5 Misconceptions about Wicca for Pagans

I feel like I have to make this blog because there is just so much misinformation/disinofrmation that still pervades the Wiccan and pagan community, as a whole. I have absolutely no problem with people who use some of these as a personal practice or beliefs. (Also, this blog will be a list because yay! Lists are fun!)

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The Wiccan Goddess in one of her many guises

Most of the time I see a lot of these words, oft repeat, ad naseum, by Neo-Wiccans. It’s usually not by Trad witches. (Thanks, Llewellyn.) These misconceptions are outdated and intolerant. Especially, to the greater occult communities. At this point, I don’t think we have to aim to please Christians, anymore, for the most part. (Long post ahead)

1.”Wicca has nothing to do with the devil/Satanism or demons!” [etc]

This was stated a lot back in the days when witches had to be more secretive because of the Christian majority. I completely understand the sentiment. However, research on Wicca has proven that Wicca has ties to literary Satanism. (This is not actual practicing Satanism, simply a myth concocted by the church about pagans and witches. What they thought the pagans practiced was a form of Satanism despite being remnants of the old religions of Europe.)

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Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca, with a “demon”. He never forbade working with them.

Let’s take a step back here….. We must remember that the Christians (Or other Abrahamic types.) who are against paganism/witchcraft, are never going to accept us, anyway. Therefore, there is no reason to keep trying to gain acceptance from a group which is never going to accept us.

(Note: At the time, early Wiccans went mainstream, perhaps this atttitude was needed. Especially, with 80s Satanic panic. It is not as much now in an increasingly secular and rational society.)

On top of this, these types of Christians, think anything outside their one god is “Satan” or “Satanic”. Including all things pagan or witch oriented! There is nothing you can do to convince them otherwise.

This has more to do with them than us, as Wiccans. There isn’t anything we can do to change this fact, so why bother educating these people or trying to vie for acceptance in an intolerant group? There is not. They don’t want to understand. They are stuck in their beliefs. This is because they believe Jesus is the only way.

Besides this, going back to Wicca’s history, much inspiration was taken from the “Aradia: Gospel of Witches” by Charles Leland. The book takes from Catholic beliefs about pagans from medieval European mythology. However, it had a more pagan spin to it than the original myths about witches and pagans.

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The Roman Diana (Greek Artemis); Goddess of the moon

In the original book, Diana, the moon goddess, who is sometimes conflated with her daughter Aradia, is paired with her brother Lucifer. He becomes her consort. While Lucifer is definitely a Roman deity outside of this and did not have ties to Satan until much later, the book still derives things from church literature about witches. (It references Lucifer’s fall from grace, which is entirely Christian.)

Gerald Gardner, was pretty taken aback by this because he wanted to assert that Wicca had nothing to do with Satan. (Understandably so, considering the socio-political climate of his time.) Doreen Valiente, mother of witchcraft, later commented that the reason, the horned god, Cernunnos was added to replace Lucifer in Wicca, was because it was “too strong meat” for Wiccans, at the time.

As for demons, this appeared in Gardner’s Book of Shadows:

“I now present to you the working tools. First the magic sword. With this, as with the athame, thou canst form all magic circles, dominate, subdue, and punish all rebellious spirits and demons, and even persuade angels and good spirits. With this in your hand, you are ruler of the circle.”

2. “We ‘harm none’ because of the rede/law!” [Insert whatever here about “karma” and “threefold law”.]

Look I am not trying to insult anyone if they believe this, personally. But I want to clear up that there is a general misconception and attitude about this because many people use this to police other witches. We need to break this one down. But I only will start with the basics on this one, because adding the karma and threefold law only muddles things.

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Cursing is actually not a forbidden act in Wicca

“Rede” is not a law or a rule. Simply put, “rede” is an outdated word for “advice”. That’s it. It’s even not hard to look up. I am not sure where this misconception started. But it should be noted that the “Golden Rule” (Wiccan rede) is not accepted by all witches. (Because not all witches are Wiccan!)

Doreen Valiente wrote the rede into a poem, which she got from an earlier source. Aleister Crowley did similarly in his works. Thomas Aquinas may be the earliest source of it, that I know of off hand.

