12-13-12 Lesson 1: A History of Witchcraft

Part 1 a History of Witchcraft :
Witchcraft has been part of the folklore of many societies for centuries. Witchcraft has also
come to refer to a set of beliefs and practices of a religion. Its followers call it Wicca, the
Craft, the Wisecraft, or the Old Religion. Many people, particularly conservative Christians,
do not consider Witchcraft a religion as they understand the term.
Belief in witchcraft exists around the world and varies from culture to culture. Historically,
people have associated witchcraft with evil and usually have regarded a witch as someone
who uses magic to harm others, by causing accidents, illnesses, bad luck, and even death.
Some societies believe that witches also use magic for good, performing such actions as
casting spells for love, health, and wealth. People around the world continue to practice
witchcraft for good or harm.
Unlike those who practice witchcraft for harm, the followers of Wicca believe in practicing
magic only for beneficial purposes. They worship a deity with male and female aspects, but
some traditions emphasize the female, or Goddess, side of the deity.
The term witch comes from the Old English word wicca, which is derived from the Germanic
root wic, meaning to bend or to turn. By using magic, a witch can change or bend events.
Today, the word witch can be applied to a man or a woman. In the past, male witches were
also called warlocks and wizards.
Witches also are said to be able to fly. They may fly under their own power, ride tools such as
brooms or rakes, or ride magical animals. This is not true, while there are spells and rituals
involving brooms, we do not fly on them.
Some witches have great knowledge of how to make herbal potions and charms. A potion is a
drink that causes a desired effect in a person’s health or behavior. A charm is a magical
incantation (word or phrase), or amulet that helps to bring about the desired effect.
The practice of Wicca–Witchcraft as a religion flourishes primarily in English-speaking
countries. Wicca has no central authority. Its followers, some call themselves Witches, are
loosely organized in groups called covens. Some covens are made up of only women or only
men, and other covens are mixed. Many Witches do not join a coven but practice alone as
The practice of Wicca is controversial, primarily because many Christians find the idea of a
religion based on witchcraft objectionable. Some Christians associate any form of witchcraft
with the worship of Satan. This, however, would be difficult, as Wicca does not acknowledge
the existence of a “Satan”. Satan and the Devil are Judeo-Christian inventions. Others fear
that Wicca might be tied to modern cults. This is not true. Wicca is a religion, legally
recognized as such.
The U.S. Army, with the publication of the Army pamphlet 165-13, A Handbook for
Chaplin’s, recognizes Witchcraft as a religion.
Wicca includes pagan, folk, and magical rites. Its primary sources are Babylonian, Celtic,
Egyptian, ancient Greek, Roman, and Sumerian mythologies and rites, but also borrows from
other religions and mythologies, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and the rites of American
Indians. Essentially, Wicca is a religion that celebrates the natural world and the seasonal
cycles. It acknowledges the Goddess as the feminine side of a deity called God. Witches
worship both Goddess and God in various personifications, including ancient gods and
Rites are tied to the cycles of the moon, which is the symbol of the power of the Goddess, and
to the seasons of the year. Religious holidays are called sabbats. There are four major sabbats:
Imbolc (February 1), Beltane (April 30), Lugnasadh or Lammas (July 31), and Samhain
(October 31).
Most Witches practice in secrecy. Some do so because they believe that is the tradition.
Others do so because they wish to avoid persecution. Because of secrecy, it is difficult to
estimate how many people practice Witchcraft as a religion.
Modern Witches practice magic, both for spell casting and as a path of spiritual growth.
Magic for spiritual growth is called high magic and is aimed at connecting a person to God or
Goddess on a soul level. They follow the Wiccan Rede, which is similar to the Golden Rule,
“An’ it harm none, do what ye will.” Witches also believe in the Threefold Law of Karma,
which holds that magic returns to the sender magnified three times. Thus, Witches say, evil
magic only hurts the sender.
Witchcraft has existed since humans first banded together in groups. Prehistoric art depicts
magical rites to ensure successful hunting. Western beliefs about witchcraft grew out of the
mythologies and folklore of ancient peoples, especially the Greeks and Romans. Roman law
made distinctions between good magic and harmful magic, and harmful magic was
punishable by law.
