Witchcraft / Wicca
| Profile | History
| Beliefs | Controversies
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I. Group Profile
- Wicca is a denomination or what neo-pagans call Tradition of a larger religion commonly referred
to as Witchcraft. It
is not, nor was it intended to be a religoin unto itself. Practioners
of Witchcraft who are not Wiccan can be easily offended when
their beliefs and Tradition are referred to as Wicca. It's similar
to calling a Baptist a Catholic. Think of it this way; Wicca
is to Witchcraft, what Baptist is to Christianity.
- Name: Wicca, Wicce, the Craft or Neo-Paganism; Wicca
means "to bend or alter" from the Old English (Matthews,
The derivation of the word "Wicca" has been the
subject of much debate among the people who practice it. Some
think it was originally a word meaning "wise," some
say it derived from words meaning "twisted." These
arguments could be followed in articles written for pagan newsletters
and magazines, as well as in early computer newsgroups or web
sites. It was not commonly used by the members of the groups
who practice it until around 1980, when much of the debate began.
It could be said that this was one of the ways members of the
various groups sought to distinguish themselves from one another
within the movement.
"The Craft" is a much older way to describe what
is commonly known as Witchcraft.
Practitioners who use this term either do not have a religious
facet to their practice, or are pagan in faith and use the term
to encompass their magical belief and practice and disassociate
themselves from the modern "Wiccan" tradition. Members
who claim to be descended from relatives who were witches often
use this term as their tradition is often referred to as a Family
Tradition or Family Trad.
The term "Neopagan"
is used to distinguish those of magical religious belief from
the Wiccans, but it also includes the Wiccans. Around 1980 in
North America, the members of groups who were initiated into
a coven descended
in a direct line from Gerald Gardner or Alex Sanders (founder
of Alexandrian witchcraft) began using the term "pagan"
to describe those who were not members of their covens. The word
"Neo-pagan" appeared in a periodical called Green
Egg [insert date] . Oberon Zell (formerly known as Tim Zell
and Otter Zell), publisher of Green Egg claimed to have
coined the word "Neo Pagan" in his publication. 1 . However, the word "Neo
pagan" appears much earlier in an essay by F. Hugh O'Donnell,
Irish MP in the British House of Commons, written in 1904. 2 O'Donnell, writing about the
theater of W. B. Yeats and Maude Gonne, criticized their work
as an attempt to marry Madame Blavatsky with Cuchalainn. Yeats
and Gonne, he claimed, openly worked to create a reconstructionist
Celtic religion which incorporated Gaelic legend with magic.
They were early members of the Order of the Golden Dawn, which
Crowley, who later founded the OTO and became known for his
use of sex magic and the invocation of demons in his practice.
Gerald Gardner met Crowley in the 1930's at a social event
held in the New Forest of England, according to Robert, a member
of Gardner's coven. At this meeting, it is believed by Robert's
informant (the curator of the Museum of Witchcraft on the Isle
of Mann, who was at the meeting), several prominent members of
London society were planning a magical order which would be quite
like that proposed by Yeats and Gonne, using the formal magic
practiced by the Ceremonial Magicians (like the Golden Dawn)
in combination with the folk magic of the common people of Britain.
At the time, the Irish and all things Celtic were not yet
as favored as they are today, so the English would have wanted
a more pure British group. Dorothy Clutterbuck was among those
present at that meeting. When discussion turned to who would
be chosen to lead the order as High Priestess, it was decided
that it should be someone who had good relations with the commoners
in her acquaintance and who could convince them to share their
powerful, albeit vulgar, secret magic. Clutterbuck was chosen
to lead one of many New Forest covens formed that night. Later,
in the 1960's, Sybil Leek became famous as a New Forest witch,
claiming descent from a long family line of witches.
- Founder: Gerald
B. Gardner is considered the first founding father of all
modern incarnations of Wicca. Some of his students later went
on to found other Wiccan traditions, from which arose more branches,
continuing the process of self-perpetuation. Gerald Gardner is
one of many practitioners of a magical religion which has come
to be known as Wicca. In his writing, the word Wica is used,
but in practice, his coven members did not use the word outside
of their initiatory rites, according to Robert, a member of the
coven. Gardner became famous by publishing books on the craft
or witchcraft. Others rejected him for publishing, which they
viewed as a violation of vows to remain secret.
- Date of Birth: Gardner was born on June 13, 1884 and
died February 13, 1964.
- Birth Place: Lancashire, England.
- Year Founded: 1951.
- Sacred or Revered Texts: There is no sacred text encompassing
all of Wicca, in all its many andeclectic incarnations. However
each Coven has a Book
of Shadows, which contains rituals,invocations and charms.
