Quiet today, but an interesting reply here yesterday. It was from my old friend – better say acquaintance, as there’s some things we just don’t agree about! – Hesselius, who challenges that interesting assertion that Wicca was really only a 20th century invention by people such as the late Gerald Gardner and the like.
That view implies that, if anything, modern ‘witches’ only based the doctrine of their (‘Wicca’) cults and covens on modern interpretations of much older fragmented and nebulous beliefs; which were formulated under the heading “witchcraft” .but which never really existed in times bygone before their founders (Gerald Gardner in particular) declared them to do so. I hope I have summarized that correctly. In other words many writers and others say that Wicca is only a comparatively modern invention (the 1940s and 50s to be more precise). Okay. That’s a major view. Personally I do not agree. But let me reprint Hesselius’s reply so that everyone can be clear about what he stated or asked. He said (quote):
“David hi, You wrote: ‘Now, Wicca, as many people might know, is an ancient religion or Knowledge system that predates Christianity by many thousands of years..’ With all due respect hasn’t the latest scholarship leant towards the conclusion that Wicca per se dates back to at the earliest the late 1940s/early 1950s and was largely a home-made religion created by Gerald Gardner from scraps of folklore, Crowleyan stuff, the ideas of Margaret Murray and so forth as the ‘Book of Shadows’ shows? Francis King in the 1970s also demonstrated how the Wicca which people in the 60s and early 70s thought was an ancient religion was in his view a modern invention… I’d be interested to hear your views on this. Hope this finds you well David and good luck with all your literary work at this time. Best Wishes Hesselius”
Well, I’ll try and answer you simply if I can, Hesselius, but will have to leave many historical facts out, obviously, for the sake of time and space. In fact, I am not even going to argue ancient or historical precedents; I can only talk from my own experience as a once member of my own Wiccan Circle.
Where to begin?! Well, I was first Initiated into Wicca at the age of eighteen. It was by a dedicated Cult whose antecedents went far back into history – long before the time of Gerald Gardner. (As a matter of interest, all the manuscripts I was given to study were authentic documents that had been passed down by families; and we were certainly discouraged from reading modern books on Wicca, especially the views of Gerald Gardner.) What I am really trying to say here is – and as I have explained many times previously – is that Wicca is in fact a very ancient secret religion. It had an Outer Circle (often confused by the ancients with Paganism), but it also had an Inner Circle, wherein most of its sacred doctrines were passed on or taught. I realize I may have oversimplified this, and that many people might not agree (such as my friend Gareth, for example, who tends to take a similar view that this ancient Cult did not – or could not have had any authenticity before the later writings of people such as the late Alex Sanders and Gerald Gardner).
I explained, when challenged by people in the audience on the Robert Kilroy-Silk programme, on June 21st 2001, that Wicca was an ancient religion that predated early Christianity by many thousands of years. I gave two simple examples: the early Christian church had ‘stolen’ off much earlier Wiccan creeds and doctrines. I said that the whole conception of Christmas had been based on a wrongful misinterpretation of the Winter Solstice, which was – and still is – an ancient Wiccan ceremony. We of course have the modern day interpretation of this by the Christmas tree, mistletoe, and holly. In Wicca, these evergreen plants and trees were used to symbolize immortality. Again, I gave the example of the Easter Egg, where Christianity had ‘stolen’ an important date in Wicca to symbolize – or celebrate – the death and resurrection of Christ. In fact, this particular ceremony has long been celebrated in Wicca as a fertility rite, but was ‘taken over’ by the early Church – hence the modern, if not erroneous, introduction of Easter Eggs.
I could go on and on, Hesselius, but I really cannot agree with the modern assumption that it was Gerald Gardner and people such as Alex Sanders who began the modern witchcraft ‘fad’. No. Wicca is in fact a secret ancient Knowledge System, that was misunderstood (mainly by the early Church) in its time, and is likewise misunderstood to this day.
Hope this answers your question – although I don’t suppose it will!
For the moment, David.
This Wicca Question
David and myself have agreed to disagree about this. I would say that Wicca, as it exists now, was created in the period between the two world wars, as is shown by the fact that the basic rituals, as written in the ‘Book of Shadows’, are full of quotations from books published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I have however spent a lot of time questioning the incessant assertion that it was the work of Gerald Gardner. In almost any religious movement or sect that I have ever heard of, the founder of it remains in charge of it until his or her death. In Wicca, it is always the High Priestess who is in charge, therefore it is reasonable to suppose that the founder was a woman. Gerald Gardner was not a woman. Moreover, Wicca was obviously influenced by various occult movements in Britain in the early 20th century, including Aleister Crowley, the Ancient Druid Order and the Co-Masons. But Gerald Gardner was not and could not have been involved with these, as he lived in the far east from 1900, only resettling in Britain in 1938.
That said, it must be asked why, after the rise of the Age of Reason, people should want to revive something that was supposed to be an extinct superstition? Personally, I think that they were inspired by the same instincts that moved the witches of prehistoric times. Witchcraft is something deep in the human psyche, which can be ignored, but never expunged, and no amount of persecution and suppression can prevent it from resurging.
Gareth J. Medway
David & Gareth,
Many thanks for your thought-provoking responses on the historical background of Wicca – I found both your points of view very thoughtful and interesting. I completely agree that in essence the Witch is a kind of timeless archetype within the collective mind, the Witch encapsulates a poetic truth and that’s why Witches and Witchcraft have always been with us from the dawn of time. W.B Yeats described this magical reality in images such as ‘The round green eyes and the long wavering bodies of the dark leopards of the moon… All the wild witches, those most noble ladies…’
Also the mythos of Witchcraft is so similar all over the world, from medieval Europe to contemporary Africa and Asia, that it’s clear, as Gareth says, that we are dealing with a perennial impulse within the human mind and soul, an ancient awareness of something ‘beyond the pale’ whose presence will always be with humankind…
Naturally as a significant figure in the occult and witchcraft scene in early 70s Britain, David’s views are very much of interest on these points.
Thank you gentlemen and all the best with your forthcoming publications David…
Very Best Wishes
It is indeed a very primal fear. Women who live alone especially if you keep pets(in particular cats) are soon given the title “WITCH” if any disuputes arise in the community. For no other reason than the above was I perseucted by my neigbours from hell in 2000 when a row erupted after their dog ran my cat into the road( and it was killed) They were very unpleasant people and I would very much have liked to put a spell on them to get rid of them, but because I reported them to the dog warden for a roaming pit bull, they set up a “WITCH-HUNT” literally.
Hmm, I did get shut of them eventually!!!! But I think there is a very deep rooted fear and suspicion of independent women–even these days! Even afterwards I kept having “witchcraft” accusations made about me–by people who it had nothing to do with even if I was!!!! Well you know all about that David
I certainly do know all about it Barbara; that would make a book in itself!
It was much worse in my case because it wasn’t just a local community, it soon spread to the whole country and later, to Europe and America – and later (especially now) the whole world!
I guess its just a part of human nature. I said in one of my books (or articles, really can’t remember) that people fear things that they cannot understand; and what they fear, they ultimately condemn. This is especially true when it comes to the Unknown. The usual solution is to invent some devil as being responsible for any evil, but people never – hardly ever – realise that evil only has its origins in human nature.
Such is the nature of some human beings!
David and Barbara,
I’m inclined to think that all this ‘witch fear’ arose from the time when Christianity replaced the ‘old religion.’ It was done I think, to keep people in check. It still perpetrates to this day, whereby witches are considered ‘children of the devil.’ They are no such thing. Yes, evil is entirely a human trait, not a divine one.