When Christianity began to spread, the distinctions vanished. Witchcraft came to be linked
with worship of the Devil.
In Europe, beginning in about the 700’s CE, witchcraft was increasingly associated with
heresy (rejection of church teachings). The Christian church began a long campaign to stamp
out heresy. Beginning in the 1000’s CE, religious leaders sentenced heretics to death by
The Inquisition, which began about 1230 CE, was an effort by the church to seek out and
punish heretics and force them to change their beliefs. Eventually, the secular (non religious)
courts as well as all Christian churches were involved in the persecution of witches.
Especially after the 1500’s, most people accused of witchcraft came to trial in secular courts.
They were charged with human sacrifice and with worshiping the Devil in horrible rites. Most
historians doubt that worship of the Devil was ever widespread, if indeed it even took place.
But stories about it created a mood of fear and anxiety.
The witch hunt reached its peak in Europe during the late 1500’s and early 1600’s. Many
victims, who were mostly women, were falsely accused of witchcraft. Many accused witches
were tortured until they confessed. Then they faced imprisonment, banishment, or execution.
In the American Colonies, a small number of accused witches were persecuted in New
England from the mid-1600’s to the early 1700’s. Some were banished and others were
The most famous American witch hunt began in 1692 in Salem, Mass. There, a group of
village girls became fascinated with the occult, but their games got out of hand. They began to
act strangely, uttering weird sounds and screaming. Suspicions that witches were responsible
for the girls’ behavior led to the arrest of three women. More arrests followed, and mass trials
were held.
About 150 people were imprisoned on witchcraft charges. Nineteen men and women were
convicted and hanged as witches. A man who refused to plead either innocent or guilty to the
witchcraft charge was pressed to death with large stones. Today, historians agree that all the
victims were falsely accused. The girls pretended to be possessed. Their reasons are unclear,
though they may have been seeking attention.
There are also several factors that could have contributed to the general mass hysteria of the
Salem Witch Hunts. One interesting factor could have been ergot in rye.
The Puritans made bread with rye, and ergot may have been the culprit in causing lots of the
strange behavior exhibited by the witnesses and the accusers. Ergot is a plant disease that is
caused by the fungus Claviceps purpurea. Ergot thrives in a cold winter followed by a wet
spring. The victims of ergot might suffer paranoia and hallucinations, twitches and spasms,
cardiovascular trouble, and stillborn children. Ergot also seriously weakens the immune
system. Its victims can appear bewitched when they’re actually stoned.
Another factor that may have contributed to the witch hunts was general distrust and
suspicion. In the time leading up to the witch hunts, Salem was splitting into two distinct
areas. Salem Village, which was composed of the farmers and original setters, and Salem
Town, made up of newcomers, merchants, and people who were more prosperous. These two
groups did not like each other in general. The merchants were capitalistic, and this was no
approved of by the other Puritans who wanted to create a society of purity and Christian rule.
The witchcraft scare lasted about a year. In 1693, the people still in jail on witchcraft charges
were freed. (In 1711, the Massachusetts colonial legislature made payments to the families of
the witch hunt victims.)
By the late 17th century, the witchcraft was well underground, as it was illegal to be a Witch,
as well as against
By the late 17th century, the witchcraft was well underground, as it was illegal to be a Witch,
as well as against the Cannons of the church. It wasn’t until 1951 that the last of these laws
was repealed, and modern witchcraft surfaced with Gerald Gardener, that all of Witchcraft
was able to resurface, in it’s many forms.
Now there are many Covens out in the open and many many more still in hiding and who
practice solitary, fearing a resurgence of the persecutions. In the 1960’s Raymond Buckland,
Sybil Leek, Gavin, Yvonne Frost followed in Gardner’s footsteps, then more and more
Covens came out into the open.
Witchcraft has come a long way, yet, sadly, even though there are laws today which protect
an individual’s right to practice a personal religion such as witchcraft, there are those who still
feel threatened by imaginary untruths about it.
