This time I intend to debunk some commonly held myths about the origin of Wicca and its connection to the past. Mainly, first and foremost that its an ancient religion, or that it has connections to the ancient past. Specifically, it is my intention to take as evidence the claims of wicca.com on the origins of “wicca” and “witchcraft” using actual history. It is my hope that the reader will remember that I am not making a moral judgement on wicca itself, I am merely debunking historical falsehoods.
What is Wicca– site full of false claims.
Myth number 1:
Wicca is a belief system and way of life based upon the reconstruction of pre-Christian traditions originating in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. While much of the information of how our ancestors lived, worshiped and believed has been lost due to the efforts of the medieval church to wipe our existence from history, we try to reconstruct those beliefs to the best of our ability with the information that is available.
The commonly held belief is that Wicca is connected to other ancient religions through direct mythic and historic ties, and this is a view that is widely and pervasively held throughout the Wiccan community. It is also patently false. There is no direct evidence to support this claim, the evidence that does is exist is merely speculative, basing the above myth off of assumed uses for a few ancient artifacts. The claims are emotionally satisfying, but completely untrue.
Traditional druidic beliefs were not “wiccan” – wicca is actually an anglo-saxon word for warlock or sorceror, and it was gender specific to men. Female witches were waelcyrie, “valkyries” in Modern English, so while the word itself does come down from old English, to has no actual connection to Celtic practices, as the Anglo-Saxons were Germanic tribesmen, not Celts. Second, the dearth of knowledge about the ancient celts is not due to the “Medieval Churches” efforts to wipe “their existence from the earth” (as they didn’t exist), but rather do the Romans, who systematically conquered and wiped out the druidic faith in what they called Britania. In fact, the destruction of the druidic way of life in Britain can be seen as early as AD 60 with the Romans defeating the druids at their stronghold and center of learning on Ynys Mon, wherein the druids housed their history and religious libraries in ogham. With the destruction of their library, the ancient Celts lost their culture in one fell swoop, and within a few generations everything was lost, long before Christianity was dominant in Britain or Rome.
Thanks to archaeological discoveries, we now have basis to believe that the origins of our belief system can be traced even further back to the Paleolithic peoples who worshipped a Hunter God and a Fertility Goddess. With the discovery of these cave paintings, estimated to be around 30,000 years old, depicting a man with the head of a stag, and a pregnant woman standing in a circle with eleven other people, it can reasonably be assumed that Witchcraft is one of the oldest belief systems known in the world toady. These archetypes are clearly recognized by Wiccan as our view of the Goddess and God aspect of the supreme creative force and predate Christianity by roughly 28,000 years making it a mere toddler in the spectrum of time as we know it.
The artifacts in question refer to the “Woman of Willendorf” ca. 28000 – 25000, as well as a single cave painting, treating those two examples of indicative of the entirety of ancient beliefs and prehistoric peoples. This is patronizingly simplistic, as actual archaeology reveals that there were already different societies of people forming in different regions in the prehistory of Europe. Moreover the Woman of Willendorf wasn’t discovered anywhere near Ireland, Wales or Scotland (ignoring the native “English” celts altogether ^_^ ) – but in what is now modern Willendorf, Austria. And if we are going to choose one Paleolithic statue –
Why not others, like this happy fellow? He’s from even earlier, 30000 years ago is just as likely an idol figure as woman.
Of course, being an idol is one possible use for these figures – they could have been magical charms, items used to protect one specific curses. They could have just been art, heroic or mythic figures, story aids to help pass along oral history, or even just things parents made for their kids – the truth is, we don’t know what they actually are, these prehistoric people are prehistoric for a reason – they didn’t leave a history. Making claims about them is pointless. Along those lines – there is no actual evidence of what their religion actually was. But with the presence of different extant language groups and cultures suggests that there wasn’t just one religion in the ancient world, and if there was, there is very little reason to assume it has any relation to modern Wicca at all.
