Witchcraft
The word ‘‘witchcraft’’ derives from the Saxon wicca, sometimes
translated as ‘‘wise person’’ but more accurately derived
from an Indo-European root, ‘‘weik,’’ that produced words in
various Western languages related to magic, religion, and divination.
Currently, the word is used to designate a variety of
very different but vaguely related phenomena including, but
not limited to, (1) the magicalreligious practitioners in a variety
of third world pre-industrial societies; (2) the Satanism described
in the anti-witchcraft books beginning in the late fifteenth
century in Europe; (3) the Neopagan followers of
Wicca, the religion started by Gerald B. Gardner in the 1940s;
and (4) individuals (primarily female) who are reputed to have
psychic abilities.
Interpretations of Historic Witchcraft
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the figure
of the European witch was interpreted and reinterpreted
in numerous ways, depending on the orientations of the scholars
involved. They described her (typically) as variously an antisocial
practitioner of malevolent magic; as a pro-social healer,
midwife, and magician condemned by churches and universities;
as a victim of mental illness or of accidental poisoning by
mind-altering plants; or as a deliberate user of mind-altering
plants who sought a shamanic ‘‘soul flight.’’ She was either the
follower of a Satanic religion developed in opposition to Christianity,
or she was the inheritor of pre-Christian Paganism. She
was supported by her neighbors, or she was the unfortunate
scapegoat for social tensions, a lonely victim with no family to
protect her. These different pictures of the typical witch of the
Burning Times or the Great Hunt (both terms for the persecutions
that peaked in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries)
in turn reflect the sympathies of the writers, whether pro or
anti-Catholic, socially rebellious, socially conservative, feminist,
or Neopagan. These different perspectives on historical European
witchcraft have also influenced what is today called Neopagan
Witchcraft, a new religious movement.
Since the mid-1970s, historians have more closely examined
the court records of witch trials in various European countries
(and in North American colonies). They have studied the verdicts,
punishments, social status of accused witches, lists of
goods confiscated from the accused, and other evidence. In one
notable case, scholarly re-examination of older work revealed
a major forgery, a portion of Etienne Leon de LamotheLangon’s
Histoire de l’Inquisition en France (History of the French
Inquisition), written in 1829. Lamothe-Langon’s description of
huge 14th-century witch trials with hundreds of executions in
the South of France turned out to be complete inventions by
the writer—who had also written a profitable series of ‘‘gothic’’
horror novels with titles like The Monastery of the Black Friars.
Today, informed estimates of the total deaths in central and
western Europe range from 40,000 to 50,000, much lower than
the millions once claimed. Contrary to the picture created by
writers such as Lamothe-Langon, the Inquisition (an arm of the
Roman Catholic Church created in 1246 to combat heresy) did
not execute many witches; secular courts were more likely to
condemn accused witches than were church courts. As many or
more accused witches were executed in Protestant lands as in
Catholic countries, and the witch trials did not peak until 1550-
1650, a period that historians describe as ‘‘early modern’’ rather
than ‘‘medieval.’’
During the early Middle Ages, Church writers were more
likely to insist that witchcraft was a delusion and that priests
should discourage their congregations from believing that anyone
could cast spells or fly through the air in the entourage of
a Pagan deity. The famous Canon Episcopi, publicized in the
tenth century but possibly of earlier date, stated that it was heretical
to believe in witchcraft, not to practice it. This ecclesiastical
legal document, like others of its kind, urged bishops and
priests to combat the practice of sorcery, but also suggested that
people who believed that they were witches were deluded by the
Devil. Another set of church ordinances from the late eighth
century demanded the death penalty not for the witch, but for
the person who murdered an alleged witch—again, because believing
in witches was a Pagan superstition.
After the Black Death swept Europe in the 1340s, mysteriously
killing thousands of people, Europeans were more likely
to accept conspiracy theories involving enemies of Christianity,
defined variously as heretics, Muslims, Jews or possibly witches.
