Witches, Wiccans and Pagans
Bombast and Flitterflop investigate the confusing and contradictory world of modern Paganism
PART EIGHT of Astral Conversations—an unusual series of investigations into the occult with a humorous twist.
Paganism has been described as "a religion that has many gods or goddesses, considers the earth holy, and does not have a central authority." As we shall learn, modern Paganism doesn't have any authority. Rather, it is a chaotic melting pot of New Age beliefs and practices which are as varied and contradictory as humanity itself. Not all Witches are Wiccans, neither are all Wiccans Witches. All Wiccans are Pagans, but not all Pagans are either Witches or Wiccans. Confused? Don't worry, you're not alone. Paganism is such a broad church that anything and everything falls under its multicoloured umbrella. This is both its greatest appeal and its gravest danger to the uninstructed and impressionable seeker. Having no fixed laws and no unified and coherent philosophy, modern Witchcraft, Wicca and Paganism are not paths to enlightenment, but ignorance and confusion, as we shall see. . .
The astral world, as some of our readers will know, is a counterpart of conditions on earth; some better, some worse. The difference being, as we explained in our fifth Astral Conversation, that conditions there can change in a week, a day, or the twinkling of an eye. So we should not be surprised to find Bombast and Flitterflop in a muddy field just as wet and cold as anywhere on earth. Why they are there, rather than in their usual cosy astral retreat, and for what reason, we hope to discover as we follow their conversation.
BOMBAST (morosely): "Remind me again. Whose bright idea was it to travel to this muddy field in the middle of nowhere to share the fruits of our investigations with a motley assortment of Witches, Wizards, Alchemists, Sybils, Reconstructed Druids and eco-warriors?"
FLITTERFLOP (adjusting the awning above their heads which constituted their only protection from the rain that bucketed down in torrents): "You've got to go where the action is. It's only a bit of rain."
BOMBAST: (emptying the brim of his now sorry-looking panama hat for the umpteenth time): "A bit of rain? This deluge is positively Biblical! We should have hired an ark, not this rickety table and a scrap of canvas barely large enough to cover my hat! As for 'action', I thought you said they'd be over 10,000 Pagans here for this festival?"
FLITTERFLOP: "Well, there will be when it stops raining."
BOMBAST: "IF it stops raining, you mean. This is the second day and it shows no sign of letting up. According to the Bible that means we can look forward to another 38 days of this typically English summer weather."
FLITTERFLOP (brightly): "Look! The sun's just come out from behind that cloud!"
BOMBAST: "Are you sure it's the sun and not another pipe-smoking Wizard setting fire to his enormously long beard?"
FLITTERFLOP (tentatively stretching his hand beyond the shelter of the awning): "Very droll. No, it's definitely getting lighter, and—look—the rain's easing off."
BOMBAST: (grudgingly): "So it is—and this—judging by the 'magical' tattoos adorning her lithe limbs and the Morgan-la-Fay designer cloak billowing behind her—is a young Witch, or possibly a Wiccan. No doubt the first of 10,000 Pagans eager to peruse one of your self-published copies of our little chats."
FLITTERFLOP: (holding out a copy of 'Astral Conversations' and falling into his best sales patter) "Can I interest you in a——"
YOUNG WITCH (interrupting): "——maybe later. I was hoping you might...um, you know...help shift some Wiccan books for me...seeing as you have so much spare room on your stand and don't seem to be selling many...um...like...chakra-balancing candles."
FLITTERFLOP: "The candles are to keep out the cold, it's this book we're selling. (Optimistically holds out 'Astral Conversations' again)
BOMBAST (muttering under his breath): "Keep in the cold would be nearer the truth. (Raising his voice) "And what priceless pearls of erudition, pray, do these bottomless wells of Wiccan wisdom contain that we should expedite their dissemination?"
YOUNG WITCH: "Uhh?"
FLITTERFLOP: "Don't mind my friend, he's a foreigner. He meant what are your books about?"
YOUNG WITCH (handing Flitterflop a pile of books): "Well....um...they're, like Wiccan, y' know? Spell-crafting, sand in a bottle, salt spells, weather witchery, banishing spells and um...other...um spells and stuff..."
