Witchcraft 'prowls the borderlands of Christianity', to borrow a phrase from Michel Foucault (1987: 16). To the Protestant reformers, it followed in the wake of heresy as surely as night follows dusk. Regarding the magic of witchcraft as different to that of Catholic priest-craft only in intent, the rituals of witchcraft were perceived as inversions of the latter's quasi-magical liturgy. Familiarity, it is said, breeds contempt, and the witchcraft of the contemporary Western world has sought to distance itself from the Christian traditions of the reformations, both Protestant and Catholic, deemed responsible for the persecution of those accused of witchcraft. Yet within these Christian traditions are contained not only many themes drawn upon in modern witchcraft, but also an inheritance that is both personal - in the sense that varieties of Christianity remain the religion in which the majority of witches were raised - and influential in the development of contemporary Wicca. Drawing on evidence that has only recently come to light, and which heretofore has received only cursory attention, this book seeks to explore the borderlands between Wicca and the marginal forms of Christianity in England and France, both heterodox and Catholic. The book thus uncovers a part of Wiccan history that has either been unknown or studiously ignored, a history found in the borderland, marginal region where Christianity and Wicca meet.
The use of the labels 'witchcraft', 'witches' and 'Wicca' above may be confusing, referring as they do to those 'witches' accused of practising 'witchcraft' in the early modern period, to modern Western people who call themselves witches practising various forms of witchcraft, and to the contemporary initiatory religion called Wicca, whose initiates identify as both witches and Wiccans, as well as priestesses and priests. The focus of this book is a religion that is approximately sixty years old. It is 'the only religion which England has ever given the world' (Hutton, 1999: vii). This religion, known as Wicca, was formulated by Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), among others,1 in England in the 1940s, slowly becoming more widespread and public after the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951. Gardner was born in 1884, in Crosby, Liverpool. After spending most of his life working in the colonies of Sri Lanka and the Far East, he returned to England in 1936
and retired to the New Forest with his wife, Dorothea - usually known as Donna - daughter of an Anglican clergyman. Here, he claimed to have been initiated into an hereditary witchcraft coven in 1939. However, although Gardner was certainly interested in witchcraft at this time, there is no solid evidence of the existence of any pagan witch covens prior to 1948, by which time Gardner's basic framework for a religion he called 'Wica'2 was in place and Gardner was leading a coven in Hertfordshire with his close friend Dafo. More recently, Chas Clifton (2004: 269) has proposed '[p]ostponing the accepted creation date of Wicca to about 1951' in order to better explain the differences between the fictional witchcraft of Gardner's novel, High Magic's Aid (1949), and his later portrayal of witchcraft as a surviving ancient religion, a portrayal gleaned from the work of Egyptologist and fellow folklorist, Margaret Murray.3
The later portrayals to which Clifton refers were contained in two volumes, Witchcraft Today (1954), and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959). The first of these brought Gardner to the attention of the media, and whilst this may have been unexpected, Gerald apparently revelled in the publicity. Doreen Valiente, Gardner's high priestess and collaborator in the early 1950s, reports that Gerald, started posing before the cameras of the press and preening himself on his great discovery of the survival of witchcraft. ... [His] motives were, I believe, basically good. He was desperately anxious that the Old Religion should not die . [but] he had a considerable love of the limelight and of being the centre of attention.
Believing witchcraft to be a dying religion, then, Gardner propelled it into the public domain, initiated many new witches, and encouraged the establishment of covens, operating according to the outlines provided in his books.
In the 1960s, Alex Sanders (1926-88) established a slightly different version of Wicca, which became known as Alexandrian Wicca. Like Gardner, Sanders hailed from the Liverpool region, born in Birkenhead then growing up in Manchester. Also like Gardner, Sanders was a prolific initiator, and took the religion formed in England into Europe: many covens in Germany and Scandinavia sprang from his visits to the continent. Sanders was by all accounts as much a publicity seeker as Gardner had been, though many Gardnerian witches reacted against him in the 1960s and 1970s.4 Despite sensationalist media coverage and a decidedly salacious 1969 film Legend of the Witches: Their Secrets Revealed ...,5 Sanders' moves to make Wicca more accessible now tend to be appreciated rather than berated. Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca were combined in the 1980s by Vivianne Crowley, an initiate of both forms. The Gardnerian, Alexandrian and combined traditions of Wicca are those that are discussed in this book. However, Wicca is by no means the only type of witchcraft. A variety of forms derived from it have emerged since the late 1970s.
