Cracks in the Cauldron of Inspiration – Wiccan histories and realities

One of the downsides of blogging is the way I sometimes say things without thinking them through. In my last post I quoted Fr Efstathios Kollas’ description of Neo-Pagans, “a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past“. Naturally this statement has upset a fair few Neo-Pagans, some of whom seem to want to turn the concept of witch burning on its head and burn Fr Kollas!

Now my quoting was done without much qualification and next to an old image of Raymond Buckland, a chief Wiccan from the USA (this is a more recent Wiccan image – not of Buckland). However, Fr Kollas was specifically referring to Neo-pagans in Greece attempting to revive the ancient Greek religions. My points referred to the entire Neo-Pagan tradition, the dominant and mother tradition of which is Wicca, and therefore the quote is not entirely appropriate, as Wicca never existed before the 1940s. So it cannot be resuscitated. This is a fact that many people do not seem to, do not want to, and are positively adverse to understanding. So I’ll say it again with emphasis:

Wicca is a new religion. It has no religious antecedents.
It is not traditional. It is not part of the western esoteric tradition.

This is an important point, as Wiccans have a nasty habit of presenting themselves as part of the esoteric tradition, or even as the western tradition of greatest lineage and history. I have become weary of presenting esoteric and magical information, and having Wiccans pop up with, “but that’s witchcraft” when they recognize an element borrowed by Wicca. The Wiccan tradition is a chimera; it does not exist, has never existed. Wicca is a pastiche of elements from other traditions within a religious framework that embodies some important myths of western modernity, such as the Earth Goddess.

I’ve written a long article on these themes, but haven’t been game to submit it anywhere yet (I’m actually quite friendly with some Wiccans at present, which is a nice change). This is from the article.

Since its public exposure during the early 1950s, there has been only one comprehensive academic study of the history of modern Witchcraft, Professor Ronald Hutton’s ‘The Triumph of the Moon‘. If you have not read this book, please do so as it is not only very informative but engaging also. Much of what I first intuited when exposed to Wicca in the mid 80s has been proved beyond doubt by the good professor, so I am particularly grateful for his effort. Elements of his work have been updated by Professor Hutton himself, as well as critiqued and expanded by several amateur Wiccan or Pagan historians and authors. In addition there have been several anthropological studies of modern witches and witchcraft and some other germane works such as Aidan Kelly’s textual analysis of the Book of Shadows, ‘Crafting the Art of Magic‘. None of these studies give any historical credence to the Wiccan foundational myth which posits modern witchcraft as an intact survival of an ancient European Pagan religion focused on the Goddess. This awareness, at least in part, has become the norm in the leadership of European Wiccan traditions. Writes Dr Hutton on attending a conference on Goddess Spirituality:

“In the course of the day I heard the spokespeople for witchcraft declare, one by one, that its traditional historiography should be regarded as myth and metaphor rather than as literal history” (Witches, Druids and King Arthur, p 265).”

Some Australian witches however seem not to have caught on and still regard Wicca as a tradition existing prior to the 1940s. There is absolutely no evidence for this belief and even amateur historians who are witches themselves such as (Philip Heselton) cannot push the envelope back much earlier than the 1920s. Without evidence for an established tradition, and especially when we consider the actual sources of the post 1940s Wicca, it makes no sense to refer to witchcraft anything other than a new religious movement.

Many witches have responded to this ‘new’ awareness by conceding the lack of continual tradition but declaring modern witchcraft’s ongoing inspiration from ‘traditional’ witches, who may have been called by other names throughout history, such as wise-folk, village healers, cunning men and women. In short, this inspiration is supposed to come from people, beliefs and practices outside the ambit and approval of the church who focused on connection with the earth, pagan symbolism, natural healing and magic. Many modern witches assume that the common use of folk magical practices, such as amulets and spells by medieval and pre-modern people implies some form of pagan or non-Christian spirituality. However, all the available evidence suggests otherwise. A. Roger Ekrich in his ‘At Days Close ; a history of nighttime‘ sums up the general consensus of those who, unlike most witches, have studied the matter:

“Rather than rivalling God’s word, folk magic equipped ordinary men and women with an additional means of combating Satan’s wiles”. (p98).

Additionally it is clear that most practitioners of the magical arts prior to the 20th century, cunning men for example, saw themselves as enemies of witches and witchcraft in general and therefore any connection between them and modern Wicca would, if accurate, be a strange source of inspiration. There is however little connection – Professor Hutton summarizes his section on the influence of cunning craft on modern witchcraft as having the ‘least relevance’ out of all the areas of influence he surveyed. This is very clear when we look at the actual liturgy of Wicca. To quote Aidan Kelly:

“…none of the circle rituals in use in 1953 were based on a ‘pagan’ theology; instead they were all adapted from the Kabalistic procedures of The Greater Key of Solomon [a medieval ceremonial magic text], and contained great swatches of quotation from Crowley…” (Kelly, p. 101).

Even after Doreen Valiente’s removal of most of Crowley’s work and the shift towards the Goddess her presence seems to have brought about, the rituals and initiations that still bear a heavy mark of Western magical procedures. This is obvious to anyone who looks at the ceremonies with some knowledge of Western magic. The initiations and rituals use magical techniques derived from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Freemasonry and Crowley’s sexual magic order, the OTO. Aidan Kelly, in his very forthright manner, declares that once you have removed the magical, published and Crowleyan influences from the Wiccan liturgy there is nothing left. Of course, this is not quite accurate, and Kelly has rightly been criticized for these sorts of assertions. But what does remain is very scant, much influenced by ceremonial magic and really nothing other than window dressing.

