Wicca Posted on 12 Jan 23:22

As many of you must have come to realise now there is no simple definition for Paganism, and the same goes for Wicca. The OED defines it as ‘the religious cult of modern witchcraft, especially an initiatory tradition founded in England in the mid 20th century and claiming its origins in pre-Christian pagan religions ’. But there is so much more to it, much more depth, and the definition changes in so many ways, all dependant on the person defining it.

In this short series of blogs, we’re going to cover the absolute basics. We’ll look at where the term ‘Wicca’ comes from and what its basic foundation is.

Wicca is sometimes used as a substitute word for the far broader term ‘witchcraft’, probably since anyone saying the latter would normally spark some sort of negative and stereotypical response from those who don’t really understand it. In truth it actually has a more precise meaning: referring to specific branches of Witchcraft with quite well defined beliefs and structures.

The Beginning of Wicca: Gerald Gardner

The term ‘Wicca’ (or ‘Wica’ as he spelt it back then) was first used by Gerald Brouseau Gardner back in 1954. Gardner was the founder - for want of a better term - of the contemporary, modern day Witchcraft that we know today. People are still debating exactly what Gardner’s role in the emergence of Wicca was. Gardner himself presented his writing as though he were an independent anthropologist discovering, taking part in, and documenting this ‘Old Faith’. Research by historians reveals that at the very least he ‘filled in the gaps’ to form a religion out of a pre-existing set of rituals and practices. It is also possible that Wicca, as it emerged in the 50s, was largely constructed by Gardner.

Gardner had always been intrigued by the occult and was an amateur anthropologist and archaeologist who travelled the world throughout his life. Spending most of his childhood in Madeira, he then went on to work as a civil servant in Malaya. His interest in the native people and their magickal practices inspired many of his papers and books.

Gardner travelled a lot during his life, until finally settling down in Highcliffe, England.

He claims that he was initiated into the New Forest Coven whose leader was Dorothy Clutterbuck-Fordham, a wonderful woman who also went by the name ‘Old Dorothy’.

Gardner happily learnt a lot about witchcraft and witches during this time, so much so he wished to write about it all, share the knowledge of how witches were not Satanists or devil worshippers as the Church had stated for so long. Gardner asked his coven leader ‘Old Dorothy’, if he could do so, only for her to to deny him, stating that witches had only survived so long by remaining a secret. He eventually gained permission to write, but initially only in the form of a fiction novel called High Magic’s Aid, published in 1949.

Gardner became quite good friends with Aleister Crowley (Founder of Thelema) during his time in England, and remained good friends until Crowley passed away. You’ll find some of Crowley’s work interlinked with Gardeners.

In 1947, Gardner broke away from The New Forest Coven, where he started his own coven in Bricketts Wood , St Albans. In 1948, Gardner moved to the Isle of Man and lived with Cecil Williamson, who four years previously, had established the Witchcraft Research Centre in an old mill which dated back to 1611, continuing to learn and absorb knowledge from ‘actual witches’.

1951 saw the last law in England against Witchcraft repealed. This was when Gardner really came to light. His coven began recruiting and, in 1953, initiated Doreen Valiente who became extremely influential in the shaping of what is now known as Gardnerian Wicca. During this time the religion was further fleshed out using material from a wide variety of sources, including works by Aleister Crowley.

Gardner wrote and published his first nonfiction book about Witchcraft in 1954 called Witchcraft Today which was published by Rider, London. He followed up this book with another called The Meaning of Witchcraft which was published in 1959 by Aquarian Press. It was these books that helped establish Gardner as a spokesperson for the old religion. Even though he was shunned and suffered from the ignorance and superstition of the locals, he kept going and eventually opened up a museum, helping those who wished to understand and learn about Witchcraft to do so. The museum in Boscastle is still open today despite suffering damage during the floods a over a decade ago.

Gardner’s work, whatever its provenance, continues to be one of the most influential sources in modern Witchcraft and the broader Pagan movement. He is considered to be one of the most qualified specialists in the field, and his work is studied and taught throughout the world.