From Britain, Wicca spread to North America and Europe; from America, various derivations spread back across northern Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.6 In the process, Wicca has evolved and, at times, mutated quite dramatically into completely different forms. Influences have come and gone, having a distinct impact in some countries and leaving little recognisable mark in others. In some areas, debates have raged as Wicca has acclimatised: in the southern hemisphere, for example, discussions continue as to how the seasonal rituals of the Wheel of the Year should be celebrated, given that Midwinter/Yule in the northern hemisphere is Midsummer in the southern.7 In the USA and Canada, practices borrowed from First Nations peoples have been adopted by Wiccans which mean little to some Europeans, who may instead opt for Celtic, Saxon or Germanic inspiration, making a syncretic identification with what are regarded as the indigenous traditions of northern European ancestry. At the same time, these latter form an important part of the identity of some North Americans of European descent, with alleged Celtic pagan concepts proving particularly popular. Likewise, feminist witchcraft, which emerged from the feminist consciousness movement in the USA, has had a profound impact on Wicca in that country and on practices in, for example, New Zealand.8 Whilst feminism has certainly influenced English Wicca, feminist witchcraft itself is far less pronounced.9
British Gardnerian Wicca was exported to the United States by an initiate of Gardner, Raymond Buckland, in 1967. Once there, according to Orion (1995: 143), it was transformed into a 'very different kind of religion'.10 In particular, Wicca was adapted by the women's spirituality movement, resulting in the development of Pagan Goddess spirituality and feminist witchcraft traditions such as Dianic and Reclaiming witchcraft. This feminist witchcraft developed largely out of the feminist consciousness raising movement combined with Wicca, and is quite distinct from British Alexandrian and Gardnerian Wicca. Feminist witchcraft, for example, explicitly emphasises the Goddess as representative of divinity, attempts to maintain an explicitly non-hierarchical organisation inherited from the feminist consciousness movement (in which women rotate leadership and make collective decisions), and engages in political activism after the feminist rubric 'the personal is political is spiritual' (Culpepper, 1978: 222). Alexandrian and Gardnerian Wicca, however, emphasise both Gods and Goddesses as representative of divinity, allow a 'hierarchy of experience' (implicit in their organisation in covens led by a High Priestess and/or High Priest and the structure of three degrees of initiation), and tend to maintain a distance between spirituality and politics.
In Wicca and the Christian Heritage, 'Wicca' refers to Alexandrian and Gardnerian Wicca. When feminist witchcraft is referred to, it is as 'witchcraft' rather than 'Wicca'. This distinction in part reflects the terminology used by practitioners.11 On the one hand, Wiccans use the term 'Wicca' to denote a mystery religion involving a process of initiation and rigorous training within a cosmos polarised between male and female forces, all of which is an inheritance from the magical secret societies from which Wicca is descended. The term is also used in order to differentiate between the anthropological study of primitive, tribal witchcraft and the Wiccan religion of Western, literate, post-industrial society (re)invented by Gerald Gardner and developed since that time into its contemporary forms. On the other hand, feminist witches prefer the term 'witchcraft', using it to describe a religious practice based upon the human (female) witch becoming empowered through interaction with the Goddess as divine counterpart of the witch, an empowerment which is sought in order to provide personal liberation for the individual woman and thus sustain women in their struggle against patriarchy. Feminist witchcraft is thus located within the wider feminist spirituality and Goddess movements, making use of a constructed image based on a feminist reading of the witchcraft persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and a myth of matriarchy, both of which are preferred alternatives to a legacy from secret societies, which are regarded as a predominantly male preserve, and having Gerald Gardner as founding father.
