Wicca, Druidism and other neo-pagan faiths offer a great many things to their roughly one million adherents. Spiritual fulfillment, friendly communities of like-minded believers and some of the best drug fueled sex parties you'll find this side of Lichtenstein. But it's all good, people have been wearing immense hooded robes, and sacrificing goats around bubbling cauldrons since years before we had electricity, right?
Most practitioners will acknowledge that Wicca as a recognizable faith is about 60 years-old. The neo-Druidic faiths popped up around the mid-1700s. In both cases, the leaders of either movement claimed to be bringing back some ancient religions.
How old are they really? A few years younger than the con men who popularized them. Most of modern codified Wiccan thought comes back to three people who just sort of made it all up in the late 19th and early 20th century. "Old" Welsh and Druidic traditions don't fare much better; they have their genesis in 1792.
So who made it up? Trust us when we say that the average author will write literally anything for sex, drugs, money or all of the above.
Charles Leland, Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner all published books that, they claimed, held the ancient secrets of witchcraft. Leland pretended to have learned the doctrines of Old Italian witchcraft from a sorceress named Maddalena. Margaret Murray is the woman who coined the term "burning times," while Gerald Gardner asserted that Wicca began in pre-history and went "underground" throughout most of recorded history.
Gardner was probably the chief founder. Some people even call him the father of Wicca, as he founded the tradition from which most current blends of Wicca descend.
Gardner claimed to have gathered traditions and beliefs from surviving covens that had "gone to ground" centuries or millennia ago. Of course, there's absolutely no way to verify any of Gardner's claims. We do know that he plagiarized quite a bit from Aleister Crowley. Also hurting his case is the approximately zero archeological, written or any other sort of other record of any of the practices he "brought back." Since "underground" is archeologists favorite place to look, that doesn't bode well.
The foundations of neo-Druidic and "ancient" Welsh cultural traditions go back a little further. In 1792 a hallucination-prone laudanum addict named Iolo Morgannwg (originally Edward Williams) started to hold Druidic ceremonies in London. He wrote up lists of rituals and practices and set up gorseddau, or Druish sects, across Wales.
Long after his death, all of Morgannwg's writings were revealed to be outright forgeries or total rewrites of older works. To Iolo's credit, he only used his newfound religion to make a ton of money selling books and (presumably) to sleep with girls in the 18th century counter-culture. We suppose that makes him kind of a dick, but deep down, that's why we write every article we've ever posted.