1. History of witchcraft:
While the history of Wicca can be followed through the books of Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders, Janet & Stewart Farrar and Raymond Buckland, the history of witchcraft itself is much older and is found in books of history, archaeology and mythology.
Through the ages people have accused each other of being "witches" when unexplainable calamities occurred. However, most of the people hung, drowned or burned for being witches were not pagans or any sort of practitioners of magic, they were just unfortunate souls who got on the wrong side of their neighbors during a period of time fraught with superstition and greed.
Much of "witchcraft" history is being revised as archaeologists and students of ancient languages study actual texts and artifacts from medieval Europe. We caution seekers to take everything they read on the "burning times" with a grain of salt, understanding that much that is written on the craft is wishful thinking or guess work. As you read books containing information on witchcraft look for footnotes and bibliographical material which shows where the author got his or her information. If at all possible look up those sources as well. Be very skeptical of any claim made without bibliographical information to back it up.
There is no evidence of a single "religion of witchcraft" anywhere in Europe or the British Isles. When we speak of witchcraft it is in reference to pagan practices which varied from one area to the next and were part of everyday living prior to the advent of monotheism. After the introduction of Christianity into the British Isles anything which was not specifically guided by or in honor of the Christian deity or seemed to be something other than a Christian practice, was viewed with suspicion and likely to be called witchcraft.
2. Polytheism vs. monotheism:
Traditional Wicca was created to work with the many old, pagan
gods who guided our ancestors for thousands of years. This requires
the practitioner of traditional Wicca to become personally acquainted
with a number of gods and goddesses each of whom play a different
and important part in the life of the Wiccan.
This is a very different concept from Christian or earlier monotheistic religions. The monotheistic gods are/were believed to control all aspects of a person's life and demand their followers complete attention and service. This is one of the chief reasons that a person can not make the claim of being both Wiccan and Christian.
The pagan gods each have his/her own special area of interest and we see them as our teachers or mentors. While no one can claim to know the exact nature of the gods we find that the more we communicate with them the better we get to know them and the parts they can play in our lives.
(From The Chalice & the Blade)
"The one question not completely resolved by historians is, "Was there a matriarchy, and if so how wide spread was it?" By the reasoning of some, if patriarchy (male domination over women) did not always exist, then it must have been preceded by matriarchy (female domination over men). Archaeological evidence does not, however, support the idea that men were ever in the subservient position under women that we see women in under patriarchal rule.
The shift from polytheism to monotheism began around 600 BCE. Zoroaster developed a religion that views a single, male oriented deity concept (of all good) who has an adversary (all bad). He eventually influenced the Prince of Persia who then influenced (by conquest) the peoples to the west. This in turn influenced the Greek philosopher Plato who instituted the concept of divinity being above nature. This concept was in turn integrated into the pagan regions of the Roman empire around 380 BCE in the form of a neo-Platonian philosophy where, via intellect and the conscious mind, one can connect with the forces of the divine which is above all.
This neo-Platonian deity was not specifically male or female, but the ONE. It is associated with the God Apollo and therefore masculine and strong. This form played a major role in the state religion of the empire though practiced chiefly by the intellectuals. This religion formed the basis for ceremonial magic as it is practiced today.
Opposite this concept is the continuation of the neo-lithic belief that the divine is all about (i.e. nature) and is within. Thus to seek the divine, one must look inward. This maintained the male/female balance. This belief was practiced by the common folk whose leaders or priests became labeled as "witches" and was frowned on by the ruling class. The line of thinking of an all ONE divine force set the stage for Christianity with it's Judeo single male God concept."
3. Varying views on deity:
When someone speaks of "The Goddess" they may have their favorite goddess in mind, or they may mean the overall-female energy which we perceive in the world around us. The same holds true with the term, "The God" and male energy. There are many views on deity you will see held by various neo-pagans including:
a. All gods and goddesses are aspects of one large male/female or androgynous deity.
b. There is a separate god energy and a separate goddess energy and all gods are an aspect of the god energy, and all goddesses are aspects of the goddess energy.
c. All gods and goddesses are aspects of ourselves or our personalities - also known as "Jungian Archetypes".
d. There are "types" of gods and goddesses and each type is known by a different name in each country where that type of god is worshipped.
e. Each god and goddess is a distinct individual.
