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Witchcraft / Wicca

| Profile | History | Beliefs | Controversies | Links | Bibliography |

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.
  1. Name: Wicca, Wicce, the Craft or Neo-Paganism; Wicca means "to bend or alter" from the Old English (Matthews, 339).

    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 included Aleister 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.

  2. 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.
  3. Date of Birth: Gardner was born on June 13, 1884 and died February 13, 1964.
  4. Birth Place: Lancashire, England.
  5. Year Founded: 1951.
  6. 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.

  7. 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.
  8. 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 (Lewis, 86-87).

    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 groups.

    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 Triple Goddess.

    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 religious mileu.

    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 and Below.

    Wiccans conduct their magical and sacred rites within the Circle, 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 the ritual.

    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 The Witches' 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

The 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.

Witches' League for Public Awareness Homepage
A homepage dedicated to educating the general public and correcting any misinformationabout Wicca and witchcraft.

The Witches Voice
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.

The 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.

Enchante:The 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.”

Pagan's Path
This is an extensive site covering pagan metaphysics, witchcraft and various traditions of the religion, it's beliefs and practices.

Ancient Latvian Patheism
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.

VI. Bibliography


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 Press.
-----. 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 Press.
Murray, Margaret Alice. 1952.
The God of the Witches. London: Faber and Faber Unlimited.
-----. 1962.
The Witch-cult in Western Europe. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
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 Press.
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: Citadel Press.
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 Noble.
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, pp.353-372.
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 consenting adults.
See: Richard Wall, ed. Medieval and Modern Ireland , page 23.
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