Study of Witchcraft: A Guidebook to Advanced Wicca

Study of Witchcraft: A Guidebook to Advanced Wicca

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by Deborah Lipp

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A veritable master's degree in Wicca in book form.


A veritable master's degree in Wicca in book form.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Lipp, author of The Way of Fourand Elements of Ritual, suggests that the reason there are not more advanced Wicca books is because advanced Wicca "happens when you stretch beyond Wicca itself." She goes on: "When I was trained as a young traditional Wiccan, I was expected to make an extensive study of topics that ranged far beyond Wicca and witchcraft." For Lipp, the areas beyond memorizing the elements of the pagan calendar and spell casting that young Wiccans ought to be exploring include such obvious topics as the evolution of modern Wicca from Freemasonry and the history of witch hunts. However, she breaks new ground when she encourages readers to explore such traditional spiritual practices as meditation and the study of comparative religion. She writes, "Certain advanced Wiccan skills, such as deep trance or channeling, depend on a greater ability to still the mind, quiet the ego, and reach an inner balance." Indeed, Lipp invites readers to enter into psychotherapy in order to gain deeper self-awareness. Each of her chapters is supplemented with a helpful "homework" section and an annotated bibliography for further reading. Advanced practitioners of all stripes should be delighted with this enduring contribution to the literature. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

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By Deborah Lipp

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2007 Deborah Lipp
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57863-409-5



Modern Wicca arose between the 1930s and the 1950s in England, where it continues to thrive. Its antecedents prior to the 1930s are the subject of much scholarly debate, with which we need not concern ourselves here. Central to this debate is the role that Gerald Gardner played in the transmission, or invention, of the tradition. Indeed, Gardner himself consistently claimed that he modified and added to the "fragmentary" rituals he received. For our purposes here, when I refer to Gardner's creation or origination of modern Wicca, please note that I refer only to the transformation that changed the face of Wicca and do not intend to contribute to a debate best left to experts.


When Wicca arrived in the United States from England in the 1960s, it stayed in some ways the same; in other ways, it became Americanized (not unexpectedly). It existed quietly in cities and suburbs as a secret "other" life for seemingly ordinary people.

But something was brewing—the cultural phenomena of the 1960s and 1970s. During these decades of sweeping social and cultural change, Wicca, which had previously been almost exclusively traditional and Gardnerian (see chapter 3), collided with hippies, activists, and self-actualizers. Occult consciousness, alternative spirituality, and personal freedom, all essential to Wicca, were also all part of the counter-culture movement. The attraction between the old tradition and the new consciousness was inevitable. An unforeseen side effect of this cultural collision, however, was that demand for all things Wiccan soon outstripped the ability of Wicca as it was to meet it. Traditional Wicca is designed to grow through one-on-one training in small covens. The parameters of such a group are:

• A maximum of thirteen members, including a High Priestess and High Priest;

• Three degrees of initiation, with a year and a day between degrees;

• Only second and third degree initiates can start their own covens.

Wiccan groups built on this model run on the maxim that "it takes a witch to make a witch." Under these parameters and given optimal conditions (although conditions are never optimal), a Gardnerian couple can create at most eleven second degree initiates (and thus five or six new covens) in no less than two years and two days.

Now, if you think about how small it all started in this very big country (one or two groups in New York, one or two in California) and if you think about the size and enthusiasm of the counter-culture that arose in the 1960s and 1970s, you can see that something had to give. It was this combination of cultural and social conditions that created the first big change in Wicca—the emergence of self-created traditions.

There had always been "grandmother stories"—the white lie that someone was initiated by his or her grandmother into an ancient tradition reaching back to the Stone Age. But freethinking hippies weren't all that interested in their grandmothers. People began proudly proclaiming that they had invented their traditions, which, much to the surprise of some, they discovered were very effective! Newly invented rituals turned out to have power and spiritual depth. Who would have guessed? The Church of All Worlds was the first openly invented neo-pagan denomination, but many others—Wiccan and otherwise—have followed happily in their footsteps.

So this is the transformation that took place in 1960s. In the 1970s, another wave of interest in Wicca washed up in the form of the emergent (second-wave) feminist movement, with its interest in female empowerment, goddesses, and self-directed spiritual growth. Once again, demand outstripped supply. Even fewer feminists were interested in seeking a traditional path, which reminded many of the patriarchal churches and synagogues they wanted to leave behind. They felt more empowered by self-created ritual, by consensus and sharing rather than authority and leadership. High priestesses were as irrelevant to them as priests.


Beginning in the late 1970s and continuing into the 1980s, the ecological movement began to have impact on Wicca and Paganism. Wicca had always been a nature religion, but it was from politics that it learned to be really green (or Green).

I first started practicing witchcraft in 1981. (Remember, we used "witchcraft" and "Wicca" interchangeably then. I will do likewise here to remain true to the time we are discussing). The enormous change that occurred over the next twenty years is something I saw with my own eyes. Wiccans practicing during that period were very much aware of the significant changes underway. Sometimes it was glorious; sometimes it felt as if the rug were being pulled out from under us.

