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Raven Grimassi

Raven Grimassi Award-winning author Raven Grimassi is the author of seven books on Wicca and Witchcraft, including Wiccan Mysteries (awarded Best Book of the Year & Best Spirituality Book 1998 by the Coalition of Visionary Retailers), Wiccan Magick, Italian Witchcraft (previously titled Ways of the Strega), Hereditary Witchcraft, Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft (awarded Best Non-Fiction Book 2001 by the Coalition of Visionary Retailers), Beltane, and the forthcoming title The Witches' Craft (October 2002).

Raven Grimassi has been a teacher and practitioner of the Craft for nearly 30 years. He is trained in the Family tradition of Italian Witchcraft (also known as Stregheria), and is also an initiate of several Wiccan Traditions, including Brittic Wicca and the Pictish-Gaelic Tradition. He is currently the Directing Elder of the Arician Ways. Raven considers it his life's work to ensure the survival of ancient witch lore and legend along with ancestral teachings of the Old Religion.

Grimassi has worked as both a writer and editor for several magazines over the past decade, including The Shadow's Edge (a publication focusing on Italian Witchcraft) and Raven's Call (a journal of modern Wicca, Witchcraft and Magick).

Titles by Raven Grimassi:

  • Beltane
  • The Well Worn Path
  • Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe
  • The Wiccan Mysteries: Ancient Origins & Teachings
  • Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft
  • The Witch's Familiar: Spiritual Partnerships for Successful Magic
  • The Witches' Craft: The Roots of Witchcraft & Magical Transformation
  • Hereditary Witchcraft: Secrets of the Old Religion
  • Wiccan Magick: Inner Teachings of the Craft
  • Witchcraft: A Mystery Tradition
  • Spirit of the Witch: Religion & Spirituality in Contemporary Witchcraft
© 2006 Raven Grimassi.
All rights reserved.

My View of Wicca and Witchcraft

July 2006

In this article I will attempt to correct some common misunderstandings, along with the intentional misrepresentations of my work that appear on various websites, forums, and chatrooms.  I believe it was Mark Twain who said that if a man makes no enemies, then he has not lived his life well.  In this context, I seem to be doing fine.

The first thing I wish to clear up is my use of the terms Wicca and Witchcraft, and any derivatives of these words.  Some people feel that I confuse the terms.  To begin, I first encountered the word "Wicca" in the summer of 1969 when I met a young woman who told me that she was a Witch. During this period, and on into the 1980s, just about everyone in the Craft  community here in the United States used the term Wiccan and Witch interchangeably.  This is how I first came to learn the terms.  Later I read about them in the writings of Gerald Gardner, who also equated Wiccan and Witch.  It's a foundational habit that stuck with me over the years.

Sometime during the 1980s a change took place in the U.S., and many people began to distinguish between the two terms.   The younger generation adopted the word Wicca and applied it to a loose self-styled form of the Craft, while most of the people who were already involved embraced the word Witch. In this way they hoped to distinguish between the new Wicca (introduced by such authors as Scott Cunningham) and the Old Ways as featured in books with more of a foundation in the ways of our European ancestors.  By the 1990s the direction of Wicca had thoroughly passed from the hands of the original practitioners and into a new era where it was comprised of people with different views.  This was the transformation into what I refer to as Neo-Wicca.

Another problem involves the view of Wicca in the UK as opposed to how it was and is viewed in the United States.  British practitioners rightfully feel that Wicca began in the British Isles. Some of them resist accepting Wicca in its American cousin form (if not outright rejecting it). Some modern practitioners believe that Wicca originated with Gerald Gardner, and that nothing similar to it pre-existed in the British Isles, or anywhere else. There are those in the UK who do not believe that Witchcraft ever existed in any form other than as a superstition among peasants and/or a purely literary form. Some people take the position that unless you're writing about Gardnerian Wicca or any of its branches (or native relatives) then you're not writing about Wicca. While this is understandable, it is not a view that is embraced in America.

To me, Wicca is a religion that includes the concept of a balanced male-female deity.  The structure of the system incorporates an altar, the four ritual tools (pentacle, wand, athame, chalice), a ritual circle, elemental spirits, guardians of the four directional quarters (north, east, south, and west), a Book of Shadows, and rituals connected to the moon and the seasons of Nature (represented by the eight Sabbats known as the Wheel of the Year).  I can see no reason why its practice or its name  should be limited by geography.

