Contemporary witchcraft

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Contemporary witchcraft or modern witchcraft refers to the various traditions of witchcraft practiced in the present day.[1]

Contemporary witchcraft is largely a subset of greater Modern Paganism.[2]


In the years following the witch-hunts of early modern Europe and North America, little information of Witches trickled into the public space (from Witches nor from those who claimed to know of Witches).[3] However, this began changing in the early to mid-20th century. In the 1920s, the long-standing witch-cult hypothesis gained increasing attention in occult circles.[3] Though the hypothesis itself was largely falsifiable, it spurred renewed interest in witchcraft - this time with new eyes and free of the panicked bias of years past.[3]

However, the same can not be said for the rest of the world. While the witch-hunts of Europe and North America are for the most part non-existent, the fear and persecution of witchcraft is still present in "countries that have suffered years of conflict where traditional social structures have disappeared and where child soldiers have often emerged as a threat".[4] The report from the United Nations Human Rights Council continues to state that elderly women and children are most often the targets of accusation and are "often abused, cast out of their families and communities and in many cases murdered".[4]

While something such as this is difficult to prevent as it is still very much widespread, certain cases help provide possible solutions for dealing with the issue. Dasmani Laary states that the "government of Ghana, in a historical move, has closed down one of the many witches' camps at Bonyasi, a community in Central Gonja District in the northern part of the country, housing suspected witches for years without trial."[5]

English revival[edit]

Main article: History of Wicca
New Forest in Hampshire where the father of Wicca, Gerald Gardner, states he encountered the New Forest coven

Following the repeal of the UK's 1736 Witchcraft Act in 1951, Witches were able to practice openly without fear of legal prosecution. This paved the way for a revival of "the Craft". Occult author and founder of the tradition now known as Gardnerian Wicca,[3] English occultist Gerald Gardner was a figure at the forefront of this early revival and popularization.[3] He was instrumental in bringing Contemporary Paganism to public attention. After Gardner's initiation in the New Forest coven, he began supplementing their ritual with borrowings from Freemasonry, Western ceremonial magic, the Golden Dawn, and the writings of Aleister Crowley. However, he claimed his tradition was a faithful continuation of pre-Christian religion in Europe.[6]

Gerald Gardner was not the only person claiming to be a member of a surviving remnant of old European witchcraft. Others such as Sybil Leek, Charles Cardell, Raymond Howard, Rolla Nordic and Robert Cochrane also claimed to have been initiated by their ancestors and to be following "Hereditary" or "Traditional" forms of witchcraft.[7] They alleged Gardner was propagating a modern, less true form of witchcraft. For a time, there were attempts to reconcile and unite all the emerging traditions of the 1950s.

English historian Ronald Hutton notes that modern pagan witchcraft is "the only full-formed religion which England can be said to have given the world."[8]

Westward expansion[edit]

Following its establishment abroad, Gardnerianism was brought to the U.S. in the early 1960s[9] by English initiate Raymond Buckland and his then-wife Rosemary, who together founded a coven in Long Island.[3][10][11] In the U.S., numerous new variants of Wicca then developed.[9]


Due to the secrecy prevalent among Witches (and Pagans as a whole), establishing exact numbers pertaining to witchcraft is difficult.[12] Nevertheless, there is a slow growing body of data on the subject.[13]

United States[edit]

Based on the most recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, there an estimated 1.2 million Pagans in the United States.[14] Six per mill of respondents answered "Pagan" or "Wiccan" when polled.[14]

According to Dr. Helen A. Berger's 1995 survey, "The Pagan Census", most American Pagans are middle class, educated, and live in urban/suburban areas on the East and West coasts.[15]

Education Percentage[15]
Claimed to have at least a College degree 65.4%
Claimed to have Post-graduate degrees 16.1%
Claimed to have completed some college or less 7.6%
Location Percentage[15]
Urban areas 27.9%
Suburban areas 22.8%
Rural areas 15.8%
Small towns 14.4%
Large towns 14.4%
Didn't respond 5.6%
Ethnicity Percentage[15]
White 90.4%
Native American 9%
Asian 2%
Hispanic 0.8%
African American 0.5%
"Other" 2.2%
Didn't respond 5%

Growth in recent years[edit]

