Wicca is the Saxon root word meaning “to bend.” Sometimes, though with less justification, it is traced to the word for “wise,” and also the word meaning “wit.” It has become the adopted general term for practitioners within the modern witchcraft movement. Some eschew the term, however, and prefer to refer to “the Craft,” which has a Freemasonic connotation. Not surprisingly, leading figures in the modern witchcraft movement have all been high-ranking Freemasons, eg Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders.
The anthropogist Margaret Murray argued in The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) and The God of the Witches (1931) that the medieval witches did not worship the Devil, but were followers of a pre-Christian pagan religion which Murray claimed “appears to be the ancient religion of Western Europe.” Murray dubbed this “old religion” Dianic, after the goddess Diana.
Not everyone agrees with Murray.
Seán Manchester, in From Satan To Christ (1988), remarks: “[Murray’s] view was accepted at the time and led to the present rebirth of witchcraft both here and abroad. Although her theory has subsequently been discredited, covens of witches are on the increase today.”
Eminent historian of the esoteric and the occult, Richard Cavendish, in A History of Magic (1987), states: “This brilliant and ingenious theory [by Margaret Murray] is unfortunately full of holes and has been demolished time and again.”
Other scholars now point out that there is actually no evidence whatsoever for a “one goddess” religion as described by Murray. Pagan religions were pantheist rather than female monotheist. Murray, according to those who criticise her on academic grounds, came up with her theory, then selected evidence to support it.
Present-day Dianic wicca stems mostly from Murray’s thesis; though there are also claims that worship of Diana as a moon deity survived in Europe as a mystery religion long after the fall of the Roman Empire in a mode quite different to that suggested in Murray's hypothesis. Wicca is a religion of the goddess with an emphasis on the female aspect. However, in many ways it is historically more a spiritual expression of the feminist movement than a restoration of ancient witchcraft.
Other works significant in the development of wicca were Charles Leland’s Arcadia, or the Gospel of the Witches, and Robert Graves’ The White Goddess.
Gerald Gardner (1884-1964) belonged to a Rosicrucian group and was an initiate of Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis. Gardner published Witchcraft Today in 1954. After Gardner came Alex Sanders (1926-1988) and his wife, Maxine, whose flamboyant style popularised wicca in the 1960s. Maxine Sanders, who separated from her husband in 1973, remained a leading wiccan figure.
Self-proclaimed "High Priest of
Witchcraft" from 1973 to 1982,
David Farrant (1946 - 2019)
There have been no figures subsequent to Crowley, Gardner and Sanders in wicca’s short history to have made much of an impact. Most of the current crop are pursuing a form diluted with other elements within the New Age movement of the last decade or so, and tend not to embrace charismatic leadership. At the other end of the witchcraft spectrum, there are the obvious attention seekers who use wicca as a means to gain self-publicity.
The Wiccan Rede:
"Bide the Witches' Law ye must,
In perfect Love and perfect Trust.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill;
’An' it harm none, do what ye will.’
What ye send forth cometh back to thee,
So e'er mind the Rule of Three.
Follow this with mind and heart,
And merry ye meet and merry ye part."
The first similar utterances of it were: "fay çe que vouldras."
Which means simply "Do what thou wilt," and is taken from a fictional satire Gargantua by François Rabelais. This was adopted by one of the Hellfire Clubs, whose membership admired the text.
Aleister Crowley later picked up on this, and stole most of the Thelema axiom from Rabelais via the Hellfire club and adapted it to: “Do What Thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law, Love is the Law, Love Under Will.”
Much later, when Doreen Valiente was writing up the tenets of Gardnerian Witchcraft, which in turn plagiarised a lot from Crowley, who may or may not have contributed material himself, she adapted this into simply:
"An’ it harm none, do what thou wilt"
Any other bits of poetry tacked on to this most probably came from bad American writers in the 1990s.