HISTORY OF WICCA IN ENGLAND: 1939 - present day - Part 2
I wrote this article and the next as part of a seminar on understanding
Wicca which was run on IRC over the last couple weeks. As they ought
make clear, I don't represent anyone but myself and hope that my words
add to a general understanding and social harmony.
I'd like to receive comments, reviews and/or questions about them
and would be happy to address any of those here if they are cc'd to
my mailbox (I don't usually read this newsgroup). Thanks.
PART ONE: Witches and the Western Mystery Traditions
This essay concerns paganism, the Western mystery traditions,
and Witches. I make no claims regarding orthodoxy or truth here.
I'm only telling a story that I have learned which is meaningful
to those as skeptical and imaginative as myself.
There are certainly more fantastic accounts regarding these
social traditions which I enjoy, yet for me they do not hold the
same level of credibility. These tend to be more mythical and
meaningful to the subconscious mind, and are therefore of perhaps
MORE value than a story of the type you are about to read.
The Western mystery traditions, comprised of their mystical and
occult threads, are impossible to define in any concrete fashion.
Several people have of course attempted to do this, yet in each case
their bias and short-sightedness hindered a complete description.
Besides this, the traditions themselves form a complex, arising as
they do from numerous sources, locations and time periods. To
isolate one tradition within this complex and attempt to understand
its origin and character is not only difficult, it is a mistake.
In writing about paganism and witches here I therefore do you
a disservice. I can only provide a small glimpse, a micro-view
of the entirety. It is the equivalent of attempting to understand
your nose. Without you and some understanding of the rest of you,
my attempts will be minimal and perhaps futile.
Given all of this, I will nonetheless proceed...
A Rough Historical Basis of Paganism
In the ancient world there were two major types of society: the
nomadic or wandering tribes and the stable homesteading tribes.
Families tended to hold together in clans, at times joining and
separating based upon need or individual difference, respectively.
These tribes developed their own forms of language, government,
religion and philosophy. Their lifestyle contributed greatly
toward their societal constructs. For this reason the most
popular ideas and practices (those which have been preserved in
their art and tools) included such themes as tool-making, hunting,
and the Mysteries of birth, sex, power and death.
The stories and mythical artwork of ancient times portray someone
immersed in a world of great powers. Sun, Moon, Clouds and Night
often rivalled or combined with influential plants and animals
as religious foci. Some of these became associated with individuals
as symbols of personal identity and power.
There is little known regarding the actual practices of ancient
peoples. What is commonly referred to as 'Paganism' in today's
society is really a fabrication of fantasy, dreams and theory -
useful for those who wish to create their own path, yet difficult
to substantiate in anthropological terms.
The Developing World
Out of these family clans two major societal traditions developed
in line with the types of tribes mentioned above. These were the
nonmobile communities that settled in rich, comfortable environments
near sources of water and food, and the pioneering explorers who
roamed freely through sometimes quite inhospitable regions.
Without getting into too much detail, let us say that most of the
ancient civilizations took root in what we today refer to as the 'East'
or 'Middle East'. Those in China, India and Egypt/Mesopotamia are
quite possibly the oldest large communities known.
The pioneers scattered in clans throughout the world, crossing
the ice-bridge into the North Americas, and spread throughout
Africa and the rest of the world. Some parts of these peoples are
known as the 'Indo-Europeans', and the common heritage of both the
Indus Valley Civilization (India) and the nomads of Europe (Celts,
Teutons, etc.) is sometimes overlooked.
The religious practices were comprised of the same elements as in
ancient times with variation based on lifestyle. Those who were
nomadic tended to focus more on courage, stability and the figure
of the Hero/ine.
Those who were stationary tended to focus upon bounty, life, and
the figure of the Mother or Father (depending on region and time).
Again, while more is known about these civilizations and pioneers,
ideas concerning their lifestyle is speculation and projection,
assembled from pottery, statuettes, tools, buried cities and
A Rough Historical Overview of the Western Mystery Traditions
With greater and greater numbers of people vying for use and
control of resources, and given the nature of humans, warring
Tribes focussed the advantage of group power toward their own ends,
often at the expense of individuals and/or smaller communities.
This group identity and force concretized many times in the course
of time and, in the area of Europe and the Mediterranean, reached
its height in the form of the Roman Empire.
