Article Info

published: 4/16/05
update: 2/10/14

Timeline of Neopaganism, Wicca and Witchcraft



A Chronology of Neo-Pagan beliefs

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Neo-paganism is a worldview that focuses its attention on a variety of ancient religious activities that exalt the natural world. This belief system has many different expressions, one of which is Wicca. The Wiccan path of Neo-paganism emphasizes speels and goddess worship, borrowing ideas and practices from ancient Greco-Roman religion. While this belief system was popular inantiquity, it has experienced a resurrgence in the Western world in recent years. (Also see Greco-Roman religion)

With such a wide variety of beliefs and expressions, organizing a timeline can be challenging. The intention of the table below, therefore, is to act as a starting point for more in-depth study.




A timline of Neo-Pagan development

2000 BC

Babylon's Code of Hammurabi instructs, "If a man has laid a charge of witchcraft and has not justified it, he upon whom the witchcraft is laid shall go to the holy river; he shall plunge into the holy river and if the holy river overcome him, he who accused him shall take to himself his house."

3rd cent. AD

Under the pre-Christian Roman Empire, punishment of burning alive was enacted by the State against witches who brought about another person's death through their enchantments.

306 AD

The Christian Council of Elvira (Canon 6) refuses last rites to those who had killed a man by a magical spell because such a crime could not be effected "without idolatry" (i.e. the help of the devil).

313

Conversion of Emperor Constantine; Christianity is granted official toleration by the Roman Empire.

314

Canon 24 of the Council of Ancyra imposes five years of penance upon those who consult magicians. Here, the offence lies in participation in paganism.

785

The Council of Paderborn rules that sorcerers are to be reduced to serfdom and made over to the service of the Church.

906

The document De ecclesiasticis disciplinis ascribed to Regino of Prüm describes popular notions of witchcraft and states it is the duty of priests to "instruct the people that these things are absolutely untrue and that such imaginings are planted in the minds of misbelieving folk, not by a Divine spirit, but by the spirit of evil."

1080

Pope Gregory VII writes a letter to King Harold of Denmark forbidding witches to be put to death upon presumption of their having caused storms, failure of crops or pestilence.

1225

In Germany, the secular law code "Sachsenspiegel" designated death by fire as the proper punishment for witchcraft.

1258

Pope Alexander IV instructs, "The Inquisitors, deputed to investigate heresy, must not intrude into investigations of divination or sorcery without knowledge of manifest heresy involved." "Manifest heresy" is defined as: "praying at the altars of idols, to offer sacrifices, to consult demons, to elicit responses from them... or associate themselves publicly with heretics."

1275

The first "witch" is burned to death after judicial sentence of an inquisitor, in Toulouse, France. Her name was Hugues de Baniol and she "confessed" to having given birth to a monster after intercourse with an evil spirit and to having nourished it with babies' flesh which she procured in her nocturnal expeditions.

1300-30

Beginning of the witch trials in Europe.

1334

Large-scale witch trial in Toulouse, France, in which 63 persons were accused. Of these, eight were handed over to the state to be burned and the rest were imprisoned.

1374

Pope Gregory XI declares that all magic is done with the aid of demons and thus is open to prosecution for heresy.

1400

Peter de Gruyères, a secular judge, carries out large-scale witch trials in Bern, Switzerland.

1435-50

Number of witch trails rises sharply.

1484

Pope Innocent VIII publishes the bull Summis desiderantes affectibus ("Desiring with the Greatest Ardor") condemning witchcraft as Satanism, the worst of all possible heresies. The bull also officially grants Heinrich Krämer and James Sprenger, Dominican inquisitors, the right to prosecute persons of any class or any form of crime.

1486

Heinrich Krämer and Jacob Sprenger publish Malleus maleficarum ("The Hammer of Witches"), a learned but misogynistic book blaming witchcraft chiefly on women. It was reprinted many times thanks to the newly-invented printing press and was a major influence on the witch-hunt hysteria of the next two centuries. It was regarded as the standard handbook on witchcraft until well into the 18th century.

1530s

Prosecutions for witchcraft begin in Mexico.

1532

The penal code Carolina decrees that sorcery throughout the German empire should be treated as a criminal offence, and if it injured any person, the witch was to be burned at the stake.

1572

The Protestant ruler of Saxony imposes the penalty of burning for witchcraft of every kind, including fortune-telling.

1580-1630

Period in which witch-hunts are most severe.

1583

121 persons are burned as witches over three months in Osnabruck, Germany.

1590

Witch trials in North Berwick, Scotland.

1609

In response to a witch panic in the Basque region, La Suprema (the ruling body of the Spanish Inquisition) issues an "Edict of Silence" forbidding all discussion of witchcraft. For, as one inquisitor noted, "There were neither witches nor bewitched until they were talked and written about."