Even worse, this website is now taking the “claim of oldest religion” from what is actually the oldest known religion, Hinduism, which can be traced back to Harrappa, aka the Indus River Valley people. The proto-shiva of the Harrappan seals:
depicts a horned deity seated in a lotus position, surrounded by animals. Is it not more likely that antlers were seen by prehistoric people as a sign of power, and not as the wiccan horned god.
Witchcraft in ancient history was known as “The Craft of the Wise” because most who followed the path were in tune with the forces of nature, had a knowledge of Herbs and medicines, gave council and were valuable parts of the village and community as Shamanic healers and leaders. They understood that mankind is not superior to nature, the earth and its creatures but instead we are simply one of the many parts, both seen and unseen that combine to make the whole. As Chief Seattle said; “We do not own the earth, we are part of it.” These wise people understood that what we take or use, we must return in kind to maintain balance and equilibrium. Clearly, modern man with all his applied learning and technology has forgotten this. Subsequently, we currently face ecological disaster and eventual extinction because of our hunger for power and a few pieces of gold.
In Anglo-saxon, the word “witchcraft” craft comes from “wiccecraeft”, which means “witchcraft”. It was seen as witchcraft, as negative sorcery. Craft of the wise would be “wisecraeft” or “witacraeft” – from wise, witan, and wisdom – being wise, wit and wisdom in modern English. We can gain much insight into the rapacious nature of early Shamanistic Germanic (which is what old English speakers were) practices by reading the Norse Sagas, as the Northmen preserved the ancient ways longest. We can also glean references to their practices by reading Beowulf and old Anglo-saxon texts (despite the fact that they were written after the conversion of England), and we can clearly see that the ancient world was not unknowing of avarice.
To begin, the medieval church of the 15th through 18th centuries created these myths to convert the followers of the old nature based religions to the churches way of thinking. By making the Witch into a diabolical character and turning the old religious deities into devils and demons, the missionaries were able to attach fear to these beliefs which aided in the conversion process. Secondly, as medical science began to surface, the men who were engaged in these initial studies had a very poor understanding of female physiology, especially in the area of a women’s monthly cycles. The unknowns in this area played very well with the early churches agenda lending credence to the Witch Hunters claims and authority. The fledgling medical professions also stood to benefit greatly from this because it took the power of the women healers away giving it to the male physicians transferring the respect and power to them.
Wow, where to begin here… The Medieval Church ended with the end of the Medieval period, sometime in the 14th-15th century (1300s to 1400s). Long before the end of the Medieval period the followers of the “old way” had already been long converted, their beliefs and religion long forgotten. By the 15th Century the Church was fighting the rise of rationalism and Aristolean logic, as well as the rise of superstition among the peasants, who had started hanging old men and women as witches (mainly during times of famine or political upheaval).
The rise of medical science was not a challenge to the “power of women healers” – but it was the natural yearning of people for provable and repeatable results in medicinal care. And it wasn’t a new thing, the field of medicinal science began with the Egyptians and Greeks, and equally comes from antiquity. Finally, not sure what menstruation has to do with any of this.
Basically modern witchcraft comes from Margaret Murray’s book, “The Witch-Cult in Western Europe”, which was written in 1921. In this book she made the claim of a prehistoric witch-cult which survived throughout medieval Europe, her book, however, has been debunked as fantasy by scholars ever since, still some parts of her theory get passed around as true. In the 1950s, a man named Gerald Gardner created religious Wicca on the dubious claims of historicity that Murray proposed for Witchcraft, slapped in some of the beliefs of the Order of the Golden Dawn and some magical practices of Aleister Crowley, and thus was born Gardnerian Wicca, the first of the different Wiccan systems.
This isn’t to say that Wicca is right or wrong, just that the claims of an ancient origin for Wiccan beliefs are false. It is wholly a modern system of belief, with absolutely no ancient ties, all seemingly ancient ones were invented – because, like Starhawk (one of the most influential of wiccans) claims “False history makes for satisfying myth.”