Wicca and controversy
As with the previous entry, which was made for those starting out and those who are not Wiccan, I am trying to debunk and clarify some things about Wicca that even some Wiccans get wrong. There are a lot of misconceptions about it, such as “Wicca is anything you want it to be!” or “Wicca is the oldest religion in the world!”. These are not exactly true. There really is no one size fit all Wicca and Wicca isn’t for everyone, especially in coven format, which was originally made for small groups of people. There is likewise, an attack on both Christianity and Satanism by many Wiccans and I find this to be outdated. For one thing, witches can have something to do with the devil or God whether Wiccan or not. For another, a lot of Wicca’s history is wrapped in controversy and at times, outright denial. This is fine.
Under the concerns of the generations before me who love to tout the “Wicca has nothing to do with Satan!” or “Wicca banned curses and hexes!” or “Wicca has nothing to do with Christianity!“(Abrahamic religion). The first two were because of the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s, where every pentagram was considered the devil, and even Dungeons and Dragons the RPG got shafted as “devil worship”. It is therefore, completely understandable that many Wiccans believed this as the fear was real, in the same breath, Gerald Gardner was similar, though not as puritan about it. The main reasons for this from the 50’s – 80’s in America, especially, is because of the real discrimination Wiccans could face.
Let me be clear, about Satanic panic, there are more crimes committed and covered up by Christians than there ever has been among Satanists and/or modern pagans, granted Christians out number us and currently have been around longer than most [modern] pagans. But still, one does not have to look for to see the Catholic church has handled the priest molestation scandal, and there should be more directed outrage to that, than at devil worship or Satanism, or anybody practicing a non-Christian religion. The latter claim about Wicca having nothing to do with Christianity, is also false and I will cover that in a bit as well. I also do not think that any Wiccan, myself included, is better than any Christian or Satanist simply because we have different religions. This condescending attitude needs to be axed from Wicca, and so does the “Satanist are icky.” attitude. This does more harm to us than good now.
I was born in 1987 and I came to Wicca as a teenager in the early 00’s. I missed the whole Satanic panic of the 80’s. I do recall an era where even the mention of other gods, especially goddesses, was controversial, however. Especially, on TV for children. Luckily, we do not live in such times as the 1980’s anymore and I can say I have seen a children’s program playing at a McDonald’s in Florida that showed a woman called “the goddess” teaching kids. (Circa 2009) But I do understand the scars that the generations before me bare and I hope that politics, especially in America, become more secular.
There is definitely reasons for controversy that are not because of Satanism or Christianity. Much of which are subjects such as the questionable claims of Gerald Gardner, that even Doreen Valiente thought did not look right. Unfortunately, a lot of these people are dead so there is much material on Wicca’s history that is simply unverifiable. This is especially true when we try to go back as far as we can because all of the New Forest coven members are dead now and secretive. They had to be because witchcraft was a punishable offense still and they were not the only ones who had secret occult groups, either. This is why initiation was such a big deal.
While in the other entry I did cover some history and tried to explain the important figures of Wicca, I didn’t really cover the history like I am going to in this entry. I want to make a list of every (or almost) important figure in Wicca, covered in this entry, so that it is easier for me to know the reader understands who they are. If you already know them, then skip that part. Wikipedia, has some okay information on these people, if not scant. But you can still understand where I am coming from.
Important Wiccan Figures
(Note: Some of these may or may not be “officially” Wiccan, such as Budapest.)
Gerald Gardner (1884-1964) – Founder of “the Wica”, now known as “Wicca”, in the 1950’s. His craft name was Scire. He traveled the world and was an amateur anthropologist. He had traveled the world and experienced many different cultures since his youth. He claimed he was initiated into the New Forest coven in the 1930’s, by a elderly witch woman named “Old Dorothy” who stripped him naked during the process. (And who Valiente later proved actually existed.) Before then he was involved in a Rosicrucian occult group, but became dissatisfied and left. Gardner was still interested in esoteric Christianity in 1946, he was ordained as a minister of the Ancient British church, which was open to all monotheists.
