WICCA: THE NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT By John McNair INTRODUCTION Wicca (here described as Modern Witchcraft and/or Neo- Paganism) is a syncretic New Religious Movement (NRM) which is constantly changing in form and gaining in popularity in Western society. Whereas once it would have been unwise for an individual to publicly admit to being a member of a Wiccan-type organization, due to the negative reaction which such an admission would most likely have provoked from society, the New Age Movement (NAM) has created an atmosphere in which Wicca and indeed many other religions or movements (which were previously regarded as unorthodox by society) can enjoy a greater degree of societal tolerance than has been the case historically. This growing tolerance is shown by the appearance of publications such as the glossy magazine "Witchcraft", available from most news agents, which deals with Wiccan practices. It is similarly indicated by the growth of official religious institutions such as "The Church of All Worlds". Society's acceptance of Wiccan beliefs and practices has been slow, however, and this is most probably due to a long-standing divide which exists between that which is seen as being "occult" (a term which has been used to describe such diverse practices as Witchcraft, Voodoo and tarot card reading) and the values of orthodox Christianity. Modern Witchcraft, which has only in recent years become a subject of serious sociological study (and has subsequently been categorized as an NRM) still has its enemies. The most vocal and ardent amongst them appear to be members of religious bodies which maybe broadly described as representing the Judaeo-Christian values of traditional Western society and having a Fundamentalist perspective; but they are not the only opponents of Wicca. Practitioners of orthodox religions such as Islam, Judaism or Buddhism may also oppose its ethics and practices on the grounds that they are deviant. Currently, Wicca is a global NRM with many of its adherents in North America, Europe, Australia and South Africa (Hinnells, 1985). I have chosen Wicca as the subject of this report as I am personally involved in the field of "esoteric arts/sciences", both as practitioner and teacher and have therefore had extensive experience with Wiccan practices, belief systems, rituals and dogma. Consequently I am part of a network of individuals and groups who collectively represent Wicca globally. In some instances these individuals and/or groups have allowed me to disclose their identities, in other cases I have been forbidden to do this. In reporting on the significance of Wicca in society my task has been to select conversations, events, incidents and views which reflect both pro and anti-Wiccan sentiments and which best exemplify the current Wiccan paradigm. Due to my participatory role in Wicca the approach employed in the construction of this report is therefore more anthropological than sociological in nature. The definition of "Wicca" as used in this paper is synonymous with Hinnells' definition of Modern Witchcraft (1985, p. 464): "...a form of polytheistic nature religion based upon the worship of the Mother Goddess...more properly called Neo-Paganism...". This report examines the history and development of Wicca, its beliefs, rituals, ethics and organizational structure and evaluates its significance for contemporary global society. DESCRIPTION Historical Development Parker (1993) cites the Saxon word "witega" as the source of the word "wicca". Eliade (1987, p. 415) describes the word "witch"as a derivative of the Old English noun "wicca" (sorcerer) and the verb "wiccian" (to cast a spell). He further states that three different phenomena have been called Witchcraft and that connections between them are tenuous and few. They are: (a) sorcery (world-wide in almost every period and culture), (b) alleged diabolical Witchcraft of late medieval and early modern Europe and (c) the pagan revival of the 20th century. Wicca is part of the pagan revival of this century. The majority of its adherents claim that its roots are in the old religions of pre- Christian times and that its traditions have been handed down within families (Parker, 1993). There is much evidence, however, which refutes these claims. Wicca, as practiced in most covens today, was created by a retired British civil servant called Gerald Gardner (1884-1964) (Hinnells, 1985) and figures such as the notorious Victorian magician Aleister Crowley, anthropologist Dr. Margaret Murray and the authors Robert Graves and Charles Godfrey Leland have also been cited as co-originators of the movement (Parker, 1993). Academic research which has been undertaken in order to establish the validity of Dr. Murray's findings (which supported the belief in a link between Wicca and pre-Christian paganism) has disproved them and other research has similarly disproved the Wiccan's widespread claim to a Celtic heritage (Hutton, 1991). Wicca as practiced today has developed mainly from two schools: Gardnerian (Traditional) and Alexandrian. The former developed from the efforts of Gerald Gardner, the latter from Alex Sanders. Gardner popularized Witchcraft and was responsible for creating the concept of the witch's "Bible", "The Book of Shadows"(a book of Wiccan rituals written in a witch's own handwriting), purportedly devised with the help of Brighton witch Doreen Valiente and Aleister Crowley (Parker, 1993). With the death of Wicca's "founding father" Gardner in 1964, the movement no longer had a "King of the Witches", but this mantle was to be later claimed by the self- styled "King" Alex Sanders who, with wife Maxine, was the creator of the controversial and very public profile of British Wicca in the 1960s and 1970s, In 1987 Sanders died and there was to be no replacement "King". With the birth of the NAM around 1976 Wicca had already started to assimilate some of its Aquarian Age philosophies, thereby making the movement even more syncretic than it was previously, with the consequence that, today Wiccans may freely accept and use the practices and philosophies of Siberian Shamanism, Greek paganism, Egyptian magic or Hinduism. Beliefs, Rituals and Ethics. Wicca is a religion based on the worship of the Mother Goddess in any of her manifestations. At the beginning of the pagan revival the Goddess was mainly represented by various Celtic goddesses such as Brigid or Morrigan (Farrar and Farrar, 1984) or Roman figures such as Diana (Parker, 1993), but today she maybe equally represented by the Egyptian Isis or the Hindu Kali or indeed any female image with divine status. She is both Earth Mother and Moon Goddess. In her former role she is seen as the embodiment of fecundity and the sovereign of nature. In her latter manifestation she is the Triple Goddess (Maid, Mother and Crone) who governs natural cycles of human and universal existence, the tides of the ocean and human tides of emotion and it is due to her association with these cycles and tides that she is identified with the moon. The God, consort of the Goddess, is often represented by the Celtic God Cernunnos and is also worshipped in Wicca, but his role is always subordinate to that of the Goddess. Rituals Wiccans, whether they are solitary or coven (group) practitioners, celebrate 8 Sabbats (seasonal festivals) in the year four Greater and four Lesser. The Greater Sabbats include Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasa and Samhain while the Lesser Sabbats comprise the Summer and Winter Solstices and the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. Imbolc signifies "the first stirrings in the womb of Mother Earth"(Farrar and Farrar, 1984), Beltane celebrates fertility, Lughnasa the harvest and Samhain (Halloween) the time when, according to Celtic belief, it was most auspicious for contacting the dead (Parker, 1993). In addition 13 Esbats are convened each lunar month (every 28 days),usually around the time of the full moon, for the purpose of conducting coven ritual/s and business. Additional rituals include the conferring of the three degrees of Wicca, Wiccanings (the blessing of a new-born child), Handfastings (the marrying of a couple for 1 year and 1 day) and Requiems (celebrations for the dead) (Farrar and Farrar, 1984). Wiccan rituals may also include the performance of simple candle-burning (usually but not always practiced by an individual witch) and workings such as the "Drawing Down of the Moon" during which the coven High Priest/ess invokes the Goddess. Cord magic rituals may also be performed and along with candle- burning may be classed as spell-casting proper. New rituals and new ways of performing old rituals are continually being devised. The number of rituals and their nature is limited only by the imagination of the Wiccan. Ethics The Wiccan Rede perhaps best describes the Wiccan ethic in one sentence: "An it harm none (if it harms no one),do what you will" (Farrar and Farrar, 1984). The theme of "harmlessness" towards others is echoed in the belief in the Hindu concept of karma or the law of cause and effect which is accepted by the majority of Wiccans. A Wiccan therefore generally makes sure her/his reasons for performing certain magical works are valid. The form of karma they believe in, however, varies from the Hindu concept as the Wiccan version mainly accepts that the consequences of a deed return to its performer threefold and herein lies the incentive for doing positive works/rituals. Sometimes, however, witches appear to flout convention by performing obviously"black" workings on certain groups or individuals. Two famous British Wiccans, Janet and Stewart Farrar, for example, (Farrar and Farrar, 1984, p. 141), justify such action with the comment that "...if somebody is known to be evil acting and harming others, witches are fully justified in stopping him". Generally, however, there is a common reverence for the Earth and its beings and a desire to avoid excess but to enjoy life and seek a balance between physical and spiritual fulfillment. One recent addition to the movement is a strong feminist ethic which has given it political overtones as well illustrated in the newspaper article which states: "...women want to be active in their spirituality, not simply the receivers of someone else's-usually a man's-expression of spirituality..." (Rowe and Cavender, 1991, p. 266). Present Situation Modern Witchcraft is a non-hierarchical (outside of the coven) organization consisting of solitary and group members. Prospective members may be drawn from the public or from the friends and/or acquaintances of Wiccans if they are deemed suitable. As the basic functional unit is a coven (except in the case of a solitary) Wiccans pool their financial resources in order to purchase that which is necessary for the running of the coven such as robes, cakes, wine for example. The