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TO BE WICCAN OR NOT TO BE WICCAN:


That Was The Essential Question
Page Two


By Jagannatha Prakasha (Cadifor ap Colwen) 1989

Go to: Part One of: To be Wiccan or not to be Wiccan, that was the Question


The well-read christian extremist Montague Summers has pointed out that: "The Witches believed that their master, Satan, Lucifer, the fiend, the principle of evil, was God, and as such they worshipped him with the supreme honor due to Almighty God alone, they adored him, they offered him homage, they addressed prayer to him, they sacrificed to him. The devil, Satan, was and is the god of the witches" Note #16.

Such statements, if religious biases are acknowledged, demonstrates that the Wiccan people worshipped their God long before the coming of christianity. When the christians began calling the Wiccan God by the name of their own counter-deity, Satan, the Wiccans accepted the name change, not realizing the profound implications of that transition. After all, the God and Goddess had always been known by countless names. This was nothing new. When the Romans came to the Isles many Greek and Roman Deity Names accompanied them. It was largely because of this unfortunate acceptance that the Witch trials were able to 'prove' that the Wiccans were 'devil worshipers.' The question "Do you worship the Devil?" would usually find the reply, "Why yes, of course, and proudly so." Little did they understand, in the early phases, what this name change entailed.

In the christian bible no description of the devil is offered, beyond his being the most beautiful of all angels Note #17. There is no description of his having cloven hooves, a horned head, pitch fork etc. All these attributes were added after the christians came in contact with the worshipers of the Horned One. Bill Garrett, a religion professor at John F. Kennedy University, has noted that, "If you want to understand the old gods, you must study Demonology." This is sad but true.

The Wiccans could have accepted the basic idea of Jesus crucified, had it been packaged differently. In reality, the major difference between the Horned God of the Wiccans and the christian god was that "The Christian believes that God died once for all, whereas the more primitive belief is that the god is perpetually incarnate on the Earth and may therefore be put to death over and over again" Note #18.

Assuming that the christian allegations were groundless, the existence and importance of the Wiccan God is often dismissed by contemporary intellectuals and students of religion as merely a propaganda tool of an unenlightened church. Since the stories, legends and folk beliefs in the Goddess persisted, and since the christians had encountered similar beliefs throughout their world conquests, those aspects of the Old Religion were allowed to remain more in tact Note #19. In this way the Crafte wrongly came to be viewed as an exclusively Goddess religion Note #20.

In an attempt to destabilize Crafte tradition and destroy individual faith in the Wicca [the wise leaders among the people] Witches were characterized as elderly female hags. Groundless rumors were spread that they were baby killers, cattle poisoners etc. These are the same allegations made by the Pagan Romans against the early christians before christian ascendency there. Once the papacy had crushed their enemies in Rome, the new religion leveled the same allegations against the Jews, Cathars, Waldensians, Knights Templar, Wiccans and others Note #21. In fact, during the Burning Times, it is said, when the christians were seeking to kill Jews, the Wiccans hid them in their basements. When christians were thirsty for Witch blood, the Jews hid us. Throughout the Burning Times the Jews and Wiccans had close political, social and religious ties (hence similarities such as "Sabbath" and "Sabbat," the Star of David and the Penticle ... etc.?)

The Sacred Cauldron, which for ages had been viewed as the source of health and well being, was condemned by the church as the 'devil's pot.' When it became evident that the christians could not destroy the Pagan people's faith in the Sacred Cauldron of Carridwen, it, and the many of the legends which surround it, were co-opted, christianized, and the holy grail traditions were born. Through an examination of those legends one has perhaps the best historically available look at the ancient Wiccan religion.

Anyone who questioned the authority of the Grand Inquisitors, or their British counterparts, were instantly accused of heresy, promptly found guilty, after torture, and killed. Shakespeare obviously knew this and so his presentation of Witches and other matters of the Old Religion of necessity were worded so as to avoid the wrath of the christian rulers. This caustion limited his artistic creativity and expression tremendously. When Shakespeare is read or watched, with this understanding, one sees frequent references and situations which, one can easily imagine, would touch the heart of a predominantly Wiccan audience while leaving the playwright plenty of room for denial should his intentions be questioned. In the Bard's plays Wiccans could draw solace and reflect upon the Old Ways in a safe environment. Attendance of directly Wiccan plays, and they did exist according to tradition, could result in torture and death.

