoyant and all), you were a witch. If you sank, then the torturers would drag you out of the river (they tied an additional rope to the victim by which to achieve this – cuz, you know, they wanted to be fair).
The thought process behind this was if you sank, then “God’s creature,” aka the water, had accepted you. So that should answer that burning question you’ve had, “Was Jack in Titanic a witch?” Not according to this torture method.
“Weighing.” This method was used in Plymouth, New England. They would place the accused on one side of the scale. On the other side, they would put a Bible. If the accused was lighter than the Bible, it meant they were guilty. Sounds like an easy win for the accused, right?
Well, the problem was the two huge volumes of the “Plymouth Bible” were metal-bound. It has also been contended that these volumes would be weighed down further by having weights put into the Bibles themselves. Talk about “tipping the scales” in favor of the ones accusing a person of witchcraft!
“The witch’s mark.” Ever heard of birthmarks? Sure you have. Everyone has one. Well, during the witch craze, it was used as evidence that you were “marked” by the Devil. This wasn’t exactly a torture method, but it dovetails into the next item: pricking.
“Pricking.” If the accusers were really grasping at straws and, if by chance the accused witch didn’t have a birthmark, they would resort to pricking. It was thought that, if the witch’s mark wasn’t found, then it must be invisible! So they would prick the accused with sharp needles until they found a spot that was insensitive to the sharp objects. If they found one, that was proof that you were marked by the Devil and, therefore, a witch.
This actually became a lucrative business for con men. They would prick the accused for a while and then use a little sleight-of-hand and switch to a dull needle. When the accused failed to react, then presto-blammo, you have the witch’s mark!
There were many other torture methods used over the course of the witch hunts. Many were much more graphic and barbaric. But since this is kind of a bummer of a topic, let’s move on. I’ll cover other torture methods in a separate article for those interested in hearing what other grotesque things were done to accused witches.
In England, the first statute against witchcraft appeared in 1542. Over the next 20 years or so, the statutes got revised, revoked, and reissued. Elizabeth I issued a statute in 1563 that ordered the death penalty for witches, enchanters, or sorcerers. Being the kind heart that she was, the statute only ordered death for those who had caused harm. Others were simply imprisoned. Although I’m being sarcastic saying she was a kind heart, there’s an element of truth when you compare her statute against others of the same period.
The first major trial to occur in England was held in 1566 in Essex. In New England, the witch craze didn’t begin to get into full swing until the mid-1600s. The first execution of a witch in New England occurred in 1647 in Connecticut. The Salem witch trials occurred in 1692-1693 in Massachusetts. The details of the Salem witch trials will be discussed in its own dedicated section soon. The details of the accusations, the public’s reaction, and the ensuing trial are truly fascinating.
Back across the pond in England, the witch trials continued until around the first half of the 18th century. By then, the “intellectual” community had come to view witchcraft once again as a meritless superstition. Basically, accusing someone of witchcraft had gone out of vogue.
In essence, they had come full circle – witchcraft was first thought to be a silly superstition, then people began to think the idea had some merit, then everyone freaked out, then the witch craze occurred, many thousands died (and thousands more were imprisoned, tortured, and/or exiled), then they got bored with the idea, and ultimately society once again viewed witchcraft as “silly.”
History does, indeed, repeat itself.
First, An Important Caveat
Before we go any further in discussing the birth and evolution of Wicca, we need to talk about an area where a lot of people tend to get “hung up.” Even I have wrestled with this problem, which is why I feel it’s important that we address it now. The pioneers of Wicca – Gerald Gardner, Margaret Murray, Doreen Valiente, Alex Sanders, and many more – are not without their share of skeletons.
In fact, Margaret Murray’s work has been largely discredited by historians and scholars. Gardner made claims that were later discovered to have no merit or basis whatsoever. If you were to dissect the claims of many of the early Wiccan adherents, you would find that many of them were full of holes and inconsistencies. There are a few key points that you should keep in mind.
