An example of the ignorance that is permeating the modern Craft movement and a prime example of when to tune out is a phrase that I have heard more than once (even on a college campus), “Well, Gerald Gardner invented Wicca in the Fifties[and/or Sixties] anyway.” This sentence is usually uttered to justify whatever pro or con viewpoint they hold but it tells me two things, 1- they don’t know anything about Witchcraft and 2- they don’t know very much about Gerald Gardner. Witchcraft as a form of Goddess-centered Pagan worship and magical practice has been written about as far back as 30 B.C. (by the Roman poet Horace) and has been chronicled throughout history as a Goddess-centered form of Pagan worship and magical practice despite the Inquisition and Witch Trials, despite the expansion of Christianity, and despite what alleged historians pushing an agenda may say. The fact is; all we have to do is look to actual history to find our evidence.
The Council of Ancyra, a group of high ranking church officials, in the year 314 C.E. came together in what is now Turkey and among a great many proclamations related to church doctrine, officially defined Witches as heretics who are deceived by Satan into believing they are Pagans (gee, that’s not stupid at all).
A further example of this is in a portion of the Canon Episcopi text, an 11th century church doctrine that became the standard against Witches during the middle ages (pre Malleus Maleficarum) - ([Witches are heretics who] “believe and profess that, in the hours of the night, they ride upon certain beasts with Diana, Goddess of the Pagans, and an innumerable multitude of women, and in silence of the night traverse great spaces of the earth and obey her commands as of their Lady, and are summoned to her service on certain nights.”). It goes on to say things like the church should teach that they are being deceived by the devil, blah, blah, blah, but the important part for our conversation is that they were acknowledging at that current point in time, the existence of Pagan Witchcraft, they twisted it of course but, the acknowledgement still stands. (Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700 edited by Alan Charles Kors)
The Council of Trier, in Germany in 1310 C.E. declares that Witches are practitioners of magic and worshippers of Diana and are thus guilty of heresy.
Bartolo Spina, in 1576 writes in his Quaestico de Srigibus, “Investigation of Witches” listing information gathered from ‘confessions’ that Witches gather to worship Diana and have dealing with spirits.
GirlamoTartarotti, in the year 1749 in his book, Del Congresso Nottorno Delle Lammie, trans. “On the Nocturnal Meetings of Witches” writes that “that the identity of the Dianic cult with modern Witchcraft is demonstrated and proven.” In the year 1749!
Charles Godfrey Leland, 1899 (in his book, Aradia: Gospel of the Witches presents Witch-lore and practices told to him by a Witch allegedly named “Maddalena” in which Italian Witches or Strega are shown to worship the Goddess Diana and perform magic.)
Margaret Murray, in 1921 presented her book, The Witch Cult in Western Europe in which she purported to show that the people persecuted in the Witch Trails were in fact members of a pan-European Pagan religion.
Gerald Gardner, in 1954, in his book Witchcraft Today, reveals that Witchcraft practices are still being practiced by then-current people. Gerald Gardner was initiated into an existing coven in the New Forest in England in the 1930’s. He had the desire to show the world that Witches still existed and were not evil, so he said that he got permission from the coven to share some of their lore. He almost never even used the word Wicca and when he did he spelled it with only one “c” as wica. He added much to the lore and later Doreen Valiente modified and added her own beautiful poetry to the work. Gerald Gardner passed away in 1964.
Doreen Valiente is considered the “Mother of Modern Witchcraft”. She wrote or modified much of the ritual and lore that has been used in much of Witchcraft since the 1960’s. In 1962, her book, Where Witchcraft Lives showed authentic modern Witchcraft to the world. She sought to prove and subsequently did prove the existence of “Old Dorothy” Clutterbuck the woman who initiated Gerald Gardner into the Craft and who many said was a lie concocted by Gerald to give “his” Witchcraft legitimacy.
In many modern books on the subject of Witchcraft it has become a popular practice to say things like Gerald Gardner just cobbled together things from Margaret Murray and Alastair Crowley, that Margaret Murray was wrong because her claims were too sweeping and she just over inflated what Charles Godfrey Leland claimed, that Charles Leland was wrong because he was either lying or being lied to and that he was no expert, etc, etc. but how far are we to go back and still claim that they were lying or misled? All the way back to 30 B.C.? Look at the simple timeline I was able to create with mild investigation: 30 B.C.; 11th Century; 1310; 1576; 1749; 1899; 1921; 1954; 1962, so somebody please tell me when the supposed gap exists where Pagan Witchcraft was fully extinguished in Europe?