They contain things that have been learned from experience and
fromeach other. Witches often copy from each others' books that
which appeals to them so functionally, no two are ever exactly
like. Ideally a Book of Shadows should contain only methods that
have proven successful and consistent whereas failed ideas are
excluded. Along with the Book of Shadows , other essential
texts are two grimoires: The Greater Key of Solomon the King
which dates from medieval times and The Book of the Sacred
Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage which was published in the late
1900s (Melton, 165).
Wiccan covens based on Gardnerian-type initiations probably
have some kind of Book of Shadows , but many general neopagan
covens and solitary practitioners do not. Most initiatory covens
will have a reading list of books published on topics related
to pagan religion and magic. Many books have been published by
writers who simply made up the information within. Much of the
history and practice of Wicca is based on oral tradition, with
many conflicting stories arising as various factions have created
a body of sacred belief and practice for themselves.
- Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied
when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed
in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage
seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the
positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human
cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do
not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed
discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts
"cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing
"Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will
find additional links to related issues.
- Size of Group: Because of its lack of hierarchical
structure and methods for initiating members, the actual number
of practicing members of the many Wiccan traditions has been
difficult to ascertain. Also several of its constituents have
been hesitant to reveal their religious affiliation due to a
fear of public persecution and prejudice. A recent estimate is
that there exist somewhere between 300-30,000 covens in the United
States today (Lewis, 302). This tremendous range in estimated
size effectively says that no one knows.
- II. History
Gardner was a retired British civil servant who claimed to
have been initiated into the New Forest Coven by Dorothy Clutterbuck
in 1939. The New Forest Coven claimed to be a traditional Wiccan
coven where rituals and practices had been passed down since
pre- Christian times. In 1951, laws prohibiting the practice
of witchcraft in England were repealed and soon thereafter in
1954, Gardner published his book, Witchcraft Today . His
work was based on the thesis by the anthropologist, Margaret
Murray, that witchcraft has existed since pre-Christian times
but was hidden because of persecution (Melton, 162-165).
More recently, the actual legitimacy of Gardner's claims has
been refuted with the existence of claims that Gardner was never
initiated by a Dorothy Clutterbuck and that the rituals and practices
outlined in his book are simply a synthesis of several sources,
including Murray's work, the writings of Aleister Crowley and
Freemasonry (Melton, 165; Adler, 63-64). Critics and experts
have since drawn the conclusion that Gardner probably was involved
in a form of Wicca, as in the Old Religion 3 of earth magic and herbal practices, but in time
created a more ritualized and romanticized Wiccan form (Lewis,
173). The Wiccan tradition he created eventually became known
as Gardnerian Wicca.
Although Gardner's claims in Witchcraft Today that
Wicca has existed since pre-Christian times have since been refuted,
this is not to say that Wicca did not exist during the pre-Christian
era. It is simply that the Old Religion of Wicca focused more
on herbal medicine and magical lore (Lewis, 178-179).
The romantic idea that Wicca survived from the "Old Religion"
through the "Burning Times" is an important part of
the belief of many modern practitioners. As in any religion,
rigid scholarship is not a requirement for membership. This idea
is another tenet that provides a point of separation among the
groups within the movement, along with yet another small faction
that believes witches are survivors or reincarnations of the
citizens of Atlantis, though this is more popular in North America.
A recent article in Gnosis magazine has created another
huge debate in the movement. In it, the writers suggest that
Wicca is based on earlier rituals of the Order of Woodcraft and
those used later in the Boy Scouts. Among those who have hastened
to discredit these theories are the proponents of the North American
"I've got lineage" factions. In Britain, it is fairly
common knowledge that Gardner cobbled together ideas from many
sources to create what has become a viable religious movement.
Regardless of its relatively benign practice, as Christianity
began to spread across Europe, so did its influence especially
when the Kings converted to Christianity. Further into the countryside,
the common people tended to practice both the Old Religion and
Christianity but as the Church became more and more hierarchical
and patriarchical, the drive to cease all Pagan practices substantially
increased. With the increasing persecution, the Inquisition and
witch-hunts, it is understandble why practitioners of the Old
Religion eventually went underground and remained anonymous until
the coming of Gerald Gardner (Adler, 45-46).
One of Gardner's students, Alexander Sanders later revised
Gardnerian rituals and practices into another Wiccan tradition,
called Alexandrian for the ancient city of Alexandria. The misconception
that Alexandrians are named for a city is a common one. Members
of the group began calling themselves Alexandrian after the founder,
Alex Sanders, to distinguish themselves from the Gardnerians
(a term coined by an Alexandrian in an article written in the
1960's in England, now out of print). The Alexandrian covens
differ from the Gardnerians by incorporating more of the ritual
used by the ceremonialists and material based on the Kabbalah.
They are considered "high church" among the Wiccans.
