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The Birth of Modern Witchcraft

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

Wicca, witches and witchcraft seem to be all the rage nowadays, on social media, in movies, TV, hell Marvel Comics even has one called Wiccan. Musical groups, movie stars, it seems everyone is a witch today, or at least looking into it. How the heck did we get to this point?

Wicca is an alternative religion, small in numbers compared to Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or many others, but growing and engaging the younger population where many traditional religions are declining. Some estimates claim that there are as many as 1.5 million witches in the U.S. Now not all witches consider themselves to be Wiccan, and here enters a dispute in terminology.

For some, witchcraft is separate from Wicca and consists of occult practices: spellcasting, divination, and spirit-working among others. Wicca is considered a religion first and foremost, one that usually includes occult practices but is mainly focused on spiritual practices. Both call themselves “witches” and thus confusion. I would suggest asking the person if in doubt. But still, where did it all start?

The Father of Witchcraft

Wicca is often seen as a Goddess-centric religion so it’s ironic that modern witchcraft has a father as prime mover rather than a mother. Let me introduce you to Gerald Gardner, the Father of Modern Witchcraft.

Gerald Brosseau Gardner was born on June 13, 1884 and was an Englich Witch as well as an author and an amateur anthropologist. He brought the modern Pagan religion of Wicca to the public’s attention, as well as writing some of its definitive texts and founding the tradition of Gardnerian Witchcraft.

If you not aware of it, Wicca, or Witchcraft (however you refer to it), has hundreds of traditions, each with varying teachings and training. The one constant seems to be the Witch’s Rede “And it hurt none, do as you will.”

He moved around the world quite a bit during his working years, as the British Empire was still quite sprawling during that time. He gathered a lot of information on the religious and magical practices of the native peoples of Ceylon and Malaya while he was there and wrote about it in several papers and a book. When he retired in 1936, he moved to Cyprus and later relocated to New Forest in England.

There he joined the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship through which he claimed to make contact with the New Forest coven into which he was initiated in 1939. He claimed to be reviving this ancient religion, blending the coven’s rituals with ideas and traditions from Freemasonry, ceremonial magic as well as ideas borrowed from Aleister Crowley writings to create the Gardnerian Tradition of Witchcraft.

Once he moved to London in 1945, he set about attracting attention to this new faith and wrote several books on the subject: High Magic’s Aid (1949), Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959). He founded the Bricket Wood coven and there he trained a string of High Priestess who’s named are well known to any familiar with the history of witchcraft: Doreen Valiente, Lois Bourne, Patricia Crowther and Eleanor Bone. Through these people, the craft spread to Australia and the U.S. in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Gardner is internationally recognized as “the Father of Witchcraft” among occult circles (he never used the term “wicca,” preferring the term “wice” or “the wise.” Wicca became more common usage around the 1990’s). The old religion was also considered “The Craft of the Wise.” Gardner ran the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft on the Isle of Man until his death in 1964.

The Mother of Modern Witchcraft

Doreen Valiente was an English Witch who wrote much of the early calls and writings of the early Gardnerian Witchcraft tradition. She also wrote 5 books on the subject of witchcraft and the occult. She was one of the original High Priestess trained by Gerald Gardner in the Bricket Wood coven.

Doreen Valiente was born on January 4, 1922 in Surrey to a middle-class family, she started practicing ceremonial magic in her teens. She learned of witchcraft and was initiated into the Gardnerian tradition by Gerald Gardner in 1953, and was soon the High Priestess of the coven. It was she who wrote many of the now-traditional chants and charges used so commonly today that few remember where they came from, having been copied in so many current books. Among them was “The Witches Rune” and “The Charge of the Goddess.”

In 1957, a schism caused Valiente and others to form their own coven, something most witches have seen happen themselves. This coven didn’t last long and she joined several others as she searched for her own path. Valiente was eager to promote her religion and was a large part of the Witchcraft Research Association and then the Pagan Front in the 60’s and 70’s. A big proponent of Earth Mysteries, she wrote articles on occult subjects for various magazines as well as books on the subject of witchcraft.

She also contributed to the works of various friends in the craft, such as Stewart and Janet Farrar and Evan John Jones. Valiente was an early advocate of the idea that anyone could practice witchcraft without being initiated by someone who was already a witch, a radical idea at the time. There was a great deal of stock placed in one’s line of initiation and who you could trace yourself back to.

I remember a time when the idea of a non-initiated witch was considered absurd, almost like one declaring themselves to be a Pope.And endless arguments over lineage and tradition.

Her published works include: “Where Witchcraft Lives,” “An ABC of Witchcraft,” “Natural Magic,” “Witchcraft for Tomorrow, “and “The Rebirth of Witchcraft.”

She ended her life as the patron of the Sussex-based Centre for Pagan Studies, dying from pancreatic cancer in 1999. She is widely revered by those aware of the history of witchcraft as “the Mother of Modern Witchcraft.”

There are many other figures of note in the rebirth and growth of modern witchcraft, but these two were giants in the creation and forming of the craft. It would not be what it is, be where it’s going, offering what it does to people without them. We who follow the craft, who have benefited from their lead and teachings, owe them a great deal that we must pay forward to the next generation of witches. This is truly the Great Cycle.

Thank you for reading this and I hope it was interesting and informative. Please feel free to comment below, to ask a question, to offer your opinion or just say “Hi.” Let me know if you like this kind of content and would like to see more, or if you’d like to see another subject covered. Maybe you’d be interested in donating an article on your favorite subject?

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Blessed Be!

Sterling Knight


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