After centuries of which hunting by the Church, it finally seems that the pagan practice of witchcraft is now a legitimate and official religion. The name ‘Wicca’ has been in use since the 1960s, after an official resurrection as a neo-pagan system of practices and beliefs. While it is true that the Wiccan system mainly exists in the same areas that Christianity do does in modern Europe and North America, however its rise cannot perhaps be interpreted as a backlash in the face of Christian orthodoxy. However there is a significant correlation of prevalence of Wicca with Anglo-American culture, as Wicca is most prevalent in North America including Canada, Australia and its birth-place England.
Paganism always has had a complex relationship with early Christianity, but the systematic witch hunt all across medieval Europe cannot be all ascribed totally to the imperatives of the Catholic Church. There was a widespread public paranoia against black magic, and the ‘dark forces’ that lead to destruction and evil. Yet the hysteria was driven more by poor living conditions, disease and superstition, and sadly, the Catholic Church willingly lent its theory of Satanism to further this hysteria. German monk Dominik Kramer was instrumental in the writing and publication of the text Malleus Malificarum (The Hammer of the Witches) , essentially a manual on the identification, torture and execution of witches based on theologically ratified principles of ‘harm’ that witches could bring upon Christendom. By the end of the 18th century witch hunting terminally declined across Europe, as the Renaissance started gaining a foothold.
So what explains the the resurgence of the sorcery, witchcraft and the Druid religion in the 20th century and beyond ? One one hand perhaps pagan polytheism, a belief in a God and Goddess (wicca is technically duotheism – two Gods) , was embedded in our psyche as folk or cultural memories. More than any belief in the occult, it represented perhaps a return to our folk roots, bringing in new ideals of ecology, feminism and a powerful and emotionally evocative sense of oneness with nature. Though the actual number of practitioners of the modern Pagan faith and witches cannot be truly ascertained, some authorities estimated the total number to be close to 250,000 in 2001, having grown substantially over the last decade. (1) In 2010 October, the Druid network in the UK was accorded official status, those reversing centuries of marginalization and persecution.
But Wicca is perhaps a much larger movement than being just a religion. Despite the use of magic and witchcraft in its rituals as a common denominator, there are perhaps several ideological sub-strands within it. Some Wiccans loosely identify themselves with the New age movement, syncretizing views from other religious and philosophical systems. A substantial number of self initiates are often young, urban, educated professionals, who do not see science as a barrier in the way of rituals. Perhaps it can be best explained as an example of true modern religion, which is personalized down to its very core through the absence of dogma.
1 Pagans campaign for Census voice. Extracted from the BBC website : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12589641
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