To expand on this idea, in one of her books, the author of the Rede, Doreen herself, said that there is not a list of “thou shalt nots” for witches. Morality can be summed up in the rede, however, she mentions that it is also not advocating strict pacifism. On the contrary, she states that the pacifist ideal “does more harm than good” concerning witches.

The tie in with “karma” and “threefold law” seems to come from somewhere else. Doreen never seemed to tie the other two ideals to the rede. I am actually not sure how these ideas got mixed together. I think the threefold law was tied to the rede through Raymond Buckland. In any case, there is no requirement to believe in any of it to be a Wiccan.

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We don’t need to fear this in witchcraft to live a moral life. (Artwork: Stephen Gammell)

My biggest problem with the attitude is that the rede or threefold laws seem to replace the boogeyman or hell from Christianity, in the pagan communities. (Before you get mad, read me out on this one, please!) While I understand many come to the Craft as former Christians, I don’t think some of the mentality is completely gone. You shouldn’t need to live in fear of any threat per se, to be an ethical witch or pagan. And you certainly should not tell other people have to live!

3. “Wicca is the world’s oldest religion!” [etc “the Goddess” “women” “matriarchy”]

I don’t know where to start on this. It’s got many different sources over the decades. All you need to know, right now, is that it’s wrong. Some of the bad research that led to these ideas is because of how terrible the archaeology/anthropology of the 19th and early 20th century was.

Gardner’s ideals of Wicca were heavily influenced by someone named Margaret Murray. Murray’s witchcult hypothesis, in which a witch cult of Europe survived from prehistory underground, has long been discredited in academia. In her hypothesis, the worship of witches centered around the Horned God, who was mistaken for “Satan” by the early church. (Presumably “Cernunnos” could be applied.)

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The Roman “horned god” Janus is really what Murray meant in her thesis.

Somehow, overtime, Murray’s witch cult ideals became fused with Marijas Gimbutas’s theory of Matriarchy. (When the two are almost unrelated.) Gimbutas claimed that in prehistoric days women ruled people (Matriarchy) and everyone was equal. All was peaceful, it was a utopia. Then the evil men came and using weapons of war, they conquered the women and installed patriarchy! (Basically, it’s all the man’s fault for the status of women.) In her theory, everyone worshiped a prehistoric “Goddess” in the utopia before men, which many Wiccans began to conflate with their ideas of the Goddess of the Craft.

Gimbutas did not claim the “witch-cult” thing and Murray did not focus on “the Goddess”. (She was all about that horned god.) Now the two figures are so conflated people have forgotten the original material of both, it seems. I can’t even tell when or how that happened in the pagan community. What I can tell you though, is that neither of them really claimed Wicca to be the “oldest surviving religion in the world”. This template came about because of Gardner and it’s not correct.

To keep this short, sexism did not come about because of men conquering women, ancient people were polytheistic, worshiped many goddesses, and the witch-cult hypothesis is very bad research on Murray’s part. The oldest religion in the world is Sumerian, which is 5000 years old and the oldest surviving religion, that does actually have ties to prehistory mind you, is Hinduism. That’s all you need to know for now, but I will include references at the bottom of this post.

Wicca did not even emerge until the early 20th century. If we go by Gardner’s claim, it was in the 1930s. Any date beyond that is up in the air, because we simply do not know or have evidence for it. But we can date some of his witchcraft materials back to the late-40s and 50s. We do however, have plenty of evidence that Wicca is not a survival of a continuous ancient, prehistoric, cult.

4. “All the media about harmful witches is wrong! Witches were always peaceful!”

This is a recent merging with 2 and 3. I think I have only seen two books in my whole life mentioned it, that I cannot even remember. But I definitely have seen plenty of online anger at media depictions of witches in a negative manner. This comes from a sense of entitlement, and is typically paired with Wicca.

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The Greek witch Madea, using “not your mother’s magick”.