number of Wiccans in Britain has been estimated to be around 250,000 (Parker, 1993) and an Australian Wiccan has reported a total of 500 in Western Australia including 200 "solitaries" and 300 coven members. Globally the figure is difficult to accurately gauge as Wiccans do not have one main representative body (such as the Roman Catholic Church has). The problem is compounded by the number of "fringe" Wiccans, people who call themselves Wiccans and yet are simultaneously Christian and yet others who are more influenced by New Age philosophies than Wiccan lore. However, organizations like Pagan Link and Pagan Federation have been set up in order to present some form of united front for the movement (Parker, 1993). The answer to the question "How many Wiccans are there?" becomes more and more difficult to provide as each day the movement becomes increasingly syncretic. This syncretistic trend is exemplified by the international pagan organization "The Church of All Worlds" and the Perth based "Church of Wicca". The former is, however, regarded by some Perth Wiccans as non-pagan and as a source of an annoyance to them. The founder of the latter, Tamara von Forslun, welcomes change and informed me that her church runs meditation classes on Tuesday nights which are taken by an Ananda Marga teacher. She also emphasized her personal desire for the church to have community acceptance, own a place of public worship and to absorb many religious influences. Now, with the advent of the Internet, immediate global communication between Wiccans is an everyday reality with news groups such as "alt.pagan" and IRC chat channels such as "#asatru" carrying news of the latest developments in the movement. ANALYSIS Religious, Sociological and Psychological Factors Orthodox religions of a mainly Christian persuasion have been the most vocal critics of revivalist Witchcraft. If the Wiccan claim to pre-Christian and medieval links is to be believed, the vilification and persecution of witches has existed as long as Christianity and is nowhere better exemplified than during the "Burning Times" or Inquisition. Today, most of its critics are generally found in the ranks of the New Christian Right and other Fundamentalist bodies whose members do not accept any religious teachings outside of those in The Bible. The fact that it can mobilize an attack against what it considers as an agent for dark forces is shown in the case of how the Evangelical Alliance in Britain mounted a campaign against occult store owner and supplier of Wiccan and Satanic paraphernalia Chris Bray and accused him of promoting ritual abuse of children (Parker, 1993). In general, however, religious orthodoxy has been forced to soften its previously "hardline" attitude toward Wicca as society becomes more tolerant of Wiccan practices or any other movements or philosophies associated with the NAM. Society's view of Witchcraft is perhaps best mirrored in the Media's representation of Wicca. Rowe and Cavender (1991), in a study of newspaper articles on Witchcraft and Satanism, describe it as a disseminator of traditional social values and a tool for defining what is "acceptable" deviance and what constitutes a threat to society. They conclude their study by saying"...although Witchcraft was deviant, it was tolerably so..." and"...witches might seem a bit offbeat, but, for the most part, they 'fit in' ..." (p. 273). Since the 1960s , mostly because of the publicity-seeking exploits of Alex Sanders, witches have acquired an image as being amusing or even humorous. Today the boundaries which define "what is a Wiccan" have become more nebulous due to Wicca's absorption into the NAM but Wicca's enemies remain the Fundamentalist movements in society. The psychological profile of a Satanist is likely to be more damning than that of a witch. Wicca is increasingly represented by middle- class (Parker, 1993) and high-status members and, as part of the NAM, is becoming an accepted movement in society whilst Satanism still has an extremely negative image and is far more likely to be associated with subjects such as child sacrifice than Wicca. Psychological studies are perhaps more important when conducted in an effort to understand the generalized human tendency to persecute that which it finds "abnormal". Ernest Becker (1975) argues that ideas of evil are peoples' reaction against their own mortality; when they become aware of their own fragility they start "scape-goating". He continues by saying that the Devil is the ultimate symbol for the finality of a mortal's condition and therefore to fight him or his earthly representatives is the ultimate act of heroism. Significantly, it is the Christian Fundamentalists who tend to identify themselves with the image of Christian crusaders fighting against the works of the Devil. DISCUSSION In spite of society's recent acceptance of Wicca as part of the NAM it would appear that this is a cautious acceptance. The powerful image of the Goddess has not lost its numinosity. Wicca does now appear to be in some ways a vapid shell of its pre-NAM self and this has been lamented by some Wiccans who feel its magical side is being diluted (Parker, 1993) and its focus directed toward anthropology and mythology. From observation, however, it seems there is a definite line of demarcation between "real witches" and NAM witches. There is a point of contact between them and this is shown by the participation of both camps