First and foremost, NO religion or belief system (regardless of their claims to the contrary) is without its faults, flaws, inconsistencies, and outright lies, and Wicca is no exception. Secondly, Wicca is “young” compared to religions that have been around for millennia, though the roots of Wicca arguably predate many modern religions.
Wicca is not (and has never claimed to be) a “perfect” religion that is free from defects. Wicca, like many other pagan belief systems, does not have a central governing body like Christianity, Islam, or even Buddhism. Rather, Wicca is a belief system centered around one’s individual intuition, and one’s individual morals.
Today, in the 21st century, there are a number of organizations (such as Covenant of the Goddess) that make up a set of individuals who follow the Wiccan path. However, one does not have to join any one of these organizations in order to be considered a Wiccan. You don’t even have to join a coven (something I discuss in my article “How Do I Become A Wiccan?“) to be a Wiccan. In this way, Wicca is very much a belief system of individuality.
So, as you read on about the history of how Wicca started, there will be areas that will read almost like a soap opera. Just keep in mind that Wicca is more than just the sum of its adherents. With that being said, let’s talk about the birth of the Wiccan path.
The Birth of Wicca
If we had to circle a year when Wicca began, that year would be 1954. And if we had to attribute the birth of Wicca to one primary person, that person would be Gerald Gardner. So what’s so special about 1954? That was the year that Gardner published his book, Witchcraft Today. The publication came three years after the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed. After the Act was repealed, it was no longer a crime in England to claim you possessed magical powers or practiced witchcraft. Witchcraft Today was not the first book penned by Gardner.
Gardner had a lifelong fascination with anything esoteric. His career as a customs officer took him all around Asia, and he would ultimately seek out the most eccentric of characters in whatever country he was in and learn all about their beliefs. After Gardner retired and returned to his native England, he continued studying things related to the occult and other esoteric beliefs.
Through his studies, he met “Old Dorothy” Clutterbuck (who just SOUNDS like she’d be the kind of old crone that would meet the stereotypical description of a witch) and, Gardner claimed, it was Clutterbuck who introduced him to her group who practiced an “Old Religion” that she referred to as “wica” (which ultimately evolved into ‘Wicca’).
They referred to themselves as the New Forest Coven, and they claimed to be the descendants of a long line of ancient practitioners of the Craft.
In 1939, Gardner claims that Old Dorothy initiated him into the coven. There was a catch, though. Although he would be taught the ways of the Old Religion, he could not speak about it openly. The beliefs & practices were a secret, and he was sworn to secrecy. Gardner was clever, though, and was ultimately granted permission to write about parts of what went on in the coven within the context of a work of fiction. And so, in 1949, Gardner published the novel “High Magic’s Aid” under the pen name “Scire.”
The Evolution of Wicca
It all sounds very magical and mysterious… a small band of descendants of a belief system that was covertly being practiced and procreated to only a few “outsiders.” From a historical perspective, there is no concrete evidence that the New Forest Coven’s claims were valid. But the beliefs passed on to Gardner would make up a large portion of what he would soon create – the religion of Wicca. But there’s another character (one of a few that we’ll discuss briefly in this section) that played an important role in the creation of Wicca – Margaret Murray.
I alluded to ol’ Margaret at the intro to this section. She’s one of those, shall we say, controversial figures in the history of Wicca. Murray was an Egyptologist, archaeologist, and a few other “-ists” who helped popularize what has become known as the “witch-cult hypothesis.” Simply put, the hypothesis states that the witch trials during the witch craze were actually an attempt at snuffing out a pagan religion that pre-dated Christianity. The religion, it was thought, was one that revered a Horned God (which worked out well for the Christians, what with the Devil having horns and all), and it was a religion of fertility.
Now, even though historians both past and present have dissected the witch-cult hypothesis doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole thing is hogwash. It’s a lot like the burden of proof in a court trial. Although there may not be any proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” doesn’t mean that something didn’t happen. It’s all about the “standard” by which evidence is measured.
I realize I’m not doing myself any favors by taking an already dry subject and airing it out further with a legal analogy, but it’s an accurate description. If I could show you a funny picture of a cat in the hopes that you’ll stick with me through the rest of this, then I’d do it. Wait… I CAN do that.
