Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Origins of Modern Day Wicca and Neopaganism


Did you ever wonder how much of Wicca can be traced to the Celts? Wicca is a religion based on ancient northern European Pagan beliefs in a fertility Goddess and her consort a horned God. The religion is a modern creation and some of its sources pre-date the Christian era by many centuries. Most Wiccans do not believe that their religion is a direct continuous descendent of this earlier religion. They see it as a modern reconstruction.

This is what Joanna Hautin-Mayer says: "We know tragically little about the actual religious expressions of the ancient Celts. We have a few myths and legends, but very little archeological evidence to support our theories. We have no written records of their actual forms of worship, and the accounts of their culture and beliefs written by their contemporaries are often highly biased and of questionable historical worth."

This is what Silver RavenWolf in 1998 relates about the Wicca culture: "Wicca, as you practice the religion today, is a new religion, barely fifty years old. The techniques you use at present are not entirely what your elders practiced even thirty years ago. Of course, threads of 'what was' weave through the tapestry of 'what is now.' ...in no way can we replicate to perfection the precise circumstances of environment, society, culture, religion and magick a hundred years ago, or a thousand. Why would we want to? The idea is to go forward with the knowledge of the past, tempered by the tools of our own age."

Writings that formed the basic foundation of Wicca are as follows:

Charles Leland (1824-1903) published a book in 1899 titled Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. Leland was the founder of the Gypsy Lore Society, editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, and a prolific author and folklorist. Aradia deals mainly with the Goddess Diana. It is presented as an ancient document which recorded the doctrines of La Vecchia Religione (The Old Religion) -- Italian witchcraft. Leland claims to have received the information from an Italian strega (sorceress) named Maddalena. How much of this is a valid account of La Vecchia Religione is anyone's guess. However, the book played a significant role in the later development of modern-day Neopaganism.

Margaret Murray (1863 - 1963) authored The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches. These books promoted the concept that some of the Witches who were exterminated by Roman Catholics and Protestants during the "Burning Times" (circa 1450-1792) were remnants of an earlier, organized, and dominant pre-Christian religion in Europe. Her writings have not been well received by anthropologists. However, they were very influential in providing background material for the Neopagan traditions.

Gerald Gardner (1884 - 1964), a British civil servant, who has written that he joined an existing Wiccan Coven in 1939, taking the (then) usual vows of secrecy persuaded the coven to let him write a book in 1949 about Wicca in the form of a novel, High Magic's Aid. He carefully revealed a few of the Old Religion's beliefs and the historical persecutions that they endured, and added many rituals, symbols, concepts and elements from ceremonial magick, Freemasonry and other sources to "flesh out" the coven's beliefs and practices, most of which had been long forgotten. He also wrote Witchcraft Today in 1954 in which he described additional details about the faith. In 1959 he also wrote The Meaning of Witchcraft which described in detail the history of Wicca in Northern Europe.

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