Members of Sander's covens say that he never actually studied
with Gardner, but was given an initiation into Gardner's coven
and got a copy of the Book of Shadows used by the group,
to which he then added material used by his students. It was
once common for people who practiced these forms of magical religion
to extend courtesy initiations to one another, especially in
the U.S. As of 1998, the original Book of Shadows written
by Gardner was in the possession of a coven of Alexandrians in
Canada, who bought it at auction when the American museum of
witchcraft started by Ray Buckland was sold. They have offered
it for sale from time to time.
A point of controversy in the movement has been over which
"traditions" are truly related, whether once iniated
into a Gardnerian-based coven one is automatically entitled to
material held to be initiatory secrets by another "line"
of the movement. In North America, the covens split into factions
based on whether their initiates are descended in an unbroken
line from Gardner. Some groups copy what they believe to be the
original Book of Shadows verbatim and never change a word
of the rituals. They report any initiations to a Priestess assigned
to keep records, including pictures of the initiate and their
initiating Priestess's verification of lineage. In Britain, the
book is used for reference and changed by the initiate as they
like. There is little emphasis on one's lineage and the groups
tend to be inclusive rather than creating a focus on their differences.
Even though by all observations, Alexandrian Wicca directly
evolved from Gardnerian Wicca, Sanders as the self-proclaimed
"King of the Witches," appeared as a guest on several
television shows and just like Gardner, worked towards publicizing
Wicca, which drew criticisms from the older, more traditional
constituents of the Craft (Melton, 772).
Eventually these two main Wiccan traditions migrated from
Britain to the United Statesduring the 1960s and 1970s (Matthews,
340). As to be expected, several new branches emerged during
this time due to the influx of ideas. Some North American covens
claim to have been founded earlier than the 1930's or by "war
brides" who were early Gardnerian initiates.
Eventually in 1972, an Alexandrian High Priestess, Mary Nesnick,
created a tradition called Algard Wicca which bases its
foundation upon the similarities between Gardnerian and Alexandrian
Wicca (Melton, 772). Another form of Wicca, Dianic , also
began to emerge in the United States in 1971. Unlike other traditions,
Dianic focuses on the worship of Diana, the ancient greek Goddess
and consequently, a higher percentage of women and feminist beliefs
are found in Dianic covens. The Dianic tradition formed in two
separate locations; first in Venice, California by Zsuzsanne
Emese Budapest and in Dallas, Texas by Morgan McFarland and Mark
Roberts (Melton, 782).
The California Dianics are separatist feminist Goddess worshippers,
founded by Budapest. The Texas Dianics are polytheists, with
no particular emphasis on either Goddess or God, according to
initiates. By far, the largest number of modern pagans are not
members of Gardnerian type covens -- the term "Dianic"
was used by the Gardnerian- based groups to identify the groups
not based on Gardnerian or Alexandrian initiations. It has been
used as a term of derision toward the goddess worshippers by
others, rarely does someone self-identify as Dianic, except in
the case of initiates of the Texas Dianics, who use the term
to describe themselves, largely because Diana was one of the
tutelary deities of the group.
More currently, however, a larger proportion of members in
Wicca are known as eclectic practitioners . That is, they
are not a part of any specific Wiccan craft and often not part
of a coven. Instead, these practitioners draw upon several sources
to form their own individualized and innovative religious practices
These eclectics are more commonly called "Neopagan " or "Pagan
". Those not part of a coven are called Solitaries by the Wiccans, but rarely
self-identify with that term. Some use the term "Wicca"
to self-identify, but the members of the initiatory covens based
on Gardnerian and Alexandrian practice have begun a concerted
effort to claim that term belongs to their groups alone. The
confusion may have arisen from early neopagan writers using the
terms interchangeably. Independent believers in a magical pagan
religion may have begun using the term Wicca to refer to themselves
in the belief that there was virtually no difference among the
Some initiates of the Gardnerian-based craft even believe
that without an initiation, one cannot be a witch. This is in
conflict with the belief of many witches who have practiced magic
passed down to them from relatives or friends that they are indeed
witches, whether they have a pagan religion or otherwise. In
fact, many Gardnerian type Wiccans are independent practitioners,
living too far from others of their initiatory group or otherwise
unable to find Wiccans of similar enough belief to form a coven.
Many modern pagans do not consider themselves to be witches.
- III. Beliefs of the Group
Wiccan practitioners believe in a balanced polarities, especially
that of the feminine and masculine. These two aspects of nature
are embodied in two dieties, known as the Goddess Goddess
and God . Traditionally most Pagan gods such as Diana,
Hecate, Pan and Zeus are considered to represent the different
aspects of the Goddess and God. Most traditions worship the two
dieties as equals where none deserves more importance than the
other. This usually translates into a balance between the feminine
and masculine forces in a coven, although men tend to be a minority
in the Wiccan religion (Adler, 108; Matthews, 344). However a
few branches, such as Dianic, give more (or sole) importance
to the feminine aspect (Lewis, 280).
