The WMT and Wicca   9 comments

Greetings fellow Pagans!

I was recently invited to give a lecture on “ceremonial magick” to a local group of second degree Wiccans.  After accepting the invitation, I took some time to consider what direction such a lecture should take.  What about ceremonial magick would interest them, and how could I present it in a manner to which they could relate?

The answer came quickly enough: I would give them a condensed history lesson about the Western Mystery Tradition – covering the development of Hermeticism, the Hebrew and later Christian Qabalah, Rosicrucianism, Masonry, the Golden Dawn and Thelema.  Finally, all of this would culminate in a discussion about the rise of Wicca and its interrelationship with all of the above.

In the lecture, I pointed out the influence of the Golden Dawn in Wicca’s magickal methods – such as circle castings, pentagrams, Watchtower guardians, the four Elements, etc. I discussed the impact of Regardie’s publication of ‘The Golden Dawn’ on mid-twentieth century occultism (Neo-paganism included).  And I even discussed Gerald Gardner’s association with Thelema – drawing much from my old Thelemic Origins of Wicca essay.

Overall, I’d call the event a resounding success, and it looks like I’m going to have to come up with some ideas for a future lecture for the same group.  ;)

Meanwhile, in the days since the event I have discovered there is something in the air about this subject.  I just received the latest edition of Hermetic Virtues Magazine, and wouldn’t you know it included a wonderful essay by Peregrin Wildoak entitled The Influence of the Golden Dawn in Wicca.  I have been wanting to write that very essay for many years – but it looks like Peregrin beat me to it, and did it better than I would have done.  ;)  I forwarded a copy to the Wiccan priestess who organized my lecture, so she could offer it as “further reading” to her students.  (I also recommend you get a copy of the latest Hermetic Virtues to check it out!)

I sent a message to Peregrin, offering my kudos and asking if he had ever read my Thelemic Origins… essay.  He said he had indeed read it, and even brought it up in a related lecture he had given:  The Influence of Aleister Crowley on the Development of Wicca.  Let me quote his reply here:

Hi Aaron,
thanks for this :)

Yes, I read your very interesting article…and politely disagreed with its central thesis in another recent lecture :)  Would love a counter argument if you wish :)

That certainly piqued my interest.  I doubted he disagreed with my premise of a Thelemic influence upon the development of Wicca.  So I read his essay to find his specific point of dissent.  I discovered a quote from my essay in a section entitled Myth Number 3 – Wicca as an Outer Court to the OTO or a Thelemic Vehicle:

“I’ve come to understand that Gerald Gardner intended from the very beginning for Wicca to be a largely Thelemic system.”

Having read the entire article, I think I understand where Preegrin disagrees with my statement.  The above quote could be taken in one of two ways:  Either I understand Wicca was intended as an organizational Thelemeic  (that is, OTO) vehicle, or that it was a philosophical Thelemic vehicle.

In fact, I meant the latter.  I am not among those who have suspected Wicca was intended as an outer court to the OTO, or even an “OTO for the masses.”  Instead, my view is that Wicca was (to an extent) built upon Thelemic philosophy.

Of course, Peregrin also disagrees with that premise – and to prove it he cites several departures from (or in some cases the absence of) Thelemic philosophy in the Wiccan religion.  And he is correct – such departures and absences do exist, and he does a fine job of pointing them out.

However, to play devil’s advocate, I would also point out that Thelema was intended to be a highly individualized philosophy.  Are not those who dissect the Book of the Law and nit-pick specific points of Thelemic philosophy supposed to be “centers of pestilence”?  Is it not the one cardinal rule of Thelema that one should follow his own True Will no matter what?  Given this nature of the system, I don’t find it so hard to believe that Gerald Gardner felt at liberty to take Wicca in directions that might conflict with any of Crowley’s writings.

Still, I will admit my statement that Wicca was intended as “a Thelemic system” might have been over-stating the case to some extent.  (That essay was one of my earliest pieces, and not an example of my best writing.)  I certainly don’t view Wicca as just Thelema with Neo-pagan overlay.

However, the influence of Thelema and its philosophies upon Gardner cannot be denied.  (Nor, to be fair, does Peregrin attempt to deny them in his essay.)  I see more of Thelema in Wicca than the mere “fleshing out of sparse material” that Gardner claimed it to be.  I believe Gardner’s occultism was heavily Crowley-influenced – first through Crowley’s published writings, then during Gardner’s time with the OTO – and that this formed the foundation upon which Wicca was ultimately constructed. (Much in the manner that Thelema is founded upon Golden Dawn principles, while it is not “Golden Dawn” in and of itself.)

Though, it is true that Gardner was taking Wicca in directions that often left the greater Thelemic system behind, and that Doreen Valiente took it even further afield.  I suspect the apparent disagreement between me and Peregrim Wildoak on this issue is largely one of semantics.

