One of the most impressive qualities of modern American culture is that it is so self-critical; it is quite hard to find an ideological position taken up by one citizen of the USA which is not ably contested by another. This pattern holds good for its Pagan community. Only a few years after Wiccan beliefs had arrived in the USA, they were questioned and investigated by other members of that community; a process launched by two individuals above all. During the first half of the 1970s Isaac Bonewits ruthlessly and accurately exposed the shortcomings of the authors upon whom Wiccans most relied, notably Margaret Murray and Robert Graves. He argued against the notion of a Europe-wide pagan witch religion, and suggested that the reality had been a scatter of different survivals from a pre-Chnstian ancient world (Bonewits, 1972). During the second half of the decade he contributed a senes of articles to the pagan journal Green Egg, which divided witchcraft into several different categones specific to time and place. Between 1971 and 1975 Aidan Kelly conducted the first textual research into the Books of Shadows, revealing the long process of revision which they had undergone even since 1950 (Kelly, 1991: xiv-xvii).
It is significant that both men were intellectuals who had allegiances to alternative modern pagan traditions, a reflection of the much greater early diversity of mctdern paganism in the USA, which itself reflected a much more heterogenous society. Bonewits was a magician with' an interest in Celtic literatures, who subsequendy became a Druid. Kelly was the author of the liturgy of a witch religion founded in California in the late 1960s, the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, which openly and honesdy took its matenal from literary sources and creative expen-mentation and did not claim to be a continuous tradition. Their impact, although in the case of Bonewits initially acnmomous, was profound; by the mid-1970s it could already be claimed that most Amencan witches were starting to accept the Old Religion more as metaphor than reality (Adler, 1986: 86—7). This was, at the least apparendy, not true of the new-style feminist witches who multiplied from that time onward, but it remained so of many Wiccans m the USA. One of them was a high pnestess called Margot Adler.
In 1979, just as The Spiral Dance was published in San Francisco, a Boston press brought out Adler's book, Drawing Down the Moon. The contrast between the two was m many ways the stereotypical one between the more poetic and visionary radicalism of the West Coast and the more rational and intellectual kind of the East. Whereas Starhawk's book was a celebration and a prospectus, Adler's was a history and an analysis. It explained the development of the many different varieties of paganism which existed in the USA by that time and portrayed their nature. In the process it constandy displayed a sophisticated sense of the special character of specific times and places, and of the considerable differences between individual spiritual needs. It at once celebrated the power and utility of myth and drew a firm distinction between mythology and reality. It recognized that Wicca had probably been built upon a pseudo-history, and then suggested that this was hardly unusual in the development of religious tradition, and that Wiccans deserved credit for the fact that they were increasingly conscious of this without losing a sense of the viability of their actual experience of the divine. What emerged from Drawing Down the Moon was an argument for paganisms as ideal religions for a pluralist culture, and for witchcraft as one of these.
Nothing as intellectually rigorous and powerful as this had emerged from a modern pagan pen before, but as it was more demanding, more expensive, and less intoxicating than The Spiral Dance, its impact was proportionately more muted, and especially so in Britain where its readership was long mosdy confined to Wiccan intellectuals. There was, indeed, a parallel development, which might have produced a more objective sense of historical context among British witches. It took its origin in a quarrel between Alex Sanders and the Farrars, as a result of which he revoked (their authority in his tradition. This was the worst mistake that Sanders ever made, for it alienated his most talented and respected early initiates and freed them to develop a reformed Alexandrian Wicca.
As part of this work they formed an alliance with Doreen Valiente to compare the Gardnenan and Alexandrian Books of Shadows, an enterprise which proved conclusively that the latter had derived from the former, in the version current around 1960. This destroyed the Alexandrian foundation legend, but also increased the interest of the three Wiccan grandees m the textual history of the Book before that date. In unison between 1980 and 1984 they identified many of the revisions made in the 1950s and the sources for some of the passages found in the earliest recension. Further than that, however they could not go, partly because they lacked the necessary knowledge of the wider cultural context of the earlier period and pardy because the vital documents were all hidden from them, m North American collections.
It was also the case, however, that their venture was not only, or perhaps even primarily, antiquarian, but linked to the process commenced earlier by Valiente, of setting would-be Wiccans free of the established coven structure by giving them books from which they could learn if a suitable coven was not available. The text of the Book of Shadows was not merely analysed by this exercise, but established, and every part published in a : definitive' form, and to its rituals the Farrars added others, for augmented seasonal festivities, and for naming of children, marriages and funerals, in which the Book had been deficient. Not only was a growing Wiccan community thus properly served at all points, but a self-constructed coven could operate in wholly "orthodox' fashion (Farrar and Farrar, 1948, 1981).
