I have touched on this subject from time to time, and I know that this is old news; I’ve read that most Wiccans already know the whole falsified origins thing and find it irrelevant. However, many of the Wiccans I have met personally seem oblivious to the information I’m about to go over here.
Speaking as someone who became interested in Wicca in the 1980’s, I can tell you that at that time what has become known as the Wiccan foundational myth was still being perpetrated. I still run across people who believe it. I think it must be in books still circulated. So this is my public service announcement. My aim is to summarize the main points here in plain, to the point language, with links to further reading…
The Wiccan foundational myth goes something like this: “Wicca is the most ancient religion with beginnings reaching back into Paleolithic times. It survived as a universal cult in an unbroken line, up until the present day.” The reality is that this isn’t true in the slightest. Archeology doesn’t support it, neither does historical records.
Wicca began in the mid twentieth century with Gerald Gardner who was supposedly initiated into a coven called New Forest in 1939 by one Dorothy Clutterbuck. There has been a lot of debate over the years as to whether the New Forest coven actually existed. Whether or not it existed may be beside the point…
One source tells me “Gardner apparently got bored with simple ceremonies, and … he consequently decided to found a more elaborate and romanticized witch-cult of his own” – White Witches: Historical Fact and Romantic Fantasy.
Gardner himself admitted that “the rituals he received from Old Dorothy’s coven were very fragmentary, and in order to make them workable, he had to supplement them with other material.” -Julia Phillips, “History of Wicca in England: 1939 – present day.”
In truth, before Gardner created what was to become known as Wicca, there was no religious witchcraft. Historically, witchcraft was the practice of magic. People who practiced “benevolent” magic were not even called witches. They were called wise or cunning women and men. The word witch had always been a derogatory term (yes, even before the advent of Christianity). Both kinds were practitioners of traditional folk magic, not ceremonial magic or Wicca (which didn‘t exist yet). The women and men burned and hung during the witch craze were, for the most part, Christian.
So where did old Gerald get all the rituals and trappings of what came to be known as Wicca? A great deal of it was from Freemasonry (Gerald was a member of a Masonry group)- the degree system, the ritual set up, as well as terms such as “the working tools”. Both Wicca and Freemasonry refer to their traditions as “the Craft”. To this, he threw in generous helpings of Aleister Crowley’s writings, and a few things from Charles Godfrey Leland’s “Aradia: Gospel of the Witches” (a work of fiction), the Key of Solomon, Order of the Golden Dawn, as well as other sources.
I know that Wicca has changed a great deal in the past sixty years, and I imagine that I will be told that the Wicca practiced by most people bears very little resemblance to Garderian Wicca. (Eclectic Wicca is the most popular style today.) Still others claim that their tradition isn’t Wiccan or Gardner-originated at all, yet they use most of the Wiccan terminology and share a common or similar ritual structure.
So as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, many, if not most, Wiccans (and the Wicca-influenced) supposedly care very little that Gerald Gardner lied or misrepresented his newly constructed system- that the origins of Wicca were falsified. I knew one such person who put it this way; “It is a beautiful system- a Universal Pagan Gnostism. I don’t care if it was made up today. It is my spiritual path and suits me perfectly.” These words may describe how a lot of people feel about it. If so, more power to them! However, when I first learned of the dubious origin of Wicca circa 2000 (I had been Wiccan since 1986), I felt quite betrayed. Justifiably so- after all- I had been lied to and duped!
However, a few years later, thinking about the words quoted in the paragraph above, and looking for Pagan community, I came back to Wicca for a time. My second disillusionment with Wicca was a gradual one, and involved discontentment with the actual traditions, ritual methods, and focus of Wicca… subjects that I have written about here previously.
Links for further reading:
History of Wicca (Wikipedia)