Follow Kenny from the levees of New Orleans to the whirling chaos that is the Pagan festival circuit and beyond. Musings, rants, and just plain Pagan talk.
Wicca...From The Planet Wicky!
I had an interesting email discussion with my editor today (part of the ongoing editing process of the newest book Lauren DeVoe and I have been writing for Llewellyn, which will be available in the spring). The conversation was:
Llewellyn Editor: ...public knowledge of the roots of Wicca has shifted dramatically, and your book will garner much more respect if you don’t refer to Wicca as an ancient religion that has been practiced for centuries. Wicca is a modern religion, birthed by Gardner, definitely based on some indigenous English folk practices, but much more so on the ceremonial magic of the Masons, the Golden Dawn, the OTO, etc.
Me: I completely agree with this history. I always say, in my blogs, missives, etc., that Gardner took the little bit of traditional Witchcraft he might have known, and housed it within a framework of Ceremonial Magic that came to him from the Masons, the Golden Dawn and Crowley. I'm happy to make sure the MS states this. I think the kernel of magic housed within Wicca probably goes back to the Saxon settlers of England, but it has definitely been changed, reworked, and has evolved at the hands of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century author/magicians. ...Yes I've been doing this for decades, but I completely believe that in its current form Wicca is only traceable to 1951.
[End of email conversation, and revelation of top secret Llewellyn editorial process]
This is a good, historically sound conversation about the basis of Wicca, the first modern Pagan religion to become widespread in North America, and therefore, the basis of much Neo-Pagan ritual and belief. But in my many years of hopping around the Pagan community, I have heard some other, less plausible theories about the basis of the Wiccan religion. Let me share a few. I'll begin with the most excusable, and move to the most ridiculous...
Wicca is a Celtic religion, also called Witta: No. Wicca was codified by Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Gwen Thompson and a few other 1950s era British and American Ceremonial Magicians. The core beliefs are very Saxon. The Saxons were among the early settlers of what is now England (the name England comes from the Engels or Engles, a tribe of Saxon Vikings, and a family who lived in a little house on the prairie. The term "Anglo-Saxon," used to describe the English, means of the Engels (Angles) and the Saxons).
The Celts inhabited certain parts of what are now the British Isles, primarily Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Mann (Manx), and the southern English coast, called Cornwall. The Saxon English were a completely different culture than the Celts, with completely different languages, customs and Gods/Goddesses. Celtic religion was never called Witta (that was a misleading book in the '90s), but could be summed up as Druidism, or Druidry. There are and were other names for the Celtic religion, and as there were many tribes of Celts, there were many Celtic religions. Not a single one of them was Wicca.
When prolific authors Stewart and Janet Farrar took their Alexandrian initiations and moved to Ireland, in about the 1970s, they began including a good deal of Irish pagan research into their version of Wicca. This is especially evident in their book Eight Sabbats For Witches.
The founders of 1950s Wicca did focus heavily on Roman deities, inspired by the 1880 book Aradia, A Gospel Of The Witches and by Graves' 1948The White Goddess. But there was also a heavy focus on Saxon magic and ceremony, housed within a framework of English ceremonial magic which came from the Masons and the Golden Dawn.
Starhawk Invented Modern Paganism: Mm-hm, yup, I've heard this. Miriam Simos, whose pen name is Starhawk, wrote one of the most influential books on Neo-Paganism, The Spiral Dance. Starhawk was a 1970s Feminist, who sought a way to house Feminist beliefs within a religious structure. To that end, she studied Wicca in a coven led by Victor and Cora Anderson, whose tradition of Wicca is called the Feri Tradition. Subsequently, Starhawk answered a need within the publishing community for books on feminist spirituality, a topic becoming very popular in the late '70s (and therefore seen by publishers as a cash cow), by writing The Spiral Dance. The book was written very responsibly, stating very plainly that this was Starhawk's version of Paganism, and was very Goddess heavy, and also that a self dedication was not an initiation. However, many readers of this extremely popular book ignored these statements. The book spawned a belief that self-dedication carried the same weight as initiation within a coven, and that Paganism and Wicca were "women's religions." These are beliefs still frequently heard among Pagans and non-Pagans.
Starhawk went on to write other very successful books, all of which housed both Pagan and Feminist ideals. The Andersons also initiated musician Gwydion Pendderwen, who later became involved with the Church Of All Worlds, and was named their official bard.
We now move from the plausible to the ridiculous. Follow me if you will. And if you can.
Wicca Comes From the Planet Prytanie: In the mid 1980s I lived in a house on Staten Island, New York, with my then wife, and founder of the Blue Star Tradition of Wicca, Tzipora, and our two adorable children. We were very active in the New York Pagan community, and we sought to be in touch with other pagan and Wiccan groups.
We met a couple who lived in Staten Island, and who had a coven which they taught and ran. During conversations with this couple, and with other Wiccans beside ourselves present, the couple made some very interesting statements. For instance, Tzipora, myself, and long time Wiccan and Outlaw Biker Magazine editor Michelle DeLio were discussing our use of the four elemental quarters, and the couple said "oh we begin with the four elements and then go on to all of the others." OK, odd, but not completely looney. Yet...
Soon refugees from their coven asked to join our coven instead. The request began "please tell us that Wicca does not come from the planet Prytanie!?" It seems that what these people were taught by this couple was that Wicca originated on the planet Prytanie, and that space travelers would bring them a secret, magical drink which gave them (and, apparently, their Borzoi dogs) special powers. Upon further investigation, the group learned that the secret magical drink was General Foods International Coffee.
If only it were that easy...
The refugees from the planet Prytanie coven attended several rituals with our Blue Star coven. One woman stayed, worked her way through several elevations, and served as our handmaiden for several years. She also dated our bass player. He was not from the planet Prytanie. I have no idea what happened to the Borzoi dogs.
Wicca Comes From The Planet Wicky: Again, mm-hm, really. During a brief residency in Kansas City, I became closely aware of a leader who frequented pagan events, and who taught his coven that Wicca comes from the planet Wicky. In his worldview, the Egyptian Gods originated on the planet Wicky (or Wikky) and came to earth, inhabiting the bodies of certain humans. He was really the God Toth. Really.
At some point he convinced his coven to house and support him in return for his Craft teaching. This seems to have worked for a while, but ended when he brought home a pregnant teenager (you'll never guess who got her pregnant). There were actually some news articles in local papers about their relationship and their several children. Anyway, I lived for some time in the house where Toth and pregnant teen had lived. No space travelers ever visited (that I was aware of).
(For good sci-fi about Celtic Witches in space, look here. While the author, Patricia, was indeed married to singer Jim Morrison, she has never been from the planet Wicky).
I know what you're wondering. What can YOU do about the weirdness of some people? Nothing, really. But, (shameless commercial plug coming now), you can visit the FishBird Kickstarter! Plead, help my band FishBird. If you pledge enough, we might even write a song about the planet Wikky! And you will know deep in your heart that you were responsible.
(All images by Kenny Klein, which is me, except vintage book cover, which I stole off the Internet, and think is really awesome. But that's just me. Who knows how they feel about it on the planet Prytanie?)
Please login first in order for you to submit comments