Article ID: 12937
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Posted: May 17th. 2009
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I am the founder of a new tradition of Wicca. This is probably one of the first times I have been able to say so without fear of being attacked about a number of issues my tradition confronts. That does not mean I will not be reprimanded by some over zealous fundamentalist - fancy that, a Pagan fundamentalist - but it does mean that I am not afraid of it happening.
Think about those words for a moment: new, tradition, Wicca. It is new, and humans are naturally suspicious and often opposed to anything new and the word tradition does not seem to mesh so well with new. What gives me the right to confer the title “traditional” on anything?
Wicca, oh my. Lions and tigers and bears, too. Bring up Wicca in a room of old Pagans and half of them will ignore you. The other half might just hang you. How ironic.
The core issue is that so many people are tired of the old arguments. They are tired of fighting over what is new and what is old, what is traditional and what is innovative, what is Wicca. Just when everyone gets settled and calmed down, somebody has to throw a new ingredient into the blender and upset the balance of flavor in this new old sacramental liquor. We have learned to turn our noses up at ecstatic radicals and accept the bland but rather popular apathy that seems to plague us when something controversial surfaces.
I’d rather have my religion shaken, not stirred, as it were. Hold the apathy, please. In laymen’s terms, I would rather see my faith shaken in a controversy or challenged by new ideas than simply forgotten in the blend when it fails to bend.
Now, I suppose, the question everyone is dying to scream at his or her computer screen is: “What is so controversial about your tradition that it is a problem?”
For shock value, I will present my answer like this. First the long story short. I was born into a psychic lineage, not a Witch family that was dying out because of Christianization. To preserve the line, I opened it up to anyone who wanted to learn our ways. Through a series of channeling exercises, I arranged with Spirit for the energy transfer that would make the new members a part of the line regardless of family ties. Wicca presented a strong ritual structure for the very philosophical line to cling to. But where is the value in an old family embracing a new religion?
Actually, and here is the real show stopper, Witchcraft is old, a lot older than Gerald Gardner and there is now archaeological proof of that ostentatious claim. Yikes.
I am not claiming that the Witchcraft practiced in northern Europe during the Burning Times and before that was called Wicca or that it even looked like Wicca. As any observational student of the Craft will know, Wicca is a combination of Celtic folk practices and Ceremonial Magick. But how much of the folk practice did Gardner really preserve? And, when reconstructionists talk about historical validity, how much do they really know about what happened historically?
We do not even know what clandestine Witchcraft was called if it was in fact called anything. Most Witches, however, probably called their practice by the local word for magick: galdr and seidr for the far North and cunning, or its translated equivalents outside of the British Isles. Yet here I am claiming that Witchcraft existed before and during the Burning Times and, while this was not the principle reason for the persecutions incited by the Maleus Maleficarum and the Papal Bull of 1484, actual Witches were killed.
I have promised archaeological proof and it does exist. It is present in Kate Ravilious’ November/December 2008 article in Archaeology: A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America.
While the article is somewhat sensationalist and some of its assumptions are rather unsupportable, it does present some facts that cannot be denied. Some of those facts are carbon dated.
Archaeologist Jacqui Wood lives in Saveock Water in Cornwall. One day she was digging about in her yard and discovered a raised clay platform buried beneath hundreds of years of topsoil buildup. Then she discovered holes in the platform lined with feathers.
“‘We guessed it might have been a bird-plucking pit, a common farming practice at the turn of the 19th century, ’ says Wood.
But that couldn’t be the case-Wood found that the feathers were still attached to the skin…the local zoo confirmed they came from a swan.” (Ravilious, 43)
The article goes on to explain how Wood found egg embryos, stones from distant shores, and various types of bird claws lain in the skin lined pits. All of this might seem like a strange old collection but certainly not a Witch’s spell.
Quite the contrary, says Ravilious, killing swans was a capital crime at the time and who would travel so far for a few pebbles? Later discoveries on the same property confirmed the magickal nature of the place: wells lined with quartz where scraps of cloth were left for Bride (VREE-jah) along with other such offerings as hair, nails, heather, and pins. (44-45)
The radiocarbon tests showed that the wells are about 6, 000 years old and that the pits date to the civil war in England when Witchcraft was a capital crime (though not punishable by burning as Wood claims) .
So something Witchy was happening there until it became illegal. What of it?
Here’s the surprising twist, the wells and pits were sealed up and covered with dirt in the 17th century when townspeople were paid to do so. Supposedly, that would mean the end of Witchcraft for Wood’s estate in Cornwall.
“The biggest shock of all came from the radiocarbon dates for these pits. The cat pit dated to the 18th century, while the dog pit dated to the 1950s.” (45) How did the Witches know to kill their kitty and bury it there? How did they even know how to find the pit?
The answer is that they were led there by their predecessors who secretly maintained the location of the sacred well and passed it on to their progeny. The same answer may very well be applied to the dog skin and teeth found in another pit.
There was, indeed, an unbroken tradition of Witchcraft that survived the Burning (or Hanging) Times.
Alas, this is not the tradition that Old Gerald claimed to be part of. He was not so fond of killing either Felix or Fido. Yet perhaps, just perhaps, there was some mysterious connection between the Pet Killers and the New Forest Coven. Gerald was a reformer; he took a rough preservation of de Christianized Pagan practices and turned them into a religion.
What if, among those practices, were the remnants of animal sacrifice that were, apparently, a reality for so many clandestine worshippers of Bride and gods and goddesses like her?
My new tradition does not embrace animal sacrifice. In fact, it is rather fond of vegetarianism. It does embrace, however, a realistic perspective on Witchcraft in the present day. That used to mean it debunked any claims toward the effect that Wicca has any ties whatsoever to ancient Pagan practices.
We might sprinkle in a bit of history here and there, but it is not really all that old. How wrong were we? Perhaps now is the time to begin reasserting the old claims of the 1950s. Perhaps now that there is physical evidence of the existence of Witchcraft before and during the European persecutions, we may once again proudly declare, “We are worshippers of the Old Gods and this is the Old Religion.”
Do not be concerned about the sacrifice. Jewish religion ordained sacrifice. It happened back then and we have changed since. Let us remember where we really came from.
Is it really Gerald Gardner the Reformer we have to thank? Or is it now the Witch that went back to those pits even after her foremothers were hanged for doing the same?
I choose the latter. I choose history.
Ravilious, Kate. "Witches of Cornwall." Archaeology Nov.-Dec. 2008: 42-45.
Location: Easton, Massachusetts
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