Neo-paganism, Wicca, and the Cult of the Goddess


The Wiccan festival circle

History of Wicca
The Practice and Belief of Wicca
Dianic Wicca and the Goddess
The Horned God
Celtic, Faery and Seax Wicca

References and sources consulted


Wicca is a nature-based neo-pagan religion about whose origin there is much debate.. There are a number of theories concerning the origin of Wicca (Purkiss, 2006, Gage, 2008). Wicca as a belief came to the attention of the public in the 1950’s. being popularised in 1954 by Gerald Gardner who referred to witchcraft as ‘the Wica’ (Gardner, 1954; 1959). The ‘Wica’ were the adherents to the tradition and craft rather than the religion itself. In theory witches and their craft were postulated to be the remnants of an ancient pre-Christian cult, with their god being the devil according to the Christian church (Murray, 1921; 1931). Etymologically the term Wiccamay derive from the Indo-European root weik referring to magic or religion. This term is related to the German wikk also meaning sorcery or magic.



Druid circle at Stonehenge

 The neo-pagan religion of Wicca involves elements of animism, meaning the doctrine that phenomena in nature are due to spirits. Wicca is thus an immanent religion meaning it dwells or abides within. In Wiccan belief the goddesses and gods are the personification of the life-force present in animals and the environment. These deities can manifest themselves as an aspect of fertility, the hunt, or the wilderness (Davy, 2006). Moreover, whereas most Wiccans are pagans it does not follow that all witches are Wiccans.

Wicca is a type of witchcraft that is derived from various magical and religious concepts. The umbrella of pagan belief and practice also encompasses a variety of faiths that may have no connection with witchcraft. Characteristic of Wicca is its moral and liberal code of ethics, its seasonal celebration of eight festivals or sabbats, and ritual use of magical practice. As a neo-pagan religion Wicca possesses its own distinct forms or ritual observances, as well as its religious and moral precepts. Wicca is also distinguished by its structural organisation, secrecy and its system of initiation of novitiates.



Four witch circle

 Gerald Gardner has been described as the ‘father of Wicca’ and it was he who adopted the thesis of Margaret Murray (1921; 1931) that witchcraft was a modern survival of an ancient Europe-wide religion. Gardner’s Wicca, whose books (1954; 1959) attracted a number of new initiates, was a mystery and initiatory belief or religion. Initially Wicca had resulted from the witchcraft lineages of Charles Cardell. By the 1960’s the only extant lineages were those of Gardner. This illustrates that witchcraft as a religion was essentially a post-second world war phenomenon.

Wiccans worshipped the Horned God in tandem with the traditional Triple Goddess. The idea of the great goddess mother was common in the romanticised literature of the Victorian and Edwardian era. The work of Margaret Murray posited not only the ancient practices of witchcraft, but also tried to reconstruct elements of that belief and practice. The Wicca of Gardner, gleaned from the original New Forest covens, functioned with initiatory mystery priesthoods. They worshipped the Horned God and the Triple Goddess, as an element of a wider pantheistic godhead, manifested as various polytheistic deities.

Therefore, Included in Wiccan popularity as a religion is a form of goddess-centred neo-pagan witchcraft. When the independent Dianic Witchcraft is included there becomes apparent the existence of an Eclectic Wicca.In addition, the theories of Margaret Murray included elements of ceremonial ritualised magic, the occult, Freemasonry, theosophy, as well as the influence upon the magic of Alistair Crowley and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the writings about Aradia. As it is currently practised witchcraft reconstructs the fertility rituals of pagan systems and beliefs, despite the fact that it has “…no ancient history or mythology of its own…” (Guiley, 1992).


 Goddess moon symbol

History of Wicca

The origin of Wicca is surrounded by debate and uncertainty. The origin of the Wiccan traditions, known as British Traditional Wicca, were in the region of the New Forest. Gerald Gardner claims he was originally initiated by the witches in Dorset in 1939, therefore the New Forest Coven. Prominent later developments were to become known as Gardnerian Wicca and Alexandrian Wicca. Wicca is probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for witch. Its modern usage of ‘Wica’ are Gardner’s initiates who are a particular group, as well as unrelated witches. In the process Wicca became a general term for almost all neo-pagan witchcraft. The neo-pagan religion which emerged in the 1950’s in England may well be the only religion that England gave the world (Hutton, 1991).

