Witchcraft – Whence and Wither?

The academic study of Witchcraft (and Western Esotericism) is progressing, in pace with many other d

The growth in the practice of Witchcraft has been substantial, since the 1950’s when the last Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed in England. It is estimated that there are approximately 40,000 “Pagans” in England and Wales (UK Census, 2001), with over 7,000 of these mainly white, middle-class, and significantly female, respondents identifying themselves as ‘Wiccan’.

I have just returned from the inaugural conference of ESSWE, the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism, held in Tubingen, Germany, to be asked by the New Statesman online team to write this introduction to Witchcraft. It appears that the religion is now recognised in both Academic circles and in the Media, an acknowledgement of its status in post-modern society.

In popular culture, on television I can watch repeats of the witchcraft-based popular films, Charmed, Bewitched, or the series Buffy the Vampire-Slayer, featuring the Wiccan heroine, Willow, or even Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

At a more dedicated level, at the ESSWE conference, an academic gave a presentation on the three-year Priestess Training Program offered by the Glastonbury Goddess Temple.

The words diverse and eclectic barely do justice to the growth and variety of all forms of restored pagan spirituality!

The growth in interest in all the forms of Witchcraft is continuing apace. Self-initiated solitary witches, Hedgewitches, concentrate on the craft and folklore aspects of paganism, Dianic Witches focus on the Feminine, and Progressive Witchcraft calls for a re-evaluation of contemporary practice. Camps and Conferences, such as Witchfest are annual events attracting hundreds of participants.

The Internet is a significant tool in this expansion. In fact, whilst the internet was developing, witches were already active within the nascent online communities. The 1985 survey by Margot Adler, published in the comprehensive study of American Pagans, Drawing Down the Moon, was surprised to discover that 16%, the highest single percentage for any profession, of pagan respondents were involved in Computers and Technical careers.

The online, Magicka School has 25,000 members who have signed-up for lessons in Witchcraft, Tarot and Kabbalah since March 2006, and the site receives 1,500 new members a month. It attracts students from all over the world, primarily in the US and Europe, who follow modular online courses, take exams, and engage in lively forums ranging from “Brews and Broths” to “Spellbinding Books”.

Will Witchcraft continue to develop and attract more participants? I think so. The religion of Witchcraft is pre-attuned to growing environmental concerns and offers an antidote to the technological rush of modern society. It speaks to a discarded connection with nature and the feminine. It tolerates divergence and independence, and establishes a personal relationship with the seasons. This wheel of the seasons is seen as both an external occurrence, but also as an exemplar of dynamic inner change, learning and development.

We started this four-part series with an individual initiation inside a magical circle, and now our circle here can be made open but unbroken. Blessed Be.