The Magickal Beginnings of the Practices – an introduction to the book Wicca, Magickal Beginnings

By Sorita d’Este and David Rankine

More information available from www.avaloniabooks.co.uk

Over the last few months, many people – some of whom have not yet read our book Wicca Magickal Beginnings have written to us, or asked us in passing why we wrote it. This is a complex question and one which can probably in part at least, be answered by this extract from the introduction we wrote for the book.

All books have a moment of conception, and this book was born out of a discussion on the origins of the Wiccan Tradition as known today, with some of our students in late 2001. Whilst debating the possible starting point of this magickal tradition, we realised that all the evidence being presented was focused on the people who were the early public face of the tradition and their contemporaries. Yet this is a tradition which is also called a ‘Craft’ and which is an experiential tradition where personal experience is paramount for the understanding of the practices and beliefs. So why were we debating the origins of the tradition in terms of who said or did what?

Has Wiccan history tied itself into knots of personalities in an effort to conceal its true origins? Was there something we were missing? Why was it that whilst some people claimed that the tradition was the continuation of a very ancient Pagan religion, others stated that it was created (or compiled) in the 1950’s or 1940’s in England? Why was it that Gerald Gardner was greatly respected as the ‘Father’ of the modern movement and simultaneously viewed as a charlatan? Could it be that in an effort to cover up the ludicrous and unsubstantiated claims that the tradition originated in the Stone Age (or thereabouts) the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction and got stuck? We agree that an academically sound historical foundation will provide more credibility to a tradition and its practitioners, but did that come at a price? What was being sacrificed in order to lend credibility to the tradition? What really made Wicca, Wicca?

Having asked ourselves all these questions again and again over the years, sometimes obtaining different answers to the same questions based on changes in our perspective, we found that ultimately Wicca remained a mystery tradition at its heart. The practices and beliefs could only be fully understood through direct experience thereof and it was through this that the tradition could be best defined, not through the endless debates about lineages, initiations and personalities!

We set about systematically researching the origins of the practices and beliefs which were passed to us through our initiators and colleagues. Our preconceptions were constantly challenged as we explored the origins of the practices and beliefs from different angles in an effort to find possible solutions to the question of when and where the tradition may have originated. We separated the rituals into their component parts, then looked at each individually and even divided them up into smaller parts, before finally putting it all back together creating a colourful mosaic with our findings.

Faced with several possible interpretations based on the evidence we correlated, it became clear that although it remained possible that Gerald Gardner may have created the tradition, it was certainly not that plausible in comparison to some of the other conclusions that we reached. In fact, at this stage of our research we feel that it is most likely that Gardner was not that much of a charlatan after all, but that his accounts of initiation into an existing tradition, upon which he later expanded, were truthful. When stripped right back, without the many additions and evolutions it has undergone since the 1950’s, Gerald Gardner’s ‘Witch Cult’ appears to predate him by at least some years.

We did of course realise from the outset that this would be a controversial conclusion for some readers and as such we present the practice-based evidence in this volume in a way which allows for individual interpretation. We also focused on the component parts which were common to all the traditions, both esoteric and exoteric, that we have personal knowledge of. This means that whilst we touch on the subject of deity, it is important for the reader to understand that theological debate is not within the scope of the work presented here. The individual beliefs in the Goddess and God vary, in some instances significantly so, between traditions in existence today. Additionally, we have not included evidence or debate on the inclusion of many of the folk practices which are found in some Wiccan groups today, such as May pole dancing at Beltane or making Brighid crosses for Imbolc. These practices were well known throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the countless books and magazine articles published in those eras attest to. As such their inclusion might be incidental. Moreover, they are not considered relevant by all of the traditions and as such, though of extreme importance to some, are not even considered by others.

The bulk of the material presented in the book is aimed at practitioners, be that of the esoteric (ie. initiatory) or exoteric traditions of Wicca. The book does not aim to cover in detail all aspects of Wiccan history, in fact we have for the most ignored the modern developments. The material presented can be used in a variety of ways, but will benefit those who are seeking to deepen their understanding of the practices the most as knowing more about their original context can of course help deepen the symbolic understanding of their place in our ceremonies today. It is possible that practitioners of other related pagan traditions who draw their inspiration for rituals by incorporating circle casting, the invocation of the elemental guardians at the four cardinal point and drawing down the moon, might also find this book of interest.
For more information, as well as for examples of some of the reviews this book has already received, visit www.avaloniabooks.co.uk