Witchdom of the True by Edred Thorsson: Discussion part 1: Etymology & Historic Timeline

A Summary of My Search for the Book

I first saw this book mentioned when I was adding Vanatru organization links to my discussion: Various Forms of Heathenry. Seeing that it allegedly presented evidence of a link from modern Wicca to the Vanir cult of the ancient Northlands & was written by Edred Thorsson (who is very factual & opinionated), it became a must have.

Unfortunately, it was out of print. So, I went to Amazon to find a used copy, only to find it extremely overpriced. $235 was the price tag & that simply wasn't going to happen with me on any budget. I had zero luck in used bookstores.

I then decided to go fishing for it on Paganspace & I cast my net, covering any forum remotely similar to the subject of the book, I mentioned it. After a bit I was contacted by Stormbringer, who was also hunting the book. We agreed to help each other out in our quest for knowledge.

I kept my eye on Amazon & we would touch base every now & then. At one point I saw it had drop to $125 & was in possession of a Goodwill store. I put it in my cart & let it set, in hopes they'd drop the price (a method that works for my wife from time to time). Alas, it was not to be, they jacked it up another $50. I promptly removed it from my cart.

Then one day SB sent me a message that it was on Amazon for $15. I made my purchase ($13.50) that day & here we are!

What's the Point of these Discussions?

I am interested in discussing the information Mr. Flowers puts forth & either coming to an conclusion that it has merit or discredit it, with folks, whom I have come to respect on this site & have knowledge about the subjects put forth. I'm not looking so much for debate(of the big ego variety), but, more or less, a sharing of information.

Etymology

Those of you, who are familiar with Edred's books, know that he puts a large amount of stock in etymology. This book is no different in that regard. Here are just some of the comments made in regard to Wicca:

But the word "wicca" itself is a Germanic word and one which reflects a very specific culture. Pg. X

Several writers on modern Witchcraft have noted the fact that the word wicca is of English or Germanic(and not Celtic) origin. Pg. Xi

Not only are its distant roots there- but when the time came for the tradition to be reborn, it was on English soil that the rebirth took place. Pg. Xi

Indeed, the root of the modern word "wicca" is Anglo-Saxon or, if you will, English. Pg. Xi

In modern times, the word Wicca has come to be the label of a religion, however, in ancient times, not so much as he states:

The word "wicca" never signified the institution or practice of "witchcraft". A wicca[WITCHah] is a male practitioner of wiccedom(witchdom), wiccecraft(witchcraft), wiccung(witching). A wicce[WITCHuh] is a female practitioner of those same skills. Pg.Xi-Xii

What about the Lord & Lady? Modern Wiccan writers seem to overstate that all gods & goddesses are just different aspects of the Lord & Lady. What is indicated here is much more specific and not monism(or in this case duoism):

In the ancient north a race of Gods and Goddesses, called by the Scandinavians the Vanir, was worshiped. Central to their theology was the worship of the Lord and Lady, called in their language Freyr and Freyja. Pg. Xi

Freyja is actually a title or divine by-name which means literally "the Lady", that is, it is a royal title of respect. Pg. 34

As opposed to Freyja, whose true cultic name is secret, the name of the Lord(Freyr) is thought to be Ingwi or Yngvi. Pg. 38

Ingaevones= Sons of Ingwaz(= the Earth god) Pg. 5

The Roman historian Tacitus, writing in his own description of the Germans during the last decade of the first century CE, reports that Germans thought of themselves as being divided into three groups, which he calls Ingaevones, Istaevones & Herminones. Pg. 5

Historical Timeline

Mr. Thorsson bounces around quite a bit while trying to get his points across. For me it was easier to understand by putting the events in order by date using his words:

Before the middle of the 5th century CE Britain had been dominated by Celtic culture- and since the southern part of the island had been occupied for nearly 400 years by the Romans- the culture of what was to become England was also to some extent Romanized. Pg. 7

In the southern Germanic territory, or "Germany" proper, there is strong evidence for Vanic deities from an early time. Of special interest to us, would be the extreme northern part of "the Germanies"- the areas from which the Angles, Saxons and Jutes migrated to Britain- around 450CE eventually to shape England. Pg. 4

There was immediate intermarriage with the local(Celtic) Brythonic population. Pg. 8

In the year 793 the first "Viking raid" was made by Norwegian adventurers/ pirates on the monastery at Lindisferne in northern England. This signaled the beginning of a large cultural movement from still heathen Scandinavia out over the seas to the west- to England,  Pg. 8

So between 800 and the year of the Norman conquest(1066) the Scandinavian culture had an enormous impact on England and the English language- especially in northern England. Pg. 9

The next few quotes is about how the syncretism of these cultures looked like.

