Sunday, April 30, 2006

a history of Wicca

Wicca is both an ancient feminine earthly religion and also a newly-minted 20th century faith. Wicca is a neo-pagan religion which was reconstructed from beliefs, deities, symbols, practices and other elements of an ancient religion. Unlike Christianity it is not based on the value of the human word, but on the impact of the elements.

This is demonstrated by the words of a native American Indian Wiccan: "If you take the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our bible IS the wind and the rain."

Wiccans believe in a dual deity structure: a Goddess and a God. Furthermore, the Goddess has three aspects of different ages: the Maiden for sexuality, the Mother for fertility and the Crone for wisdom. The Wiccan golden rule is the Rede, which states “Harm None, do what thou wilt”.

There are many who dispute this type of worship is a religion. Many people are frightened by the idea of Wicca and its more pejorative incarnation “witchcraft.” They judge it on moral grounds as an evil force. Why would a religion that on face value that is so respectful of the world be the object of great fear and dislike? The answer goes back many centuries.

Britain had anti-witchcraft acts on its books dating back to 1401. The Church was suspicious of supernatural and magical events that it did not control. Henry VIII, as part of his appropriation of the powers of the English Catholic Church, instituted the death penalty for witchcraft. Elizabeth I took matters further making it an offence against common law not ecclesiastical law. This gave officials a financial incentive to prosecute them. Witches would forfeit their lands to the Crown if they were convicted. The end result was an open season for witchhunts. The pursuit of witchcraft was exported to America with the Mayfair. The Pilgrim Fathers were also keen to keep their communities free from those found guilty of “invoking or conjuring an evil spirit."

Back in England witchhunting became associated with the Puritans and they were out of favour after the restoration of the throne under Charles II in 1660. The Puritans were out of power, but their laws remained quietly on the books. Witchcraft was still an offence at the end of World War Two. In 1941, Scottish psychic Helen Duncan was arrested after she passed on classified defence knowledge in a séance. Duncan told her audience that the British ship HMS Barham had been sunk by the Germans. That was true but the British had concealed this fact at the time to hoodwink the Germans. The Germans eventually found out and the British announced the loss in 1942. Two years later, the paranoid planners of D-Day used the Witchcraft Act to arrest Duncan out of fear she might reveal the landing plans. She was found guilty and imprisoned for nine months. She was the last person to be tried and convicted under the law. The act was repealed in 1951.

An eccentric British civil servant named Gerald Gardner was the first person to take advantage of the relaxed law. Gardner was also an amateur anthropologist, author and a student of the occult. In 1954 he published a tract called ‘Witchcraft Today’ where he produced the definitive texts for those who practiced ‘Wica’ or ‘the Craft'. Gardner documented the religious aspects of what was to become known as Wicca.

This book was based on the writings of Aleister Crowley, Doreen Valiente and others. Crowley was infamous in his own lifetime despite a stellar Renaissance Man career. He was a author, occultist, mountaineer, chess master, painter and critic. Crowley fused his studies of mysticism and Eastern religion into a system he called "Thelema". Doreen Valiente was a self-proclaimed witch who provided the feminist influence on Gardner’s philosophy. These two influenced the Wiccan Rede in Gardner’s book which said “do no harm to others and do what thou wilt”. The Rede is now the prayer that sums up Wiccan ethics.

Gardner had two other key influences from history. The first was the American folklorist Charles Leland. Leland travelled vastly in Europe and made a detailed study on gypsy lifestyle. He wrote a book in 1899 called “Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches”. Its first five chapters were about a mythical document called the Vangelo (which may or may not been a figment of Leland’s fiction.) The Vangelo, the origins of which Leland never revealed, outlined the practices of witchcraft.

The second influence was the British anthropologist and Egyptologist Margaret Murray. She was a fervent women’s rights campaigner and a veteran of many archaeological expeditions to Egypt. She took a break from this work to write “Witch cult in Western Europe” in 1921. In this she exaggerated the scale of the underground pagan resistance to Christianity that existed across the centuries. But she did alert the world to its existence.

Gardner’s tract is credited with the re-introduction of the word Wicca into English. The word itself is a multi-purpose Old English word which could mean wizard, soothsayer, sorcerer or magician. This old meaning of the word has affected public acceptance and the word Wicca retains a strong pejorative meaning. The pentacle is still not recognised by the US Department of Veterans Affairs as a religious symbol in military cemeteries. However Wiccans won a major victory in Virginia in 1985 with the ruling that it is a legal recognised religion and therefore afforded all the benefits accorded to religion by law.

