Wicca is a religion based, in part, on ancient, northern European Pagan beliefs
in a fertility Goddess and her consort, a horned God. Although the religion is a
modern creation, some of its
sources pre-date the Christian era by many centuries. Most Wiccans do not believe that their religion is a
direct, continuous descendent of this earlier religion. They see it as a modern
Joanna Hautin-Mayer has written:
"We know tragically little about the actual religious expressions of
the ancient Celts. We have a few myths and legends, but very little
archeological evidence to support our theories. We have no written records of
their actual forms of worship, and the accounts of their culture and beliefs
written by their contemporaries are often highly biased and of questionable
historical worth." 1
Ms. Hautin-Mayer is particularly critical of recent Neopagan books which she
demonstrates to be largely fictional accounts of the history of Witta 3(presented as an Irish Pagan tradition), Faery
Wicca 4 (presented as an ancient tradition), and 21
Lessons of Merlyn 5(a somewhat racist and sexist account of
Silver RavenWolf wrote in 1998:
"Wicca, as you practice the religion today, is a new religion, barely fifty
years old. The techniques you use at present are not entirely what your elders practiced
even thirty years ago. Of course, threads of 'what was' weave through the tapestry of
'what is now.' ...in no way can we replicate to perfection the precise circumstances of
environment, society, culture, religion and magick a hundred years ago, or a thousand.
Why would we want to ? The idea is to go forward with the knowledge of the past,
tempered by the tools of our own age." 2
Writings that formed the basis of Wicca:
Much of modern-day Wicca can be directly traced back to the writings of:
Charles Leland (1824-1903) published a book in 1899: Aradia:
Gospel of the Witches. 8Leland was the founder
of the Gypsy Lore Society, editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin,
and a prolific author and folklorist. Aradia deals mainly with
the Goddess Diana. It is presented as an ancient document which
recorded the doctrines of La Vecchia Religione (The Old Religion) --
Italian witchcraft. Leland claims to have received the information
from an Italian strega (sorceress) named Maddalena. How much of this
is a valid account of La Vecchia Religione is anyone's guess. However,
the book played a significant role in the later development of
Margaret Murray (1863 - 1963) authored The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The
God of the Witches. 6These books promoted the concept that some of the Witches who were
exterminated by Roman Catholics and Protestants during the "Burning Times" (circa
1450-1792) were remnants of an earlier, organized, and dominant pre-Christian religion in
Europe. Her writings have not been well received by anthropologists.
However, they were very influential in providing background material
for the Neopagan traditions.
Gerald Gardner (1884 - 1964), a British civil servant, who:
has written that he joined an existing Wiccan Coven in 1939, taking the (then) usual
vows of secrecy
persuaded the coven to let him write a book in 1949 about Wicca in the form of a novel, High
Magic's Aid. He carefully revealed a few of the Old Religion's beliefs and the
historical persecutions that they endured.
added many rituals, symbols, concepts and elements from ceremonial magick, Freemasonry
and other sources to "flesh out" the coven's beliefs and practices, most of
which had been long forgotten.
wrote Witchcraft Today in 1954 in which he described additional details about the
wrote The Meaning of Witchcraft which described in detail the history of Wicca in
Northern Europe. 7
Theories about the origins of Wicca:
There are many beliefs concerning the origins of Wicca:
According to Gardner, Wicca:
began in prehistory, as ritual associated with fire, the hunt, animal fertility, plant
propagation, tribal fertility and the curing of disease.
developed into a religion which recognized a Supreme Deity, but realized that at their
state of evolution, they "were incapable of understanding It" . Instead,
they worshipped what might be termed "under-Gods": the Goddess of
fertility and her horned consort, the God of the hunt.
continued their predominately Moon based worship, even as a mainly Sun-based faith of
priests, the Druids, developed and evolved into the dominant religion of the Celts.
By this time, Celtic society had gradually spread across Northern Europe into what is now
England, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland etc. They never formed a single
political entity, but remained as many tribes who shared a common culture and religions.
survived the Roman, Saxon, and Norman invasions by going underground
suffered major loss in numbers during the active Christian genocides, which continued
into the 18th Century
reached a low ebb by the middle of the 20th century. Much of the theology and ritual had
been lost; Wiccan covens had become so isolated that they had lost contact with each
was revived in the UK by himself, his High Priestess Doreen Valiente,
(1922 - 1999) and others, who
took the surviving beliefs and practices, and fleshed them out with material from other
religious, spiritual and ceremonial magick sources.
Gardner has claimed that after he wrote his books, he received many letters from
members of isolated covens who had believed that their groups had been in continuous existence
for generations or centuries.
Other individuals discount this belief system and maintain that there was no continuous
Wiccan presence from Celtic times to the 20th century. They maintain that
present-day Wicca was created by merging a few ancient Celtic beliefs, deity structure,
and seasonal days of celebration with modern material from ceremonial magick, the Masonic
Still others trace Wicca back to a little known faith group in New England in the early
Recent Wiccan history:
There is general agreement that Wicca first became a mass movement in recent
times in England during the 1950's
with the publishing of books by Gerald Gardner. It has expanded at a furious rate in North
America and Europe.
Wicca is one of the largest of the minority religions in the United
States. There are no reliable estimates of the number
of Wiccans in this country. Our best estimate is on the order of
750,000. That would make Wicca about the 5th largest organized religion in the United States, behind Christianity, Islam,
Judaism, and Hinduism. However it is virtually
unknown by the general public. This is because almost all Wiccans hide their religious
beliefs and practices. Those who allow their faith to be known publicly are very heavily
persecuted in North America; on a per-capita basis, they are believed to be victimized
more often than members of any other religious group. Many assaults, arson, economic
attacks are reported yearly. There have even been shootings, one public mass stoning and
one lynching in recent years! Reports circulate frequently of misinformed child protection
officers seizing children from the homes of Wiccans because they feared that they would be
killed or abused in some Satanic ritual. The perpetrators of this
religious hatred are usually very devout, very concerned but terribly misinformed
people. They believe the misinformation that has been spread about Witches continuously
since the Middle Ages. It is only in Eastern Massachusetts, Southern California and in a
few cities elsewhere in North America that most Wiccans feel secure enough
to come out of
the (broom) closet in large numbers. In other areas, they tend to avoid persecution by keeping their
religious faith secret. Unfortunately, this policy can have negative results;
speculate that because Wiccans remain underground, they must have something to hide. This
is a "no-win" situation with no obvious solution.
The above paragraph was written in the mid 1990s. Since then, the
situation has improved greatly. Many Wiccans have come out of the closet and
revealed their faith openly. The public has become much more aware of Wicca
and other Neopagan religions. The frequency of violence has decreased
greatly, although there are still occasional accounts of vandalism and
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Gerald Gardner, "Gardner Witchcraft Series,"
Mercury Publ. (Reprint; 1999). Includes his two books Witchcraft Today
& The Meaning of Witchcraft, with a CD containing some
historical recordings. Read
reviews/order this set.
Charles Leland & Mario Pazzaglini, "Aradia: Gospel of
the Witches," Phoenix Publ., (Expanded edition, 1999). The
book corrects many of the original translation errors of Leyland's