How much of Wicca can be traced to the Celts?
Wicca is a religion based, in part, on ancient, northern European Pagan beliefs in a fertility
Goddess and her consort, a horned God. Although the religion is a modern creation, some of
its sources pre-date the Christian era by many centuries. Most Wiccans do not believe that
their religion is a direct, continuous descendent of this earlier religion. They see it as a
modern reconstruction.
Joanna Hautin-Mayer has written:
“We know tragically little about the actual religious expressions of the ancient
Celts. We have a few myths and legends, but very little archeological evidence
to support our theories. We have no written records of their actual forms of
worship, and the accounts of their culture and beliefs written by their
contemporaries are often highly biased and of questionable historical worth.” 1
Ms. Hautin-Mayer is particularly critical of recent Neopagan books which she demonstrates
to be largely fictional accounts of the history of Witta 3 (presented as an Irish Pagan
tradition), Faery Wicca 4 (presented as an ancient tradition), and 21 Lessons of Merlyn 5 (a
somewhat racist and sexist account of Druidism).
Silver RavenWolf wrote in 1998:
Wicca, as you practice the religion today, is a new religion, barely fifty years old. The
techniques you use at present are not entirely what your elders practiced even thirty years
ago. Of course, threads of ‘what was’ weave through the tapestry of ‘what is now.’ …in no way
can we replicate to perfection the precise circumstances of environment, society, culture,
religion and magick a hundred years ago, or a thousand. Why would we want to ? The idea
is to go forward with the knowledge of the past, tempered by the tools of our own age.”
Writings that formed the basis of Wicca:
Much of modern-day Wicca can be directly traced back to the writings of:
Charles Leland (1824-1903)
published a book in 1899: Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. 8 Leland was the founder of
the Gypsy Lore Society, editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, and a prolific author and
folklorist. Aradia deals mainly with the Goddess Diana. It is presented as an ancient
document which recorded the doctrines of La Vecchia Religione (The Old Religion) —
Italian witchcraft. Leland claims to have received the information from an Italian strega
(sorceress) named Maddalena. How much of this is a valid account of La Vecchia
Religione is anyone’s guess. However, the book played a significant role in the later
development of modern-day Neopaganism.
Margaret Murray (1863 – 1963) authored The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The
God of the Witches. 6 These books promoted the concept that some of the Witches who
were exterminated by Roman Catholics and Protestants during the “Burning Times”
(circa 1450-1792) were remnants of an earlier, organized, and dominant pre-Christian
religion in Europe. Her writings have not been well received by anthropologists.
However, they were very influential in providing background material for the Neopagan
Gerald Gardner (1884 – 1964), a British civil servant, who:
has written that he joined an existing Wiccan Coven in 1939, taking the (then) usual
vows of secrecy
persuaded the coven to let him write a book in 1949 about Wicca in the form of a
novel, High Magic’s Aid. He carefully revealed a few of the Old Religion’s beliefs
and the historical persecutions that they endured.
novel, High Magic’s Aid. He carefully revealed a few of the Old Religion’s beliefs
and the historical persecutions that they endured.
added many rituals, symbols, concepts and elements from ceremonial magick,
Freemasonry and other sources to “flesh out” the coven’s beliefs and practices, most
of which had been long forgotten.
wrote Witchcraft Today in 1954 in which he described additional details about the
faith. 7
wrote The Meaning of Witchcraft which described in detail the history of Wicca in
Northern Europe. 7
Theories about the origins of Wicca:
There are many beliefs concerning the origins of Wicca:
According to Gardner, Wicca:
began in prehistory, as ritual associated with fire, the hunt, animal fertility, plant
propagation, tribal fertility and the curing of disease.
developed into a religion which recognized a Supreme Deity, but realized that at
their state of evolution, they “were incapable of understanding It” . Instead, they
worshipped what might be termed “under-Gods”: the Goddess of fertility and her
horned consort, the God of the hunt.
