History of Wicca in Modern India
(Year-wise press archived articles are given at the end of the page)
When Ipsita started her wiccan work in India in the 1960s , it was an unfamiliar word in this part of the world. Through her writings, her talks, therapy and art, Ipsita showed the country what the true face of Wicca was.
In the eastern civilization of yore, wicca had been revered as dakinividya, the presiding deities of which were the goddesses Kali and Durga. Centuries of patriarchy and chauvinism had reduced this beautiful esoteric practice – for gaining exceptional mental, intellectual and spiritual powers --- to the worst form of social abuse that could be hurled at a woman. If you were vulnerable and others stood to profit from your troubles, you would be held responsible for any misfortune that befell your community, branded a ‘dayan’ or ‘daini’ and hunted to death. Sounds like the 17th century witch-hunts of the Western world, doesn’t it?
Thus it came about that modern India’s most unfortunate introduction to wicca came through the witch-hunts which still seemed to rear their head even in the midst of so called civilized society. In the midst of a culture which worshipped the mother goddess, newspapers reported brutal witch-hunts, most intense around the states of West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar. The most common misconception about wicca which prevailed was that it was a negative art and kaala jaadu, or black magic. The truth and the beauty behind this ancient branch of learning seemed to have been erased from modern memory.
As reports of women branded witches and beaten for it abounded and a callous society seemed content to sit back and do nothing and to actually believe the misconceptions being spread about wicca, Ipsita came forth and for the first time in the country, revealed the true nature of a much maligned craft. Ipsita spoke out as a witch and stood in support of the women battered and branded dayans all across the country. Through many years in the 1980s, Ipsita would meet the people who came in droves from all parts of the country. She would talk to them about and give them wiccan healing. People came to the witch when there was no hope from orthodox sides, and when they had been forsaken by society. Ipsita used old wiccan techniques, working with quartz and sound to help and bring comfort – it was a completely non-invasive way of healing.
One of the first rural movements Ipsita led was in the early 1980s and it took her into the hotbed of witch-hunts in rural Bengal in the Purulia district, where women were easy victims of manipulation and exploitation. As part of a social welfare organization probing witch-hunts, Ipsita was there as an investigator and counsellor. Much against the wishes of the local panchayat, she led a drive to empower the village women with vocational training in knitting, sewing and embroidery,while clearing misconceptions about dainis and dainividya.
There was initial shock and disbelief amongst many in orthodox milieus. Their misguided notions of what a witch should look like and be did not fit in with this intelligent, beautiful and articulate aristocrat from the royal house of Mayurbhanj and Coochbehar. As Ipsita spoke out about wicca, and about all the beauty, healing powers and history of this ancient way of life, the people flocked to her. They came for understanding, for knowledge and for help. It is in a witch that the downtrodden found compassion and the eager student found wisdom. This was the beginning of wicca in modern India.
Then in 1998, wicca took another step. At the time of the Indian Parliamentary Elections that year, the high command of the Indian National Congress asked Ipsita to contest from Hooghly parliamentary constituency in West Bengal and she accepted. Wicca had come a long way in the country – from being a dirty and misunderstood word, to now, something which the highest leaders in the country believed should be in the Parliament of the world’s largest democracy. That was a year of major loss for the Congress in West Bengal. But a larger purpose was served. Wicca was before the people in yet another form – of administrative and political authority, and had gained a place there too. When simple village women came out of their huts in the February dusk, they carried plates of flowers and blew conch shells as Ipsita alighted from her campaign trail jeep. The dayini or witch of old had gained another milestone in her battle for empowerment and justice.
Later In 1998, Ipsita set up the National Youth Brigade to intensify her work against witch-hunts and continued documenting cases.
In 2000, the publication of ‘Beloved Witch’ ( Harper Collins India ), Ipsita’s autobiography was a path breaker. This was the first time in India that wicca had been documented. The reaction was immediate and invitations poured in the hundreds and thousands for Ipsita to speak at various forums and let the country know about wicca and her work over the decades. From foreign organizations, to industry bodies, to universities- the interest grew in waves. There was an unending stream of people wanting to learn and know more. Where there had earlier been doubts and misconceptions, today there was a passionate desire to be a part of this ancient way.
Six years later, in 2006,the Wiccan Brigade was formed by Ipsita to teach a select few the ancient way of wicca --- a group of individuals (women and men) from various walks of life who would carry on the mission and walk the path.
Wicca has since grown and spread and gone amongst people and organizations of all kinds. Many milestones have passed. One such was in 2007 when the Government of India’s National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions nominated Ipsita to head a committee for education of the girl child.