FLITTERFLOP (reading): "Wicca for Dummies. Did you write it?"
YOUNG WITCH: "Nah, I'm trying to help out a mate who bought them on eBay by mistake and can't shift 'em."
FLITTERFLOP: "In mistake for what?"
YOUNG WITCH (giggling with embarrassment): "Wickerwork for Dummies."
BOMBAST (stepping out from behind the table and addressing the Young Witch): "It's an easy mistake to make if you spend all your time watching YouTube videos presented by attention-seeking teenage sociopaths, accompanied by an unconvincing familiar called 'Beelzebub' disguised as an obese moggie with mange."
YOUNG WITCH: "Uhh?"
FLITTERFLOP: "He's a foreigner." What he meant was, you do know that Wicca is mostly complete nonsense, don't you?"
YOUNG WITCH: "Is it? That's not what the professional Witches on YouTube and Tumblr say."
BOMBAST (throwing his hat in the air and catching it with a theatrical flourish): "PROFESSIONAL Witches plying their trade in cyberspace! Hurrah! O Brave new world!"
YOUNG WITCH: "Uhh?"
BOMBAST (rolling his eyes heavenwards): "That has such people in it. Or should that be 'innit?"
FLITTERFLOP: "He's a——"
YOUNG WITCH: "——Foreigner. Yeah, I'm getting to understand him."
BOMBAST: "Then you should understand that modern Witchcraft—Wicca if you prefer—is the invention of an English civil servant and amateur anthropologist called Gerald B. Gardner, who died in 1964."
YOUNG WITCH: "Really?"
FLITTERFLOP: "Really and truly. It's all made up."
YOUNG WITCH: "How? By who? When? Why?"
BOMBAST: "By whom. If you can spare the time from flogging Wickerwork for Dummies, I'll be glad to answer your questions."
YOUNG WITCH: "Wicca NOT wickerwork."
BOMBAST: "You say Wicca, I say wicker. Wicker makes good baskets out of wood but Wicca often turns good wood into basket cases.
YOUNG WITCH (bristling with indignation): "Are you saying I'm a basket case?"
BOMBAST: "No more so than average. Wood is a metaphor for the SOUL. It comes from Martial, who said that 'not every wood is suitable for the making of mercury.' By which he meant that not every mind is capable of instruction and transmutation."
YOUNG WITCH: "Marshal who?"
BOMBAST (chuckling kindly): "Not 'marshal'—'MARTIAL.' Marcus Valerius Martialis was a Roman poet who is considered to be the inventor of epigrams, or witty and instructive sayings."
YOUNG WITCH: "Do you think I'm 'capable of instruction?"
BOMBAST: "Well, you're still here, aren't you?"
YOUNG WITCH: "Yeah, right. So who's this Gardner guy who invented Wicca?"
FLITTERFLOP: "Well...frankly, he was a dirty old man who liked young girls and discovered that having his own pseudo-religious cult was a sure-fire way to get them into his bed."
YOUNG WITCH: "Wow! Like the guy in Fifty shades of Grey?"
BOMBAST: "Not remotely. Gardner was neither rich nor good-looking. Far from reviving an ancient religion which predated Christianity, as many Wiccans like to believe, Gardner cooked up Wicca in the middle of the twentieth century from ingredients borrowed from ritual magic, Freemasonry, Egyptian mythology, Gnosticism, Druidism, Tantric Yoga, Celtic folklore and Rosicrucianism. The famous Book of Shadows, which is revered by many Wiccans as holy writ, was written by Gardner in his London bedsit in the late 1940's. Much of the book is a copy of the rituals of the Ordo Templi Orientis, an unsavoury occult order popular at the time with would-be black magicians. It is ironic that Wicca, which is now closely associated with feminism and the so-called 'Goddess Movement', was invented by an ageing male chauvinist (Gardner was over 60 when he wrote the Book of Shadows) to satisfy his ego and indulge his sexual appetites."
YOUNG WITCH (crestfallen): "I had no idea. That is so sick. I mean really sick. So Wicca isn't an old religion at all?"