He likewise took an interest in druidry, joining the Ancient Druid Order. (ADO) Gardner also traveled to the states to learn more about voodoo. He hoped to spread Wica in the meantime. Around this time he formed his own coven, called Bricket Wood, after New Forest dissolved. When Valiente became initiated she noticed that much of Gardner’s writings were taken from other sources such as Aradia: The Gospel of Witches, Crowley’s Thelema, the witch-cult hypothesis, and so forth.
She questioned him about this and he excused himself by saying what was left in New Forest was not a lot because they were a continuous survival of the ancient religion into the modern age. More likely, New Forest was not that old when Gardner was initiated and very fragmentary. Eventually Valiente and others left, for other reasons, but the coven did not dissolve, and Gardner’s lineage survives in many covens today. At age 79, Gardner passed away of heart failure.
Doreen Valiente (1922-1999) – A prominent English Wiccan and author. She was once the high priestess of Gardner’s Bricket Wood coven. But her and other members had a fallen out with Gardner in 1957 over the 161 laws, and left. (Later she would reconcile with Gardner before he died.) They went to form their own short lived coven. In 1964 she joined Robert Cochrane’s Clan of Tubal Cain, but grew insidiously dissatisfied with the way Cochrane ran things and had a bitter falling out with him. The coven eventually dissolved later.
In the 1960’s Doreen started writing and became an early advocate that one does not need to be initiated into a pre-existing tradition, in order to be a true Wiccan. (Such sentiments would later be picked up by Wiccan authors such as Scott Cunningham and Raymond Buckland.) Her and Gardner were instrumental in making the important scriptural texts in Wicca, including the Charge of the Goddess, and the Witches Rune. Gardner and Valiente pretty much made Wicca what it is today and how we perceive a lot of it. Valiente even considered Wicca to be the only true religion made by the British to be given to the world. She is considered the “mother of modern witchcraft” for being a key figure in Wicca that helped the religion grow and gain more adherents. She died at age 77, but her legacy lives on.
Robert Cochrane (1931-1966) – Robert is a popular controversial figure in traditional witchcraft. He too, claimed to have been in the ancient pagan witch cult. But was claiming his family was in it before his grandfather cursed him and his parents turned to Christianity. But it was aunt who taught him the faith. (His wife would go on to say that he was lying about these claims.) He eventually founded the Clan of Tubal Cain coven. Cochrane’s coven had a lot of similarity to Gardner’s Wicca, however he tended to mock Gardner’s version. He even coined the term “Gardnerian” because of it.
However, there were stark differences between Cochrane’s and Gardner’s practices. Cochrane did not use a Book of Shadows for example, preferring instead for rituals to be spontaneous. Valiente joined his coven after splitting from Gardner. However, his incessant mocking of Gardnerian witches, caused Valiente to challenge him in front of the entire coven, after he suggested doing a ritual on them. Valiente never came back. Eventually he added a new woman to his coven, who he openly cheated on his wife with. After his wife divorced him, leaving the coven, the coven dissolved and has no lineage, making his tradition extinct. He committed suicide by ingesting belladonna at age 35, he left a note that he wants to kill himself when he was of a sound mind. He is considered the most influential of Gardner’s rivals.
Raymond Buckland (1934 – ) – A prominent English-American Wiccan author, primarily known for “Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft”, a staple for many in the Craft, which he wrote in 1975. He is a significant figure on the history of Wicca. Buckland was friends with Gerald Gardner, and was initiated with his wife in Scotland by Monique Wilson. Soon after the ceremony, Gardner died. Buckland was considered the spokesman for Wicca in America and by his own writings, was the first American to openly practice Wicca in America in the 1970’s. He founded a Gardnerian coven in America, the first to do so. Now virtually all Gardnerian covens in America can trace themselves to his old coven. His wife and him separated in 1973, leaving the coven itself, which I assume still exists in some form. Buckland would go on to found the Seax-Wica tradition, his very own tradition which focuses on Anglo-Saxon paganism. Originally, he was against solitary and self-initiations, but his stance changed over time and eventually he agreed with Doreen.
