As ancient man developed, so did religion. While the people spread across Europe, they slowly developed a belief in the afterlife as they adapted and evolved. As they evolved, the Goddess and the God of ancient times also evolved. The God of the Hunt slowly became the God of Nature and Death. At the same time, the Goddess of Fertility also became the Goddess of Rebirth.
The Development of Burial Rituals
Evidence supporting the idea that ancient man believed in a life after death can be found in the burial customs of approximately 20,000 BCE and beyond. The Gravettians were the true innovators of burial customs, burying their dead with full clothing and ornaments. They would even sprinkle their dead with red ochre, giving the skin the appearance of life.
Family members were often buried under the hearth, keeping them close to their loved ones. A man would often be buried with his weapons and tools, perhaps even with his dog. A woman might be buried with cooking implements. Everyone was given what ancient man believed he or she would need in the afterlife.
The Connection Between Dreams and a Belief in the Afterlife
Dreams are much like death. To the outsider, you appear to be almost dead as you sleep, though you do breathe and even move slightly. And yet, upon waking, you can tell of many things. You meet people, some of whom might be truly dead, you see trees and grass and buildings, and you have a multitude of experiences, some of which are fantastical.
Others also experience dreams, as did the ancients. Ancient man would have seen dreams as evidence that another world must exist, a world that is both incorporeal and invisible. Since the dead could sometimes be encountered there, then it must be the land of the dead. And since the people here obviously had clothing and tools, then the departed must require these things in the afterlife.
The Priesthood in Early Europe
The people of early Europe practiced magick and developed a great many rituals. They had rituals for fertility, for hunting, for battle, and for ensuring the continuity of their own people. To administer these rituals, a priesthood developed. In some areas of Europe, these ritual leaders became known as the Wita.
As a group, the Wita would be known as the Witan, the Council of the Wise. In days of old, these respected people were doctors, magicians, lawyers, and priests. They were consulted by kings and emperors, and were the connection to the gods for their people.
Before the coming of Christianity, early Europe was a scattering of different pagan religions. There was no centralization of these religions, and so they evolved separately from each other. However, though these religions sometimes differed in form, they were the same in essence. And they are, in part, the inspiration for modern Wicca.