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Ch.2 Baptism (WMB 2.b)

Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.

Looking at Gardner’s writings, we see he consistently used the spelling ‘Wica’ in his books, and also in his dealings with the media. The term ‘Wicca’ only occurs in his last book The Meaning of Witchcraft in 1959, and then only in a discussion of the etymology of the word from Anglo-Saxon times. Even in the biography Gerald Gardner: Witch, the term used is ‘Wica’. From this it is clear that Gardner did not invent the use of the term ‘Wicca’, as we will now further demonstrate.

We will start with a use contemporary to Gardner’s and which is unlikely to have influenced him, where the term was found in an early draft of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Two Towers.<1> Christopher Tolkien, the son of J.R.R. Tolkien, recorded the way in which his father worked in a twelve volume set. In volume seven The Treason of Isengard, he mentions that J.R.R. used the term Wicca in reference to the characters of Gandalf and Saruman. These two characters would both be referred to as wizards and as part of the Wise throughout the rest of the trilogy. In addition to being one of the best known and loved fantasy fiction writers of the twentieth century, having penned works such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; J.R.R. Tolkien was of course also a scholar of Old English and his (unpublished) application of this term took place in 1942, only a few years before it was used by Gerald Gardner. This clearly shows a use of the term contemporary with, yet completely unrelated to its usage by Gardner, illustrating that the word was not forgotten as some would have us believe.

More than twenty years prior to Tolkien, Lewis Spence made a few passing references to the term ‘Wicca’ in his book An Encyclopædia of Occultism published in 1920, saying (amongst other things):

"The Anglo-Saxon system of magic was of course Teutonic. Their pretenders to witchcraft were called wicca..."

In the book Gypsy Sorcery, published in 1889 by Leland, author of Aradia, we find a yet earlier reference to the term ‘Wicca’ where he used it in a footnote as part of a definition for the word Witch:

“Witch. Medieval English wicche, both masculine and feminine, a wizard, a witch. Anglo-Saxon wicca, masculine, wicce, feminine. Wicca is a corruption of witga, commonly used as a short form of witega, a prophet, seer, magician, or sorcerer.”

Again this shows a use of the term, this time by an author, whose work, as we will see later in this volume, had and continues to have, a huge impact on the Wiccan tradition. Also we must comment that Gardner himself referred to the book Gypsy Sorcery in his work The Meaning of Witchcraft. This illustrates that even more than fifty years before Gardner would use the term, it had not fallen into complete disuse, and that Gardner was probably aware of earlier uses. In fact, Leland seemed to think that it was “commonly used”, and indeed he seems to have been right. We have found dozens of references spanning the entire nineteenth century which refer to the term, too many to list here and besides, many are repetitive and quite basic. We will however include a couple just for those readers who are curious to see examples of its usage.

In 1856 we find the term mentioned in The History of the Anglo-Saxons by Thomas Miller:

"Scarcely an obscure English province is without its wise-man, or cunning fortune-teller, those lingering remains of the Wicca of the Saxons…"

In 1854 the term moreover appeared in Hereward of Brunne, a short story, published in Ainsworth’s Magazine, as a term used for a wise-woman healer who is considered to be witch:

"At the sound of his voice the creature slowly rose, and the young man drew back aghast, while the word 'Wicca' escaped from his lips. 'Wicca! - ay, Wicca!' sneered the hag. 'Start ye wat my winsome face? Is your purpose less ugly than I am? Come ye for a witch's med'cine - ratsbane is the best! Come ye for her blessing - better have another's curse."

Some have suggested that the term ‘Wicca’ might be a corruption of the Saxon witega, which in turn means ‘prophet’ or ‘seer’. This is now widely disputed and some scholars are suggesting that it might come from the Indo-European root-word ’wek’ which means ‘voice’. This idea would then define a witch as someone who invokes or summons supernatural power through the use of their voice.

J.A. Picton in his work Hall, Wych, and Salt Works in Notes and Queries, 1874, suggested a different meaning for the word ‘wicca’ based on the Low German rather than the Anglo-Saxon.

“He derives the term wich from Low German wijck or wicca, sacred, devoted, alleging that the Northern nations attached great sanctity to salt springs from their healing qualities.”

There are many examples of the term Wiccan being used throughout Old English Christian texts, usually to describe practitioners of witchcraft, in most instances specifically female and in a non-complimentary manner. In other words the Wiccan was usually viewed as someone who was involved in diabolic and necromantic magick. One such example can be found in the tenth century writings of Ælfric of Eynsham (955-1010CE):

“Gyt farað wiccan to wega gelæton and to hæþenum byrgelsum mid heora gedwimore and clipiað to ðam deofle, and he cymð hym to on þas mannes gelicnysse þe þæ lið bebyrged swylce he of deaðe arise, ac heo ne mæg pæt don pæt se deada arise hire drycræft.”