It is this last one - seeing each god and goddess as a distinct individual - that is required for fully achieving and utilizing the knowledge of the universe available through traditional Wicca. It is when we show them this level of respect that they begin to reveal to us things which are unavailable to others.
4. Working with a single pantheon vs. working with various or mixed pantheons:
Most Wiccans start the exploration of their path by studied a variety of pantheons. Frequently the only pantheons with which we are familiar are those of ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. However, at one time each tribe or village had its own pantheon of gods and goddesses.
Many books are available which give insight into the nature of number of gods and goddesses from whatever area of the world the student finds most interesting. It is a good idea to investigate a variety of pantheons to find whether or not one "calls" to you.
It is important to find a pantheon which you are comfortable with before exploring the option of traditional Wicca since traditional Wiccan covens usually work exclusively with one pantheon. If the coven you are considering works with a different pantheon from the one you are used to then you should look for a different tradition unless you can be very sure of your ability to work with a different pantheon.
If you have already dedicated yourself to a specific god or goddess then you must explain this to the leaders of any coven to which you apply.
5. Why mythology is relevant to our path:
"Parts of mythology are religious, parts of mythology are historical, parts of mythology are poetical, but mythology as a whole is neither religion nor history, nor philosophy, nor poetry. It comprehends all these together under that peculiar form of expression which is natural and intelligible at a certain stage, or at certain recurring stages in the development of thought and speech, but which, after becoming traditional, becomes frequently unnatural and unintelligible." - Max Muller.
In paganism we acknowledge that our history is ancient, for the most part oral, and therefore it can be difficult or impossible to determine which parts are accurate and which part of evolved or been embellished over time. Fortunately myths, which are so important as lessons and teaching tools, do not depend on historical accuracy for their value.
Myths survive as long as they contain valuable lessons. Sometimes the lessons are clear and sometimes very cryptic or veiled. In the quote above by Max Muller he states, "but which, after becoming traditional, becomes frequently unnatural and unintelligible". This is a frequent complaint from those who do not appreciate and understand the value of symbolism. The literal words of an old myth may not have much relevance to our modern lives, but rather than reject them as being "unnatural and unintelligible" they should intrigue us even more and compel us to meditate on their hidden meanings.
Myths about the gods are especially important to Wiccans. We usually get our first introduction to them through myths. Once we have found the gods which call to us through their stories then we move on to introducing ourselves to them and getting to know them better through meditation and trance.
6. Differences between traditions:
Gardner's original tradition did not allow students to participate or see rituals before their initiation. Alex Sanders, one of his original coveners, wanted to make changes to allow for students to participate in ritual before initiate so thus begun the branching off of traditions of Wicca. Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions have now spread all over the world and at the same time many new traditions have started by Gardnerian and Alexandrian initiates who wanted to implement changes. Anyone who is able to trace their lineage, through legitimate initiation, to Gardner could be considered to practice "traditional Wicca" if they keep to the basic idea of initiatory mystery religion, celebration of Sabbats and Esbats, honoring of the old gods and keeping to basic traditional Wiccan ethics.
Differences between traditional Wiccan traditions can be found in the pantheon's worked with; the tools used; teaching methods and requirements; clothes worn; secrecy; and more.
Aside from all the many traditional Covens now in existence there are many, many non-traditional groups, some of which use the title "Coven" as well although they were not created by the usual initiatory methods. These groups have a variety of structures and may work with specific pantheons, mixed pantheons, or alternating pantheons. They may have permanent leaders, rule by committee, or alternating leaders. They may use rituals from a specific area or mix practices (such as Native American and Irish; Egyptian and Welsh, etc.) Some have moved so far from Gardner's original structure that they resemble Wicca very little and do not function as initiatory, mystery paths.
a. Blessed Be!:
"Blessed Be" is derived from an important part of traditional Wiccan ritual and can be found in context in "The Witches Bible" by Janet and Stewart Farrar. It is an acknowledgment of the God or Goddess within the other person so should not be said to a non-pagan.
b. Merry Meet!
