Welcome to the Order of the Sacred Star! This Pagan/Wiccan group, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is committed to teaching the Craft to all those who wish to learn. Our goal is to provide a complete and fulfulling learning experience. Our public classes are offered through the Winnipeg Pagan Teaching Circle.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The History of Wicca: Wicca in the 20th Century

Following the Witch Trials of the 15th and 16th centuries, any surviving pagans went so deeply underground, figuratively speaking, that they seemed to have disappeared entirely. However, a set of beliefs doesn’t die that easily. The 20th century saw a renewed interest in witchcraft and paganism. But the birth of modern Wicca was due purely to the efforts of a dedicated few.

Margaret Murray and Her Contribution to Modern Wicca

Dr. Margaret Alice Murray was a British anthropologist and Egyptologist in the first half of the 20th century. She is most famous for her work The Witch Cult in Western Europe, which she published in 1921. This was the first time in centuries that anyone had looked at witchcraft or paganism with anything resembling an unbiased light.

She proposed the idea that there was a massive and organized resistance to the Christian Church during the Middle Ages in Europe. Murray’s research had led her to believe that the pagan religions, rather than simply being a hoax perpetrated by the Church, were indeed ancient beliefs, beliefs that some had kept alive. She felt very strongly that, in ancient times, before the coming of Christianity, the pagans were an organized religion.

While some of her theories (such as the secret conspiracy of pagans amongst the English kings) proved to be a little far-fetched, and sometimes completely mistaken, she did shine a light onto pagan practice. While it was probably not an organized religion, many forms of paganism, some of which can be called witchcraft, were practiced in ancient Europe.

Though often criticized for her work, Dr. Murray remained very convinced of her position. She later expanded upon her views in her second book, The God of the Witches, in 1931.

Gerald Gardner’s Contribution to Modern Wicca

When the final laws against witchcraft were repealed in England in 1951, those who practiced pagan religions were free to speak for themselves. One of the people who did so was Dr. Gerald Brousseau Gardner. This man, who sometimes operated under the Craft name Scire, was a British anthropologist, archaeologist, writer, occult expert, and he described himself as both a Witch and a Wiccan.

Gardner had spent much of his life in Asia, where he developed a strong interest in native peoples and their magical practices. After he retired and returned to England, he was initiated into the Wiccan faith by the New Forest Coven in 1939. Gardner believed that this faith was, if not a direct continuance, at least related to the beliefs of ancient Europe. Fearing that these beliefs were in danger of being lost forever, he set about making sure that didn’t happen.

In 1954, Gardner published the first truly influential book on Wicca, Witchcraft Today. Five years later, he authored The Meaning of Witchcraft. He devoted himself to Wicca and its beliefs, and initiated many notable High Priestesses into Wicca, among them:
  • Doreen Valiente;
  • Patricia Crowther;
  • Eleanor Bone; and
  • Lois Bourne.
Later in life, Gardner would found his own tradition of Wicca, rewriting and reworking many of the rituals he had been taught. Gardnerian Wicca combined the teachings of the New Forest Coven with Freemasonry, Ceremonial Magic, and the writings of occult expert Aleister Crowley.
His work has faced some criticism. There have been some who claimed that Gardner made up Wicca entirely, and still others say he took credit for the work done by Aleister Crowley. These charges are probably not true, but even if there were, Gardner’s impact on modern Wicca cannot be denied.
Often referred to as the “Father of Wicca”, Gerald Gardner is respected within most Wiccan circles today.
Raymond Buckland and Wicca in North America
In North America, the first person to publically admit to being Wiccan was Raymond Buckland. Initiated by High Priestess Monique Wilson in Scotland in 1963, Buckland returned home to the United States shortly after. He brought Gardnerian Wicca with him, founding the first lineaged Gardnerian coven in the US.
Buckland is an author of some repute. He first began publishing in 1969 with A Pocket Guide to the Supernatural. He published several more books in the following years, and has published a book in almost every year since this time. Though he is best known for Buckland’s Complete Guide to Witchcraft, first published in 1986, he is currently the author of more than forty books.
In 1973, Buckland founded his own Wiccan tradition. Seax-Wica (Seax Wicca) is based upon symbolism from Anglo-Saxon sources, but it does not claim to be a reconstruction of any religion practiced during that era. The entire tradition was published in his book The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft. Today, Seax-Wica has thousands of practitioners around the world.
There are many other people who have contributed to Wicca’s growth and expansion in the 20th century, such as Scott Cunningham, Sybil Leek, Gavin and Yvonne Frost, and Janet and Stewart Farrar. Modern Wicca survived the 20th century through the efforts of many people who are dedicated to its beliefs and practices.

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