Wicca has also been instrumental in the subsequent development of a variety of forms of Paganism. Indeed, Hutton goes so far as to claim that Wicca is the classical form from which all other contemporary Pagan groups evolved.12 Thus, whilst contemporary Wicca may have originated in mid-twentieth century Britain in the form of a 'relatively self-contained, England-based occultist religion' (Hanegraaff, 1998: 85), an increasing variety of forms of witchcraft and Paganism has now become established. From this 'relatively unsubscribed center', other Pagan traditions and other varieties of witchcraft developed in 'increasingly syncretistic and nondogmatic directions' (ibid.: 85). The relationship between Wicca and Paganism has thus changed over the years, and indeed, the notion of Wicca as a form of Paganism now needs to be challenged.
Contemporary Paganism is represented by a myriad of self-consciously religious practices, (re)invented for the contemporary world. These include modern Pagan Druidry, Goddess spirituality, shamanism, Heathenism and Northern Traditions, Isis worship, non-aligned Paganism, feminist witchcraft, and various other types of witchcraft, all of which heavily outnumber initiatory Wicca. By 1996, of the estimated 110,000-120,000 Pagans in Britain, only 10,000 were initiated Wiccans.13 Initiatory Wicca in Britain thus remains small, despite the growth of Paganism, and this is partly because Wicca's initiatory structure subverts the non-hierarchical, anti-elitist attitudes held by the majority of Pagan groups. Wicca's presentation of itself as the esoteric centre of which Paganism constitutes an exoteric manifestation14 has at times exacerbated the tensions implied by what are perceived to be elitist distinctions made by Wiccans.15 However, such self-
identification as members of an esoteric, initiatory religion also reflects the roots of Wicca in occult societies.
In his formulation of Wicca, Gardner drew on traditions of high ritual magic derived from those practised in occult societies since the last decade of the nineteenth century, and particularly from the published work of Aleister Crowley. Despite Gardner's claims to the contrary it is clear that a proportion of Crowley's work did indeed enter Wicca,16 and the high ritual magic practised within the secret, magical societies of the British occult revival at the turn of the twentieth century was highly influential. That the teachings and practices drawn together under the auspices of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and developed by Crowley were of particular importance is indicated by Gardner's library. Twelve of Crowley's works are listed among the library's contents, along with Mather's translation of the Key of Solomon (1888), Ellic Howe's The Magicians of the Golden Dawn (1922), Israel Regardie's publications of Golden Dawn rituals (in three volumes, 1937-9), and the more practical of Dion Fortune's books - Sane Occultism (1938) and The Mystical Qabalah (1935). The stories of these individuals and the organisations which they founded or to which they belonged are well documented,17 and their influence on Gardner and Wicca is generally accepted by practitioners of Wicca in Britain whilst, as noted above, still being rejected by many feminist witches in the United States. Partly as a result of their influence, Hanegraaff has argued that Wicca is not specifically Pagan, being rather, a neo-pagan development of traditional occultist ritual magic, but ... the latter movement is not itself pagan. In other words ... [Wicca] gradually and almost imperceptibly shades into a non-pagan domain.
(Hanegraaff, 1998: 86)
Such a claim is supported by the fact that there are a significant number of Wiccans who do not consider themselves to be 'Pagan' at all. The old aphorism once popular in Wiccan circles - 'All Wiccans are Pagans, but not all Pagans are Wiccans' - can no longer be considered to be a general reflection of Wiccan identity. Gardner's attraction to the secret societies and ritual magic of his era, and the initiatory mystery religions of the classical ancient world, overlaid Wicca with certain characteristics as it emerged in the 1950s. Not least of these is that initiation, secrecy and intimate community maintain strong boundaries that firmly demarcate who is an 'insider' and who is an 'outsider', an important means of maintaining Wicca's distinctiveness.18 In this, Wicca differs from other forms of witchcraft and Paganism in which 'inside' and 'outside' status is not such an issue.19 That Wicca is most often classed as 'Pagan' by both practitioners and scholars may not, therefore, be particularly accurate, for identification as Pagan has never been a requirement for Wiccan initiation. Thus, although making up 10 per cent of the British Pagan population in 1999,20 in many ways initiatory Wicca can be regarded as existing on the margins of Paganism, as well as on the margins of the occult.