Three witch groups can be described all of who, interpret the term Wicca differently. Firstly, those covens descended from the original New Forest groups, and who use the term Wicca in a self-descriptive sense. Secondly, the neo-pagan witches who use Wicca to define or describe the majority of pagan witches, and which implies ‘witch’ and ‘Wiccan’ are synonymous. Thirdly, some initiates describe themselves as witches but dismiss the label Wiccan.


Yule Ritual in the New Forest Coven.

 Can the origins of Wicca be traces to the historical 16th and 17th century witch cults and witch hunts? This phenomenon spread across Europe and the colonies in America. In France the church trials began in 1408, one of note being the trial and execution of Joan of Arc in 1431, and also Gilles de Rais and his coven in 1457. These ‘witches’ were charged with diabolism on the basis of a fundamentalist Christian doctrine that non-Christian entity was a devil. Other accusations included cannibalisation of children, devil worship, and desecrations. Modern scholarship explains the events in terms of witches being the victims of hysteria in rural communities.The hypothesis of the witch-cult regarded them as participants in a pan-European pagan religion. This religion predated and was persecuted by the Christian church as a rural religion. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the scholarly and academic view of the witch cults was their being creation myths rather than based on historical fact.

Gerald Gardner (1884-1964) was once a colonial civil servant as well as a scholar of magic. In 1939 he claimed to have met a coven of witches, or members of a witch-cult in the New Forest. The New



Gerald Gardner.

Forest Coven led to the creation of Gardner’s own Bricket Wood Coven in 1954. Gardner propagated his new religion, referring to the members of his craft, or mystery and neo-pagan cult as the ‘Wica’, never using the term Wicca. The ritual component of ‘Wica’ displays the obvious influence of the Late Victorian occultism.Gerald Gardner claimed his Wica was a direct descendant of a pre-Christian pagan religion with witch-cult origins (Gardner, 1954; 1959). Gardner’s Wica is identified amongst neo-pagans as being of the New Forest Tradition. The outlook of Gardner follows on from the researches of Margaret Murray in the 19th and 20th centuries (Murray, 1921; 1931).


 Margaret Murray

 Indeed, the Wica of Gardner is a synthesis of traditions from many cultures, including elements of English folklore, Hinduism, romanticised Native American beliefs, as well as ritual structures and terminology of Freemasonry. The materials assembled by Gardner are not cohesive, and resemble and eclectic patchwork, that incorporates ritual magic practices inspired by ancient paganism.


Gerald Gardner in his Museum of Witchcraft.

 Gardnerian Wicca has been popularised by other authors since the 1950’s (Valiente, 1973). Alexandrian Wicca or Algard Wicca is a derivative, in the 1960’s, of Gardner’s Wica. American offshoots include Central Valley Wicca and Blue Star Wicca which refer to their practices and beliefs as American British Traditional Wicca. Again, the duotheistic attachment to the two principal deities of the Horned God and the Mother Goddess. Alexandrian Wicca, after Alex Sanders in the 1960’s, was founded by him with the claim he was a hereditary witch. Sanders and his wife adopted the title and style of the king and queen of witches. They did in fact establish a large following. However, other initiates denounced them as charlatans and black magic practitioners.

The Practice and Belief of Wicca

The theology of Wica is variable with most worshipping within a pantheistic framework of the veneration of the god and goddess. The polytheistic approach, which consists of many lesser deities, worships various gods and goddesses as distinct and separate entities. A form of polytheism is the duotheism of two polarised opposites, a dual pantheism of a god and a goddess. In addition there is a belief of a unitary godhead, where all gods are a one god and all goddesses are also one, therefore a supreme god and archetypal goddess. Hence the dual aspects of a single godhead.

The morality of Wicca rests upon the Wiccan Rede, with the Charge of the goddess the nearest comparison to a liturgy within the craft. The Rede is a declaration and a recognition of the freedom to act. In addition it is the acceptance of the responsibility for one’s actions. This brings into focus the Wiccan Law of Threefold Return. In essence, no matter what a person does, whether benevolent or malevolent, the result is the return to that person in triple force (Lembke, 2006). With regard to the Charge of the Goddess (Valiente, 2001) many Wiccans endeavour to cultivate the eight virtues of mirth and reverence, honour and humility, strength and beauty, power and compassion, as an order of complementary opposites.


The Charge of the Goddess and the Wiccan Rede.