Let me be super honest, Wiccans do not own the word “witch”. Christians did not invent the negative press witches received, and they were not even the first to come up with the idea of burning witches. Ancient Pagans did that. All of it. You see, prior to the witchcraft revival of the 20th century, witch was a harmful spell caster. It’s all over mythology and this was likewise used, still to this day, academically for such. ‘Witch’ and ‘witchcraft’ was almost entirely associated with the dark arts, until fairly recently.

Some modern witches have twisted this so much. They even seem to think that the word ‘witch’ is comparable to the word ‘Jew’. All negative press should be treated as such. It honestly, does not make a lick of sense.

In that breath, then, the burning times are brought up to be compared to the holocaust, as if another uprising against witches will happen again. “Millions of witches burned!” they may cry. But much of what those types of (Neo-)Wiccans, are saying is based in heavy historical revisionism. Most accused, yes ‘accused’ not actual, witches back then were not burned at all and certainly not by the millions, as asserted. There were also more than just women who were killed after being accused, including children and men.

Witches have pretty established mythology in several cultures. One of the earliest, is Babylonia where they are thought to attack people. They had many incantations against that. Even when organized in an ancient cult of witchcraft, because yes that existed with the goddess Hekate, they still were very much feared because of their power. For most eras, you could not shake a stick at a witch without the fear of being cursed. Once again, the image change–to the point of denying history— came about from Wicca going mainstream and the social climate of the previous decades.

From a personal standpoint, I do not want the negative stigma completely eradicated. I think there is some power there, in that fear. I revel in the stigma, I gain from it, and it empowers me. I am quite alright with portrayals of “evil witches”. “Witchcraft” to me includes both the good and bad, and the in between, it’s about balance. So, witchcraft could incorporate some evil there, if needed. (Good girls rarely make history, yeah?)

5. “Wicca is against sacrifice!”

Oh, boy.

Before I start I want to say that Wicca definitely is not for illegal practices nor is it for human sacrifice. But as far as auto-sacrifice (blood letting) and animal sacrifice? That’s a completely different story.

I think this one I can chalk up back to the “harm none” thing. Some take this so religiously, that they even use it to justify their vegetarianism and veganism. However, there is documentation from the people who helped found/make Wicca, that, that just is not the case.

First we have ole Gerald Gardner, who was asked about blood sacrifice in Witchcraft Today, which was published in 1954. Rather than type it all up for you, I will let you read the specific passage yourself.

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Gardner is not against using blood in rituals

As for animal sacrifice, on the 1969 documentary “Legend of the Witches”, [You can watch that on YouTube for free, by the way.] it follows an Alexanderian coven who does kill a chicken for divination purposes on camera. I am unsure if this was done for show or not. I am of the opinion, that animal and blood sacrifices in covens are an uncommon, if not extremely rare circumstance, and most Wiccans do not practice it. Even now. But they are certainly not against it.

I find blood letting to be an alright practice. However, if animal sacrifice ever happened, I would want the animal killed humanely and all the parts used. Just as it was in old days. Given that Wicca takes inspiration from the old gods who used to have hunting done in their names, I find no issue with an animal being killed and eaten as part of a ceremony.

For some general clarity, “sacrifice” can also mean material things that are not alive. In the case of Wicca, for example, cakes and ale prepared on Ostara in honor of the God and Goddess. This counts as a “sacrifice” since so much time and effort was put in to making it. Typically, the word “offering” is used for these kinds of items. But “sacrifice” is also appropriate, as it is a synonym.

References:

  1. Anthropology: Appreciating Human Diversity by Kottack
  2. Witchcraft Today by Gardner
  3. Aradia: The Gospel of Witches by Leland
  4. Legend of the Witches” (Documentary; 1969)
  5. The Significance of Aradia by Chas Clifton p.61
  6. The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory by Cynthia Eller (NY Times)
  7. About the Burning Times
  8. Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion: An Anthropological Study of the Supernatural (4th edition) by Myers and Lehmann
  9. Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Mesopotamia by Black and Green
  10. An ABC of Witchcraft; past and present by Doreen Valiente
  11. The Maqlu texts (Akkadian)
  12. Excerpt from the Hebrew Goddess (Witches/Hecate)
  13. Gardner’s Book of Shadows (Sacred-Texts)
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