Hedge Riding: The Art of the Hedge Witch

Bringing the Hedge back into Hedge Witchcraft, working with liminal spaces and the Otherworld

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

A Brief History of Witchcraft: Part Two

When the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951, people started to come out of the broom closet. Gerald Gardner was one of the first, who was mentioned earlier. Gardner was the one who came up with the word, Wica, to denote his spiritual path.

Naturism was a big fashion in the 1920s and 30s, and Gerald was a naturist (hence the skyclad part of his particular tradition of witchcraft). There was even a naturist camp that opened up near his home. He became involved in the Rosicrucian Theatre, and later came across Masonic (Fellowship of Crotona) practices and the work of Margaret Murray, which he incorporated into his ideas for this spiritual path. With the help of Alistair Crowley, he came up with beautiful poetry for his tradition, which was also a contentious point for one of Gardener’s High Priestesses, the aforementioned Doreen Valiente. Gardener created the witch tradition that he was seeking, and Valiente wrote it down eloquently and made sense of it all.[1]

Others expounded upon the work of Gardner and Doreen Valiente, including the famous/infamous Alex Sanders, self-proclaimed "King of the Witches". Sanders took the work of others and proclaimed it as his own in many instances, calling it Alexandrian. However, he did leave a legacy of teaching within the tradition, something with Gardner did not do in his own coven (a coven is a group of witches/wiccans working together). Of Sanders, Janet Farrar, who was initiated by him into his tradition and who is now one of the leading figures in modern-day Witchcraft, states that in many ways Sanders was a charlatan, an inspired charlatan, but charlatan nonetheless:

"[He} always a showman.. he [and others] were not practicing witchcraft, they were practicing ceremonial magic, pagan folklore and a mishmash of Hermetic, Kabalah and other systems."[2]

Others may disagree with Farrar's view on Alex Sanders and his tradition.

In 1972, Witchcraft was recognised legally as a religion and was tax-exempt by the IRS, where "churches" of Wicca sprang up. The priests/priestesses had the same rights as any ordained clergy. Feminist branches of Wicca and Witchcraft began to spring up, and further the cause and empowerment of women, mainly through the work of author and activist, Starhawk and the Reclaiming organisation that she helped to found. Eclectic Wicca and Witchcraft became popular as well, through the works of Scott Cunningham who popularised a solo path for those in the tradition, where before only information on group/coven working was available. Author Rae Beth coined the term Hedge Witch to denote one on a solitary path of witchcraft, and since then it has come to mean many different things.

Witchcraft and Wicca have had to see some difficult things through in their evolution. Witchcraft and Wicca, to some extent, have suffered and still suffer in some parts of the world from persecution. Media portrayals of both can be very wrong or misleading. Both Wicca and Witchcraft have also suffered from lies and deception in their various stages of evolution. Gerald Gardner claimed to have written and devised much of the rites and rituals in his newly branded Wica (now called Wicca), but which were actually found out to be a collection from other previously published sources. Sanders is reported to have reveled in the cult of celebrity that he created around himself, rather than focusing on the spiritual path itself. The most infamous occultist of all, Aleister Crowley, dubbed "the wickedest man in the world" wrote some beautiful and prosaic works about the craft, and yet was never able to live up to it in his dubious personal and private life. It has even been suggested that Gardner hired Crowley to write the rituals and lore for his new tradition.[3]

The traditions in the beginnings of the modern-day era seemed to be rife with deception, including claims of authenticity of such matters like lineage, initiation and so on. Yet these could all be products of a culture that still very much depended upon concepts such as ancient authenticity, rather than validity, a trend inherited from the Victorians. As well, it was still very much a patriarchal and hierarchal culture and society, where a dependence upon authority seemed to be more commonplace. Much emphasis was placed on coven working, initiation, levels of hierarchy and secrecy in the early days of the 1950's through to the 1980's, and now we see a lessening of the need to make such claims as the traditions gain their own footing on their own merits. This notion of creating or even forging authenticity is not new to Western Paganism. In the 19th century, during the Druid Revival period, the famous forger Iolo Morganwg created whole texts of brilliantly faked material where he lacked information from known resources. It was only much later that this forgery was discovered, and to some it didn't and even now doesn't matter, as it speaks to their soul and works within the tradition. Western Paganism, and Witchcraft included, has never been averse to the saying, "if it works, use it!"

Wicca and Witchcraft have progressed from their early re-inventing in the modern era. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the term progressive witchcraft has come about at the turn of the millennium, in an attempt to drop the hard edges of labels that can be too restrictive for some. It speaks out against hierarchal authority and the dogma that has been created by some traditions. Concepts such as initiation by another member of a coven as the only route to validity and true acceptance is falling by the wayside, as an entire generation of solitary practitioners have found merit in walking their own path, initiated by the gods either in solo ritual or at various points in their own lives. Many are doing away with the hierarchical systems of High Priest/ess as leaders, judges and juries of their covens and instead allowing people to stand on their own merit, hard-earned and without the need for such titles. There might still be leaders in the community, but authority figures seem to be falling by the wayside as people realise that the cult of celebrity is a hollow thing. More people are gaining "fame" in the Pagan community as a whole based upon the work that they do, rather than what they say about themselves. There is less of an ego-driven need behind the work, and rather a growing trend towards service to the community, or the earth itself as the guiding force behind it all. 

We see that Witchcraft is still progressing, and always will, for a religious or spiritual tradition that doesn't evolve is dry and dead. It must meet the needs of the time, and grow alongside those who follow it tenets. The modern witchcraft revival may have some dubious claims made by the original trailblazers desperate the validate their path, but we have now outgrown that need as we are less dependent upon authority, and as we rally against patriarchy more and more, with equality at the heart of many matters in today's day and age. We know that witchcraft works, in all its various forms. We can find a path that is suited to our needs, to our society. If we choose to do so on our own, we might even call ourselves Hedge Witches.

[1] Entrevista de lançamento da Bíblia das Bruxas com Janet Farrar e Gavin Bone (Interview in English), online, accessed 2 July 2018, https://youtu.be/33JkfRQvtXM

[2] Entrevista de lançamento da Bíblia das Bruxas com Janet Farrar e Gavin Bone (Interview in English), online, accessed 2 July 2018, https://youtu.be/33JkfRQvtXM

[3] Farrar et al, The Inner Mysteries, (Acorn Guild Press), 31



Joanna van der Hoeven is an author, Druid, Witch, and dancer. Find out more at www.joannavanderhoeven.com

Last modified on
  Joanna van der Hoeven is a Hedge Witch, Druid, and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion.  


Additional information