Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Witches In All Ages?

In Witchcraft Today, Gardner talks about his hypothesis that Witches have been documented in all ages and in all cultures. Some of his evidence to support this idea mentions those that communicate with the dead, those that perform rites of fertility (both of crops and humans), and those that are herbalists and charm-sellers. Most of his “evidence” that he presents seems to be his opinion or an educated guess as he does not mention any research done by him or by others.

Also, in the first three chapters, he mentions his hypothesis regarding the religion of the “Stone Age” man a few times. He mentions that the modern religion is the remains of a Stone Age religion (p. 19), how Stone Age man’s needs are obtained through the Witch (p. 31), and Primitive man’s ideas of reincarnation (p. 42). However, Gardner doesn’t mention what period of the Stone Age he is referring to* and that may be key because planting and animal husbandry didn’t appear until about 10,000 years ago. And then, even though he mentions that the religion stems from the Stone Age, he states that Witches don’t know where their religion came from (p. 43). I’m not sure if he meant modern Witches or past Witches. This is a confusing statement after all the contrasting “evidence” in the previous pages.

I have read different accounts of the history of Wicca, as I’m sure many of you have. There is quite the debate over the subject of Wicca’s age. Some state that it is about 60 years old stemming from the writing of Gardner and some state that it is an age-old religion going back to ancient times. Those stating that it is an ancient religion are sometimes called “fluffy bunnies” by those who are trying to depict their religion in a more academic manner.

Now I realize that it may have been Gardner himself that started this myth. With Gardner’s constant mention of the religion of the Stone Age man, he made it seem as if the religion he was discussing was an age-old religion, when there really is no evidence to support that what we know today as Wicca was passed down through the ages. There are some Wiccans that flat out say that their religion dates back to the writing of Gardner’s book.

*The stone is broken up into three stages – the Paleolithic (period near the end of glaciation), the Mesolithic (about 11,000 to 5000 C.E.) and the Neolithic (8000 to 3500 C.E.). There is some overlap of dates due to regions of the world reaching the stages at different times (Fellman, Getis & Getis, 2005).

Fellman, J.D., Getis, A., & Getis, J. (2005). Human Geography. 8th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill.

Gardner, G.B. (1954). Witchcraft Today. New York: Citadel Press.


Katherine Ayala said...

I know that some people feel a need to know how old wicca is but I really don't think its all that important.

What matters is that it exist and it works and serves a functional purpose to those who find this to be their path.

Gardner was quite the storyteller but I think it would be wise to take alot of what he wrote with a grain a salt. That's not to say that he was a liar or a bad person.

He did want to get wicca/witchcraft out there and I think he felt that he needed to embellish a bit to get people's interest.

Cosette said...

I think the problem is that Gardner doesn't really differentiate between Wicca, witchcraft, magic, shamanism, and so forth. It's kind of all the same to him.

I completely agree with lapaganchick. I'm very interested in the history of Wicca, but it's cloudy origins don't take away from the fact that it's here and it's a viable modern religion.

Sojourner said...

LAPaganChick - As I am reading this book, I wonder if Gardner didn't have all his facts straight. Or it could be that he was using bad sources as well.

Take for instance his use of Margaret Murray's ideas to support his writing. Murray's books have been discredited by many people since they have been written. But I generally agree with you that he was not necessarily a liar or a bad person.

Cosette - That's true. He doesn't differentiate; he just labels the subject he is talking about as "Witchcraft."