Contemporary witchcraft

Contemporary witchcraft

This article is about contemporary witchcraft, including, but not limited to, Wicca.

Contemporary witchcraft refers to many different types of witchcraft practices of the 21st century. One of the most widely known witchcraft practices is Wicca, a Pagan religion, which first appeared in the early 1950s after the repeal of anti-witchcraft laws then extant in the United Kingdom.

The practice of contemporary witchcraft often involves the use of divination, the practice of magic, working with the four classical elements and with unseen forces such as spirits and the forces of nature. The practice of natural medicine, folk medicine, spiritual healing, and shamanism can also be applied under the umbrella term of contemporary witchcraft.




Wicca emerged around the 1950s, when it was popularised by Englishman Gerald Gardner. At the time, he called the religion "Witchcraft," and he called its followers "the Wica." He initially claimed that it was an ancient Pagan religion that had been persecuted during the witch-hunts in Europe, commonly called "The Burning Times" in contemporary witchcraft and Pagan history. Though he claimed Wicca to be a survival of a pre-Christian religion, there is doubt in some areas about Gardner's claims, and some critics suggest that Gardner himself, along with other influential figures such as Doreen Valiente and Aleister Crowley, formed Wicca from various texts, sources, and practices.

Wiccan beliefs revolve around pantheism and dualism, with the worship of the Triple Goddess and the Horned God. Magical practices are taken from both traditional European sorcery as was practiced by cunning folk, and also from 19th century occult practices such as those taught by Aleister Crowley. Wiccans commonly celebrate the eight Sabbats that form the Wheel of the Year.

Wicca is primarily an initiatory mystery religion, with only members initiated into a legitimate Wiccan coven being able to fully practice. Many traditions of Wicca, including those of Gardnerian Wicca and Alexandrian Wicca follow this doctrine. Within the general Pagan community, people who practise Wicca without being formally and traditionally initiated are called "Neo-Wiccans," with the religion being called "Neo-Wicca," and can include movements such as feminism (in the case of Dianic Wicca), and Anglo-Saxon mythology (in the case of Seax-Wicca).

There have been many publications both by traditionally-initiated and non-initiated Wiccans, including practitioners from Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca publicising sometimes full Wiccan rites and beliefs, such as the traditional Degree Initiations.

Within Wicca, there are set rules by which Wiccans should abide, such as the rule of "harming none," and the rule of threefold return, which states that anything that a practitioners sends out (in the form of 'positive' or 'negative' actions, words, spells, etc.) will return to the caster threefold. However, there is debate amongst this claim, as some believe that energy is sent back at the same level as given.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, Wiccans do not believe in the Christian concept of the Devil or moral sin, believing that each individual is responsible for his/her actions, and that no outside force is capable of making someone do something against their will. Also contrary to popular misconceptions, Wiccans do not ride broomsticks, turn individuals into creatures (such as the common Toad), seek to harm people, or perform any stereotypical "Witch"-like acts popularized by mainstream media.


Stregheria is an Italian witchcraft religion. Some practitioners claim that the religion is of ancient origin, originating from Etruscan mythology, and was the religion of the peasants when Roman Catholicism became the religion of the upper classes. Scholars, however, claim that this history is a myth largely based upon Charles Godfrey Leland's book, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, which was also used as a basis for Wicca. It was popularised in the late 20th century by writers Dr. Leo Louis Martello and Raven Grimassi.

Followers commonly worship the Roman Goddess Diana, along with her brother Apollo, and their daughter Aradia. Other practitioners worship the God aspect as Lucifer/Hesperus, a benevolent God of the sun and moon, and in no way connected to the Christian Satan.

Practices are similar to those with other Neo-Pagan witchcraft religions, such as Wicca. The pentagram is the key symbol for followers in their magical rituals, and followers celebrate a series of eight festivals equivalent to the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, though most commonly with Roman leanings and practises. Practitioners also participate in ancestor worship, something which is uncommon to other Neo-Pagan Witchcraft beliefs.

Traditional Witchcraft

Non-Wiccan Witchcraft Traditions often identify themselves as "Traditional (or Traditionalist) Witchcraft" to indicate that they pre-date or otherwise differ from Wicca. Traditionalists often use the witch trial documents of the Renaissance as inspiration, combined with their knowledge of folklore and paganism. Sometimes the term Traditional Witchcraft is used specifically for practices in Britain, as the word "witch" derives from Old English, it refers to Old English or Anglo-Saxon paganism. Otherwise the term is used to refer to practices in any of the countries in which the Witch Hunts of the Renaissance were conducted. Some Traditionalists believe it is important for their Tradition to be passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth. Others believe that there is no way for a Tradition to survive unbroken from the Middle Ages to the present day, and therefore practices are based more on historical studies of pre-Christian beliefs than a body of lore passed from one Witch to another. explains, "Traditional Witchcraft is a term that was introduced to refer to the aboriginal spiritual traditions of Europe. There really is no collective historical term that could be used to refer to these traditions, so the use of the term Traditional Witchcraft fits quite nicely. Those who follow these traditional ways are often referred to as Traditionalists. However, there are other terms that are used by specific traditions and cultures that are even more appropriate, but these are left to those who follow those traditions and will not be mentioned here."[1].

