Avete #2/5 – A Little Rant About Antiquity
It still amazes me that some Wiccans insist on claiming that their religion has existed since time immemorial. That statement is only strictly true if we consider the 1940s to be too far back to recall clearly. Wicca, of course, is only one example of the general occult trend of ascribing antiquity to traditions and ideas in order to gain them more credibility.
I am not trying to offend Wiccans with this editorial. The fact is that I, too, am a Wiccan! At the time of this writing, I await my first degree Alexandrian Witchcraft initiation this very weekend. The difference between myself and some others, however, is that I do not think that any religion or system of magic has to be older than the birth of Christ in order to be valid.
The history of Wicca is a pretty simple one, all things considered. It does not involve the political intrigue of Christianity, nor the wars of Islam and Judaism. While there are aspects of Wiccan history that many of us will never know (not having been there), we can still be certain of the majority of the story. A summary, including a bit of theorizing on my own part, may run thus:
When Christianity came to power, it did not do so all at once as many priests and preachers (not to mention the public school system’s history classes) tell it. Instead, it was a gradual process which involved politics, war, and a few willing and peaceful conversions to sweeten the mix a bit. The paganism of Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Middle East, and the remainder of Europe did not simply disappear. In many cases, clear survivals occurred in which people of both common and noble stock were found to be practicing something akin to a Pagan religion within their own household or community traditions for centuries after the spread of Christianity. It is well known that many more subtle survivals occurred within the Christian traditions themselves, especially Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. The cults of the Saints, praying to icons (or “ikons” for the Orthodox Church), various holidays, and more cultural traditions than I know of are all clear survivals of paganism. As an interesting note, the word “superstition” itself comes from the Latin word superstes, which refers to a survival, or “that which survives.”
It is quite evident from the above that some elements of paganism survived for quite a long time right under the noses of Church officials. I don’t believe that we have to stretch to suggest that various family and small community Pagan traditions survived even into the modern day in certain parts of Europe and the British Isles. It seems quite possible to me that Gerald Gardner could have been initiated into just such a small community tradition in the form of the New Forest Coven.
The New Forest Coven was unlikely to have resembled what we would call Wicca today. More likely, it was a rather incomplete grouping of celebratory ceremonies, superstitious beliefs, and odd bits of folk magic. Gardner clearly had to fill in some gaps when he formed his own tradition, and he did so with the material which was extant at the time: the ceremonial, Kabbalistic, and Hermetic materials of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and of Crowley’s Thelema. Gerald Gardner was definitely an initiated member of Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis in his day and was an enthusiastic Thelemite. I say this not to disparage the traditions of Wicca, but merely to show where many elements of Wicca find their source.
Many people read explanations and historical surveys like this one and immediately jump to the conclusion that Wicca is fabricated or fake. Such an attitude cannot be further from the truth, and here is the essential truth of the matter set down as clearly as I can make it:
It does not matter how old a tradition is or how it found its birth. What matters most is the relevance of the tradition for those who practice it. There. I’ve said it and I will not take it back. Those occultists and skeptics alike who speak disparagingly of Wicca because of its recent birth and mythologized beginnings need only look at their own traditions to see parallels. Even modern materialist science has been cobbled together from odd bits of scattered hypotheses put forth by numerous individuals, and has not existed in any real shape for more than a century and a half. Has modern science proved useless as a consequence of its recent advent, or the fact that many people still worship Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein as gods? Hardly. Similarly with occultism. Most of what we call the Western esoteric tradition was born with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who themselves mythologized nearly all of their source material. Much of their ideology was lifted whole from the writings of Éliphas Lévi, who himself practically made everything up out of his own head. Much of the Golden Dawn’s practical material came from Francis Barrett’s The Magus, which was a very poor plagiarism of Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Agrippa’s material itself was cobbled together from numerous sources, including Zoharic Kabbalism, Hermetic and Pythagorean philosophy, and Catholic Neoplatonism. Despite all this, the Golden Dawn’s system of magic is still one of the most influential and widely used traditions today. I will not argue that the Golden Dawn’s methods are ineffectual, as they have proven themselves to me as being extremely powerful when used properly. All of this comes down to two essential points:
- There is no reason to lie about the origins of your own tradition. It is what it is, and as long as it works, there is no need to defend it.
- It is pointless to put down the traditions of others as long as they are effectual for those who use them. It is nothing but a waste of your time.
No matter what anybody else has to say about it, I will continue training with Franz Bardon’s textbooks in my office and then retire outdoors to dance naked under Luna’s light with my Coven. For as long as these methods work for me, they will be my philosophy, my religion, and my magical traditions.
©2007 Nicholas Graham. Edited by Sheta Kaey