Officers of the Inquisition now began to expand their scope
from Christian dissenters and heretics, such as Cathars and
Waldensians, to people who supposedly had chosen to follow
a diabolical anti-Christian religion (rather than a lingering Paganism).
New manuals for witch-hunters appeared, such as the
infamous Malleus Maleficarum, or ‘‘Hammer of Witches,’’ a book
that although authored by Dominican monks was used and reprinted
equally by Protestant witch-hunters in Germany and
England. By the sixteenth century, the witches’ sabbat was regarded
by authorities as a parody of the Christian Sabbath, the
worshipful aspect of a religion which was a distorted image of
true religion, i.e., Christianity. According to the records, the
sabbat was generally held in some wild and solitary spot, often
in the midst of forests or on the heights of mountains, at a great
distance from the residence of most of the visitors. (The use of
the word ‘‘sabbat,’’ clearly derived from the Jewish Sabbath, indicates
the way in which medieval and early modern Christians
tended to blur distinctions between all perceived enemies of
Christianity, whether Jews, Muslims, Pagans, or perceived sorcerers
and witches.)
The witches themselves told a story—usually after torture—
of taking off their clothes and anointing their bodies with a special
unguent or ointment. They then strode across a stick, or
any similar article, and, muttering a charm, were carried
through the air to the place of meeting in an incredible short
space of time. Sometimes the stick was to be anointed as well
as the witch. They generally left the house by the window or by
the chimney, which perhaps suggests survival of the custom of
an earth-dwelling people. Sometimes the witch went out by the
door, and there found a demon in the shape of a goat, or at
times of some other animal, who carried her away on his back,
and brought her home again after the meeting was dissolved.
In the confessions extorted from them, the witches bore testimony
to the truth of all these details, but those who judged
them, and who wrote upon the subject, asserted that they had
many other independent proofs in corroboration.
Powers of Witches
In the eyes of the populace, the powers of witches were numerous.
The most peculiar of these were The ability to blight
by means of the evil eye, the sale of winds to sailors, power over
animals, and the power of witches to transform themselves into
animal shapes.
Witches were also believed to possess the power of making
themselves invisible, by means of a magic ointment supplied to
them by the Devil, and of harming others by thrusting nails
into a waxen image representing them.
New research has shown that witch trials were more likely to
occur in areas of political instability and religious conflict.
Hence both Germany and Switzerland, each a patchwork of
small political entities and divided between Catholics and Protestants,
witnessed more witch trials than did France or Spain.
In late seventeenth-century Spain, after an outbreak of witchcraft
accusations in the Basque region (shared with France), a
lawyer for the Spanish Inquisition convinced its supreme council
not to prosecute. Instead, the council ordered an ‘‘Edict of
Silence’’ forbidding further discussion of witchcraft. In that
Spanish case and others, local secular authorities went around
the Catholic Church and appealed to the king for the right to
try witches. The king agreed with their request and accused
witches began to be sentenced until the Inquisition stopped the
process on the grounds that this was church business only.
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By the eighteenth century, however, fewer educated Europeans
believed in spell-casting, witches flying through the sky,
or other typical accusations of the Great Hunt. Thinkers of the
Enlightenment such as Voltaire (1694–1778) had denounced
the witch trials as the product of religious bigotry, whether
Catholic or Protestant, supported by superstitious monarchs
across Europe. They hoped that new, more rational attitudes
would produce societies where such events could not occur.
In America, the Salem witch trials of the 1690s were similarly
seen as the product of a repressive Puritan church struggling
to hold onto power. Nineteenth-century American historian
George Bancroft’s History of the United States used the Salem trials
to condemn Puritan ‘‘superstition,’’ as did the poet and editor
James Russell Lowell. As part of the nineteenth-century
struggle for authority between science and religion, the witchcraft
trials were entered into evidence as examples of the excesses
of religion. This view tended to overlook the fact that
secular courts were as likely or more likely to execute accused
witches than were religious courts, producing the slightly
skewed stereotype of ‘‘medieval’’ witches being hauled before
the ‘‘Inquisition.’’