Alexander Sanders (1926-1988) – Alex was an initiate of Gardnerian Wicca. He copied Gardner’s Book of Shadows. Eventually, he left and founded his own tradition, Alexanderian Wicca, with his wife Maxine, who is still alive and still an active part of the tradition. He claimed, as Cochrane did, that his family was into the ancient survival of witchcraft, but this is probably dubious as a claim. He was involved with the occult early in his younger days. In his youth he had been a part of the left-hand path, using black magick to gain what he wanted. He acted out, including having affairs with both men and women. A series of misfortune left a bad taste in his mouth, and he knew he had to reform from the LHP. He found Wicca through this and the experience helped him grow as a person. While there are differences between his trad and Gardner’s, the lines tend to blur. His version of Wicca is recognized as valid, and many Gardnerian Wiccans may refer to Alexanderian Wicca for seekers, this also happened in reverse where Alexanderians may recommend Gardnerian covens to Wiccans. Alexanderian Wicca is notable to have initiated Stewart and Janet Farrar, who are famous with their publicity of witchcraft into the media. Alexanderian Wicca is now practiced in Britain, the U.S., and Australia. Alexander sadly died in 1988 of lung cancer.
Stewart Farrar (1916-2000) and Janet Farrar (1950-) – Stewart was initiated into Alexanderian Wicca by Maxine Sanders in 1970. He also met his wife, Janet at this coven. Steward had risen to high priest in Alexanderian Wicca within a few months of being initiated. and then founded his own coven in London with his wife. The couple eventually moved to Ireland, where they founded new covens. It is claimed that nearly all of Ireland’s covens can be traced back to the Farrars. Together they wrote many fiction and non-fiction novels. They published a lot of material on their covens’ practices and the Wiccan religion. The most controversial of these is the Alexanderian Book of Shadows, which could be considered “oath breaking”. However, Janet argued that they felt the need to correct some misinformation in the books and therefore it was justified. Stewart became ill in 2000 and died, but Janet and her new husband Gavin Bone are still alive. Janet is one of the most well known public figures on Wicca and still frequently lectures. She has also continued to write books with her husband.
Scott Cunningham (1956-1993) – He was an American Wiccan author. In 1980, Cunningham began training for Wicca under another famous author Raven Grimassi. Later, he left it to do his solo work on witchcraft and Wicca. Cunningham did not agree with the closed system Wicca had become. By 1988, he published one of the most influential Wiccan books of all time; Wicca: A guide for the solitary practitioner. While he had many previous works and many works afterwards, such as Cunningham’s encyclopedia of magical herbs, they are often overshadowed by his solitary guide. I could easily say, that a lot of us, myself included, would not be here if it were not for the fact that Cunningham wrote that book. Previously, Valiente and Buckland had come out to say they did not think Wicca should be such a closed system and that initiation should not be required to be in the religion. However, they didn’t really publish books solely for solitary practice.This book was the first of it’s kind and the first introduction many had to Wicca. The book definitely had it’s strengths and weaknesses. For one thing, Cunningham slightly “waters down” some of the Craft in the book, and pushes the “harm none” mantra from the rede to being strict pacifism about magic. This is in contrary to some of his own writings that were private, such as his BOS. But because of his intended public works, many people now consider him “fluffy” or “fluffy bunny”, which is a derogatory term for Wiccans and pagans who are quite ignorant about paganism, but think they know a lot about it. I don’t think he was fluffy, myself, if he were he would not use Tezcatlipoca as one of the names for the god. This has divided the Wiccan community over the decades, with some initiated Wiccans calling solitary workers “Neo-Wiccans”. Unfortunately, Cunningham didn’t get to taste the success and influence he had on the community that much, as he died a few years later of an aids related illness.
Raven Grimassi (1951-) – A popular Wiccan author and lecturer. Grimassi is Italian-American and much of his works has more Italian roots because of it. He has over 17 books on Wicca and witchcraft. He has been practicing Wicca for over 45 years. He first became involved in 1969. As with many others, he left to create his own tradition, and as with some of the others before him, he also claimed that his family was into religious witchcraft. But that is doubtful. His own tradition is Stregheria or Italian Witchcraft, which claims roots into the Estrucan traditions rather than Roman. It is also called the Arician system or Arician witchcraft/Wicca. The path is not hereditary, though it appears to be on the surface, and it was thought to have been by blood only in the past. Grimassi is still heavily active in the pagan community.