Yes, I have a black cat named Salem. He’s sort of the unofficial mascot for this site. Now that you have that adorable picture, can we get back to the witch-cult hypothesis and proof and stuff?
So the hypothesis (and Murray’s version of it, which she published in 1921 with the riveting title of “The Witch-Cult in Western Europe”) may not have stood up to the standard of proof that historians use to deem something historically valid. There are many reasons for that, the details of which I’ll allow you to Google on your own time, one of which is the need for documentation.
When you’re talking about a religion that’s been passed down through the ages by the spoken word and not the written word, then at some point your evidentiary validity is going to break down. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t other sources (albeit less-than-ideal sources) that would be evidence enough for someone to come to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, the hypothesis was on the right track.
This website is not an historical dissection of any theory, discredited or otherwise. Future expansion will feature articles where we take a subject or topic and discuss it in more detail. But for now, let’s just say that the work of Margaret Murry and the witch-cult hypothesis has some “snickers” amongst the intellectuals of the era. You may be wondering, “Well, if she was discredited, why are you talking about it? It doesn’t seem to help the case of Wicca being rooted in a valid past.”
The reason I include it is because many contemporary Wiccans tend to gloss over the Margaret Murray part of the story because it is, well, embarrassing to hear that this crux upon which Margaret Murray made the claims she did is considered to be NOT a historical account of anything. But therein lies the rub. BECAUSE she made the claims about the witch-cult in Western Europe, that ultimately made it a part of history. It’s a spaghetti bowl of confusion, I know. Scroll up and look at my Salem. Those eyes, right? He’s adorable.
Okay, so back to Gardner we go. Gardner knew Margaret personally, and she wrote the introduction to his book Witchcraft Today. And, valid or not, many of the things that were written about this ancient practice ultimately made its way into general practice. First, in Gardnerian Wicca and from thence to all the other Wiccan variants that we know today.
In addition to Murray, Gardner also drew from many other literary and non-literary individuals. Among them were Charles Godfrey Leland, Rudyard Kipling, and Aleister Crowley. We’ll come back to visit Crowley soon.
In a way, Gardner sort of did the whole “magical mishmash” of different sources and what emerged was a turnkey religion ready to be sent to the masses for consumption! Wicca has officially been launched!
Again, my intent here isn’t to provide any kind of defense of the founders or predecessors of Wicca. It is simply to inform, to enlighten, and to provide my own perspective on what Wicca was, what it is, and what it is evolving to become. So if you’re looking for solid answers and a definitive, authoritative defense of Wicca or paganism, I’m simply not the one to provide that.
Visit my Recommended Reading section for some great resources that you can peruse. Indeed, many of the books you will find there are books I’ve read and/or own and have referred to in the making of this section.
Wicca, the Media, and the Drama
So what happened after Gardner published Witchcraft Today? Well, he became sort of a media sensation. Or, at least, what constituted a media sensation for the 50’s. There were obviously no inter-connected web of computing devices (or Interwebs, for those of you who want to get technical about it). No YouTube. No TV even, at least not to speak of. But Gardner’s fame quickly spread throughout England and eventually made its way around the civilized world.
Gardner believed heavily that the key to Wicca’s success and survival was all in publicity. There’s the old saying, “All publicity is good publicity.” One can see how true that is today; a simple tweet or video goes viral, and all of a sudden you’re an overnight sensation. And although it’s easier than ever to do that today, back in the funky fifties, that took some tenacity. And Gardner had that in spades.
But, just like widespread media attention is today, so, too, was it the same in the 50’s. The news of Wicca did, indeed, attract a lot of people interested in this “new religion based on the ‘Old Religion’”; but it also pissed a lot of people off (especially those in the Christian Church). The pissed off people sensationalized the emergence of Wicca and soon there were newspaper titles like “Witches Devil-Worship In London.” And although society didn’t respond with another wave of witch trials, it certainly freaked some people out.
But Gardner was unflinching in his desire to attract more media attention. As a result of his seemingly insatiable need for media coverage, drama ensued within the ranks of Wicca. Some people simply withdrew from participating in the religion. Others, however, were more critical of Gardner’s actions and splintered off. This is where Doreen Valiente came in.
