History of the Craft Part 3: The Renaissance of the Craft

Last week I talked about the rise of the craft and the worst of times in the craft, but there were still murmurings of the old ways even after the burning times.  There’s a reason it reemerged when it was finally safe to come out.  The time between the burning times and our return are our Renaissance.

So let’s start where we left off

The Craft Underground

While the Church (notice I didn’t say Christians) thought that they had stamped out the so called evil called Witchcraft, those who were pagan continued to practice in the Shadows. This is one of the reasons many witches call their “Spell book” for lack of a better term, a Book of Shadows. Meanwhile, the church absorbed our Gods and Goddesses to rename them as saints or to ban them entirely.

However, as time went on and the fervor died down, popular opinion of the judgments against Witches began to change. People were tired of senseless death, fear and paranoia.  People began to not care. If witches existed, they couldn’t be doing that much harm, they thought. It helped that science was beginning to teach us about the world. Society learned that germs were killing people not Witches or Satanic rituals. And the population was beginning to rise again, so even if Witches were hurting people, they couldn’t be hurting too many. Others dismissed the whole thing as a fallacy.

More importantly, people didn’t think that anyone, much less Witches, could hurt the power of the church.  The church was now the strongest force on the planet.  Those in power within the church had an immense power over the people and their lives. If you weren’t following the church you were an enemy of the church, which was worse.

There were still many that regarded witches as evil. They were stories told to scare children into listening to their parents.  It was considered one of the most foul offenses to call someone a witch and it was still illegal to practice the craft.

Then in 1720, Frances Huchinson, a pastor in London, wrote a book called the Historical Essays of WitchCraft and Demonological Hysterial.  He concluded that one, all witches were female and that two, they were “women under the madness of being unwed.” He went on further to say that the Inquisition was Satan playing with the minds of men.  While the work was discredited it was the first to note how much damage the Inquisition had done.

Then in 1725, the laws changed. It was no longer a crime against God. It was simply a legal crime that made one no better than beggars or thieves.  Occasionally they were jailed or arrested and tried. Very few died however and even fewer died in witch trials, even though they still did (and still do) occur in certain parts of the world.

What Witches Were Doing

Meanwhile, the Goddess worshiping herbalist and spiritualist had gone into hiding to avoid persecution.  Hereditary covens held secret Sabbats throughout the Middle Ages. Some of them even passed through the Inquisition entirely untouched due to their secrecy. By keeping a low profile they kept their faith safe.  Many of them taught all of their beliefs by word of mouth. If they had books at all, they were deeply hidden.  It was around this time that the Ardanes were written. The ardanes were a code of conduct for witches. The origins of these are unknown.  They were also the rules to help them remain safe from the Inquisition.

While many of the innocents tortured through the Inquisition were not witches, they had caught a few along the way.  Most died in silence, but there were those who caved in and told the Inquisitors what they wanted to know.  Some even bargained for their freedom.  Those who betrayed their kind were given a new name, Warlock, and were banished from the coven.

This ties into another myth related to paganism. Have you ever wondered why so many people think that a male witch is a Warlock? Well you see, the church had taught them that all witches were evil women. Inquisitors learned that a Warlock is an anti-witch and what is the opposite of a woman? A man. It’s amusing to see how one fallacy can lead to several others isn’t it?

WitchCraft Laws Repealed

From the 1700’s to the twentieth century, paganism fell further and further into the background. The Gods and Goddesses were no longer the tools of Satan.  They were literary elements. They were in plays and paintings.  Archaeologists were discovering the lost religions in ancient Greece and Rome. More so, they were finding that the accepted history of the church was far from accurate.

In 1921 Margaret Murray published the Witch-Cult in Western Europe. In it she shared an old truth that had been forgotten. She reminded humanity through facts and findings that Witchcraft was not a product of heresy and Satan, but the remnants of a religion that predated Christianity. As she did not have a word for the religion other than Witch, she called it Wicca.

From 1825 to 1920 another movement made way in the world. The Kabbalah was experiencing a revival.  People like Allister Crowley poured over their old texts and studied the earth and astronomy.  He and some others formed the Golden Dawn from which Crowley would later break off to form the OTO, or Ordo Templi Orientis.  This was the birth of what would come to be known as Ceremonial or “High” magick.

