Wiccan history is intensely complex and can be a little confusing. Two things to
keep in mind when reading: The term Wicca is defined herein as a form of NeoPagan Witchcraft based on the Witchcraft revival of Gerald Gardner and his group in the 1940s. The term Witchcraft is a much broader term referring to practices ranging from ancient to modern.
The Roman Occupation
Europe had religions before the invasion of the Roman Empire. The specifics are beyond the scope of this book. One thing important to note is that pre-Roman Europe had not one, but several religions. A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones & Nigel Pennick covers a broad range of the old European cultures and their religions.
Published Routledge; (March 1997)
The Roman Empire gradually invaded and occupied Europe around 100 CE. At this time, the official religion of the Empire was still based on the Roman Pantheon (Greco-Roman Gods). European religions were not exactly displaced by the Roman invasion; many of the old religions were merged with Greco-Roman practices, but some survived semi-intact. Around 250 CE Christians were starting to get into positions of power in the Roman Empire. Although there were attempts to stop it, Christianity became the official religion of the Empire around 390 CE. With the Roman Empire in power in Europe, Christianity spread through the nobility and upper class. In the peasant class and in the rural areas the old religions survived,although perhaps in a form mutated by the Greco-Roman Pantheon.
The peasant and rural practice of the old religions continued like this for hundreds of years. This appears to have been accepted by the Christians because it was not proving to be a problem. However, by the 10th century it had become enough of a problem to get recognition. In 906, the official church policy (as stated in Canon Episcopi) was that these people were confused and “perverted by Satan” and that no one should follow them. This was the birth of the fictitious concept of “diabolical witchcraft”, namely witches worshipping Satan. Keep in mind a commonly accepted theory is that it was not Satan who was being worshiped, but rather the gods of the old religions. To the Christian Church, the old Pagan gods and Satan were the same.
The Dark Ages
By the 15th century things had changed for the worse. Pope Innocent VIII issued
a formal declaration that anyone accused of consorting with demons (practicing
anything other than Christianity) was to be arrested and tried (tortured convicted and
executed). That began what many call “the Burning Times”. The torture at the hands of the
Christians was unspeakable. It is not clear how many of those executed for “consorting” were actually practicing the old religions. It is very likely that some if not most of those found to be “consorting” were either unpopular people or those accused so they could be eliminated and their wealth and property seized.
The spread of the Burning Times into the United States is evident in the Salem trials of 1692. It is very unlikely that any of those accused, convicted, and executed for the crime of diabolical witchcraft were practicing anything of the sort. It is likely that it was just a symptom of the Christian paranoia at the time. 19th Century The 19th Century brings us to the early stirrings of Wicca. In the 1800s and early 1900s, historians and scholars, and I use the terms loosely, started researching and speculating about the practices of Witchcraft and the Witch trials of the earlier centuries. Some authors expressed that during the ‘Burning Times’ a form of an ancient fertility religion had been flourishing and was being systematically stamped out by Christianity which feared being overthrown. In almost all cases the academic quality of the research was... and I am being nice here... definitely substandard.
Gerald Gardner, Grandfather of Wicca
Gerald Gardner was an Englishman, a civil servant, and amateur anthropologist.Gardner had an interest in religion, the occult, and magick. Gardner studied a great deal on these topics, anything he could get his hands on, including much of the “research” mentioned above. In 1939 (after his retirement) Gardner made friends with, and was initiated into, the New Forest coven. The exact nature of the New Forest coven is uncertain, although it appears to have been a subgroup of occultists from a Rosicrucian theatre. Many books state or imply that ‘Old Dorothy Clutterbuck’ was the High Priestess of the New Forest Coven.
The best information available to date indicates that Old Dorothy was involved in the theatre, did own the house where the coven practiced, but was not involved herself. In 1947, Gerald Gardner was introduced to Aleister Crowley and the two had a few meetings that spring. Gardner had an interest in Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) which is, to my understanding, a magickal order1. In this year, Gardner received, most likely purchased, a charter from Crowley to start an O.T.O. encampment with the intent of reviving interest in the organization. It appears that Gardner had little luck in gaining an O.T.O. following or perhaps had a change of heart regarding promoting O.T.O.
Shortly after his return from a trip to the United States, Gardner’s emphasis appears to have shifted back to his earlier interest of Witchcraft. Somewhere in this period, most likely 1947-48, Gardner created a manuscript known as Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical possibly based on the operational grimoire from New Forest Coven. In today’s’ terms Ye Bok was the very first Book of Shadows, and its creation marks the beginning of Orthodox Traditional Wicca. In 1949, Gardner released High Magic’s Aid, which was a fictitious novel most likely based on the ritual in Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical. Although the book was a bit of a flop, it did establish Gardner as a known individual in the occult circles. It was also in this period when Gardner left New Forest Coven and started his own coven based on Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical. That new coven was the first Wiccan coven.It is possible that both of these events happening so closely together was not by coincidence. One theory has it that Gardner may have been thrown out of the New Forest Coven because of his writing the book.
At the time of the creation of the first ‘Wiccan’ coven, the religion was not called Wicca.It was referred to as Witchcraft or ‘The Old Religion’. In 1951 after the repeal of the last of the witchcraft laws in England, Gardner went public as a witch and started giving interviews as the ‘resident witch’ at a Museum of Witchcraft. In 1953 Gardner bought the Museum and shortly after met Doreen Valiente. Doreen initiated into his coven and shortly after became High Priestess. Doreen opposed how much of Gardner’s Book of Shadows was ‘borrowed’ from Aleister Crowley. Doreen helped rewrite sections of it developing the 1953 Book of Shadows to be used for years to come. Wiccan ritual (circa 1953) actually bore little resemblance to Ancestral Witchcraft because so much of the practice was ‘borrowed’ from other sources. Few Wiccans even today realize just how much of Wicca is not from Witchcraft. Here is an incomplete list of aspects of Wicca, which are known or believed to have been derived from sources other than Witchcraft:the degree system to reach Priest/Priestess status the term ‘The Craft’
· the term ‘Book of Shadows’
· the pentagram symbol
· the tool ‘athame’
· ritual in a cast circle
· altar at the center of the circle
· use of incense in a circle
· entering a circle from the northeast
· calling the quarters
· the elements Earth, Air, Fire and Water at the quarters
· most of the unnamed Goddess/God theology
· several of the rituals