What pagan traditions besides Wicca practice magic
Wicca: a performative “natural religion” and the (re) constructed tradition
The term “natural religion” was originally another embarrassed attempt to summarize these many other local traditions that cannot be attributed to any “world religion” that can be related to a founder (cf. for the history of this term in the blog: Who counts what?). It should probably sound better than “tribal religions” or “paganism” or “primitive religions”, “worshipers of fetish cults” etc. At the same time it is reminiscent of the religio naturalis, the natural knowledge of (Christian) God, which some call “pagans” already believed in the 18th century. Occasionally this expression is used positively within the scene that deals with pre-Christian or pagan traditions, as in modern witchcraft or Wicca. We interviewed the European ethnologist and cultural scientist Dr. Marion Näser-Lather.
Wicca or modern witchcraft is not known to everyone. Why is? (Compare also our REMID short information)
Wicca is a neo-pagan religion that has existed since the 1950s. The Wiccans see themselves as witches. Associated with this is the belief that you can perform magical acts. However, the Wicca follow two beliefs: do what you want, but do not harm anyone, and: everything you do comes back to you three times. As a consequence, Wiccans try to be careful not to harm anyone with magic. The word “Wicca” may refer to the Anglo-Saxon one wiccian, “Bewitch” back, or the Gothic holy, "Holy". The founder of Wicca, Gerald Gardner, and other Wiccans derive it from Old English wita "Wise man" or relate it to the root know , "Bending" - magic as "bending" or "bending" of the forces of nature.
The Wiccans worship a god and a goddess. The goddess is associated with the moon and is worshiped in three aspects: young woman, mother and old woman. The sun is assigned to the god, he is the companion and son of the goddess in the annual cycle, which is oriented towards the processes of nature. The horned god is born on the winter solstice July as a sun child, grows up, unites with the goddess on May 1st at the fertility festival Beltaine and dies on Samhain (October 31st). The goddess gives birth to him again in the spring. The annual festivals correspond to the cycle of nature. The Ostara Spring Festival symbolizes the awakening of nature. God and goddess are presented as a young girl and a young man. At the summer solstice Litha, the forces in nature begin to decrease - the god becomes an older man. On the Mabon harvest festival, the god's power goes into the crops - then, at the end of October, he dies. Nature begins its resting phase. The god is thus a dying and rising vegetation god who symbolizes the rebirth and the cycle of life and death of nature, similar to Adonis, Mithras or Osiris in ancient myths. This corresponds to the belief in rebirth after the soul has stayed in the summer land or the otherworld.
A sculpture of the Horned God of Wicca in the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle.
Image by Midnightblueowl under Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0 license.
The Wiccans celebrate moon festivals on full and / or new moon and the eight annual festivals, if possible in the wild. They are organized in groups, so-called covens, of up to 13 members. The so-called free-flying witches also practice Wicca without being part of a group. Wicca has three degrees of priesthood. In order to become Wicca, according to the British Traditional Wicca, an initiation by a practicing Wicca is necessary, especially by a high priest of the opposite sex. Other schools such as the Seax Wicca also accept self-initiation through an ordination ritual.
The first Wicca groups arose in Great Britain. In addition to the Gardnerian Wicca, other traditions soon emerged such as the Alexandrian Wicca, which attaches greater importance to ceremonial magic. Wicca then spread to the USA through the mediation of the Wicca priests Raymond and Rosemary Buckland. In Germany, the first Gardnerian Coven was formed in Hamburg in 1969. Estimates of the number of Wiccans in Germany are difficult to make. On the one hand, Wicca is not a centrally organized religion, on the other hand there are many Wicca groups and also free-flying people who do not publicize their religious affiliation for fear of discrimination.
Some Wiccans like to maintain an ongoing tradition of their witchcraft, e.g. back to the time of the witch hunt - or even in pre-Christian times. How is history (his story, her story) dealt with in witchcraft?