Today, what Ipsita revealed to India many decades ago has become almost a popular word amongst the intelligentsia and the youth. People from all over the country write in aspiring to be wiccans and to have qualities like them, just like they have read about and seen in Ipsita. Television and film media have taken to the subject in a big way, and have brought Ipsita’s wiccan experiences to life onscreen. When Ipsita brought wicca to India, it was a bad word. Today, it holds a pride of place alongside any other ancient and highly regarded systems of learning.
The Healing Begins
(Excerpts from Beloved Witch, Chapter: The Witch-hunt Continues, pages 200-203)
‘I started my work in wicca in earnest. Concrete, solid work that involved healing of the mind and body. People began streaming in with all manner of ailments. Troubled spirits and restless lives torn apart by pain and suffering.I would be there for them thrice a week… counselling them when required and administering the ancient therapy of wicca.
This did not entail anything to ingest, no pills or potions.It required that they sit before me for a while talking about their difficulty and then I would position them in front of the healing quartzes and crystals of differing shapes, hues and sizes. There they would sit in all quietness, communicating with the Elemental life force which I had already proved was trapped within these rocks of varying qualities. Natural sounds emanating from storms, waterfalls, rain and ocean waves were played on tape while they relaxed and absorbed the energies. They were taught to listen and if necessary to emulate certain deep-throated humming sounds themselves.
People talked of feeling better. Healing started taking place…this was healing of a holistic sort. Where the body, mind and spirit were calmed and then fed with the energy of a strange and inexplicable kind.
Most significant was the fact that this was a therapy that was completely non-invasive. There were no risks or side-effects. Wicca was not a dark and sinister practice, it was above board and publicly practiced for anybody to check and experience. I proved to the country. I also brought back the ancient science of quartz therapy to India. Wicca showed the way, once the path had been cleared.’
The Way of the Witch
(Excerpts from Beloved Witch; Chapter: A Witch by Any Name, pages 257-259]
‘So who is a witch? Or more important, what does she do? As she is a wiccan, it would be fair to say that she practises Wicca or wiccecraefte or the skills of the wise. She was the original wise woman, the shaman, the healer, the counselor, the lawyer, the stateswoman of her community. Her power became a threat to men, to organized religion –- and hence the persecution, the witch-hunts and the slander.
I wonder how many people have the scholarship to realize that the first witch was the Mother Goddess of old. Wicca is a part of the universal, animistic paganism, as old as the human race itself. The beginning of wicca goes back to the dawning of man’s awareness when he began to personalize and deify the various manifestations of nature. Twenty-five thousand years ago, our ancestors were worshipping the female deity. Statues and carvings have been found in France,in Czechoslovakia,in Austria, Siberia, Yugoslavia, Romania,Hungary, Greece,Egypt and in India.She was the strong one, the total woman, daughter, wife, lover and mother. Her roles were many --- enchantress, stateswoman, warrior and scholar. Benevolent and unforgiving, stern yet seductive. The names of the Witch Goddess were as many as the aspects she presented.
In the 20th century BC, in Egypt,Isis was worshipped, and in the 15th century BC in Turkey,Arinna. She was called Ishtar in Babylon from the 18th to 7th century BC. From pre-Vedic times, India has worshipped Durga and Kali. Tibet knew her as Tara, and the ancient Mayans as the Goddess Ix Chel. In Africa,they revered Yemaya, Goddess of the Sea. In Rome,Fortune held sway and created abundance whichever way she glanced. To the Japanese, Amaterasu Omikami was the great Sun Goddess who brought life and light to the world. In China,Kuan Yin was the Goddess who brought things to completeness. In Sumeria, the protectress was Inanna. In the Navajo tradition, the source of all was the Changing Woman.
In Baltic lands, the grand old witch or goddess was BabaYaga. Pagan Ireland worshipped Sheela Na Gig, the Goddess of Good Fortune. Celtic society took to themselves the Lady of Flame, Brigit. She was the goddess of poetry and medicine. The Libyan Amazons worshipped Medusa, who was afraid of none. In Ancient Mexico, Coatlicue was the mother of all who lived atop a mountain in Aztlan. Known to be the five-fold Earth Goddess, Coatlicue guided when one was lost. In Greece,Hecate, a Witch Goddess, was the guardian of the crossroads, who granted her followers wisdom. Minoan Crete is said to be the last of the goddess-worshipping civilizations. Some authorities extend the worship of the Great Mother or Witch Goddess as far into the past as 50,000 BC.
Wicca was more than just a worship of the Goddess as the all-pervading strength. It was a realization that there are forces and Elementals surrounding us at all levels. We are actually very small specks in an inconceivably huge place. To know this and to be aware of this, is the beginning of the knowledge we are trying to probe. What does the cosmos consist of? What are the unseen powers which are there? How can we reach them? Is it possible to invoke them?’
True wicca never worked against nature. It worked with it. It accepted the laws of nature and through this acceptance strengthened itself.
It was a poetic, aesthetic, cerebral way of life.
Year wise Press Articles