BOMBAST: "It's neither old nor a religion. Gardner obtained most of his ideas from two people: Charles Leland, a nineteenth-century amateur American folklorist who professed to have found a surviving cult of the goddess Diana in Tuscany, and Margaret Murray, a British Egyptologist who herself drew on Leland's ideas and, beginning in the 1920s, created a detailed framework of ritual and belief. Blindfolding, initiation, secrecy, degrees, wands, chalices, and the ubiquitous five-pointed star, were all borrowed by Gardner from his occult and Rosicrucian cronies.
"Gardner claimed to be a Master Mason, yet Masonic records show that he was only an Entered Apprentice—the lowest grade in Freemasonry. This accounts for the rather puerile rituals he incorporated into Wicca. He also boasted he had obtained a doctorate in Philosophy in Singapore and a doctorate in Literature in Toulouse but there is no evidence to substantiate either assertion. His claim to have been initiated into a witches' coven in the New Forest in 1939 by the improbably-named 'Dorothy Clutterbuck' is equally groundless. Despite the best efforts of the 20th century doyen of witches, Doreen Valiente, to prove otherwise, there is no evidence whatsoever that Clutterbuck existed, much less initiated Gardner into her coven. But like every other charlatan before and since, Gardner had no compunction about pillaging from any sources that would lend verisimilitude to his claims and provide a spurious antiquity for Wicca without which—no pun intended—it would never have been taken seriously."
FLITTERFLOP: "So the rituals Witches practise are all invented?"
BOMBAST: "Every last one. Gardner was especially keen on ritual sex, which he called 'The Great Rite,' but he omitted to mention that it never formed any part of the initiation rites of the ancient mystery schools he filched his ideas from. Instead it came from the muddy waters of Tantricism popularised by several 20th century occultists, and was enthusiastically incorporated by Gardner in his liturgy for Beltane and other pagan feasts. Then and now, many participants simulated the sexual act with an athame—one of Gardner's favourite ritual implements—and a chalice. Other rituals called for the binding and scourging of initiates and for administering 'the fivefold kiss' to the feet, knees, genitals, breasts, and lips. So basically kinky sex with a pseudo-religious makeover for jaded mystics."
YOUNG WITCH (blushing): "Well I'm not into Wicca for the sex."
FLITTERFLOP: "So why are you into it?"
YOUNG WITCH: "I was raised a Christian but couldn't stomach their patriarchal, masculine God and all that stuff about original sin and punishment."
FLITTERFLOP: "Is that it? You could have found the feminine without becoming a Witch. The ancient Egyptians had as many goddesses as gods. Neither did they have any concept of 'sin' as we understand it, nor any gods or goddesses who punish mankind."
YOUNG WITCH: "I didn't know that. No one told me."
BOMBAST: "Well, they wouldn't, would they? None of your fellow Wiccans bother to study the religions and philosophies of the past, preferring to obtain all their information in banal soundbites on YouTube."
YOUNG WITCH (grudgingly): I guess there's some truth in that. So...if this guy——"
FLITTERFLOP: "——Gerald Gardner"
YOUNG WITCH: "If this guy—Gerald Gardner—um...like...invented Wicca how come Wiccans were burned all over Europe like...before he invented it?"
BOMBAST: "They weren't Wiccans. As I've explained, Wicca is a modern invention. People have always been persecuted for questioning the prevailing religious orthodoxy of the times they lived in. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries anyone who held beliefs contrary to the dogmas of the Christian Church, or who stood out in some way, especially if they were an independently-minded wealthy woman, was liable to be accused of practising Witchcraft and tossed onto a fire. Their accusers were typically ordinary citizens (often other women), not clerical or secular authorities."
YOUNG WITCH: "What about Goddess worship? That's Wiccan."
BOMBAST: "No, it isn't. It's another invention. The ancients worshipped many different Gods and Goddesses, as Hindus still do today. That doesn't make them Wiccans. Goddess worship arose out of a reaction by women against the monotheistic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam that culminated in the integration of feminism with Gardnerian Witchcraft. But as Gardner was seen as unacceptably paternalistic and authoritarian by most feminists seeking alternatives to established religions, they ditched him and developed their own tradition which was more eclectic and less hierarchical and focused on the Goddess to the exclusion of the male element. That is modern Wicca in a nutshell, and it's just as one-sided and unbalanced as the paternalistic religions it opposes."
