The History of Wicca: A Mythological Understanding

The following is the history of Witchcraft (or, more specifically, Wicca) as it was presented in Wicca's early days. Since then, the theories surrounding this story have been disproved. This story, in all its variations, is merely mythological. It is not meant as a true history of anything. I include it here only for its mythological value. Most Wiccans I know do not follow this story even as a mythological one, but as it was believed in the early part of the real Wiccan history, I feel it deserves a space here.

Witchcraft began more than 35 thousand yeas ago, when the people believed in the Mother Goddess and Horned God. Hunters performed sympathetic magic to enhance the success of the hunt by dressing in animal skins and horns. As isolated settlements came together to form villages, they grew together as communities. They shared knowledge and used their inner power to work together. These were the first covens.

These covens were deeply attuned to plant and animal life. They bred animals and planted seeds. The God was less associated with the hunter and instead associated with the grain that is sacrificed only to be later reborn. The Goddess was seen as less wild and associated with the fertility of the land to reflect the settled nature of the civilizations.

As villages grew into cities, shrines depicted the Goddess and her connection with the God as consort and son. Trade from Africa and West Asia brought new mysteries. They learned of ley lines (power of the earth) and how they could be enhanced through the placement of stones. The Witches used these stones to develop methods of marking the seasons and their cycle. This lead to the creation of the Wheel of the Year, the Sabbats. These holy days were celebrated with feasting and bonfires.

Resulting from the settlement of the people, many advancements were made. From studying the land, the sky, the turning of the Wheel, they increased their knowledge in the areas of mathematics, astronomy, poetry, music, medicine, and psychology. The deeper mysteries, then, provided keys to understanding the Universe.

However, in other parts of the world, cultures devoted themselves to the arts of war. They would come across the people of the Old Religion and attack them. From the time of the Bronze Age, Indo-European invasions swept through, driving out the Goddess peoples. They settled into the hills and mountains, where they were forced to change from the matriarchal, Goddess-centered culture they developed into the conquering patriarchal cultures. The Goddess was "married" into the existing pantheons of the times.

Some aspects of the Old Religion were incorporated into the mysteries of victorious warrior cultures. The Celts adopted some beliefs into the Druidic mysteries. Meanwhile, the followers of the Old Religion preserved their beliefs through mock plays of the old rites, celebrating the holy days with old and new traditions, and mingling with and marrying the invading people to combine beliefs.

When Christianity was born, it brought little change in its infancy. The story of Christ was viewed as a new version of ancient tales of the Mother Goddess and her Divine Child who would be sacrificed and reborn in the cycle of the seasons. The Wicca and Wicce (members of the surviving covens) were the magicians, healers, teachers, poets, midwives, and central figures in their communities.

Persecution was slowly implemented and the beliefs of the Old Religion were sent underground. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Old Religion resurfaced through poetry. The figure of Mary was honored and revered in much the same way the Mother Goddess had been in previous centuries. She became the new face of the old deity. In an effort to stop the revival of the old ways, witchcraft was declared heresy by the church. Wars, Crusades, plagues, and peasant revolts occurred throughout the centuries, threatening the stability of the medieval church and feudal system of the time. Churches of Christianity lost tolerance toward its rivals as the messianic movements and religious revolts took place.

In 1484, the Inquisition began. Only two years later, Kramer and Spriger published the Malleus Maleficarum that brought a reign of terror to Europe. Up until the 17th century, persecutions led to the execution of hundreds of thousands of witches. 80% of those executed were women and children. This was a time of terror, fear, violence, intolerance, greed, and hysteria.

Some of the followers of the Old Religion managed to escape and fled to faraway lands outside the reach of the Inquisition. They maintained a strict adherence to rules of secrecy to protect one another and their traditions. After the 18th century, the Craft faded from the memory of civilization as the horror and atrocities of the Inquisition were left behind. However, many of the stereotypes created during that time period remained, even into modern day.

The Old Religion remained underground until the 20th century. When the final Anti-Witchcraft laws in England were repealed, those of the ancient ways came out of the "broom" closet.

Source: The Spiral Dance 20th Anniversary Edition by Starhawk

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