|Links: Pages on Wicca, Other Religions|
|Area of Origin||UK|
|Founder||By Gerald Gardner|
|Numbers in the UK (Census results)|
|2001||7 227||2011||11 766|
|Numbers in the UK||1996||10 0001|
Wicca is a Western mystery religion2 invented and founded by Gerald Gardner in the UK in the 1950s, followed shortly by the very similar Alexandrian Wicca in the 1960s, although the two strands are now very closely intertwined3 and Wicca is decentralized. Wiccan practices centre on ritual, nature veneration, natural cycles, and magical and spiritual learning4. Much of it derived from pseudo-folklore. Its festivals are held on the eight yearly Sabbats. Divinity in Wicca is seen as both male and female (typically as the Horned God and Mother Goddess4), as are the general forces of nature which emanate from the male and female principal5,6, and these two sides complement one another3,7. Groups of adherents are called covens and as with other mystery religions entrance to Wicca comes by way of initiation, a process which requires study and the gaining of the trust of the others. Covens aim to have thirteen members, which are then traditionally seen as "full", and growth comes by way of splintering3. Solitary practitioners are called hedgewitches. Compared to other new religious movements in the West, adherence to Wicca takes up a surprising amount of dedication and time3.
Lammas / Lughnasdh
A harvest festival and reflection on the mysteries of nature.
Paganism encompasses a range of religions, belief systems and practices8,9,10,11: these include Asatrú, Celtic revivalism, Druidism, Goddess Spirituality, Heathenism, Paganism, various magical groups, some of the New Age, a few occult groups, Sacred Ecology and Wicca. It also covers the interest of previously-uninvolved Westerners in Shamanism, Native American and Native Australian spiritualism, and other primitivist belief systems. The Pagan Federation defines a Pagan as "a follower of a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion"11. In general, followers and fans are called Pagans with a capital "P" in order to differentiate them from "pagans", a historical religious term to mean anyone not a member of the traditional monotheistic religions. In the USA the term neo-Pagan is used for the same purpose.
General modern Paganism "is not a doctrinaire movement" and it is based "on experience rather than on blind faith"12. The various forms of Paganism tend to share an individualistic approach, are spiritually and magically oriented, reject monotheism13, involve a goddess of some sort ("a religion without goddesses can hardly be classified as Pagan"11), and veer away from commercialism. They claim ancient and timeless "wisdom" and draw upon elements of religions from around the world, especially Western esoterism, romanticised versions of native beliefs and Indian spirituality, and share a creative use of myth and a seasonal cycle of festivals14. Also normal are a positive and moral approach to environmentalism and feminism (or at least gender neutrality) and a generally liberal approach to human (and animal) rights in general. They do not consider the world to be bad nor ourselves to be inherently sinful15.
The resulting kaleidoscope of beliefs and practices are mostly indulged in quite lightly, all described and merged using mystical and airy language which, however kindly it is meant, tends to lack any philosophical cogency and sits, generally speaking, within the realm of the mythical and the irrational. Concerns abound from Christians and other representatives of world religions who are clearly worried about the new competition from this popular and young suite of newcomers to the world stage, however, it must be noted that "most people's prejudices [towards Paganism in general] are based on misrepresentation by the media"14 and some people still confuse Paganism with Satanism16. Critics of Paganism can also be found amongst historians, skeptics, scientists and intellectuals based on the negative effect it can all have on common sense, and, complaints also arise from the natives and other genuine gurus of the traditions from which Paganism has drawn. Despite those problems and the addiitonal one of "Pagan" not referring to any particular belief system, "there is both official and academic recognition that Paganism is a serious religion"14.
In the UK and in other countries it has spread to (principally, Germany and the USA) Wicca remains small despite the growth of Paganism in general. Wicca is hierarchical and formal, whereas many Pagans are individualistic and freelance, preferring to draw ideas and beliefs from traditions freely and not conform to a particular belief system. Some consider Wiccans to be the 'priests' of a Pagan laity, but, Wiccans (and Pagans) do not see it like that. Nonetheless academic researchers and observers generally hold that Wicca is a much more serious affair than Paganism in general.17
If Wicca is seen as a relatively high-commitment and serious side of Paganism, it is easy to imagine just how much further away it is placed to the New Age. Many have gone out of their way to point out, if they are Wiccans, that they heartily do not count themselves as New Age (which they consider commercialist and faddish), and if they are a New Ager, that they are certainly not a witch of any kind18. There is a general feeling that Wicca and the New Age are two opposite sides of modern popular alternative spirituality, and in the middle is neo-Paganism in general.
