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Quote from In Modern English, the term “Wicca” (/wk/) refers to the religion of contemporary pagan witchcraft.
Modern practices identified by their practitioners as “witchcraft” have arisen in the twentieth century, generally portrayed as revivals of pre-Christian European magic and spirituality. They thus fall within the broad category of Neopaganism. Contemporary witchcraft takes many forms, but often involves the use of divination, magic, and working with the classical elements and unseen forces such as spirits and the forces of nature. The practice of herbal and folk medicine and spiritual healing is also common, as are alternative medical and New Age healing practices. The first groups of neopagan witchcraft to publicly appear in the 1950s and 1960s, such as Gerald Gardner’s Wicca and Roy Bowers’ Clan of Tubal Cain, operated as initiatory secret societies. Other individual practitioners and writers such as Paul Huson also claimed inheritance to surviving traditions of witchcraft.
The term “Wicca” appears to have developed within the Pagan Witchcraft community during the early 1960s, as increasing numbers of Pagan Witches learned of the Old English term “wicca”, the etymological origin of the Modern term “witch”. This etymological fact had been referred to five times in Gerald Gardner’s book The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959), as well as in other early texts propagating Pagan Witchcraft, such as Doreen Valiente’s Where Witchcraft Lives (1962) and Justine Glass’ Witchcraft, The Sixth Sense–and Us (1965). None of these specifically referred to the Pagan Witchcraft religion as “Wicca”.
The earliest known reference for the word “Wicca” to be an in a 1962 issue of Fate magazine; in this, a Cardiff-based group of Pagan Witches a tradition as “Wicca–Dianic and Aradian”. The have been to Charles and Mary Cardell because Mary was allegedly born in Wales and Cardellian Witchcraft had apparently venerated a goddess under the name of Diana. However, many Pagan Witchcraft groups would have adopted the deity name Diana and Aradia, these being the goddesses featured in the American folklorist Charles Leland’s supposed account of a Tuscan witch tradition, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches (1899). Another early use could be found from 1965, in the penultimate issue of Pentagram, the of the Witchcraft Association. Here, a small column on Halloween made reference to “the Craft of the Wiccan”, apparently referring to the entire Pagan Witchcraft community. Although, the writer’s name was not printed. It had probably been produced by one of the figures involved in Pentagram, such as Gerard Noel or Doreen Valiente. In 1968, a group of British Gardnerians began publishing a magazine titled The Wiccan, while Welshman Gavin Frost founded the Church of Wicca in the United States that same year.
In the 1960s, Alex Sanders, an initiate of the Gardnerian tradition, founded his own tradition, which became known as Alexandrian Wicca; he used the terms “Wicca” and “the Wicca” in reference to the entire Pagan Witchcraft religion. One of Sanders’ initiates, Stewart Farrar, described “Wicca” as “the witches’ name for their Craft” in his book What Witches Do (1971). The widespread adoption of “Wicca” in reference to Pagan Witchcraft would have brought benefits to its practitioners, who were widely maligned and faced persecution for their practice of “witchcraft”; an emotive term often associated with Satanism that had negative connotations in the Western imagination. By presenting themselves as “Wiccans” rather than “witches”, he argued it removed some of the social stigma that they faced..