Many of the ancient pagan and Mother Earth cult religions required human sacrifice. Although most witches today deny using human or animal blood sacrifices, cases of witches who used blood letting and sacrifice are replete throughout history even to the present day.
Modern 20th century Wiccans draw their religious ideology from the Mother Earth cults of the Celtic and Nordic peoples of pre-Christian Europe. The word “Wiccan” first appears in an early manuscript of an Anglo-Saxon scribe in the alliterative phrase: wyccan and wælcyrian, “witches and valkyries.“1 The word in Old English has masculine and feminine endings and denotes both men and women using magic arts. The word “victim” in English has the same derivation as wycca and originally meant a living human being “set apart” to be sacrificed to a deity.2
The religion is traced to ancient Celtic and Northern German people who practiced human sacrifice. The Roman historian, Tacitus, records that the ancestors of the English speaking peoples, the Angles, sacrificed to the Mother Earth Goddess. In his Germania, “On the Origin and Geography of Germany,” Tacitus describes this gruesome ritual as “a ceremony performed by slaves who are immediately afterward drowned in the lake.” Some of the victims, astonishingly preserved in peat bogs, are on display in museums in Denmark.3
Modern witches unabashedly make reference to the pagan rituals of pre-Christian Europe in describing their religion. In a paper submitted to the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, Michael Thorn writes: “Modern Witchcraft (or Wicca) is the most common expression of the religious movement known as Neo-paganism…. Its practitioners are reviving ancient Pagan practices and beliefs of pre-Christian Europe and adapting them to contemporary American life…. Wiccans focus their liturgy and worship around a Goddess and a God. Rituals and services are timed to the phases of the moon and to the Wheel of the Year (i.e., the solstices, equinoxes, and the days falling midway between these such as May Day and Hallowe’en). Most witches treat their practice as a priesthood, somewhat akin to the mystery cults of classical Greece and Rome, involving years of training and passage through life transforming initiatory rituals. All witches agree on the ethical code, ‘An it harm none, do what ye will’; in other words, ‘Do what you believe is right, but let no one be harmed by your actions.’“4
According to a recent Ms. magazine article: “Witchcraft is about wholeness, about celebrating one’s intimacy with the Goddess and the earth, who are one and the same…. [T]here are 200,000 women and men practicing the Old Religion in the United States. The Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, California, claims that Witchcraft and Paganism are the fastest growing religions in the country, countering the rise of Christian fundamentalism.“5
1 The Northern World, ed. David M. Wilson (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1980) p.40.
2 Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1975.
3 McCrum, The Story of English (Elisabeth Sifton Books, Viking, New York, 1987) p.57.
4 Michael Thorn, “A Portrait of Wicca,” A Sourcebook for the Community of Religions, The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.
5 Jan Phillips, “The Craft of the Wise.”