Buckland's Complete - Observations on Lesson 1
|Concerning Lesson 1
The History and Philosophy of Witchcraft.
Mr. Buckland spends a great deal of time in the beginning of this lesson speculating over the very earliest origins of Witchcraft. Can he be blamed? We're all curious about how it all started but, in the absence of any 200,000 year old individuals to tell us, it's really all we have. Granted there is some archaeological evidence that's managed to survive to this very day and has been discovered by those who enjoy digging it up, but the purpose of these artifacts aren't always quite self-evident. Still, it seems to me that his theories (based on years of his own research) seem fair and are as good (and very often better) as any that I've ever come across.
So what did he have to say about it? That early man, in an effort to make sense of the world around him, ascribed (rightly or wrongly) to the forces of nature within it spirits (or Gods) that they believed controlled those forces. As hunting was of upmost importance to survival, so it followed that the God of Hunting was also of greatest importance for without success in the hunt, there would be no food to eat, no skins for warmth, and no bones from which to fashion tools and weapons. Without those things, man would die and so it seemed that keeping this particular God happy was in the future best interest of the tribe.
Similarly, for what should be obvious reasons, fertility was also of great (although somewhat lesser) importance and it is for this reason that the Goddess took a back seat to the God, at least until the development of agriculture and the domestication of animals between seven and eleven thousand years ago. It was at that time that the Goddess appears to have moved into the forefront as hunting was no longer as important for survival, at least for a very large part of the year during which food could simply be grown and the fertility of plants and animals was of paramount importance.
So now I'll interject just a few thoughts of my own before moving on.
I've never quite been able to wrap my head around the way that atheists think, and I suppose that's because I simply cannot accept that I'm sitting here writing this today (or that you're here to read it) as a result of a very long chain of coincidental accidents that began some 13.8 billion years ago. Likewise I've never quite been able to accept the idea of a God who spoke all of creation into existence, gave us free will, and who then punishes us for making choices using that same free will which he doesn't particularly care for (and that's only the beginning of my issues with Christian belief). No, it seems to me that the truth must be something else and based on my own experiences and observations of the world around me (masculine and feminine principles and their individual roles in the creative process specifically and life generally, and some other really weird shit), this makes sense. I can only imagine that someone long ago must have come to the same conclusions based on similar observations.
Something else that occurred to me was that he starts off by saying “25,000 years ago paleolithic wo/man depended on hunting to survive.” This puzzled me. Why only 25,000 years ago? Man has existed on the planet in various forms for something in the neighborhood of six million years. As it turns out, it was about that long ago (by some estimates) that Britain thawed out enough from the previous Ice Age to again be habitable. Why is this important? Because it was British Traditional Witchcraft in which he was trained and because it's only then that we start to find enough of anything in the way of anthropological/archaeological remains in that region to begin theorizing from.
From there, he goes on to speculate more on how these beliefs may have congealed into the earliest form of religion, how a priesthood may have developed and what its role was, ideas on the earliest forms of sympathetic magic, and where the idea of an afterlife may have come from. Again, I say “speculate” because we really have no way of knowing for sure. The earliest writing we currently know of only dates back to around 3000 B.C. As a side note, I'm not one who believes for a moment that just because we haven't found an earlier example of something does it mean that it doesn't exist. I once read an article in an archaeological magazine about a spear head that was discovered and that predated any other found by something on the order of twenty-five thousand years, and how it's discovery forced archaeologists to rethink the official timeline of mans use of tools. Regardless, nothing has surfaced so far that might indicate otherwise, and certainly nothing written that might provide clues about the way this specific subject evolved.
It's at this point in the lesson that he moves into subject matter that becomes somewhat more verifiable, or the history of Witchcraft in the last two-thousand years. He talks about Christianity and the way in which it struggled to compete and the lengths to which Christians ultimately went to eliminate competition, but there will be far more from me on that later as I discuss the four books that Mr. Buckland asks the student to read for further study regarding this lesson.
I do feel the need, however, to once again interject some of my own thoughts at this point. I remember reading this bit years ago and becoming very angry at the idea that any one group of people would be capable of going to such extreme lengths to get rid of another group of people. I think that we can all agree that calling it “horrible” would be something of an understatement. But let's be honest for a moment, shall we? Christians had no monopoly on the use of violence to get what they wanted, and the Earth has never been some Utopian paradise regardless of what the Book of Genesis (or any other book for that matter) says. At the end of the day, all throughout history, people have been pretty nasty to other people and that's something that continues to happen to this very day. People everywhere have always competed with one another for the things they needed to survive. Try thinking of it this way. If you're reading this now, it's only because your ancestors, all the way back to mans earliest beginnings, struggled against nature and against other men and did what they believed (right or wrong) was necessary to ensure the survival of their families, and I guarantee that not of all of it was pleasant or, in any sense of the word, noble. Those who failed died and as a result their bloodlines ended and you couldn't possibly be here. So, unpopular an opinion as it may be, if we're going to hold other people to account for the terrible things that their ancestors may have done, then we're equally responsible for the sins of our own.
