Wicca and Paganism in general have many preconceptions and misconceptions regarding its actual history. In this series we will weed out what is and is not the true History of the Modern Wiccan Movement. Just how much of our modern practices and beliefs are related to ancient cultures? Which ones? What were the inquisition and witchcraft acts truly about? Where did The History of the Modern Wiccan Movement truly begin? How did it evolve? Who were the people and organizations that contributed to where we are today? How did they contribute and what are the effects of their contributions?
For ease of reference in this series the following terms will be used as indicated:
Paganism: Blanket term, used to refer to religious traditions which are polytheistic or indigenous to the culture of their specific area.
Neo-Paganism: Blanket term referring to the modern Pagan movement
Wicca: The modern Neo-Pagan Tradition developed by Gerald Gardner and it’s off shoots.
The true history of Paganism and Wicca is very hard to determine. There have been very few historical texts found and translated that pertain to Pagan/Wiccan beliefs. So, although we have some idea, we still have to fill in the blanks with educated guesses and intuition. This is how the Modern Wiccan/Pagan movement began.
The oldest indication of a Matriarchal society is the “Venus of Willendorf Figures”. They depict a woman with large breasts, thighs and belly as if pregnant. These statues have been found all over Europe and have been dated back as far as 35,000 – 10,000 BCE.
Cave paintings are also an example of early spiritual practice as they were thought to be a form of sympathetic magic. Also, approximately 80,000 years ago humans began to bury their dead, indicating a belief in an after life.
Eventually as base cultures develop further, spiritual structures and the belief in Nature Spirits begin to appear. As Hunter/Gatherer cultures begin to evolve into farming, Gods and Goddesses of the land and the harvest begin to emerge. Soon after we see communities begin to formalize their beliefs and practices with rituals of various types and degrees. At this point, Goddess figures still dominate mainly matriarchal societies.
In the Neolithic time period, henges began to appear in Britain. The most famous being Stone Henge in the Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire. Celtic Pagan Traditions continue to be some of the most common today.
At the onset of the Middle Ages, from the 5th to the 15th centuries we see the beginning of the magical arts, mainly in the form of herbology, early medical practice/science, divination, astronomy/ology and alchemy. As Christianity begins to spread throughout Europe, cultures change to mainly patriarchal beliefs and governments. During this time the more Pagan beliefs and practices went into hiding.
Although some modern Wiccan/Pagan traditions claim a defined ancestry, it’s very difficult to prove or disprove, as there are very few records.
However, the Celts are not the only people who had pre-Christian belief systems. Every culture has a spiritual system that pre-dates Christianity, even if it was merely the way they understood and interacted with the world around them.
In the 1800’s Paganism was reborn as the Wiccan/Neo Pagan movement that it is today. It’s rebirth is credited to those we refer to as the Mothers and Fathers of the Modern Pagan Movement.
People such as Dr. Margaret Alice Murray, Aleister Crowley, Samuel Mathers and of course Gerald Gardner. Although some may argue that Aleister Crowley is the father of modern Paganism, it was Gardner who founded Wicca specifically.
Wicca and the modern Pagan movement were then brought to the United States and Canada by Raymond and Rosemary Buckland, who were initiated by Gardner himself.
There are now many branches of Gardner’s original tradition, (Gardnerian Wicca) which are now referred to as British Traditional Wicca (BTW).
Today there are many different Pagan and Wiccan Traditions varying form those who claim a direct lineage from our ancestors to those that were created days ago and everything in between. Some are based on Gardnerian Wicca, some are Reconstructionist or Traditionalist. Some are based on specific cultural mythologies and some are Eclectic, not to mention also Feminist, Gay/Lesbian… the list goes on….
In this series we are going to look at the History of Gardnerian Wicca mainly. Where did it’s roots come from? Who was Gerald Gardner and how did he develop this tradition of spirituality that is growing so rapidly today? How has it evolved since then and where is it going?