There are many neopagans who are monotheists, polytheists
or duotheists. Many regard the gods as real, not simply as aspects
of a male or female deity. Hence, the gods are worshipped as
themselves. Some groups, such as the Church of All Worlds, acknowledge
one another as manifestations of deity, addressing each other
in ritual as "Thou art God, Thou art Goddess". Not
all groups worship all gods. Some may only worship the Norse
pantheon or the Greek. Others may only worship specific gods,
alone or in combination with gods from the same or different
pantheons. In some groups each person has their own deities,
while the group may have tutelary deities.
According to Wiccan tradition, the Goddess is the immanent
existing force and the originof all creation as in the Earth,
nature and life itself. Evidence of Goddess worship since the
pre-Christian era exists in the form of small statues and carvings
of voluptous female figures that have been found throughout Europe
(Cabot, 21-22). The Goddess has three faces: the Maiden, the
Mother and the Crone (Lewis, 19-20). These faces correspond to
the many different cycles in nature: the waxing, full and waning
phases of the moon; the menstrual cycle and the cycle of life
in birth, life and death.
The God aspect is better known as the Horned God from the
ancient Celtic god, Cernunnos ("The Horned"). Evidence
of a belief in the Horned God dates back to cave paintings from
the Paleolithic times in Europe. Other representations of the
Horned God later appeared in Egypt, Mesopotamia and India (Murray,
1952, 23-24). The Horned God is worshiped as the masculine side
of nature as well as the opener of the gates of life and death.
The Horned God represents the fertility that allows the Goddess
to create life so in essence, all life originates from Him. He
also known as the Hunter so eventually, He is a bringer of death
(Adler, 218). According the Wiccan belief, the Horned God represents
a masculine force that is wild, strong and expressive without
being violent, patriarchical and destructive. Essentially, the
Horned God is the perfect opposing force and complement to the
Some neopagans and Wiccans do worship the gods or aspects
of the god which are indeed warlike or patriarchal. Each person
is able to create their own set of beliefs about the nature of
deity and their relationship. One of the big drawing cards in
the early neopagan movement was its lack of dogma. The movement
flourished in the 1960's anti- establishment environment. Its
ideas may have been introduced by people who follow a structured
coven or initiatory path, but it was quickly adapted by countless
others who saw an opportunity to find meaning in a confusing
Due to its innovative nature, Wicca does not have a written
set of rules for its members to follow. However three main beliefs
guide practitioners through their actions and beliefs. The first
law is known as the Wiccan Rede which states: "An
ye harm none, do what ye will." The basic meaning is that
members are allowed to follow whatever path they choose so long
as no harm befalls others, including themselves. The Wiccan rede
also serves as an ethical guideline for magical practices in
everyday life and ritual (Matthews, 341).
The Wiccan Rede is closely related to the writing of Aleister
Crowley who said, "Do what you will is the whole of the
law." The rede is probably a later adaptation by Gardner,
and is certainly not necessarily a part of all neopagan belief.
The second law that Wiccans follow is the Threefold Law, which simply states that
a person's deeds return to him/her three times over. The Threefold
Law has large implications in governing one's behavior because
due to its meaning, the repercussions of both good and evil behavior
return to their originator three times over (Matthews, 341).
This law is also mostly confined to the Gardnerian-based wiccans.
Some magical practitioners do not subscribe to it at all, invoking
demons and casting curses with abandon. However, there has been
a great deal of writing on the Wiccan and neopagan movement that
attempts to sever the early ties with ceremonial magic and its
later incarnations such as The
Church of Satan and the Temple
of Set or the like. The Satanists don't want to be lumped
with the Wiccans any more than the Wiccans want to be lumped
with them. To a Satanist, the Wiccans are weak and ineffectual.
Many neopagans worship Egyptian gods, including Set, but tend
to distinguish themselves from practitioners from The Temple
of Set, withing to be seen in a more positive light. Satanists
and the Temple of Set , conversely, relish the limelight associated
with their negative image.
The final belief is that of Reincarnation . Wiccans do not believe
in heaven or hell since death is considered to be another form
of existence. Some Wiccans believe that a soul is continually
reborn whereas others believe that once a soul learns all the
life lessons, it is granted eternal rest in a place called the
Summerlands. Reincarnation is the ultimate method for curbing
the misuse of magic and evil behavior since it deals out a type
of cosmic justice in that person is reborn in a position that
befits their deeds from the previous life (Matthews, 341).
