By the 1970s numerous covens and spiritual groups were independently reviving rituals and beliefs based on ancient documents or rein-terpretations of myths. Many Neo-Paganists called themselves Wiccans. In 1975 the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) was formed to incorporate hundreds of separate Wiccan covens and was officially recognized as a church in the United States. The CoG is the largest Wiccan organization, representing a variety of belief systems and practices. Its acceptance by official organizations such as the Internal Revenue Service helped to integrate Wiccans into mainstream American society. At the end of the twentieth century Wicca was the eighth largest religion in the United States, ranking with Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and other established faiths. This fact is not generally known because many Wiccans observe their rituals in small groups, or even in secret, fearing that they will be attacked as Satan worshipers. Although Wicca and witchcraft are often used interchangeably, the two terms have different meanings. Wicca is a formal Neo-Pagan religion, whereas
Words to Know anthropology: study of people and societies coven: a group of witches diameter: the measurement around a circle disciple: follower landmark: a landmark court decision is a decision that changes the way things are done, or changes the way a law is written mythology: folklore
Neo-Pagan: a person interested in reviving paganism offspring: children priest or priestess: spiritual leader reinterpretation: another way of seeing or examining something resurgence: to become popular again
Wicca: witch; also, a formal Neo-Pagan religion
British Egyptologist Margaret Murray originated the notion that a large pagan underground in Europe and North America had survived extermination during the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages and the seventeenth century. In the 1920s Murray became intrigued by similarities she discovered between ancient documents and writings about paganism in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (sixteenth century). She based her theory on connections between the pre-Christian horned god of fertility and the Christian concept of the devil. She wrote in the introduction of Gerald B. Gardner's book Witchcraft Today:
I worked only from contemporary records and when I suddenly realized that the so-called Devil was simply a disguised man I was startled, almost alarmed, by the way the recorded facts fell into place, and showed that the witches were members of an old and primitive form of religion, and that the records had been made by members of a new and persecuting form.
In 1921 Murray wrote The Witch-Cult in Europe, in which she traced the survival of goddess-worshiping people from ancient times through the witchhunts of the Middle Ages into the twentieth century. In the book she described the coven, a group of twelve witches headed by the devil, which was supposedly a parody of Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of Christianity, and his twelve disciples (followers). According to Murray, each member of the coven specialized in a distinct form of magic, such as controlling agricultural crops, raising storms, or bewitching humans. The coven concept was adopted by Montague Sommers, a famous Roman Catholic witchcraft scholar in the 1920s and 1930s. The Witch-Cult in Europe was generally met with intense criticism and ridicule among Murray's colleagues, however, and her theories remain largely discredited by anthropologists (scientists who study people and societies) and historians. Yet many Neo-Pagan groups call themselves covens, and coven activity became common in the United States and Europe in the 1960s.
witchcraft is the practice of black magic (casting evil spells), which is not used by Wiccans (see Chapter 1). The Neo-Pagan-ists' refusal to form an open, structured religion, however, has created a sense of mystery around Wiccan groups.
Early pagans made sacrifices to the female healers and witches.
Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).
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