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Regarding witchcraft

Regarding witchcraft

The Birth of Wicca

Wicca is a form of pagan witchcraft, but its roots are surprisingly recent. While beliefs in witchcraft itself date back thousands of years, Wicca was created during the first half of the twentieth century, and its principles were first set down in print in 1954. The word 'Wicca' is based on the Old English name for witch, and Wicca itself is a complex series of beliefs that are often based around the duotheistic worship of a Mother Goddess, and a Horned God, usually seen as a symbol of fertility. (The Horned God can also be interpreted differently – some Wiccans see the Horned God as a Sun God, the Oak King, or a Lord of Death and the leader of the legendary Wild Hunt.) Wiccans can also view the world as full of multiple gods or spirits, usually associated with the natural world, and these will often be viewed as fairies or elementals. Practitioners of Wicca are always referred to as 'witches', whether they are men or women.

Wicca first developed thanks to a theory that was popular in the late nineteenth century, which suggested that the Witch Hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were actually done to try and suppress a cult of pagan worship that had survived the rise of Christianity. This theory was pioneered by a group of European scholars and folklorists, and received its biggest boost via the British Egyptologist Margaret Murray in her 1921 book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. This concept of the witch-cult proved massively popular and appeared in works by authors such as Robert Graves and John Buchan. While the theory would eventually be disproved and discredited via detailed research during the 1960s and 1970s, it had a gigantic effect on the world of the occult, and sparked off the creation of Wicca.

During the 1930s, a retired civil servant, amateur anthropologist and archaeologist, and self described witch by the name of Gerald Gardner claimed that he had been initiated into a secret group of witches called the New Forest Coven, and set out to revive the practice of pagan magic. Taking the rituals of the alleged coven, he added to them aspects of other occult practices, including concepts from Freemasonry, folk magic, and the writings of Aleister Crowley, along with scholarly works like The Golden Bough by James Frazer, to form a new tradition of magic that was eventually dubbed the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca.

Following the 1951 decision to repeal of the Witchcraft Act (originally created in 1735), practitioners of witchcraft were able to function with greater freedom, and this led to Gardner publishing the book Witchcraft Today in 1954, which truly pushed the concept of witchcraft into the public consciousness and set off the true rise of the Wiccan tradition. Despite sensational scare-stories in various British tabloid newspapers, the popularity of Wicca spread throughout the 1960s, reaching the United States and Australia, where the decentralised nature of Wiccan beliefs meant that new variants of Wicca were frequently created, including the Feri Tradition, the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, and the 1734 Tradition.

Since then, the popularity of witchcraft and Wicca has been boosted further by portrayals in the media (such as the movie The Craft and the TV series Charmed), and the rise of the Internet. Influenced by the New Age movement, Wicca is often seen as a trendy and eclectic version of witchcraft, embracing multiple sources and beliefs, but always with a strongly ethical approach to the idea of magic.

Last Updated: 6th December 2018.

Image Credit: Happy witch designed by Freepik. Licensed under CC BY 3.0.

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