The Wiccan claims for inspiration or even influence from older European pagan traditions, cunning craft or some other secret tradition is simply not borne out in any of its original liturgies, rituals or theology, which are all based on western esoteric traditions. For witches to claim otherwise is flying in the face of all the evidence, which points to Gerald Gardner (and/or others) drawing upon what knowledge they could find to create a new pagan orientated tradition, which originally held no claim to be a transformational mystery tradition. Tellingly, Gardner wrote in Witchcraft Today that he thought the Witch was ‘doomed’ and that

“science has displaced her; good weather reports, good health services, outdoor games, bathing, nudism, the cinema and television have largely replaced what the witch had to give.” (Witchcraft Today, p.129).

This is hardly a description of the deep mysteries and spiritual fulfilment an esoteric or mystery tradition provides. The facts seem to be that Gardner, who had been involved on the periphery of a number of esoteric traditions, founded (or expanded) Wicca initially for very simple, personal reasons. Having connections with Masonry, Co-Masonry, Spiritualism, Druidry, fringe Christianity (as an ordained Priest) and trying but failing to become the leader of Crowley’s OTO after his death, in the late 1940s Gardner suddenly found his little witch cult expanding. He then channelled his energies into the development of Wicca, often making up stuff as he went along – such as the Craft laws. In doing so he could not provide Wicca with any lineage to the esoteric traditions, simply because he had no lineage to impart other than an incomplete and low version of Crowley’s debased adaptation of the OTO, which Gardner misunderstood anyway.

As Professor Hutton rightly pointed out back in 1991 if modern paganism and witchcraft is viewed as ritual magic it has a rich history and lineage stemming back to Hellenistic Egypt. However, witchcraft views itself as a religion and has only surface and not inner links to the authentic esoteric traditions (a judgement no historian can comment on). Wicca therefore can provide no substance for transformation. This can be easily seen when one compares the lack of wisdom and teaching found within the entire corpus of foundational Wicca – the Book of Shadows – with a single lecture series by a single magician, such as Dion Fortune. This lack shows itself still today with most covens, witch leaders and Wiccan books drawing on a wide eclectic mixture of techniques and ideas and placing (or claiming) them in a Wiccan context. A good example of this is Progressive Witchcraft by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone which utilises Qabalah, Theosophy, sanitised Norse Mythology and the a pop rendition of the humanistic psychology of Abraham Maslow. In this sense, then modern witches are following a tradition; that of the ‘Father of Modern Witchcraft’, Gerald Gardner as he drew on the sources around him to create Wicca.

18 comments

  1. Asher Fryer · April 29, 2008

    It certainly shows the power of mythological imagination, and the need to justify or legitimate one’s position. This is certainly no different from the majority of Golden Dawn, Rosicrucian and possibly Masonic outcrops, though they can go a lot further than witchraft in their position.
    In my opinion, if I was a real witch, I wouldn’t give a damn about proving it, or linking it to some tradition. It is their desire to be recognised, accepted and, to a degree, become mainstream (without admitting it of course ;p) that drives their mythologising.
    I have come across a stream with much greater claim to authenticity, the “Y Tylwyth Teg” tradition, which claims Welsh descent, all the way back to Atlantis. They certainly have a lot more substance than most Wiccan stuff I’ve seen. Their main author is Rhuddlwm Gawr, their website is:
    http://www.dynionmwyn.net/.
    In fact, they are more concerned with preparing for survival in the near future, and with the select few they know to be of their own kind.

  2. Terry · April 30, 2008

    Y Tylwyth Teg was founded in 1967. Gardnerian Craft dates back to the 1940s. Naturally, it takes a group in the USA to suddenly uncover Welsh descent back to Atlantis. They say they are a tradition of Welsh faery Witchcraft and Celtic Neopaganism. I would suggest that any attempts to define “Welsh faery Witchcraft” historically are doomed to failure. If you are suggesting this has greater authenticity than BTW Craft, something that predates it by several decades and these days usually holds alot of stock in the likes of Ron Hutton, you sir/madam are deluded.

  3. Terry · April 30, 2008

    I’m not sure how widespread belief in the foundational myth of Wicca still is. Certainly amongst practicing Wiccans I’m aquainted with belief is virtually nil, and has been so since well before Hutton released his book. In the mid nineties as a new witch I still referred to Wicca as a new religious movement. At the same time, my readings of cunning folk pointed to them as being enemies of witchcraft generally.

    Regarding the Western magical influence on Wicca, Peregrin’s article glosses over the relatively new nature of Western magical systems such as OGD and Crowley’s OTO. Apparently, if the OGD invents itself virtually whole cloth complete with mystical texts (the cipher scripts), mysterious founders with long lineages (secret chiefs) and numerous useful innovations in magical techniques, no one else is allowed to follow in their footsteps. I beg to differ.