But I digress. According to him (and to some written historical accounts of the time) there were no immediate attempts at the mass conversion of people from the old religion to Christianity. While Christian historical documents will tell you that whole countries were converted (implying everyone in it) when, in fact, it was only the rulers of those countries who had adopted the new religion and often in name only. Eventually, however, it would appear that the church, frustrated with its lack of progress in winning people over, began using more aggressive tactics which included rededicating pagan holy sites and erecting churches in their place with the idea that those pagans who had previously worshiped The Old Gods in those places would have to accept that they were now Christians whether they liked it or not. This too had less than the desired effect. In fact, the craftsmen who were enlisted for the construction of the new churches were often drawn from among the very people who the church were attempting to convert. These craftsmen, being far more clever than the church anticipated, incorporated carved images of their own deities into the very stone and wood of the structures and can be seen to this day. In this way, pagans were able to continue worshiping their own gods while paying lip service to the church.
Mr. Buckland goes on at this point to talk a bit more about the ideological beliefs that the church used (and continue to use) to justify it's actions and attitudes and where they originate as well as drawing some comparisons between Christianity and The Old Religion . One of the things he mentions is how The Old Religion developed organically over, literally, thousands of years while Christianity not only appeared very suddenly, but also borrowed heavily ideas from older and somewhat more established beliefs. The idea of an all good, all loving deity, for example, was first put forward by Zoroaster in the sixth or seventh century B.C. and was eventually adopted by Christians along with it's dualistic belief. Because the adversary to the Christian God was horned, and the God of the pagans (Horned God of Hunting) was also horned, Christians reasoned that they must be one and the same which, of course in their minds, made pagans devil worshipers who had to be converted.
So what of the witch hunts? In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII produced the “Summis desiderantes affectibu” better known as “The Bull Against Witches” or “the papal bull regarding witchcraft”. Two years later, in 1486, a pair of German monks who I will only refer to here as Kramer and Sprenger (who also appear to have had a hand in convincing Pope Innocent VIII to write the Bull in the first place) published a book called The Malleus Maleficarum, or The Witches' Hammer. I've done a considerable amount of research into this topic and even obtained a copy of it (although I still need to read it). Based on my research so far I've drawn certain conclusions, the details of which I'll not go into here due to the sheer volume of information on this particular subject alone. Suffice it to say that even after all these years I've discovered that there appears to be far more to the story than meets the eye and I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone who's truly interested in Witchcraft to familiarize themselves with this aspect of our history as thoroughly as possible. The following link, which is one that I came across in the course of my research, summarizes the things that I discovered quite nicely and can be verified through a number of additional sources which I'm more than happy to provide upon request: http://www.monstrousregimentofwomen.com/2015/12/according-to-their-just-deserts-witches.html I feel very strongly that there are certain facts relevant to the conversation that have been glossed over or, even worse, left out of modern Wiccan literature entirely. In any event, after roughly 1300 years it appears that the church had finally decided that enough was enough and it was (arguably) these two things that, once and for all, began the nightmare that we today call “The Burning Times”.
Over the next couple of pages, Mr. Buckland tells us a bit more about his interpretation of what followed for the next 300 or so years until the late 17th century when the hysteria that had consumed so much of Europe finally burned itself out. By this time, however, those who did survive had retreated into the shadows where they now worshiped The Old Gods in secret, or so it is said. It was somewhere between 1440 and 1450 that the printing press was developed and very nearly everything written on the subject of The Old Religion was from the previously mentioned, heavily biased Christian point of view. As a result we now have the general (and unfortunate) misconceptions about it that have managed to linger on, to put it mildly, until this very day.
It wasn't until 1921 when Dr. Margaret Alice Murray wrote The Witch Cult in Western Europe that the subject (specifically) had been written about from anything even remotely resembling an unbiased point of view. By 1951 the general consensus was that Witchcraft was a lot of superstitious nonsense and the last of England's Witchcraft laws were repealed. Finally, in 1954 Dr. Gerald Gardner published Witchcraft Today, and it is with this book that many credit the beginnings of modern Wicca. He also mentions how it was brought into the mainstream here in the United States. I'll write a lot more on all of these people from our past at a later time when I can devote the attention to them that they deserve.
Finally, we get into an overview of the philosophy. Again, he draws some comparison between Christianity and Wicca and suggests that Witches, generally, are “far happier” people due to not only the way in which we worship (the very nature of it), but also by virtue of the connection that we share with the earth and life in general; something which he suggests (and I agree wholeheartedly) is lost to most people in modern times. After all, it's not as if we're forced to grow our own food or even hunt for survival in 21st century western civilization. It would be for these reasons that those aspiring witches are encouraged to seek to regularly engage in activities which put them in direct contact with nature and the cycle of life.