"Merry Meet, Merry Part, And Merry Meet Again!"
Our research has shown that this poplar Wiccan greeting dates back to the time when women would get together to spin yarn from wool and flax. These get-togethers were called, "Merry Meetings".
1. Make a list of the gods and goddesses with whom you have worked and describe some of your experiences with them. Include those you have merely honored as well as those you have personally met or invoked.
2. Reading assignment: Time Line. Research further any item on the time line which you would like to know more about.
2 Million B.C.E. Beginnings of man
28,000 B.C.E. Venus of Wellendorf, Austria - similar figures found from this era across Europe and Asia and in Spain
8,000 - 3,000 B.C.E. Horned God & Earth Mother Worshiped
Symbols in art of moon and sun
5,000 B.C.E. Egypt begins
4,000 - 3,000 B.C.E. Astrology begins
3,500 - 2,300 B.C.E. First Stonehenge built
2,400 B.C.E. Evidence of invasion in area of Iraq by Northern
Indo-European tribes who worshiped a male warrior god
1,300 - 700 B.C.E. Proto-Celts
1,200 B.C.E. Low-Land Celts
Matriarchal and had Goddess religion
600 B.C.E. Celts & Druids Believed in after-life - buried dead with possessions; Had triple goddess - maid/mother/crone;
Had solar god and dark god or god of the underworld
Celebrated Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasath (Lammas)
1,200 - 600 B.C.E. Concept of Satan (an all bad god) invented in Persia - part snake/part lion
110 B.C.E Tribes from France and Belgium moved into the area of Great Britain
55 B.C.E. Roman conquest of Britain begins with Julius Caesar
0 C.E. Birth of Christ
100 C.E. Christianity introduced in Britain
383 C.E. Constantine mandates acceptance of Christianity
415 C.E. Roman occupation of Britain ends
415 C.E. - 600 C.E. Britain ruled by Celts; Celtic literature takes shape
1000 C.E. Sun, Moon, & tree worship forbidden
1100 C.E. manuscripts written approximately 850 C.E.
1227 C.E. Pope initiates Inquisition
Satan now appears as goat
1275 C.E. First execution for witchcraft / heresy outlawed
1473 C.E. Sorcery linked to heresy
1485 C.E. Malleus Maleficarum written
1572 C.E. All forms of witchcraft carry death penalty
Estimated people put to death for witchcraft between 1275 and 1800: 150,000
1949 C.E.Gerald Gardner publishes "High Magic's Aid" in Britain and establishes his original working group
1951 C.E. Act outlawing witchcraft is repealed in Britain
1963 C.E. Alex Sanders initiated into Gerald Gardner's coven
Raymond Buckland initiated by Gardner's niece Monique Olwen
1967 C.E. Alexandrian tradition started by Alex Sanders
1970 C.E. Buckland brings Gardnerian Wicca to the United States
Buckland initiates Ed Fitch
Ed Fitch creates, Joseph Wilson and Thomas Giles creates Pagan Way
Ed Buczynski (of Fitch line) creates American Welsh Tradition and, later, the Minoan Tradition
1973 C.E. Seax-Wica started by Raymond Buckland in United States
1975 C.E. Blue Star tradition started by Franque Dufner (American Welsh Tradition) and Lady Pamela (Gardnerian)
1977 C.E. Tzipora Katz becomes HPS of Blue Star tradition
1992 C.E. Circle of the Moonlit Sea (based on the Blue Star tradition) created by Forest & Joe Butera
2001 C.E. Circle of the Moonlit Sea hives from Blue Star tradition and Blue Moon tradition becomes autonomous