As said above, also, all three writers heavily subscribed to newly arrived ideas which made British witchcraft less, and not more, sophisticated than that of Margot Adler and her like m the USA; nor was there any writer within it who could match the poetic rhetoric of Starhawk. By the mid-1980s it was trailing behind its American equivalent m every respect, and to a great extent being dragged behind it. Nevertheless, forces which were to restore a balance were already at work, springing from roots which lay now over a decade in the past, in 1968 a small group of Gardnenans had started an informal newsletter to keep in touch with each other, which took the tide The Wiccan. Two years later this became the official communication of the Pagan Front, a Wiccan committee set up to present the case for paganism to the public. The latter continued to function at a low level for the rest of the decade, acting mainly as a contact service and as a defence mechanism for witches who were suffering from local victimization (Leonora James, pers. comm.). In 1977 a second 'Craft' newsletter was founded, The Cauldron, which catered more for those traditions which lay outside the Gardnenan and Alexandrian mainstream.
In 1979 the editorship of The Wiccan, and the co-ordination of the Front, was taken over by a Gardnenan high pnestess, Leonora James, who was an Oxbridge-trained classicist, in 1981 the name of the organization was changed to The Pagan Federation, an alteration provoked partly by the way m which the term 'Front' had been appropnated by neo-Nazis, and partly by the sense that the body itself would function best in the future as a network of local groups. For the first half of that decade, however, its work depended almost wholly upon James's own family of covens, while the two magazines continued to consist m practice of home-produced sheets of type (Leonara James, pers. comm.)
At the same time the ground was being prepared for expansion, m the form of a multiplication of vane ties of paganism equivalent to that which had taken place much earlier in the USA. From the 1970s small groups were practising versions of the religions of the ancient Norse and Anglo-Saxons, and the Fellowship of Isis was founded to provide a common framework for celebrating goddess-focused traditions. The second half of the 1980s saw a dramatic expansion in pagan Druidry and the burgeoning of the fashion for solitary pagan witchcraft. In large part these movements were encouraged by the example of Wicca, and to some extent they sprang from it; the founders of two of the four new Druid orders of the period had been Wiccan high priests, and the two most celebrated waters upon the pagan Celtic mysteries had been members, respectively, of a Gardnenan and a Traditional coven. It is also true that many of these people were reacting against Wicca and stnving for a different way of working rather than inspired iby it, but the common expenence was important. By the last years of the decade, the potential existed for a national alliance of Pagan traditions (the capital letter now indicating a self-conscious modern application of the term).
The catalyst for one came, again, from the USA, this time in the shape of a panic over alleged ntual abuse of children by Satamst networks conflated with Pagans, conceived and propagated by fundamentalist Christian organizations. It arrived in Britain in 1988 with the agitation of the Reachout Trust, and rapidly made an impression upon social workers and police In the event, the tragedies which resulted afflicted families which were not Pagan, but this was pardy due to the speed and vigour with which Wiccans responded to the threat, and fought it during the five years until a government report disproved the assertions of the Reachout Trust and its allies. On May Eve 1988 the Pagan Federation was refounded with a leadership of five officers, a treasury, and an extended framework for dealing with correpondence and for production of The Wiccan. The president was Leonora James, the secretary another high priestess, Vivianne Crowley.
The latter had been trained in both the Alexandrian and the Gardnenan traditions m the 1970s, and come to prominence in the 1980s. She was also an accomplished poetess, a natural speaker, with a gende, musical voice, and a very proficient Jungian psychologist. In 1989 she brought out a first book, Wicca: the Old Religion in the New Age, which provided Bntish witchcraft at last with a wnter to match Starhawk. In Crowley's pages Wicca was portrayed as an elevated Neo-Platomst mystery religion, in which each stage of training and initiation corresponded to parts of the human psyche, and led eventually to a personal completion. If her elegant prose pleased the intellect, the senses were nounshed by the power of her verse, and the whole exuded a profound spintuality. She was representing a mature religion, capable of taking its place alongside the more established vanties; symbolically, in that same year she led a Pagan ceremony as part of a Festival of Faith held at Canterbury Cathedral.
Simultaneously, she and her colleagues on the committee of the Federation were pushing forward their work under the forceful leadership of Leonora James, bombarding national and local politicians, the mass media, and educational institutions, with objective information about
British Paganism. A structure of regional groups rapidly developed to underpin it, and made possible the adoption of an elective system for the ruling committee from 1991. The same process drew m representatives from the range of other Pagan traditions which had now developed, and the Wiccan dominance of the Federation gave way naturally and painlessly to an equality of representation. Membership swelled from hundreds to thousands, annual conferences were held from 1989, and over the same period an annual Pan-European Wiccan Convention was established m parallel, involving witches from all over the Continent; m drawing closer to a European family of nations and away from a transatlantic axis, Wicca was of course following a general shift in British attitudes. Both The Wiccan and The Cauldron changed to a full magazine format, and in 1994 the former went glossy, with the significant change of tide to Pagan Dawn.