 The Charge of the Goddess and the Wiccan Rede, together with the Book of Shadows, were the core Wiccan texts. The Book of Shadows was a seminal text, whose secrets were similar to a grimoire used by magicians (Davies, 2009). This reflects the common duality found in the Wiccan outlook. Apart from the Charge of the Goddess, as well as the ritual texts of Gerald Gardner and Alisteir Crowley, there was the Araidia material or the Gospel of the Witches (Leland, 1899). For Wiccans there is no definitive or set sacred text.


Aradia manuscript

 In Wicca there was an obligatory ceremonial initiation ceremony, or Rites of Passage, on joining a coven. In traditional British Wicca permitted at first acceptance at first in the First Degree. The covens were autonomous and initiated their own priestesses and priests.


Wiccan ritual in robes

The usual traditional number within a coven was thirteen. The stage of the Second Degree involved being awarded a craft name and proficiency in the use of implements. Finally, participation in the Great Rite was permitted an initiate of the Third Degree.



Wiccan ritual paraphernalia.

 The observed Wiccan religious holidays are based on traditional agrarian and seasonal festivals. The eight festivals, or sabbats, constitute the Wheel of the Year. There are four main sabbats and four inor ones (Guiley, 1992). The four Greater Sabbats coincide with the Celtic fire festivals and cross-quarter days. The major or greater sabbats are: Imbolc (Imbolg or Oimelc) on the 2nd of February; Beltane on April 3oth; Lughnasadh or Lammas on August 1st; and Samhain on October 31st. The four lesser sabbats are the solstices or equinoxes that mark the change of the seasons. Ostara is on March 21st, Midsummer is June 21st, Mabon is September the 21st and Yule occurs on December 21st. The names of these celebratory festivals are derived from Celtic polytheistic and Germanic pagan holidays.

Sequentially the eight Wiccan sabbats are: Samhain, the Greater Sabbat of the Dead; Yule, the lesser sabbat of the Winter Solstice; Imbolc, the Greater Sabbat; Ostara, the lesser sabbat of the Spring

Equinox; the Greater Sabbat of Beltane of May Eve; Midsummer or Litha, the lesser sabbat of the Summer Solstice; then Lughnasadh or Lammas, the Greater Sabbat of harvest; and finally the lesser sabbat of mabon, the Autumn Equinox. Imbolc was Christianised as Candlemas and Samhian is termed All Hallows Eve or Halloween.


Female wiccans in group

 Wicca perceives five symbolic and classical elements which are invoked during magical rituals. These five elements are the well known as air, fire, water, earth, as well as spirit or Aether, which unites the other four. Each element is associated with its own cardinal compass point. Spirit or aether is central to air as east, fire as south, water is west, and earth is north. The well known Wiccan symbol is the five pointed pentagram. Again, the pentagram symbolises the five classical Wiccan elements, earth, fire, water, air and spirit. The triquetra is the Wiccan triple moon symbol of the Triple Goddess.


Statue of the goddess

 Wiccans believe in magic that can be manipulated through the practice of witchcraft and sorcery. In their rituals they practice magic through the casting of spells, and their festival celebrations. The casting of spells, and the art of magic, is the goddess in magic where witches look to her for blessing and power. Common Wiccan spells are used for healing, love, fertility and to counter negative influences (Gallagher, 2005).


 Neopagan ritual

 During their ritual ceremonies Wiccans cast spells, within a sacred circle, in order to bring about real changes. Wiccans believe they can derive magical powers from the goddess in her lunar aspect. This on the basis that magical power waxes and wanes in accordance with the phases of the moon. At each phase of the moon a relevant aspect of the Triple Goddess is involved, such as a love spell from Aphrodite, or a healing spell from Panacea.



 Skyclad in stone circle

The assembly of the coven within the purified and ritually cast magic circle, makes invocations to the guardians of the cardinal compass points. Within the magic circle there is usually an altar for the placement of necessary implements. A central witchcraft ritual is the Drawing Down of the Moon, where the High Priestess invokes the goddess to force into her so that she becomes a receptacle. In the purified circle may be placed a representation of the goddess or god (Guiley, 1992).

As well as prayers to the god or goddess, and spells, common implements will be the knife or athame, a pentacle, wand, chalice, a cauldron and candles, incense and a curved blade called a boline. For many Wiccans their craft is defined as a science for the control of secret natural forces. This is the definition of magical practice provided by the ceremonial magicians. For Wiccans magic is a law of nature that is misunderstood by science. The colour black, being associated with Satanism and evil describes black magic in contrast to white magic. A media sensationalised aspect of Wiccan ritual is the practice of Skyclador working naked, usually for initiates, but Wiccans may wear robes.