Did such peaceful communities as the village of Blaenkych, which I will present below, actually exist? The answer is irrelevant. If they exist within the mind's eye, if they exist within the consciousness of society, or moreover, if they can exist, then they are as real as the allegedly great civilizations of our own time. Indeed, if they exist within the realm of possibility, they may be actualized within the realm of our daily experience. We normally say, "I'll believe it when I see it," but in reality, the Wiccans remind us, we'll see it when we believe it. For fundamentalist christians, for instance, the world really is filled with evil sinners and the devil really is everywhere present, seeking to damn the souls of our 'evil age,' just ask them! In the same way, by inculcating within our consciousness a world in which the Goddess and Her Eternal Consort are equally honored, we can reinitiate the glorious Wiccan Age. To the degree that that period of time was glorious, and to the degree that it really existed, it can be reclaimed. To the degree that it did not, it can be established. Its up to us.

The Burning Times, that period in which the Old Religion was driven underground in Europe and North America by christian religious and political intolerance, did not happen all at once. It was a slow process which, in the end, forced the traditional peoples to conceal their beliefs and practices for centuries, confining them mainly to family traditions and remembrances. As a result, throughout the Crafte of the Wise there exists an indeterminate number of diverse though inter-related traditions. The full breadth of the religion therefore remains unknown. Unfortunately, as the younger generations are becoming increasingly disinterested in the lore of their ancestors, much of this information is being lost with the death of aged Wiccans. What is sadly certain is that what is commonly known as neo-Paganism, with all the lore and tradition it possesses, has but a slight portion of the Wiccacrafte and much of what remains will be forever lost in our generation if something is not done quickly to recover it.

As christianity entered Europe, and the Isle of Britain, it attached itself to the cities and political rulers. The cities were therefore converted fairly quickly and with little resistance by order of politically-converted rulers. The countryside however was a very different matter. As christian intolerance increased in the cities those who refused to convert to the "death cult" fled to the heath, where they became known as Heathens. In time the rulers sought to extend their control to those regions, and hence their religion, causing violent confrontations between the Old Religion and the new.

In many ways Britain was more tolerant than the Continent. For a very long time the church enacted laws against the Crafte, but seldom enforced them. As a result British Wiccans lived their lives with comparatively little difficulty while Continental Pagans, Wiccans and others, suffered fierce opposition. The Wiccan people living under English rule bid their time, hoping the christian invaders would fall and go away. By the twelfth century however it became obvious that that would not happen. People throughout the Continent and the Isles became more bold. Many of their sacred Rites were brought into the open again and Wiccan leaders such as Helen Philipps, of Pembroke, Mrs. Robinson, of Kidderminster and Mabel Brigge, of York, boldly proclaimed the rebirth of the Old Religion and the death of the new.

William the Conqueror subdued England in 1066 after the Battle of Hastings with, according to the De Getis Herwardi Saxonis, the help of English Wiccans. Despite this, the Crafte was not made free and many Wiccans fled to my ancestral homeland, Wales. In Wales and the Isle of Mann the Old Religion continued to flourish long after it was forced underground in England, Ireland and Scotland.

Although William managed to force Welsh leaders to pay him tribute, the people remained virtually independent. As years past Henry I, Henry II, Richard I, John and Henry III all sought to destroy the Wiccan Welsh homeland without success. Then, in the thirteenth century, the Welsh hero and prince Llewellyn unsuccessfully rebelled against Edward I and Wales fell. It was then that Edward I proclaimed his eldest son Prince of Wales in 1284. Since that time, as is known, the successor to the British throne has always held this title and the Welsh people have remained within the greater British commonwealth. Despite the English conquest however, the Welsh have managed to maintain their mother tongue and many of the old Rites have been packaged as harmless customs and thus survived to our day. As these public Rites are conducted many of the participants know their origins and continue to observe them as sacred Rites. Likewise, the Old Religion is still quite popular in Wales, although it remains largely underground.