Contemporary witchcraft has been extremely difficult to pinpoint due to many religious surveys grouping it with general Paganism, stigmatization from much of the outside world, and poor public opinion. This causes the demographics to fluctuate drastically and become difficult to track. All that can be said accurately of Contemporary Witchcraft growth rate is that “as of 2001 the ARIS organization reports that contemporary witchcraft saw a 1.575% growth rate between 1990 and 2001, effectively a doubling of adherents every two years.[16] Additionally according to the limited tracking that the ARIS has kept Contemporary Witchcraft has kept it from being continually and accurately tracked. However Contemporary Witchcraft has seen many spikes in recent years. These spikes can be attributed to growth, an increase in practitioner’s willingness to report, and increasingly positive views of Contemporary Witchcraft in America.[17]


Main article: Wicca

Wicca English pronunciation: /ˈwɪkə/ is a modern pagan religion that draws on a diverse set of ancient pagan religious motifs for its theological structure and ritual practice. The religion usually incorporates the practice of witchcraft. Developed in England in the first half of the 20th century,[18] Wicca was later popularised in the 1950s and early 1960s by Gerald Gardner.[3] Gardner was a retired British civil servant, and an amateur anthropologist and historian who had a broad familiarity with pagan religions, esoteric societies and occultism in general. At the time Gardner called it the "witch cult" and "witchcraft", and referred to its adherents as "the Wica".[19] From the 1960s onward, the name of the religion was normalised to "Wicca".[20]

Gardnerian Wicca[edit]

Main article: Gardnerian Wicca

Gardnerian Wicca, or Gardnerian witchcraft, is the oldest tradition of Wicca. The tradition is itself named after Gerald Gardner (1884–1964). Gardner formed the Bricket Wood coven and in turn initiated many Witches who founded further covens, continuing the initiation of more Wiccans in the tradition. The term "Gardnerian" was probably coined by the founder of Cochranian Witchcraft, Robert Cochrane in the 1950s or 60s, who himself left that tradition to found his own.[21]

Alexandrian Wicca[edit]

Main article: Alexandrian Wicca

Alexandrian Wicca is the tradition founded by Alex Sanders (also known as "King of the Witches")[22] who, with his wife Maxine Sanders, established it in Britain in the 1960s. Alexandrian Wicca is similar in many ways to and largely based upon Gardnerian Wicca, in which Sanders was trained to the first degree of initiation.[23] It also contains elements of ceremonial magic and Qabalah, which Sanders studied independently. It is considered one of Wicca's most widely recognized traditions.[24]

Eclectic Wicca[edit]

While the origins of modern Wiccan practice lie in coven activity and the careful handing on of practices to a small number of initiates, since the 1970s a widening public appetite made this unsustainable. From about that time, larger, more informal, often publicly advertised camps and workshops began to take place and it has been argued[25] that this more informal but more accessible method of passing on the tradition is responsible for the rise of eclectic Wicca. Eclectic Wiccans are more often than not solitary practitioners. Some of these solitaries do, however, attend gatherings and other community events, but reserve their spiritual practices (Sabbats, Esbats, spell-casting, worship, magical work, etc.) for when they are alone. Eclectic Wicca is the most popular variety of Wicca in America[26] and eclectic Wiccans now significantly outnumber lineaged Wiccans; their beliefs and practices tend to be much more varied.[27]

Cochrane's Craft[edit]

Main article: Cochrane's Craft
Genuine Witchcraft is Defended

I am a witch descended from a family of witches. Genuine witchcraft is not paganism, though it retains the memory of ancient faiths.

It is a religion mystical in approach and puritanical in attitudes. It is the last real mystery cult to survive, with a very complex and evolved philosophy that has strong affinities with many Christian beliefs. The concept of a sacrificial god was not new to the ancient world; it is not new to a witch.