Z.Budapest (1940-) – Budapest is a Hungarian-America author and founder of Dianic Wicca. She is a feminist separatist. While she was married, she eventually realized she is a lesbian and in her own words, wanted to get away from the duality of male and female. She is heavily involved in the Goddess movement, which is a movement that is a non-centralized trend within Neopaganism that focuses, mostly exclusively, on female aspects of divinity; goddesses. The movement was started because there is no female focused religions so much in the Western world, but plenty of male ones. She started Dianic Wicca which is a female exclusive, anti-transgender, form of Wicca that does not include the horned god, or any males, divine or otherwise.
Influential non-Wiccan figures
Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) – A key figure in the British occult in general and the most controversial of Wicca’s influences, is Crowley. I don’t think this brief introduction can do him justification. His denouncers in the public square called him a Satanist, although this is not true, and “the wickedest man in the world”, also not true. Crowley had a wide variety of beliefs and practices from varied sources, he later founded his own religion called Thelema. Crowley was involved in the O.T.O. (Ordo templi orientis) and Gardner was involved in it as well. But supposedly Gardner was introduced to Crowley by Arnold Crowther in 1946. Also, Crowley was said to have denounced Wicca for exalting a goddess/female when Gardner introduced it to him, being quite sexist. This has not been proved, but if true, than Crowley was a product of his era. In any case, Gardner used a lot of Crowley’s poetry and other works in the Gardnerian rituals. Something that Valiente noticed, and confronted him about. Gardner excused himself saying when he came into contact with the coven it was very fragmentary so he used Crowley’s works to fill in the gaps. Valiente was displeased, an’swould go onto rewrite the rituals herself. Another big thing was that in Thelema and from Crowley, “magick” was spelled this way to differentiate between stage magic and supernatural “magick”. Somehow, this got picked up in modern Wiccan movements, but I do not know where or how. Valiente does not use this spelling in ABCs of witchcraft book that she published in the 80’s. Nor does Gardner’s writings really contain that spelling either.
Margaret Murray (1863 – 1963) – A famous British anthropologist and Egyptologist. She had made the witch-cult hypothesis, which was about an ancient witch cult from the stone age surviving into the modern age by undergrou-nd covens. The cult was the oldest religion in the world and focused on the horned god. She said this horned god was mistaken for Satan by the Christian church and that the witch trials were evidence of this surviving cult, where members were targeted. (And with that I want to note that Wicca takes from the same sources because of Murray, as these literary Satanism ones where the church made up stories about witches, sabbaths, serving Satan etc. Satanism also takes from this, but the difference is that older Wiccan authors claim that the horned god was mistaken as Satan, while Satanists see it as Satan but made up. In reality, no one was practicing Satanism or paganism at this time. It was just religious paranoia.) She often used documented confessions as “proof” of this cults’ existence and believed it was all over Europe. When she first came out with the hypothesis, she didn’t have as many detractors, and was taken seriously. So, seriously, in fact that she wrote a forward in one of Gardner’s books. Gardner himself was a believer and used it to prove Wicca’s ancient lineage claims. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that her work became thoroughly debunked and it is not taken seriously in academia at all. However, Valiente and some other old school Wiccans, still talked about this hypothesis as fact which has done more damage with the coming decades. Many Neo-Wiccan authors still tout this as fact, along with “burning times” propaganda about ‘millions’ of witches were burned, Wicca is an ancient prehistoric religion that has survived, and from this many claim they are descendants of these persecuted witches, though their claims are dubious at best. Along with this is the ‘justification’ of hating Christianity and the church, when such a thing never happened. Unfortunaley, this misinformation has been repeated so often by New Age authors that there are still people, here in the modern age of 2016, that believe such debunked ideas. It should be noted that neither Gardner nor Valiente, or other early writers, really hated Christianity, or used the hypothesis as just propaganda, as it has become now. Murray was not a pagan that I know of, she seemed to believe in God, but she did do magick and was known to curse people who angered her.