The Witch as Romantic Rebel
This anti-clerical view of the medieval and early modern
witch as the victim of superstitious churchmen was strengthened
by a new nineteenth-century view of the witch as a Romantic
rebel or outlaw—an idea which partly underlies the new religion
of Neopagan Witchcraft. It connects with the
romanticization of medieval life (and of rural nineteenthcentury
life) by writers such as Sir Walter Scott and Thomas
Hardy, both of whom described fictional ‘‘cunning women’’ or
solitary rural witches in their novels. A leading proponent of
this new Romantic view of witches was the French writer Jules
Michelet, a fervent anti-Catholic and anti-monarchist, who produced
numerous books of history, natural history, and social
reform. Advocating a turn from Christianity to worship of a
Great Mother Goddess such as Isis, Michelet held that women
were morally superior to men, and that their persecution as
witches in former centuries was an attack by the elites on both
the rights of women and the working classes. Michelet took the
position of the Malleus Maleficarum that women were innately
drawn to witchcraft and made a positive good of it. Medieval
witchcraft, he declared in his 1862 book La Sorcière, had been
an egalitarian rural religion led by female priestesses—a view
which was to resonate with later maverick writers on witchcraft
such as Charles Leland and Margaret Murray. Had the witches
worshipped Satan, as their accusers claimed Indeed they had,
Michelet wrote, for ‘‘Satan’’ was merely the god of fertility and
the patron deity of those persons condemned by kings and
bishops and their henchmen. Although he did little actual research
for La Sorcière, Michelet succeed in introducing ideas
that would be taken up by later generations of non-academic
writers and by unconventional academics. One was the idea
that witches were healers and midwives persecuted by a maledominated
medical establishment; another was that the persecuted
witches represented traces of a secret Pagan religion.
Michelet’s advocacy of a Mother Goddess religion helped
reinforce a new current in nineteenth-century scholarship that
there had once been a universal matriarchal period of goddessworship,
later buried by a patriarchal Paganism typified by the
well-known Greco-Roman pantheon JupiterZeus, HeraJuno,
and so on. The notion of a universal ancient matriarchy appealed
to thinkers as different as Karl Marx and Sigmund
Freud, both of whom incorporated parts of it in their theories
of communism and psychoanalysis respectively. It also influenced
the first wave of women’s rights advocates, such as the
American feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage, who published her
own version of the anti-clerical witch trials in 1893, Women,
Church, and State. Basing her research largely on Michelet,
Gage produced a figure of nine million victims of the Burning
Times, a figure which although wildly inflated continues to be
repeated by some persons today.
Witches, Drugs, and Shamans
As the nineteenth century closed, two interpretations of the
medieval and early modern witchcraft period were gaining adherents.
One interpretation, suggested above, held that the
persecuted witches were leaders and followers of an underground
pre-Christian religion. The second, somewhat related
to the first, was that at least some of the accused practiced an
underground form of European shamanism, utilizing an ancient
tradition of entheogenic plants such as Amanita mushrooms
and members of the solanaceous plant genus such as
henbane, mandrake, belladonna, and datura.
During the height of the Great Hunt, the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries, some lawyers and physicians had made their
own tests of the unguents or ‘‘flying ointments’’ seized from accused
witches, attempting to learn their compositions and effects.
At the time, these men were advancing a counterargument
to the witch-hunters’ position that the witches worshiped
Satan. No, said such men as Andrés Laguna, physician
to Pope Julius III, the witches were merely ‘‘wretched ones,’’
deluded by drugs, who ‘‘firmly believe that they have done in
a waking state all of that which they dreamt while sleeping.’’
Theologian Nicholas Remy, writing at the height of the trials,
in the late 1500s, made numerous references to witches
smearing their bodies with oils and ointments, noting, ‘‘Now if
witches, after being aroused from an ‘iron’ sleep, tell of things
they have seen in places so far distant as compared with the
short period of their sleep, the only conclusion is that has been
some unsubstantial journal like that of the soul.’’
