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The New Witch War

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on December 20, 2010 | Comments (8)

When I first began to study Wicca and Witchcraft (which at the time were considered synonymous), there were several things that were accepted as “fact.”

  • Nine million Witches were burned during the Inquisition or “Burning Times.”
  • Wicca was the rebirth of an ancient religion.
  • Various Witches were going to disagree with each other as to what was real Witchcraft and who were really Witches, leading to what can generously be called “Witch Wars.”

Well, the “wars” were at best minor skirmishes, primarily between some very ego-driven people, most of whom have been forgotten. I’m inclined to think the reason they were relatively small was simply because communication was not as fast or widespread as it is today—at the time there was no internet.

Since that time most Pagans have come to accept that such Witch Wars happen. I was peripherally involved in one a few years ago when one Pagan writer attacked some others for a couple of sentences they had published decades ago. Chances are you didn’t hear about that “war” because it was so bizarre and the people who instigated it simply couldn’t maintain the passion of their “army.”

Most Pagans also accept that the number of women killed during the Inquisition for Witchcraft was well under 100,000. Some have made estimates of under 50,000 or lower. In my opinion even one was too many, but it was a far cry from nine million.

And finally, most Pagans seem to accept that Wicca was a “reconstruction” of ancient Pagan religions, not a continuation. Or at least they did until a decade ago.

Triumph Triumphs

In 2000, Ronald Hutton published The Triumph of the Moon. It quite literally showed that Gerald Gardner created Wicca, deriving it from scholars, novelists and poets. In short, Wicca, and modern Witchcraft, was invented.

At first controversial, The Triumph of the Moon has become standard reading among occultists and Pagans (and among anti-Wiccans). Eventually, many Wiccans just swallowed hard, accepted Hutton’s scholarship, and said that Wicca and Witchcraft today are valid on their own, even if they don’t come from some ancient and once-universal goddess-worshiping religion.

Cracks in the Wall

But there were cracks in Professor Hutton’s logic. Specifically, he was looking at a limited area and expanding it to cover other areas. Carlo Ginsburg, in The Night Battles (1994), had shown evidence that there were Witchcraft groups in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries. For those of you interested in traditional Italian Witchcraft, I can recommend the works of Raven Grimassi.

But if Ginsburg and Grimassi created a crack in the “accepted truth” of Hutton’s thesis, is it possible that there are larger holes? Recently, a man named Ben Whitmore did an exhaustive examination into Hutton’s book. The result is a new book entitled Trials of the Moon. Whitmore has made most of the book available as a free download HERE.

In Trials, Whitmore alleges that Hutton was not completely accurate,misinterpreting some of his sources, making very selective quotes, and making conclusions not justified by the facts. It is important to note that Whitmore is not a scholar and does not claim to be. He does not say “Whitmore is wrong and here’s the real story.” He wisely, in my opinion, just shows that Hutton’s thesis is not as accurate and bulletproof as many have believed.

The War Rages!

The results has been a written firestorm of anger, accusations, and personal attacks, a real Witch War in the blogosphere. Why is there so much venom? My assumption is that many people have attached themselves to either believing fully in Hutton or disagreeing with him. Now that someone has come up with evidence questioning Hutton, people are taking sides, grabbing verbal swords, and battle lines across the internet are being drawn.

Unfortunately, the battle between the supporters of Triumph and those of Trials is extending beyond reason and logical argument. Not only are they attacking Hutton and Whitmore, they’re attacking each other with all sorts of insults and name calling. As Rodney King, whose beating by the police was a contributing factor to the L.A. riots of 1992 stated, “Can’t we all just get along?”

My friends, strong disagreements over the background of a religion are nothing new. Since the early days of Christianity, different Christian groups fought and killed each other because each believed they had the true faith. Some said Jesus was a real man. Others disagreed. The doctrine wasn’t decided until 325 c.e., and Christianity has continued to slowly evolve ever since. The same sort of bitter disagreements as to the true history of the faith have existed in other religions.

Can’t we do better? When reasonable, such disagreements are the sign of a rapidly maturing and growing religion, a faith filled with vitality. I’m not saying don’t disagree or don’t argue. Sharing different approaches and ideas can be a great thing, leading to growth and evolution. What I am saying is the same as chapter III, verse 59 of The Book of the Law, “As brothers fight ye!” The people you are disagreeing with are your brothers and sisters. By all means, stand up for what you believe. Attacking your brothers and sisters instead of debating the issues, however, won’t make you anytaller or more correct.

I suggest people should read both books and come to their own conclusions.

Reader Comments

Written By Morgan Drake Eckstein
on December 20th, 2010 @ 4:46 pm

Thanks for posting the link to the excerpt.

