The origins of modern Paganism and Witchcraft continue to be hotly debated
and discussed among practitioners. This is not intended to be anything
like an exhaustive history, but rather an introduction to some of the main
strands of modern Paganism. (For an exhaustive history of British
Witchcraft, I highly recommend Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon.
A more wide-ranging history of American Pagan movements can be found in
Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon.)
For each basic "type" of Witchcraft described here, I give a brief idea of
the historical background and then list some of the hallmarks of that
practice which we may recognize. I also present some criticisms which have
been made by others about this type of Witchcraft, and I then list some
authors who are associated with this tradition.
I have not attempted to include every tradition here. For descriptions of
traditions by their practitioners, go to the Witches' Voice Pagan Traditions website.
In addition, this page is not about my opinions and beliefs; it is about
my understanding of the nature and history of the modern Pagan movement.
If you feel I have misrepresented one of these types of witchcraft, or
made a factual error that you would like to correct, feel free to email me
so we can discuss it. (Email address at bottom of
I haven't always cited my sources on this page, because some of this
information comes from my experiences with different groups or
conversations I've had with practitioners. However, I have tried to add
information on sources and/or reading material that people might want to
refer to, and I will continue adding these sources as I find them. I
have also tried to add web links giving further information where I
think they may be helpful.
Dion Fortune was a twentieth-century occultist who also wrote fiction
(such as The Sea Priestess). Israel
Regardie was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn who
has written some well-regarded books on ceremonial magic. Gareth Knight was a
member of the Society of Inner Light and has written a number of books on
occultism and ritual magic.
Obviously these groups are very different from each other, as are the
cultures they study; however, here are some points of commonality:
Scholarly devotion: Most members of reconstructionist groups
are meticulous scholars. They frequently learn ancient languages and
spend a lot of time studying ancient primary and secondary sources in
order to better understand their chosen culture. For example, in order to
be an elder in some Ásatru groups, an individual must have a PhD in
some field related to Norse language, literature, or culture.
Emphasis on ritual form: Many reconstructionist groups work
hard to adhere to the traditional form of their culture's rituals; or, if
they have re-invented some facets of the rituals, they work hard to adhere
Conservative values: Members of reconstructionist groups are
probably more likely than the Pagan community as a whole to identify
themselves as conservative or libertarian and to value "traditional"
family structures, small government, the right to bear arms, national
warfare (when deemed necessary) and so on. This point is most true of
Ásatru practitioners, but I believe it also holds true for a number
of other reconstructionist groups.
Limitations: I have rarely met anyone who doesn't have some respect
for the amazing scholarly efforts put forward by cultural
reconstructionists. Sometimes they are criticized for being too "bound"
to tradition and being unwilling to create new ritual structures as
needed. (One Hellenic reconstructionist provides an interesting rebuttal
to these charges.)
In addition (although this is not a criticism), sometimes there
is a poor fit between some reconstructionist groups and the larger Pagan
community when it comes to political and social values. (A great
discussion of this can be found here.)
Finally, some reconstructionist movements have been charged with racism (in
particular Norse-inspired groups). It is true that some white supremacist
groups follow the Nazi tradition of twisting ancient symbols or myths to
represent their cause. However, most groups in this segment of the pagan
community would be horrified to hear that any elements of their practice
were used in the service of racism.
Some well-known authors in these fields include: Edred Thorsson,
Isaac Bonewits, Alexei Kondratiev.
(However, as noted, practitioners in
these fields often turn to scholarly and academic sources for information
The Church of All Worlds came into being
in the 1960's as a result of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange
Land, a novel which tells the story of a human who was raised on Mars
and brings his Martian spirituality back to Earth. CAW members have a wide
range of beliefs but are likely to be pantheistic (believing that the
divine is immanent - present in everyone). CAW tends to focus on
restoring harmony with nature and harmony within human relationships.
Here are some features of CAW:
Sharing Water: Since water is revered in this tradition, the
primary act of fellowship among CAW practitioners is sharing a drink of
water with someone, who then becomes your "water brother" or "water
sister," a trusted member of your family.
"Thou art God/dess": This statement is made by one practitioner
to another to describe how the divine is present within each of us.
(This has been adopted by many other pagan groups, but its origin is
Nests: Nests are the CAW equivalent of covens: a close-knit
family of individuals who practice their spirituality together.
Sacred sexuality: Sexuality is honored as an important
part of spirituality, and many CAW members practice some form of "free
love" or polyamory (in fact, the term polyamory was coined by a CAW
The Discordian Movement was loosely inspired by a couple of works: the
Discordia, which became popular in the 1960's, and the
Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
(published in 1975). To better understand the Discordian worldview, it is
imperative to read the Principia Discordia, so that you may partake
in the Sacred Chao and eat hot dogs without buns on Friday. Hail Eris!