Roy Bowers incognito, November 1963 issue of Psychic News[28]

Roy Bowers, a.k.a. Robert Cochrane (1931–1966), founded "Cochrane's Craft", a form of traditional witchcraft, in opposition to Gardnerian Wicca. Cochrane's Clan of Tubal Cain worshipped a Horned God and a Triple Goddess, much akin to Gerald Gardner's Bricket Wood Coven. Cochrane himself disliked Gardner and his take on Wicca, and often ridiculed him and his Craft.[29] While the Cochran Tradition uses ritual tools, they differ somewhat from those used by Gardnerians, some being the ritual knife (known as an athamé), a staff (known as a stang), a cup (or commonly a chalice), a stone (used as a whetstone to sharpen the athame), and a ritual cord worn by coven members.[30]

At a gathering at Glastonbury Tor held by the Brotherhood of the Essenes in 1964, Cochrane met Doreen Valiente, who had formerly been a High Priestess of Gardner's Bricket Wood Coven.[31] The two became friends, and Valiente joined the Clan of Tubal Cain. Cochrane often insulted and mocked Gardnerian witches, which annoyed Valiente. This reached an extreme in that even at one point in 1966 he called for "a Night of the Long Knives of the Gardnerians", at which point Doreen "rose up and challenged him in the presence of the rest of the coven".[32]


Reclaiming is a tradition of modern, feminist witchcraft. It is made of an international community of women and men working to combine witchcraft, the Goddess movement, earth-based spirituality, and political activism. The tradition developed in the classes and rituals of its predecessor, the Reclaiming Collective (1978–1997). It was founded in 1979, amidst the peace and anti-nuclear movements, by two Neopagan women of Jewish descent, Starhawk (Miriam Simos) and Diane Baker, in order to explore and develop feminist Neopagan emancipatory rituals.[33] Today, the organization focuses on progressive social, political, environmental and economic activism.[34]

Sabbatic craft[edit]

Sabbatic craft, a term coined by Andrew D. Chumbley, is described as "an initiatory line of spirit-power that can inform all who are receptive to its impetus, and which – when engaged with beyond names – may be understood as a Key unto the Hidden Design of Arte."[35] Chumbley sometimes referred to the Nameless Faith,[36] Crooked Path, and Via Tortuosa.[35][37] He reserved "Sabbatic Craft" as a unifying term to refer to the "convergent lineages"[35] of the "Cultus Sabbati," a body of traditional witchcraft initiates.[37] The Sabbatic craft is a path of traditional witchcraft.

Chumbley's works and those of Daniel Schulke on the Cultus Sabbati's "ongoing tradition of sorcerous wisdom"[36] continue to serve as the prototypical reference works. The craft is not an ancient, pre-Christian tradition surviving into the modern age. It is a tradition rooted in "cunning-craft," a patchwork of older magical practice and later Christian mythology.

‘Sabbatic Craft’ describes a corpus of magical practices which self-consciously utilize the imagery and mythos of the "Witches' Sabbath" as a cipher of ritual, teaching and gnosis. This is not the same as saying that one practises the self-same rituals in the self-same manner as the purported early modern "witches" or historically attested cunning folk, rather it points toward the fact that the very mythos which had been generated about both "witches" and their "ritual gatherings" has been appropriated and re-orientated by contemporary successors of cunning-craft observance, and then knowingly applied for their own purposes.

— Andrew Chumbley defining Sabbatic Craft [35]