    Quoting Gardner out of context won’t make Wiccan mysteries go away. The high points of Wiccan mysteries such as the drawing down of the moon or the Great Rite cannot be penned away merely because Wiccans have historically had a woefully misinformed view of their own origins. Furthermore, describing Gardner’s craft as “incomplete and low version” of Crowley’s work is at best, misleading. The most cursory glimpse of Thelema and Wicca side by side proves this.

  4. Asher Fryer · April 30, 2008

    I’m not claiming knowledge about the relative virtues of wicca or Y Tylwyth Teg, I don’t know about them enough to claim as much. All I can say is that one reads better (more substantial) than the others, for what it is worth. Put your delusion back in its bottle. 😛 As far as dates of founding are concerned, 1967 is the date of the American coven, not the date it came into being. Until proven otherwise, its own claims of at least going back a long way, seem possible. Their writings are much more informative, richer and full of traditional ‘evidences’ one would think occurs in such a stream. But hey, I don’t know for sure, and its not my path. 🙂

  5. Peregrin · April 30, 2008

    Hi, Asher, Terry and everyone.

    It is interesting, though I guess inevitable, that this post is generating such responses. I am glad i didn’t put the whole essay up 🙂

    I agree with Asher regarding the Y Tylwyth Teg material being more substantial. I also think it provides potentially better links to traditional mythic and cultural blessings. I came across a whole raft of this material in the Simon Goodman collection when cataloging it way back and was impressed enough to spend several days with it. God knows where Simon got it from 🙂

    A few of my points have obviously not been explained well.

    Wicca is a religion. Witchcraft, cunning craft etc never was. Therefore Wicca is a NEW religion.

    Many Wiccans i know accept it as a new religion but assume it is in essence the same as the ancient European pagan religions. It is NOT, as it is a result of the cultural forces of modernity (as shown clearly by Hutton) acting through a small group.

    The esoteric and magical components in Wicca are based on published magical and esoteric works. Wicca has no lineage. Some people may find Wicca’s magical system to their taste or have a reality that it is effective. That is fine. But there is no way it can be considered a complete system with lineage. Just look at it. And look at how so many teachers, covens, books add to Wicca to make up the shortfall.

    Yes, the GD etc made up histories. Yes, a whole system was birthed (given by the Masters). That is not the point.

    The GD and other paths drew on and draws on esoteric imagery, lineage, practices going back millennia.

    Wicca does not, drawing instead on modern cultural forces, traditional iconography of evil (the witch) and what little published sources Gardner could get. Again, Hutton is clear; as ritual magic, Wicca has history and lineage. As religion it does not. I would argue that in the magical sphere the lineage is incomplete (based on only limited published materials) and corrupted through Gardner’s own sexual and personal needs and wants (and later Wiccans).

    Wiccans and others can make up whatever rites, magic etc they want, and it may be wonderful. They may even be doing so for compassionate reasons, based on Inner Plane directions and for the welfare of all beings. I do not know. I have seen little evidence of it, that is all.

    The Drawing Down the Moon and Great Rite i agree are two potent mysteries. I have yet to see evidence that Wicca as a whole understand these things fully. In traditional esoteric systems, western and eastern, the equivalent of these mysteries are not even approached until a great dealing of preparation and training is undertaken and a high level of consciousness achieved. Far more than what goes on in Wicca, and in most GD lodges to be honest.

    Terry, I did not described Gardner’s craft as “incomplete and low version” of Crowley’s work. I said Gardner only had lineage to “an incomplete and low version of Crowley’s debased adaptation of the OTO”.

    Now firstly, Crowley’s OTO and Thelema are not identical (as you suggest to compare Wicca and Thelema, when we were discussing only the OTO).

    Secondly, Crowley’s OTO is considered lower and debased when compared to the original OTO, as many commentators and anyone initiated into the latter will agree.

    Thirdly, Gardner was only chartered to a low degree – probably through Crowley reading the initiation ritual after receiving a hefty sum. He did not understand the system, as he had no teaching material and searched for it furiously after Crowley’s death.

    I hope this is clear.

    Of course, Wiccans do not like feeling under attack, and i understand this. I am just wanting to make clear that the authentic western esoteric traditions are not equated with Wicca.

  6. Terry · April 30, 2008

    Dear Asher

    Y Tylwyth Teg are known plagiarists of existing Wiccan and Faery material. Not only does that postdate them to Gardnerians, along with the a long line of imitators, it makes them dishonest. But I’m sure you knew that when you first wrote so feel free to keep praising them.

  7. Asher Fryer · May 2, 2008

    My dear Terry,

    I really don’t know enough of intimate details of Y Tylwyth Teg to claim as much. What I can say is that to me, their writings cover similar Wiccan topics in greater detail that I have previously read. I beg ignorance here. In terms of me intuition, they do seem serious and respect worthy. I find little wrong with them at present, but leave total conclusions to a later date. Where can I find material proving their plagiarism?
    To be honest, I don’t understand what you mean, given that (a) the Wiccan material is not original and (b) the many terms, ideas, rituals etc seem traditional enough. I’m glad to see a group firmly rooted in its native tree. As for all Wiccan unorthodoxy becoming orthodox and setting the criteria for all such things, I find that hard to believe. They have no authority for such a thing, and if honest, would admit to no lineage either. Wicca isn’t something you would find becoming Pharasaic, is it?