Founded upon pagan fertility rites and martial Mystery schools,
the Romans sought to bring unity, through force, to the decentralized
tribes of Europe, driving the last rebellious factions into the British
Isles (chiefly Ireland and Scotland) and northerly reaches
(Scandanavia, Finland, etc.).
During the rule of the Romans a wave of religious fervor spread
from the Middle East. It was a martyrdom cult, given life by the
Mystery traditions of Osiris and other heroic figures, and centering
on the concepts of indwelling authority, the resistance
to oppression and the sacrifice of one's life in the cause of freedom.
When first attempts to stamp this out only inflammed its growth,
the Romans took the only reasonable action in response, taking its mantle
and co-opting the movement through deception. This was the Roman
response to the threat of 'Christianity' and the beginning of the
'Holy Roman Empire'.
Centuries rolled by, during which the social factions of the country
farmer, the warrior, the creative artisan/merchant and the lawyer,
or priestly, clerical (scribe) castes developed along an age-old
system of Indo-european, tribal stratification.
In each of these social classes there arose a different type of
religious practice, given substance by a common ancient heritage,
yet formed within the values and lifestyles of those who created them.
The clerical caste, often sharing political and social power
with the warriors, developed a form of Christianity focussed
on literature and the skills of language, sometimes becoming dogmatism.
The warrior and merchant classes pursued a mixture of the ancient
Mystery schools (which the warrior class would perpetually retain),
Christian symbology (much of which originated from within the
Mystery schools in any case), and a type of social and personal
alchemy, inspired by the work of the pyramids in Egypt and other
created world wonders of the time. This developed into a fraternal
artisan guild structure known as Masonry.
The peasants and farmers pursued variations of older, regional
practices, largely agricultural and fertility rites. It was the
variation both in literacy and in economic status which would
stigmatize the lower classes as 'primitive' in the eyes of 'scholars'
for many years.
The Current Western Mystery Traditions
Human civilization is an ever-renewing flower, a recurrently-
erupting volcano of art, politics, religion and philosophy.
We might compare the development of the human brain with the
development of 'civilization' (society). The deeper, more
central and less obvious elements of the brain are its oldest
parts, and this is true also for Western society and its religious
Today's purely Western sects include the complex which is
called Christianity, the ripe material objectivism which is called
modern Science, the Masonic tradition, and what can reasonably
be called neo-paganism or neo-shamanism.
Christianity is largely the result of enforced conformity,
and its doctrines and practices, while retaining an essentially
(as from the essenes, 'those who are') valuable teaching,
are now geared more toward the simple of mind or extremely
intelligent than to anyone between the two.
Modern Science is a renegade sect of philosophers and engineers,
often disconnected from their roots in Christian and Masonic
traditions. Much of it has become for the West what Christianity
once was: an orthodoxy of intellectual stagnation, producing
specialists and elitists. They now wield authority in the field
of 'objective knowledge', supplanting Church doctrine.
Masonic traditions are, at their worst, social indoctrination
schemes that effectively disempower the individual and diffuse
rebellion. At their best they are mechanisms of preserving
important pscho-social symbols and concepts. The form and meaning
of these symbols may have a profoundly transformative effect
upon those who use them as a foci of meditation.
Setting the Stage: The fragmentation of paganism
It ought be said that none of the aforementioned social, religious
developments took place in a vacuum. Just as there is an
incredible mixture among economic classes by virtue of a shared
society, so has there been a weaving of religious traditions in
Ancient roots of unknown form gave way, through civilization,
to an agrarian and fertility-based religious expression amidst
peasantry, the farmers in much of Europe. This was dissapated
by war, plague and the oppression of upper class fear (exemplified
by the Inquisition).
Many, if not all, of the ancient rites have been forgotten or lost,
only preserved in form by a co-opting 'Christian' social tradition
(e.g. communion and the concept of the Dying Sun-King), or by those
who have seized upon times of old as some sort of some of 'Golden Age',
free from the pressures and trials of civilized, citified life.
Whether or not any remnants of an agrarian, fertility-religion somehow
managed to be preserved by such a non-literary, ravaged culture as was
peasant Europe, it did not likely retained the same form over
hundreds of years, especially given the pressures from the upper
classes to dissolve it.
It has been popular to assume that if indeed this did occur, then
it would most likely have found shelter within places which
withstood the onslaught of the Romans, British and other imperialists
bent on unification through force.
