Witchcraft is as old as religion itself. Even the Bible refers to a necromancer sought by Saul to summon Samuel the Witch of Endor. There has been the Greek Oracle, the Vates of the Celts and other seers. Then there are the ancient medicine men and women, who performed healing (sometimes way beyond their time). But what about Wicca, the most popular pagan movement of modern times. What are the origins of Wicca and can it claim ancient roots?
Wicca is an Old English word, which referred to male sorcerers in Anglo-Saxon England. Wicce is the female counterpart. The equivalent word in Modern English is witch. Today, there are 2 strands of Wiccans, those who practice witchcraft and those who identify with modern day Wicca as a religion. Gerald Gardner is generally credited with the establishment of the Wiccan movement but did not himself refer to the practice as Wicca, but as "the Craft of the Wise", "witchcraft", and "the Witch-cult". Although he did use the term Wica, which he always spelled with a single c, this did not refer to the religion itself, but the religions practitioners individually. The New Forest coven group claimed to have known Gardner from a past life, and in September 1939, revealed to him that they were members of a Witches' coven. They initiated him in a ritual which took place in one of the homes owned by Dorothy Clutterbuck. He first heard the term Wica on initiation and said the word “hit me like a thunderbolt, and I knew where I was, and that the Old Religion still existed.”
Although there are many sceptics, Gerald Gardner said he believed that the New Forest coven was a survival of the Witch-Cult, a pre-Christian pagan religion that worshipped a Horned God and a Triple Goddess. He stated the ancestors of the Witch-cult were persecuted during the witch trials of the 1600’s. Nineteenth century writers Jules Michelet and Charles Leland wrote about the existence of the Witch-Cult. However, it was Egyptologist Dr Margaret Murray who brought it to prominence in the early twentieth century. More recently, however, scholars like Professor Ronald Hutton feel that the existence of the Witch-Cult has been disproved. However, researcher Vikki Bramshaw suggests that Gardner may well have had a few brief meetings with local traditions. Whilst several members of the New Forest coven were from masonic and academic backgrounds, others included blacksmiths, manual labourers and others with gypsy backgrounds. Many of these could certainly have knowledge that had been passed down from generation to generation of the Old Religion.
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