 Skyclad witches

Dianic Wicca and the Goddess

Dianic Wicca is also known as Dianic Witchcraft and Dianic Feminist Witchcraft (Buckland, 2005), that comprises three main branches.Dianic Neopaganism consists of Dianic Wicca, McFarland Dianic, and Feminist Dianic Witches, which is non-Wiccan. Synonymous with neo-paganism the Dianic Tradition is the beliefs, practices, practitioners, ahistory and earth religion of goddess worshippers who emphasise the feminine divine.



The symbol of the Triple Goddess



Sculpture of Diana and a stag.

 The Dianic Wicca is a feminist lineage created by the Hungarian-American Zsuzanna Budapest in the USA in the 1970’s. The denomination is noted for its feminism and focus on worship of the goddess. It combines features of Italian folk magic and Aradia with British Traditional Wicca. It normally practices folk magic and healing ways in women only covens (Buckland, 2005). The Tradition mixes feminist politics with Wiccan practices and, as it focuses exclusively on the goddess, has become known as Dianic Witchcraft or Dianic Wicca from 1971 until 1979. There is no connection with Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca, or the traditional British lineage. The eclectic movement of Dianic Wicca or feminist Dianic Witchcraft arose out of feminist developments of the 1960’s and 1970’s.


Zsuzanna Budapest.

The neo-pagan fairy lineage tradition is known as the McFarland Dianic, founded by Mark Roberts and Morgan McFarland, it accepts male initiates. The Femiist Dianic Witches, who are non-Wiccan, are a feminist spirituality group in New York. Inspired by Budapest they place their emphasis on a non-hierachical structure, with self-initiaion and womanism. Other Dianics perform latge group rituals, they cast spells on sabbats and full-moon esbats. There are therefore Dianic covens as well as solitary practitioners.In Califirnia the oldest American group of Wiccans is the Covenant of the Goddess. This is a religious organisation that has associates and solitary elders. As a cross-traditional organisation their covens practice and focus their worship and rituals on goddess and gods or goddess alone (Adler, 2006).

The Dianic Tradition is spiritual and believes that the goddess is the source of all that is living, and contains all within her. The denomination demands both responsibility and empowerment, that worships in female circles and covens, whilst celebrating diversity. However, the Dianic Tradition for some implies an everyday folk religion involving pursuits termed ‘hedge-witchery’ and ‘kitchen-witchery’. Some Dianic covens are in fact mixed gender, some are all heterosexual, others are all lesbian in orientation. The Dianic Tradition for others is a more forma; organisation with a defined cosmology and a developed witching practice.


Earth Mother

Mosst Dianics form covens, celebrate the Wiccan holidays, attend the eight festivals of Samhain, Beltane, Imbolc, Lammas, the solstices and full-moon rituals. The majority of Dianic Wiccas celebrate womens bodies, womens experiences and mysteries. The ianic Wiccans celebrate the divine feminine and worship the goddess as a whole unto herself, the essence of the biology and culture of womanhood. Dianic Wiccans observe and experience the pagan Wheel of the Year in terms of the coincidence of seasonal reality and the life cycles of women, where the Great Goddess can be both maiden, mother, queen, hag or crone.

Many Dianic Wiccans have discarded the hierarchical structure of the Garnerians. Some covens ignore the Horned God as well as pubkishing their rituals. The goddess orientation regards the Goddess as a pre-emeinence that conceives and contains everything. Their rituals contain provision for a non-specific self-intiation. Dianic Wicca reveres the Triple Goddess, commonly depicted as the Moon Goddess, as maiden, mother, and crone. Feminist Wicca has no need for god worship because the goddess is complete in herself, a reflection of ‘waman’s spirituality’ as every woman’s right.

For Gerald Gardner the Wiccan gods were the prehistoric deities, the Horned God and Mother Goddess, of the British Isles (Hutton, 1991). Wicca was traditionally duotheistic. An attempt at reconciliation between Dianics and Gardnerian monotheisms was attempted by Starhawk in The Spiral Dance, who founded the Reclaiming Tradition that mixed Wicca and other neo-pagabisms.