In an account published in 1555, Laguna described one of
his experiments, using ‘‘a jar half-filled with a certain green unguent’’
confiscated from some accused witches, which he believed
was prepared with ‘‘cold’’ herbs such as henbane or mandrake.
He took the mixture to another city, where he gave it to
the wife of the public hangman. This woman suffered from insomnia,
lying awake with worry because she thought her husband
was unfaithful to her.
‘‘On being anointed,’’ Laguna wrote, ‘‘she suddenly slept
such a profound sleep, with her eyes open like a rabbit, that I
could not imagine how to wake her. By every means possible,
with strong ligatures and rubbing her extremities, with effusions
of oil of costus-root and officinal spurge, with fumes and
smoke in her nostrils, and finally with cupping glasses, I so hurried
her that at the end of thirty-six hours she regained her
senses and memory although the first words she spoke were
‘Why do you wake me at such an inopportune time I was surrounded
by all the pleasures and delights of the world.’ And
casting her eyes on her husband (who was there all stinking of
hanged men), she said to him, smiling ‘Knavish one, know that
I have made you a cuckold, and with a lover younger and better
than you,’ and she said many other and very strange things.’’
Such experiments led Laguna and some of his contemporaries,
including some clergy, to a conclusion that the theologians
and demonologists were wrong the flights through the
air, feasts and orgies, encounters with Satan and other fantastic
experiences reported by (or tortured out of) the accused witches
were really the results of using psychedelic drugs.
These earlier accounts of experiments with witches’ unguents
led to new experiments using old recipes in the late
nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Karl Kiesewetter, a German
scholar of the occult, reported dreams of flying after reproducing
some of the old ointments; his later experiments
were fatal. The pharmacologist Gustav Schenk wrote in The
Book of Poisons that he experienced the sensations of flying
through the clouds after breathing the smoke of burning henbane
seeds. As interest in entheogenic or psychedelic drugs increased
in the 1950s and 1960s, anthropologists such as Michael
Harner returned to the older writings about ‘‘flying
ointments’’ in order to suggest that European witches took part
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in shamanic ‘‘soul flights,’’ projecting their consciousness into
other realms of existence even while their physical bodies appeared
to sleep. If parallel with the shamanism reported from
other cultures around the world, these soul-journeys might be
attempted to gain a cure for a sick person, for knowledge or
simply for the experience.
Some of the same herbs, such as datura, have been traditionally
used in India both for religious purposes, pleasure, and as
poisons. Likewise, the fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria,
has been proposed as the source of soma, the drink of the gods
in the ancient Hindu scriptures. Unlike the peyote and ayahuasca
of the New World, plants such as henbane, datura or fly agaric
can be fatally poisonous—they continue to claim victims
today. Therefore, if sixteenth-century witches such as Laguna’s
indeed were using them, they likely were heirs to an underground
tradition of safe preparation and use, although we do
not know what form such a shamanic tradition might have
taken.
Witchcraft as ‘‘The Old Religion’’
The identity and motives of the witches and their accusers
continue to be re-interpreted. In the period from 1890 to 1930,
however, one interpretation of the trials not only blossomed
but produced a genuine new religion. That was the theory that
the witches followed an underground pre-Christian religion.
Even though most modern scholars reject the notion, it contributed
to the birth of today’s fast-growing Neopagan Witchcraft.
Charles Godfrey Leland, an American lawyer, political journalist,
and folklore scholar who lived a number of years in the
Italian city of Florence, produced three books in the 1890s arguing
that some Italian peasants, through their innate religious
conservatism, maintained not only a pre-Christian but a preRoman
religion, dating to the days of the ancient Etruscan culture.