    I praise whom I feel is worthy. God bless. 🙂

  8. Terry · May 2, 2008

    Dear Asher

    For plagiarism shenanigans, see
    http://www.outofthedark.com/Plagiarized/
    http://www.geocities.com/ferigold/yttfiles/index.html
    http://www.pagan.com/Plagiarized/The_Wheelers_Are_Thieves.html
    http://www.homecircle.info/Atraditions.html (Y Tylwyth Teg entry)

    There is room for a thousand more Wiccan paths out there. What there isn’t room for is plagiarists of modern copyrighted material. Read the above articles to see what I mean. You cannot steal a Wiccan’s work and pass it off as your own, merely because said Wiccan occasionally utters a couple of Crowley lines during his rituals. Gardner’s material adapted from outside sources is no longer in it’s original context and has not been for over 50 years. Gardner’s Craft produced numerous innovations from its patchwork origins and is recognised as having done so by no less than Mr Hutton himself. This does not constitute a practice that is unoriginal. This point seems utterly lost on Peregrin and yourself so I’ll move on.

    My points to Peregrin on the Wiccan foundational myth obviously weren’t clear. People who pass for Wiccan orthodoxy don’t believe in it. Read Margot Adler on the topic for example http://www.beliefnet.com/story/40/story_4007_1.html
    Contrast this with my fluffy Welsh-American chums at
    http://www.dynionmwyn.net/dynionmwyn/dynionmwyn23.html with their torturously mangled history.

    In an anachronistic irony, they even have a swipe at their older pregenitors.

    “Modern Wicca has become an attempt by twentieth century humanity, to deny the responsibilities of the twentieth century. They have developed the secure and naive belief that Nature is always good and kind”

    Oh yeah, that’s all of us alright. The nonsense comes even thicker at http://www.dynionmwyn.net/dynion1.html with howlers such as

    “During the past one thousand nine hundred years, most people have misunderstood the Religion of Witchcraft, causing its violent repression and near destruction. But, a few families in the rural areas of Wales, England, Ireland, Scotland and Brittany have continued to secretly practice their mysterious craft, and passed their religious beliefs and traditional arts to their descendants, thereby preserving religious and esoteric knowledge that is the source of today’s Faerie tradition of Welsh Witchcraft.”

    You don’t think there’s something just a teensy bit problematic with that entire paragraph? or with

    “Anciently, the Welsh People believed that Y Dynion Mwyn were benevolent spirits who lived in the forests and wilds and could help them in their everyday lives. But Roman invasions and later Christianity gradually drove the Old Religion underground.

    Because of these repressions, many people fell into the abyss of superstition, fear and confusion, adopting the Christian propaganda that any spirit or deity other than the Christian God, was evil and dangerous. It didn’t take long before Witches throughout Europe, were being imprisoned, tortured and killed. The Old Religion with its connection to the Faerie Folk, was in danger of disappearing forever. ”

    To quote my cat, “O Rly?”. If it’s Pharasaic to call a nonsense, “nonsense”, I plead guilty.

  9. Asher Fryer · May 6, 2008

    Dear Terry,
    I hope my comments haven’t been taken amiss. I’m not a practising wiccan or expert on it, and fully understand and sympathise with your annoyance at cliched and generalised paintings of such. I do think the way many of such people publicise their religion has given it a bad name, and the scholarly critique is fairly damning, but only from a historical, not symbolic and magical, point of view, something few of ‘them’ would understand no doubt. Thank you for your links, I’ll check them out.
    At this point I’m prepared to accept the possibility of welsh families passing on witchcraft, but we’ll see… 🙂

    Regarding your point of Gardner’s original work, I’ve no doubt it is so, of course, but my point of view was that I understood it to be such, not a continuous tradition. Is this what you take offence to or have I misunderstood you?

    sincerely yours,
    Asher

  10. Terry · May 10, 2008

    Dear Peregrin

    The problem with your article is not the demolishing of Wicca’s mythical past. What’s troubling is your insistence that ALL of Wicca’s character is derived from western esoteric traditions. Even more troubling is the notion that because no actual lineage to these traditions is present, Wicca has no basis for mysteries that will lead to transformation.

    On the first issue, I’ll use an example that has already been picked over pretty thoroughly by Aiden Kelly and others, namely the Charge of the Goddess. On Ceisiwr Serith’s website http://www.ceisiwrserith.com/wicca/charge.htm there is an excellent analysis of the origins of the charge, including estimated percentages of each source. Serith uses the final version of the charge taken from Kelly’s book. The breakdown was as follows:

    Valiente: 174 – (34.9%)
    Gardner: 66 – (15%)
    Crowley: 83 – (16.7%)
    Crowley
    (edited by
    either Gardner
    or Valiente): 40 – (8.0%)
    Gardner (edited
    by Valiente): 12 – (2.4%)
    Cahagnet: 18 – (3.6%)
    Golden Dawn: 12 – (2.4%)
    Leland: 93 – (18.7%)

    Is there a large amount of Crowley in there? Absolutely. Is the Charge solely from Western Esoteric sources? No. 68.6% was not from western esoteric sources, unless you care to count Leland which would drop it to 50%.