With all this history behind it, and given inspiration by an orthodoxy
which berated and condemned it, when tides of political and social
restriction began to recede, it is no wonder that a renewal,
a resurgence, began to develop. Much of this rejuvenation has taken
place very recently.
A New Religion: Gerald Gardner and the Craft
Controversy has raged during the latter half of this century
concernng the origin and history of neo-paganism. The term
itself derives from a new version (neo) of the religion of the
country-dweller (paganus). It is a similar descriptor to the
'heathen' or, 'one who dwells within the heaths', the shrubland.
Until 1951 many countries had laws against Masonry and Witchcraft,
a holdover from earlier times. England was among them, and in that
year it repealed restriction of Witchcraft.
In immediate response to this, a man by the name of Gerald Gardner
published several books on the subject, claiming to have had
dealings with an extant 'family tradition' of Witches in England.
In so doing he revealed details of their lives and religious
Much of the resultant history of Wicca, or Witchcraft, is available
in written form by such notable authors as Margot Adler. I shall
not repeat their words here except to say that there are important
relationships between today's organized Witches and traditions
outside the peasant class, notably Masonry.
Terms such as 'craft', ritual forms such as 'initiations', and social
delineations like 'degrees' are indicators to me of the similarity
of origin between modern Wicca and Masonry. For this reason and
because I personally find its seemingly rigid structures distasteful,
I consider the religion of Wicca to be different than the Way of the
Witch. This is largely as a result my own experience and the prevalence
of this attitude among many of those whose vision I respected greatly.
I would distinguish between a Wiccan, who is a member of an
organized and tax-exempt tradition with many sects (such as
Gardnerianism, Alexandrianism, Faerie, etc.), and a witch,
who needs no social tradition yet may or may not engage
society and group rite. A Wiccan may be a Witch, but a witch
need not be a Wiccan.
My Meaning for the term 'Witch'
'Witch' appears to derive from the root 'wicce', which means 'to bend'.
I like to play with the ambiguity of this definition. A witch
bends like the reed in the wind. She also is one who bends or
shapes hir world.
Witches are healers. This varies, however, among those who
engage the healing of individuals, those who work for the
healing of all, and those who seek both, or see no essential
difference between them. In this way witches may be identified
Here my bias becomes blatant...
Witches TEND to focus more heavily upon certain mythic images
than on others. Usually this is the imagery which common society
has shunned/repressed. For this reason I say that modern witches
focus more on the wrathful, repulsive, and/or aged aspects of
any deities which enter hir practice - the Crone, the Old King,
the Underworld Lord, the Demon Queen.
Witches are often ecologists and may apply the principles of
ecology in their lives where they feel able. Many are engaged
in political activities designed to awaken a sensitivity to
issues surrounding plant and animal, the balance of nature,
and one's place in nature.
Witches are individualists. Most are solitary workers. It is rare
that I meet a witch who says she's a member of an organized religion.
Those who do often work for social change, harmony, and a global
consciousness without doctrinal or moral sectarianism.
I find that most witches are open-minded and focus on actions rather
than words and ideas, many having studied other cultures and
acquired a broader view of social issues, and are generally
accepting of all those whom they meet.
I would say one more thing about witches. They have a sense of
humor. They don't seize on details and ostracize, they don't require
the seriousness of others, they often don't take themselves too
seriously, understanding the Great Cosmic Joke in which they live.
In conclusion, I would further note there is absolutely
NOTHING which separates a witch from a Christian, a Buddhist,
a Taoist, or even a Satanist.
One reason this is the case is that being a witch's life doesn't
necessarily have anything to DO with social religious tradition,
though it may include it. Another is that there
is a place where all paths converge and this 'place between' is
where the witch spends the bulk of hir time.
My definitions and descriptions are by no means the last word
on the subject of witches. I urge you to develop your own ideas
if you have not done so already. There are no false paths in the
amusement park of the imagination.
Create fabulous stories about your origin and the origin of groups
to which you belong. Witches are more about fantasy than about
fact, more about imagination than about knowledge, more about
ambiguity than about clarity.
I hope you will take what I've said here and chew on it, mash it
up, destroy it, then create your own stories with the combined
mastications of all the stories you have found inspiring.
There is no truth but what we discover.
Thank you for your time and your attentions,
Thyagi Morgoth NagaSiva
871 Ironwood Drive
San Jose, Kali Fornica, 95125