In his grimoire Azoëtia, Chumbley incorporated diverse iconography from ancient Sumerian, Egyptian, Yezidi, and Aztec cultures.[37] He spoke of a patchwork of ancestral and tutelary spirit folklore which he perceived amidst diverse "Old Craft" traditions in Britain as "a gnostic faith in the Divine Serpent of Light, in the Host of the Gregori, in the Children of Earth sired by the Watchers, in the lineage of descent via Lilith, Mahazael, Cain, Tubal-cain, Naamah, and the Clans of the Wanderers."[35] Schulke believed that folk and cunning-crafts of Britain absorbed multicultural elements from "Freemasonry, Bible divination, Romany charms, and other diverse streams,"[37] what Chumbley called "dual-faith observance," referring to a "co-mingling of ‘native’ forms of British magic and Christianity".[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mastin, Luke (2009). "Contemporary Witchcraft". Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  2. ^ Berger, Helen (1999), "1", A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States, Columbia, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, p. 10, ISBN 1-57003-246-7 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Buckland, Raymond (2002) [1986], "Lesson One: The History and Philosophy of Witchcraft", Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft (Second edition, revised & expanded ed.), Llewellyn Publications, ISBN 0-87542-050-8 
  4. ^ a b "Witches in the 21st Century". Witches in the 21st Century. 2009-08-24. Retrieved 2016-02-11. 
  5. ^ Laary, Dasmani (2014-12-19). "Ghana shuts down witches' camp". Retrieved 2016-02-11. 
  6. ^ Phillips, Julia (2004) [1991], History of Wicca in England: 1939 to the Present Day (PDF), the Australian Wiccan Conference in Canberra (2004 Revised ed.), Canberra 
  7. ^ Hutton, Ronald (1999). Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford University Press. p. 305. 
  8. ^ Hutton, Ronald (1999). The Triumph of the Moon. Oxford University Press. p. vii. ISBN 9780192854490. 
  9. ^ a b Lipp, Deborah (2007), "Chapter 2: Modern Wicca Described", The Study of Witchcraft: A Guidebook to Advanced Wicca, San Francisco: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, p. 13, ISBN 978-1-57863-409-5  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "tsow_p13" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  10. ^ Hutton 1999 pp. 205–252.
  11. ^ Clifton 2006. pp. 24–25.
  12. ^ Berger, Helen (1999), "Chapter I: Background", A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States, Columbia, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, p. 9, ISBN 1-57003-246-7 
  13. ^ Robinson, B.A. (4 April 2008), Estimates of the number of Wiccans in the U.S., Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, retrieved 3 September 2012  External link in |publisher= (help)
  14. ^ a b Pitzl-Waters, Jason (26 February 2008), Parsing the Pew Numbers, Patheos, archived from the original on 16 July 2011  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "pew_religion_survey_2008" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  15. ^ a b c d Berger, Helen (1999), "Chapter I: Background", A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States, Columbia, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, pp. 8 & 9, ISBN 1-57003-246-7 
  16. ^ Kermani, Zohre (2013). Pagan Family Values: Childhood and the Religious Imagination in Contemporary American Paganism. NYU Press. p. 197. ISBN 978-1479894604. 
  17. ^ "How many Wiccans are there?". Retrieved 2016-02-12. 
  18. ^ Hutton, Ronald (1999). The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press. p. vii. ISBN 0-19-820744-1. 
  19. ^ Gardner, Gerald B (1999) [1954]. Witchcraft Today. Lake Toxaway, NC: Mercury Publishing. ISBN 0-8065-2593-2. OCLC 44936549. 
  20. ^ Seims, Melissa (2008). "Wica or Wicca? - Politics and the Power of Words". The Cauldron. 
  21. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 122
  22. ^ Johns, June (1969). King of the witches: The world of Alex Sanders. P. Davies. ISBN 0-432-07675-1. 
  23. ^ Rabinovitch, Shelley; Lewis, James R. (2004). The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism. Citadel Press. pp. 5–6. ISBN 0-8065-2407-3. 
  24. ^ See Adler, Margot (1979). Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Viking. ISBN 0-670-28342-8. , and Farrar, Janet; Stewart, Bone, Gavin (1995). The Pagan Path. Phoenix Publishing. ISBN 0-919345-40-9.  , among others.
  25. ^ Howard, Michael (2009). Modern Wicca. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn. pp. 299-301.
  26. ^ Smith, Diane (2005). Wicca and Witchcraft for Dummies. Wiley Publishing. Pg. 125.
  27. ^ "British Traditional Wicca F.A.Q.". Sacramento, CA: New Wiccan Church International. Archived from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  28. ^ "The Rebirth of Witchcraft", page 120f.
  29. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, page 122
  30. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, page 123
  31. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 117
  32. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, page 129
  33. ^ Salomonsen (2002:1)
  34. ^ Starhawk (1995), The Five-Point Agenda,, Starhawk, retrieved 10 September 2012  External link in |publisher= (help)
  35. ^ a b c d e Chumbley, Andrew D.; Howard, Michael; Fitzgerald, Robert (February 2002). "An Interview with Andrew D. Chumbley" (PDF). The Cauldron (103). In essence, the Crooked Path Teachings intend a direct means of autonomous initiation into the Knowledge of the Magical Quintessence. [permanent dead link]
  36. ^ a b Chumbley, Andrew D. (May 2002). "Cultus Sabbati: Provenance, Dream and Magistry". The Cauldron (104). Archived from the original on 2010-06-19. 
  37. ^ a b c d e Schulke, Daniel A. (November 2006). "Way and Waymark—Considerations of Exilic Wisdom in the Old Craft". The Cauldron (122). Archived from the original on 2011-07-28. 

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