Wicca was invented and founded by Gerald Gardner in the UK in the 1950s19. He had served in the Far East as a civil servant, and when returned to the UK, he moved to live in the New Forest with his wife. He was a "freemason, Rosicrucian, and member of the Ordo Templi Orientis and other secret societies"3,20. The general emergence of magical and occult societies in Europe in the preceding decades paved the way - Aleister Crowley, for example, was very influential on Wicca21. Gardner conversed with the Fellowship of Crotona, a co-Masonic community (called "co-" because they were brave enough to accept women, unlike mainstream Masonry). He claimed that within this community were an even more secret group of hereditary witches - that is - witches who have passed down their art from parent to child throughout the generations, and therefore have preserved ancient craft knowledge, unknown to the rest of the world. He says they initiated him in 1939. He left them, published a growing series of books on Witchcraft, doing the work required for the founding of Wicca, "a highly ritualistic, nature venerating, polytheistic, magical and religious system [... which] slowly became more widespread and public after the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951"3.
Gardner's book Witchcraft Today (published 1954) was the centrepiece, and with some encouragement from Gardner, some people began to declare themselves witches, and organize themselves into covens. In the 1960s, a perfect decade for the growth of alternative religions, it spread to the USA, and Gardner died shortly after, in 19643.
Alex Sanders arrived on the scene in the early 1960s, founding alternative Wiccan covens in Europe (especially in the UK and Germany). He was a sensationalist attention-seeker22 and had come from the increasingly discredited world of Spiritualism. His own stories of how he discovered an ancient religion, Wicca, both managed to contradict themselves in important details, but were also undermined by the fact that the Book of Shadows he produced was recognizably a Gardnerian one22, and, his claims that he met Aleister Crowley when he was a boy also turned out to be untrue22.
“The Alexandrians invested ceremonies with much of the 'high' ritual magic which Gardner had declined to put into his own; the full eight different pentagrams for calling and banishing elemental spirits, and the Qabbalistic Cross. In his teaching sessions Alex lifted whole passages from the works of Levi and from Franz Bardon's Initiation into Hermetics.”
"The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft"
Ronald Hutton (1999)23,22
Wicca became divided between the Gardnerians and the Alexandrians. Two Alexandrian Wiccans (Stewart and Janet Farrar) published many of the secret Wiccan rituals, heightening tensions. But the division was short-lived by the standards of religion, and after a few decades, in 1979, Alex Sanders himself called for a truce, and for unity, stating that he fully recognized the legitimacy of all Wiccans no matter which tradition they followed. He "declar[ed] that he now wished to make amends for his 'past hurts' and 'many public stupidities"22. Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccans are now generally amicable towards each other. There are only minor differences between the two strands3 and it seems that if modern trends continue it will soon be best to speak only of Wicca, without having to think of "Gardnerian" or "Alexandrian".
There has been an explosion of interest in unusual, novel, untraditional, magical, counter-cultural and Earth-centered religious movements. They have some common features24 and share a number of common pull-factors attract people to new religious movements24.
Anti-consumerism and anti-materialism.28
Golden-age romanticism. Some groups promote pre-industrial or historical moral eras and attract others who think that the modern world is "lost".29
The rise of individualism33 and protections for freedom of belief means people are free to pick-and-choose which religion to embrace.
Religious groups that arise from a particular cause will attract those interested in that cause. Two of the most popular amongst NRMs are:
Environmentalism is commonly proclaimed by all kinds of pagan, Celt, pseudo-Native and New-Age groups, and they attract many people who are similarly passionate about protecting the planet.33,34,35,36,37
For detail, see:
Wiccans tend to be much better educated than average. A UK survey by Pearson (2000) found "half of the Wiccans were university educated, seven had a masters degree, nine had doctorates, and one was studying for a doctorate. [...] Only one person was seeking employment"39. Needless to say, other authors have noted the same. The historian Ronald Hutton states that Wiccans display "a higher than usual love of reading and commitment to constant self-education" (1999)40 and J.B. Russell also notes that "most witches are relatively well educated" (1991)41.
Harrington studied 102 Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccans and compared them to the conversion motifs of John Lofland and Norman Skonovd, who in their 1983 work broke down all religious conversions into six major forms. Of these, the intellectual and mystical categories were best suited to Wiccans. The least influential conversion factor was coercion.
