There is a good deal of misinformation about Wicca and Witchcraft. I don’t claim to be an expert on the history of Wicca; I’m just enthusiastic student with some opinions to share. And what I’d like to do here is discuss some prevalent “facts” about Wicca and Witchcraft. Please keep in mind that Wicca and Witchcraft are two different things. One can be a Witch and not be Wiccan, just as one can be Wiccan and not be a Witch. I am examining these facts based both on a non-Wiccan Witch and a Wiccan Witch.
In recent years, thanks to books like Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon and publications like Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, a lot of effort has gone into researching the accurate history and facts of Wicca and Witchcraft. A good deal of effort has also gone into making clear the differences between Wicca, Witchcraft, and various forms of Paganism. But a lot of misinformation and just plain bad history still exists.
Witchcraft, the “Craft of the Wise Ones”, is the Old Religion
As nice as this would be to believe, this simply isn’t true. Yes, there is evidence that prehistoric people worshipped a form of the Mother Goddess, but there is no evidence that they celebrated the Wheel of the Year, had organized covens, a religious dogma, or any of the other trappings of modern Paganism. There are some traditions that try to recreate ancient religious practises. These groups are generally lumped under the term “Reconstructionists” and include paths like Asatru. Wicca, however, is a new religion (embracing old ideas), likely not dating back any further then the early 1950s or late 1940s.
However, the ideas of Witchcraft, such as sympathetic magic, were likely practised by prehistoric people. This doesn’t make Witchcraft the “Old Religion”, mostly because Witchcraft isn’t so much as a religion as it is a practise. Witchcraft can supplement just about any religion. And the principles of sympathetic magic can be used by everyone, not just Witches.
Witches’ don’t do evil, because they follow the Wiccan Rede
This is both true and false. The statement assumes that all Witches are Wiccan, which is far from the case. Those Witches that are Wiccan do follow the Rede, and do their very best to cause no harm. Those Witches who are not Wiccan have their own moral codes to follow. It would be nice to assume that none of them “do evil”, but that is pretty unrealistic. Non-Wiccan Witches choose a moral code that either fits with the religion they follow, or that suits themselves.
Witches do not believe in or worship Satan
Again, this is true and false. Pagan Witches obviously don’t believe in Satan since he is part of the Abrahamic religions. However, Witches who are followers of Abrahamic religions do believe in him. He’s part of their dogma. And Satanic Witches (who are not Pagans), do, to some extent based on their particular doctrine, worship Satan or the ideals he represents.
As for early Christians getting the idea for their horned Satan from pagan horned gods (like Pan), I’m not so sure. Yes, that is likely what happened, but I have yet to see concrete evidence. Like, say, a memo of the Pope.
Wicca is Celtic
This is a widely believed “fact”, and it isn’t true. Wicca does include some elements of Celtic culture to varying degrees depending on the tradition. However, the ancient Celts were not Wiccan. They did not celebrate the Wheel of the Year (although many of the holidays are based on Celtic traditions), have covens, etc. As for Non-Wiccan Witches being Celtic, this is also false. There are Witchcraft traditions in many cultures, with one of the most well known being Italian Strega.
Millions of Wiccans/Witches were killed during the Inquisition and Reformation
This common “fact” is seen all over the Internet. Many Wiccan pages sport a little banner proclaiming “Never Again, the Burning Times.” It is a wonderful idea, but it is misplaced.
Firstly, historians have recently shown that the numbers killed are much lower then previously believed. Far from being 9 million or so (the number most often given), there were probably around a few hundred thousand killed. This is still a tragedy, I agree, but it is less shocking then 9 million.
Secondly, most (if not all) of the people killed were not Witches or “magical” people, and they were certainly not Wiccan. Most of them were good Christians who were perhaps poor, owned land someone else wanted, unpopular, or followed a different sect of Christianity. Likely these people would be shocked and horrified to learn that they have been appropriated by modern pagans.