In other contexts, however, Wicca has become increasingly less marginal. At the level at which Wicca interacts with popular culture, there appears to be a certain amount of 'trendiness' attached to identifying oneself as Wiccan or as a witch. Throughout the 1990s the 'teen witch' image was increasing in popularity, with Silver Ravenwolf's book Teen Witch: Wicca For A New Generation (1998) proving to be a bestseller in the United States, whilst the film The Craft (1996) was especially influential with teenagers. Teenage girls, in particular, wrote to the Pagan Federation for advice about joining a coven after watching the film. The all-pervasive publishing machine ensured that the steady stream of publications on Wicca and witchcraft became a flood that smothered everything and threw up all kinds of debris in its wake: book store shelves were inundated with volumes on kitchen witches, bedroom witches, teenage witches, satanic witches, and the seemingly ubiquitous velvet-covered tomes by 'Titania'.21 No longer were there Gardnerian witches, Alexandrian witches, solitaries (hedge witches) and hereditaries. They had been joined by white witches, grey witches, black witches, green witches, teen witches, feminist witches, media witches, hedge witches, kitchen witches, New
Age witches, and even weekend witches.
(The Cauldron, February 1999, 91: 30)22
This list reflects a growing awareness that 'witchcraft' and 'Wicca' can be used as labels for very different groups and individuals. On the one hand, 'Wicca' is used to refer to 'covens' of friends who have no initiation or training but gather together to celebrate the seasons or full moons, a practice that could perhaps be labelled more accurately as 'non-aligned Paganism'. On the other hand, 'Wicca' is styled as an esoteric religion and mystery tradition operating in small, closed groups to which entry is solely by initiation ceremonies which include oaths of secrecy and which are designed to trigger personal transformation and the experience of transmutation. The appropriation of 'Wicca' by uninitiated people has proved irritating to Wiccan initiates, who see themselves as practitioners of a serious religion which demands a great deal of commitment and dedication. The proliferation of 'how-to' books which claim to equip anyone, of any age or level of experience, with the tools of Wicca serve as a reflection of a move from the margins to the mainstream, not least because of the successful marketing of what some see as a 'white-washed' generic Wicca available for consumption by all.23 Whilst there is a recognition that some of the people who seek out initiatory Wicca do so as a result of the increased awareness facilitated by this dissemination of information, there is also an awareness that the trivialising DIY versions of Wicca suggest that 'novices [can] become adepts without the difficult bits in between' (Bruce, 2002: 113). Feeling that Wicca is being diluted and trivialised through the commodification of witchcraft, there is a sense in which the growing popularity of witchcraft is perceived to be 'eroding the previously closely guarded secrecy of Wicca' (Harrington, 2000: 7). As a consequence, many Wiccans feel that the identity of Wicca as an initiatory religion needs to be re-established and protected.
The diversification of Paganism, variants of witchcraft and Wicca, and the position of British Wicca on the margins of both these expressions of spirituality and of occult magic make it necessary to spell out the type of Wicca with which this book is concerned. It also makes increasingly necessary those studies of specific communities that Jone Salomonsen pointed to in her work on the Reclaiming witches of San Francisco. As she observes, lack of differentiation between feminist and nonfeminist versions of Witchcraft, between Californian, East Coast and British customs, or between visionary texts and social practices, is like quoting from Luther when describing the Catholics.
