The History of Wicca

Witchcraft has been around for centuries and many people have published books on its history. Many thousands of years ago people depended upon hunting to survive. Everything they did and all the tools they used were dependent upon hunting. They saw the forces of nature as spirits or deities. This is what we call Animism. A god controlled the wind. A god controlled the sky. A god controlled the waters. A god controlled the hunting.

These ancient people hunted many horned animals. Naturally therefore, they saw their God of Hunting as having horns. With time these people started to perform simple rituals. These people acted out their hunts using models of deer or other animals and attacked them. In their minds, if this went well then the hunt would also go well. This was the very first step in the development and realization of magick.

These people also realized the wonders of childbirth. They had no real explanation for exactly what happened when a female member was impregnated, so they came up with a Goddess of fertility. She was the one responsible for replenishing the animals to hunt, causing plants and crops to grow and keeping the clans growing ever larger. Just as these people created and drew pictures of their horned god of hunting, so did they create figurines of their Goddess of fertility.

"As people developed, so did the religion-for that is what it had become, slowly and naturally. people spread across Europe, taking the gods along. As different countries developed, so the God and Goddess acquired different names (though not always totally different; sometimes simply variations on the same name), yet they were essentially the same deities. This is well illustrated in Britain where, in the south of England, is found Cernunnos (literally "The Horned One"). To the north the same god is known as Cerne; a shortened form. And in still another area the name has become Herne."

Eventually as these people progressed, they came to use farming more and more, and relied on hunting less. The Horned God came to be seen more as the God of Nature and Death, and the Goddess remained in her role of fertility. Both were worshipped equally, as one could not be without the other.

"With the coming of Christianity there was not the immediate mass conversion that is often suggested. Christianity was a man-made religion. It had not evolved gradually and naturally over thousands of years, as we have seen that the Old Religion did. Whole countries were classed as Christian when in actuality it was only the rulers who had adopted the new religion, and often only superficially. at that. Throughout Europe generally the Old Religion, in its many and varied forms, was still prominent for the first thousand years of Christianity."

"An attempt at mass conversion was made by Pope Gregory the Great. He thought that one way to get the people to attend the new Christian churches was to have them built on the sites of the older temples, where the people were accustomed to gathering together to worship. He instructed his bishops to smash any "idols" and to sprinkle the temples with holy water and rededicate them. To a large extent Gregory was successful. Yet the people were not quite as gullible as he thought. When the first Christian churches were being constructed, the only artisans available to build them were from among the pagans them- selves. In decorating the churches these stonemasons and woodcarvers very cleverly incorporated figures of their own deities. In this way, even if they were forced to attend the churches the people could still worship their own gods there."

"In those early days, when Christianity was slowly growing in strength, the Old Religion-the Wiccans and other pagans-was one of its rivals. It is only natural to want to get rid of a rival and the Church pulled no punches to do just that. It has frequently been said that the gods of an old religion become the devils of a new. This was certainly the case here. The God of the Old Religion was a horned god. So, apparently, was the Christian's Devil. Obviously then, reasoned the Church, the pagans were Devil worshippers! This type of reasoning is used by the Church even today. Missionaries were particularly prone to label all primitive tribes upon whom they stumbled as devil-worshippers, just because the tribe worshipped a god or gods other than the Christian one. It would not matter that the people were good, happy, often morally and ethically better living than the vast majority of Christians . . . they had to be converted!"

"The charge of Devil-worship, so often leveled at Witches, is ridiculous. The Devil is a purely Christian invention; there being no mention of him, as such, before the New Testament. In fact it is interesting to note that the whole concept of evil associated with the Devil is due to an error in translation. The original Old Testament Hebrew "Ha-satan" and the New Testament Greek "Diabolos" simply mean "opponent" or "adversary". It should be remembered that the idea of dividing the Supreme Power into two-good and evil-is the idea of an advanced and complex civilization. The Old Gods, through their gradual development, were very much "human" in that they would have their good side and their bad side. It was the idea of an all good, all-loving deity which necessitated an antagonist. In simple language, you can only have the color white if there is an opposite color, black, to which you can compare it. This view of an all-good god was developed by Zoroaster (Zarathustra), in Persia in the seventh century BCE. The idea later spread westward and was picked up in Mithraism and, later, in Christianity."

Christianity slowly grew in strength, and those that chose to follow the Old Religion were slowly pushed back down. They performed their rituals in the forests or meadows at night so they would be less apt to be seen. It was a dark time for the craft indeed. The Christians claimed that these "witches" were the ones responsible for dead crops, plagues, and so on. They claimed that any witch should be punished or killed for having done these awful things to their people and land.

"In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII produced his Bull against Witches. Two years later two infamous German monks, Heinrich Institoris Kramer and Jakob Sprenger, produced their incredible concoction of anti- Witchery, the Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch Hammer). In this book definite instructions were given for the prosecution of Witches. However, when the book was submitted to the Theological Faculty of the University of Cologne-the appointed censor at that time-the majority of the professors refused to have anything to do with it. Kramer and Sprenger, nothing daunted, forged the approbation of the whole faculty; a forgery that was not discovered until 1898."