My view of Witchcraft is founded upon a combination of things that include literary and historical materials along with personal experience. Among the ancient Greeks, Witchcraft was viewed as an illicit religion, and Medea (an early Witch figure) was depicted as a priestess of Hecate.  Hecate is a goddess long associated with Witchcraft.  I do not view this as an entirely literary invention, because fictional stories frequently contain real and true events, beliefs, practices and depictions of life within the cultural settings of the era in which the fiction. is set.  It is interesting to note, for example, that the invocations spoken by Medea in the literary works of Roman poets such as Horace, Ovid, and Lucan, are strikingly similar to  ancient Babylon invocations actually used centuries earlier.  For example, compare the historical invocation from Babylon with two literary Roman texts:

BABYLONIAN: “I invoke you, gods of the night, with you I invoke the night, the veiled bride, I invoke (the three watches of the night) the evening watch, the midnight watch, and the dawn watch...stand by me, O Gods of the Night!  Heed my words, O gods of destinies, Anu, Enlil, Ea, and the great gods! I call to you,  Lady of the silence of the night, I call to you, O’ Night, bride ..."

ROMAN:  "Night and Diana, who command silence when secret mysteries are performed, now aid me; now turn your vengeance and influence against my enemies' houses..."

ROMAN: “Night, trustiest keeper of my secrets, and stars who, together with the moon, follow on from the fires of the daylight, and you Hecate of the three heads, who know all about my designs and come to help the incantations and the craft of the witches, and Earth, who furnish witches with powerful herbs, and Breezes, Winds, Mountains, Rivers, and Lakes, and all the gods of the groves and all the gods of the night, be present to help me.  Night-wandering queen, look kindly upon this undertaking."

From where did Horace, Ovid and Lucan draw their views? Certainly not out of thin air, as we have seen in the examples. Could they not be using known historical practices and ritual texts or their era?  If so, were these known elements in the practice of Witchcraft at the time?

Although many modern scholars believe that Witchcraft (as a religion) is a modern construction largely credited to Gerald Gardner,  it seems all too  apparent to me that too many archaic elements exist to have been a modern construction traceable to Gerald Gardner and a small handful of cohorts.  It would have required the combined efforts of mythologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, and highly trained occultists working together over several decades to create the complex layers and inner‑connections that appear in just the published material on Witchcraft alone, not to mention the restricted initiate material that was available within a ten year span of Gardner's writings.  It seems highly unlikely that such collaboration ever took place, and the simplest explanation is  that the essential foundation already existed.

In the book The History and Practice of Magic, written by Paul Christian and Jean Baptiste in 1839, we read:

 “The origin of witchcraft was very ancient; it began in Thessaly, a country celebrated for its witches and wizards…” - Book III, chapter VI, page 203

 Whether true or not, the Greek writings on Witchcraft are the earliest to appear on this subject  in any Western materials.  The ancient Greek word (translated into the English word witch) is the word pharmakis.  Historian Richard Gordon refers to it as the earliest term to become the standard word for witch or wise woman. ( Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999, page 251).

Some people use the word Witch to mean a practitioner of magic without any religious connections.  They say it is a generic practice and not a religion. Others use it in the academic sense as a person who uses magic with ill intent.  Scholars often contrast the Witch against the Cunning Folk, who were viewed as  healers, and who reportedly protected people against Witchcraft.  My position is that Witchcraft was an ancient religion that contained a magical system.  At some point the magical system branched off, and elements of it took root among the rural peasants.  Here it evolved into a common folk magic tradition.

I view the Cunning Folk as the folk magic practitioners who participated in an essentially Catholic-rooted magical practice . They did not profess to be Witches nor did they openly claim any pagan heritage. People sought them out to work against the imagined ills purported to be directed by Witches.  I personally regard the Cunning Folk in much the same way that I regard American Indians who scouted for the U.S. Army, and contributed to the demise of their own people.

When I look at the literary and historical materials related to Witchcraft, I am struck with the immensity of data. Writings about Witches and Witchcraft in Western literature span from around 800 bce to modern times, and appear between in each consecutive century in one form or another.  The Witch-figure has been infamous for over 2500 years.  Eventually the widespread torture and killing of those accused of Witchcraft was sanctioned by both secular and ecclesiastical authorities.  For a religion and a people that scholars say never existed, this seems amazingly remarkable.

What other parallel can we draw from history that encompasses so much literature over a vast period of time, and addresses with such intensity and tenacity a people that never existed, while at the same time resulting in the torture and deaths of thousands of real individuals thought to be this non-existent thing?  There appears to be no match or precedence in all of history.  Why have people believed in the actual existence of witches since ancient times?  Why are we still talking about them in the 21st century?

When comparing Witchcraft with Wicca, there are more similarities than there are differences.   For example,  the Witch known as Medea is a priestess, and she casts a ritual/magical circle on the ground, sets an altar, and calls upon a goddess.  The Italian Witch-Hunter, Francesco Guazzo, writes in his Compendium Maleficarum, that Witches possess a black book from which they read during their religious rites.  He also mentions that they have dealings with spirits of earth, air, fire and water.  Old woodcuts depict Witches attending a Sabbat. Folklorist Charles Leland, in his book Aradia, presents material connecting Witches with a male and female divinity.  It is therefore difficult to clearly distinguish between Wicca and Witchcraft, is such a distinction actually does apply.