1631

The Jesuit Friedrich von Spee publishes Cautio criminalis against the witch craze.

1647

First hanging for witchcraft in New England.

1668-76

Outbreak of witch-hunts in Sweden.

1692

Between May and October, 19 people are tried and hanged as witches in Salem, Massachusetts.

1749

The last trial for witchcraft in Germany is carried out at Würzburg.

1754

Torture is abolished in Prussia.

1782

Last known execution for witchcraft takes place in Switzerland, in the Protestant canton of Glarus.

1807

Torture is abolished in Bavaria.

1822

Torture is abolished in Hanover.

1875

Birth of Aleister Crowley, occultist who influenced Gerald Gardner.

1885

Birth of Gerald Gardner, founder of Wicca.

1890s

Aleister Crowley joins the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, of which William Butler Yeats was also a member.

1899

Charles Godfrey Leland publishes Aradia or the Goddess of the Witches.

1910

Crowley meets a leader of German Masonic order called the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), a combination of Masonic rites and the traditions of the Rosicrucians, the Templars, the Illuminists, and Bengali Tantrism. Crowley was soon initiated into the order and progressing through the degrees of the order.

1912

Crowley is named Grand Master of the O.T.O. for Great Britain and Ireland.

1921

Margaret Murray published The Witch-Cult in Western Europe.

1926

Birth of Alexander Sanders, founder of Alexandrian Wicca.

1929

Margaret Murray published her article “Witchcraft” in the 14th edition of Encyclopædia Britannica.

1939

The O.T.O. in Germany is effectively dissolved by the Nazis.

1939

Gardner joins the Folklore Society and presents a paper on witchcraft.

1939

The year Gerald Gardner claims he was initiated into a witch cult called the New Forest Coven, led by Dorothy Clutterbuck.

1940
Zsuzsanna Budapest, feminist writer and leader of Dianic Wicca, is born on January 30.

1940s

Gardner joins the nudist group The Fiveacres Country Club.

1946

Gardner begins work on High Magic's Aid, a fictional novel partially based on those of his Southern Coven. The witches of his coven opposed making their rituals public, which is why it was presented as fiction and filled out with rituals from other sources.

1947

Gardner and Edith Woodford-Grimes start a company called Ancient Crafts Ltd.

1947

Gardner meets Crowley at Crowley's home in Hastings for the first time on May 1, and visits him again several times during May.

1947

Gardner becomes a member of the O.T.O. in May and is authorized by Crowley to found an O.T.O. encampment and initiate new members.

1947

Crowley dies on December 1.

1947

On December 27, Gardner writes a letter claiming to have been designated as successor to Crowley as leader of the O.T.O. Karl Germer assumed leadership instead, and held it until his death in 1962.

1949

Gerald Gardner publishes High Magic's Aid under the pseudonym Scire.

1950

Gardner begins distancing himself from Crowley and the O.T.O. in favor of Wicca.

1950

Gardner states in a letter that Crowley had participated in the witch cult but left in disgust due to the leadership of the High Priestess and the nudity.

1951

Gardner founds the "Northern Coven" in London and holds a small rite at his home near the British Museum on May Eve.

1953
Doreen Valiente is initated by Gardner, and soon became High Priestess.

1954

Gardner publishes Witchcraft Today, an event which many regard as the founding of Wicca.

1957
Wicca splits into two factions, one that supports Gardner's growing publicity of the religion (led by Gardner) and one that opposes it (led by Doreen Valiente).

1959

Gardner publishes The Meaning of Witchcraft, in which he first uses the term "Wica."

1963-64

Gardner winters in Lebanon to help his failing health.

1964

Gardner dies of heart failure on the SS Scottish Prince in the Mediterranean. His body is buried at the next port of call, Tunis.

1989

Valiente publishes The Rebirth of Witchcraft, a first-hand account of the history and development of Wicca.

1991

Aiden A. Kelly publishes Crafting the Art of Magic, Book I, which aims to show that Gardner's Book of Shadows could be entirely traced to earlier sources.


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Sources
  1. "witchcraft." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=214883>. (April 2005).
  2. Herbert Thurston, "Witchcraft." Catholic Encyclopedia. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15674a.htm> (April 2005).
  3. Morgan Davis, "From Man to Witch: Gerald Gardner 1946-1949." <http://www.geraldgardner.com/index/Gardner46-49.PDF> (April 2005).
  4. "History of Neopaganism and Wicca." The Book of Lost Tales. <http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Cafe/1614/Celtwicc/Wicca/Wicca02.htm> (April 2005).