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History and divisions
The official history states that Wicca was handed down through an arcane route to Gerald Gardner via the New Forest Coven in 1936, and in World War II the coven he was involved in was part of "Operation Cone of Power" in which "hundreds of witches from covens throughout southern England gathered skyclad in New Forest to send Hitler and his generals telepathic thoughts to stay out of England." Many modern researchers are doubtful of the existence of the New Forest Coven.
In reality the first Wiccan coven was the Bricket Wood coven, founded by Gerald Gardner some time around 1946 with his Rosicrucian friend Dafo as High Priestess. Due to the nudity involved in early Wiccan rituals, the coven used the Fiveacres Naturist Club (also owned by Gardener) as their venue and cover. Other than nudity, the rituals also involved tying up initiates, and then scourging them to raise energy, a practice that is either BDSM-related or is one of the ways available for an asthmatic like Gardener to "enter an ecstatic state" that doesn't involve either incense or dancing.
Shortly after the Witchcraft Act of 1736 was repealed, Gardener became much more public with his coven, causing the publicity shy Dafo to leave, Doreen Valiente became high priestess of the Bricket Wood coven. She quickly realised that Gardener's Book of Shadows was an incoherent mess cribbed from sources like the Freemasons, Aleister Crowley, and even Rudyard Kipling's poetry, at which point Gardener "admitted" that instead of a complete Book of Shadows he only had fragmentary parts and he'd interpolated with other sources. Valiente asked for and received permission to re-write parts of the book, cutting much of the work of Crowley, re-writing The Charge of the Goddess into something more readable, and adding most of the poetry.
In 1957, fed up with even more publicity seeking by Gardener, Valiente suggested that there should be rules for the coven to abide by. Gardener's response was to, from nowhere, produce the Wiccan Laws, a sexist document ("as a man loveth a woman by mastering her") that (check your irony meters) threatened Wiccans with Christian hell for breaking them. This was too blatant even for Gardener's coven, most of whom walked out on him for that stunt - but Gardener's fame was sufficient that Gardnerian Wicca continues and operates with the 30 Laws he introduced.
In 1961 he wrote to Gardnerian High Priestess Patricia Crowther claiming to have an affinity for the Occult and to have experienced second sight. In September 1962, he succeeded in convincing the Manchester Evening News to run a front-page article on Wicca, leading to him losing his job and the Crowthers refusing to initiate him. This didn't prevent him from claiming he'd been an initiate for a year - and he was finally initiated to the first degree in Gardnerian Wicca in 1963.
A relentless self-publicist, only two years after he was actually initiated he claimed 1,623 initiates in 100 covens, who apparently elected him to the title of King of the Witches. He also made many other claims best described as dubious, including angels telling him to take a job where he could borrow and illicitly copy a book, creating a spirit baby by means of ritual masturbation that "made" him insult people, and having another familiar who was supposedly the name of a Warlock persecuted in the Pendle Witch Trials but is in fact fictional. .
As the "King of Witches" (and descendent of Owain Glyndŵr) he claimed to have been initiated into witchcraft in 1933 by his grandmother nicking his scrotum with a sickle. He used his fame and notoriety to teach classes on Witchcraft, and to found his own tradition referred to as Alexandrian Wicca. Alexandrian Wicca is much more eclectic than Gardnerian Wicca, and includes elements of Ceremonial Magic and much else, and to Gardener's 30 Witch Laws, Alex Sanders added a further 130.
Dianic Wicca is a splinter sect initially founded by Z Budapest, commonly associated with the Goddess movement. Dianics do not believe in a masculine deity (or deities), believing instead in the principles of the Sacred Feminine. It is extremely strongly associated with TERFs, or trans-exclusionary radical feminism, transmisogyny, and actual misandry (as opposed to "misandry" as used by MRAs). Many Wiccans do not believe Dianic Wicca is true Wicca. See the main page on the subject for more details.
Church and School of Wicca
The Church and School of Wicca was founded by Gavin and Yvonne Frost in 1968 and teaches Wicca and other occult subjects such as Practical Sorcery, Tantric Yoga, and in correspondence courses. The Frosts call what they teach "Celtic Wicca" mostly due to a mountain of half-baked cultural appropriation.
Georgian Wicca is not recognised as part of mainstream Wicca despite some popularity because it is an eclectic reinvention and can not trace its lineage back to one of the English covens of the Alexandrean and Gardnerian traditions. Yes, even Wiccans have this form of dispute.
Despite the fact that Wicca is a mystery religion with complex rites and in the root tradition has multiple degrees of initiation, some people (notably readers of Silver Ravenwolf) think that Wicca is an excuse to make things up as they go along. These people are known as fluffbunnies and even more annoying to the average witch than the average rationalist.
A self-taught Wiccan without a coven who's researched from books is called a Solo Practitioner or Solitary Wiccan, though many Wiccans, particularly traditional Gardnerians, get really pissy if anyone not in a traditional coven uses the term Wicca. They are also irritated by the tendency to refer to "New Age" ideas as part of Wicca (something that is a hallmark of fluffbunnies). Nevertheless, covenless solo practitioners are probably very common, due to the wide availability of books of varying authority on Wiccan practice.
Wiccans usually believe that the world is divided into two planes, a magical plane and an earthly plane. Most believe in a God (often a Horned God) and a counteracting Goddess much akin to yin and yang. A common tenet is that "whatever you send away in either plane will come back to you."
Wiccan ethics are summed up in the Wiccan Rede, a pithy, archaically phrased statement that reads
"An it harm none, do as thou wilt."
Doreen Valiente's combination of the Golden Rule and Aleister Crowley's "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law," or in other words a restatement of John Stuart Mill's harm principle. There is also a widespread belief in "threefold return" - the karma-like concept that your actions will come back on you three times (or three times more, or in three different ways - it's all a bit woolly). Attempts to reconcile this with the laws of conservation of energy may give rise to headaches. Three headaches, even.
Some humanists find it a very nice summation of ethics without divine principles in general - though they'd most certainly have a problem with the magic and certain beliefs of the Earth-worshiping hippie nonsense variety. Luckily nearly all Wiccan groups have abandoned the idea of the "curse of the Goddess" - a divine punishment for homosexuality.
Wicca is claimed as a derivative of the word "Witta," a supposed Gaelic term meaning "wise one."But some silly writers have tried to claim it is Anglo-Saxon for "front". The actual etymology is very straightforward. Wicca/wicce is the Anglo-Saxon word for "witch". In case you didn't spot it: that "cc" in "wicce" is pronounced as a "ch"-sound, not a "k"-sound, in Old English. Both "wicca" (masc.) and "wicce" (fem.) derive from a verb meaning "to practice witchcraft" (also the source of the modern verb "to bewitch"), which in turn may possibly derive from a Germanic root meaning "change", though this is uncertain.
- The Mystica, Cone of Power
- Kelly, Aidan (1991). Crafting the Art of Magic, Book I: A History of Witchcraft, 1939-1964. St Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn. ISBN 0-87542-370-1.
- Ruickbie, Leo (2004). Witchcraft Out of the Closet: A Complete History. London: Robert Hale. ISBN 0-7090-7567-7.
- Hutton, Ronald (1999). The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-820744-1.
- Hutton, Ronald (1999). The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Withcraft. Oxford University Press.
- The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 54-55
- The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 61
- [Hutton, Ronald (2001). Triumph of the Moon. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285449-6.]
- Many other examples are noted in Alex Sanders
- Wicca.com's summary
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (1999) The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. p348.
- Though most Celtic-traditional Pagans disagree