History of Wicca

While the ritual format of Wicca is styled after late Victorian era occultism (even co-founder Doreen Valiente admits seeing influence from Aleister Crowley), the spiritual content is inspired by older Pagan faiths, with Buddhist and Hindu influences.

Due to historical suspicions, it is seems very likely that Gardner's rites and precepts were taken from other occultists and was not in fact anything new to the world. There is very little in the Wiccan rites that cannot be shown to have come from earlier extant sources. The original material is not cohesive and mostly takes the form of substitutions or expansions within unoriginal material. Roger Dearnaley, in An Annotated Chronology and Bibliography of the Early Gardnerian Craft, describes it as a patchwork.

Heselton, writing in Wiccan Roots and later in Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration, argues that Gardner was not the author of the Wiccan rituals but received them in good faith from an unknown source. (Doreen Valiente makes this claim regarding the "basic skeleton of the rituals," as Margot Adler puts it in Drawing Down the Moon.) He notes that all the Crowley material that is found in the Wiccan rituals can be found in a single book, The Equinox vol no. or Blue Equinox. Gardner is not known to have owned or had access to a copy of this book, although it is certain that he met Crowley towards the end of the latter’s life. Gardner admited "the rituals he received from Old Dorothy's coven were very fragmentary, and in order to make them workable, he had to supplement them with other material."

Some, such as Isaac Bonewits, have argued that Valiente and Heselton's evidence points to an early th century revival predating Gardner, rather than an intact old Pagan religion. The argument points to historical claims of Gardner's that agree with scholarship of a certain time period and contradict later scholarship. Bonewits writes, "Somewhere between and in England some folklorists appear to have gotten together with some Golden Dawn Rosicrucians and a few supposed Fam-Trads to produce the first modern covens in England; grabbing eclectically from any source they could find in order to try and reconstruct the shards of their Pagan past." Crowley published the aforementioned Blue Equinox in .

The idea of primitive matriarchal religions, deriving ultimately from studies by Johann Jakob Bachofen, was popular in Gardner's day, both among academics (e.g., Erich Neumann, Margaret Murray) and amateurs such as Robert Graves. Later academics (e.g. Carl Jung and Marija Gimbutas) continued research in this area, and later still Joseph Campbell, Ashley Montagu and others became fans of Gimbutas' theories of matriarchies in Old Europe. Matriarchal interpretations of the archaeological record and the criticism of such work continue to be matters of academic debate. Some academics carry on research in this area (such as the World Congress on Matriarchal Studies). Critics argue that such matriarchal societies never actually existed and are an invention of researchers such as Margaret Murray. This is disputed by documentaries such as "Blossoms of Fire" (about contemporary Zapotec society).

The idea of a supreme Mother Goddess was common in Victorian and Edwardian literature: the concept of a Horned God — especially related to the gods Pan or Faunus — was less common, but still significant. Both of these ideas were widespread.