Conservative Christian groups in the US, led by politicians such as Jesse Helms and Bob Barr are fighting to overrule this decision and see Wicca as analogous to Satanism. Wiccans reject this comparison as they also reject allegations of black magic. To them, Wicca is the opposite of everything its opponents fear. They say that Wicca is a very peaceful, harmonious and balanced way of thinking and life which promotes oneness with the divine and all which exists.

It has interesting parallels and overlaps with the Green movement. “As ye harm none, do what you wilt” could be a credo of either movement. As could the Gaia hypothesis. But it is not all sweetness and light in the garden of Wicca. There are arguments as to whether ‘hereditary witches’ are better than ‘book witches’. The question is how will the political glare and the environmental overlaps mutate the public face of Wicca in the coming years?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

A typical dictionary definition of hypnosis states that it is: a state that resembles sleep but that is induced by suggestion. However, anyone who has tried hypnosis (and any self respecting hypnotist) will tell you that this is a very simplistic view of the subject!
A much better description comes from the Free Online Dictionary which states that hypnosis is: an artificially induced state of consciousness, characterised by heightened suggestibility and receptivity to direction. So what does this mean and how can it be used to your advantage?
Well, the subject of hypnosis has been discussed and pondered since the late 1700s. Many explanations and theories have come and gone though science, however, has yet to supply a valid and well-established definition of how it actually happens. It's fairly unlikely that the scientific community will arrive at a definitive explanation for hypnosis in the near future either, as the untapped resources of our 'mostly' uncharted mind still remain something of a mystery.
However, the general characteristics of hypnosis are well documented. It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, deep relaxation and heightened imaginative functioning. It's not really like sleep at all, because the subject is alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling you get when you watch a movie or read a captivating book. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the outside world. Your focus is concentrated intensely on the mental processes you are experiencing - if movies didn't provide such disassociation with everyday life and put a person in a very receptive state then they would not be as popular (nor would TV advertising be as effective!). Have you ever stated that a film wasn't great because you just couldn't 'get into it'???
This works very simply; while daydream or watching a movie, an imaginary world becomes almost real to you because it fully engages your emotional responses. Such mental pursuits will on most occasions cause real emotional responses such as fear, sadness or happiness (have you ever cried at a sad movie, felt excited by a future event not yet taken place or shivered at the thought of your worst fear?).
It is widely accepted that these states are all forms of self-hypnosis. If you take this view you can easily see that you go into and out of mild hypnotic states on a daily basis - when driving home from work, washing the dishes, or even listening to a boring conversation. Although these situations produce a mental state that is very receptive to suggestion the most powerful time for self-change occurs in the trance state brought on by intentional relaxation and focusing exercises. This deep hypnosis is often compared to the relaxed mental state between wakefulness and sleep.
In this mental state, people feel uninhibited and relaxed and they release all worries and doubts that normally occupy their mind. A similar experience occurs while you are daydreaming or watching the TV. You become so involved in the onscreen antics that worries and everyday cares fade away, until all you're focused on is the TV. In this state, you are also highly suggestible. That is why when a hypnotist tells you do something under trance; you'll probably embrace the idea completely. However, your sense of safety and morality remain entrenched throughout the experience and should either of these be threatened you immediately wake!
A hypnotist can not get you to do anything you don't want to do.
So while in such a state, when we are highly suggestible and open to new beliefs, a skillful hypnotist, whether in person or via a recording, can alter life-long behaviours and even give us new ones! self hypnosis

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Anonymous said...

Gardner invented Wicca in the 60s.

He may have loosely based in on various variants of Anglo Saxon paganism, with some Crowley thrown in for good measure,

but Wicca is not an "ancient" religion. It is a reconstructionist New Age philosophy.

nebuchadnezzar said...

I take your point that Wicca is not strictly an ancient religion. But it is certainly based on ancient traditions.

blondie said...

i do have to say i disagree with that comment anonymous(the second one ). yes wicca has been remade in many ways it is based on so many ancient traditions and theories that it is an ancient religion, but this does very on the person. As so many have said before me there are as many different versions of wicca as there are wiccans so i guess your statment may be true for you in your beliefs but it may also not be true for others in their beliefs please take this into consideration

i very much enjoyed this post it was quite well done

Anonymous said...

how can i learn more about this religoin

Naturalbornwiccan said...

This is a great blog. My year and a day is almost up and I feel more comfortable with people asking my religion. From my teachings and studying I have to agree with blondie Wicca has been constructed but it is one of the first religions found on this earth. I have dealt with different types of magics used on me in the past and different spirits and energies. This is indeed an older religion just like any other religion constructed to make it more understandable and better. Please don't take this as in attack I don't mean to offend anyone