The answer is that it wasn’t ever extinguished. The answer also is that most of the Witchcraft practiced today is most certainly NOT a fully realized ancient oral tradition passed down through endless generations either. Most Craft practiced by most Witches today is new(er) but based on older practices. It has evolved over time; not remained frozen in a static state. Kind of the same way that Lutherans are Christians (which is considered a 2000 year old religion) but, their denomination didn’t really start until 1521(ish). Why are Witches the only ones ever subject to age-based authenticity? And perhaps the real question is, why are some people SO driven to disprove ancient Pagan Witchcraft?
The truth is that there are great many people that could be considered fully neo-Pagan these days. They blend different forms and practices from all over the world or create new rituals, holidays and sometimes even create new Gods to worship. I have read more than one article describing methods of creating and interacting with television or comic book heroes as spiritual archetypes. There are also some groups of modern Wiccans that decry the use of the name Witch (and that phenomenon thoroughly disturbs me) and seem to prefer to believe that Witchcraft started “in the fifties”. I have read blogs from other modern Pagans that vehemently spread the idea (sometimes almost as a commandment) that in order to be “intelligent” and “honest” one has to believe that Gerald Gardner somehow made up Witchcraft. They then go on to qualify and rationalize their statement by saying things like “that doesn’t invalidate it as a religion though” and “it is still the spiritual descendent of ancient Paganism” et cetera. Another point that many have made as alleged “evidence” that Gerald made it up are the Eight Sabbats; stating that Celtic Britain only celebrated the four fire festivals and that Anglo-Saxon Europe only celebrated the solstices and equinoxes, thus it “should be” only four Sabbats, not eight!
The fact is that in Celtic Britain the solstices and equinoxes were known and acknowledged facts for centuries (think Stonehenge and Newgrange). Conversely, “scholars” that question Gerald’s celebration of Eight Holy Days should note (but never seem to state) that originally, he only celebrated four; the Celtic Fire Festivals of Samhain, Imbolc (Candlemas), Beltane, and Lughnasadh (Lammas). In his personal practice and later in his coven (when they asked him to), he chose to add the solstices and equinoxes into their ritual calendar. So, for anyone to make a statement like he didn’t know what he was doing is ridiculous. The Witchcraft he was given had four Sabbats; the same ancient four that “scholars” say should be the only ones he should have celebrated. He chose to add more, but in so choosing does not mean he made up Witchcraft anymore that modifying a cake recipe would mean someone invented baking. Incidentally, known as Walpurgisnacht, the May Sabbat has been celebrated for centuries by Anglo-Saxon Witches, so they didn’t only celebrate the solstices and equinoxes as some have said.
Interestingly enough, no one ever seems to point out to these scholars that since the four Celtic solar days were celebrated by Pagans for Pagans with magic and ritual and blessings and worship and that many of these days continued to be celebrated (in some areas, all the way up to modern times), and that they were declared to be the “Witches’ Sabbaths” by the Church during the persecution, stating that Gerald Gardner somehow just decided to “use” these days to create a previously unknown religion is ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that everyone who was burned during the Burning Times was a Witch; most were not (though in the very beginning, many victims were Witches), or that people all across Europe practiced the exact same form of Witchcraft (there were many different types depending on region), but I am saying that Witchcraft itself as an established religion and a magical practice predate Christianity (for my personal definitions of Witch and Witchcraft, please see the Basic Witchcraft Info section).
The fact is, most Witches in the world today would probably not be Witches if not for the contributions of Gerald Gardner, but there are others. Laurie Cabot is one. The late Sybil Leek is another, just to name two. Their Witchcraft is not a result of Gerald Gardner’s work. I am not diminishing Gerald’s work, I am just pointing out that he is not the sole point of contact for Witchcraft the way his detractors often claim. I have a great deal of respect for the passion and drive that Gerald Gardner had in order to bring Witchcraft out in the open and keep it alive. I know there are things that he added to it, but he most certainly (and most obviously) did not make it up.
After all, every Witch adds to the Craft in her or his own way. I make brews on the kitchen stove not over an outdoor bonfire because, let’s face it, it’s not the 16th century. Boiling water in a cauldron or pot on an electric or gas stove does not mean I am making up new Witchcraft, it only means I am using modern means for an ancient practice. Witchcraft will never be exactly what it was in 30 B.C. but any religion goes through changes over the centuries. Christianity is not what it was in the Middle Ages thank goodness, but it still exists. It seems absurd to think that there are an increasing number of people that honestly find it easier to believe that the church managed to stamp out all forms of European Witchcraft and then somehow “in the fifties” one British man made up an entirely new version to somehow fool the masses than it is to realize that Witchcraft, much like the African religion that is the root of Voudon and Santeria, could never have been fully eradicated but survived and has now flourished. For me, the bottom line is; when people say that Gerald Gardner made up Witchcraft or that there is no evidence for Pre-20th Century, Goddess-centered Pagan Witchcraft (since I have researched both sides and uncovered my own evidence); I just have to tune out!