The Horned God

Wicca is a duotheistic religion worshipping both a god and a goddess, therefore Wiccans conceive of a gender polarised, male and female, universe. The Horned God and Triple Goddess are the equal and polar opposites in Wiccan theology. These polarities are not only complementary but are also the embodiment of the life force manifest in the natural world and environment. An embodiment associated with sexuality, hunting, nature, fertility and the female cycle (Farrar, 1989). However, the ideology of feminist Wicca places more emphasis on the Mother Goddess, where the symbolism of the horned god is much reduced.


 God and goddess as tree

 The traditional horned god, who symbolises the sun andwhere the goddess is the moon, is associated with the wilderness and hunting. The horned god is often shown with either horns or antlers on his head, and thus beast-headed or theriocephalic (d’Este, 2008), which figuratively represents the union of animal the divine, and the human. The horned god has various and several names and epithets including Cernunnos, Pan, Atho, Karnaya, sometimes he is traditionally known as an archetypal known European figure such as a Sun God. In European folklore he is variously known as the Green Man, the Oak King, and the Holly King. The term Horned God predates his use in Wicca.

The so-called horned god is an anthropomorphic syncretised deity in terms of being ‘horned’ or ‘antlered’, implying his origins are pseudohistorical. Depictions of the Horned God as a horned or antlered human originate in both European and sub-continental Indian sources, and range from the Palaeolithic in France to Dorset in England (Murray, 1931). In Europe there is traditional worship of the horned god, evidenced by an unbroken line, including a pan-continental witch cult that was demonised by the medieval Christian church (Murray, 1921).

The model of the horned god of folk tradition originates with Sir James Frazer and Jules Michelet, as a horned deity during the Palaeolithic times Hutton, 2006), based upon an interpretation of ‘The Sorcerer’ cave painting. In historical terms the horned god is not a fact but now regarded as a myth, a fantasy. The romanticised, popularised and contemporary image of the horned god is that of the classical god Pan or Faunus. The ancient Greek god Pan was generalised with hairy horns, the image of the hypothetical horned god of the witches. In addition the horned god of the witches was Baphomet the supposed idol of the Knights Templar.


Witch’s Sabbath (1789). Francisco Goya.

 Neo-pagans however react unfavourably to Lucifer being identified as the god of the witches. The romantic pagan tradition rejects the so-called relationship between Satanism and witchcraft. The image of the occultist Baphomet, originally a benevolent horned god of fertility, was transformed and demonised by the Christian church. One theory concerning the origins of witchcraft is that the belief and practice appeared in late antiquity as a worship of a horned god. Hence a faith rooted in the Graeco-Roman gods Pan and Faunus, from which developed the Celtic horned god Cernunnos.



Baphomet the Goat

The horned god of mainstream Wicca is the masculine aspect of the dual divinity, the equal opposite to the goddess. The horned god of Wicca has numerous forms and epithets including the Sun God, the Vegetation God, and the Sacrificed God (Farrar, 1989). Different Wiccan groups have different names for their horned god which are The Lord, the Old One, or Old Horny. Stewart Farrar was the High Priest of the Alexandrian Tradition who claimed that the Horned God as Karnayna was really a corruption of Cernunnos (Farrar, 2010). The term was apparently derived from the Arabic word Dhul-Qarnayanmeaning ‘Horned One’ (Hutton, 1995; Valiente, 2007).

For Gerald Gardner the horned god is a mediator, an undergod, the common masculine undergod, a not personal but an impersonal divinity. The concept of a mediator suggests an aspect of the shamanic. As the eldest of gods, the Sun God, the Green Man (Valiente, 2007) for Wiccans he is the Lord of Death who rules Summerland and the Underworld. Doreen Valiente, a Wiccan high priestess in the Gardnerian tradition, referred to Cernunnos asKernunnaor ‘the horned one’ as well as Janico


 Doreen Valiente

 of Basque origin. Janico was the Basque god of oak trees who was equated with the Roman god Janus. Cernunnos was the stag and fertility god of Gaul who was portrayed as a man with stags’ antlers, sometimes holding a ram-headed snake and torc.


  The Gundestrum Cauldron.

The continental name for the horned god of the Celtic polytheism was Cernunnos who was often portrayed as am antlered or horned figure. In the course of time he became merged with the Graeco-Roman deity of Pan or Faunus. Originally he was thought to have been the horned god kept alive by a stratum of European peoples, the “…descendants of the Palaeolithic, Neolithic, and bronze Age…” (Murray, 1931). In other words Cernunnos originated with a Palaeolithic prototype. However, nothing is known other than speculative interpretations that equate him as a god of nature and fertility (Green, 1992).


