Witchcraft: Myth to Reality
Laura A. Wildman-Hanlon
“Witchcraft is a form of magic whereby with
the with the help of a demon one man
does an injury to another. “
Compendium Malificarum (1486)
“Witchcraft was not only the secret religion
of the outcasts of society it was also the
cult of people who did not conform in
whatever walk of life they found
themselves … The word “Witch” means
‘wise one,’ and a person cannot be made
wise, they have to become wise. This is
the real meaning of Witchcraft.”
Doreen Valiente, 1973
So, how did we get from this…
The Burning Times
Middle Ages (5th to 14th centuries)
Heightened between 1550 -1650,
During the religious strife of the
Sharp decline after 1650
Disappearance in the 18th century –
beginning of the Age of Enlightenment.
The Age of Enlightenment
• Began in 1700 – used to describe the
period in European history when
rationalism was coming to replace
unquestioned faith in the authority of
church and state
• The central theme of the Enlightenment is
the effort to humanize religion, to look at
religion and magic as expression of man’s
intellect as opposed to divine providence.
Magical Thought Never Died!
• Western esoteric tradition is made up of a
group of texts on magic and occult groups
• Esoteric: obscure, something understood
with special knowledge or training. Hidden.
Modern Magical Movements
In the 18th century – magicians began
banding together in magical societies such
as the Freemasons, the Rosicrucian,
Illuminati, Theosophical Society and The
Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
Founder, Society of Inner Light
Her worked, combined with Crowley, forms the basis of the
Western mystery tradition.
The Industrial Revolution
• 1748 Pompeii was uncovered.
• The Rosetta stone translation stirs more interest
in ancient Egypt and Greece
• Anthropologist and folklorists began to start
developing theories of Pagan survivals.
• There was a rise of Romanticism of the Pastoral
• Towards the end of the 19th century books
emerged suggesting that Goddess worship had
not be completely suppressed in Europe.
Sir James George Frazer
The Golden Bough, a Study in Magic and Religion
Charles Leland Maddalena
Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, in 1890
The White Goddess (1948)
The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921)
God of the Witches (1933)
Coined the term Wicca and popularized contemporary Paganism
Gardner’s High Priestess and helped developed versions of
the Gardnerian Book of Shadows
(1934 - )
Brought Gardnerian Tradition to US in 1963
Modern Movement in the US
Margot Adler Starhawk
Drawing Down the Moon The Spiral Dance
Many things came together
• The Counter-Culture / Hippie movement of
• Modern Women’s movement
• The Ecology movements
• The Gay and Lesbian counter- culture
• Social Activism movements
• New Age community
• The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) places the
number at 750,000 members
• A Poll conducted in 1999 by the Covenant of the Goddess
(CoG), affirmed the number as 768,400 Neo-Pagans in the
• According to Adherents.com, in 2005 Neo-Paganism had
approximately 1 million members in the United States.
• This site also lists Wicca/Neo-Pagans as being the 10th largest
religion and the 7th largest organized religion in North
• Wicca is a contemporary Earth-based
religion that acknowledges the sacred
found within Nature
• It honors the Divine in the forms of both a
God and Goddess.
• It has no standard creed, official system of
doctrines or dogma. No authoritative text
or holy book.
Witches and Wiccans
• Not all Witches consider themselves
members of the Wiccan religion,
although the vast majority of Wiccans
do call themselves Witches.
• Wicca is one form of Neo-Paganism
and modern Witchcraft. All Wiccans are
Pagan, but not all Pagans are Witches.
British Traditional Witches
• Gardnerian: the first Wiccan Tradition.
Published in 1951 in “Witchcraft Today”
• Alexandrian: Similar to Gardnerian but uses
more ceremonial magical principals in its
• Seax Wica: 1973 Raymond Buckland broke
away from the Gardnerian Tradition and founded
his own Tradition which he called, Seax-Wica.
Other Magically Based Popular Pagan
• The Church of All Worlds (CAW) In 1968 became the
first Pagan religion in the United States to be federally
recognized. Based from a science fiction novel “Stranger
in a Strange Land”
• Church of Wicca: Gavin and Yvonne Frost In 1972
became the first recognized church of witchcraft in the
United States. Mail order tradition.
• American Faery (Feri) Tradition: founded by poet
Victor Anderson (1917-2001) and bard Gwydion
Pendderwen. Borrowed much from Gardner but favors a
spontaneous ritual approach.
• Reclaiming: based on the Feri Tradition.
combines self-empowerment with
spirituality with political activism. Known
for its “Witch Camps”
• Dianic Tradition: focus on the Goddess
Diane and the divine feminine
– Dianic Wicca
– Mixed-Gender Dianic Wicca
• NROOGD: The New Reformed Orthodox
Order of the Golden Dawn
• Reconstructionist: reproduce, as best as
can be actualized, the rites and practices
of ancient Pagan cultures
– Ásatrú & Druidic are a reconstructed Pagan
• Generic / Eclectic / Solitary: Self-created
from books and personal experiences
• Hereditary Witchcraft: FamTrad, Family
What Have We Learned?
• During the Reformation, the accusation of being
a Witch could have deadly consequences.
• Despite this, magical thought and practice in the
form of occult science, texts and groups
• The Age of Enlightenment fostered a new look at
religion and belief.
• Which developed in the 18th Century into the
creation of Secret Magical Societies
• The Industrial Revolution brought in romantic
notions of the pastoral countryside and of a time
• Authors such as Frazer, Murray, Leland and
Graves feed into the idea of hidden but surviving
folk Pagan practices, while ceremonial
magicians such as Crowley and Dion Fortune
continued fostering the magical mystery
• In the 1940s Gerald Gardner coined the term
Wicca and started the most popular of the Neo-
• The ideas come to North America in the 1960s
where it took hold and spread, developing into
countless numbers of Pagan Traditions.
• Stemming from magical occult
• Combined with folk traditions
• and embracing as sacred the natural
seasons and cycles of life
• Wicca, modern Witchcraft, has
transformed into a new RELIGION.