(Salomonsen, 2002: 10)
Such conflation is concomitant with early studies of newly emergent religious groupings, and reflects the thematic studies covering a range of Pagan groups, synthesised and generalised, rather than in-depth studies. More comprehensive, in-depth studies have begun to emerge, led, as were the earlier, thematic studies, largely by North American scholars studying North American groups.24 To some extent, this has resulted in the characteristics of North American Wicca and feminist witchcraft being perceived as in some way normative, or as a template which can be imposed on, or which has superseded British Wicca. Such a presentation of Wicca often stems from scholars who have not worked with British Wiccans. In this book, the opposite is true. Although I have had conversations with North American Wiccans both in person and via forums such as the Nature Religions Scholars List, I have not had the opportunity to work with them. This lack of involvement with variants of Wicca or witchcraft in the US, coupled with the fact that I am British, with a background predominantly in English history, leads naturally to a focus on Britain. More importantly, the Wiccans among whom I have worked have all been British and European, and those who formed the Wicca which they practise - Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Alex and Maxine Sanders, Janet and Stewart Farrar, Vivianne and Chris Crowley - are all British. My concern in this book is therefore with British Wiccans initiated into one of the three streams outlined above: Gardnerian, Alexandrian, or a combination of the two. In this, I rely partly on fieldwork conducted for my PhD in the period 1995-2000, and partly on ongoing interaction with the community. Such ongoing involvement has included observation of practitioner understanding of Wiccan history.25
Stories of witchcraft as the original, pre-Christian, indigenous religion of Western Europe, of the 'burning times', of the Golden Age of Matriarchy, as well as histories situating Wicca's roots in Freemasonry and magical secret societies, reflect to a large extent the development of Wicca. The story of the survival of a pre-Christian religion persecuted during the witch hunts of early modern Europe began to give way under the onslaught of historical study in Britain in the 1970s.26 However, at the same time it was receiving renewed impetus in the USA through the development of feminist witchcraft, emerging from the feminist consciousness movement and Gardnerian Wicca, even if the latter was/is unacknowledged.27 Its development as a mainstay of feminist witches' identity was combined with a myth of matriarchy, and both remain extremely powerful. One should be wary of generalisation, however. Not all practitioners of feminist witchcraft are resident in the US, and not all of them continue to believe in Murray's (and Gardner's) theory or in the myth of matriarchy. Likewise, many Wiccans in Britain still believe they are connected to an age-old fertility religion of which those persecuted in the witch hunts were also representatives. They are often unaware of the latest research on witchcraft, and they have not all been delighted by the research which they have been keen to access, like that of Hutton. The 'genuine scholarly rigour' and willingness of Wiccans to re-evaluate their history, to which Hutton referred in the introduction to the 1993 edition of Pagan Religions (p. xiii), is by no means universally valued and has been challenged by his later work.28
This is demonstrated in two rival reviews published in the Beltane (May) 2000 issue of Pagan Dawn, in which Tony Geraghty (2000: 37) describes Hutton as 'the gentle iconoclast ... [who has] banished our illusions'. After this book, he claims, the Craft will never be quite the same again. . That we can believe in the Craft in future without Gardner's bluff or Murray's blindfold is no bad thing. For that, we should thank Hutton, while rubbing some soothing oil ... onto the affected parts of our collective ego.
(Geraghty, 2000: 38)
'Gardner's bluff' and 'Murray's blindfold' are, however, precisely those parts of the myth which Hutton (2003b: 265) claims had been debunked in Wiccan circles well before the publication of his book, and indeed, this point is picked up by the second reviewer, John Macintyre, who criticises Geraghty's 'apparent belief that the historical claims advanced by Gardner are not only still generally accepted amongst Wiccans but that they constitute a cornerstone of the Craft' (Macintyre, 2000: 39). The Triumph of the Moon has not, argues Macintyre, 'burst upon us like a bolt from the blue, to shatter the tower of our "cherished concepts" into ruin' (ibid.). He asserts that early historical claims have been disintegrating for the past twenty years, as indeed they had in academic circles. Many Wiccans were in the process of, or had already, abandoned their myths of origin, as Macintyre argued. Those who still adhered to the idea of Wicca as the ancient religion of the British Isles simply ignored Hutton's research.29 I have no doubt that the new historical material contained in the present work will elicit the same spectrum of responses.