 Hail Karnayna. God of the Forest.

 EtymologicallyCarno-on-os is a proto-Celtic form, a theonym for a god shown with early growth stag’s antlers, holding torcs, as shown in the Gundestrum Cauldron. The actual etymology of the name Cernunnos is unknown. Wiccans and other neo-pagans revere a horned god, a divinity worshipped in a number of cultures. Cernunnos, as the horned god, is believed to reflect the annual seasonal cycle of life, death and rebirth (Farrar, 1992).

The Gardnerian tradition of the theory of the horned god created the myth of the historical origins of the Wiccan religion. This explains the lack of evidence for the Wiccan faith earlier than the twentieth century (Hutton, 1995). Wiccan pioneers, such as Gardner and Valiente, claimed that the Wiccan religion was the continuation of pagan religion of the witch-cult postulated by Murray and Michelet (Farrar, 1989). The theory of Margaret Murray that various horned gods and mother goddesses were worshipped in the British Isles during medieval times has been rejected by modern scholarship (Hutton, 1991). The horned god in Wiccan belief personifies the energy and life force of animals and the wild (Davy, 2006) whereas Valiente believes that the horned god transports the souls of the dead to the underworld (Greenwood, 2005).

Wiccans celebrate eight seasonal cycles in conjunction with the worship of the Horned God and the Triple Goddess. The eight sabbats of the Wheel of the Year are the phases of the god and goddess cycle. Born in winter the horned god, the Lord of Death, (Greenwood, 2005) impregnates the Mother Goddess and then dies in the autumn and winter to be born again at Yule (Farrar, 1992). This explains the two-seasonal aspects of the god as the Oak King and the Holly King (Salmonson, 2001). The Wiccan seasonal festivals mirror the relationship between the goddess and the horned god (Davy, 2006). Symbolically the death of the Horned God occurs on August the 1st or at Lugnasadh or Lammas. This is the first harvest sabbat. The Horned God also dies at the autumn equinox or Mabon. This god also dies at Samhain, a death focussed ritual, on October 31st. He is then reborn at the winter solstice on December 31st.

Celtic, Faery and Seax Wicca

Some components of Celtic mythology have been incorporated into the Wicca established by Gerald Gardner in the 1950’s (Raeburn, 2001; Hutton, 2001). Gerald Gardner did include a few elements of Celtic origin into his Wicca, but also facets of Hindu religion, Masonic traditions and rituals, as well as a romanticised Native American lore. Known as Celtic Wicca, and even though it contains Celtic influences and borrowings from Celtic sources, it is not Celtic in nature.



Modern Celtic Wiccan Tree of Life

 The emphasis in Celtic Wicca is the elaboration of elements of Gardnerian Wicca that are assumed Celtic in provenance. In the process there is a firm distinction to be made between modern Wiccan practice and historical Celtic inspiration, but Celtic Wicca blends both into a “…living path of ethical and spiritual growth.” (Raeburn, 2001). Celtic Wicca is a syncretisation of elements of ancient Celtic mythology with facets of the ‘Celtic Revival’, and in this respect is ahistorical. Celtic Wiccans worship some of the gods and goddesses of the Celtic pantheon, but not within a Celtic structure, but a Wiccan one. In this respect Celtic Wicca is a form of Celtic neo-paganism (Hutton, 2001; Raeburn, 2001).

The Celtic Wiccan spirituality attempts to blend Celtic wisdom with religious witchcraft. The denomination of Witta, which is a particular branch of Celtic Wicca, lays claim to being historically accurate. As part of mainstream Celtic Wicca it is of modern origin. Moreover, there are numerous eclectic groups of Wicca who include Celtic features which identify them as branches of neo-paganism (Conway, 1995). Several variations of Celtic Wicca exist. One such variant is American Celtic Wicca (Lady Sheba, 1971; 1972), as well as the Church and School of Wicca founded by Gavin and Yvonne Frost in the Celtic Wicca tradition (Frost, 1972).