continued their predominately Moon based worship, even as a mainly Sun-based
faith of priests, the Druids, developed and evolved into the dominant religion of the
Celts. By this time, Celtic society had gradually spread across Northern Europe into
what is now England, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland etc. They
never formed a single political entity, but remained as many tribes who shared a
common culture and religions.
survived the Roman, Saxon, and Norman invasions by going underground
suffered major loss in numbers during the active Christian genocides, which
continued into the 18th Century
reached a low ebb by the middle of the 20th century. Much of the theology and ritual
had been lost; Wiccan covens had become so isolated that they had lost contact with
each other.
was revived in the UK by himself, his High Priestess Doreen Valiente, (1922 – 1999)
and others, who took the surviving beliefs and practices, and fleshed them out with
material from other religious, spiritual and ceremonial magick sources.
Gardner has claimed that after he wrote his books, he received many letters from members of
isolated covens who had believed that their groups had been in continuous existence for
generations or centuries.
Other individuals discount this belief system and maintain that there was no continuous
Wiccan presence from Celtic times to the 20th century. They maintain that present-day
Wicca was created by merging a few ancient Celtic beliefs, deity structure, and seasonal
days of celebration with modern material from ceremonial magick, the Masonic Order, etc.
Still others trace Wicca back to a little known faith group in New England in the early 20th
Recent Wiccan history:
There is general agreement that Wicca first became a mass movement in recent times in
England during the 1950’s with the publishing of books by Gerald Gardner. It has expanded at
a furious rate in North America and Europe.
Wicca is one of the largest of the minority religions in the United States. There are no reliable
estimates of the number of Wiccans in this country. Our best estimate is on the order of
750,000. That would make Wicca about the 5th largest organized religion in the United States,
behind Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. However it is virtually unknown by the
general public. This is because almost all Wiccans hide their religious beliefs and practices.
Those who allow their faith to be known publicly are very heavily persecuted in North
America; on a per-capita basis, they are believed to be victimized more often than members of
any other religious group. Many assaults, arson, economic attacks are reported yearly. There
have even been shootings, one public mass stoning and one lynching in recent years! Reports
circulate frequently of misinformed child protection officers seizing children from the homes
of Wiccans because they feared that they would be killed or abused in some Satanic ritual.
The perpetrators of this religious hatred are usually very devout, very concerned but terribly
misinformed people. They believe the misinformation that has been spread about Witches
continuously since the Middle Ages. It is only in Eastern Massachusetts, Southern California
and in a few cities elsewhere in North America that most Wiccans feel secure enough to
come out of the (broom) closet in large numbers. In other areas, they tend to avoid
persecution by keeping their religious faith secret. Unfortunately, this policy can have
negative results; some people speculate that because Wiccans remain underground, they must
have something to hide. This is a “no-win” situation with no obvious solution.
Part 2 : Traditions
The Religion
Witchcraft is a spiritual practice, a way of life, a belief system and a religion.
Witchcraft is the religion that sets the foundation of belief. The denominations of
Witchcraft are called Traditions. They further define and implement the foundation of
beliefs into their own perspectives of practice. Defining their own creed, troth or rede
of faith to provide guidance and principles for that tradition.
Witchcraft comes in many forms or Traditions. Many are based on historical evidence,
others from archeological and anthropological discoveries. Some are passed down
through cultural practices. But many are based on oral traditions passed down through
families, communities or cultures. Perhaps this passing down of information is where
the word “Tradition” comes from as it relates to sects of Witchcraft. There are many
Traditions within the religion of Witchcraft. One of the more commonly known today
is Wicca which has become one of the most popular traditions in America. It needs to
be understood that Wicca is not the religion, but rather one of many denominations of
the religion.
Think of it this way:
The tradition is to Witchcraft what a denomination is to Christianity.
That is to say: Wicca is to Witchcraft what Baptist is to Christianity.
You can read more about this historical perspective in the Is Witchcraft A Religion
The Creation of a Tradition
There are many different types of Traditions. Just as in the familiar Christian faith,
you’ll find Catholics, Baptists, Methodist and so on. Each denomination is Christian at
it’s base, but the implementation of the doctrine and practices might be slightly
different. Similarly there are variations in traditions and practices within Witchcraft.
