I cringe when I hear a Wiccan jumps up to state that Paganism was around before Christianity. Of course it was! What is there to prove? What else could have been around before Christianity? There seems to be this strange habit of Wiccans to "bash Christians" verbally - even on this most basic level, perhaps from some of their own personal experiences and sometimes based purely on the burning times... which, may we add, was many a year ago now! I've read about two covens who practiced in New Forest where Gerald Gardner was initiated into Wicca by Dorothy Clutterbuck. One of these covens was meant to have been around for 500 years whilst the other for 700 (leading up to the 1950s), but no documentation remains to prove it as a fact, which is quite sad. It is particularly sad when it comes to your genealogy - if there was only one Witch in your family, you're most unlikely to find anything about it unless they were persecuted, like a friend of mine who is related to one of the Pendle Witches.
My point is this: Wicca has not really been truly defined until the 20th century and any form of Witchcraft and/or Magick differs with every region in the world from Shamans to Egyptian magicians. Sometimes these people were the healers and fortune tellers in their communities and were thus appreciated and loved, others were treated with suspicion and were left alone any may not have been Witches at all, but simply were the eccentrics of their community. The practice of Witchcraft it self differs from region to region: the women in Z Budapest's family in Hungary would cast their wishes out into the wind (who have been around since 1270AD) whilst Witches in other regions would dance and sing to raise energy and send intent. The tree-worshipping German Pagans would punish those who attacked or defaced a tree by cutting the person's stomach and dragging them around the tree as a punishment so that their intestines would nourish the tree that they'd attacked. Not all Paganism was nice. The Druids also sacrificed people to their Gods by making a tall wicker male figure and burning people inside of it as depicted below. If it weren't for Julius Caesar documenting the traditions of the Druids, we would have a far less accurate picture of who they were in the period between 50 and 40BC. Eventually the Romans enforced Christianity onto the people of Britain. It's too bad that the Enlightenment didn't come sooner, not just to prevent the burning of Witches but also to have sent anthropologists in to document what really happened and how.
Artistic concept of Druidic human sacrifice (Aylett Sammes, 'Brittania Antiquita Illustrata, 1676)
For those of you who may be confused, Paganism is a general term for nature-worshippers which Wicca falls under, just as Christianity is a general term for a swathe of religions which sit under it from Anglicanism to Cathlocism. Other examples of Paganism would be the Druids who worshipped the land and in particular the oak tree or the Aztecs who worshipped the sun. Before Christianity became the dominant religion, Paganism ruled throughout the world but certainly not simply as the Wiccan faith. Tribes and communities would pray for many of the things which Wiccans pray for today: love, wealth, prosperity, happiness, protection and most importantly: fertility. Fertility not only applied to the men and women of the tribe to ensure that they passed on their genes, but also to the fertility of the land which they relied on to survive. You can be sure that once mankind had a firm grasp of how to maintain their crops that they could comfortably take on Christianity as it slowly became the religion of their state throughout Europe, but it was also forced upon many as the state religion tied into the law itself.
Every region had its own folklore relating to the land which is preserved by indigenous communities as well as Wiccans who live in the area, and sadly it was often the Witches of old who were wiped out, and Europeans were very good at wiping out indigenous folklore, language and traditions. What has to be remembered also is that during the persecutions that many people who were not Witches were killed. Witch hunters were paid to track down innocent people who weren't Witches in order to make money, and if something went wrong in the community despite daily prayers to God, someone was to blame and thus the black sheep of the community were often blamed and burnt.
One wonderful thing about Wicca is that it pushes the practitioner to further understand the lore of the land around them whether they are indigenous to it or otherwise. As I live in Australia, the indigenous people only allow the 'white fella' to learn a certain amount about their Law and Dreaming stories (or their tribe's 'Jukurrpa' or 'Tjukurrpa' meaning Dreaming), and unless I am initiated I can never fully understand their relation to the land and its full history as preserved by their families from generation to generation. My interpretation of the land is thus to come from a more practical and scientific perspective on how the flora, weather and fauna change together throughout the Wheel of the Year.
The religion of Wicca is said to be simultaneously both the oldest and the newest religion in the world, but to prove its antiquity - particularly amongst secrecy to protect the Witches of old - is virtually impossible. The witches of old would hardly have documented their names in writing in fear of prosecution where so many laws against Witchcraft still exist. Much like the indigenous Australians mentioned previously, Witches were very secretive about their faith. It wasn't until 2005 that Australia legalised Witchcraft:
Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the repeal of the state’s Vagrancy Act, which contained the anti-witchcraft laws, was about bringing legislation into the 21st century. “Gone are the days when witchcraft and fortune-telling posed a threat to law and order, so the offences will now go up in a puff of smoke.”
Please remember the following:
(a) That as a Wiccan, we are one of hundreds of religions, as Janet and Stewart Farrar point out in the Chapter 'Many Mansions' in 'A Witches' Bible' that every religion essentially worships the same universal consciousness. 'Paganism is essentually tolerant, and so are wise witches. They will fight bigotry or intolerance or religious persecution; they will critisize what they regard as warped applications of the religious spirit; they will certainly attack the hypocritical use of religious excuses to rationalise cruelty or greed [...] But they will not attack a religion or its followers, as such.'
(b) That you are an ambassador for your faith, and who wants another religion on a list of many to 'bash' other religions? Remain wise, graceful and compassionate. Whatever your rationale, make it a peaceful and open-minded one.
(c) That Paganism was around before Christianity, but not Wicca per se.
Remain educated, wise and graceful.
Sources: Austin's Atheism Blog 'Australia Legalizes Witchcraft' - Thursday 4th of August 2005 http://atheism.about.com/b/2005/08/04/australia-legalizes-witchcraft.htm
A Witches' Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrar, Chapter XVI: Many Mansions Phoenix Publishing, 1984
An A to Z of the Occult by Simon Cox and Mark Foster, p.65-69: Druids Mainstream Publishing 2007
The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, p.41: Z Budapest Facts on File Inc, 1989
I'm channelling a lot of Beardsley in an incredibly elaborate drawing I'm working on at the moment for an Erotic Grotesque exhibition at 696 Ink in a month's time. Lo and behold I came across this little gem.
"...Pan still smiles from his terminal column among the trees, but without the old malice. Human and animal form reassert themselves, with a new dignity, under this new respect for their capabilities. Beardsley has accepted the convention of nature itself, turning it to his own uses, extracting from it his own symbols, but no longer rejecting it for a convention entirely of his own making."
Simply divine. Its the predecessor to The Cremaster Cycle - video art long before we coined the term. So decadent. Somebody pinch me. Anais Nin plays Astarte with the bird cage on her head and Kenneth features as Hecate.
It's Kenneth's dedication to Thelema - Crowley's religion, which he is a follower of, having also been involved with Ordo Templis Orientis (which I mention in the post about Baphomet).
You will find Kenneth featured in the video on Boleskine House.