A week a go I witnessed something quite astonishing. From the outside it would appear quite mundane, not very impressive, a run-of-the-mill establishment ceremony. Just the unveiling of another blue heritage plaque on a house near Christchurch.
There are loads of these blue plaques all over the country on houses where notable historical figures once lived. Poets, actors, writers, musicians have all had their contributions to art honoured. That’s not unusual. What made last Friday’s event so astonishing was that the plaque was unveiled on the house where a rather well-to-do English gent called Gerald Gardner once lived. A man who dedicated the latter years of his life to the revival and recreation of what he initially called the Witch Cult, but then later coined the term Wicca. What Professor Ronald Hutton has called “The only religion England has given the world”.
This might again seem a little ordinary. But let’s go back 20 years. In the early 90s it wasn’t unheard of for magical practitioners to have their homes searched by police who were looking for evidence of ‘Satanic ritual abuse’. A couple of friends of mine were reported to the social services and received a visit from them, concerned with their children’s safety after neighbours reported to the police that they had books on their shelves about Witchcraft. Reporters from a number of British newspapers, but particularly the News of the World, would try to get into Pagan groups and camps to expose the ‘depravity’, ‘sex’ and ‘nudity’ that took place. Some managed it, and must have made up what they saw (either that or I’m just not invited to those camps…). Go back a few more years and people like Alex and Maxine Sanders were literally pelted in the streets with stones, had their houses set on fire, or local people tried to force them to move through bullying, and open violent intolerance. Just listen to the interview with Maxine on DruidCast 85 below and you will hear what they all went through for the simple act of following a magical path.
A year ago in Brighton a blue plaque was placed on the house of the renowned modern witch Doreen Valiente. Add Gerald’s plaque and the public relationship to the Craft is obviously changing. So what happened last week was really quite remarkable. It has taken over 20 years, but Witchcraft and Wicca have gone from being vilified to having two of the modern founders honoured with blue plaques
Now let’s not fall into the trap of seeing this as Witchcraft and Wicca conforming to society, bending to the will of mundanity, losing its teeth in the process. That by being recognised as a valid and important spiritual and religious path it has surrendered its magic to the muggles. It seems to me that this discomfort would come from wanting to keep the ‘secrets’, stay in the shadows, remain hidden, remain occult.
But the biggest secret is that there are no secrets.
With the publication of so many books, and the availability of Google Search, the secrecy is out of the bag.
What remains are the Mysteries.
It’s true, anyone can read anything, anywhere. But as anyone who has had any real connection with magic knows it’s not in the reading that the mysteries are revealed, it’s in the doing, in the working, in the practice of the Craft. In actively plumbing the depths of the arcane. So although the ‘secrets’ are all over Google, the Mysteries remain to be discovered.
Magic will always remain a mystery, because only a small minority will want to throw themselves in to the extent that they become adepts.
So there is no reason why we should hide away and remain a misunderstood subsection of society. What Gerald did was bring a valid and powerful spiritual path out into the public eye. To a place where, for those who wanted to seek it out, they knew what to call it, and where to find it. Over the years organisations like the Pagan Federation and the Children of Artemis have worked against the defamation from the press, and now the Centre for Pagan Studies has their continuing blue plaque scheme. To me this hasn’t brought Paganism, Witchcraft or Wicca into the mainstream (Buffy and Charmed did that quite adequately!), but it has put us into a position where we are taken seriously by the media (mostly), and not instantly dismissed because of our beliefs.
In my opinion that shift can only be a good thing. I hope there are many more blue plaques, I hope that we can continue to hold our open rituals in peace, I hope that we also meet in secret, under the full moon, chant to the Gods, and work our magical craft.
I raise my glass to Pagan ways!