The History of Wicca

This subject can be quite extensive. We could search for the roots of Wicca in prehistoric times and the magick that prehistoric people practiced, or perhaps in the stories of Medieval witches...but I will address these issues in another post. In this post, I plan to give a short overview of the history of Wicca from the 18th century onward.

The Witch trials began began with the introduction of the Inquisitions in the 12th century and they began to weaken only in the middle of the 18th century (though this can only be said for some countries since it is precisely at this time that the prosecutions reached their height in America and Scandinavia). This period started coming to an end with the passing of new laws and the scarcity of convictions. The end of the trials came with the Witchcraft Act of 1736 with which the penalties for witches weren't as drastic as before (fines and imprisonment).

The First Personas Appear

Charles Godfrey Leland
The interest in witchcraft grew again in the 19th and 20th century. This was, thank goodness, a peaceful period with was mainly defined only by literary works on the subject. Important personas of this time include Charles Godfrey Leland, Margaret Murray and Robert Graves who will each have their own impact on Wicca.

Leland (1824-1903) was an occultist, folklorist and writer whose most famous work is Aradia, the Gospel of Witches which gives the reader an insight into the cult of the Goddess Diana. When it was published, it left people in shock because of its, at the time, strange topic. Leland got interested in witchcraft when he went on a trip to Italy where he started gathering material for his aforementioned book.

Margaret Murray
Margaret Murray (1863-1963) is famous for her work The Witch Cult in Western Europe. She was, by profession, and Egyptologist and Anthropologist. She also became fascinated with witchcraft during a visit to a foreign country, in her case England or more precisely the town of Glastonbury (supposedly the burial place of King Arthur). She is recognized for her claim that "witchcraft" is a term that originates from the times of the Inquisitions and that it is actually just another name for a religion much older than the Medieval times that centered around nature and fertility. Many of her theories were later scrutinized by her critics and her colleagues which lead to her gaining a bad reputation because of ignoring proof (some of which could have even helped her). 

Robert Graves
Robert Graves (1895-1985) didn't directly affect witchcraft nor did he actually even take an interest in it, though may witches have since seen many logical arguments in his works that they could apply to themselves and connect to Neopagan ideas. Graves is well known because of his work The White Goddess which deals with mythological and poetic inspiration. In this book, he depicts and ancient, pre-Christian religion formed around the central figure of the Goddess at the same time taking her as his poetic Muse. Graves thinks that literature exists to perpetuate natural cycles in the form of prose, poetry and drama. Comparing his Goddess (Diana) to the moon, he gives her three forms: the Maiden of the waning moon, the Mother of the full moon and the Crone of the waxing moon. With the strengthening of patriarchal society which was aggressive, combative and hostile towards Nature, this matriarchal society was simply repressed. Another accepted Graves' theory is the one that claims that the more followers a certain God has, the more power he/she will have. Of course, Anthropologists and Historians didn't take these claims seriously, but Graves' ideas did have a great impact on the formation of Wicca and other Neopagan faiths.

Gerald Gardner and the Beginnings

Gerald Gardner
Aleister Crowley
The 19th century is a time when many new religious movements came to existence, among which were O.T.O. (Ordo Templi Orientis) and The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (i.e. The Golden Dawn) which gained quite a reputation. An important figure of the time, among other, is Aleister Crowley (the "Great Beast") with whom ceremonial magick gains popularity. His influence of Gerald Gardner, who we now see as the father of Wicca, was of great importance. Upon meeting Crowley, Gardner was initiated into O.T.O. and even though this wasn't Gardner's first contact with the occult and alternative religions (since he came upon both on his many travels), this was his first step towards Wicca. When he returned back to England, he came into contact with a group of people who he thought to be one of the few (or perhaps even the last) remaining followers of the Old Religion. Among these people was Old Dorothy Clutterbuck who turned out to be the leader of the group which was called the New Forest coven (named after the New Forest area of southern England). In 1939, Gardner became an initiate of "wica" (as Old Dorothy called it). What with the existence of the laws against witchcraft at the time and covens secrecy policies, Gardner wasn't allowed to publish anything on the subjects they dealt with or the rituals they held. This is why Gardner published a "novel" in 1949 entitled High Magic's Aid and took the pseudonym Scire. In this work, he wrote down a short history of the Craft and gave away two initiation rituals but there is not mention of the Goddess anywhere. When the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951, Gardner published two books under his real name. These were his famous Witchcraft Today and the Meaning of Witchcraft. It is on the basis of these three books that Wicca came to exist. 
It is important to note that even today many people discuss the stories regarding Gardner and his coven initiation and debate whether or not they are true...but most people have just come to accept them since no evidence exists to deny such claims.