Beginning in the thirteenth century therefore the christian rulers moved to quell the spread of the 'Wiccan heresy' and force their subjects to disavow their religion. On the Continent this attempt culminated in the Inquisitions. Fortunate for the British Wiccans, England never invited the Inquisition authorities to the Isles. It is for this reason that despite the fierce persecution which took place throughout Britain, it never had the force or success it did in the rest of Europe. This is also why today there is more hereditary Witchcraft in the Isles than in the rest of Europe combined.

As Philip the Fair, King of France, intensified his attack on the Knights Templar (accusing them of sodomy, blasphemy, and idolatry) a small contingent of Inquisitors were admitted into England as a concession to examine the English members of that Order. Since torture was not allowed however they had no significant influence or success. Torture was widely employed in Britain later however, especially Witch-dunking, but it required the decree of a Royal Prerogative which was not granted the Inquisitors.

In 1542 a very severe anti-Wiccan statute was enacted, but again, it had little direct impact. It was later repealed by Edward VI as one of his first royal acts.Note #22. A similar law was issued in 1563 which had far darker results.

It was not until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that serious persecution began in the land of Shakespeare. When Mary Tudor ascended the throne many radical Protestants were forced to flee to Calvinistic strongholds such as Strasburg, Geneva and Zurich. In those towns Witch persecution was raging and it is believed by many that when these people returned to England they brought back with them their fear and hatred of Witches. Regardless of the accuracy of this view, beginning in 1563 Witch persecution in England began in earnest.

Considering the fierceness of Witch persecution on the Continent and the relative peace in England, the Wiccans, assuming they had, if not the support then at least the tolerance of their British neighbors, continued to 'come out of the broom closet' as the Protestant exiles returned. This resulted in what no doubt seemed to be a major revival of the Old Religion, but which was, in reality, merely a public reaffirmation of the vast support and popularity of the religion. Partly as a result of this, christian bigots such as John Jewel, the Bishop of Salisbury and one of Queen Elizabeth's advisors, maintained that the number of Wiccans in the land had grown out of control. In a sermon he presented before the Queen at some point between November 1559 and March 1560 he spoke against the perils of Witchcraft. He warned that:

...this kind of people (I mean witches and sorcerers) within the last few years are marvelously increased within your grace's realm. These eyes have seen the most evident and manifest marks of their wickedness. Your grace's subjects pine away even unto death, their color fadeth, their flesh rotteth, their speech is benumbed, their senses are bereft. Wherefore, your poor subjects' most humble petition unto your highness is, that the law touching such malefactors may be put in due execution. For the shoal of them is great, their doings horrible, their malice intolerable, the examples most miserable. And I pray God they never practice further than upon the subject (The Works of Jewel, ed. Parker Society, 1845-50).

The Elizabethan Act of 1563 was replaced by a much stronger Witchcraft act in 1604, due to the desire of James I (the same King James who ordered the creation of a new bible, known as the authorized king james version). In 1590 a conspiracy was discovered in which a Coven of Wiccans sought to destroy James due to his persecution of the Old Religion. The Wiccans of North Brerwick, who often met in the church parish itself, began a bold plot to restore the Old Ways through the auspices of Francis, the Scottish Earl of Bothwell and cousin of King James. This noble attempt failed however and the Wiccan Earl was executed for Witchcraft and sedition in January of 1591 on the Castle Hill in Edinburgh.

As time passed more and more British Wiccans were executed. The last English execution for the crime of Witchcraft was that of Alice Molland, who died by hanging at Exeter in 1684. In 1712 Jane Wenham, of Walkern, in Harfordshire was tried, convicted and sentenced to death, but she was spared due to a pardon from the Queen.

The issue was not yet resolved however. In 1717 a Jane Clarke, along with her son and daughter, were accused at Leicester. They were subjected to the standard tortures.

The Witchcraft Act of 1736 finally removed the crime of Witchcraft from the Statute Book. Legal English Witch persecution therefore lasted 173 years, from the reign of Elizabeth I to that of George II. Will Shakespeare lived from 1564-1616 so the fierce persecutions raged from 1563, a year before his birth, to 1736, well after his death. The Bard's entire life, therefore, was lived in the face of this bloody persecution.

