Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Wicca, as far as I can see, revolves on an axis created by Gerald Gardner and Margaret Murray. This does not mean to say that there were no other, lesser authors and influences at work,-including Rosicrucianism- but the essential point still stands.
Let me take the case of Margaret Murray. Her work on historical anthropology is based on the worst possible approach; she devised a theory and then tailored the evidence to suit its form There is absolutely no evidence, none whatsoever, to support her contention that witches were survivors of a pre-Christian fertility cult, or that they formed collectives to practice surviving rites. Brian Levack quite rightly says in his book on the great witch hunt that if witches ever practiced their craft at all they did so individually or in small groups.
Now look at Gardner. The whole of contemporary Wicca would seem to stand on his imaginative reinterpretation of Murray and his ‘discovery’ of the supposed ‘New Forest Coven.’ Did this ever exist? Who can say with certainty, but I rather suspect not. But from such beginnings comes all of the subsequent flummery of ‘blessings’ and ‘merry meets’ and ‘merry parts’; all of that pretentious and silly nonsense that both you and I recognise. Gardner built on Murray, on a foundation that has been dismissed by all serious scholars in the area. Here is how Levack puts it:
Some modern witches, especially the followers of Gerald Gardner, contend that early modern witches, just like themselves, were practitioners of an ancient fertility religion, Wicca, rather than devil-worshipers the authorities claimed they were. This contention is based largely on the scholarly work of Margaret Murray, and it has therefore lost credibility as Murray’s thesis has been destroyed by her critics. Not only is there no uncontaminated evidence that witches were in fact worshipping pagan gods, but there is no solid evidence that witches gathered collectively, like their modern counterparts for any purpose whatsoever. To the extent that modern witchcraft is organised into covens or even into local and regional organizations, it is qualitatively different from the witchcraft that was actually practiced (as opposed to what was believed to have been practiced) in the past.
I’m sorry if Wiccans find this uncomfortable, but it is true, notwithstanding. Witchcraft was a village art, no more than that; the practice, as I have said, of simple people who had no recourse to the wider branches of knowledge and understanding. But I do, and the Craft for me is about power; intellectual power, sexual power and my power.