A tradition can be established in various ways. The most common comes from Hiving.
All covens, clans and groups establish their own set practices based on their chosen
tradition. As the coven grows and initiates new Priests/Priestess, these individuals
often break off from the original coven and establish their own coven groups. This is
called Hiving. A hive might be a closely related coven to the original coven, it can be
an expansion of ideas and practices, or it can implement an alternative practice of the
original coven.
A good example of this is Gerald Gardner’s tradition of Wicca. In 1939 he became
involved with the Fellowship of Crotona, an occult group of Co-Masons, a Masonic
Theosophist Annie Besant. The members claimed to be hereditary Witches who
practiced a Craft passed down to them through the centuries of family training. In
1946, Gardner was introduced to Aleister Crowley. Crowley made Gardner an
honorary member of the Ordo Temli Orientis (OTO), a magikal order at one time
under Crowley’s leadership. Reportedly learning a large amount of magikal practices
from Crowley.
Based on these earlier coven training and his own historical research, Gardner
developed specific rituals, learning criteria and initiation tests for his new
denomination of the Craft. In 1953 he initiated Doreen Valiente into his coven. The
two collaborated on writing ritual and non-ritual material, a body of work which
continues to stand as the authority for what became known as the Gardnerian tradition
of Witchcraft or what many know today as Wicca.
Most covens and their eventual traditions are formed in this same way. A teacher often
reads, researches and grows beyond their teacher. They expand their knowledge along
with their understandings of spirit, nature and beliefs. Being exposed to other religions
and other people can also provide for alternative views and beliefs. A well educated
teacher/initiated Priest/Priestess will take this knowledge and add it to their practices
for their new coven. In doing so, they can establish a new Tradition of Witchcraft.
The Traditions of Witchcraft
All traditions of Witchcraft are based on the ancient craft traditions in one form or
another. Often they have been influenced by regional customs and existing spiritual
beliefs. As the human existence evolves, so does the human belief and understanding
of their place in the Universe. Remaining the same with the exact same beliefs and
practices will do a disservice over time.
This is one of the greatest characteristics of Witchcraft. As humans evolve and grow,
so does our religion. We do not ignore the advances of sciences, we examine new
understandings and contemplate how they add to, confirm or provide alternative views
of current beliefs. Traditions are therefore the result of a successful melding of ancient
Pagan traditions, Cultural histories and legends, Metaphysical concepts and
experiences and modern advancements and understandings.
There are three major categories of Witchcraft traditions.
Classical Witchcraft
Early Nordic which included the Germanic languages, Dutch, Icelandic, Danish,
Norwegian and Swedish peoples.
Gothic Witchcraft
Celtic, Anglo-Saxon which includes Druid, Irish, Scottish, and English, as well as,
many of the French, and Italian cultures.
Neo-Pagan Witchcraft
Modern sects which have primarily been influenced by the melding of all previous
traditions through evolution and expansion of those historical denominations.
The following is a small sampling of many different traditions. This by no means is a
complete list.
Classical Craft
Encompasses many traditional rituals with a basis of Egyptian magik and often follow
the ceremonies outlined in the ancient Cabalistic writings.
A tradition begun in Italy around 1353. Often associated with it’s founder, a woman
called Aradia.
The Teutons have been recognized as one of the earliest and formal practioners of the
craft. Their ways of practicing the Craft are also known as Nordic.
Many people add Romani (which is a Germanic Gypsy practice) to this list. Others
argue this gypsy traditions is based more in the tradition of Gypsy con artists than
spirituality. It’s an argument that is not easily discussed or resolved.
Gothic Craft
Of Scottish traditions, this sect is also known as Hecatine. It continues to encompass
many of the festivals and celebrations of the Scots.
A mix of Celtic/Druidic pantheon energy. This sect focuses heavily on the elements,
nature and the
Ancient Ones. With a great knowledge of healing and the magikal qualities of nature,
including plants, animals and stones, this tradition is most commonly linked to in the
Neo-Pagan sects. Aided by the little people, gnomes and fairies, Celtic magik is full of
fun, mirth and mythology.
