Is Wicca Under a Spell?

As publishers produce more books about casting spells, is the spiritual message of witchcraft getting lost?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of

Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today

. This folksy and rambling book might well have ended up consigned to the moldy used bookstores of the world, were it not for its audacious claim: that the author was an initiate in a genuine coven of Witches, active in Great Britain in the middle years of the 20th century.

It was hardly the first book on Witchcraft, and not even the first book to consider sympathetically the craft as a benign form of Pagan spirituality. But it was the first important book in which an author claiming to be a real live Witch told his own story, and in doing so made it possible for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people to make Witchcraft, in some form or fashion, their own spirituality of choice.

Gardner's depiction of Witchcraft emphasized secrecy and spirituality: the "cult" was all about worshipping the Great Mother Goddess and her Horned Consort. Yet for all its secrecy, Witchcraft (or Wicca, as it has come to be known in its religious form) has spawned a virtual torrent of books and websites. They offer first-person accounts of how people become Witches; teachings of the practices, beliefs, and worldviews of Wiccans; and instructions on how to perform rituals, initiate dedicants, and cast spells.


Indeed, if one quality of recent Wiccan literature is worth noticing, it's the instructions on casting spells. This seems reasonable enough: after all, aren't Witches known for their magic-making abilities? Gardner and many other writers on Witchcraft tended to discuss spellcraft only as a single aspect of a greater spiritual whole, but the trend in publishing in the last 10 years has been to emphasize spells while marginalizing the spiritual and religious elements of Witchcraft.

As a religion inspired by witchcraft, Wicca has two fundamental ethical tenets: the

Wiccan Rede

(Harm none, and do what you will) and the

Law of Three

(Any energy you send out will come back threefold). The Wiccan Rede demands responsible behavior that refrains from causing harm (even to the self), while the Law of Three promises (or threatens!) that any action, whether good or bad, will eventually have karmic consequences.

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