YOUNG WITCH: "Why do you say that?"
FLITTERFLOP: "Because you can't have a mum without a dad!"
BOMBAST: "Well put. Of course nowadays you can and do. You can even have children without a father or a mother, but this is not Nature's way. If we look to the oldest religion in the world, that of ancient Egypt, we find that every God had his Goddess. Isis without Osiris is not a deity but a non-entity. The same applies to a large extent in Hinduism too. It is only the modern monotheistic religions that have kicked out the mother principle, though in the case of Christianity, without much success, for Mary is loved more dearly by most Catholics than either the 'Father' or the 'Son."
YOUNG WITCH: "OK, So Wicca may not be old, and Wiccans may have invented Goddess worship, but the roots of Wicca are Celtic, aren't they?"
BOMBAST: "Not remotely. Wicca is not Celtic, it's not Asatru, it's not Native American or even Native British. Contrary to all your fluffy Silver Ravenwolf books, it's a thoroughly contemporary melting pot of different beliefs and practices culled from a variety of sources, predominantly Gardnerian Witchcraft, which, as I've shown, is almost entirely invented.
"Moreover, the Celts were not one people, but many separate nations, holding widely different religious beliefs which changed profoundly over time. Some were Druids worshipping a father-mother god, others worshipped saviour-gods such as Mithras and Apollo. Some favoured masculine deities like Thor, Odin and Jupiter, others worshipped feminine deities like Ceres, Demeter, Aphrodite and Isis."
John William Waterhouse — The Magic Circle — oil on canvas, 1886
YOUNG WITCH: "What about the Wiccan Rede? Isn't that based on the Celtic religion?"
FLITTERFLOP: "What is the Wiccan Rede? Some sort of witches moral code?"
YOUNG WITCH: "Yeah, I guess you could call it that. We believe in harming none, perfect love, respect for Nature and all living things, honour, truth, service to the community, loyalty, justice, courage; that kind of stuff."
FLITTERFLOP: "You think these are Celtic beliefs?"
YOUNG WITCH: "Aren't they?"
BOMBAST: "No. They're universal. Even Christians, that is, followers of the teachings of Jesus, rather than the dogmas of the Church, share these ideals. So do Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists!"
YOUNG WITCH: "Well...when you put it like that..."
FLITTERFLOP: "How else would you put it? The roots of modern Wicca and Paganism go no further back than the fascination with spiritualism, magic and witchcraft that began in the late 19th century. Modern Paganism does not have any direct links with any religion or philosophy, monotheistic, polytheistic or otherwise. Nor does it provide any clear answers to life's mysteries, such as we find in the laws and principles of occult science."
BOMBAST: "Just so. If you take any modern Celtic Pagan belief you will find that it is based on the principles and cosmogony of one or more ancient religions."
YOUNG WITCH: "Such as?"
BOMBAST: "The four occult elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth. This teaching is as old as man and is found in ancient Egypt, India, China and the Americas. The same applies to the so-called Wiccan three Realms of Land, Sky and Sea or this World, the Otherworld, and the Underworld. These all correspond to the 'three worlds' of Hindu cosmology and to the three worlds of the ancient Egyptians: the Tuat, Earth and Amenta. The principle of duality is also universal; male and female, night and day, good and evil, etc."
YOUNG WITCH: "What about spell-crafting?"
BOMBAST: "What about it?"
YOUNG WITCH: "Well...um...there are a lot of Witches that I follow on Tumblr and YouTube who present all sorts of methods to do witchcraft. The spells I am most concerned about are chakra balancing, astral projection and travel, communicating with ancestors and spirits, cursing and hexing others. I find it hard to weed out the legit from the fake. I don't want to learn anything that will block me from the Truth that I seek. Is there a way to practice Witchcraft and do spells and rituals without doing harm to myself or simply wasting my time?"
YOUNG WITCH (crestfallen): "Oh..."