    If Wicca’s lack of lineage to the year dot of esoteric movements means it can provide no substance for transformation, this provides no room for innovation. Orders such as the OGD have already proved you can make a whole bunch of stuff up, crib from here and there, produce some stunning innovation and create a lasting legacy. In “Triumph of the Moon”, Hutton in one of his kinder moments suggested that in religious terms a divine force that had been at work for 200 years manifested through Gardner (p239). Hutton then goes on to say in the same paragraph that the secular equivalent would be that cultural forces produced the same result. How then, is this different from the OGD story? Everyone gets to be divinely inspired except for poor old Gerald? Do you honestly believe that Wicca has produced no innovations?

    I have to wonder if you were reading the same section of the book and neglected to cite Hutton in context. Hutton’s assessment was infinitely more generous than your own. The OGD certainly drew from sources going back a long way. It categorically did NOT have some kind of lineage to many of these sources. The OGD produced a lot of innovation, and did not require unbroken lineage in order to do so successfully. This is precisely my point that the OGD in producing innovations and falsifying its history is EXACTLY like Wicca.

    Before I go further, I concede you did not describe Gardner’s craft as an incomplete version of Crowley’s. I also concede the OTO and Thelema are not the same thing. However, describing Gardner’s OTO lineage as “corrupted through Gardner’s own sexual and personal needs and wants” is a weasely way of saying Gardner was a nasty perv who had no idea what he was doing magic wise. Gardner would not have cared one jot about lineage to Crowley’s OTO with his brand of witchcraft because it was his innovation, not Crowley’s. Later Wiccans carrying on this fine tradition of nicking esoteric bits and pieces to flesh out their path can hardly be chastised for further corrupting a link that in reality never existed.

    On the Book of Shadows, this is not the entirety of Wiccan teachings, nor is it meant to be so. What it lacks, and this is an area you are acutely aware of, Peregrin, is the inner workings of rituals. Without initiation, without careful teaching, the mysteries are deficient in meaning. As for appropriating various techniques and ideas into Wicca, esoteric movements of the modern era including Druidism, Crowley’s OTO and the OGD have done so much of that, one has to start contemplating pots and kettles.

    I concur that the authentic western esoteric traditions should not be equated with Wicca. They are not the same as each other. Wicca should be concerned with its heritage, but not with lineage to an imagined past.

  11. Peregrin · May 11, 2008

    Dear Terry,

    Thanks for these further comments, which I appreciate along with your open and visible honesty. I have received the inevitable private abusive emails – all from people seeming to be Wiccans. This is not surprising as when I first raised questions of this nature back in the 80s the same thing happened. I was also cursed up hill and down dale, though of course I felt nothing (the cursing was verified years later when one of the High Priestesses who oversaw it confided in me and apologised. These are probably the same people who trained most of contemporary Perth Wicca and are now ‘elders’).

    To be honest, I am not sure we are getting anywhere with this. But anyway…

    Your quoted analysis of the Charge: (1) refers to one little poem composed mid-way through the evolution of ‘classical’ Gardnerian craft, hardly a good representation of Wicca, (2) assumes Valiente was not influenced by the esoteric traditions when she knocked up the charge in one evening, which is not likely since she read widely and intelligently before entering Wicca.

    I am glad we are in agreement in concluding Wicca is not part of the Western esoteric tradition.

    What I am saying is that besides the religious elements (see below) Wicca in its original form was comprised largely of misunderstood western esoteric and magical elements.

    Yes, I have agreed before and now: the GD et al made up their histories, they created new forms of practice. The difference between the GD (and other magical groups) and Wicca is the sources of their inspiration: effective, traditional esoteric motifs, lineages, practices, the Christian and Jewish mysteries etc.

    Where does Wicca derive its magical sources?

    If it is through the esoteric traditions it is clear, when comparing with even the published sources such as the GD versions, Wicca is woefully short, which is too be expected since Garnder had no esoteric lineage to speak of.

    If it is by inspiration (and I concede some practices are), then we must judge by merit, which is a personal judgement and there is no point in discussing it in this forum.

    Please be clear I am talking here about magic, not religion.

    On to religion: I would agree partially with Hutton – a religious force did manifest to (not through) Gardner, or to him and many others around the same time. How effective his opening to that force and how true he represented it is another question.

    I have no problem with Wicca as a religion; and like all religions it will appeal to different people and can be judged on its merits. The more religion the better. I am with Hutton and others; Wicca has provided a nice little niche religion for certain people in our society who cannot, for various reasons, find religious fulfilment elsewhere. As to whether Gardner was divinely inspired … I will leave that to history to judge.

    I am sorry if you think I was being a weasel when talking of Gardner. I thought I was clear – but perhaps I should have used your colourful language: yes, I DO think Gardner was a “perv” who had no idea what he was doing in the magical traditions. I don’t think he was nasty though. Gardner’s inclusion of overt and physical sexuality within Wicca (ignoring the scourging for erection issue) shows both these points. Again, I will restate: in traditional and authentic traditions sexuality is not included (if at all) until mastery of the self, after many changes and transformations in consciousness.

    As for Gardner not caring about his lineage to the OTO – well, sorry, but I think you are wrong. Firstly, look at the way he used his OTO motto and (incorrectly formed) grade symbol as the author’s name for his first Craft book, “High Magic’s Aid”. This shows the importance Gardner placed on his OTO credentials.

    Secondly, look at how he ran around after Crowley’s death trying to be the head of the OTO and gather documents together. It was only after the OTO move failed that Gardner focused on Wicca (after giving up his Christian priest attempts too). There’s an essay by Prof Hutton which he kindly sent me which details this; I am sure it must have been published by now, so look it up.