A combination of Celtic and Native American traditions, specifically Cherokee.
Focused primarily on Celtic origins. Formed in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee,
the Carolinas and southwestern Virginia, it’s a tradition born from intercultural
exchanges and marriages between these two cultures.
Deborean Wicca
An American eclectic tradition which attempts to reconstruct Wicca as it was before
‘The Burning Times’ or the European witch craze.
A very famous husband and wife team from England, Janet and Stewart Farrar
compiled and researched many of the ancient and modern sects to pull the best parts of
all into one. Many of today’s modern sects are in one way or another based on these
studies and compiled materials.
Based on family traditions passed on generation to generation, (does not included
Channeling). Also called “Family Trades”, it is up for debate how far back on the
family tree one must go to meet the conditions of this sect. The traditions can be
passed on to blood relatives or adopted offspring which have been raised within the
family ceremonies and rituals. The beliefs are typically Celtic in nature, but include a
smattering of many of the current and ancient structures, as well as, many home spun
Also of Scottish tradition, this sect focuses heavily on all aspects of nature. It is a
solitary form of Craft.
Neo-Pagan Craft and other traditions
Founded in the 1960s by Alex Sanders in England, this sect is loosely based on the
Gardenarian beliefs. Sanders built his sect in England and called himself “King” of the
British Traditional
A mix of Celtic and Gardenarian rituals it is the most famous organization in the
International Red Garters society. This sect is based on the Farrar studies of Wicca
and is exceptionally structured in belief and ritual. A witch becomes part of the Coven
through a training, education and degree process.
Also called “the Feminist” movement of the craft, this sect focuses on the Goddess
aspect of Witchcraft. It was first brought to major attention in 1921 by Margaret
Murray and includes aspects of many Classical and Gothic traditions.
Faeri/ Faery Wicca
This tradition places an emphasis on the Fae (gnomes, elves, faeries, sprites, etc.),
their lore, and their relation to the natural world. Many associate this tradition with an
ancient fairy race called the Tuatha De Danaan, the mythological precursors to the
Celtic people. It is often, but not always, associated with the Faery tradition founded
by author Kisma Stepanich.
Feri Wicca
Not to be confused with Faeri Wicca. Feri Wicca is based on Victor Anderson’s (1917-
2001) was developed in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. It is an ecstatic, rather than a
fertility, tradition stemming from the teachings of Cora and Victor Anderson . Strong
emphasis is placed on sensual experience and awareness, including sexual mysticism,
which is not limited to heterosexual expression
Gardnerian Wicca / Wicca
Named after it’s founder Gerald Gardner in England during the 1950s. Gardner wanted
to ensure that the Old Religion not become extinct by all the new found knowledge
and inter-mixing of beliefs. He took his cause to the media at great personal risk to
bring his cause and information to a new younger audience in order to bring growth
and life to the ancient traditions.
Based on the Saxon beliefs, this sect is very closely related to the Gardnerian
traditions. Without breaking his oath, founder Raymond Buckland wanted to pull the
ancient rituals into modern language and acceptable ceremonies. In 1973 his dream
became a reality with the organization of Seax-Wicca, bringing Witchcraft into the
public as a very positive force.
Eclectic Witches are those that follow no specific tradition or path, but feel free to
borrow or incorporate may different customs or beliefs into their practices. They
understand the fundamental rules of magick, but creat rituals to suit their own personal
needs and tastes. One might be equally adept with working wit Celtic, Greek, Hindu
or Egyptian Gods. They can be solitarty or work within a group. This free-form style
of witchcraft is one of the most popular because it grants freedom and lacks a
hieracrchal structure. Inistiation can be given or self-given.
Christian Wicca or Witchcraft
Often, Eclectic Witches have no reason to give up thir original Christian faith, and
instead incorporate elements of both into their personal traditions. Folk magick
survived by veiling itself in Christianity and incorporatiing the mythology. They are
often looked upn differently or even treated poorly by other Pagans or Christians who
see the 2 religions as incompatible. They are very often solitarires.
