The history of Wicca, also known as The Craft, is complex but traditional Wicca is rooted in the so-called “British Mystery Traditions”. For example, the Picts, who existed before the rise of Celtic consciousness, the Celts, and some Celtic Druidism. Wicca predates Christianity by about 28,000 years. A variety of archaeological discoveries reveal that the history of Wicca can be traced as far back as the Paleolithic peoples who worshipped a Hunter God and a Fertility Goddess. Cave paintings, that are dated at around 30,000 years old, depict a man with the head of a stag, and a pregnant woman standing in a circle with eleven other people.
Modern American Wicca has its roots in British Wicca, brought to the United States in the late 1950’s by English and American initiates of Gardnerian, Alexandrian and Celtic Wicca. These are different forms of Wiccan tradition. All of these cultures form part and parcel of the history of Wicca.
The ancient Greek Mysteries of Eleusis, Italian Mysteries of Rome, Etruria, Mysteries of Egypt and Persia before Islam, and various Babylonian, Assyrian and other Mideastern Mysteries also find a place in the history of Wicca and its beliefs and traditional practices. Perhaps the best way to describe Wicca is to call it a modern religion, based on ancient witchcraft traditions. But do bear in mind that not all those who practice witchcraft today are Wiccas.
Wicca is both a belief system and a way of life. Over the years, information about how Wiccan ancestors lived and worshipped has been lost due to actions of the medieval church. However, modern Wiccas have tried to reconstruct the history of Wicca in an effort to lay the foundation for their practices.
During ancient times Wicca was called “The Craft of the Wise”. This name was derived from the fact that most Wiccas aligned themselves with the forces of nature. They also had knowledge of herbs and medicines, gave council and were important in the village and community as Shamanic healers and leaders. The history of Wicca indicates that Wiccas once had a prized place in society which is quite a contrast to how they are viewed today.
Ancient Wiccas felt that humans were not superior to nature, the earth, and its creatures. Instead, they were only one aspect of the world. The idea of sustainable development to maintain balance and equilibrium was central to the belief systems of the ancient Wicca. The history of Wicca is a far cry from the way that humankind views the earth today.
In the last several hundred years, witchcraft and witches have been incorrectly labeled as evil and unrighteous. Where do these ideas that form so much a part of the history of Wicca originate? Some Wiccas believe that the medieval church of the 15th through 18th centuries created these myths. This was done in an effort to convert people to Christianity. The history of Wicca contains many stories of the persecution of witches based on so-called “evil practices”.
Another theory about the history of Wicca is that as medical science became more prominent in society those who did these initial studies did not understand female physiology, especially menstruation. This mystery seemed to fit in with the church's agenda in labeling healers as evil heathens and placing power and respect in the hands of male physicians.
Many of these myths and superstitions have survived in modern times giving The Craft a bad name. While Wicca is essentially witchcraft, those who practice it usually do not refer to it as such because of these negative connotations. The history of Wicca is important since it is the persecution of those who practiced it that has led to its current ethics of religious freedom first.