The Evolution & Development of the Craft - Wicca, Witchcraft, Paganism & Magick, a Historical Background

Wicca: Book of Spells and Witchcraft for Beginners. The Guide of Shadows for Wiccans, Solitary Witches, and Other Practitioners of Magic Rituals - Arin Chamberlains 2018

The Evolution & Development of the Craft
Wicca, Witchcraft, Paganism & Magick, a Historical Background

From here onwards, ’the Craft’ will be a term making reference to Wicca and Witchcraft.

In Palaeolithic times, humans depended on hunting for survival. Without a successful hunt, there wouldn’t be bones for tools and weapons, skins for shelter and warmth, nor there be meat to eat. At that time, there was respectful awe over the forces of nature such as the lightning, the wind, water and everything else. It made sense to the humans of the time that there was a God or a deity for every force and facet of nature. An example of the roots of hunting rituals that survived until as recently as about a hundred years ago is that of the Mandan Indians’ Buffalo Dance or even the Penobscot Indians who donned horns and deer masks for their hunting rituals. These rituals stemmed from a sympathetic form of magick rooted in logic. It was thought that like attracts like, so attacking and killing a faux bison would result in a real kill, for example. With the evolution of Man came the evolution of the Craft and the deities connected with it. Certain things became less important as the times changed and so did the worship and rituals.

As the different rituals evolved, developed and progressed, there came a need for a kind of priesthood so that there would be selected individuals to serve as wise ritual leaders and be sources of knowledge regarding divination, magick and herbal lore. It is these individuals who earned the title ’Wiccans’, meaning ’Wise Ones’, and they were well respected to the point that kings would consult with them before making important decisions. They were viewed as the bridge between the people and the Gods.

The Root of the Stigma around the Craft

With Christianity there came about change. Temples of the ’Old Religion’ were demolished and movements were made to convert the masses from the ’Old Religion’ to the new. In so doing, the Gods of the Old Religion conveniently represented the demons of the new, like the horned Wiccan God that so closely resembles Satan — which is no coincidence. This is the root of the stigma that is so closely attached to Wicca and Witchcraft, the root of the misconception that these movements are demonic in nature.

The Suppression of the Craft

The term ’Pagan’ was a direct translation to mean ’people who live in the country’, from the Latin word Pagani. ’Heathen’ was simply ’one who dwells on the heath’. Both of these terms were straightforward, literal terms describing people who didn’t follow the new Christian faith and lived in outlying districts, practicing their rituals in the heath. However, today they carry a heavy negative connotation - derogatory, even.

In the 1480s, German monks Heinrich Institoris Kramer and Jakob Sprenger set in motion a widespread onslaught on practicers of the Craft, hanging, burning and torturing nine million people on counts of Witchery. As Satanism was anti-Christian and so was Witchcraft, the two movements, though completely different in essence, were parcelled into one category.

By the late seventeenth century, any individual claiming to have occult powers faced charges of fraud as per a Witchcraft Act. This forced Witches to go into hiding, the Craft surviving only barely, through small covens usually in the form of close-knit families.

The Re-Emergence of the Craft

When the time for literary development came, it was only the Christian movement who got to document their perspectives on Witchcraft, and so everything that was first written on the Old Religion was from their perspective. It was only in 1951 that the laws prohibiting Witchcraft were lifted and Witches were given an option to come out. The first person to offer any literature on Witchcraft from the Witches’ perspective was Dr Gerald Brousseau Gardner, who became the founder of Wicca. He published Witchcraft Today, then High Magic’s Aid and then The Meaning of Witchcraft. Had it not been for Gardner’s courage to emerge as a practicing Witch, the Craft will perhaps have died out by today, as it was surviving by a thread, as an oral tradition, becoming riddled with errors over years of suppression. Gardner rewrote the rituals of the coven he belonged to in a way he deemed they were meant to be, and thus was born ’Gardnerian Witchcraft’.

The first book of documented rituals was The Book of Shadows, which was passed from one coven leader to the next, but that too was erroneous through years of change in leadership. Very slowly, other practicers found the courage to emerge. Today, the denominations of Witchcraft include Gardnerian, Celtic, Alexandrian, Saxon, Druidic, Norse, Algard, Scottish, Irish, Huna and Sicilian.