So maybe this is lazy… Or maybe it’s just something to do while the big idea keeps percolating in my brain and I’ll come back with a full-fledged blog post for this topic all on its own. Who knows?
Essentially, it comes from this: I am a member of a few different websites and message boards that all operate on Magical, Pagan, or Wicca/Witchcraft themes. One of the other posters wrote this and I responded. Since I tend to think that when stuff like this happens, there are possibly others out there in the ether who might have similar experiences, concerns, or questions, I am reposting and sharing the original message (name removed for his privacy) and my response in the hopes that others may see something that might help.
I’m very new to Wicca, I’ve just finished reading Wicca: a guide for the solitary practitioner and have just started reading Buckland’s
complete book of witchcraft.
I really started to enjoy learning about Wicca and thought it could be a great
religion for me. Sadly that Joy came to a grinding halt when I heard from a
verity of sources that Wicca may have virtually no links with ancient pagan
ways. This groups own website (http://wicca.cnbeyer.com/history_real.shtml) says
“Evidence continues to be entirely lacking that anything like Wicca existed in
The reason this troubles me is that if all we know of Wicca comes from Gardner’s
mind, how can any of it be real?
I would find it much easier to believe in the God and the Goddess if many people
long ago discovered them, rather than a single person dreaming them up. If a
divine realisation did occur, isn’t it more likely to be real if many pagan
tribes shared it in more than one part of the world, rather than one man and a
few of his friends?
I guess what I really want to know is: Catherine, do you (and others in this
group) think that Palaeolithic Man believed in/discovered the God and the
Goddess as Raymond Buckland suggests, or is that one of the things about Wicca
If ancient pagan’s did discover the God and the Goddess along with other aspects
of Wicca then I have a basis for believing in Wicca. If not, then it seems like
Wicca is merely a product of Gardner’s imagination and sadly is not for me.
I hope I did not offend anyone.
I hope that I can help with this.
It seems like you equate “Old” with “Valid”, “Ancient” with “True”, and the older something is, the better. I can understand where that may come from, especially when considering religious beliefs and practices. You want something that has established history and credence. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the history and credence is going to come from different areas depending on what you are talking about. There are also two big points to remember: everything was young once, and older isn’t always better.
The second issue that I see forming in your crisis of faith is two different understandings of the God and the Goddess merging together in your head without you realizing that there are different understandings and definitions currently competing for your attention. I think that an understanding of archetypes will help out here.
The definition of archetype as I am going to use it is: a universally understood symbol, term, statement, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.
Archetypes are often used in myths and storytelling across different cultures.
Finally, I think a solid understanding of history and anthropology will help alleviate some concerns and help you find where you should be.
As far as we can tell, the oldest religious practices of man were based in some sort of animistic beliefs and sympathetic magic. Animism is the understanding that everything has a spirit and sympathetic magic is the ‘like substitutes for like’ concept behind hunting someone dressed as an animal in ritual prior to going out on a hunt. These spirits might not necessarily equate to ‘god’ or ‘goddess’ status, but they mean that everything in nature had some sort of force that it was imbued with. The most powerful forces (because they were the most important) were those things beyond the scope and control of man, things like weather and natural phenomena such as fertility and birth. That’s why these ‘spirits’ were likely to be the first ones elevated to god ‘rank’. The two forces that were most relied upon then for survival were fertility, to ensure the survival of the community, and in a larger sense, the species, and food, mostly hunting and gathering at this point. So, the strongest and most important deities were those associated with these things. This is the origin of belief in a divine feminine Goddess of fertility and birth, and in a divine masculine God of hunting and the wild. This is the oldest origin of belief in these two beings. At this point they likely had no name, or many names depending on who it was that called to them and where these people lived. These gods are essentially archetypes at this level and can be identified more by ‘job descriptions’ than names: the Hunter, the Mother, etc. These concepts are ones that are sussed out by modern anthropologists and historians, archaeologists and people who want to piece together all they can about what ancient life was like. If we accept that the paintings on cave walls, primitive tic-marks that match up with lunar calendars, and the oldest statues and carvings that illustrate respect given for fertility and hunting, then we can make an educated leap and say that this was evidence for the ancient God and Goddess.
This is not Wicca. This is not even modern Paganism. This is ancient man understanding his world as he best knew how. Wicca came along much later and seeks to embrace this sort of connection and understanding. It is a more modern lens to look back on these practices and reconnect with the energies, spirits, and powers of nature in a way closer to what our oldest ancestors understood. But, Wicca is modern, and comes from a modern mind that incorporates several other things that happened to come along in the interim between The Cave and The Pentagram.
As I understand it, at the ‘big’ level of “The God/Goddess” we are dealing with archetypes. The many different gods and goddesses of various cultures and pantheons aren’t the same thing as ‘The God/Goddess’. They are more individualized ‘little gods’. That’s how I understand it and how I explain it, yours or others’ understandings may differ. So, no, I don’t think that it was necessarily Brighid who was worshiped in the cave of prehistoric man, but I do know there was the idea of fire having a spirit that was recognized. There was a power of being able to craft things and brew medicines from herbs and roots. I think that the idea of Brighid came to be understood as man’s understanding grew. She is a goddess, but perhaps not necessarily The Goddess. I hope that makes sense.
I am sure that one of the Gardnerians or other British Traditionalist Witches on this board can go into more detail as to what exactly Gardner’s contribution was, because we all owe him a lot for his work, but the point I would like to make is that it doesn’t matter that Wicca isn’t what was practiced in the cave. It’s based on what was practiced in the cave, and still connects its adherents to those same primeval forces and powers.
The Source is real. The Source, if you want to call it God and Goddess to better suit yourself, is still around and hasn’t gone anywhere and I don’t think ever will go anywhere. Wicca is just one of the ways of tapping into it and reaching it in order to connect and experience it. I hope that you can find peace and a renewed sense of faith. Don’t get caught up on the details that shouldn’t matter as much. And if these are details that remain huge sticking points for you, perhaps you would do better in a Pagan Reconstructionist path instead of Wicca. Just because Wicca is the most popular form of modern Paganism, doesn’t mean it’s the only toy in the toy box.
And to my other point that ‘older’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’. People used to use leeches to cure illnesses. People used to believe that the sun went around the earth. People used to believe that women and animals didn’t have souls… We don’t do that anymore… Just sayin’…