The Real History of Wicca

The history of Wicca has been a subject of much debate ever since its introduction into the public eye. Even ignoring the disproved mythological history that was originally thought to be true, there are still arguments over the beginnings of Wicca. This is merely a quick look into the history of Wicca starting with Gerald Gardner.

To understand Gardner, we need to look at his life. Briefly, he was born in 1884 in the UK and spent most of his adult life in Malaya. In 1936 at 52 years of age, he retired and returned to England. He joined the Folklore Society and the Rosicrucian Theater at Christchurch. It is said that he met Old Dorothy Clutterbuck at the latter. Throughout his life, he had a large interest in magic, folklore, and mythology.

In 1939, at the age of 55, Gardner was initiated by Old Dorothy into a coven of the Old Religion that met in the New Forest area of Britain, as he claims. Many people have been suspicious of this claim and have accused Gardner of making it all up. Doreen Valiente, original HPS of Gardner's coven, set out to prove this claim (despite being at odds with him at the time) by finding Old Dorothy. She did manage to prove Dorothy Clutterbuck was a real person through Birth and Death Records, but this in no way proved Gardner's claims.

In May of 1947, Gardner met Aleister Crowley and became a member of the O.T.O. (Ordo Templi Orientis). Although Crowley and Gardner's association shortly ended with Crowley's death in December of 1947, it was reported that they enjoyed their time together.

In 1949, Gardner published High Magic's Aid. It was a fictional story about witchcraft. Gardner wrote it with the intent to reveal some rites without revealing the truth (as bound by oath). In 1954, Witchcraft Today was written to announce this religion to the world, and in 1959 published The Meaning of Witchcraft to further present the religion of "Wica."

Gardner presented Wicca as the religion of Witchcraft, though today Wicca and Witchcraft are looked at as two separate things (Wicca being a religion that incorporates a form of witchcraft, while witchcraft is not necessarily religious in any way). He claimed that Wicca (or Wica as he spelled it then), was an ancient religion; the Old Religion. It is obvious from his writings that he drew influence from various sources such as Masonry, Aleister Crowley, Margaret Murray, Robert Graves, various cultures and magick-based faiths (ancient and modern), among other sources. While some of these sources, such as Murray, had many theories and ideas that have since been disproved or discredited, at the time of Gardner's writings, such information was still taken seriously.

Through Gardner, Wicca grew and spread. Thanks to the vast availability of information on Wicca today, it has become one of the fastest growing religions in some parts of the world.

Having gone through this history, it's time to look at the arguments. Occasionally people who still believe that Wicca is the "Old" Religion dating back to prehistoric times can be found. This is often due to a lack of looking into historical facts or simply stubborn refusal to listen to reason of anyone who says differently, believing that historical records have been meddled with. The latter see known history as being a "history conspiracy cover-up" of sorts, if you will.

The arguments with historical facts and reason in mind usually lay to just how much Gardner told the truth and how much he made up.

One argument is that Gardner is a fraud, plain and simple. His initiation claims into a coven in 1939 are false. There was no such coven. He simply made up everything and added in bits and pieces of information from different cultures, time periods, and modern sources. With this argument, from a Wiccan perspective, often comes the reminder that all religions had their beginnings somewhere, and just because it was "made up" by one man doesn't mean it isn't a valid belief system.

Another argument extends from the previous one. Gardner made up Wicca, but witchcraft as a religion existed without his knowledge of it. This argument often explains hereditary claims that date back long before Gardner. Even assuming such claims are false, witchcraft practices have been known to be passed down in families and small groups for generations. Granted, such practices may be looked at as mere folk superstitions and such, but today those practices are viewed as forms of witchcraft. When Gardner came out with Wicca, the witches and witch-groups came out either in support of Gardner (for bringing such beliefs to the public) or against (for claiming Wicca was the religion of the witches). This also explains why Wicca is now viewed as its own separate religion while witchcraft is viewed as being a practice that comes in many forms and paths.

The next argument is that Gardner was in fact initiated into a coven as he claimed. From this, a number of other arguments can be found. Did he find in that coven what he presented to the world? Or did he take bits of what he found and add to it his own bits and pieces, drawing from various sources, to create the religion as we know it today? This last bit goes along with the previous argument and further explains why Wicca and witchcraft are not one and the same.

My personal view is somewhat of the latter argument. I do not believe that Wicca today would be what Gardner found through the coven he was initiated into. I support the idea that if he was in fact a member of said coven, he added to what he found there. He shaped it further with the aid of Doreen Valiente among others. If there was no coven (as there still is no evidence of it), I do think Gardner was influenced by Old Dorothy. Old Dorothy may have simply been a woman with some stories about folklore and mythology with a few of her own ideas. Then again, perhaps she had come from a family as mentioned in the second argument presented here. Just because Gardner claimed to have been initiated into a coven of witches that didn't exist doesn't mean he completely lied. People are known to spice up the truth when it suits what they have to say.

No matter which argument Wiccans believe, it is agreed by most that the history isn't important to the practice of Wicca. Yes, knowing its roots helps us to understand our religion, but the exact details of Wicca's history are not necessary to have faith on this path. We can understand all we need to about our history simply through what we know to be fact. What still remains a mystery does not make Wicca any less valid.

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