Robert Graves (1895-1985) – A famous English poet and novelist. While he produced many works, his most famous among Wiccans is “The White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth“. This book really gave the triple moon goddess ideal in Wicca, even though Graves wrote of her before and later claimed she was Quintuple. Gerald Gardner had met him, and read the book, which did influence him. Gardner wrote an undated essay about the triple goddess. However, the triple goddess does not appear in Gardner’s Book of Shadows and only briefly appears in Buckland’s writings. It is murky to know where the “maiden-mother-crone” ideal came from since Graves did not describe her this way. As well, it is murky when writers started trying to apply the ‘triple goddess” to all goddesses because I don’t recall anyone saying it should be applied to all goddesses. Least of all, Gardner. (Maybe it was just assumed?) There were historical triple goddesses, the Morrigan, and Hecate being two notable ones. The irony is the White Goddess is not really focused on the triple goddess at all, and these ideas seem to be popularized by feminist revisionist Neopagan authors.
Starhawk (1951-) – One of the most influential authors on Neopaganism, especially from a feminist slant, comes from Starhawk. Her book the Spiral Dance, was written in good faith, but has very outdated views on history. She may have been one of the originators of claiming that millions of women witches were burned at the stake by Christians trying to destroy paganism. (In revised editions she fixed this, however, the damage was already done.) The book is commonly read as a part of Wicca, but is probably more Neopagan witchcraft. The book has a heavy emphasis on women and “the Goddess”, like many feminist Neopagan works do. Starhawk trained with Dianic Wicca founder Z.Budapest.
Dr. Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994) – Gimbutas was a Lithuanian-American archaeologist well known for her theory of matriarchal prehistory. She considered old prehistoric civilization to be goddess and woman centered. The matriarchy had men and women as equals, sexually free, and was basically a peaceful utopia with hardly any problems. Until the evil patriarchal culture arose and took over it. They did not really make weapons or anything, so men just “conquered” them with weapons and their violent natures.(I guess the women weren’t that strong after all, because even though this theory is supposed to exalt women, it just makes women look weak and inferior compared to men.) She believed this one great goddess was worshiped throughout Europe. She also believed in that this was the universal goddess around the world, and that she had manifestations in all the goddesses. This ideal would color modern Neopaganism and still does. The idea was merged with Murray’s witch-cult hypothesis, though Murray only focused on the horned god. This “theory” of matriarchy is not academic accepted at all, but many Neopagans and Wiccans still seem to believe in it despite what science has said. It was a theory not supported by older Wiccan writers. It seems to have come out of the 1970’s feminist movements and with Starhawk and Z.Budapest.
Charles Leland (1824-1903) – An American folklorist and humorist. He is most famous now for his book Aradia or the Gospel of Witches (1899), which served as a basis for Wicca and many other Neopagan movements. In the book, the ancient Roman goddess Diana creates the stars, the moons, everything, and even her brother Lucifer. She conceives from Lucifer, her daughter Aradia. Aradia is a messianic figure who has come to teach the religion of witchcraft to the Italian people to fight their oppressors. Some of the spells including calling about Aradia, sky-clad, on nights of the full moon, while others are clearly based off of Catholic rituals. (Aradia and Diana are at times, confused.) The folklore itself is against the Catholic church as they are considered one of the oppressors of the poor and down trodden. Leland claimed to have to have received these stories from a woman named Maddalena, a witch informant. The veracity of this and claims in the book, cannot be verified, and have left scholars divided. There is definitely a link between the book and the fictional cult of Herodias, as well as literary Satanism. The text remained rather obscure until the 1950’s when surviving pagan witchcraft cults became a thing. As I said in the earlier entry, Gardner said Aradia was the Wiccan goddess and while Lucifer should have been next to her as the horned god, but was switched out for Cernunnos because Gardner feared reactions and accusations of Satanism from people. He said Wicca had “nothing to do with it”, and was very hung up on it. Even so far as to be angry when another coven used Lucifer as the god of witches in place of Cernunnos.
Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) – Was an American writer and mythologist. Best known for his work on comparative religion and mythology. Even Lucas of Star Wars fame was influenced by him. Campbell believed in following your bliss. He formulated different ideas about goddesses, noting things like the virgin Mary image was taken from Isis and Horus images. He seemed to have similar ideas as some of the later feminist writers and Gimbutas, with slight variables. He believed the mother was the prime parent.