Although you have to be initiated into Wicca, it is clearly erroneous to consider that such an event to be the time of conversion. Wiccans have clearly been Pagan for some time before being able to attend their initiation ritual. In his analysis Harrington had to add the category of "recognition" to describe the fact that Wiccans typically describe themselves as always having been Wiccan and that "conversion" was merely just "coming home"42 and accepting a label to describe already-existing beliefs. It is easy to imagine that the same is the case with many other religions: There is no "conversion moment" as such, just a slow growth. Most people switch religion only after a long period of deliberation and gradual drifting just the same that before "spontaneous" conversions at happy-clappy Evangelical Churches in South America, for example, there is a period of socialization.
Wiccans and Pagans parents stick to the idea that children must choose a religion, and that it is morally wrong to bring a child up "as" the parent's religion. Until the child is old enough to research religions and pick one, they are not a member of a religion. "The children of Wiccan parents tend to be encouraged to learn about many different religious traditions, beliefs and practices, and the mythology found in comparative religions and civilizations".43
In addition to trying to avoid unduly influencing their own children, Wicca is also non-proselytizing. "Mass recruitment is neither desired nor feasible"44. All this is in keeping with the status of Wicca as a mystery religion.
“Individual covens only take on a small number of people over a long period of time. [...] In many cases, covens do not advertise their existence (a characteristic shared by Wicca in Australia according to Lynne Hume, who notes that advertising is an uncommon mode of entry and that groups are difficult to find45). In cases where covens do advertise, it is often in a fairly closed way, in magazines obtainable only by membership in a wider Pagan organization such as the Pagan Federation.”
"Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002)44
Divinity in Wicca is seen as both male and female (typically as the Horned God and Mother Goddess4), as are the general forces of nature which emanate from the male and female principal5,6, and these two sides complement one another3,7. Some Wiccans veer towards pantheism, where nature itself is seen as divine, although technically they are more accurately described as panentheists
“The names by which Witches call their Gods vary in different traditions, but Aradia and Cerridwen are common for the Goddess and Cernnunos (which means Horned One) and Herne for the God. In some traditions, however, the names of the Gods are considered so sacred that they are never spoken except in ritual and the Gods are known as the Lady and the Lord.”
"Witchcraft Information Pack" by The Pagan Federation (2008)46
“Wicca worships some of the earliest forms of deity - the Great Mother Goddess and her consort the Horned God. The Goddess and God are seen as sexual. The Goddess is the Great Mother who gives birth to the world. The Horned God is seen as part animal, part human and part spirit. He is usually depicted as phallic. [...] The divine in Wicca is perceived as energy. [The male and female divine principal] are reconciled ultimately in a divinity which is one and beyond male and female. However, some very Goddess-oriented groups might choose to call the ultimate divine force Goddess, seeing the male force, the God, as the child of the Goddess.”
"Wicca as Modern-Day Mystery Religion" by Vivianne Crowley (1995)47
Pagans are especially into environmentalism, preservation, sustainability and other 'green' endeavours. Prudence Jones writes that "by experience we know that we can be transported into rapture by the beauty of Nature. [...] For Pagans the divine, transcendent powers seem to be present within Nature itself, and by deliberate ritual and contemplation the devout Pagan can make contact with these"(1995)48. A study published in 1986 brokedown the reasons that American Pagans gave for becoming involved, and the positive and green stance on environmentalism was amongst the top 6 most commonly given motivations33. Researchers William Bloom and M. York state that this has also been a strong trend within the New Age; according to York a New Ager "through interdependence and interpenetration, accepts responsibility for the planetary state"49,50. Author Kenneth Rees imagines that we might expect to find that one hundred percent of all Pagans are environmentally-conscious and "professing a green spirituality"51.
Many Wiccans too become involved in their Craft because of their spiritual concern for, and attachment to, the environment7. The Pagan Federation's introductory booklet to Witchcraft and Wicca (2008) notes that "Witches follow a nature-based spirituality"4 right in second paragraph (the first paragraph merely states that Witchcraft isn't all about magic). I'm not saying that the order in which things are mentioned in that booklet are meant to indicate their importance, but clearly the natural world is at the forefront of Wiccan spirituality. It also states on the same first page that "Witches have a strong ecological awareness and sense of guardianship of the Earth. Since the Gods dwell within nature, Witches believe that our planet is sacred and must be protected from the ravages of humankind" (I added the emphasis). Although Wiccans do not bring their children up as religious, they do teach their children to respect nature43. It wasn't always the case though, and Vivianne Crowley, a prominent Wiccan, points out that the green aspect only came to the fore late in the religion's development52.