    I realise that the Book of Shadows is not the entire corpus of Wiccan teachings. It is however fruitful to compare, and the point I was trying to make is that the outer teachings of Wicca have little substance compared to the outer teachings of western esoteric schools.

    As to the inner workings; well really I have yet to see much evidence they are considered fully in Wicca. If you have different experiences, I am glad. However, I keep coming across Wiccans of all degrees who are stunned and amazed when showed them the inner work that should be happening in their own circles and rituals. I would like to think this is changing, so thanks for encouraging me on this.

    As for appropriating techniques etc. Sorry, again I think you are wrong. There are authentic esoteric traditions in the West, Christian naturally, that are complete and full in themselves, without taking from anywhere at all.

    Even if we look at the GD we can see this. It was essentially fully formed by the late 1890s and even the thin slice of material published by Regardie shows the depth of the tradition. There is no need for a GD / RR et AC magician, an esoteric Christian, a Anthrosophist, a true Rosicrucian etc to look outside of their own traditions. I have worked within traditions that use only traditional material entirely.

    Wicca however, in book and coven, has since the 1950s been incorporating much material. A good example of this is the so called ‘Tibetan Rite’ for the dead that is in many Perth Shadows which is taken form T.S. Rampa’s pseudo Tibetan mysticism publications.

    OK, hope we are getting somewhere here??

  12. Terry · May 15, 2008

    Dear Peregrin

    I’m sorry you copped flack for your article. I had a fleeting hope it was only silly fluffy people responsible, but this hope is probably futile. 10, 20 and 30 year veterans of a religion can still be insufferable and ignorant as fluffy bunnies do not have a mortgage on these traits.

    Some last points to rack up some fundamentalist Gardnerian credibility and punt a couple for team Wicca;

    Aiden Kelly dated the Charge to before 1948. That is _early_ in the evolution of Gardner’s craft. It is not a “little” poem, it is one of the most powerful pieces of writing Wicca possesses, and is recited at the height of the drawing down of the moon, for me the central and most crucial Wiccan ceremony. It is exceptionally representative of Wicca, and other than noting Valiente was influenced by the esoteric traditions (which I don’t doubt) you have nothing to add to Serith’s analysis. My point stands.

    On Gardner and his penchant for scourges; the first person to read anything sinister into this was Aiden Kelly. He found it so sinister he devoted an enormous amount of space in “Crafting” to Gardner’s sexual predelictions, and failed to cite any evidence. Donald Frew’s uneven but excellent review of Kelly’s book is strongest when refuting these claims. See for example http://www.wildideas.net/temple/library/frew/frew12.html. I don’t know if anyone has substantiated Kelly’s claims in the meantime. Sexuality is a big part of Wicca however, and it doesn’t have to apologise for that just because followers of different paths have different rules governing it.

    Gardner was keen on the OTO. Using his motto as a pseudonym indicates that as does his OTO charter, and the heavy use of Crowley material through his book of shadows. Your original point was that “he [Gardner] had no lineage to impart other than an incomplete and low version of Crowley’s debased adaptation of the OTO, which Gardner misunderstood anyway.” The problem with this obsession about lineage is that Gardner fabricated or distorted what he told others and drew widely from a variety of sources other than the OTO. His thoughts on the OTO would have been rendered irrelevant by finding himself the founder of a small but bourgeoning witch cult in the mid to late fifties. “The Wica” by now were practicing their innovative techniques, many of them based on OGD, Masonry or from the Greater Key but now in a different context. The OGD took their ritual forms from Masonry. Same dog, different leg.

    On the appropriation of techniques by western esoteric groups, I referred to Druidism, Crowley’s OTO and the OGD. I will admit I should have written “such as” rather than “including”. The aim was to be more specific. Some strands of druidism were influenced by Wicca, Crowley’s OTO was OGD+channelled egotistical gibberish+Buddhist meditation, and the OGD appropriated Rosicrucian elements, Grimoire magic, and Enochian to make them their own.

    I have to claim ignorance of the Tibetan Rite of dead as it isn’t in my Shadows. This a pretty futile argument because you first have to define which sections of Wicca are doing this then deny the large number of esoteric movements who use both traditional material and anything else that takes their fancy and isn’t nailed down. Because of the watering down of Wicca and its splintering into myriads of smaller and smaller movements the overall prize for outside technique pilfering must go to Wicca. Just as there are esoteric movements who use only traditional material, there so called “old school” wiccans who use material largely unchanged since the fifties. You also have the difficulty of defining what is outside of Wiccan tradition.

    Kellys, Gardners and techniques aside, I hope that your upcoming book will spur local occult people, Wiccans especially to reconsider inner workings of ritual. The diversity of the Wiccan movement has had a cost, and that’s the dumbing down of the tradition.