For me, this feels like a repeat of an early war(s). In Golden Dawn, the conclusion of Howe was heavily debated (well, actually it occasionally flares up). And a few years ago, it was Aidan Kelly, who pointed out how much of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows was lifted, that was the subject of heated comments.

Personally, I think that the truth is probably in the middle of the two extremes…or maybe that is just what I would like to be true.

Written By Curtis Steinmetz
on December 20th, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

Actually, the claim that “Most Pagans also accept that the number the number of women killed during the Inquisition for Witchcraft was well under 100,000” is just plain wrong. There are reliable scholarly sources that put the number at, near, or even above 100,000. I don’t feel any need to name those sources, though, since you don’t cite any specifics. But if you ask nicely I can enlighten you (or you could actually do some research on your own).

Also, the 9 million number is to a great extent a red herring. It might be true that one time “many Pagans” believed it, but it was never a serious claim, and anyone with the slightest intellectual curiosity never accepted it as such.

As far as “cracks” in Hutton’s “wall” go, Hutton himself has admitted all along that modern Wicca has “a distinguished and long pedigree”. It’s too bad that so few people ever bother to read what Hutton actually wrote.

Written By Blackbird "BB"
on December 21st, 2010 @ 12:27 am

It seems to me that there is bad combination of the fact we are dealing here with some very tightly held beliefs, and it would seem to me a certain ignorance at the process of Science.

From the moment Triumph was published it was inevitable that someone would challange some or all of the work and its conclusions; and Trials will in it’s turn have to anwser its own cross examination; but as you rightly point out; there is no reason that we cannot argue our positions both passionately and politely.

Thanks much for the Piece, I will be very interested in reading Trials next year. Blessings, BB.

Written By haragano
on December 21st, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

Would it not be wonderful if we put as much energy into our practice as we do into our argument…..

Written By Curtis Steinmetz
on December 21st, 2010 @ 4:48 pm

Brian Levack is the most often cited source for the lower range of Witch Hunt death tolls. But if you actually read what Levack says, he freely admits that there are two important categories of victims left out of his body-count: people who chose suicide rather than submit to torture, and those who were killed extralegally, that is, “lynched”, without the niceties of a formal trial. Levack admits that it is impossible to even estimate how many deaths are attributable to these two causes.

But Levack completely overlooks another major cause of death associated with Witch Hunts: those who died in the course of sometimes long periods of imprisonment usually accompanied by torture. Levack acknowledges that he is only counting up those who were formally charged, survived their imprisonment and trial, and were then officially condemned and executed, and he acknowledges that he knows he is therefore leaving out a possibly significant number of other victims.

Anne Barstow estimates that the real death-toll is no less than 100,000 and could be greater than 200,000.

Written By Nate Stimmel
on January 13th, 2011 @ 3:08 am

“Carlo Ginsburg, in The Night Battles (1994), had shown evidence that there were Witchcraft groups in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries.”

I never knew there was any doubt that Witchcraft in Italy survived, at least up to the Industrial Revolution.

There’s a book called “A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus” by Richard Payne Knight that documents active Paganism in Italy that was published in 1786. Google Books has a full view.

It’s ironic that even after all the horrors of the Burning Times, all the Pope needed to do was look out his bedroom window, and still find himself surrounded by Pagans.

My personal opinion is that if anything broke the thread of continuity, it was the peasantry moving into the cities and losing their connection to the land during the Industrial Revolution, and not the persecution that came before.

There’s even a neat protection charm described in the middle of the book (clench your fist and push your thumb between your ring and index finger, and extend your fist in front of you) It’s kinda like a Great Rite in your hand. 🙂

Written By Gabrielle
on April 2nd, 2011 @ 12:33 am

in my personal opinion, wiccas more about magic and personal gain. where as pagan is more about being one with mother nature and learning about the elements…. and not through books and classes. pagan is more or less hearing the wind or listening to the trees. where as wicca is like i want to cast a spell for this or for that. (not saying wicca is bad or good. just my personal opinion. there are some wiccans i know who choose not to do spells or who do not do magic for personal gain and they have earned my respect. but i think the use of spells and magic goes way too far in some people’s lives. but its their life and they can do as they wish. i still have respect for them.) i like the idea of paganism as the native americans did rain dances to help the rains come to grow the crops. : ) or the ancient egpytians who formed gods and goddesses to represent the sun setting and the moon rising. i think pagan is much deeper then wicca. but then again now a days they are seen as exactly the same thing. what i mean to say is taht wicca is far more modern and new age then pagan. pagan is classic. and wicca is modern.

Written By roberto quintas
on January 19th, 2015 @ 2:11 pm

actually, mr Hutton didn’t say tha Gardner created Wicca, in the sense that he made it from nowere. Hutton and Heselton agree that there is a root in Wicca that came from two or more witch cults from New Forest, England, just like any Witchcraft Tradition.

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