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alt.magicK KfaQ#13: Wicca Roots? (kreEePing oOze faQ)

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Revised 9503

KREEPING FAQ #13: "Where did Wicca come from?  Did Crowley invent it? (etc.)"

Gerald Brousseau Gardner started (or adapted, depending on the version
you believe) a religion he referred to as "Wicca", which is now more
specifically known as the Gardnerian tradition -- because of all the
different spinoffs ALSO called "Wicca".

He claimed that this "Wicca" was the religion of pre-Christian
Europe, and of the people persecuted by the Christian Church as
"witches".  Some people believe this.  Some (like me) don't.


Wicca was founded by the English civil servant and amateur anthropologist
Gerald Gardner (1884-1964); he claimed he came into contact with a group
of 'witches' and was initiated into Wicca by someone called "Old Dorothy"
who, according to him, was continuing an unbroken line of pre-Christian
nature religion. He says he just polished up and organized a bit the
original rituals and teachings. The story is without much doubt mostly
(although perhaps not entirely) made up to give legitimacy to his own ideas.
Wicca as Gardner presented it was a mixup of western esoteric traditions
(Golden Dawn, Masonry etc), Celtic and Germanic mythology and reconstructions
of their religions ideas based on ancient written sources, surviving folk-
lore, the theories of the anthropologist Margaret Murray, Charles Leland's
_Aradia_, and so forth.

Why he founded it? Probably just to present an alternative to straitjacket
monotheism, may be in part inspired by an urge to break the norms of society
a bit. Also, perhaps to reconstruct a more intimate relation between man and
nature. But since he insisted that he's continuing an unbroken tradition
this is just speculating. (Antti Lahelma)

There is no evidence of actual collaboration between Crowley and Gardner
on Wicca. All of the Crowley material in the Gardnerian Wiccan material is
from works that were published before hand. The only link between Crowley
and Gardner is the fact that Crowley sold him a charter to run an OTO
lodge and, by this, gave him, by decree, at least a 4th degree rank in the
OTO. There isn't any actual evidence for anything beyond this and this has
been discussed on at least a DOZEN occasions between myself, Wiccans, and
various informed Thelemites on several computer networks. It always comes
back to what we actually have evidence for. The only source that claims
the two collaborated is Francis King in his "Modern Ritual Magic" and that
book has other factual flaws as well.

I run into people about three or four times a year who claim to be from
FamTrads (Family Traditions). They fall into three catagories:

1) Those that offer no evidence to back up what they say (though they
often say they have proof) and get rather shrill when people don't give
them extra respect because they say they are from a FamTrad and whom
eventually run off in a huff.

2) Those that sincerely believe that the tradition they were trained in
was a FamTrad but have no proof and acknowledge it. Most of these
traditions are fairly obviously derived from some variation of Gardnerian

3) Those people that come from a Family Tradition and can document it.
Invariably, these traditions are nothing like Wicca and are not even
called "Witchcraft." Usually they have a mixture of 18th or 19th century
occult mysticism, masonic practices, and some folk practices. These are
the only traditions I have ever seen verified as having real evidence for
their existance. These traditions also, coincidently, have no relation to
Wicca in any form, merely being what someone was taught in a familial context.

When someone comes up with a Family Tradition of Wicca or something quite
similar to Wicca that can be verified, I will believe Wicca is older than
my Grandparents (who are in their late 60s). Until then, I go with the
evidence, which is that Gardner cribbed his material from published
sources, bad anthropology, and some sound mythic ideals and forces. It
works but it IS NOT ancient.

Al Billings aka Grendel Grettisson (

Wicca was invented by Gerald Gardner (and possibly some other folks), probably
around fall equinox 1939.  The seed of inspiration for this invention was
Margaret Murray's books, _The Witch Cult in Western Europe_ and _God of the
Witches_.  Originally, GBGs Wicca was focussed on a male God of Death, etc., 
per Murray.  However, GBG also had a strong inclination toward a Goddess
figure (maybe he found a Goddess easier to relate to?) so he created a 
duo-theistic symbolism, using some of the sexual imagery he had learned from
being ninth degree OTO.  (Actually, he got the degrees by buying an OTO
charter and a copy of the rituals from Crowley during Crowley's last year.)
The other source GBG used for the rituals was the _Greater Key of Solomon_,
which he used for the basic circle casting, though he gradually paganised the

In 1953, GBG initiated Doreen Valiente, who soon began rewriting substantial
parts of the Book of Shadows.  She was influenced by Robert Graves' _The
White Goddess_, and that became the fundamental theology of Wicca for a few
decades.  As far as I can tell, it is still the fundamental theology for all
of Gardnerian Wicca (including the Alexandrians).  Valiente, who had read
some of Crowley's published work, intentionally replaced the parts of the BoS
that were taken from Crowley.  (Well, most of them...there are still a couple
quotes she left in place.)