“Witches still travel to where roads meet and to heathen graves with their illusory skill and call out to the devil and he comes to them in the guise of the person who lies buried there, as if he would arise from the dead – but she cannot really make it happen, that the dead man should arise through her wizardry.”<2>

Here we need to take note that the wiccans are working their necromancy at the crossroads, a place where the bodies of those who committed suicide or who, in some other manner were considered to be unclean were buried. Ælfric evidently did not believe in their ability to raise the dead either, instead he believed it to be some form of illusion or that the wiccan herself was being tricked by the devil into believing that she was raising a dead man. It is worth noting that although necromancy does not form a part of the Wiccan Tradition today, a variation of its practices are as popular as ever in the form of modern spiritualism, though graveyards play a far lesser role.

The term wiccan also makes an appearance in texts such as The Sermon of the Wolf to the English which was composed by Wulfstan II, the Archbishop of York and Bishop of Worcester around 1014 CE. He wrote it under the penname Lupus, meaning ‘wolf’. In it he named wiccans alongside other unpleasant characters such as plunderers, thieves, pledge-breakers, perjurers and murderers, to name but a few. Once again this indicates the use of the term to describe people who are not considered to be of an agreeable character.

Thus it is clear that the term ‘Wiccan’ has historical precedence, and is not a modern invention, even though it would seem that it was not in use by practitioners in the 1950’s. However, in 1958 the term ‘Wiccen’ was introduced into the modern public arena, through an article entitled The Craft of the Wiccens, by Charles Cardell, published in Light magazine. Cardell was initially friendly with Gardner, but the two men fell out in 1958. Cardell subsequently published much of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows as an exposé in his book Witch in 1964, and also republished Leland’s Aradia in the early 1960s. Beyond a derogatory use by Robert Cochrane in an article in Pentagram magazine no.2 in 1964 when he referred to “the illusionary world of Ye Olde English Wiccen”, this term was never widely used.

By the seventeenth century witchcraft was widely linked with more specifically demonic magick, hence the French librarian and bibliographer Gabriel Naudé wrote in 1625 distinguishing four types of magick: divine, theurgic, goetia or witchcraft, and natural magic.<3> Goetia, which literally means ‘howling’ and also refers to a specific grimoire for summoning demons and fallen angels, is considered illicit magick, unsanctioned by the divine, and by association the same is true of witchcraft. This was not a new association, as the term goes was used in ancient Greece to describe a wizard or sorceror, and was itself derived from the term goetia which was equated to witchcraft even then.

Likewise in the grimoires, when reference was made to witches, it was as associates of the devil, perpetuating the accepted medieval stereotype. Pictures found in the grimoires reinforced this view, showing magickians inside magick circles for protection, whilst witches wandered freely amongst the demons outside the circle, having already sold their souls to the devil, such as in the fourteenth century MSS Cotton Tiberias A VII.

It was not only the monotheistic religions which had an issue with witches. In the thirteenth century Poetic Edda, Odin’s dislike of witches is made clear when he describes how he kills the astral bodies of witches in spirit flight by preventing them from returning to their physical bodies. He said:

“If I see witches riding through the air

I do something to make them lose their way

And they never find their own skin again

And they never find their own spirit again.”

This negative attitude to witches is seen elsewhere in Norse writings, such as the description in Diplomatarium Islandicum (1281) that “they would enchant or work witchcraft to ride men or cattle”, and Norges gamle Love (Norway’s Old Law) that “No man shall have in his house a stave or altar or witchcraft or sacrifice or anything that is known to be heathen custom.”

It should be apparent from what has been shown thus far that the term ‘wiccan’ is simply an old word meaning ‘witch’ when translated into modern English. As such there is no reason why these words should not be used interchangeably from an etymological point of view. The word ‘wicca’ does thus provide us with a term, which has been given a new meaning based loosely on the old, and is understood in a wider sense to mean what we know as the practices and beliefs of the Wiccan Tradition as it stands today. The classification of all magickal practices which incorporate a high percentage of natural magick as witchcraft is one which has been with us for some time. The term ‘witch’, although different definitions are being applied within modern pagan circles, is still widely recognised by the general population, in the English language and through its corresponding words in other modern languages, as being descriptive of an unpleasant person who uses magick for evil and negative purposes.


<1> Volume 2 of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954

<2> Leechcraft, Stephen Pollington, 2000

<3> Apologie pour tous les grands personages qui ont esté faussement soupçonnez de magie, Naudé, 1625

Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.



My name is Sorita d'Este

and this is my website and blog!  Thanks for visiting - I hope you are finding what you are looking for!


Many years ago I dedicated myself to the pursuit of both esoteric knowledge, and an understanding of polytheism, the Gods and Nature.  I have been a full-time writer, author and publisher, specialising subjects linked to the occult, witchcraft, Paganism, mythology, ancient religions and magic - and all kinds of things in between since 2003. 


I live on a hill in Glastonbury, overlooking the marshes of Somerset,  a place of myth and legend, and a crossroad for many different religions. Here I am frequently found digging and growing, serving my fluffy rescue cat and navigating the unknown with my teenage son.  

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