Friday, January 17, 2014

The Kingdom of Witches

In the Dark Ages of England, when the many tribes and polities of Britons (native Celts Romanized over several centuries to a greater or lesser degree) fought a heroic but steadily losing battle against Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon invaders, there existed a shadowy land known as Hwicce, or the Kingdom of Witches.  You'll recognize this Old English word in its current form, "wicca," and it survives within its old territory in the place names Wychwood, Whichford, Wichenford and Wychbury Hill.  It originally meant a trunk or chest, but was used to refer specifically to a sacred vessel, such as the cauldron of the local Celtic goddess Cuda.  Thus the associaton of the root for "witch" and the image of a cauldron (of potions) being stirred by a powerful supernatural female figure.

 The kingdom comprised an area in southwestern England near Wales encompassed today by the counties of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and half of Warwickshire.  Its capital was the still-existing city of Worcester, selected as the seat of a bishop in 679 A.D. due to its importance at the time; ironically, the title of this Christian notable was "Episcopus Hwicciorum," or Bishop of the Witches.  They probably dropped that honorific after they thought about it a while.

England circa 600 A.D.

The Romans, whether pagan or later, Christian, and the subsequent overlords, Angles, Saxons, and Normans all despised the Celts' nature-based pagan religion, seeing it also as a dangerous patriotic rallying point for the usually quarreling British tribes.  Goddess Cuda was called Mater Dobunna by the Romans; the tribe inhabiting the area while under their rule was called the Dobrunni.  The Hwicce were probably their descendants, and they may have remained British for a century after the Roman departure (400 - 410 A.D.) before being pressed relentlessly by the West Saxons and Angles.  The Hwicce kingdom flourished only from 577 to 628, when it had to ally with  neighboring Mercia after the battle of Cirencester was won by its king Penda.  When the last ruler of Hwicce died in 780 even its partial independence was lost.  Their ancient religion disappeared under the tide of Christianity as their language was suppressed as well by the Anglo-Saxons.  Celtic men were forbidden to marry or procreate (proven by the absence of male Briton DNA in the population today).  Wicca was re-established as a religion in the 20th century, and no one has to kneel before the Romans, Anglo-Saxons or Normans today.  Maybe the witches came out the winners after all.



  1. You should teach alternative history at the local community college.

  2. I'm thinking Greendale C.C. Exceptional students there.