Please note that this analysis is grossly the same as Kelly's in _Crafting
the Art of Magic_, but without the histrionics about scourging.  However, I'm
not just accepting Kelly's analysis.  This is also based on Valiente's own
statements about her role as well as some reading of Crowley, Murray, the
_Oxford English Dictionary_, etc.


There was witchcraft before Gardner, and even before the Inquisition.  The
word existed in Old English because it meant something to those people.  As
far as we can tell, the original meaning of witchcraft is folk-magic.  This
is how this word is used by anthropologists as well. 

However, there was no such thing as Witchcraft, a pagan religion, until
Gardner invented it.  The concept of Witchcraft being religious has no
basis in anything before Margaret Murray let her imagination run away with
her.  If anyone has *any* evidence to the contrary, *please* let me know.  
Lots of us would love to see it.


   Actually, I believe the correct statement is that Gardner created
   'Wicca'.  In other words, he assembled a collection of beliefs and
   practices, some of which may have had ancient roots, some of which
   were borrowed from popular magickal systems of the times, and some
   of which he just plain made up to fill in the gaps, and thus 'created'
   a (more or less) coherent belief system to which he assigned the
   name Wicca.  This does not mean that there were no witches around
   before Gardner, nor that there were no folks around who were called
   'witches' before Gardner.  Certainly there were - England's anti-
   witchcraft laws were REPEALED in Gardner's time, not established.
   It just means that the practices were not 'codified' and called
   Wicca.  It's just the same as if I gathered together some elements of
   musical styles and 'created' a new style and gave it a name - the
   pieces (large or small) existed before me, but the style and its
   name are new.

   Before Gardner, people who practiced 'witchcraft' (in Great Britain
   at least) probably did not call themselves anything in public - there
   were standing laws against witchcraft. (Paul E. Meade)

The term "witchcraft" is very specific, generally being descriptively
limited to 1450 to 1750 and (generally) to Christian western Europe
(with the exception of Salem).  According to "The Encyclopedia of
Witchcraft and Demonology", "Sorcery is an attempt to control nature,
to produce good or evil results, generally by the aid of evil spirits.
On the other hand, witchcraft embraces sorcery, but goes far beyond it,
for the witch contracts with the Devil to work magic for the purpose
of denying, repudiating, and scorning the Christian God.  The crimes both
sorcerer and witch are supposed to commit - that is, the whole range of
'maleficia' - appear to be alike, but the motives are distinct.  This
is the basis on which the Inquisition built up the theory of witchcraft as
a heresy - a conscious rejection of God and the Church; witchcraft became
not a question of deeds but a question of ideas..."

So, we see from this that "witchcraft" was, as Bill Nelson suggests, purely
a fiction invented by the Church, for various reasons, not all of them
having anything at all to do with heresy.  On the other hand, the practices
that Gardner and Crowley refer to are far older, though they do not appear to
have been called by that name or that term.  Surely, the attempt to control
or manipulate nature and/or the gods is an art (or science, depending on who
you listen to) as old as Man:

        Before 1350, witchcraft primarily meant sorcery, a survival
        of common superstitions - pagan only insofar as the beliefs
        antedated Christianity, never pagan in the sense of an organized
        survival opposition to Christianity or of some pre-Christian
        religion.  Sorcery or magic is world-wide and world-old; it
        is simply the attempt to control nature in man's own interests;
        it is the forerunner of religion before priests appropriated
        tribal lore for themselves.

                "The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology",
                 -- Rossell Hope Robbins (Ed Carp)

It is mainly a matter of definition. Witchcraft, as a religion (or
even as a practice) does not appear to have existed until it was
invented by the fertile minds of certain Christian writers/examiners
etc. There is a fair amount of modern Witchcraft (even Wicca) that
is drawn from the writing of the authors during the Inquisition and
later. There is nothing wrong with this. Christianity itself was built
on the myths of religions that came before it.