Sometimes the name "witch" is seen as an insult by Traditionalists, and more specific terms are preferred. Generally Traditional Witchcraft (or "Trad Craft") is seen as any shamanic pagan priesthood which pre-dates Christianity, and which may have survived into the modern era. The Traditional Witch can also be called a Hedgewitch as the "hedge" signifies the boundary between this world and the Otherworld, which the witch may journey to and from. Such shamanic practitioners may have survived Christianity by converting or becoming syncretic Christo-pagans known as "cunning folk". The cunning folk were practitioners of Christian magic, invoking the powers of saints, angels, and other powers. They may have incorporated many pagan beliefs, however it seems they did not continue shamanic trance work. The cunning folk were known as "Pellars" in Cornwall .

Ros An Bucca describes it thus, "A modest number of practitioners exist in Cornwall and the West Country and even fewer private circles and lodges of predominantly solitary practitioners continue unobserved, and the ordinary people still seek their help to get over life’s hurdles and the farmer still employs the charmer for protections over their land, its buildings, machinery and livestock"[2].

Cochrane's Craft

Roy Bowers, a.k.a. Robert Cochrane (1931–1966), founded "Cochrane's Craft" 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.[3] Whilst the Cochran Tradition uses ritual tools, they differ somewhat from those used by Gardnerians, some being the ritual knife (known as an athame), 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.[4].

In 1963, Cochrane anonymously published an article in the spiritualist newspaper Psychic News (9 November issue) entitled "Genuine Witchcraft is Defended". In it, he stated that:

I am a witch descended from a family of witches. Genuine witchcraft is not paganism, though it retains the memory of ancient faiths... [Witchcraft 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.[5]

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.[6] 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 hcalled 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."[7] Shortly after Valiente's departure, Cochrane's wife Jean also left, and the Coven soon ceased to function.

Cochrane is often credited with originating the term "Gardnerian" as a derogatory description of Gardner's Wicca; however, his published letter terms it as "Gardnerism".[8][9]

Some were inspired by Cochrane's work and from the many letters he wrote to fellow occultists, to form Traditions such as Roebuck, Tubal Cain, and 1734. Some practitioners of Hedgecraft also follow a Cochrane based practice.

Sabbatic Current

Andrew Chumbley described the Sabbatic Current 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"[10] and he sometimes referred to a Nameless Faith,[11] and The Crooked Path (or Via Tortuosa),[10] "the sorcerous ethos present in many forms of Traditional Witchcraft".[12] Chumbley, himself, reserved "Sabbatic Craft" as a unifying term meant to refer exclusively to the "convergent lineages"[10] of the Cultus Sabbati, a body of Traditional Witchcraft initiates,[12] although both "Sabbatic Craft" and "Sabbatic Witchcraft" may be found on the Internet in contexts which don't necessarily observe that distinction. Thus, in its more general sense, one finds references to such works as Mastering Witchcraft by Paul Huson, The Call of the Horned Piper by Nigel Jackson,[13] The Pillars of Tubal Cain by Nigel Jackson and Michael Howard, and other titles from Capall Bann Publishing and Fulgur Limited. However, Chumley's works and those of Daniel Schulke from Xoanon Publications on the Cultus Sabbati's "ongoing tradition of sorcerous wisdom"[11] continue to serve as the prototypical reference works. Explaining the origins of the name "Sabbatic Craft", Chumbley said:

‘Sabbatic Craft’ describes a corpus of magical practices which self–consciously utilise 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.[10]

Chumbley's Traditional British Witchcraft grimoire, Azoëtia, incorporated diverse iconography from Sumerian, Egyptian, Yezidi, and Aztec cultures,[12] but he spoke of a patchwork of ancestral and tutelary spirit lore which he perceived amid the 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"…[10] Schulke explains that, in Britain, folk magic and cunning–craft absorbed many international elements from "Freemasonry, Bible–divination, Romany charms, and other diverse streams"[12] and notes that what Chumbley called "dual–faith observance", refers to a "co–mingling of ‘native’ forms of British magic and Christianity".[12] Regarding the diversity in Britain, he continues: "[a]rguably a partial consequence of both trade–routes and Empire, such influences are far from alien impositions, but rather sympathetic and synchronous spirit–streams"[12] and cautions that the "mere presence of syncretism within the Old Craft, however, does not legitimise the blending of sign with symbol, charm with conjuration, and tradition with tradition... Truth in word, honour in deed, and a flame well–tended must inform all, elsewise the appeal to nativism is revealed as unenlightened bigotry".[12]

Hedge Witchcraft

Hedge Witchcraft, also called "hedge riding" or "hedgecraft," is the shamanic art of crossing the "hedge" or boundary between this world and the Otherworld. It is used as another name for the Traditional Witch. The Hedgewitch is usually a solitary practitioner, but may be attended by assistants. Their main function is mediator between the spirits and people. They may also work as an herbal healer or midwife. Some[citation needed] claim it to be the continuation of the practices of the cunning folk and wise-women, while others[citation needed] say that it is a modern tradition.