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Aaron

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9 responses to “The WMT and Wicca

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  1. As I understand it, Gardner hardly spent *any* time in the OTO at all: except perhaps to place a badly spelled-charter under the Great Beast’s heroin-fuddled hand to sign, so her could have something pretty to display in his Museum of Witchcraft. The influence of Crowley on Wicca could just as easily be explained by whoever writing the Book of Shadows to have cribbed large sections from the Equinox – without having Crowley’s direct involvement per se.

    • Alex, read the “Crowley/Wicca” article of Peregrin’s I linked for in-depth info on that subject. Gardner’s involvement with the OTO was a little more than you’ve described. But it was by no means all *that* extensive. Without a doubt, the Thelemeic inclusions in Wicca did not require the direct involvement of Crowley himself. Just his published works.

  2. Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for this post and the discussion.

    I think we have a broad agreement and any possible departures are those typically argued over one too many drinks at the end of a jolly good evening’s quaffing. :)

    Just to reply to a couple of things from your commentary here.

    Yes, Thelema is highly individual. And yes, Gardner would have been taking it in a new direction– had he ever practiced or even deeply understood Crowley’s Thelema. I personally do not think he did.

    You write: “… Gardner’s occultism was heavily Crowley-influenced – first through Crowley’s published writings, then during Gardner’s time with the OTO.”

    The phrase “time with the OTO” to modern folk, accustomed to organised OTO encampments, magical groups holding lessons and public Gnostic Masses etc, does not reflect the actual situation with Gardner.

    Gardner, in effect had NO time with the OTO. As I mention, he at best was simply read the 5th and 6th degree initiations. He had no training, no teacher, attended no meetings, and only gained what he could from Crowley’s published books. For a few years after Crowley’s death he tried to obtain papers, instructions and rituals from wherever he could, simply because he did not have any. This was during and after the time he composed the first drafts of the first two Wiccan initiations.

    So there was no real passing on of Thelemic philosophy to Gardner. As for the published material: it is significant that in terms of volume, the most copied sections of Crowley’s published works in Ye Bok and other notebooks of Gardner is from Crowley’s ‘Goetia’ – concerning typical medieval magic to evoke and control demons et al. Gardner did not copy Crowley’s published philosophy or magical rationales.

    I personally think Gardner and Crowley got on so well and Gardner used Crowley’s work (apart from the “splendid poetry”) because their personal and spiritual philosophies matched. Maybe I’ve been hanging out with my Buddhist chums too much, but “nowhere a vacuum” – Thelema did not arrive via Crowley overnight without interdependency on many other systems and philosophies. As you would know, several folk have shown just how much Golden Dawn is within Thelema – both at a conscious and what appears unconscious level (within Liber Al).

    I think over his life Gardner (like several others of his day, such as Dion Byngham) adopted a mish-mash of these influential ideas and philosophies that were synthesised and added to by Crowley. Meeting and reading Crowley then inspired and moved him deeply and set him off into (co)creating what ultimately became Wicca (like reading Crowley sparked Byngham off too).

    So, yes probably Semantics – Thelema as most OTO folk would agree is broader than even the Great Beast – and in that sense, Gardner certainly created Wicca in a Thelemic mould. :)

    Thanks for the discussion, Mr Leitch…wait… Aaron Leitch… A.L. – you’re not HIM returned are you? lol ;

    • Thanks, Peregrin, I agree with your points. Overall, I think Thelema was simply a major influence in Western Occultism at the time Gardner was doing his thing, and it shows in what Gardner created. Thelema continued to have a massive impact for the second half of the 20th century – and for a time was pretty much “all there was” for C.M. (especially after the last G.D. Temples closed down or went into isolation), until Chic Cicero and Regardie founded the modern incarnation of the Golden Dawn in the early 80s.

      ME Crowley? Nah… if I’m a reincarnation of anyone it would be Dee. LOL Of course, if you anagram my name you get “Enoch Liar” – Hmmmm…..

  3. Are you going to post a transcription of your presentation?

    • That would be cool, but not this time. I didn’t prepare a lecture, I just did the whole thing “off the cuff.” Maybe some time in the future I’ll write up a more formal lecture based on it.

      • Doh. I’d like to see it. My wife is Wiccan and I go back and forth with her friends about the history of Wicca. She’s pretty much subscribed to the idea it’s like any other of the modern mystical systems (founded on good ideas wrapped up in dubious ciphertexts) but some of the other people aren’t so comfortable with the idea that the Wicca didn’t predate Christianity let alone Gardner. I actually feel it diminishes the sway of Wicca to set it apart from these other systems since the whole “roll your own” is the hallmark of continuous revelation. Lord knows I’ve stolen plenty, and both your and Peregrin’s books are on my suggested reading lists to aspiring ceremonial magicians.

        That being said, having read Agrippa, it tends to surprise me when people claim antiquity to Wicca. I think there’s super fertile ground for someone with better command of language than me to dig around and publish a compare-and-contrast.

  4. Pingback: Aaron Leitch on Wicca | Ceremonial Magic Musings

  5. Argh! Due to an editing error, ALL the links I had in this post were removed. But I have now restored them. :) There is now a link to my Thelemic Origins of Wicca essay, Hermetic Virtues Magazine, and Peregrin’s Crowley and Wicca essay. :)

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