The founder of Wicca, Gerald Brousseau Gardner (1884-1964), presented Wicca as a religion that has existed continuously since prehistoric times. Gardner claimed to have been initiated into a witch group in southern England in 1939 by Dorothy Clutterbuck. In the meantime it is controversial among the Wiccans themselves whether this group really existed and whether Gardner was ever initiated into an old European witch tradition. Many Wiccans assume that Gardner compiled the contents of the Wicca himself. Some well-known Wicca priests such as Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone now hold the view that Wicca is a creation of Gerald Gardner and his high priestesses. Gardner traveled to Malaysia as a colonial administrator, where he learned about magical practices. He was also influenced by the anthropologists Margaret Murray and Charles Leland. According to Murray, there was a belief in a horned god and mother goddess since the Stone Age. Leland reportedly described authentic traditions of Italian witchcraft in a novel.
Charles Leland published "Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches" in 1899 as a collection of religious texts from an alleged group of witches in Tuscany.
An impressive example of the performative effect of science. Gardner also had connections to a Rosicrucian order, who wanted to reconstruct witch rituals with the help of Murray's books, to Freemasons and the occultist Aleister Crowley.
Many Wiccans perceive Wicca as a (post) modern construction. Some Wiccans also use this assumption for the creative adaptation or re-creation of elements of a religious practice that is understood as free and eclectic. On the other hand, however, there are also institutionalization and ideological tendencies in the sense of a canonicalization of knowledge, which was and is imparted, for example, by Gerald Gardner or influential Wicca priests such as Vivianne Crowley and to which a special authority is therefore ascribed.
Religious scholars like to understand Wicca as part of a spectrum of neo-pagan religions. Some of them, such as the new Celts, Teutons, Slavs, are looking for a specific local (or proto-nationalist) expression. Does it seem different with Wicca?
As already mentioned, Wicca often practice a religion that is eclectically fed by different cosmologies or mythologies. Often this is associated with the assumption that all gods represent different aspects of a god and all goddesses represent different aspects of the mother goddess. Some Wiccans see certain concrete gods as important for themselves or assign them different functions or identities depending on the specific ritual occasion. In love spells or situations in which the preservation of the environment is concerned, the god Pan, for example, can be preferred to invoke.
Other Wicca, however, refer to a specific pantheon of gods, such as the Celtic, Greco-Roman or Christian Wicca, that is, they are located in the succession of a concrete, locally bound historical-religious tradition, whereby many of the (re) construction character is well aware of their contemporary variant of the worship of gods.
How strongly does Wicca - especially in the rituals - have borrowings from occult and hermetic traditions?
A great influence on the religious content and ritual magic of Wicca can be ascribed to the Freemasons and other so-called “secret societies” of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Freemasons and other communities, for example the Association of Druids (see International Grand Lodge of Druidism), refer to a tradition that goes back to prehistoric times. They also represent a monotheism that regards the ancient and pagan gods as different aspects of the divine.
The initiation system with its various degrees and the course of the Wicca celebrations are also inspired by Masonic rituals. For example, in Masonic initiation, the initiate touches the body of a Masonic brother when greeting at five points, and the cardinal points have a special meaning, similar to Wicca.
The teachings of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, which was active in the 1920s, also show similarities to aspects occurring in Wicca: closeness to nature, the preoccupation with witch hunts, the importance of the feminine and the worship of Pan, Artemis and Dionysus.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, founded around 1887, dealt intensively with ritual magic. Magical objects were among other things the four "elemental weapons" staff, chalice, dagger and pentacle, as in Wicca. The followers of the order performed their magical work with the involvement of gods and spirits. The theosophist and Rosicrucian Dion Fortune, who was important for Wicca, was a member of a successor organization to the Golden Dawn.
Relevant parts of Gerald Gardner's Book of Shadow - the book that contains instructions for annual festivals and magical rituals - were influenced by Aleister Crowley. Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and later headed the Ordo Templi Orientis. He rejected the dichotomous Christian scheme of a good God and an evil devil, like the Wicca later. He propagated the threefold nature of the moon, the virgin (Artemis), the mother (Isis or Persephone) and the old woman (Hecate). One of his guiding principles was: "Do what you want, the whole law should be." He was convinced that whatever someone does to another, he is doing it to himself at the same time. Crowley defined magic as "the art and science of making change in accordance with the will." (cf. quotation in: Kocku von Stuckrad: Aleister Crowley, Thelema and the history of religion in the twentieth century. In: Religion in cultural discourse. Ed. by Brigitte Luchesi et al., 2004, pp. 307-325). We find this conception of magic again in Wicca.