There is therefore a continuum from the eclectic to re-constructionist Celtic, which is as inaccurate in historical terms as most types of neo-druidism (Hutton, 1993). However, Celtic re-constructivism places emphasis on cultural Celtic forms and historical validity. A number of criticisms of Celtic Wicca have been made. Essentially Celtic Wicca is regarded as the misrepresentation and misappropriation of real Celtic history and traditions. In other words Celtic Wicca is seen as different from known Celtic practices and beliefs. A criticism of Celtic Wicca is that its sources are ancient mythology combined with romanticised revivalism instead of history.

Faery Wicca is the umbrella term that refers to any Wiccan tradition that emphasises the fairy or fae. The fae being the fairies, sprites, gnomes, and their lore relative to the modern or natural world. Faery Wicca is a particular Wiccan tradition or denomination founded by KismaStepanich which claims to recover the traditions of the Tuatha de Danaan of ancient Ireland, the mythic precursors of the Celtic or Irish peoples. The tradition of Faery Wicca which is strongly tied to nature, seasonal changes, and to the solar and lunar calendaric festivals. KismaStepanich relies heavily on her reinterpretation of Celtic legend, history, imagination and pseudo-history from a variety of non-Celtic sources. Her position is disputed by scholars and others well acquainted with ancient Celtic mythology and polytheism. In other words the inspiration of Faery Wicca, which is not related to the Feri Tradition of Victor Anderson, is from some customs of ancient Celtic practice. However, Faery Wicca has more in common with neo-Wiccan and modern Wiccan denominations and traditions, than with the so-called Fairy Faith of folklore.

In the 1970’s were found several Wiccan off-shoots in America. These were variations of Traditional Wicca based upon the Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions. One of these off-shoots was Seax Wicca, otherwise known as Lyblac Anglo-Saxon Witchcraft. Seax Wicca was introduced into the USA by Raymond Buckland in 1973, having purchased Gardner’s Isle of Man Witch’s Mill. Buckland was a High Priest of Gardnerian Wicca, which he ceased to practice. North American Wicca is based on Traditional British Wicca.


Raymond Buckland

Seax Wicca –s a neo-pagan Wiccan tradition or denomination that was mainly inspired by the iconography of historical Anglo-Saxon paganism (Buckland, 1974), which used the structure of Gardnerian covens. The Seax Wicca tradition honours the god and goddess not as the Horned God and Mother Goddess but as the Germanic deities Woden and Freya. These two thus represent the Wiccan horned god and goddess. There was no oath of secrecy in Swax Wicca whose rites and rituals, including the significance of runes, were published by Raymond Buckland (1974). More or less unique among Wicca the belief allowed for self-initiation, all could therefore practice, and it had many covens.

The central myth of witchcraft is that of rebirth (Gardner, 1954) which was seen as ‘The Myth of the Goddess’ or the ‘Legend of the Descent of the Goddess into the Underworld’ (Farrar, 1984). There are many variations of the descent myth whichare echoed in ancient and classical mythology, including the dualities of Inanna and Dumuzi, Ishtar and Tammuz, and Demeter or Kore and Persephone. These myths of reincarnation, or of death and rebirth, are reflected in current Wiccan practice.

Beliefs concerning reincarnation vary among Wiccans, which is a traditional Wiccan teaching. Wiccan beliefs in reincarnation imply therefore an ability to contact deceased spirits. This belief is based upon the concept that the soul rests a while in so-called Summerland or the Otherworld. This transition or rite of passageis known as the ‘ecstasy of the goddess’. Moreover, a soul will reincarnate into its own species over a span of many years as it learns and advances (Buckland, 1986). In addition Wiccans believe that the reincarnated are previous witches. Nonetheless Wiccans do not emphasise an afterlife but focus on the present one thus “…the instinctual position of most pagan witches therefore seems to be that if one makes the most of the present life, in all respects, then the next life is more or less certainly going to benefit from the process, and so one may as well concentrate on the present.” (Hutton, 1999).


Neo-pagan ritual in moonlight

 Wicca, as an ancient witch-cult coupled with the idea of primitive matriarchal religion derived from Johann Jakob Bachofen, was popular with Margaret Murray, Marija Gimbutas, Robert Graves and the anthropologist Ashley Montagu. The theories about ancient matriarchies are the work of Gimbutas, derived from the matriarchal interpretation of archaeology.

For Wiccans the goddess was perceived in the form of maiden, mother and crone, as the Triple Goddess, these three aspects of womanhood were reflected in the three phases of the moon (Guiley, 1992). With the Dianic Witches and the legend of Aradia it was the goddess Diana who sent Aradia down to earth. Her purpose was to instruct witches in the craft of magic. Similarly the ritual deviation can be seen with the witches of ancient Greece in Thessaly who were renowned for their magic. In Italy witches worshipped the goddess Airdia or Areda whose origin was Aradia.