The Neolithic folk lent the subtle, yet powerful, traditions connected with the land itself and the stones they had set in it. The Celtic British(Britons) provided much of the lore and magic of the plants and natural cycles of the land- the link between humans and nature.

Pg. 10

These Ingaevones- Saxons, Angles and Jutes- brought every aspect of their integral culture with them from their homeland in what is now northern Germany and Denmark. This included their language(Old English), religion(traditional Germanic troth), politics(Germanic Sacral Kingship and "representative aristocracy". Pg.7

the Norse- who began settling in England just before the middle of the 9th century- added the deciding factor: the well developed cult of the Lord and Lady. Pg. 11

Here we fast forward the timeline to the ending of the 19 century & up.

It is perhaps true that at least some of the old Vanic ways were able to survive- at least to the middle of the 20th century- at the level of common rural folk traditions. Pg. 18

One of the earliest impulses in this direction came from the American writer Charles Leland who published a curious volume Aradia: Gospel of the Witches in 1899. Pg. 19

Among these were the Woodcraft movement founded by Enest Thompson Seton in 1902, which for a time was allied with the Boy Scout movement. Pg. 21

Under Seton's influence Enest Wistlake and his children founded the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry in 1916 and established a "Forest School on their property at Godshill in the New Forest near London. Pg. 21

In 1920 another leader, John Hargrove founded the Kindred of Kibbo Kift(Kentish dialect words meaning "proof of great strength") and also established a camp at Godshill in the New Forest. Pg. 21

These organizations although originally allied with Seton's movement which emphasized the lore of the American Indian, reoriented themselves to a great extent toward Anglo- Saxon and British lore. Pg. 21

These groups, the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry and Kibbo Kift both modeled their rituals on European structures and used Saxon and Norse terms, such as "moot"(meeting), "thing"(assembly) and members took "woodcraft names". Pg. 22

They even practiced nudism- another practice borrowed from the German practices of the day. Pg. 22

From academic circles came the important, if controversial, works of Margaret Murray. The earliest of these was The Witch Cult in Western Europe(1921), which was followed ten years later by The God of the Witches. Pg. 20

He had this to say about these early writers of witchcraft:

These theories were tailor made to be fashionable in an academic setting often dominated by Marxist historical materialism. Pg. 20

And this to say about most writers of Wicca:

This has largely been due perhaps to the general Celtophilic basis of neo-paganism in England(mainly among English writers), coupled with an equally general Germanophobic bias in those same circles. Pg. Xi

I can say that the early writings were taking place in periods close WWI and WWII. It could have just snowballed from there. Now on with the timeline & Gerald Gardner's syncretism.

Perhaps two exceptions were to be found in the personages of Charles Seymour and Christine Hartley who were active in Dion Fortunes Fraternity of the Inner Light in the 1930s. Pg. 20

It also appears that Seymour and Hartley were Co-masons, i.e. belonged to lodges that initiated men and women. (5)

He gives this reference:

(5) Valiente, The Rebirth of Witchcraft, p. 32

Seymour & Hartley were real interested in witchcraft which was odd for occultist at this time.

At some point during the 1930s and 1940s Gardner began to put together his own system under the influence of the aforementioned groups and other occult traditions of a less "folkish" variety. Pg. 22

Recent historical evidence clearly reveals a direct link between these movements and Gerald Gardner, who even claims to made his acquaintance with "witches" in, of all places, the New Forest where both Woodcraft Chivalry and Kibbo Kift were established. (7) Pg. 21

He gives this reference:

For an interesting discussion of the connections between the Woodcraft movement and modern Wicca, see the article " The Red God: Woodcraft and the Origins of Wicca." by J. Greer and Gordon Cooper in Gnosis 48 (Summer, 1998), pp. 50-58.

And to continue:

He had a keen interest in magic and folklore and was also a Co-mason at the same time Seymour and Hartley were involved. Pg. 21

Gardner's synthesis of witchcraft- or Wicca[wick-a] as it came to be called and (mis)-pronounced- was a blend of Masonic ritual, what was known from folklore and "witch- hunting" literature about medieval and Reformation Age witchcraft ceremonial magic(that of the Key of Solomon and Aliester Crowley), and general British folklore derived from sources as Margaret Murray and perhaps later Robert Graves. Pg. 21

Thoughts & Questions

  1. How great was the syncretism between the Romans & Celts?
  2. How great was the syncretism between Britons & Anglo-Saxons?
  3. How great was the syncretism between the Scandinavians and the English?
  4. Could enough have survived on the folk tradition level to be a real link to modern Wicca?
  5. Could the New Forest coven(if it existed) have been a watered down version of the Vanic past?
  6. Could their have been covens before, that gives them a lineage to the ancient Anglos?
  7. While this book makes a good case for Wicca being more Germanic than Celtic, is it really the case?