"Gradually the hysteria kindled by Kramer and Sprenger began to spread. It spread like a fire-flashing up suddenly in unexpected places; spreading quickly across the whole of Europe. For nearly three hundred years the fires of the persecutions raged. Humankind had gone mad. The inhabitants of entire villages where one or two Witches were suspected of living, were put to death with the cry: "Destroy them all . . . the Lord will know his own!" In 1586 the Archbishop of Treves decided that the local Witches had caused the recent severe winter. By dint of frequent torture a "confession" was obtained and one hundred twenty men and women were burned to death on his charge that they had interfered with the elements."

"A rough estimate of the total number of people burned, hung or tortured to death on the charge of Witchcraft, is nine million. Obviously not all of these were followers of the Old Religion. This had been a wonderful opportunity for some to get rid of anyone against whom they bore a grudge! An excellent example of the way in which the hysteria developed and spread is found in the case of the so-called Witches of Salem, Massachusetts. It is doubtful if any of the victims hung there were really followers of the Old Religion. Just possibly Bridget Bishop and Sarah Good were, but the others were nearly all pillars of the local church up until the time the hysterical children "cried out" on them."

"But what about Satanism? The Witches were called worshippers of the Devil. Was there any truth to this? No. Yet as with so many of the charges, there was reason for the belief. The early Church was extremely harsh on its people. It not only governed the peasants' way of worship but also their ways of life and love. Even between married couples, sexual intercourse was frowned upon. It was felt that there should be no joy from the act, it being permitted solely for procreation. Intercourse was illegal on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; for forty days before Christmas and a similar time before Easter; for three days prior to receiving communion, and from the time of conception to forty days after parturition. In other words, there was a grand total of approximately two months in the year only when it was possible to have sexual relations with your spouse . . . but without deriving pleasure from it, of course!"

"It was no wonder that this, together with other such harshness, led to a rebellion-albeit a clandestine one. The people-this time the Christians-finding that their lot was not bettered by praying to the so-called God of Love, decided to pray to his opposite instead. If God wouldn't help them, perhaps the Devil would. So Satanism came into being. A parody of Christianity; a mockery of it. It was a revolt against the harshness of the Church. As it turned out the "Devil" did not help the poor peasant either. But at least he was showing his disdain for the authorities; he was going against the establishment."

"It did not take Mother Church long to find out about this rebellion. Satanism was anti-Christian. Witch-craft was also, in their eyes, anti-Christian. Ergo, Witchcraft and Satanism were one and the same."

For the next several hundred years those who followed the Old Religion kept themselves and the craft well hidden. Practiced only in complete secrecy, to everyone around it appeared to be dead.

In 1921 Dr. Margaret Alice Murray wrote a book called "The Witch Cult In Western Europe." This book slowly started opening up the world again to Wicca and the Old Religion. Still not accepted very easily, most practitioners of the craft stayed well hidden.

"In England, in 1951, the last laws against Witchcraft were finally repealed. This cleared the way for the Witches themselves to speak up. In 1954 Dr. Gerald Brousseau Gardner, in his book Witchcraft Today, wrote, in effect, 'What Margaret Murray has theorized is quite true. Witchcraft was a religion and in fact it still is. I know, because I am a Witch myself." He went on to tell how the Craft was still very much alive, albeit underground. He was the first to give the Witches' side of the story. At the time of his writing it seemed, to him, that the Craft was rapidly declining and perhaps only hanging on by a thread. He was greatly surprised when, as a result of the circulation of his books, he began to hear from many covens throughout Europe, all still happily practicing their beliefs. Yet these surviving covens had learned their lesson. They did not wish to take the chance of coming out into the open. Who was to say the persecutions could not start again?"

For millennia the Old Religion had been a purely oral tradition. It was not until the persecutions with the separating of covens and the resultant loss of inter-communication that anything was put into writing. At that time when the Witches were having to meet in the shadows, the rituals were finally written down in what became known as The Book of Shadows. The Book was then copied several times over and over and as anything copied this many times, errors were found creeping in.

Eventually people in America started to stand up and speak about the craft. Like so many others before them they had practiced their rituals in secrecy. But soon as they each came out and announced their religion to the world, witchcraft would start to slowly be more accepted on a world-wide basis. Raymond Buckland was one of the first Americans to speak out about the craft, telling people that it was alive and well and had survived the centuries. Sybil Leek, Gavin and Yvonne Frost and many other individuals followed Buckland, helping to unite the pagan/wiccan communities. This was a very exciting time in the history of the craft!

"Today, across America, it is not at all unusual to find open Wiccan festivals and seminars taking place in such unlikely places as family campgrounds and motels such as the Holiday Inn. Witches appear on television and radio talk shows; they are written up in local and national newspapers and magazines. Witchcraft courses are given in colleges. Even in the Armed Forces is Wicca recognized as a valid religion- Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 165-13 "Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups - A Handbook for Chaplains" includes instructions as to the religious rights of Witches right alongside those of Islamic groups, Sikh groups, Christian Heritage, Indian Heritage, Japanese and Jewish groups."

"Yes, Witchcraft has a place in past history and will have a definite place in the future."
Parts of this history in Quotation marks taken from
Bucklands Complete Guide to Witchcraft
(c) 1987, Llewellyn Publications