A Brief History of Wicca

A plaque commemorating Gerald Gardner, the “father” of Wicca. Submitted by the Centre For Pagan Studies at Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0.

What most people know today as “Wicca,” or “witchcraft” mainly comes from the work of mid 20th century European academics. Professional and amateur historians, sociologists, and anthropologists, like amateur anthropologist Gerald Gardner, studied isolated communities in western Europe who were clinging to ancient mystical traditions like numerology and astrology, outside of the Christian cultural mainstream. Over time, researchers like Gardner recorded their findings in books, which were released over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, giving rise to modern Pagan (or “Neopagan”) movements like Wicca.

As author Alex Mar observes, the birth of the modern internet in the 1990s completely redefined modern Paganism. According to Mar, with the rise of the internet, “solitary practitioners or witches still ‘in the broom closet,’ could seek each other out, swap spells, arrange to meet way up on the hillside behind the local Walmart. Entire virtual networks of tens of thousands of witches multiplied, connected, and fused into covens in cities and suburbs across the country.” In the same way that the internet became an important line of communication for those in the Religious Right, it was also a key factor in the development of an international and interconnected Wicca community.

With the sudden revival of Wicca in the digital age also came new sources of controversy however. From the 1990s to the late 2000s, influencers in the Religious Right like Laura Mallory would depict the growth of the Wicca religion as the product of indoctrination and moral decline.

Works cited:

Alex Mar, Witches of America. New York: Sarah Crichton Books, 2015. pp. 10-12