BOMBAST: "Everything you've mentioned comes under the heading of magic. But magic, if it be worthy of the name, is a divine science based on a profound knowledge of the hidden laws of Nature, which cannot be learned on Tumblr or YouTube, or from any books, but only from a genuine teacher of the occult sciences. Cursing and hexing on the other hand can be picked up by almost anyone from a variety of sources. If they also possess sufficient will-power and concentration they can develop into a second-rate sorceress or first class lunatic in a matter of months."
YOUNG WITCH: "What about white Witchcraft? That's OK, isn't it?"
BOMBAST: "There's no such thing. So-called 'white Witches' are either unconscious or semi-conscious magicians or simply deluded lunatics, usually the latter!"
YOUNG WITCH: "I read that there are certain signs that show you're a white Witch."
FLITTERFLOP: "Really? Such as?"
YOUNG WITCH: "Well...um...like...feeling like an outsider, having a really deep connection to Nature, being drawn to certain animals, beautiful rocks, healing and...um...stuff..."
BOMBAST: "Look, having a 'deep connection to Nature', prophetic dreams, past-life memories, sensitivity to emotional atmospheres, a preference for tree-hugging rather than bitch slapping, empathy, compassion, a liking for fluffy animals, arts and crafts, making home remedies, a burning interest in the mysteries of the Universe, believing in fairies, a penchant for collecting 'mystical' crystals, and a desire to do good rather than evil, do not make you a white Witch."
YOUNG WITCH: "They don't?"
YOUNG WITCH: "What do they make you?"
BOMBAST: "A sensitive and caring young woman interested in the deeper side of life."
YOUNG WITCH: "I guess you're right."
BOMBAST (smiling): "I usually am. Look—Nuns share most of the qualities you mentioned which I enlarged upon. They're not Witches, are they?"
YOUNG WITCH (laughing): "No, definitely not!"
FLITTERFLOP: "But Nuns cast spells."
YOUNG WITCH (astonished): "They do?"
FLITTERFLOP: "Well, what do you think prayer is, if not a spell?"
YOUNG WITCH: "I guess I hadn't thought of it like that before..."
BOMBAST (gently): "Why don't you read the book we're selling?"
FLITTERFLOP (handing her a copy of Astral Conversations): "Yes, do. I think you'll find it a lot more interesting than Wicca for Dummies."
YOUNG WITCH (taking the proffered book): "Thanks. Can I pay you later when you've sold some of my books?"
BOMBAST: "If we sell any..."
YOUNG WITCH (laughing): "Yeah, well... Look, I'd better go, there's a queue building up behind me."
FLITTERFLOP (rubbing his hands together gleefully): "So there is!"
(Several hours later...
Bombast and Flitterflop had sold their entire stock of Astral Conversations, but unsurprisingly, not a single copy of Wicca for Dummies when the rain returned with a vengeance. The muddy field turned into a lake from which our intrepid astral travellers escaped back to their cosy astral villa just before the canvas awning collapsed, drenching three New Age Druids, five Celtic-Reconstructionalist-Pagans and a small, black cat, which may or may not have been a witch's familiar.)
BOMBAST (stretching his legs toward the dwindling blaze): "I'm chilled to the marrow. Chuck another log on the fire, there's a good chap."
FLITTERFLOP: "We've run out of wood. There's loads of paper though. The young Witch left her entire stock of Wicca for Dummies behind when she took off with a copy of Astral Conversations."
BOMBAST: "I call that a very fair exchange. How many copies did she leave?"
FLITTERFLOP (dragging several large cardboard boxes toward the fire): "Hundreds, by the look of it."
BOMBAST: "Splendid! Chuck 'em all on!"
Whilst we would not wish to encourage book burning, it is our firm conviction that the vast majority of books on Witchcraft and Wicca would serve their readers better by warming their toes rather than numbing their minds. Until we hear from Flitterflop and Bombast again, we hope that the flambeau of Truth may ever warm their hearts and minds, and yours, dear reader.
You can find a complete list and brief descriptions of all the conversation between these two colourful occult students on the introductory page to these Astral conversations. Although these conversations can be read on their own, they are best read in chronological sequence.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article added 30 July 2016. Updated 25 November 2017.