Some do not believe in reincarnation at all. Nor does belief
in a deity from a historically Greek pantheon, for example, necessarily
require one to worship in the historical Greek manner. Part of
the modern pagan religion is a mix and match set of beliefs and
practices refined to suit the sensibilities of the modern world.
Human sacrifice is out. Dancing naked under the moonlight is
in, in some groups.
Although Wiccan practices vary greatly from tradition to tradition
and coven to coven, most practitioners follow a basic system
of ritual and celebration. Covens range in number of members,
but traditionally have a maximum of thirteen (Adler, 108). When
the number of members in a coven exceeds thirteen, the common
belief is that the coven should split, to continue the self-perpetuation
process. Wiccans do not have any holy buildings for their rituals.
Due to their beliefs, any place in contact with the Earth will
suffice. Instead Wiccans worship what is known as the Circle.
The area is purified by the four elements and then the Circle
is cast, usually by someone walking clockwise along its perimeter
and drawing an actual circle, sometimes with a wand or athame
which are two common Wiccan tools. After this, the four cardinal
directions are greeted and invoked, according to the tradition
and preference of the practitioners (Cabot, 114).
Other neopagans practice entirely without formal circle-casting.
Some Celtic reconstructionists worship in a Nemeton, as they
believe the ancients did, within a ritual framework based on
three realms - earth, wind, water. Others have adapted Native
American paradigms and invoke the directions, including Above
Wiccans conduct their magical and sacred rites within the
invoking the names of the Goddess and God and the powers of nature.
Once the Circle has been cast, the space within represents an
altered consciousness that is "between worlds." The
Circle also serves to contain energy that is built up during
the magical rites until it is ready to be released in what is
known as the Cone of Power.
When the Cone
of Power is released, the energy goes into the purposes
that the Wiccan practitioners desired for it during their rites
(Adler, 108-109). Also common during Wiccan rituals, a cup of
wine is raised and an Athame
is dipped into it. The cup is then passed around the Circle
to be drunk by the practitioners with the words, "Blessed
Be." Cakes are then passed around as well, to complete the
socialising and fellowship that is present in covens (Adler,
168). Sometimes rituals are also conducted skyclad (naked) or
in special costumes, depending on the Wiccan tradition (Lewis,
79). The purpose of either is to increase the unity with nature
and magical potential. At the end of the rites, the Circle is
opened, usually the counterclockwise direction (Cabot, 116).
Wiccans have a set of tools
commonly used for casting circles and during rituals. The broom,
a stereotypical Wiccan symbol, actually serves the purpose of
purifying a space before casting a circle. An altar is also commonly
set up in the center of the circle where the members cast magic.
The main tools utilized by members are the wand, cup,
pentacle and athame, which is a type of black-handled
dagger. These objects represent fire, water, earth and air, respectively.
In some traditions, the wand is symbol for air and the athame
a symbol for fire. With the altar and practitioner, if solitary,
or High Priestess, in a coven, located in the center of the circle,
the fifth element of spirit is present during the spellcasting
(Matthews, 341-342). This totality of the elements and nature
perfectly complement the image of the Goddess and God during
Some Wiccans have alternate associations with elements and directions, especially those
based on Norse or Welsh covens formed in North America since
1960.The Athame in some groups is a white-handled knife used
in ritual, the black handled athame might be used outside the
circle for magically related work such as gathering herbs or
cutting candle wicks. Another tool used for these purposes is
the boline, a cresecent shaped knife.
The most well-known ritual is that of "Drawing Down the
Moon," in which the spirit of the Goddess and God are drawn
down into the High Priestess and High Priest, respectively (Adler,
109-110). The ritual usually occurs during a full moon and consists
of an invokation and the High Priestess holding up the cup, full
of water, while the High Priest raises the athame. After "Drawing
Down the Moon," the High Priestess and High Priest are the
dieties incarnate. In the succeeding time, they convey knowledge
and information to the other members of the coven. Sometimes
they answer questions about personal issues and give insight
and understanding about the spiritual realms (Cabot, 115-116).
Neopagans gather together formally or informally in public
settings for discussion groups, parties, booksignings, baby-blessings,
handfastings (the pagan form of marriage) and many other occasions.
Drawing down the moon was a Gardnerian-type innovation in modern
times, but since Adler's book and others have been published,
it has been adopted by people who are not initiates of the formal
groups. In fact, everything that has been published has been
used by anyone who had access to the material, including non-
initiates. Initiates comprise only a fraction of the movement.
There are three types of Wiccan gatherings: Sabbats,
Esbats and special purpose.
