As American Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the craft, the origins of various terms, the legitimacy of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with our present and our future.
The general public has only recently begun to openly warm up to the existence of the modern Craft movement. It is no surprise that many assume that Wicca is a “new” religion. Wiccans know that it is not the Craft that is new, but rather the more open awareness of Wiccans in the community as religious tolerance slowly increases. The above principle is designed to not only challenge the misconception that the Craft recently emerged, but also to remind Wiccans to keep perspective when issues of our own heritage arise.
Contrary reports of the legitimacy of Wiccan history have developed as a result of periods of time when accurate record keeping was not possible due to oppression from the Church. As a result, it appears as if paganism was prevalent worldwide, then disappeared, then reappeared centuries later with a new name. The finer points of this controversy are beyond the scope of this article, suffice it to say that there has been debate among Wiccans and non-Wiccans alike about just how much of modern Wicca stems from these ancient pagan practices as it was impossible to keep open records through centuries of persecution. There is additional controversy surrounding research methods and anthropological studies that link Wicca to various ancient pagan cultures.
Regardless of the extent to which modern Craft practices stem from ancient cultures in verifiable accounts, there remains a common thread weaving pagan religions with basic principles and practices of Wicca and relating all of this back to prehistoric polytheistic societies. Our link is to our heritage and the Deities we serve, and while controversy arises from terms like “neo-pagan” vs. “reconstructionist religion,” we acknowledge in the Wiccan faith that we are not primarily focused on proving fidelity to traditions practiced in prehistory. We practice adaptations of pagan practices in America in the modern day. It is Wicca’s ability to adapt and maintain pertinence to larger spiritual goals that has allowed our faith to evolve through the centuries. We seek to explore our heritage and its relevance in the present, but are not threatened by discrepancies among traditions. We do not seek to invalidate fellow Wiccans by focusing on such trivia. Our practice in the present will continue to lead us into the future and with an increase yearning for wisdom and tolerance, what better time to honor our differences with respect?
With all that being said, let’s also consider that saying that we do not debate the history of the craft does not mean we simply forget about what has happened in the past as we move forward into our futures. Let us also say that to forget the past is to risk repeating it. While we are not threatened by debates regarding the history of the Craft, Witches are all too aware of the prejudices and religious biases that led to the persecution and death of thousands of people allegedly accused of witchcraft, even when many of those who were accused were not practitioners of the Magickal arts at all. The Burning Times and the Witch Trials of the past are not to ever be forgotten; they are a constant reminder of what can and does happen when there is no religious understanding and tolerance. If we were to ignore such events, we would be moving forward into our future blindly, perhaps dangerously, since the past can and does shape future events, especially if it is repeated.
By Angela Kaufman and Dayna Winters: the coauthor of Wicca: What’s the Real Deal? Breaking Through the Misconceptions, along with Patricia Gardner. You can find out more about the book at: http://www.wwtrd.webs.com.