Doreen Valiente
Soon after this, Gardner went on to promote Wicca in the form of articles and more books. He managed to attract many people and one of them was Doreen Valiente. In time, she became the High Priestess of Gardner's coven and aided him in the writing of his books by writing poems which served as invocations and such. When she was the amount of Crowley's influence on Gardner's Book of Shadows, she realized that this could give Wicca a bad reputation (what with Crowley having a bad one himself) and, with Gardner's approval, started editing it. It is this edition of Gardner's BoS that we know today. We can now find the texts and basis for the modern Gardnerian tradition in this book. The most famous of her poems is "The Charge of the Goddess" which served (and still serves) as an invocation for the Goddess.

In 1957, Gardner and Valiente went separate ways chiefly because Gardner started publishing too many things, some of which were already thought of as absurd from the perspective of the other coven members. Doreen Valiente suggested a set of rules that would enable the secrets of the Craft to be kept secret, but Gardner rejected them under the claim that he had already written a "traditional set of rules for the Craft" a long time ago. Doreen didn't want to accept these rules because she thought them anything but traditional and found them too restricting for the High Priestess. She left Gardner with her like-minded coven members. Though this did not mean the end of Wicca or the Craft.

Alex and Maxime Sanders
After this, a number of new Wiccan traditions sprung up. To elaborate, with the death of Gerald Gardner in 1964, the position of the "leader" was open and many people wanted to fill it. These people turned out to be frauds more often than not, but one person sticks out above the rest because he proved as a real leader and managed to establish the next Wiccan tradition - Alexandrian Wicca. The man I am talking about is Alex Sanders (1926-1988). Sanders actually managed to get a copy of Gardner's Book of Shadows and modified it but he later denied this and claimed that his Book of Shadows had been passed down from generation to generation in his family for quite some time. This soon led to media scandals connected to this new tradition and a rivalry between Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca. Sanders soon married Maxime Morris who became the High Priestess of his coven and they together took the titles of "King and Queen of the Witches". The later separated but continued to work and teach independently. Though Alexandrian Wicca did replace the Gardnerian tradition on the scale of popularity and one of the reasons for this was the fact that they let their rituals be photographed...and they did them skyclad (i.e. naked).

Raymond Buckland
Up to this point in time, most of the events connected to Wicca were restricted to Great Britain, but that changed with Raymond and Rosemary Buckland. In 1962, this couple "brought" Wicca to America. Most of their workings were based on Gardnerian Wicca, but each individual was free to incorporate their own beliefs in order to form something just right for them. Buckland later formed his own tradition - Seax Wicca.

Zusanna Budapest
Another movement that appeared in America was the "Z movement" which was given this name in honor of a Hungarian immigrant named Zusanna Budapest. This intriguing woman is nowadays thought of as creator of the female spirituality movement that combines Paganism and political beliefs. Z. Budapest, being the feminist that she was, created a new tradition that went by the name of Dianic Wicca and was mainly oriented towards the Goddess and female empowerment.

Miriam Simos a.k.a. Starhawk
Another woman showed up on the scene under the pseudonym of Starhawk. Her real name is Miriam Simos and is important because of her Reclaiming Tradition which combine three traditions into one: Gardnerian, Faery and Dianic. Her most famous work is The Spiral Dance. She was an ecologist at heart and took part in many ecological campaigns along with Tim Zell (a well-known advocate of the Gaia theory).

In time, more traditions developed which you can read about in my post on wiccan traditions. :)

This is really a very basic overview, but I think it will be enough for starters :) if you are interested to find out more details, you can try to read up on the subject yourselves or ask questions (don't be shy ^^).

Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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