Author Rae Beth popularised a more Wiccan version of Hedgecraft in her 1992 book Hedge Witch - a guide to Solitary Witchcraft, Hedge Witches worship the Triple Goddess and the Horned God. They celebrate the eight sabbats of the Wheel of the Year. This version of Hedgecraft was criticized[citation needed] for having many similarities with Wicca.

Hearth Witchcraft

Often also called "kitchen witchery" or "cottage witchery," Hearth Witchcraft is both domestic and nature based, popularised by Anna Franklin in her 2004 book "Hearth Witch" (Lear Books). The household hearth is a focal point for practising magic within Hearth Witchcraft.

Green Witchcraft

Is the practice of nature-based and earth oriented witchcraft, drawing on the folklore, folk religion and folk magic of ancient cultures as they connected to the forest; such as the tree worship of Druids, the kitchen craft of Italian witches or the keeping of sacred groves as presented in Gallic paganism. Green Witches usually practice a traditional form of witchcraft in which the earth, trees, herbs, plants and flowers are consulted for their medicinal and magical value. Belief in deities depends on the individual witch, though many Green Witches acknowledge and earth mother or series of nature spirits as their deity. Usually, the spirits of nature, the dead (that of humans and animals) or the Fey have a large part in Green traditions. A form of Green Witchcraft which is better classified as Green Wicca was popularized by Ann Moura, author of Grimoire for the Green Witch in the mid 2000's.

Feri Tradition

The Feri Tradition is a mystery initiatory Witchcraft tradition brought out into the open in the 1920s by Victor Anderson and Harpy Coven that emphasizes spiritual ecstasy, often sexual ecstasy, and has a basis in the traditional Hawaiian Witchcraft of Huna/Ho'Oomana. It is an American tradition in that it has been influenced by many indigenous and immigrant communities on this continent including Appalachian folk magic, Brujeria, Huna/Ho'Oomana, and Voudou; as well as Traditional and Celtic Witchcraft influences.

Practitioners are polytheists who have, among other Gods: the Star Goddess, the Divine Twins, and the Blue God. Practitioners believe that there are three parts to the human soul, a belief shared with Huna/Ho'Oomana, mystic Judaism.


Reclaiming (formerly known as Reclaiming Collective) is an offshoot of the Feri Tradition, with an international community with the aim of combining "earth-based spirituality" and political activism. The author Starhawk (Miriam Simos) is its most prominent spokesperson, and her book "The Spiral Dance" inspired many new covens practicing along similar lines. Reclaiming was founded amid the peace and anti-nuclear movements of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Reclaiming's spiritual approach is based in the religion and magic of Goddess, who is understood as the immanent life force, not as a transcendent deity. The Reclaiming tradition of witchcraft also honors the Horned God, as does Wicca; but in general, Reclaiming is somewhat more focused on the Goddess than on the God.

The Reclaiming Tradition of contemporary American Witchcraft arose from a working collective around the 1980s in the San Francisco Bay Area, blending the influences of Victor and Cora Anderson's Feri Tradition of Witchcraft, Dianic Witchcraft as taught by Z. Budapest, and the feminist, Anarchist,[14] peace, and environmental movements.

While some members of Reclaiming describe themselves as "Wiccan", others prefer the term "Witch".[15]


  • Cunningham, Scott & Harrington, David. "The Magical Household", Llewellyn, 1996
  • Beth, Rae. Hedge Witch: A Guide to Solitary Witchcraft, Robert Hale, 1992.
  • Moura, Ann, "Grimoire For The Green Witch: A Complete Book of Shadows", 2003.
  • Telesco, Patricia, "The Kitchen Witch Companion: Simple and Sublime Culinary Magic", 2005.
  • Duerr, Hans Peter. Dreamtime: Concerning the Boundary between Wilderness and Civilization, pages 46, 47, 65, 97, 132. Translated by Felicitas Goodman. Blackwell, 1985.
  • Jackson, Nigel A. Call of the Horned Piper, pages 4–5, 13, 14-15, 19-21. Capall Bann, 1994.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, page 122
  4. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, page 123
  5. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, pages 120f.
  6. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 117
  7. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, page 129
  8. ^ Letters to Joe Wilson from Robert Cochrane
  9. ^ First Letter from Robert Cochrane to Joe Wilson dated 20 Dec 1965
  10. ^ a b c d e Chumbley, Andrew D.; Howard, Michael; Fitzgerald, Robert (February 2002). "An Interview with Andrew D. Chumbley". The Cauldron (103). "In essence, the Crooked Path Teachings intend a direct means of autonomous initiation into the Knowledge of the Magical Quintessence." 
  11. ^ a b Chumbley, Andrew D. (May 2002). "Cultus Sabbati: Provenance, Dream and Magistry". The Cauldron (104). 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Schulke, Daniel A. (November 2006). "Way and Waymark—Considerations of Exilic Wisdom in the Old Craft". The Cauldron (122). 
  13. ^ "Sabbatic Witchcraft". 17 June 2009. Retrieved 28 September 2010. 
  14. ^ Reclaiming Quarterly, The organisations main publication.
  15. ^

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