Asatru is a form of paganism strongly associated with Wicca, but it’s followers are
devoted to the Aesir, or rulers of Norse mythology. They often focus on rune magick
and can be considered conservative as they focus on their own Norse heritage and
traditions. They do not tend to incorporate traditions from other customs. Sometimes
they are called Heathens.
Egyptian magick is alive and well although it has gone through many changes over the
years. The followers have tried to reconstruct as best they could from the myths, texts
and ancient mysteries left behind. Many people are dwran to the images or symbols
even if they don’t parctice the traditions
Part 3
The Wiccan Rede
“Rede” is derived from an Old English word “roedan” which means to guide or direct.
One common version of the Rede is:
“An it harm none, do what thou wilt.”
(“An” and “wilt” are Old English words for “if” and “want to.”)
Origin of the Wiccan Rede:
The original source for at least part of the Wiccan Rede appears to be by a 16th century
novelist, François Rabelais.
“DO AS THOU WILT because men that are free, of gentle birth, well bred and at home in
civilized company possess a natural instinct that inclines them to virtue and saves them from
vice. This instinct they name their honor.”1
This concept appears to have been adopted by Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) in his Law of
Thelema which is contained in his 1904 book Liber AL vel Legis (The Book of the Law).
Many believe that Crowley received the text of the Law from an angelic entity named
“Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are
therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of Earth. Do what thou wilt
shall be the whole of the Law.” 2
Later in the Book of the Law is a verse which states: “Invoke me under my stars! Love is the
law, love under will. Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love. There is the
dove, and there is the serpent. Choose ye well! He, my prophet, hath chosen, knowing the law
of the fortress, and the great mystery of the House of God.” 3
Excerpts from these two verses are sometimes quoted together as two commandments: “Do
what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” “Love is the law, love under will.”
Ellie Crystal writes: “Most Thelemites hold that every person possesses a True Will, a single
overall motivation for their existence. The Law of Thelema mandates that each person follow
their True Will to attain fulfillment in life and freedom from restriction of their nature.
Because no two True Wills can be in real conflict …this Law also prohibits one from
interfering with the True Will of any other person.” 4
Crowley initiated Gerald Gardiner into the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) in 1946. Gardner
may have taken the phrase from Rabelais and Crowley: “do what thou wilt,” grafted it onto a
clear, unambiguous expression to do no harm, and produced the Wiccan Rede as we know it
An alternate explanation is that the Rede was extracted directly from the Wiccan Credo which
some Wiccans believe was written circa 1910 CE by Adriana Porter.
Comparing the Wiccan Rede with behavioral rules of other religions:
The Wiccan Rede is one of many Ethics of Reciprocity which are found in essentially all of
the world’s religious texts. In Christianity, the Ethic of Reciprocity is sometimes called the
Golden Rule. It urges believers to treat other people decently. For example, in Christianity,
three of the 50 or so Gospels which circulated in the 1st century CE state:
• “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to
them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12, King James Version.
• “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Luke 6:31,
King James Version.
• “…and don’t do what you hate…”, Thomas 6.
Those Ethics of Reciprocity which are found in non-Wiccan religions concentrate on one’s
duties to other people. The Wiccan Rede goes further by also prohibiting a Wiccan from
engaging in an action that hurts themselves.
The Pentateuch — the first five books in the Hebrew Scriptures — lists 613 behaviors that the
ancient Hebrews were expected to either adopt because they are not sinful, or avoid because
they are wicked. These laws are referred to as the Mosaic Law. About two dozen of these
behaviors are grouped into the Ten Commandments. In contrast to the 613 specific
injunctions, the Wiccan Rede consists of only one general rule which is intended to govern all
Most religions teach very specific rules of behavior. The Roman Catholic church, for
example, sorts them into two categories: mortal and venial sins. In contrast, the Wiccan is not
given a list of prohibited and compulsory actions. They forced to consider all of the likely
ramifications of each action before deciding whether it meets the standard of the Wiccan
Rede. It can only be performed if it is free from harm. Judy Harrow writes: “The Craft,
assuming ethical adulthood, offers us no rote rules. We will always be working on incomplete
knowledge. We will sometimes just plain make mistakes. Life itself, and life-affirming
religion, still demands that we learn, decide, act, and accept the results.”
