The Oldest Religion
Some people claim that “witchcraft is the oldest religion and has survived through family traditions for thousands of years”.
To make such a statement of any religion that has endured since Paleolithic times and in its pure form seems to be highly improbable. This is not to say it couldn’t have happened, but it is not essential for someone who really wants to believe. It is more likely that religion by its very nature has changed, evolved and integrated over time. That would make the mainstream religions of today amalgamated versions.
Others claim that witchcraft is a revival of the “Old Ways.”
My question is— What “old ways” would that be?
Man has walked on this earth for longer than before recorded history. Even the archaeologists know very little about the cultural beliefs and practices of early man. We assume that they had some sort of transcendent belief because of the manner in which they buried their dead.
It is not until the agricultural developments around 10,000 BCE that man begins to have a sense of cultural identity. As humans started living in large groups, it is highly probable that the rudiments of what we, today, call “religion” began to formulate. This is not to say there weren’t belief structures before societal man.
Currently, there is no evidence to support that witchcraft existed as a religion during these times; in contrast there is no evidence to support that it didn’t. Nevertheless, we lack precise knowledge of their philosophies, practices and beliefs. We can only make only suppositions.
There is another problem. Whatever beliefs, theories and ideas we have of early history are based solely on archaeological finds. Archaeology is not an exact science! With each discovery an archaeologist will fill in the missing pieces of history by “connecting the dots.” Each rendition of history will be different and biased according to its author.
Then there is also the issue of terminology and classification. When defining a word or concept, one must take into consideration the subjective nature of the definition. This is particularly true when trying to apply a meaning to an ancient cultural concept from a twentieth century standpoint. What constitutes a religion —in Paleolithic Age, —in the Bronze Age, —or even today? What exactly is witchcraft? What are the elements that define it? Is Sorcery the same as witchcraft? Furthermore, how do we distinguish witchcraft from other religions that may contain these same characteristics?
My conclusion is that witchcraft of today is most likely unrelated to whatever similar social and cultural structure that may have existed in ancient times. Also, the ancientness of a religion should have no reflection on its viability or plausibility. Being the oldest religion does not make it better than other religions, or any “truer” than any other spiritual path.
So if not witchcraft, which one?
Every religion today most likely has some aspect of an ancient belief in its philosophy or practice, but to say that one particular religion is the oldest is naive. The reality is— we do not know. We have no basis for comparison. Most reference books list Hinduism as the oldest world religion. This is probably because Hinduism has the oldest recorded roots, which lie in Dravidianism. Dravidianism is estimated to have been practiced around 6,000 to 3,000 BCE and as such predates the Sumerian, Egyptian, and Babylonian cultures.
A History of Witchcraft –Jeffrey B. Russell
Drawing Down the Moon –Margot Adler
The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions
Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion; An Anthropological Study of the Supernatural –A.C. Lehmann & J. E. Myers.
A History of Pagan Europe –Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick
The Evolution of a World Religion: Origins of Modern Witchcraft –Ann Moura