Most religious traditions have subjugated womankind53,54,55,56,57. The religious restrictions and taboos on womankind have ranged from the openly oppressive and inhumane, to subtle limitations. Women have been barred from leadership, prevented from religious learning and even from secular education, forbidden to hold power, denied fair inheritance and land ownership, denigrated, physically dominated, and sometimes even forbidden to speak58. All in accordance with holy texts, religious laws and guidelines. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam have been the worse; but also Hinduism and Buddhism have played roles in the long-term subjugation of women. In Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "The Woman's Bible" (1898)59 she bemoans that "all the religions on the face of the earth degrade her, and so long as woman accepts the position that they assign her, her emancipation is impossible"60. The much more neutral scholar of comparative religion, Moojan Momen, normally writes positively on nearly all aspects of religion, but when it comes to women, even he is forced into a multiple-page criticism of the historical role of religion56. Although some of this stems from ancient cultural sources before it happened to be codified in world religions61, organized religion has clung on to patriarchalism long after secular society has liberalized. Feminist groups have frequently been anti-religion simply because it is religion that has presented itself as the most consistent oppressor of womankind. The problems from traditional religions are not just historical: even today, religious organisations and powerful international religious lobbies hold back gender equality across the world62.
There is good news. The most readily accepted cure for both intolerance, religion and superstition is widely shown to be education. The position of women improves as education improves and as traditional religions lose their grip on society. Modern society has come to either ignore their traditional texts (as most Christians do) or to abandon religion (as many Westerners have done). In societies dominated by male thinking, many women are convinced that men should beat them, often in accordance with religious texts: as education improves, fewer believe this63. Also many new religious movements and alternative religions such as Paganism, Wicca, the New Age and even Satanism practice full gender equality. As long as traditional religions continue to decline and secular society and new religions both grow, the situation of women continues to improve.
For more, see:
Feminism has always been a significant feature of Paganism and Wicca64. As the decades wore on, feminism and gender equality became an increasingly pronounced stance rather than an implied one65. The presence of feminism in Pagan groups is one of the six reasons that American Pagans gave for having become involved in Paganism, according to a study published in 198633.
Many Wiccans too become involved in their Craft because of the attraction of a pro-feminist belief system7. It is in the USA that Wicca became more closely associated with feminist forms of witchcraft. "Wicca was adapted by the women's spirituality movement, resulting in the development of Pagan Goddess spirituality and feminist witchcraft traditions such as Dianic and [...] Starhawk's Reclaiming community"66. Often, the gods of these movement are purely female and the system is matriarchal, rather than the ditheistic and gender-neutral male-and-female setup normally found in Wicca. For these people the religion is itself about effecting social change and empowering women. Thankfully they do not invert the typical male bias found in religion, and, in most cases, such groups are not prejudiced against malekind, even if their symbolism is geared towards the female. "By the 1980s, the increasing number of feminists joining Dianic covens made feminist witchcraft the fastest growing segment of witchcraft in the USA. Its popularity among feminists was assured by the writings of the radical feminist Zsuzsanna Budapest, and later by Starhawk"66.
“The myths of the seasonal cycle describe a fertility cycle by which the God is born at Winter Solstice; mates with the Goddess in the Spring, is sacrificed, died and resurrects in the late Summer and Autumn; to be reborn against in the form of his son, at the Winter Solstice.”
"Wicca as Modern-Day Mystery Religion"
Vivianne Crowley (1995)67
Wiccans celebrate Sabbats on the equinoxes and solstices and on four dates inbetween them, and celebrate Esbats on the thirteen full moons68,46. The dates start, like Jewish days, at sundown rather than sunrise, and in most cases there is a range of days for each event. Wiccan literature notes that the festivals and cycles must be made specific to the observer's geographical location (i.e., northern hemisphere versus southern hemisphere). But the following is the traditional Wheel of the Year, in accordance with the fact that Wicca is very much a northern-hemisphere movement.