Valiente was an early initiate of Gardner’s and the two had somewhat of a tenuous relationship. She became a High Priestess in Gardner’s coven, and generally supported his claims that Wicca was directly descendent from the ‘Old Religion.’ She even helped author Gardner’s ‘Book of Shadows’ (a term used by Wiccans which is a book – or, in the case of we 21st century witches, a set of documents on our computer – that contains the witches spells, rituals, etc.) and also created a now-widely-utilized Winter Solstice celebratory ritual.
However, Valiente and Gardner disagreed in several key aspects that ultimately led to Valiente going her own way. For instance, Valiente, while working with Gardner on his publications, recognized that some of Gardner’s work was closely associated with Aleister Crowley. Crowley, who referred to himself as “the Great Beast 666,” was a controversial figure in his time, though his dalliances would, by today’s standards, seem rather normal.
If you had to “bottom line” what Crowley was, one could argue he was an anarchist. He was bisexual, used drugs, and was a social critic. However, he was portrayed by the media (and, obviously, by the Christian Church) as a Satanist. He was even given the title “the wickedest man in the world.” It was a prudish time, the 50s. Today, Crowley wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar that is society’s worst people.
Anyway, because of his controversial nature, Valiente was adamantly opposed to having any kind of association with Crowley. When she confronted Gardner about him ripping off some of Crowley’s work, Gardner basically told her, “if you think you can do better, then do it.” Well, that sparked the fiery Italian woman enough that she began authoring her own ‘Book of Shadows,’ using much of Gardner’s work (which was largely her work) as a framework. The two of them “made nice” after their respective Books of Shadows were completed, but the drama wasn’t over.
Since Gardner was, well, let’s face it… he was a media whore. He wanted more and more exposure of both himself and his Craft. But Valiente was very much of the mindset that the practice of Wicca should be largely “secretive.” The two clashed hard over this, and Valiente eventually told Gardner (and his media attention) to go screw himself. Valiente published thirteen “Proposed Rules of the Craft” which were designed to steer the religion away from public attention.
In a classic case of “Me, me, I’m first!” Gardner provided his own set of 30 “Craft Laws.” It was a back-and-forth between Gardner and Valiente, each of them trying to assert themselves as the authoritative source for how the coven should be run. In the end, Valiente and some other coven members split from Gardner permanently and did their own thing. This was the first “great split” in the short history of Wicca.
Is that enough drama for you? Because there’s much, MUCH more that followed. But we’re getting a bit “long in the virtual tooth” in this section, so I’ll just say that there’s plenty more where that came from. If you want to learn more, I guess you’ll have to stick around, subscribe to the site, and wait with baited breath as I create additional featured articles about the dramatic history of Wicca. Or, I suppose, you could go out to the Interwebs and just Google what happens next. But why would you want to do that? No other site has my witty sense of humor. Nor does any other site have Salem. Yeah, you know you want to get one last look at him. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Cute as a button, isn’t he?
Well, we’ve made it to the 1950s. Ah, the ’50s. Civil rights movements, baby boomers, Marty McFly kissing his mom, and Wicca. Times are good. There’s SO much more between the birth of Wicca in the 50s and today. We’ll explore one last aspect before you’ll have to stick around and wait for featured articles: Neopaganism.
Prior to joining Gardnerian Wicca, Sanders claimed that he was initiated by his grandmother into witchcraft. In fact, he claimed to be the descendent of a long line of “traditional witches.” Sanders, like Gardner, had a flair for the dramatic. A lot of his claims on heredity ultimately turned out to be nothing more than fodder for publicity. But, like his imperfect predecessor, he created a very real and very lasting impression upon the Wiccan movement.