Camouflaged with Catholic saints’ names and other details,
this hidden ‘‘Old Religion’’ maintained its own deities,
creation stories, prayers, and rituals, Leland wrote, describing
these surviving bits of Paganism as ‘‘something more than a
sorcery and something less than a faith.’’ His most influential
book, Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches, published in 1899, synthesized
traditional legends with material gathered for him by
a woman known as Maddalena or Margherita (her surname
may have been Talenti) and translated from local dialects into
standard Italian, which Leland spoke and wrote moderately
well. Aradia, which Leland claims was originally a Semitic goddess
name, is described as the daughter of Diana, goddess of
darkness, and Lucifer, god of light. Aradia comes to earth, and
in the style of Michelet, teaches her ceremonies to outlaws and
outcasts, as well as the secrets of poisoning corrupt feudal lords.
What remains problematic about Aradia is the source of Leland’s
witchcraft gospel. Is it genuine, or did Maddalena herself
concoct it to please her wealthy American patron, or did Leland
shape it from a body of genuine invocations, stories, and folk
practices
Twenty years after Leland’s work, the English archaeologist
Margaret Murray (1862–1963) developed her own version of
the ‘‘Old Religion’’ through her reading of witch-trial records
from the British Isles and France. A recognized Egyptologist,
Murray turned her attention to the witch-cult problem while
World War I prevented her from working in Egypt. Her 1921
book The Witch Cult in Western Europe and its two successors laid
out an apparently clear picture of the Old Religion. Even
though that picture has largely been refuted by more recent
historians such as Russell Hope Robbins, Elliot Rose,
L’Estrange Ewen, and Ronald Hutton, its evocative power
threatened to overwhelm the former academically accepted
idea of the medieval and early modern witches as victims of bigotry,
social stresses, and mob psychology. Many followers of
modern Witchcraft continue to accept large portions of Murray’s
version of earlier witchcraft.
In essence, her version was this. The ‘‘witch cult’’ was a preChristian
religion centered on a fertility god (somewhat parallel
to the Greek Pan), whom Christian theologians deliberately
confused with their Devil in order to persecute the witches.
This god was often depicted with horns, and a man portrayed
and embodied him during group rituals. (Murray had much
less to say about goddesses than did Leland.) Covens of witches,
ideally consisting of thirteen persons, grouped together at four
major holidays—Candlemas, around 1 February; May Day;
Lammas, around 1 August; and All Hallows or Hallowe’en.
These large-group meetings, with their feasting and fertility
rituals, alternated with smaller meetings (‘‘esbats’’) for spellcasting
and other local witch business.
In medieval England, Murray claimed, the Old Religion
had been protected by the Plantagenet dynasty of kings, beginning
with William the Conqueror in 1066. These were ‘‘sacred
kings’’ who had to die as sacrificial victims or else find a substitute
after they had reigned for seven years, or a multiple of
seven years. Murray held that the murder in 1170 of the archbishop
of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket (later made a saint),
supposedly at the orders of King Henry II, his longtime friend,
was actually the substitution of a voluntary victim for the king
himself. Murray also maintained that the French mystical warrior
maiden Joan of Arc (1412–1431) was in fact a priestess of
the Old Religion. This underground religion, in Murray’s view,
permeated medieval society, and its followers left traces in the
carvings on Christian churches and in folklore.
Murray’s views were almost immediately attacked by historians
who pointed out that she manipulated evidence, lifted quotations
from witch-trial records out of context, and ignored evidence
that did not fit her theory. But her picture of the ‘‘Old
Religion’’ was embraced by many folklorists, occultists, and all
those who wanted to believe that British rural life retained
traces of ancient Paganism, even after 1500 years of Christianity.
Neopagan Witchcraft
Neopagan Witchcraft is the only worldwide religion to have
begun in England. Its apparent birth date lies between 1939
and 1951, when the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed by Parliament
and reports about people claiming to follow the religion
of Witchcraft began appearing in British newspapers.