One of the most important changes was the festival movement. I don't know (and I don't know if anyone knows) what the first outdoor Pagan festival actually was. There are, of course, a number of early contenders for the honor. Many who were there mention Pan Pagan as the first. The first organized modern Pagan festival, however, was Gnosticon—an indoor, convention-style event sponsored by Llewellyn Publications in 1971. Sometime thereafter, someone figured out that it would be easier and cheaper to hold this type of event outdoors, with participants camping rather than staying in hotel rooms (although hotel events have never gone away).

I cannot begin to express the impact this change had on the Pagan and Wiccan community. Before the advent of outdoor festivals, Wicca was whatever was practiced in your circle. Unless you were in a big city, you probably never met any witches other than the ones with whom you circled. You might buy Gwydion Pendderwen's record (the very first music produced by and for neo-pagans) or another early Pagan recording. These early productions made a few chants and songs available to use. (Drumming didn't enter into Pagan ceremony in a big way until the early 1990s.)

Then suddenly, there were public festivals where you could meet with dozens (ultimately hundreds) of other Pagans. You could share rituals, techniques, knowledge, songs, and fun. Domineering coven leaders who previously had a stranglehold on their students were suddenly robbed of their power, which derived from them being the exclusive source of information. The community exploded in creativity. People who'd done ritual only for their group of five were now creating and learning polished techniques that were effective for groups of fifty.

These festivals also made it much easier to meet likeminded people. Instead of reaching out slowly by word of mouth, or through writing dozens of letters (that's on paper, kids!) that usually went unanswered, Wiccans and Pagans could hook up and exchange phone numbers. At festivals, everyone was out of the broom closet (at least until they packed up the car on Sunday).

Groups came and met other groups. Solitaries came and connected with groups, or with other solitaries, and formed groups from those meetings. And then something new happened: Solitaries came and found other solitaries with whom they could circle, while still remaining solitary. The festivals were responsible for the phenomenon of public sabbats. Now, in communities all over the United States, and indeed around the world, there are open or semi-open rituals eight times a year. Many solitaries attend these rituals, while remaining solitary for the rest of the year and never joining a group. The idea of being solitary-by-choice, or solitary supplemented by public ceremony, first became possible in the 1980s through the advent of public festivals.

I mark 1987 as the high point of the festival movement. In the summer of that year, I traveled to a large number of festivals all over the United States, from California to Massachusetts and places in between, accompanied by Isaac Bonewits, who was then my fiancé (and is now my ex-husband). It seemed that, in that year, every festival doubled in size; those that had previously attracted around 90 people a year were flooded with 200 attendees; those that used to have a mere fifty celebrants now had a hundred. The festivals, which had previously been attended by 200 to 250 people, were now squeezing in 400 or more. Nineteen-eighty-seven was the year that some festivals actually had to shut down, because they were no longer able to handle the demand. Others capped attendance based on available land and personnel, and/or required preregistration so that the atthe-door arrivals wouldn't overwhelm the event. It was a trying, yet glorious, time—a time that changed Paganism and Wicca forever.

Another very cool, very influential thing that happened in this period was the Pagan publishing boom. In 1980, the occult bookshelf was limited: What Witches Do by Stewart Farrar, The Spiral Dance by Starhawk, Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler, Real Magic by Isaac Bonewits, a few books by Doreen Valiente, Gerald Gardner's work, and the early work of Raymond Buckland (although his most famous book, Buckland's Complete Guide to Witchcraft, didn't come along until 1986). You could find the work of Sybil Leek, Paul Huson, and Gavin and Yvonne Frost, as well as older stuff by classic authors like Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, and other pre-Wiccan occultists of an earlier generation. That was about it. You could clean out a bookstore of its Wiccan and neo-pagan material without having to buy a new bookcase at home.

The publishing boom of the 1990s changed all that. It used to be that everyone had read just about everything to do with Wicca. This isn't much of an exaggeration; there were so few books on the subject that everyone involved in the religion for more than a year or two had probably read the majority of available books, and was buying every new one as it came out. Obviously, it is no longer possible to buy every new book on Wicca, nor is it desirable. Your time as a beginner is a joyous time, and books for beginners are wonderful. But there's only so much Wicca 101 a soul can abide! In the 1970s and early 1980s, many of the books in print weren't very good.

In the 21st century, a lot of them still aren't. Whether you're talking about occultism, murder mysteries, popular psychology, or science fiction, the majority of books published just aren't all that great. But the increase in quantity in Pagan publishing has meant that, with the percentage of excellence remaining about the same, the pool of great resources has increased dramatically. In that pool are books that contradict each other, forcing readers to make choices, to interpret, and to stretch themselves. This is good. The same trend, however, has also allowed people to excuse themselves for actually reading less. This is not so good.