  13. Jeff · September 19, 2009

    I know this is an older post but I read it after a friend pointed it out to me and felt I needed to comment. I think it’s interesting that humanity feels the need to have to be in constant search of proof. We can’t just live and let live anymore. Everything has to be so scientific and without a doubt. Wiccans and Neo-Pagans do feel the need to have to defend their beliefs by trying to site a source, give their religion a roadmap thru history, because thats the only way people would accept them. There has to be fact. There has to be reason. It can’t just be. We also feel the need to take people’s beliefs and try to disprove them because if we don’t believe it, it must be silly. Wouldn’t it be convenient if we could all believe in nothing. If science ruled and we had no religions because after all science is a known killer of cultures. So what if Wicca is a new religion. It’s Gods and it’s rituals are very old. The name is just it’s name and it is new. I don’t think anyone denies that. The belief system is based on the belief systems of the ancient world. The images given to the Gods are just ways of personifying the divine and are very old. These Gods are not dead we only gave them different names, or even a single name but it’s still the driving force of religion no matter what you call it. Wicca does adapt itself to fit ones personal experience with the divine. Every religion takes from other religions. It’s a well known fact that the Abrahamic religions took their beliefs from the Egyptians and Sumerians. Every religion is built upon the myths of it’s neighbors. There’s nothing wrong with that. Is that to say no religion has it’s own true history? The fact of the matter is no one asked you to believe them, in fact they shouldn’t care if you believe them. I only hope this post didn’t poison the mind of anyone who’s path this might be. If there are believers in Wicca reading this I only hope you don’t base your beliefs on what a stranger who wants nothing more then to invade and try to explain away another persons religion has to try to prove, but base it on what your religion has proved to you. People believe it for a reason. Their Gods are real and they really don’t need to answer to humanity demanding an explanation. Believe what you were meant to believe and hold true to that. There will be those Atheist and skeptics that would love nothing more then to see, in the end of days as the world burns, the whole of civilization perish as non believers. Just remember if a stranger was to die you wouldn’t really be affected so how should you feel about that strangers opinion…

  14. Peregrin · September 21, 2009

    Dear Jeff,

    Thanks for these comments, which display your passion and emotions well, but really add nothing to the discourse or argument. Normally I would not respond so directly to such comments, but what the hell, it’s a Monday morning and I’m having fun 🙂

    First off, your comment, “Wiccans and Neo-Pagans do feel the need to have to defend their beliefs by trying to site (sic) a source, give their religion a roadmap thru (sic) history, because thats (sic) the only way people would accept them.”

    Well, there are plenty of new religions that are boldly open about their provenance and innovations and are as accepted or more so than Wicca. The reason why Wicca has yet to receive acceptance from some parts of society is for other reasons, such as … well its use of iconography traditionally associated with EVIL. Funny about that.

    Your declaration, “…after all science is a known killer of cultures” is extraordinary. What can you mean? I cannot even begin to rebut this statement as I cannot believe you mean what it clearly says, as such a view would surely not be held by anyone capable of reading a single book on the history and development of ‘science’.

    Jeff, you say Wicca’s Gods and rituals are “very old”. Sorry you are wrong. The rituals are new, based on a bad understanding of western magical rituals circa early 20th century and some Grimoire traditions no older than the medieval period. This is clearly proven. Just read a bit please, people like Kelly and Hutton. Also the Gods of Wicca, as Hutton points out are new, only a few centuries old at best, gaining their coherent form and myth in the 17th-19th centuries.

    You go on to write, “The belief system is based on the belief systems of the ancient world.” Wrong again. The belief system of Wicca is based on western magic and modernity, a few centuries old at best. Again, just read the material, read some studies and think a bit. See also the work of Jo Pearson who points out how much Wicca owes to Christianity in its beliefs, theologies and rituals. The reality and mindset of people in the ancient world is a far removed from that of the average Wiccan as it is from the average Sunday Christian.

    You also say, “It’s a well known fact that the Abrahamic religions took their beliefs from the Egyptians and Sumerians.” Oh, please not this old chestnut again. Yes, in part…BUT and it’s a big but, there were significant innovations, changes, reforms and completely new understandings. Just look at the Christian conception of salvation through personal relationship with Christ, not through ritual forms, sacrifices, etc. For an accessible reference on these topics see the History of God by Karen Armstrong.

    I just love your passion Jeff, when you say: “I only hope this post didn’t poison the mind of anyone who’s path this might be. If there are believers in Wicca reading this I only hope you don’t base your beliefs on what a stranger who wants nothing more then (sic) to invade and try to explain away another persons religion has to try to prove, but base it on what your religion has proved to you.”

    It is a pity your passion is not tempered by thought. What am I invading? My own Blog? Someone’s relationship with their Gods – how is that possible by a few pixels on a screen? If you have read elsewhere on MOTO you will know that I view the Gods as real, far more real than we can experience. This does not however stop me from trying to inject some truth and sanity into the morass of pagan and Wiccan dysfunction that masquerades as esoteric tradition.

    And Jeff, God how I love this end bit: “There will be those Atheist (sic) and skeptics that would love nothing more then (sic) to see, in the end of days as the world burns, the whole of civilization perish as non believers.”

    How the holy hell could atheists and sceptics love anything in “the end of days”, the end of days being a religious concept that they do not and cannot recognise? Lovely expression though – the image of Richard Dawkins cackling manically during the Apocalypse, fire all around him, happy that so many people have turned from religion. There must be a cartoon in that somewhere.

    Not sure if you will reply or not Jeff, or anyone else, but if you do…please think before hammering away at those keys, huh? Ta.

  15. Taliesin Gawr · December 2, 2010

    Being a initiate of both Y Tylwyth Teg and Dynion Mwyn I have watched with amazement at the attacks and comments referring to my religion.