In the course of his investigations into the history of Pagan witchcraft, Hutton came to the conclusion that Wicca represented, not a marginal, isolated, and thoroughly eccentric creed, arguably produced by one rather odd ex-colonial, but an extreme distillation and combination of important cultural currents within mainstream British society which had developed or been imported during the previous two hundred years.30
(Hutton, 2003b: 268)
That he did not cover all such currents to his satisfaction, and that further research remained to be conducted is borne out by his comment, '... my own suspicion is that the greatest invisible player in the story [of the emergence of Wicca] is spiritualism' (Hutton, 1999: xi). But whilst spiritualism may not have received the same attention as other influential currents upon Wicca, it has hardly remained invisible.31 Not least, spiritualism was certainly instrumental in bringing about the repeal of the 1736 Witchcraft Act and its replacement with the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951,32 which signalled to Gardner that the time was now ripe for publicising witchcraft. Indeed, Gardner ( 2004: 195) opined that, '[t]he Spiritualists hailed it as their charter of freedom', and he saw in spiritualism vestiges of witchcraft.33 However, a further current, and one that has not been subjected to any extensive exploration, is to be found in developments within European Christianity, particularly in England and France. My own contention is that the real 'invisible player' is heterodox Christianity, particularly as it developed out of the Catholic revival of the nineteenth century. Although representing only a small ingredient in the 'cauldron of inspiration' on which Gardner drew, the heterodox variants of Christianity have been influential on what might be considered more substantial - and certainly well-documented -elements of Wicca's history such as Freemasonry, spiritualism, Druidry, and occult/secret societies.34 Its place in the story of Wicca, therefore, now needs to be examined.
The present work therefore seeks to uncover this other untold history of Wicca. It begins with the English reformations of the sixteenth century for, as Nigel Yates has argued (2000: 10), the Catholic revival in England was not without precedent and thus, '[t]he teachings of the Tractarians and the innovations of the early ritualists cannot . be understood without a better appreciation of the nature of Anglicanism in the three centuries between the Reformation and the Oxford Movement'. Chapter 1 thus considers the emergence of the Church of England and its associated myths of the ancient British church, concerns with issues of validity and authenticity, and the use of the terms 'old religion' and 'new religion'. This opening chapter sets out the background to themes drawn on later in the book. Importantly, it includes the characterisation of the Church of England as reformed Catholic rather than wholly Protestant, thus undermining to some extent Crowley's claims for the attraction of Wicca to those of Protestant backgrounds, at least as far as English Wiccans are concerned. The desire to find validity for orders and the radical attempt to revitalise an ancient British Christianity were shared by other Christians, both Catholic and heterodox, including Anglo-Catholics and the churches of the episcopi vagantes, and this forms the main body of Chapter 2. Gerald Gardner, Ross Nichols and other figures important to the development of Wicca were not merely members of, but were ordained as deacons, priests, and even bishops and archbishops of heterodox Christian churches in England and France, and this is explored in Chapter 3. Chapters 2 and 3 also refute the claim made by Davis and Heselton that Ward and Gardner were part of the Old Catholic Church. The remaining chapters are concerned with three accusations that have been levelled against Catholicism, heterodoxy and witchcraft - ritual, (deviant) sexuality, and magic.
This recovery of the untold story of Gardner's interests in heterodox Christianity might prove to be an issue of controversy for some Christians, not to mention some Wiccans. Uncovering a Christian heritage may be uncomfortable to those who - in spite of Hutton's work - have not yet 'proved capable of re-evaluating' Wicca in light of his findings. It may also irritate feminist witches who may find here another suggestion of patriarchal origins in Christian heterodoxy, as well as those who have considered Wicca to be somehow opposed to ideas of Christianity, yet here find its origins indebted to some of the historical contingencies in Christianity. Time will tell whether the writing of the story of Christian influences on Wicca can be accommodated by Wiccans themselves, whether this history will be incorporated into Wiccans' celebrated version of their past.
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