Contemporary Witchcraft appears to have multiple parents,
and historians of religion continue to debate who exactly was
present at its creation, for no solid evidence exists of a religious
continuity with pre-Christian Paganism. This new religion of
Witchcraft (usually capitalized it differentiate from definitions
1, 2, and 4 above) has grown rapidly in all English-speaking
countries and in Western Europe, aided by its compatibility
with the feminist and environmental movements. It is often referred
to as Wicca, although some Neopagan Witches limit that
term to the ‘‘tradition’’ founded by Gerald Gardner (see below),
and as ‘‘The Craft,’’ a term borrowed from Freemasonry along
with certain aspects of Masonic ritual.
The most public figure associated with the new religion of
Witchcraft was Gerald Gardner (1884–1964). Gardner spent
most of his adult life in Britain’s Asian colonies, owning and
managing tea plantations and later working for the colonial
customs service in Malaya. He and his wife retired to England
in 1936. During his time in Asia, his lifelong interest in magic
and the supernatural led him both to the Masonic order and
to visits with Buddhists priests, tribal shamans, spiritualists, and
any other practitioners he chanced across.
In 1949 Gardner published an adventure novel, High
Magic’s Aid, set in the Middle Ages and incorporating much ceremonial
magic. He claimed that he had met members of a surviving
witches’ coven shortly before World War II, operating
under the cover of the Rosicrucian Theatre at Christchurch,
Hampshire, and headed by a wealthy widow. He had been accepted
into the group, which performed a magical ritual during
the summer of 1940 to stop the threatened German invaWitchcraft
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1680
sion of England (thus identifying the Witches with the patriotic
soul of Great Britain). In 1954 his nonfiction book Witchcraft
Today was published, which he wrote in the voice of a sympathetic
outsider describing the modern continuation of an ancient
fertility religion. Margaret Murray supplied an approving
introduction.
Subsequent research suggests that it is more likely that
Gardner and a female companion whose Craft name was Dafo,
plus possibly other individuals, actually began the coven. They
drew inspiration for their practices from ceremonial magic,
from Classical Pagan religions, and from British folklore. What
Gardner in 1954 described as ‘‘Wica’’ or cult of the ‘‘wise people’’
contained ‘‘no crucifixes, inverted or otherwise, no sermons,
mock or otherwise, and no absolution or [eucharistic]
hosts save for the cake and wine. . . . There is no praise or homage
to the Devil, no liturgy, evil or otherwise, nothing is said
backwards, and there are no gestures with the left hand; in fact
with the exception that it is a religious service and all religious
services resemble one another, the rites are not in any way an
imitation of anything I have ever seen.’’
In other words, Gardner denied the reality of ‘‘Burning
Times’’ witchcraft with its pacts with the Devil and parodies of
Christian ritual. For this he substituted a Murray-style ‘‘Old Religion,’’
in which the ‘‘Devil’’ was merely the ritual leader with
his crown of stag’s horns—and often a nobleman in disguise.
Witchcraft, he alleged, had come down from the Stone Age as
a fertility religion that honored the ‘‘God of death and what
comes after’’ (in other words, rest and reincarnation) and the
Great Mother Goddess of nature, love, and pleasure.
These new Witches celebrated a cycle of eight festivals a
year—the solstices and equinoxes and the four cross-quarter
days between them Lugnasadh or Lammas (Loaf-Mass) at the
beginning of August, a harvest festival; Samhain (Hallowe’en)
a festival honoring the ancestors; Brigid or Oimelc, at the beginning
of February, a feast of creativity and new beginnings;
and Beltane, at the beginning of May, celebrating the new
growing season. New Moons and full Moons were times of
magic-working as opposed to the celebration and attunement
of the seasonal festivals.
They worshipped in the nude, a practice indeed claimed of
medieval witches. Gardner and his first associations were ‘‘naturists,’’
people who advocated sunbathing for better health,
and he and his first associates purchased land next to a naturist
club north of London. While many Neopagan Witches today
wear either ritual robes or other clothing, those who continue
to meet nude or ‘‘skyclad’’ claim that the practice erases social
distinctions, helps them to overcome the fear of aging and
death, and makes magic-working easier.