Robin Woodsong writes: ” ‘Do as you will and harm none’ is not an easy way to structure
morality. We have difficult personal choices to make and hard decisions to follow. It would
be much simpler if all aspects of our lives were regulated, and the rules and regulations
written down and posted. No more thinking, no hard choices, no more struggling over ethical
Part 4 The Laws
We are of the Old Ways, among those who walk with the Goddess and God and receive Their
Keep the Sabbats and Esbats to the best of your abilities, for to do otherwise is to lessen your
connection with the Goddess and God.
Harm none. This, the oldest law, is not open to interpretation or change.
Shed not blood in ritual; the Goddess and God need not blood to be duly worshipped.
Those of our ways are kind to all creatures, for hurtful thoughts are quiet draining and aren’t
worth the loss of energy.
Misery is self-created; so, too, is joy, so create joy and disdain misery and unhappiness. And
this is within your power. So harm not.
Teach only what you know, to the best of your ability, to those students who you choose, but
teach not to those who would use your instructions for destruction or control.
Also,teach not to boost pride, forever remember: She who teaches out of love shall be
enfolded in the arms of the Goddess and God.
Ever remember that if you would be of our way, keep the law close to your heart, for it is the
nature of the Wicca to keep the Law.
If ever the need arises, any law may be changed or discarded, and new laws written to replace
them, so long as the new laws don’t break the oldest law of all: Harm None.
Blessings of the Goddess and God on us all.
The Law of Return
The Law of Return means that what you do affects what happens to you. If you do good, good
is going to happen to you; if you do evil, evil will happen. The Law of Return exists in every
religion in one form or another. In some it’s given a multiplier. Good and bad are said to come
back upon you three- or tenfold. It is, of course impossible to measure the return of
somrthing. What we know is that through cause and effect, actions or thoughts when lifted up
into the cosmos are amplified before returning. So it is always important to be aware of what
we send out.
The Ethic of Self-responsibility
Simply put, We and only we, are responsible for our own actions.
The Ethic of Constant Improvement
The desire to improve the world around us, guided in part by the Law of Return.
Ecology, teaching and preaching tolerance, racial harmony and reverence for the arts and
history, and living one’s life toward peace are important examples. Only by being constant in
our learning, and growth, do we help prevent intolerance.
The Ethic of Attunement
Divinity is within us and around us, and becoming in-tune with this power is a major facet of
1. We, in our Self, are divine. No one is in control of us except us.
2. The Gods/other powers are divine. The gods/goddesses are more like parents.
3. Earth is a living being. Each individual being, plant, animal or mineral on Earth is a part of
that being. Everything has a spirit of its own.
QUESTIONS- To be answered in your journal.
1. What were your impressions about what you read ? Did anything surprise
you ? Was this new information or had you already read some of this ?
2. Who in your opinion is the most influencial person in the history of the
« Craft »?
3. How do you feel knowing that Wicca is not an old religion, but a new one ?
Does that diminish it for you or make it more attractive? Why or why not ?
4. Amongst the descriptions of the different traditions, was there one or more
that you found interesting ? If so what was it ? Do you practice one already ?
5. How do you interpret the Rede ? Do you find it liberating or limiting ? Will
you adhere to the Rede in your own practices ? why or why not ?
6. How do these laws compare with any other traditions that you have followed
in the past ?
7. What does the « Law of Return » mean to you ? How will this impact your
actions ?
. Earth is a living being. Each individual being, plant, animal or mineral on Earth is a
part of that being. Everything has a spirit of its own.
8. How do you feel about this statement ? Does it resonate with you ?
9. In your own words define the words « Witch » and « Witchcraft » without
looking up any definitions.
10. After reading this how does it affect your thinking on your path that you have
taken? Does it feel more excited to learn more?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s