during more or less public celebrations of Wiccan festivals undertaken in Perth, for example, such as the Summer Solstice (around the 22nd December in the Southern Hemisphere) in which the God symbolically dies and is given a farewell. The cult of the Goddess is healthier now than it has been at any period in the history of the pagan revival. But the "inner sanctum" of Wicca still exists and its existence is proven by the stipulation (generally accepted) that prospective members of covens must undergo a probationary period for approximately 1 year in "Outer Court" before becoming eligible to join a coven. Wicca has thereby retained its aura of secrecy. Observations Wiccans may often appear as deluded and over-imaginative. Judging from observations I have made, on the surface this view is sometimes fully justified as in the case of the Wiccan who claimed to be able to control weather by psychic means or the person who feared drowning in bed through concentrating too heavily on the Western quadrant during magical work (the West is represented by the "element" of water). One individual even offered to kill for a fee by acting as a "psychic hit-man". Imagination, however, is extremely important in Wicca for, according to Wiccans, it is through this gateway that events can be made to materialize in the mundane world. The four traditional essential requirements for a witch have been cited as Faith, Will, Imagination and Secrecy and these therefore constitute the foundation of Wicca. As Wicca is initiatory and therefore secretive in nature it regards with suspicion the motives of those who wish to investigate it and may not be forgiving of those who earn a measure of its trust and then vilify it publicly as is supposed to have occurred in the case of anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann. Two British Wiccans responsible for the publication of a famous international Wiccan quarterly told me Ms Luhrmann (author of "Persuasions of the witch's craft: ritual magic and Witchcraft in England") was not liked in Britain. They felt that Luhrmann, who in the process of investigating her subject was initiated into a few Wiccan groups (Luhrmann, 1989) had betrayed Witchcraft by portraying it in a negative fashion. In a sense Wiccans are on safe ground when challenged for proof of the effects of their rituals for many of them justify a ritual's failure to produce the desired aim as the result of the karma of the individual/s performing the work or blame it on a lack of power or sense of purpose. When proof is forthcoming, as evinced by the testimonials of some people who have been the subjects of ritual workings, it is apparently never mistaken for anything other than the validation of the efficacy of ritual. This proof is nearly always of a subjective nature and would not stand up to scientific scrutiny. This would not perturb the average Wiccan who normally does not care about proving the reality or otherwise of ritual to a scientist. In fact, some of them see the "show me" attitude of science as narrow, fragmented and childish. They may justify this view by citing the fact that modern science developed out of the Hermetic sciences (as shown in the examples of the birth of chemistry from alchemy and astronomy from astrology) which have in common scientifically unproved premises but which are nevertheless the repositories of eternal truths. The Future of Wicca Where is Wicca heading? Current indications are that it is going to continue its syncretistic trend by incorporating the influences of philosophies and cultures from all parts of the globe. It also appears it will retain its insistence on initiation and secrecy although the increasing number of "pagan types" seems to ensure that worship of the Goddess and reverence for the Earth and its life forms will not be just the preserve of Wiccans. There are strong indications that the feminine has made a return to Western consciousness. Cars can now be seen driving by with bumper stickers which read: "The Goddess Is Dancing" and feminists are a firm part of the Wiccan movement. Eastern consciousness has never really lost its reverence for the feminine principle in creation and even though Buddhism has at times suppressed women's participation in that religion Hinduism has always revered its female deities, especially in the case of the Shakti cult (Stutley, 1985). The Goddess appears to have been returned to her divine pre-Christian status over a long period of time and her followers, in any culture, have refused to abandon her. CONCLUSION
The odious campaign against the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Leeds, UK was of course orchestrated by REACHOUT who later joined with the Evangelical Alliance. The E.A. did little if anything to promote the SRAM except lend its 'indignation' to the public debate. NOBODY accused Chris Bray or the S.A. ‘directly’ of promoting the ritual abuse of children otherwise they would have sued. They all very carefully accused Bray/SA of only promoting SATANISM and then let the inherent anti-occultist bigotry of the controlled public masses do the rest.
Obviously that prejudice also extends to supposed intellectuals reporting historically on the issue - usual ‘head-in-the-sand’ rationalisation of the genuine situation no less me thinks. Now things have changed for the better (eh – SOMEBODY JOKING HERE?) and the fundies don't want to burn occultists at the stake anymore – is that it? As if!