The system of elections had brought with it a regular change of presidency, releasing Leonora James to foster the intellectual life of British Paganism. Her academic training had made her impatient of the increasingly emotional, anti-rational and counter-cultural drift of British witchcraft in the 1980s, and determined to realize more of the potential of Paganism to become a stable and imposing complex of religions drawing upon a tremendous inheritance of ancient civilization. At the end of the 1980s, therefore, she began to make her mark upon television and radio. Witches had of course been doing this since the 1950s, but almost invariably as a branch of the entertainment industry, in the format of the interview or the chat show. James now weighed in as a participant in serious religious affairs programmes, and the columns of the highbrow press, representing the merits of Wicca and a broader Paganism successfully against theological pugilists such as the Archdeacon of Durham. At the same time she fostered links between the Pagan Federation and academic scholars; the work of the present writer, growing out of his earlier interest in ancient paganisms and folklore, is partly due to her initiatives.
American academics had taken some notice of Wicca in the early 1970s, but subsumed this in general considerations of the burgeomng interest in the occult. Only in 1981 did a sustained study commence, earned out by an Amencan postgraduate student based at Cambridge University, Tanya Luhrmann. This was concerned with the practise of magic in English society, and so dealt with only one aspect of Wicca and devoted more of its time and space to groups of ntual magicians who were not necessarily Pagan. Nonetheless, it was assisted by James, and by a famous Gardnerian coven into which Luhrmann was actually initiated, and represented the most senous and informed academic appraisal of modern witchcraft which had yet been made. Published as Persuasions of the Witch's Craft, in 1989, it made a considerable impact upon both the academic and the Pagan worlds.
The relationship between the two, indeed, was now changing fast. This was pardy because the new size, sophistication and public profile of the Pagan community inevitably drew scholarly attention. It was pardy because the pamc which had been manufactured over alleged satanic ritual abuse of children, and the damage that this had done, had revealed the persisting ignorance of Pagan and other new or revived religions in public bodies of all kinds. It was also, however, because young academics who had themselves acquired Pagan beliefs were starting to make their mark; and in this process Britain had become the crucible. A seminar was convened at King's College London in December 1990 to discuss the relationships between Paganism and other traditions of religion. It was attended by several notable Wiccans, including Leonora James and Vivianne Crowley, and a number of academics from different disciplines, including myself. One of the most significant aspects of the occasion was the spectacle of one Wiccan after another speaking of the Murray thesis as foundation myth, and of the Old Religion as metaphor, m the manner of Margot Adler; but now with a yet greater sensitivity and erudition. Until the end of the 1980s, probably the overwhelming majority of British witches had believed m both as objective truths; now that barrier between Wicca and scholarship (which was one major gateway for it to the wider national community) was dissolving.
Events now tumbled like dominoes. In 1991 a further impetus to them was provided from America, when Aidan Kelly at last published his study of Gerald Gardner's papers. Crafting the Art of Magic. It was a gift to any future researcher, for not only did it print vital source material for the first time, and launch a determined assault upon the weakening notion that Gardner had revealed an old religion, but it did so with such intemperance that it would make any subsequent scholarly treatment of the same issues look moderate, and therefore be more welcome to the Wiccan communities, by comparison. In 1994 the first full-scale academic conference on Paganism in contemporary Britain was held at Newcasde University, and two years later it was followed by another at Lancaster, this time a huge and truly international event concerned with 'Nature Religion Todays From 1994, also Pagan chaplains began to appear m British universities, and Pagamsm was recognized as a valid complex of religions by the hospital and prison services. In 1995 the British Pagan community produced its own revised version of its history, briefly m Vivianne Crowley's 'Phoenix from the Flame, and extensively in the History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Penmck, the latter another project direcdy inspired by Leonora James. Based upon original research rather than inherited or second-hand belief, this portrait celebrated the extraordinary richness of pagan traditions in old Europe, and the ways in which paganisms's images and ideas had persisted in Western cultures ever since.
In the process the figure of the witch herself was starting to recede, to be replaced by those of the priestess and pnest. Wiccans were ceasing to identify primarily with the victims of the early modern trials and starting to look over and around them, to reclaim the heritage of classical antiquity, and of the Celtic and northern literatures. They were less and less the representatives of an age-old peasant resistance movement and more and more a trained group of religious and magical practitioners, answering a growing call from mainstream society and appropriating some of its oldest and most familiar images. They were no longer so much the inheritors of an archaic faith as members of the earliest, and foremost, of an important constellation of modern successors. These changes were symbolized neady by the increasingly rare usage of the word 'witch', at least in public discourse, and the substitution of 'Pagan'- For all this, however, the challenge which Wicca's forms still pose to established notions of religion is not the less radical because it has become more familiar; and at the heart of its mysteries lies a particular notion, and experience, of the transformative power of something which is called magic. In those senses, its initiates will always be witches.
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