|Dec 21st: Yule|
The longest night of the year, and one of the most ancient of all solar festivals. See: "The True Meaning of Christmas: Paganism, Sun Worship and Commercialism" by Vexen Crabtree (2008)
|Oct 31st: Samhain (Hallowe'en)|
Samhain is pronounced "sow in". According to typical pagan superstition, on this night the realm of the dead and the living are closer than usual
|Jan 31st: Imbolc (Oimlec, Candlemas)|
Holiday of the Celtic Fire Goddess Bridget and a time for renewal & self-reflection. It starts February which comes from the Latin Februum - "purification and atonement"46
|Sep 21st: Autumn Equinox (Mabon)|
A harvest festival
|Mar 21st: Spring Equinox (Easter)|
Fertility, sexuality and birth represented by the Germanic goddess Ostara or Eostre (whose signs are eggs & rabbits). The Greek Goddess Aphrodite and the Roman Goddess Venus were venerated on April 1st46
|Jul 31st: Lughnasadh (Lammas)|
Pronounced 'loonassah'. A Celtic fire festival associated with the God Lugh, with Lammas the Saxon Feast of Loaves and with Artemis the Greek Moon Goddess46
|Apr 30th: Beltane (May Eve)|
Pagan May Day celebrations are famous for their frivolous (but serious too) and sexual nature
|Jun 21st: Midsummer Solstice|
The longest day of the year
Many of the these festivals have been celebrated for as long as recorded history, predating all current religions, although the exact form of events and the beliefs that the ancients held are unknown.
“Implicit and explicit sexual symbolism is found in many aspects of Wicca.”
"Wicca as Modern-Day Mystery Religion"
Vivianne Crowley (1995)67
Much of the symbolism surrounding the cycle of the year, the festivals, and the idea of divinity, is sexual in nature. Wicca is a pro-sexuality religion, and you will find none of the superstitious, dogmatic or ascetic restraints that you find in other religions. Representations of the sexual, from phallic symbols to mythological stories involving procreation, are not hidden away from sight. Christian evangelicals tend to obsess over belief systems that are open about sexuality, and thusly they criticize Wicca on that basis. But Wicca is not licentious - it simply has a mature and adult approach to sexuality.
Wicca is one example amongst many New Religious Movements that have rejected the loathing of homosexuality found in traditional monotheistic religions. But in its foundation Wicca could not cope with homosexuality. The Gardnerian Book of Shadows was strictly a heterosexual affair, and, one of the earliest and most successful Pagan periodicals throughout the 1970s was called The Wiccan, and showed outright hostility towards homosexuality69. But all of this changed. Alex Sanders' version of Wicca removed this bias69, and, the entire Wiccan community (alongside Pagans in general) now proclaim their distaste of prejudice based on sexuality.
Another religion that has reached this pinnacle is Satanism. What they have in common is modernity and non-monotheism.
Satanism is pro-sexuality. We should all shed the weird and stifling sexual inhibitions preached by the world's traditional religions; Sexuality is a pure form of pleasure, something that satisfies our deepest purpose in life. Modern life allows us to enjoy sex without the risks of unplanned pregnancies and sexual diseases assuming that sense is taken. Satanism supports any fetish, kink or flavor of sexual encounter as long as all parties involved are consenting. We are informed by modern and learned psychological, medical and scientific opinions on sex; there are no dogmatic principles or religious intolerance of sexualities within Satanism. It is very optimistic, positive and healthy: This can only be expected of such a carnal religion of the flesh such as Satanism! Some people like quality, some people like quantity: Just be responsible, take emotions and consequences into account, and above all, enjoy your life!”
For commentary on sexuality in world religions, see the following pages (but be warned, compared to the wisdom of Wicca, it is not happy or peaceful reading):
Most forms of Paganism and the New Age are accepting, tolerant and respectful towards other's beliefs and practices11. There is very little in the way of an impulse towards correcting others, telling them they're wrong and criticizing their beliefs. Even if two believers' theories about important aspects of their crafts are contradictory and impossibly conflicting, there is rarely much in the way of hatred, or even dislike, between them.
“Pagans believe that no one belief system is correct and that each person should have the freedom to come themselves to the path of their choice. [...] For all Pagans there is no place for either dogma or proselytising.”
Academic researchers have been pleased to note that although some of the these new religious movements emerged from within an anti-Christian milieu many groups simply never took up an aggressive stance, or, if they did, they mostly quickly moved on (within a few decades) to a neutral and tolerant stance. Pearson (2002) puts it like this: "Wiccans and Pagans have been, and are at present, involved in the development of interfaith meetings with members of other religions, and [...] no longer requires legitimization through false histories or hatred of the Christian Church"71.