My whole point was that there is no evidence that Witchcraft, as a
religion, was practiced prior to Gardner. 


It's my impression that the very _FIRST_ modern use of the word
"Witch" with a capital W, with today's positive connotations of
healing and resistance to tyranny, was in the English translation of
Jules Michelet's _La_Sorciere_, a 19th century work of literary
Satanism.  According to J.B. Russell in _A_History_of_Witchcraft_,
nearly all of modern Wicca's commonly-acknowledged literary
ancestors -- Murray, Frazer, Leland, etc. -- drew significant
inspiration from Michelet.  (_La_Sorciere_ is still in print under
the English title _Satanism_and_WItchcraft_.)
As for the use of "Witch" as a formal title, LaVey's Church of
Satan used "Witch" as a formal title of rank in their early years,
though they later dropped it.  A few Satanists still do use it;
and pre-LaVey Satanists definitely used it. (I know someone who
briefly belonged to a pre-LaVey Satanic coven back in the
On the other hand, "Wicca" is a completely archaic word that was
resurrected by today's Wiccans, so I have no problem with Wiccans
claiming exclusive use of that word. (Diane Vera)

Wicca was built on the foundation of thousands of years of Christian 
and other middle-eastern mysticism.  It uses the symbols, trappings, 
and vocabulary that has come to be associated with "witchcraft," but 
it has no more relation to actual pre- or non-Christian magic than a 
"Celtic Twilight" romance novel has to the actual history of the 
British Isles.

No one... is arguing that Gardner made magic up out of whole 
cloth, or that people before him didn't do things that we could call magic or 
witchcraft.  What we are arguing is that the things that are today called 
Wicca and Witchcraft, especially conceived of *as religions*, were the 
invention of Gardner and a few others, based on mythology and the occult 
revival of the 18th-19th centuries.

Wicca is much more Hermetic and Romantic than it is pre-Christian 
or "Witchy".

Amanda Walker

...many Wiccans now realize that Wicca is not "The Old Religion", but 
rather a modern religion which drew much of its inspiration from (among 
other sources) Margaret Murray's theories about an alleged medieval 
"witch cult".  What's not so widely acknowledged is that some of 
Margaret Murray's key ideas were, in turn, derived from Jules Michelet's 
_La_Sorciere_, a 19th-century work of literary Satanism.  (See 
_A_History_of_Witchcraft_ by J.B. Russell.)
...Neo-Pagans and other occultists disowning Satanism is a little 
like the 1970-era feminists who thought they had to disown lesbians 
to dispel the notion that all feminists are lesbians, or like the gay 
activists who used to feel embarrassed about transvestites.  Fortunately, 
most of the feminists and gay activists soon realized that trying to 
disown their less "respectable" constituents would only result in being 
divided and conquered.
...were it not for Wicca's use of words and other trappings popularly 
associated with "Satanism", Wiccan leaders wouldn't get interviewed 
by newspapers or on TV nearly as often as they do, nor would their books 
have sold nearly as well.  Wiccan spokespeople may complain that they 
get interviewed only once a year, on Halloween; but most leaders of
small religious sects don't get interviewed at all, not even on
Halloween. (Diane Vera)

Ralph Mack ( wrote:

| One thing that I have found interesting is how different Wicca is from
| the traditions from which it claims its origins. That isn't to say that
| the claim of descent is invalid; far from it.  
| However, it appears that modern pagans approach magic with a far different
| approach than their ancient counterparts. 

There's a pretty simple reason for that.  Wicca is not a descent from
ancient sources, but a self-conscious modern reclamation of them.  This
began in the nineteenth century, as esoteric Freemasons adopting the
approach of universalist syncretism raided more and more mythologies
and anthropological sources for material for new rituals.  Egypt was
especially popular, but an investigation of minor rites reveals that
almost every mythology which was then known in Europe was ritualized

This assimilationism gave birth to the modern occult movement, which
gave birth to the modern witchcraft movement.  These movements approach
pagan sources from a set of pre-existing theurgical and initiatory
assumptions and within an existing framework of ritual forms, which
they impose on all the sources that they reclaim.

Recently, however, some pagan movements have emerged which try to
revive rather than assimilate pagan movements.  Asatru is attempting to
recreate ancient ritual forms directly, though early forms such as
Thorssen's "hammer ritual" continued to use long-established ritual
forms from esoteric Freemasonry and its successors.  There are also
some Hellenic revivalists active in the SF Bay Area, who similarly
practice more traditional forms.

