The word “witchcraft” stirs up various images in most people’s minds, and I suppose the general public thinks of the characters from Disney films and old Fairy Tales, or of the cult members on Geraldo who claimed to worship Satan. I have noticed that recently, while the media has been slurring witchcraft a lot less, it continues to present many things that are fanciful (Sabrina is a delightful show, but I don’t know a single witch who has a “talking” cat!), and many people still believe the old stories. This page is my way of sharing some thoughts on the matter.
The popular authors of much of the literature on Witchcraft and Paganism can’t seem to agree on a history of the craft, exactly. I rely less on these sources for such things, and more on the sciences of archaeology, anthropology and classics for my view of the past. In was in my college studies of these subjects that I first came to realize that I could relate to the Pagan way of life…not the Wiccan rites first established by Gerald Gardner in the early 1900’s, but the truly ancient rituals and tales practiced around the world as much as 3,000 years ago.
I have been interested in mythology since I first read D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths in elementary school. Studying such sacred sites as Dephi, Stonehenge and Avebury in college made the stories (and the purposes for them) clearer to me. I continued to study the role of the yearly wheel in the spiritual lives of ancient peoples, the tales of Gods and heroes from all over the world, the philosophies of Eastern wise men, and a peppering of information on modern Paganism. When all this information is processed with an inquisitive mind, one begins to wonder if these ancients didn’t have something true, something wise.
Many people will tell you that “true” witchcraft comes from a Celtic tradition, or a Strega (Italian) tradition, or through Gardnerian/Alexandrian* traditions or this or that or the other thing. My studies and experiences would have me believe that “true” witchcraft comes from only one source–the spirit of ALL. Peoples the world round were practicing similar beliefs long before the age of fiber optics and instant communication; the universal energy that connects all things allowed them to share these commonalities.
As Christianity with it’s “our way or the highway” approach to spirituality began to evolve, it’s leaders recognized that they would have to tear people away from their ancestral beliefs and practices to get a strong political foothold in new territories. (Let’s face it, the early Christian church was just as much, if not more, about money and power as it was about spirituality.) In order to coerce people to convert to Christianity, a combination of scare tactics and assimilation of Pagan traditions was developed. The beloved Horned God of the European Pagans (most aboriginal belief systems have such a character) was recast in the Christian view of the world as Satan, a taunting entity that worked directly against the wishes of the Christian God. The Pagan feast days, marked by particular astronomical events, were converted to Christian ones, and the traditions that went with those old holidays found a home in the Christian culture. Christians (who know me well) are often surprised to see me putting up a wreath decorated with green and red at for Yule, or decorating eggs at Ostara. The truth be known, I just like holidays, but most of these traditions predate Christianity by several hundred years.
Anyway, after a while, many Christians began to associate Witchcraft and traditional magic with evil (all the while practicing folk healing and carrying good luck charms) and Witches with the devil. Leave it to a patriarchal and beaurocratic religion to deem that only women can be witches, because naturally women are more evil than men! Many of the preconceptions still exist today.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the western world began to see a Renaissance in the practice of witchcraft, and a renewed interest in ancient religions. Small groups appeared, practicing a reconstruction of these old ways, and Wicca was formed. Gerald Gardner is considered by many to be the father of the modern Witchcraft movement, or Wicca, for it was he who created (with a little help from his friends) a system of rituals and training that was adapted for modern use. Wicca is not an old religion in and of itself, but rather a young religion that is based on very old traditions.
* This site is about Witchcraft, not specifically Wicca. While there are many crossovers, and many of my comments DO pertain to Wicca (as I am an initiated Wiccan in a lineage with British Traditional roots), it is my feeling that the art and science of Witchcraft can be practiced independent of a particular Wiccan lineage. The practices involved in Witchcraft are, in fact, compatible with most philosophies of life.