In a special purpose gathering, a coven meets to deal with a
common goal or issue that needs immediate attention, such as
casting a health spell to aid a sickly friend. Most magical rites
are performed at Esbats, which are small gatherings that correspond
to the phases of the moon. Covens usually celebrate the Esbats
alone, a practice which helps to reaffirm the bonds within a
coven (Adler, 110). Larger and more tribal festivals also take
place during the year. These holidays, known as Sabbats ,
celebrate four major agricultural and pastoral festivals ( Samhain
, Imbolc , Beltaine and Lammas ) and
four minor solar festivals of the solstices ( Winter and
Summer )and equinoxes ( Vernal and Autumnal
). During these gatherings, several covens often meet together
to share and enjoy the festivities (Adler, 110-111).
Some neopagans celebrate the historic religious festivals
of their deities, Dionysia, for example. Some have attempted
to recreate rites based on their understanding of how the ancients
might have worshipped, based on surviving materials such as the
Eleusinian Mysteries. Others have created their rites entirely
based on their own preferences.
It is important to note that among the neopagans, some distinguish
themselves as Religious Pagans, as opposed to what they would
call Cultural Pagans. In the 40 or so years of the movement in
North America, a vast system of festivals and meetings has arisen,
giving opportunity for anyone who joins in to identify and consider
themselves part of the movement. Some pagans do not actually
have a religious aspect to their practice, but wish to participate
in the celebrations and adopt the magical personae associated
with witchcraft or neopaganism.
While the Wiccan initiates consider themselves to be priesthood,
the non-initiate has no intention of being their laity. They
are simply unrelated, while sharing many common beliefs and practices.
So, the covens comprised of Gardnerian-type initiates are priests
and priestesses (or those who are in training to become initiated)
who celebrate among themselves. Occasionally, a neopagan acts
in a role similar to other clergy, performing blessings, weddings,
etc., but it is not always an initiate of a formal group who
acts in this capacity. Many are self-proclaimed clergy. In Canada
and parts of the US, groups are actively seeking credentialled
status for their members to be recognized as clergy by the local
and federal governments. In some areas, Wiccans or Neopagans
are active in Interfaith groups with every other religion.
- IV. Issues and Controversies:
Past and Present
Note: The commentary which follows is fairly commonly held
belief among neopagans and Wiccans. However, it should be stated
that growing numbers of people in the movement do not wish to
be associated with beliefs which they view as serving to marginalize
their religion. Some modern pagans reject the role of victim
and oppressed person.
Witchcraft and Wicca, in all its incarnations, is probably
one of the longest and most persecuted religions in history.
With the coming of Christianity in Europe, the Old Religion was
almost immediately opposed. Although the rulers easily converted,
the common folk were less accessible (Lewis, 44). Eventually
during the 15th century, what became known as "The Burning
Times" came to pass. As the Church spread lies about the
Wiccan tradition and accused female practitioners of being handmaidens
of Satan, Wiccans were increasingly persecuted as the hysteria
increased. With the aid of witch-hunting manuals such as the
Malleus Maleficarum , thousands of accused witches across
Europe, a large portion of which were not even practitioners
of the Old Religion, were hunted down and killed well into the
18th century in Europe. Even today, the actual number of people
who died during that time is unknown (Ruether, 101-103).
While the "Burning Times" were moving towards their
end in Europe, in 17th century Salem, another witch-hunt was
beginning. As with the European witch-hysteria, Salem fostered
an environment ready for such a hysteria, strained as its inhabitants
were between economics, lifestyles and politics as a result of
their new surroundings and Puritan values and beliefs. With the
addition of an interest in the occult and some knowledge in voodoo
lore from a slave, the stage was set for another general panic
and witch-hunt to begin (Boyer and Nissenbaum, 1974, 181). In
1692, a group of closely-knit girls ranging in age from nine
to nineteen started to meet together to discuss the future. Because
of a slight fascination with magic, one of the girls eventually
created a crude crystal ball and from there, the path to the
Witch Trials began (Boyer and Nissenbaum, 1974, 1-2). As time
went on, the girls' parents began to show concern about their
children's "odd" behavior and most likely were the
original instigators of the belief in the presence of witchcraft.
Only under persistent questioning did the girls finally begin
to accuse other people in Salem of the practice of witchcraft
(Boyer and Nissenbaum, 1974, 24). At this time, members of the
clergy were struggling to reassert authority and create religious
fervor. The accusations served as an opportunity to do exactly
that (Boyer and Nissenbaum, 1974, 60-65). With the aid of Cotton
Mather's The Wonders of the Invisible World , the witch-craze
was justified and even further driven into a panic. Before the
Witch trials ended, several people had been hanged and many more
had been tortured or spent months in prison (Hill, 1).
Today, Old Salem has been into a Maritime National Site for
its esteemed status as a major center for the Eastern luxuries
trade and its legacy of ships leaving its ports to open new trading
markets overseas. Shortly after the Witch trials ended, New England
trade increased and much later after the Revolutionary War, the
sea port substiantially flourished. Even though most of the museums
and historic landmarks are devoted to Old Salem's maritime heritage,
the Visitor Center and a private museum present interesting ways
to learn about the Salem Witch trials.