    I chuckled when I saw the web pages which the above author directed you to. All but one of them were created by the same person. LOL

    Go to http://www.dynionmwyn.net/plagerize.html and see a more honest and factual description of the psychic soap opera/witch war created by a book store owner (Betsy Ashby) who trashes anyone who gets in her way. She attended the 1992 Gathering of the Tribes held in Georgia, went back to Virginia and began creating a Gathering of the Tribes she called the “original” and claimed that the real Gathering of the Tribes in Georgia had plagerized “HER” gathering. The Real Gathering of the Tribes (Pagan) has been held continuously since 1967 by Y Tylwyth Teg/ Dynion Mwyn so unless she started her Gathering when she was a teenager, she is mistaken on purpose.

    She is (in my opinion) a sociopath, proven liar and plagerizer, who has scammed numerous pagans and groups for many years. Her “Gathering” was kicked out of Blackwater Campground in Virginia for not paying past due rent. She then went to the Cherokee Tribes in NC and began scamming them from all reports.

    There is no longer a Gathering of the Tribes in Virginia. She destroyed it in my opinion. A group called Herding Cats now has the site. The camp owners changed the name of the campgrounds to Big Bear Campgrounds I believe.

    For the record: Wica, Wicca or wiccae is derived from an ancient (pre 1920s) form of paganism, witchcraft, etc.

    You can say that there is no evidence for any pagan religion called wicca prior to the 1950s/ and Gardners construction, but in fact there is much evidence if one knows where to look. It may not have called itself or been called Wica or Wicca by those with a different language but in terms of belief it is very similar to most pagan philosophies prior to 1000 ad.

    I am Welsh living in Scotland (I know) and have seen a resurgence of Paganism, Druidism, Witchcraft, Wica, etc. these many years.

    Its too bad that pagans cannot be accepting toward one another instead of participating in backstabbing and dishonest behavior.

    Just Saying.

  16. Peregrin · December 2, 2010

    Thank you for your comment and background information, Taliesin. I know nothing of the controversy you refer.

  17. Raven · March 16, 2011

    I agree with the other poster; you’re vastly underestimating the Wiccan mysteries. You’re attacking a shallow, pop-culture version of Wicca, a straw-man. You say you’ve not seen that Wiccans “fully understand” these mysteries? How could you have seen it? These kinds of explorations take place ONLY in the oath-bound setting of the coven experience. In other words, you’re making claims about things you know nothing about, and going after only the most superficial aspects of the religion and system. Real Wicca isn’t something you can learn from a book.

    You’re falling into the age-old trap of playing the “To prove how great MY system is, I’m going to bad-mouth others in order to bolster my own claim to fame” game, which is a losing proposition. Ritual magic, “magicians” and their lodges, “western mysteries” and whatever else it is you’re into have a history of just as much shoddy research, fakelore, and shallow pop-culture appropriation as anything found in Wicca. Will you be doing an article on that? Or just stay on the “bash Wicca” gravy train?

    It doesn’t matter how old Wicca is. For the record, I believe (as does anybody with any grasp of history) that it’s a new religion, founded by Gardner, based on various bits of magical lore and Witchcraft legends. It doesn’t MATTER how old it is, though, as long as it works, and it does work. There IS an inner transformation that takes place, which again you couldn’t know since you’re not a serious practitioner. To be fair, though, most “Wiccans” don’t know either, since they learn not from an actual Wiccan group, but from poorly-written mass market books. When it comes to Witchcraft in general, there IS some evidence that there existed traditional groups prior to Gardner. I highly recommend you read Mike Howard’s book, “Modern Wicca: A History from Gerald Gardner to Present.”

    This rather reminds me of the Trad Craft attacks on Wicca, people who criticize it for being “theatrical” and then, themselves, run around with masks in the woods at night. Magical lodges, with their faux-Egyptian inspirations, Christian/Jewish/etc mash-ups, and conspiracy theories clearly have their own problems. Why you’d feel the need to attack something for problems present in your own system is beyond me, but it’s really too bad. You’re clearly intelligent, based on what I’ve read in other parts of your site, and one would think you’d remember that “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.”

  18. Peregrin · March 16, 2011

    Dear Raven,

    thanks for taking the time to comment on this post.

    Just a couple of things. I have full Wiccan initiation, from an Alexandrian source and also from a source claiming to be pre-Gardner. I worked these groups and mysteries for more than ten years. So I do have personal and direct experience which you blithely assumed I did not.

    I think my comments stand for themselves on some points. Wicca as a magical practice has long lineage; as a religion it does not. The roots of the magical strand of Wicca (Gardner) are in the western traditions; I prefer to go the main source.

    Much of what I say is biased on the Perth and Australian community which was founded by and still has a large number of sex workers and drug addicts and was very dysfunctional – curses, kidnappings, break-ins, threats etc.

    I am not sure what magical lodges you refer to; all the ones I have ever been part of were very conscious of the use of non-literal history etc as part of the magic. None of them believed it. I have never been attacked, had mead thrown over me, had my property vandalized and libelled by a magician. I have by Wiccans when they felt their history was threatened by pointing out some of the actual lineage. So, yes I am a little biased 🙂

    I have read Mr Howard’s book, and most of his work. Not really convincing to me.

    Thanks 🙂

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