WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Wicca was first brought to the public by Gerald Gardner and was added to by the Farrar’s,
Starhawk, Scott Cunningham, Raymond Buckland, and others. Wicca combines what is believed to be traditional witchcraft with ceremonial magic, and eastern philosophies along with a few other belief systems. You generally have very formal ideas, and certain ways of carrying out craft work. In some situations there is a hierarchical structure of degrees, use of magical tools, strict laid out ceremonies, and more. This is a religious belief just as Catholic, Druid, Egyptian, Baptist, etc.
Personally I am an Eclectic Witch. I perform spells, healings, readings, etc. However, in my religious belief I encompass an array of different paths to include Wicca, Voodoo, Shamanism, and Buddhism.
Remember that history was written by those whom survived wars, attacks, and persecutions, the victims occasionally get to write some of the history. Whenever you are researching history, remember this fact. With this understanding, remember that much of what was originally known as witchcraft has been lost to us. I have utilized several sources that offered an honest history of witchcraft from then to now.
For modern witches, the history of the craft is told orally, as the story of a
people’s journey over time. Our history is a living story. We are a part of it.
We are writing our own chapter now. Our children will continue the story,
and hopefully it will never go so far underground that it will be lost again.
-Christopher Penczak; Inner Temple of Witchcraft
The history of Witchcraft can be found as far back as the Stone Age when the man of that day had only the sun, moon, and stars to figure out time, predict the seasons, find direction, and understand their existence. They also revered women during this time as women brought forth children and children were vital to continuing their existence. There is strong belief and some historical images that lead us today to believe that women were leaders of many of the tribes.
Their historical images showed us that they had some spiritual beliefs and seen the Earth as mother, the giver of life. “She” provided vegetation, drink, and shelter. They believed her male partner was an animal God of sorts, providing the animals tribes needed to survive. They also had other spirit beings to provide them with a way to understand the sun, moon, stars, and other phenomenon. We obviously learned differently over time and through different levels of intelligence, investigation, and learning. This lingering call of Mother Earth/Moon and Father Animal/Sun still lives on deep within our own spiritual selves. That call is okay as it relates back to our DNA. As the world moves more quickly around us and we seek not only that balance, but that inner peace when life becomes
overwhelming, those strands embedded within begin to call out when the body realizes the stress being felt does not require a fight or flight response. Having a deeper meaning and understanding of the world around us is something we all strive for. It happens in Science and in Religion. We are all looking for better understanding of the world around us, of ourselves, and of why we are here.
Witchcraft is the closest I personally have ever come to finding that answer, and I believe everyone should have a better understanding of it.
Witchcraft is a term that was used by the Christians to label the people of Europe before 300 A.D. So what exactly does witchcraft mean? Breaking it down, Witch is a modern word for the old English word wicce meaning “female magician, sorceress.” Craft comes from the old English craft which originally meant “power, physical strength, might.” Therefore, witchcraft would be a powerful female magician. However, today, witchcraft is no longer limited only to women. At one time men were called he-witches but this term is no longer necessary today.
So who were the witches of yesterday? They were “believers.” They held roles that we would today describe as priests, police, judges, counselors, doctors, nurses, historians, etc. Their religious title changed depending on the region but the care they gave to the people were the same.
Christianity spread throughout the lands from Jerusalem, through the disciples of Jesus soon after his death. They believed their mission was to go throughout all the lands of the world to spread his gospel. In doing so, they believed the only way to be saved was through Jesus who they believed was the son of God. Any other worship of any other entity, to them, was blasphemy and idolatry, which was a sin. This belief system led to years before, during, and after the inquisition of persecution, death, and imprisonment.
Due to various levels of persecution as Christianity spread throughout the lands, some people held to their beliefs and continued to worship their Gods. Many have had to hide their beliefs and practices throughout the centuries. Groups and/or families of witches passed down their traditions from generation to generation because they were the only ones believed to be trustworthy and free from persecution. These witches often pretended to be Christian in public to save themselves, their coven, and their families. Their tools were hidden in everyday items: the broom, the knife, the spoon, and the cauldron became staples of the arts. “Everyone had these objects, so you could not be accused of witchcraft for simply owning them.”