Other common practices include the creation of a temporary
sacred space, the circle, usually marked by candles, which
may be drawn indoors or out, but which is erased at the conclusion
of a ceremony. Most Neopagan Witchcraft rituals involve
the use of a sacred knife, the athame, symbolizing the God, and
a chalice symbolizing the Goddess.
Coven leadership typically lies with the high priestess
(‘‘high’’ because all experienced Witches are considered to be
priests and priestesses themselves) who may or may not have
a permanent male partner. This combination of female leadership
and a powerful feminine image of deity has drawn many
women to the Craft, which they see as a religion that values and
sacralizes their bodies, their cycles, their ability to nurture as
well as their rage and anger against other male-dominated religions.
Gardner’s coven produced a number of offshoots in Britain
in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, other Witches came forth
who claimed (sometimes falsely) to have no connection with his
coven but rather to represent independent traditions of Witchcraft.
These included Alex Sanders (1926–1988), Robert Cochrane
(d. 1966) and Sybil Leek, who emigrated to the United
States in 1965, where she continued to write books on occult
topics and to lecture on Witchcraft.
Two more British Witches of Gardner’s lineage, Ray and
Rosemary Buckland, moved to Long Island, New York, in the
mid-1960s and many American and Canadian ‘‘Gardnerian’’
Witches trace their initiatory lineage to them.
Meanwhile, modern Pagan religions were being developed
independently in the United States and elsewhere during the
1960s, including Feraferia in Los Angeles, The Church of All
Worlds in St. Louis, and others. However, as more books about
Witchcraft were being published, including an edition of the
basic Gardnerian ritual manual, the Book of Shadows, in 1973,
followers of these new movements tended to adopt many of the
key characteristics of Gardner’s tradition—or else to define
themselves in opposition to it. Those saying that they followed
some other form of Witchcraft often cast it in ethnic terms such
as Italian or Scottish. Other forms of Witchcraft include
women-only groups (often called ‘‘Dianic’’ Witchcraft) and
male-only groups, including the Radical Faeries.
By the 1980s, most elders and leaders in Witchcraft began
to distance themselves from claims of an unbroken preChristian
religious tradition, saying instead that their practices
were inspired by ancient Paganism but adapted to the present
times. Whether known as Wicca or Witchcraft, this new religious
movement grew steadily from the 1970s to the present,
typically among people in their twenties and thirties. The Cold
War expansion of the American military provided one means,
as Wiccan personnel shuttled between the United States, Europe,
and elsewhere. Neopagan Witchcraft is now found
throughout the English-speaking world and parts of Europe,
particularly Germany, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia.
The historian Ronald Hutton describes these common characteristics
of the ‘‘protean and ecclectic’’ varieties of Neopagan
Witchcraft They ‘‘aim to draw out and enhance divinity within
human beings, abolish the traditional Western distinction between
religion and magic, [are] a mystery religion or a set of
mystery religions [and their essence lies] in the creative performance
of ritual.’’
Estimates of total membership in North America range into
the low millions, but since covens are fluid and ever-changing
(and since not all Witches belong to covens), an accurate count
is impossible. While Witchcraft has no sacred scriptures, modern
Witches have produced dozens of books on the practice of
their religion. Notable authors, besides those named, include
Stewart and Janet Farrar, Starhawk, Scott Cunningham, Vivianne
Crowley, Marion Weinstein, Margot Adler, Evan John
Jones, and Michael Howard.
In the early 1970s, two organizations, the Church and
School of Wicca and the Council of American Witches, began
holding conventions for their members and other interested
people in American hotels. By 1980, outdoor festivals began at
campgrounds across the United States, beginning in the Midwest
and spreading to both coasts, the South, and the Rocky
Mountains. These provide a venue for the exchange of songs,
ritual formats, and the merchandising of clothing, jewelry, and
other artifacts of the Pagan lifestyle.
Sources
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers,
and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston
Beacon, 1979, 1981.
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