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 29, 2014 at 5:07pm

Something I wanted to ask was - do we have any more evidence other than word of mouth that the nine covens existed? It seems there might have been a George Pickingill, but what of the covens he was supposed to be magister of?

No, as far as I know, all we have is the Pickingill Papers & the author of those has taken quite a bit of criticism over the lack of evidence. Proof of old George does exist, but, not much else. I personally haven't read the Pickingill Papers, however, I think I should now. Another question would be is, even if the Pickingill 9 did exist, do they still exist?..

Comment by Barry J King on May 31, 2014 at 10:50am

Let me correct my earlier statement:

Despite all the noise he made about the Anglo-Saxons, it was his position that it was the Norman Scandinavian 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 Scandinavians? I do not recall him really covering that.

Comment by Barry J King on May 31, 2014 at 10:59am

Funny, though, my mistake on the correct invaders brought up what practices may have still been going on in Normandy despite it's conversion. I have major doubts about the witch in the above story. It does sound more like an attempt at giving a sermon. However, if it is a fabricated work of fiction, the author may have given away some of the practices the "evil" witches did.

Comment by Barry J King on June 3, 2014 at 4:48pm

Is this the book, F.C.?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Comment by Barry J King on June 4, 2014 at 5:04pm

Well it is time to answer some of my own questions. Some of these answers, I'd concluded before the first comment & a couple have been formulated as the discussion has progressed. So, where I'm at, at this point:

  1. Rome destroyed the Celtic caste system. They pretty much exterminated the Druid class & replaced the Celtic warrior(class) with their own soldiers. I remember reading about how Rome had funded the building of some "Celtic" temples, I think in Gaul, & gave the god a Romo-Celtic name. I'm sure they did the same on the British Isles.
  2. The Celts & Germanic people had been trading & occupying the same areas in Europe for quite sometime. When the AS came to the island, it was just more the same. So, not a stretch to say they borrowed from each others belief systems. However, the Celts were pretty much 2nd class citizens.
  3. Well they came from the same root, so it likely, wasn't that difficult for them to come together.
  4. What survived was likely common knowledge & very watered down. So, anyone could have formed a coven.
  5. Despite the circumstantial evidence against it, I believe the New Forest coven probably did exist. As to how much Vanic it had in it, well, after reading the "Obituary of the Vanir" (that F.C. posted) I'm left unsure. Freyja & Freyr may be fairly new deities...
  6. I believe it is possible that there were covens before the New Forest coven, but very unlikely, that they would go that far back.
  7. Meh, there's so many thing mixed in it, is hard to say.

Thanks for the links & answers, SB.

I have spoken to Ashe & she did say she would be participating in the discussion soon.

Comment by Barry J King on June 8, 2014 at 9:50pm

I'm going to be putting together a part 2 discussion. I'm thinking of covering ritual/ practice & a more detailed look at Freyja & Freyr. I look forward to talking to folks some more.

Comment by Barry J King on July 6, 2014 at 11:41am

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