Fast forward to America in the 1600’s. This is the history most people know about. It is often called the “burning times” in Salem, Massachusetts. Interestingly though, no one was ever actually burned at the stake in Salem. What many do not know is that most of the people that were killed in the name of Witchcraft were not witches. In total, thirty-six people were killed and 150 were imprisoned. Most of these were actually over capitalism. If John wanted Bob’s property next door but he will not sell, accusing him of being a witch was a surefire way to cause him to lose everything.
Then taking over his land is easy. There were many opportunities people used to hurt someone in the name of Witchcraft. An angry teenager could claim she seen her mother practicing. This would lead to an investigation and generally death. One of the way’s they would test a witch was to tie a heavy rock to the person’s ankle. If they sunk, they were good, if they floated, they were a witch.
Once they sunk, they had to hurry and try to untie them before they drowned. Not all were
successful. Thankfully, the trials ended in 1693 but it wasn’t without damage and further confirmed that witches had to remain hidden. Thankfully, in 1735 King George I passed the Witchcraft Act in England that said witchcraft was not real and as such all persecutions should cease. This did put an end to many of the deaths, but by this point witches were feared, hated, and believed to be evil.
By the 16th century, the damage had been. The devil was seen as a personification of the God Pan, the misinterpretation of Exodus 22:18: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” spread hatred toward witches when in fact the proper translation would have been a poisoner.
As we know, time has a way of undoing what should not have been done in the first place. It took about a thousand years after the Witchcraft Act was passed but aspects of witchcraft began carefully resurfacing, mainly as a method to earn money. In the 1800’s psychic abilities, séances, and healings became popular. In the late 1800’s The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn surfaced in England, which is famous for its member Aleister Crowley. Crowley was well known and a great magician, but was full of pride which caused him to eventually leave the Golden Dawn and create his own group, Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). During this time, too we learn about Edgar Cayce, known as the “sleeping prophet.” He would give detailed, very accurate psychic readings in his sleep about
cures to illnesses, relationships, the future, and more.
Witches were hidden just about as deeply as they could be. They met privately in the forest, cloaked so no one could recognize them. They joined together “in perfect love and perfect trust.” Times were difficult, but many were still able to practice.
Then in 1954, Gerald Gardner changed everything when he published ‘Witchcraft Today’ followed shortly thereafter with ‘The Meaning of Witchcraft’ in 1959. These books were not the first books on Witchcraft, but they were written in a way that everyone understood what he was teaching which began to remove the fear of the unknown. There were many people at this time looking for alternative spiritual paths and they found it in Gardner’s books. During the 60’s and 70’s many Covens climbed out of secrecy as Gardner’s books were accepted and spread far and wide. These Covens showed there was a variety of different branches of Witchcraft. Gardner took what he learned from the ‘New Forest Coven’ he once belonged to and turned it into Gardnerian Witchcraft.
Another gentleman, Alex Sanders took what he knew and developed that into Alexandrian
Witchcraft. Native American spirituality and shamanism developed during this time as well. Some of the other paths that sprang up include Dianic, Green, Faery, Eclectic, and Seax Wica. During this time too, many didn’t like the term Witch. They instead used terms such as Druid, Heathen, Enlightened, Spiritual, Pagan and more. In 1972 thanks to Gavin and Yvonne Frost, Wicca became federally recognized which allowed Earth Based Religions equal rights, as other non-profit entities. In 1997 Wiccans held their first chaplain service at Fort Hood Army Base in Texas. In 2007 with the help of Selena Fox, head of Circle Sanctuary in WI, the VA finally recognized the Pentacle as a religious symbol that could be placed on military headstones. We have gone through a rough time, but we have survived and now have stable ground in religion. The fight for equality is not over, there are still situations where being a pagan, witch, heathen, etc., can cause a problem. Although companies operate as an EEOC, if someone’s boss does not like that an employee is pagan, they can and will find or create other reasons to have that employee removed or fired. Because of this, many pagans continue to hide their beliefs in the work place. As long as we continue to work toward progress, we will become
tolerated and accepted.