Almost unbelievably the witch-hunts have persisted to the
present day. As recent as 1986-1996 in South Africa ,thousands
of people have been accused of witchcraft, although the term
does not apply to a religion and practice similar to that of
Wicca. The victims have been accused of powers that are remarkably
similar to the accused powers of witches in Medieval Europe.
Despite all beliefs to the contrary and regardless of an actual
involvement in Wicca or the occult, witch-hunts have continued
to occur across time and culture.
One of the more common and present day controversies of Wicca,
one that has its links to the European witch-hunt, is that of
its supposed link to Satanism (Matthews, 342-343). One of the
unlying reasons for this is the marked similarity between the
visual representations of the Horned God and Satan. More than
one theorist has suggested that one of the ways the Church aided
in the persecution of Wicca and its predecessors was taking the
Horned God and making Him into the Christian incarnation of evil
(Murray, 1952, 32). Such a legacy probably helps to further the
present-day prejudice against Wiccans. There have been allegations
of members losing custody of their children and facing discrimination
because of their religious beliefs (Matthews, 343). Despite all
the misinformation concerning Wicca in popular culture, it should
be obvious that none of it applies to true adherents of the Wiccan
craft. Ideas such as human sacrifice and child molestation are
in direct opposition to the Wiccan Rede. Unfortunately this ignorance
and misinformation is a direct result of the tendency for Wiccan
practitioners to remain anonymous and unnamed (Lewis 302). Even
with such public awareness groups as the Witches' League for Public Awareness and
Web , the stigma that has been associated with the word "witch"
is likely to remain for a long time.
Another issue connected to Wicca is that of the feminist movement.
Traditional Wiccan adherents and feminist proponents have had
an uneasy relationship since Wicca was first introduced in the
United States during the 1960s and 1970s. For the traditional
Wiccan, the Goddess was a symbol of nature but for the feminist,
the Goddess was the symbol of the empowerment of women (Neitz,
353). Feminist practitioners such as Zsuzsanne Bedapest and her
branch of Dianic Wicca have emphasized the feminine aspect much
more than traditional Wicca, to the extent that men are excluded
from their covens (Neitz, 367). This does not sit well with traditional
Wiccans who stress the balance of masculinity and femininity.
Such obvious disregard for one polarity, in Wiccan belief, would
throw the magical forces askew (Adler, 217). Perhaps another
attractive aspect of Wicca is the opportunity for feminists to
identify with the persecuted of Europe's Witch-hunt who were
victims of the strongly patriarchical structure of Christianity
(Neitz, 359). Since its connection to Wicca, the feminist movement
has then focused its purpose on stripping away all the dark connotations
of the word "witch" and restore to it instead the old
attachments of healing and female power (Neitz, 358).
- V. Links to Wicca Web Sites
Northern California Local Council--Covenant of the Goddess Homepage
The official homepage of the Covenant of the Goddess, one of
the largest and oldest Wiccanorganizations. This site contains
information about the Covenant of the Goddess in general as well
as several Wiccan resources.
League for Public Awareness Homepage
A homepage dedicated to educating the general public and correcting
any misinformationabout Wicca and witchcraft.
This is a large site that is beautifully constructed and also
provides a gateway through links and a webring to many other
Wicca sites. From the site Mission Statement: "The Witches'Voice
is a poractive educational network dedicated to correction misinformation
about Witches and Witchcraft." An excellent site map provides a quick overview of the
contents of the page.
Witches' Web Homepage
Another site devoted to spreading information about Wicca along
with serving as a forumfor news and networking between pagan
and Wiccan practitioners.
Witchcraft and Wicca
Another essay linked from a religious tolerance site, it contains
information concerningWiccan history and its relationship with
Christianity along with basic information.
Journal of the Urbane Pagan
This page provides some articles on line and sufficient information
to give the reader a good feel for what has been called the Most
Provocative Pagan Publication. http://www.herodotus.com/
This is an extensive site covering pagan metaphysics, witchcraft
and various traditions of the religion, it's beliefs and practices.
The site is dedicated to Latvian paganism of old, and the society
and culture of that era. Wehaven't yet explored this site in
depth, but it looks very interesting.
- Adler, Margot. 1986.
- Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druiuds, Goddess-Worshippers
and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston: Beacon Press.
- Boyer, Paul and Stephen Nissenbaum. 1974.
- Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press.
- -----. 1993.
- Salem-Village Witchcraft: A documentary Record of Local
Conflict in Colonial New England. Boston: Northeastern University
- -----. 1977.
- The Salem Witchcraft Papers: Verbatim Transcripts of the
Legal Documents of the Salem Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692. New
York: Du Capo Press.