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Comments are closed for this blog post

Comment by Barry J King on May 19, 2014 at 9:24pm

It does mention the Woodcraft movement, but, seems to be unimpressed with Greer & Cooper.

Comment by Barry J King on May 20, 2014 at 1:53pm

Finished the video. Very interesting history about Snorri. He had some character flaws. So, he "wrote" the Younger Eddas for a 14 year old Christian king of Norway.

Comment by Barry J King on May 22, 2014 at 11:18am

The closest I've come finding "The Red God: Woodcraft and the origins of Wicca" is here. It'll cost $20 for a back issue. Maybe, I can find a PDF somewhere. 

Comment by Barry J King on May 22, 2014 at 1:45pm

Have a safe & enjoyable trip.

Comment by Barry J King on May 24, 2014 at 2:36pm

Okay, the counterpoints were written by the author of the Pickingrill Papers & he was pissed. He makes some valid points about dates, however, just because someone doesn't officially join a group, doesn't mean they haven't been in contact with a group or been influenced by a group.

The fact that Gardner ran in the same circles as the Kibbo Kift, personal friends with some of these folk & a lot of practices that seem to be closely identical makes a compelling case. I believe these groups could have influenced Gardner's work. I have to wonder though, is it possible Kibbo Kift was being slightly influenced by Gardner or could they have had something else, prior to them as a mutual influence. I'm not getting that aha moment.

If what is being stated about Kibbo Kift in the counterpoints is true, I can see why many Wiccans wouldn't want it to get out. Kibbo Kift seem to be toying with a lot of the same ideas the Nazis were. It would better to say it was influenced by Agent 666 than National Socialism.

I guess I'll have to find the article & read it myself before I can decide that it relegates the Pickingrill Papers to the "dustbins of Pagan history". Right now, Pickingrill's nine(allegedly one of which was in New Forest) & Kibbo Kift could have both had an equal influence on Gardner as far as I can tell.

Comment by Barry J King on May 24, 2014 at 10:41pm

Secrets of the Nine Covens

These

three

traditions

are

the

Danish--‐inspired

old

style

Craft,

which

has

perpuated

some

beliefs

and

practices

of

the

Vanir

cult;

the

'traditional'

companies

which

perpetuate

the

Luciferian

myth

and

some

Saracen

sex

magic,

which

supposedly

transforms

dross

into

divinity;

and

the

French--‐inspired

companies,

which

adore

the

Goat

God

and

are

concerned

with

the

carnal

pleasures

of

the

world

as

well

as

the

spiritual.

Comment by Leitonellos Tarvogenos on May 29, 2014 at 1:13am

Hello, everyone! Barry, there were issues with my phone the other noght when I tried to answer, but I am on my laptop now, so, we should be good. I am just going to answer your questions by number, for simplicity sake. Sorry I jumped in late.

Thoughts & Questions

  1. How great was the syncretism between the Romans & Celts?
  2. How great was the syncretism between Britons & Anglo-Saxons?
  3. How great was the syncretism between the Scandinavians and the English?
  4. Could enough have survived on the folk tradition level to be a real link to modern Wicca?
  5. Could the New Forest coven(if it existed) have been a watered down version of the Vanic past?
  6. Could their have been covens before, that gives them a lineage to the ancient Anglos?
  7. While this book makes a good case for Wicca being more Germanic than Celtic, is it really the case?

Answers as best as I can deliver:

1. Being conquered by Rome, there was much syncretism, as the Romans, when they conquered other peoples, and it took several attempts to conquer Britain, mind you, tried to tie in their gods with the gods of those they conquered. Britain was no exception. This is seen with gods: Jupiter-Taranis, Mars-Teutates, Mercury-Lugus, Minerva-Sulis, amongst others. Bathhouses, clothing, entertainment, and Latin script followed. The Britons already had a sophisticated culture, of course, and contrary to previously held beliefs, they did have roads, some infrastructure, and the largest mining operations in Europe. But, yes, the syncretism was great, Romans liked a lot of the Brythonic gods themselves. But, it was mostly Rome bringing its culture to Britain. Of course, for the average Briton, it was a life of servitude. But, I digress.

