The above title comes from this month’s meeting in which, for once, the men outnumbered the women. Briseilid very kindly volunteered her home for last Tuesday’s meeting and seeming that she had recorded the documentary of the same name, we decided to watch that.
For those of us in the UK, ‘A Very British Witchcraft’, is actually old news, but for a few people (like myself) who don’t watch Telly; this was quite new.
The documentary was researched and presented by Professor Ronald Hutton. Most people love Hutton, his anachronistic fashion sense (Timelord?), his cheery, affable and charming demeanor that have become almost symbolic of a man who’s books are the product of a mind who looks past supposition and preconceptions. And quite a few don’t like him, mainly because his scholarly pursuit of historical facts can destroy the foundations of subjects that were long considered, quite erroneously, the norm.
AVBW began with a look at the ‘fastest growing religion in the world’ otherwise known as Wicca. Hutton gives us the flavour of what most people who are interested in the Craft expect: a reverence for Nature, worship of the Goddess (which one? all of them it appears) and a tradition that can trace itself back to a thousand or so years to the Cunning Folk and organised Witchcraft cults of the last millenium. Only for him to explain that there is no unbroken link of sacred Witchcraft and that the modern religion of Wicca was in fact initiated by a man called Gerald Gardener back in the 1940s.
The rest of the documentary went on to follow the history of Gerald Gardner, who had a real interest in the folk traditions of Britain and a belief in magic. He seemed an eccentric fellow who really believed in what he wanted there to be: a real British Pagan religion that wasn’t dead… but very much alive.
I found the documentary a little ‘so-so’. Its nothing I didn’t already know before except the bit when it revealed Gardner’s fascination with the African folk religions as well as taking influence from their concept of dancing as an energy-raising activity. I did appreciate that even though I knew quite a lot of this already (Yeah, I’m a swot, so what?), this film would have been the first time, to a lot of people, the revealed history of perhaps the most famous of Pagan paths.
In the Pagan world, there is a prejudice towards Wiccans. Myself and Thorsson had a recent conversation about this regarding his question: ‘Why do Pagans hate Wiccans so much?’ I mean, what is there to actually hate? They respect Nature, they follow the rule of ‘An it harm none’ (which deserves a blog all of its own…), they celebrate the eight-festival cycle of the Wheel of the Year, along with us Druids, and they have a belief in divinity. This last doesn’t apply to everyone, but it applies to a good deal of people.
I actually attended ‘A Day For Ronald Hutton’, as did River, last September and one of the subjects of debate that also became the most prevalent may help give an answer: The difference between Craft initiated and Wiccan self-initiated.
The difference being that to be a member of the Craft, you must earn your place and gain a sponsor who will introduce you into the ways of the Craft until you are accepted into the coven. Once initiated, the coven become your spiritual family and help you to learn the mysteries of the Craft. So like Modern Druidry, Witchcraft is a mystery tradition. Wiccan self-initiated applies to those who buy the books and follow the guidelines on how you can initiate yourself and even become a priest/priestess. In short, the latter is seen as a dilution of the former and so a ‘we are better than them’ mentality begins to apply to both sides.
Another reason is the stereotype of Wiccans amongst Pagans who aren’t or don’t consider themselves Wiccan. Corset wearing young ladies with flowers in their hair buying angelic tarot cards, reeking of patchoulie and squealing with despair whenever anyone walks on a blade of grass. Personally, I’m a fan of attractive women in corsets, witches or not!
There is also the view that some new Wiccans have about what Wicca is: a pagan religion that goes back to Anglo-Saxon times and beyond, that all witches are Wiccans and all Wiccans are Pagan, when in truth not all witches are pagan and not all Pagans are Wiccans.
We Druids can’t really fall into this trap of prejudice without attacking ourselves. Modern Druids are vastly different from Classical Druids, even the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids gained a lot of influence from a Welshman who made things up. Both Modern Druidry and Wicca share a lot in common: both can be traced back to the Golden Dawn (Circles being cast, quarters being raised), both have a reverence for Nature and a respect for divinity, both grew into their own during the 20th century.
I have no idea if Gerald Gardner was actually trying to create a ‘True British Pagan Religion’ or preserve the ‘Old Ways’, but I do think he did one hell of a job in getting people to listen to the goddesses and gods of old. And for that, ALL of us who consider ourselves “Pagan” owe him a great debt.