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Fellow Pagan blogger (and academic) Chas Clifton punches massive holes in the conspiracy theories being manufactured by Aidan Kelly and Thoth Publications on the release of “Inventing Witchcraft: A Case Study in the Creation of a New Religion”.

“The book they tried to ban. When the first edition of this book was released, conservative Gardnerian Witches attempted to suppress it, claiming that it discredited their religion. Even though its first printing quickly sold out, the original publisher, faced with death threats and boycotts, agreed to abandon the project, and no other publisher has dared to reprint it before now.”

To which Clifton replies: “Horse s**t. Elephant dung. Monkey poop.” He then proceeds to debunk the conspiratorial claims one by one, including the “fact” that Llewellyn would be intimidated by controversy or anger from Gardnerian Witches.

“[Llewellyn] wanted to publish it. After thirty years in the occult publishing business, [Llewellyn president Carl Weschcke] probably treated the displeasure of his reading public less seriously than he treated Minnesota mosquitoes. Death threats indeed. Controversy is good for publishers, as Thoth is obliquely admitting by trying to manufacture some.”

So why all the ruckus? “Inventing Witchcraft” is an expansion and re-working of “Crafting the Art of Magic” (published in 1991), the first book entirely devoted to tracking down the origins of Wicca using textual criticism on various copies of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. In short, the book challenged the idea that Wicca was an ancient lineaged mystery religion, an action that made him controversial.

“In 1991, Llewellyn published a book written by Kelly titled Crafting the Art of Magic, which he describes as a trade version of the scholarly work the publisher rejected, in which he challenges Gerald Gardner’s claim that Wicca is an ancient tradition. Rather, Kelly wrote, Wicca was something that Gardner made up himself. Kelly claims that his research indicates that Gerald Gardner invented modern witchcraft in 1946 and that Aradia was one of Gardner’s major sources. Kelly also charges that certain aspects of Gardnerian practice were a result of Gardner’s alleged ‘sexual addictions.’ In his book, Kelly defends Wicca as ‘a thriving, beautiful religion in its own right (that) does not require an appeal to the past for legitimacy.'”

While Kelly’s work is still considered a valuable asset by scholars studying the history of Wicca (it is acknowledged as an essential resource in Ronald Hutton’s “Triumph of the Moon”), and it is nice to see the book back in print again, the need to drum up controversy by talking about death-threats and a supposedly cowed former publisher does nothing but stir up bad blood over an old issue that most of us have collectively moved on from.