2. Between the Britons and Anglo-Saxons, the level of syncretism was a little more mutual. Again, contrary to previous knowledge, there was no wipeout of Britons, there were a few battles, but also, being used to the Romans fighting for them, weren't as skilled. However, the battle at Mount Badon held off the Saxons for 50 years. When they finally won, there weren't a lot of battles and in many places under Saxon control, there were separate laws governing the Waehla (Britons), and the Saxons. It was much more a cultural takeover than a military one. So, Britons in what is now England, adopted Saxon ways. However, the Britons were Christian by this point, the Saxons were not. However, eventually they converted, piece by piece, kingdom by kingdom.

3. With the Scandinavians, there were of course the infamous Viking raids, however, there was also trade and an exchange of ideas amongst the English and the Vikings, as well as the Welsh and the Vikings, there is heavy evidence of trade, not so much religious exchange, however. There have been finds of Viking jewellery worn by Welsh kings, for example. Not as much exchange as Saxons and Britons, but enough to impact historical memory for sure.

4. I mean, there is the influence in the holidays Wiccans have. Obviously, the four Celtic fire festivals. A couple of Saxon holidays, too. Then there is the Autumnal Equinox, called Mabon, the Welsh name of the Brythonic god of youth, Maponos. However, this is not set in any ancient historical basis, and this name for the holiday was invented by Aidan Kelly in the 70's.

5. I would doubt that personally. As inspiration for what became Wicca was inspired by many groups at the time. I wouldn't doubt that of this New Forest Coven either. 

6. No. There are no unbroken lines of witchcraft of Paganism that exist in the British Isles that trace that far back.

7. That would have to be broken down by category of the different aspects of Wicca. Coming from a historical Celtic Pagan perspective, Wicca has little to nothing in common with Celtic Pagan practises. Other than the fire festival names, there is practically nothing I can think of that ties into any historical or modern Celtic Pagan practises. It seems more of its own thing in that regard. As far as Saxon, that is not my area of expertise, so I will yield to those on here that know more about them. Like the Celtic part, from what I know about Wicca, obviously the inner core not being known to me, other than holidays, and some things I know of Wiccans doing to celebrate them, I see little in common with what I know of Saxon practises.

Comment by Leitonellos Tarvogenos on May 29, 2014 at 1:16am

Oh, yeah, the use of Old English spellings ring to a more Anglo touch, I guess. A few other things that elude me at the moment. I'd say Wicca has more Saxon to it than Celtic.

Comment by Barry J King on May 29, 2014 at 4:43pm

Sorry I jumped in late.

No, problem Chad, this is ongoing, so no rush.

In your answer for question 2, you bring up the Christian conversion of the Britons. Mr. Thorrson did mention this. At the fall of the Roman occupiers & the arrival of the AS, he indicated that it wasn't that strong yet.

Christianity had been introduced with some limited success. Pg. 7

I guess it would be a question of how rapidly did they convert in the following years? Also, whether or not Mr. Thorrson is downplaying Christianization of the Celts of that region & era?

Germanic Pagans & Celtic Pagans weren't complete strangers to each other on the continent of Europe, it would be interesting to know what syncretism took place in the "border towns".

Thanks so  much for participating. 

Comment by Barry J King on May 29, 2014 at 5:01pm

Hello Northern Haegtesse, I was going to invite you to the conversation, so I'm delighted to already see you here. Everyone else, NH is an Old English Witch(I hope that is the right description).

The last point is basically what I'd reiterate most strongly here - modern Wicca, completely valid as a modern tradition of Witchcraft as I feel it to be, is a different thing really to Anglo-saxon Wiccecraeft.

I do agree. The question, I'm having here is, how much of ancient ASH practices slipped into folklore & how much of it, on a folk level, would have survived into Gardner's time.

Funnily enough Ray Buckland's book on Saex Wica, though more Wiccan in flavour than ASH, actually had the choice of deities about right, more right maybe on that score than Thorsson,

As much flack Buckland has taken over "The Tree", if he heard that statement, I think he might have a cardiac arrest. I'm sure Thorsson felt someone stepping on his grave when you typed it. :)

Despite all the noise he made about the Anglo-Saxons, it was his position that it was the Norman invaders that brought the Vanic cult in. That makes me wonder, how long were the words "wicce & wicca" in use? Was it before the Normans? I do not recall him really covering that.

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