Meanwhile, Gardner found his way to the path.  He was born to a wealthy family, but he had a thirst for the knowledge of other religions. Eventually he joined an acting troop which led him to a fellowship that performed plays based on the old legends. Through this group he met a coven. He would research the craft and then, in 1951, when the Witchcraft laws were repealed, he would write his own book and create Gardnerian Witchcraft. Essentially, he would be the father of our revival.

The Renaissance of the Craft

Our Renaissance came in the 60’s.  Between hippies, the “Age of Aquarius” and the feminist movements, minds were opening to new potentials.  And Witchcraft was being embraced once more.  There was still resistance and those who either resented or hated the old faith due to the fears propagated by the church.  Still, many were beginning to see the craft for what it really was, a nature religion and a peaceful alternative religion.

In 1964 Raymond Buckland was initiated into the craft and he would breathe a fresh air of life into it. He wrote his history of witchcraft, a book that shared this history and some of the practices of the Craft.  Others would follow him out of the closet. People like Sybil Leek, Laurie Cabot and many more.

Starhwak wrote the Spiral Dance, a feminist take on the craft that includes a number of great exercises and activities for anyone following the path.  It was originally banned in parts of the US, but is now one of the most widely accepted books concerning modern Wicca. There were many influential authors who helped bring us back into the light and helped our seed to begin to grow anew.

Witchcraft Today

Now we have many different traditions, all of them newer twists on the same path.  Here are just a few of them with a very brief explanation of their path.

Gardnerian: One of the earliest of the new traditions. It is often considered rigid and fundamentalist.  The rituals are ornate, long, and often skyclad (nude).

Dianic: Feminist and matriarchal in structure. They are led by women and usually only consist of women.

Wiccan Shamanism: It is a multi-cultural focused paganism. It is a combination of Wicca, humanistic psychology, and assorted shamanistic practices. It focuses on personal and planetary healing. Many of their rituals involve trance.

Asatru; Nordic based non-initiatory tradition. They honor the Aesir and Vanir.

Hereditary Traditions: Family paths passed down from generation to generation.  They consider themselves the last of the true witches and often resent being called Wiccan. Hereditary practices are rarely, if ever, taught outside of the family

There are many other paths and some are a mix of many of them.

Other Parties

Warlocks: Just to clarify they are oath breakers, deceivers. Like I said earlier it was a title given to anyone who betrayed the coven. Today, most people who call themselves a Warlock either are an outcast witch, a male satanist, or a playgan.

Satanist: I want to clear this up. First of all, Satanists are not Goddess worshipers.  There are actually two types of Satanists, modern and traditional.  A Modernist is one who does not worship Satan as an actual entity, while traditionalists do.  Satanists focus on happiness through the material realm rather than the spiritual.  Either way, they ARE NOT PAGAN. Pagan’s worship the Goddess and respect the earth. We aren’t focused on the material.  Satanists are a whole other can of worms.

Playgans: This is my biggest pet peeve and I love the term used in the study book we used for class. In fact, I’m going to directly paraphrase a lot of what the author said here.  Playgans are an annoying byproduct of pop culture.  They are people who think they know the craft because they saw a movie about witches or because they read the Harry Potter books. Generally, they aren’t interested in the history and philosophy of the craft. They just want magick to fix their lives.  Or they use it as the next big thing to hold their attention for five seconds. And some call themselves Warlocks because it sounds cooler than being called a witch.

Now, I can’t be too harsh because I started as a playgen, using magick to try to fix the problems in my life. That may be why it is such a pet peeve, because I now know how annoying I sounded. I hate to think of what some of the original people I talked to thought of my actions.

Conclusion

The history of the craft is a long one.  A lot has happened. A lot has been learned, but we will only remember these lessons if we continue to share them with the next generation.  History is doomed to repeat itself if we fail to learn from it.  There are many groups out there, some of them based on traditions of the past and others are entirely new.  All we can do is continue to share what we learn from others and ourselves as we continue on our respective paths.

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