Contemporary painting of the Triple Goddess

 Therefore the myth of the goddess had a central role in all witch initiations, which like the rites of Freemasonry, has three degrees. Firstly the initiate experiences a spiritual death, the death of the old self, in order to be reborn as a witch, and child of the goddess. Secondly, the initiate enters by a rite of passage, the magical circle. Thirdly, in this manner the initiate symbolically became a member of the craft (Guiley, 1992).


 An initiate of the goddess

Witchcraft is in essence goddess worship. The virgin or maiden aspect of the goddess, as Artemis or Diana, the wild and free huntress, is the New Moon. As the mother, matron at her sexual and most fecund peak, she is the Full Moon. Symbolically she is Isis, Ishtar, Selene, Demeter and the Celtic Queen Maeve. As hag or crone she is the dark or Waning Moon, the post-menopausal wise but barren woman who guards the mysteries of death. She is Hecate.


Contemporary depiction of the three stages of womanhood.

 From an anthropological and historical position witchcraft is the antithesis of sorcery as well as form of sorcery. Both simply employ the use magical powers to affect a change. Witchcraft in some form or other has existed since the Palaeolithic, the universality of magic being the ritual performance, the attempt to contact and commune with the supernatural, enacting originally the ability of humans, of men to hunt successfully at the behest of the goddess.


This was written having remembered a visit in the mid-1950’s to Gardner’s witch museum in the Isle of Man. A fascinating and remembered visit especially as I looked up and saw him looking down at me from a small gallery above. He heard me telling my family that I did not believe in witchcraft or the enchanting local fairy lore, but what a fascinating place his exhibition and gift shop were.



References and sources consulted

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Buckland, R. (1974). The Tree. Complete Book of Anglo-Saxon Witchcraft. Weiser Books, USA.

Buckland, R. (1986). Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. Llewellyn, St Paul, USA.

Buckland, R. (2002). The Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft. Visible Ink, Detroit.

Buckland, R. (2005). Buckland’s Book of Anglo-Saxon Witchcraft. Webster Book.

Conway, D. J. (1995). The Ancient and Shining Ones. Llewellyn.

Davies, O. (2009). Grimoires: a history of magic books. OUP, Oxford.

Davy, Barbara J. (2006). Introduction to Pagan Studies. Altamira Press.

D’Este, Sorita. (2008). Horns of Power. Avalonia, London.

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Farrar, Janet. & Farrar, S. (1989). The Witch’s God: Lord of the Dance. Hale, London.

Farrar, Janet, & Farrar, S.   (1992). Eight Sabbats for Witches. Robert Hale, London.

Farrar, S. 2010. What Witches Do. Robert Hale, London.

Frost, G. & Frost, Yvonne. (1972). The Witches Bible.

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Sterling Publishing, New York.

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Gardner, W. B. (1959).The Meaning of Witchcraft.

Graves, R. (1966). The White Goddess. Farrar, Srauss& Giroux. New York.M

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Guiley, R. E. (1989). The Encyclopaedia of Witches and Witchcraft. Facts on File, Oxford.

Hutton, R. 1991; 1993). The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles. Blackwell, Oxford.

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Lady Sheba. (1971). The Book of Shadows. Llewellyn.

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Larrington, C. ed. (1992). The Feminist Companion to Mythology. Pandora, London.

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Luck, G. (1985). Arcana Mundi. Johns Hopkins.

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Murray, Margaret. (1931). The God of the Witches. USA.

Purkiss, Diane. (2006). The Witch in History. Routledge.

Raeburn, Jane. (2001). Wicca: the Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century.

Salamonson, J. 2001. Enchanted Feminism. Routledge.

Stepanich, Kisma. (1998 a). Theory and Magick: The Irish American Faery. USA.

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Valiente, Doreen. (1973). An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. Custer, Washington.

Valiente, Doreen. (1989; 2007). The Rebirth of Witchcraft. Robert Hale, London.

Valiente, Doreen. (2001). The Charge of the Goddess. Hexagon.









1 Comment

Filed under Folklore

One response to “Neo-paganism, Wicca, and the Cult of the Goddess

  1. Laura Zimmerman

    Beautiful website! Blessed be

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