He split off from the coven into which he was initiated and along with his wife, Maxine, went on to create what eventually became known as Alexandrian Wicca. Alexandrian Wicca differed from ol’ Gerald’s version in a few key aspects. The most important, however, was the inclusion of homosexuals and bisexuals into the Craft. In fact, Gardner was actively opposed to allowing gays or bisexuals into his covens. To be quite blunt, Gardner was a bit of a homophobe. But Sanders, himself a bisexual, welcomed the gay community with open arms. Because of this acceptance, gay men came in droves to become Wiccan, something that persists to this day (I’m proud to say that I am one of those men).
Performing ritual while skyclad (that’s a witch term for ‘naked’) was optional in Alexandrian Wicca. But it was the 60’s. So there was a lot of nudity. They even captured it on camera. Ready to see naked people in black & white dancing around a circle? Cuz here it is… (NSFW by the way, in case you haven’t already figured that out)
Yep. You just saw some hippies from the 60s dancing around a circle whilst skyclad. Free love, man. Groovy, right?
Coming to America
As Wicca began to gain considerable popularity in England, it eventually made its way across the pond to America. Rosemary and Raymond Buckland came to America in 1962 and established the first “official” American branch of Gardnerian Wicca. The Bucklands were crucial to the spread of Wicca in America. They eventually broke off from Gardnerianism to form their own branch of Wicca (known as Saxon Wicca).
With the rise of feminism in the 1960s, there was a surge in interest in Wicca from the activists involved in the movement. Zsuzsanna Budapest (known as Z. Budapest) founded “Dianic Wicca,” which is a feminist variant of Wicca that focuses exclusively on the feminine aspects of the religion. Her coven, the Susan B. Anthony coven, has a strict “no boys allowed” policy.
Witches & the World Wide Web
Wicca continued to grow and become popular in America and around the world. After Al Gore invented the Internet, Wiccans and other modern pagans found a new home on the inter-connected web of computers (Interwebs). You would think that a belief system so focused on nature would be averse to modern technology. After all, many Wiccans use very low-tech tools and supplies to practice their Craft. But, in fact, just the opposite happened. Witches the world over found a new home on the World Wide Web.
The Internet connected the world together, and in doing so, also connected witches together. This was especially crucial to people in rural areas that would otherwise either not have been exposed to Wicca, or would have no support system in their area in which to practice Wicca. Margot Adler, author of the book Drawing Down the Moon, actually found an interesting correlation when she updated her 1979 bestselling book. She noted that there were an extensive percentage of Neopagans whose careers were in the technology industry.
Enter the Solo Witch
In 1989, Scott Cunningham published the book Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, the first of its kind to focus on the practice of Wicca solo. It is still widely considered to be a leading authority on the solitary practice of Wicca (it was one of the first books I read when I began practicing Wicca). Prior to this book, it was assumed that the only way one could be a Wiccan is if one joined a coven. Cunningham’s book changed that perspective. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Wicca period, but especially for those who feel that the solo path is something they want to consider. You can find a link to the Amazon page in my Recommended Reading section.
The 90s brought an explosion of witchcraft-related movies and TV shows. From “The Craft” to “Charmed” to “Sabrina: The Teenage Witch”, it seems as though the 90s was obsessed with witchcraft. The interest in Wicca and modern paganism soared in the 90s, and the belief system underwent a huge paradigm shift when teenagers became interested in all things witchy. Writers such as Silver Ravenwolf catered to the “teen witch” movement with books and websites dedicated to this new demographic. The interest has continued through to the present day with movies like “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” continuing to spark interest in witchcraft and modern pagan belief systems.
The interest in Wicca and modern pagan beliefs continues to this day, with websites numbering in the thousands (such as the snazzy website you’re visiting now) and more resources than you can possibly consume in a lifetime. And one thing is certain: the witches are here to stay. Modern witchcraft is a belief system that continues to grow, continues to evolve, and continues to enlighten. It has brought comfort to countless followers, and, despite the fear and hatred that has persisted from other organized religions, witchcraft has continued to flourish.
So that’s it! Well, that’s not really “it,” but that does it for the main section about the history of Wicca. Explore the other areas of the site to get more in depth information on a wide range of topics about Wicca and witchcraft. And, if you have a question that isn’t answered here, visit our Contact Us page. Maybe your question will be featured in one of our regular articles.