Personally, I happen to like the ritual frameworks and assumptions
established by the occult/pagan movement, so I haven't worked much with
the more revivalist groups.  Our formulae are quite similar to those of
the ancient mysteries, which esoteric Masonry actively sought to revive
(rather than assimilate).  In particular, there are very strong
similarities to the Graeco-Roman mysteries and sibling movements,
especially Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism.  To me this is not something
to be ashamed of!

Given the differences in approach between modern occult paganism and
ancient paganism, we should expect to see the revivalist and
assimilationist movements differentiating over the next few decades.

...Gardner was in fact continuing and building upon the esoteric Freemasonic 
tradition in an organic way.  It had been common practice for decades to 
discover some as yet untapped well of mythology and appropriate its symbols 
within the context of new rites of initiation and invocation, which rites 
however derived their basic structure from other similar rituals within the 
esoteric tradition.  

That is exactly what Gardner did with the anthropology of Murray, augmented 
with a good deal of classical scholarship on other "witch" myths.  In this 
way he was not breaking with esoteric tradition, but continuing it in both 
intent and form.  It would be more accurate to say that he used the new 
mythology as patching over the existing and unaltered edifice of esoteric 
Masonry, rather than the other way around.

...For his central celebratory ritual he took Crowley's Gnostic Mass and 
preserved the structure point by point, but changed the divine names and 
some of the wording to point to his new mythology.  Both rituals are 
symbolic re-creations of an inner sexual formula, which appears -- at least 
before the Valiente edits -- to have been identical between the two 

There are also reasons to believe that Gardner may have been influenced
by the common theme in British pornography of the religious spanking
initiatory order; compare the treatment of the subject in part III of
Ginzburg's _An_Unhurried_View_of_Erotica_ (New York: Helmsman, 1958)
with Gardner's.  It is unclear whether such societies of nudist
flagellants actually existed before Gardner, but it is hard to deny the
similarity.  Here I mean no disrespect and gladly acknowledge with our
modern-day Leather Faeries that there may be great spiritual meaning in
such customs. (Tim Maroney)

Wicca is derived from largely Christian, masonic and pseudo-masonic 
structures, infusing an alternative mythos which was taken from 
revolutionary and anthropological sources.  

Gardnerian tradition is arguably the central trunk of Wiccan tradition in 
its most conservative form.  It was founded upon heretical teachings which 
were developed by historical and philosophical founders of Satanist groups.
Unable to bear the brunt of the psychosocial backlash, these Satanists
could not identify themselves as such and instead took the slightly less
controversial (yet martyred) label 'Witch' or 'Wiccan' so as to identify
more strongly with what they sought to promote as indigenous and nature-
centered religion.  

Wicca arises in some measure as a *response* to Christianity, as a masonic,
pseudo-agrarian and Northern European alternative to a Semitic mystery 
tradition gone wild, and it is a composite of very diverse individuals who 
at times know absolutely nothing about either where they are coming from 
(usually oppressive and nominally Christian homes) or where they have 
landed (within a resurgent tradition founded upon mythical history which 
has roots in Western Hermetica and dreams of connection to pre-Christian 


The double C in Wicca/Wicce is pronounced like the TCH in Witch,
thus the words sound like "witch-uh"; not surprising, since they
are the source of the modern word "witch".  The fact that Gardner
and subsequent Neo-Pagans pronounce Wicca like a Bostonian saying
Wicker does not make the words cognates.  They appear to come
from two different (but similar-looking) root words -- Wicker from
a root meaning "bent", as you say, but Wicca/Witch from a root
referring to magic, religion, craftiness, and guile.

-- Raven (JSingle@Music.Lib.MATC.Edu).  [All standard disclaimers apply]

================================================== END OF OOZING FAQ #13

This document is Copyright (c) 1994, authors cited.

All rights reserved.  Permission to distribute the collection is
hereby granted providing that distribution is electronic, no money
is involved, reasonable attempts are made to use the latest version
and all credits and this copyright notice are maintained.

Other requests for distribution should be directed to the individual
authors of the particular articles.

This is from a series of continually-updated posts responding to recurrent
questions in this newsgroup.  Please debate anything in here which seems
extreme and add your own response to these questions after the post.  I'll
integrate what I can.  Thanks.

tyagi nagasiva
tyagI@houseofkaos.Abyss.coM (I@AM)

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