No one can be certain of course, but it is quite possible that over 20 million people died as a result of the christian church's attack on its European predecessor. The numbers in the British Isles were undoubtedly less as the Burning Times did not reach, even at their worst, the fury of those elsewhere. Despite this however, thousands of people died in Britain on this and related charges. For the most part, all that was required was a single witness. The courts cared little about who that witness was, a business rival, a spurned lover, a child, any person could have any other person put to death by a single accusation without regard to evidence of any kind. The fact that Shakespeare, living under these conditions, made any statements at all concerning the Old Religion are amazing. Certainly, the Witches of MacBeth are depicted as old hags, but his symbolism implied little of the Devil and spoke greatly of their knowledge and abilities. Throughout his plays Shakespeare says just enough to reflect not only his knowledge of their existence, but also his admiration for them.

As I said above, some refer to Shakespeare as Lyin' Willie. One reason for this is that it is obvious from his works that he knew a fair amount about the Crafte, yet in his ten histories he supports the christian hierarchy's positions and seems more concerned with courting the approval of Queen Elizabeth than reporting the truth. Note #23 He seldom if ever makes it clear that the Wiccan rulers were generally more just than their counterparts; this is particularly true in the case of Henry of Richmond and the Wiccan Richard of Gloster, whom Wiccans say was a good and just ruler. In fact, he does not even make it clear that much of the political turmoil of his day was the result of the brutal christian subjugation of the Wiccan populace.

These accusations, it seems to me, are valid in many ways. Undoubtedly those Wiccans who lived during his time and were repeatedly disappointed by their portrayal in his plays had cause for dissatisfaction with the Bard. By the same token however, it seems only fair to understand that had Shakespeare gone farther in his defense of the Wiccan Cause he would have been killed and his plays destroyed. The fact that he repeatedly acknowledges their existence as a substantial community is a great contribution. Had it not been for people such as Shakespeare modern opinion would undoubtedly have viewed the British Witches in the same light they view the Salem Witches, that they were merely the product of mass hysteria (an inaccurate opinion of course). Thanks to Will Shakespeare however, the world knows that during his time, at least, real Witches did exist. As for Salem, Wiccan tradition holds that by that point the American Witches were too wise and sophisticated to be caught. The people who were killed in this country as Witches were primarily Cowen Note #24. innocents who were framed, eccentric or mentally ill. Personally, I consider the Bard to be a most heroic man and one who was in all likelihood a Wiccan himself.

In support of this view are a number of interesting facts but no proof. For example, Will's father, John Shakespeare, was a man with a promising future. He began his adult life as a humble glove-maker and farmer. Soon after marrying Mary Arden, the daughter of a powerful land owner in 1557, he became a member of the governing body of Stratford. In 1558 he became a constable, in 1561 one of two chamberlains, in 1565 an alderman, and in 1568 a baliff, the town's highest political office. Then, with seemingly everything going for him, he simply dropped out of politics. Unlike most men in his position, no public record was made of the birth of John Shakespeare's eldest son (Will). It was as if this prominent man had never existed. This is a great mystery unless one considers the growing Witch persecution at the time. It seems quite likely that he either resigned out of fear or compulsion. Again, we don't know for certain.

Old Man Witty told me that Will Shakespeare was a Wiccan who traded the Old Religion for success on the christian stage, yet sought to aid its continuance as best he could. I of course do not know, but I like Witty's answer. In any case, when seeking to understand his plays it is essential to keep in mind the prevalence of Wiccacrafte during his life.

The End


Go to: The Dark Days Come to Blaenkych, A True Fiction by Jagannatha Prakasha (Cadifor ap Colwen)

Go to: To be Wiccan or not to be Wiccan, that was the Question, Notes and References

Go to: Part One of: To be Wiccan or not to be Wiccan, that was the Question

Go to: The Roam'n Church Presents: Spirituality for a New Age

Go to: The Roam'n Church Presents: Reaching for the One


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