If you disregard the Dian branch of Wicca, which only allows women and does not worship a horned god next to the goddess, there is a special gender relationship. Although (differential) feminist approaches play a role, the depth psychology and archetype theory of Carl Gustav Jung, which is actually being received in many new religions, appears all the more prominent. How do you see it
As an aside, there are also homosexual covens who only worship God. In some Wicca groups, the goddess takes a slightly prominent position vis-à-vis the god. The preference of the god or goddess is rejected by some Wiccans because the belief is then no longer in balance.
Indeed, psychology plays C.G. Jung played a large role in cosmology, individual psychology and also in the magical work of numerous Wiccans. The deities are viewed by many Wiccans as archetypes of the collective unconscious. Goddess and God are simultaneously seen as symbols for anima and animus, that is, for male and female parts in the individual subconscious. Certain characteristics are ascribed to the masculine and feminine - the masculine the rational, purposeful, fertilizing, the feminine the intuitive, the life-giving and taking, the synthesis-oriented, the formative, the nourishing. The polarity of God and Goddess is considered necessary for maintaining cosmic balance. Both interpenetrate, also on the individual level.
The male and female parts in the individual, which are believed to be distributed differently in men and women, are also significant for magical practice. Therefore, as many men and women as possible should be members of a coven. In the spiral dance, which is used to collect and send off the magical energies, according to Vivianne Crowley, there should also be as many male and female persons as possible in the circle, since the dance requires a balance between male and female energies.
Wicca works with initiations. In addition, the annual festivals play a special role. This is reminiscent of rural and hunting lifestyles. How do you live a reconstructed religiosity in the 21st century?
In many cases it is more of a constructed religiosity, rituals or parts of rituals are freely adapted from books or the Internet. Each Wicca group also has its own rituals and priorities for worshiping the gods.
Wicca has something to do with the rural way of life, however, above all on the symbolic level of a utopia or a longing for a life in harmony with nature. Most Wiccans come from the urban area. According to a survey from the USA, Wiccans mainly work in IT, are employed in social and health services, and many are students, journalists or teachers.
A farmer, as a Wicca once explained to me, would probably find the processes that take place in nature in the course of the year to be completely unspectacular, since they are a matter of course for him and an unreflected part of his own everyday life. For city dwellers in particular, such processes and the rituals they represent can become mythically charged spaces of experience that appear vivid and original.
If you relate the question to the practical implementation of some ancient-looking rituals in the 21st century, it can be said that the Wiccans of course also use modern aids such as lighters in their rituals, they are usually dressed in a modern way according to the weather - it occurs when performing the ritual mainly on the inner attitude and not so much on the specific symbols used. Accordingly, there are various ways of designing rituals using symbols or aids.
Wicca covens are very small and split up when the number 13 is reached. Although the festivals and umbrella organization meetings also include larger gatherings, mustn't the new media play a special role in such new religions? Especially with regard to the then probably very dynamic ritualism?
A Wiccan handfasting (wedding ritual) ceremony in Avebury, England.
Image from Solar (http://www.shahmai.org/) under Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.0 license.
For a very high number of Wiccans, internet sites represent the first point of access to information about the Wicca religion. Especially the free-flying witches who have not (yet) joined a coven, draw their knowledge about Wicca from books and the internet. The Internet thus has a performative influence on the practice of religion - a fact that, for example, the more traditional directions such as the Gardnerian Wicca strongly criticize. The construction and representation of the religious content takes place via internet pages. In the form of forums for the Wicca, the Internet also offers a place of exchange and change or the further development of this relatively young religion, which is characterized by fluidity and heterogeneity. On the Internet, however, there are also battles for power of interpretation and authority, which are based on the classic categories of authenticity and "truth".
Thank you for the interview.
The interview was conducted by Kris Wagenseil.
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