- Buckland, Raymond. 1997.
- Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft. St. Paul,
MN: Llewellyn Publications. (originally published 1987)
- Cunningham, Scott. 1987.
- Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practioner. St. Paul,
MN: Llewellyn Publications.
- Demos, John Putnam. 1982.
- Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early
New England. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Harvey, Graham. 1997.
- Listening People, Speaking Earth: Contemporary Paganism.
London: Hurst and Company.
- Hill, Frances. 1995.
- A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch
Trials. New York: Doubleday.
- Institoris, Heinrich. 1970.
- Malleus Maleficarum. New York: B. Blom.
- Karlsen, Carol F. 1987.
- The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial
England. New York: Vintage Books.
- The Key of Solomon the King. 1974.
- New York: Samuel Weiser.
- Lea, Henry Charles. 1955.
- A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. New
York, Russell & Russell.
- Lewis, James R. 1996.
- Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft. Albany: State
University of New York Press.
- Mather, Cotton. 1991.
- The Wonders of the Invisible World. New York: Dorset
- Murray, Margaret Alice. 1952.
- The God of the Witches. London: Faber and Faber Unlimited.
- -----. 1962.
- The Witch-cult in Western Europe. Oxford: Clarendon
- Palmer, Susan J. and Charlotte E. Hardman (eds). 1999.
- Children in New Religions . Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers
University Press. (Volume contains chapter on Wiccan children)
- Scott, Gini Graham. 1980.
- Cult and Countercult: A Study of a Spiritual Growth Group
and a Witchcraft Order. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood
- Sinclair, George. 1969.
- Satan's Invisible World Discovered. Gainesville: Scholars'
Facsimiles & Reprints.
- Starhawk. 1979.
- The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of
the Goddess. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.
- Summers, Montague. 1993.
- The History of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York:
- Valiente, Doreen. 1973.
- An ABC of Witchcraft. New York: St. Martin's Press.
- Wall, Richard, ed. 1988.
- Medieval and Modern Ireland . Totowa, NJ: Barnes and
- Hume, Lynne. 1998.
- "Creating Sacred Space: Outer Expressions of Inner Worlds
in Modern Wicca." Journal of Contemporary Religion .
13/3: 309-320 (October).
- Kranenborg, Reender 2001
- New Age and neopaganism: Two Different Traditions?
Paper presented at the Annual International Conference of
CESNUR, Organized by INFORM, UK. London, April 19-22.
- Matthews, Carol. 1995.
- "Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft." In Timothy Miller,
ed. America's Alternative Religions. Albany, NY: State
University of New York Press, pp. 339-345.
- Melton, J. Gordon. 1996.
- "Magick Family." Encyclopedia of American Religions
, fifth ed. Detroit: Gale, pp. 162-165; 771-772; 782.
- Neitz, Mary Jo. 1990.
- "In Goddess We Trust" In Thomas Robbins and Dick
Anthony, eds. In Gods We Trust: New Patterns of Religious
Pluralism in America. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers,
- Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1975.
- "Witches and Jews: The Demonic Alien in Christian Culture."
New Woman, New Earth: SexistIdeologies and Human Liberation
. New York: The Seabury Press, pp. 89-114.
- Silk, Mark. 1999.
- "Something Wiccan This Way Comes" . Religion
in the News . (Summer) 2:2.
- Zell founded the Church of All Worlds (CAW) in the 1960s
based upon Robert Heinlein's science fiction novel Stranger
in a Strange Land. The group promotes sexual sharing among
- See: Richard Wall, ed. Medieval and Modern Ireland ,
- On the use of the concept "Old Religion,"
John Brightshadow Yohalem, Editor of Enchange: The Journal
of the Urbane Pagan , writes: "Contrary to the statements
of Gerald Gardner,Wicca was NOT a religion at all before his
time, but consisted of various folk magic practices.Its practitioners
were Christians with some heterodox traditions, many of which
may have descended from ancient Pagan religions. But they were
not themselves Pagans -- unless youcount all Roman Catholics
as Pagans, which is arguable (both ways). The Great Witch Huntcame
about during the era of the Reformation as an attempt of the
hierarchy to rid the religion of these heterodox practicers.
The people persecuted were themselves Christians whether or not
they also practices witchcraft." (11/08/98)
- Created by Karen Junker and Vernieda Vergara
This page was initially created by Ms Vergara
for Soc 257: New Religious Movements, Spring Term, 1998.
The page was subsequently revised and expanded by Ms Junker
of Seattle, Washington who has done extensive field research
of modern Wiccans, Druids, Neopagans and Satanists. Ms Junker
has studied with Rodney Stark
and J. Gordon Melton.
Last modified: 05/03/01