It seems natural and ascendant that modern religions such as the various forms of Paganism and New Age-style belief systems should abandon strict claims about their exclusive access to truth. In a world where fundamentalism seems forever on the rise many new religious movements represent a better side of religion, free from powermongering and free from the urge to enforce its doctrines on people for their own good.
“Wicca, and forms of modern neo-Paganism grew up amongst the belief that they represent old religion, natural wisdom and that their rituals are survivals from a hidden rural past. The Pagan Federation's Introduction to Paganism webpage still states confidently, but wrongly, that "Paganism is the ancestral religion of the whole of humanity"11. This started with a campaign between 1890 and 1914 to promote a romantic version of the ideal English countryside, complete with ancient May Day celebrations72. Soon, it looked to all that such things were remnants from our pagan past. Wicca in particular, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, promoted the idea that there was once a historical, European-wide mystery religion comprised of witches organized into secret covens, that met at night and in the woods3,5,73. Archaeological evidence began to look like it supported the idea of a universal, ancient mother-goddess religion. Academia was giving serious consideration to the idea that that Witch Hunts of the Inquisition of the Catholic Church was genuinely trying to stamp out the remains of an underground pagan religion74. The witches involved passed on secret, ancient wisdom, that was normally to do with healing, botany, magic and other esoteric and occult knowledge. Modern Wicca, they held, is a modern revitalizing of this ancient religion (complete with occasional pseudo-archaic English usage), and this historical story was once widely adopted amongst neo-Pagans of most kinds, not just by early Wiccans75 and it still is believed by some pagans today76.
But extensive and careful research has now found these ideas to be false75 and based on the evidence, historians are now sure that our modern rituals and pagan religions are modern inventions74,77. The Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor explains that the archaeological evidence for a universal mother-goddess had proven to be inadequate - most sites have no sign of religion, or of motherly figurines, and most decorative and non-functional artefacts are concerned with sex - with the sex act itself, especially phallic symbols and depictions of human sex78. "Historical European witchcraft is quite simply a fiction", writes the religious historian R. Briggs (1996)79 and "any links between Wicca and the Great Witch Hunt of early modern Europe, for example, are now seen in terms of self-identification rather than as historical facts" according to Joanne Pearson (2002)80. The earliest comprehensive historical investigations have been conducted by the academic Ronald Hutton, an expert in the relevant prime sources. In 1995, he found that even though Druidry is well-documented from the 18th century onwards, the modern forms of it were still recreated as a new, pagan, "revival" - even though for the previous hundreds of years, it was all but a simplified version of Christianity8. He wrote that modern pagan Shamanism is "self-consciously a creation of the past two decades, drawing upon tribal models, often from native America, fused with ancient European imagery"8. Hutton's full findings were published as "The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft" (1999)23. Talking of Paganism rather than just Wicca, he adds a note of humour in one of his conclusions: "The Paganism of today has very little in common with that of the past except the name, which is itself of Christian coinage".
Wicca was at risk of falling into fundamentalism: Would Wiccans accept these historical facts, or would they disregard the evidence and descend into dogma and ignorance? Thankfully, influential historians such as Prof. Ronald Hutton became well respected, honoured and trusted within Pagan and Wiccan communities, for his honest and clear presentation of the historical facts. Wiccans, (followed by Druids and Pagans) in general gracefully and commendably changed their beliefs81,82, and have ever since remained on the liberal, peaceful and good-natured path, a fact documented by Ronald Hutton in the book mentioned above.”
Given that Wicca is not the result of a hidden religion resurfacing, then, where did Wicca come from? Where did Gerald Gardner and Alexander Sander get their ideas from, and why were they successful? These questions are answered in great length and depth by the historian Ronald Hutton in "The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft" (1999)23 and "The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain" (1996)83. There is one particular excerpt I wish to take from his work on this question; in this case, pointing out that British society had seen a flourishing of secret societies, overly serious fraternities and insurance cults, and that even some ordinary trades guilds were in the process of adopting ritualistic and dressed-up drama in their meetings. In other words, in context, Wicca did not arise out of a cultural vacuum.