In 1980, most Wiccans had read all or most of the twenty or thirty basic texts. Furthermore, they'd expanded their reading far afield, dipping into a range of subjects that could supplement the meager supply of Wiccan texts. Now, with many dozens of good books on Wicca available in mainstream stores (no more hunting down occult shops), a beginner has no way of reading them all, and no need to seek beyond them. This sounds paradoxical, but it's true. If I go to a bookstore and find three titles I want, I may well buy all three. If I go to a bookstore and find fifty titles I want, I may only buy one because I am overwhelmed. Today, I find fewer beginners reaching into other topic areas; there are so many books directly related to their interest that books only peripherally related to it get short shrift. This is exactly the situation, in fact, that inspired me to write the book you're holding now.


Let's review: In the 1960s, Gardnerian Wicca arrived in the United States and met up with the emerging counter-culture. In the 1970s, it encountered feminism and the ecology movement. In the 1980s, we changed and grew in response to the festival movement and the publishing boom.

The most recent influences on Wicca are the Internet and the media. The former has created unprecedented access, and the latter unsurpassed familiarity. In other words, now anyone can find out about Wicca, and just about everyone has heard of it.

The Internet provides access to enormous amounts of both information and misinformation. It allows people to learn Wicca privately, often secretly. It has spawned the creature known as the "online coven"—something we old-fashioned types find a bit bizarre, but that many people report works quite well. The Internet has vastly increased the mutual self-teaching of Paganism and Wicca—in other words, newcomers sharing what information they have with each other. Sometimes this creates a powerful support group that increases everyone's knowledge; sometimes it amounts to the blind leading the blind. Many Wiccans begin online and use the Web to find in-person contacts; others are satisfied with solitary practice and find that the Internet provides all the outside contact they want or need.

It seems to me that the Wiccan media wave began with the movie The Craft in 1996. Although any person knowledgeable in Wicca can readily see that the Craft portrayed in the film was not Wicca, it was the first major release to use at least some accurate terminology (including the film's title) and ritual styles. The Craft was a horror movie, though, in which empowered girls were punished for using their power. More positive was the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which introduced the "techno-Pagan," Jenny Calendar. Although having no pretense of accuracy, Buffy offered the world positive Wiccans who used their powers to help and protect. It made the word Wicca familiar to the general public and made the Craft "cool" to a certain segment of the audience.

Many Wiccans object to the younger generation of Wiccans who first heard of the Craft through Buffy, but as long as newcomers to Wicca learn that Willow's version of witchcraft is as much a fantasy as Samantha's nose-wiggling was thirty years earlier, I see no harm in it, and plenty of potential good.



I use the word "described" in the title of this chapter because "defined" would ruffle too many feathers. As discussed above, modern Wicca has gone through massive changes during each decade of its existence in the United States. The result of this rapid evolution is that there are different types of Wicca active in the world today, sometimes with only glancing familiarity with one another. Thus, when people try to define Wicca, someone inevitably disagrees. In fact, Wicca is now represented by roughly three broad streams. While there is overlap among those streams, there is also enough difference between them that it is difficult to generalize about the religion without specifying which version is being discussed. I will present them chronologically, more or less in the order they appeared over the years, to avoid any appearance of bias or priority. Before I do that, however, let's look at what all Wiccans have in common.


This is a tricky subject. There are some people who say that Wicca is whatever you say it is—that, if your practice is eclectic, it defies definition. I disagree with that. Wicca is a specific religion, even though it is an extremely open-ended one. I would say that, if you are not closely aligned with the following principles, you are perhaps Pagan, or perhaps a witch, but you are not a Wiccan as I understand it:

Polarity: Wiccans may be monists, meaning they believe all gods are ultimately One. They may be duo-theists, meaning they believe that, in Dion Fortune's words, "All Gods are One God, and all Goddesses are One Goddess." They may be hard polytheists, meaning they believe that each individual deity is precisely that, an individual and not an aspect or component of a larger One or Two. Whatever they believe, however, they work with polarity—ritually and spiritually. However many deities a Wiccan may worship, there is always only one goddess and one god on the altar during ritual.

Immanence: The sacredness of the human being is essential to Wicca. This can be described in many different ways: "If that which thou seekest, thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee"; or "Thou Art God"; or "An' it harm none, do what you will." Not everyone will embrace every description, but a Wiccan will always have some creed that includes the idea that the gods/goddesses within us are our truest guides.

Excerpted from THE STUDY OF WITCHCRAFT by Deborah Lipp. Copyright © 2007 Deborah Lipp. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Deborah Lipp is an active "out of the closet" member of the Pagan community and has appeared on various media sources, most notably on the A&E documentary Ancient Mysteries: Witchcraft in America as well as on MSNBC, in The New York Times, and others. Deborah is also the author of several highly regarded books including The Way of Four and is the author of the forthcoming The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book. She lives with her son in suburban New York.

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Study of Witchcraft: A Guidebook to Advanced Wicca 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book that help you expand and refine your personal practice. I does ask you to read other material and use other resources - i enjoyed this part of it kind of acting like a guide of sorts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Deborah has raught mme so much so far in this book and i thank her for it.