The Basic Split in Pagan Witchcraft
As I posted earlier, the issue of The Pomegranate now in press has an article about Robert Cochrane, one of the first English witches to use the term “traditional” in opposition to Gerald Gardner’s Wicca, back in the 1960s. In fact, my own current researches are going to force me to grapple with that term and its permutations quite a bit.
The term “traditional” is tossed around a lot more now than in past decades, but the clashes between various forms of revived Witchcraft started quite some time ago — in the 1960s, at least. Some of the infighting appeared in a short-lived publication called Pentagram, arguably the first English-language Pagan zine. Note the headline, “Before Gardner—What?”
Gerald Gardner himself had died earlier that year, so he could not say anything. There might be a connection with the timing of the article!
The unsigned short article complains, in essence, that Gardner’s version of Witchcraft is getting all the press attention. It continues, “Now as you must know, there are a number of other groups, quite apart from the little group in which I am interested, who practice various forms of Magic and Witchcraft. Now why does the Press make no mention of them . . . ?” and goes on to speak of “hereditary covens” and about Witchcraft is a “complicated and all-embracing way of life.”
There you have one split that has persisted to this day. Against Gardner’s claims of unbroken ancient tradition (which I do not think that any Wiccan leader would advocate today), you have another set of claims: that there are non-Wiccan groups that do not seek publicity (yet are apparently insulted that they do not receive it), that are “hereditary” in some sense, and that are more demanding of their members than some mere Stone Age fertility cult allegedly rediscovered in southern England.
Was that Cochrane writing ? Possibly. He did write for Pentagram under his own name as well. And the use of “sock puppets” predates the Internet. The idea of being more “complicated” sounds like something he might have said.
The appeal to (undocumented) tradition and other logical fallacies are still found in “Traditional Witchcraft,” but there can be something else as well, something healthy and refreshing. I will return to this topic in the near future.