“...ordinary British society in the nineteenth century. Freemasonry (though now generally lacking a genuine occult content) was found even in small country towns, and had quite a high public profile; at Melrose in the Scottish Lowlands, for example, the local lodge paraded through the streets carrying torches every Midsummer's Eve. All its branches preserved rituals of initiation and celebration which had a quasi-magical character, and Masons referred to the traditions collectively as 'the Craft'. Then there were Friendly Societies or Benefit Clubs, rudimentary insurance societies to provide members with sick pay, unemployment benefits and a decent funeral. These sprang up in both town and country in the early-nineteenth century, flourished until its end, and incorporated ceremonies loosely modelled upon those of Freemasons. They could be very dramatic; one initiation rite of the Oddfellows, for example, involved leading the newcomer blindfolded into a circle of members and tearing off the blindfold to reveal that a sword was pointed at this chest. He then had to take the oath of secrecy and fidelity to the society. It is worth bearing in mind through all this that what he was actually supposed to be doing was buying an insurance policy! Membership of these groups was often linked to a particular trade or 'craft', and meanwhile the old-style trade guilds or 'crafts' still survived in many towns. Some adopted the trappings of the quasi-ceremonial societies; in Shrewsbury in 1840, a trade guild bought up a job-lot of Masonic regalia for its meetings in order to add dignity and excitement to them.
Such groups continued to proliferate into the early twentieth century. Some were drinking clubs in which the rites were largely humorous, such as the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. Others were much more serious. One of the most important was the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry [... which] met in woodlands, especially the New Forest, and conducted ceremonies within a sacred circle, consecrated by people standing at the quarters in the order east then south then west then north. Its leaders were called the Witan, Anglo-Saxon for 'wise'; and so its practices were 'the craft of the wise'. In 1938, the Order went into schism, and split into a number of different groups, meeting at different places in the New Forest in subsequent years and developing their own rituals.”
"The Roots of Modern Paganism" by Ronald Hutton (1995)84
Take particular note of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry who splintered into a number of groups, some of them developing unique rituals and activities of their own. It is in the very same New Forest that Gerald Gardner lived in for a few years in the late 1930s. Wicca was not a revival of an old religion, it was yet another ritualistic secret society; albeit one with a great amount of effort put into it by its helmsman, who had himself already moved amongst occult and magical groups of the era for some time. It is easy to see, in the absence of its purported history, that Wicca was a gradual invention.
In the 1960s, News coverage of Wicca was quite fair - some ridiculed and opposed it85, but many simply described it more or less fairly.
“The only outstanding exception was a Sunday paper especially notorious for scandalmongering, the News of the World, which on 1 September 1963 launched a short series on 'black magic', which it equated with pagan witchcraft and declared to be a 'terrible new menace to youth' in the style of the denunciations of the 1950s. [...] Strong in rhetoric but weak in actual material, the articles instituted a tradition, maintained with a few lapses until the present , of hostility to pagan witches on the part of this particular newspaper. This attitude, it must be stressed again, was relatively rare among journalists of the time. [...]
The newspaper had treated witchcraft only in passing after its big attempt to scaremonger in 1963 - until 1967, when it printed [a few more balanced articles]. Then, two years later, the paper changed its policy [and did] denounce them [Wiccans] anew, as having links with Satanism and, above all, for luring young people into exploitative sexual practices. [...] The intent was relentlessly destructive. The names and addresses of the witches chosen as targets were printed along with their photographs, and the purpose (next to that of increasing sales of the newspaper) was clearly to ruin their public reputations and so their lives.”
"The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft" by Ronald Hutton (1999)86
As a result of this horrible and ignorant campaign lives were destroyed. For example authorities took away one set of parents' daughter for a long period of three years in order to safeguard her against involvement in rituals (which, of course, was out of the question). Real suffering resulted from the irresponsible sensationalist reporting of the News of the World, and, academics have noted that "most people's prejudices [towards Paganism] are based on misrepresentation by the media"14.
At the end of the 1960s, after the decade of ill-informed and hot-tempered sensationalism, Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 1969 and added it to his empire, however, he did not have reform in mind. Its poor reporting continued, but with the backing of a large, rich and experience media empire behind it. Thankfully, the paper was closed in 2011 amidst scandals of its own - the large-scale phone-hacking of celebrities' phones.
The bitter irony is that Wicca has turned out to be one of the most peaceable, conscientious and responsible new religious movements, with a record so much cleaner than the 'traditional' religions that the News of the World was no doubt much more in favour of.