Shelley Rabinovitch has asserted that modern Wiccans see themselves as part of a world that includes all living beings in Nature (69), which generally prevents exploitative 'use.' This is not universal, but animal abuse would probably exclude a practitioner from the group "Wiccans." This has not been the case throughout history, and some modern Neo-Pagans include use of animals in ritual they claim falls within the harmonious balance of a non-dualistic participation in Nature (below). The result is a change in modern Wiccan relationship to animals compared to historical relationships as far as the available evidence shows. This requires defining the group "Wiccans," and also 'use' and 'animals,' because some groups typically classified alongside Wicca under the class "Neo-Pagans" are beginning to differentiate themselves through ritual animal use in ways Wiccans may perhaps want to dissociate themselves from.
"The language of self-identification to outsiders differs from that used when discussing religion with insiders," Rabinovitch explains (88). While there are many sub-groups within the modern group "witches," articulated by specific areas of "cosmology and axiology" (77) which Rabinovitch classifies into "Religionist," "Ecopagan," "God/dess Celebrants" or "Eclectic" based on worldviews respectively personal, global, societal and 'overlapping,' some research shows "[i]nformants falling into all classifications indicated they would tell another Neo-Pagan they were a witch (whether initiated or not), but they would use one of the more neutral terms in discussion with the general public" (Rabinovitch 88). In this sense, Wicca along Rabinovitch's taxonomy includes "a subset of Neo-Paganism, followers of a Goddess and a God in what they view as a pre- or non-Christian religion from the British Isles. For the purposes of this chapter, a Neo-Pagan witch is a self-identified believer in a Goddess/God-based religion" (76). Given her reminder "[e]ven the witches themselves do not necessarily agree on what defines a witch" (75), this paper will adopt an operating definition of Wicca as a non-Christian, religious or spiritual view of self as actively participating with and through natural forces beyond materialist science and technology, regardless of adherence to any particular dogma or ideology.
This leaves definition of "use" of "animals" for "magic." While there are undoubtedly many individuals who use animals for some sort of "magic," and it would perhaps not be difficult to separate ritualistic crimes against animals from simple animal abuse of a less ritual type, identifying whether perpetrators were performing witchcraft, or just sadists, is largely impossible. The result becomes an issue of naming. This may be inherent to the entire dilemma of designating 'witch' and 'animal,' especially if both groups include each other but not exclusively. This requires defining 'animal' for the purposes of this essay as non-human, where a witch is human, even though humans and animals have horizontal standing in "Nature" to most Wiccans. The results is that distinguishing between animal cruelty and ritualized animal abuse in the name of magic rituals puts the practitioner of either outside our operating definition of "Wicca." 508 U.S. 520 (1993) for example demonstrates ritual animal sacrifice continues today but Santeria lies outside this operational definition of witch.
This was not always the case. Attempting to compare modern Wiccan relationship to animals against practices in ancient magic depends on evidence. Conclusive evidence of the pursuit of magic before written language exists all over the world in vast and diverse imagery, cave paintings, monolithic architecture and archaeological remains but interpretation is subjective. While it seems plausible to assume animal remains in religious archaeological finds indicate sacrificial use, other explanations like consumption or commercial use are equally plausible and without some record of how such animals were used, no implied explanation can be conclusive. On the other hand what written historical record we have is punctuated throughout with mystical use of animals in the attempt to influence natural and spritual events. The record we have suggests much of human spirituality has relied upon animal participation. Given the periodic Phoenecian, Roman, Germanic and Scandinavian invasions of the Wiccan geography, and the influences on those cultures by cultures to the East and South, the Western historical written canon can be seen as having a relevant influence on ancient magic, and also because beyond the written evidence, interpretation becomes so speculative we simply cannot say with any authority exactly how animals may have been employed for magic.
The earliest written records indicate ritual use of animals was fundamental to daily health, power, success in war, commerce and reproduction; nearly every facet of human life. "To give an idea of the universality of magical beliefs," explains Johns Hopkins University's Georg Luck, "a geographical tour d'horizon of the Mediterranean world from East to West will be useful" (94). Luck traces animal sacrifice for divination purposes from Bablyonia, Assyria and Persia to prehistoric Greece, and on to Italy through the Etruscans; Egypt also provided a source although early practices were carried via Asia Minor (Luck 94). The result was that "during the first centuries of our era, a common idiom of witchcraft established itself throughout the Roman Empire" (Luck 94). Divination through entrail reading was the norm rather than exception throughout the great epic classics of the ancient Mediterranean like the Illiad and Oddessey. Zoroastrianism arose through rebellion against Mithraic bull sacrifice cults in ancient Persia, which was the ancestral home of the Biblical Magi who visited the Nativity (Luck 94). Chickens were sacrificed by classical Romans if bad spirits appeared when priests tried to raise prophetic omens (Luck 148); dogs were often sacrificed to Hecate (Ogden 76).
Nor were the Romans and Greeks the exception. "In a spell from the Jewish Sepher ha-Razim collection," Daniel Ogden explains (76); "one is instructed to insert a duly inscribed tablet into the head of a black dog that had never been allowed to see the light (which probably implies the use of deliberately killed puppies), seal up the mouth with wax, and conceal the head behind the victim's house." The U.S. Supreme Court found in a 1993 Miami Santeria trial that "The sacrifice of animals as part of religious rituals has ancient roots....Animal sacrifice is mentioned throughout the Old Testament...and it played an important role in the practice of Judaism before destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem" (508 U.S. 520). Precedent for and record of animal sacrifice goes farther back in time and travel Eastward on record at least as early as the Vedas, around 1500 BCE, where "the animal must be killed in an unbloody manner, usually strangled with as little violence as possible" (Urban 281). Roughly a thousand years prior, Gilgamesh sacrificed animals in the earliest written epic yet discovered on Earth (Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford, n. pag).
Similar practices are widely recorded throughout the comparatively recent European historical record. Eric Maple sets out numerous accounts of sympathetic magic, where animals are designated to represent particular humans, and then persecuted in order that the target person would suffer, often under the pretense of "white," beneficient magic against "black" or evil spells. Often for example cattle that took sick were often presumed to be victims of black magic, and so "white" magicians tried to cure the rest "by burning one of the animals alive in order to transfer the pain to the witch, and thus compel her to free the herd from disease" (Maple 28). This practice was widespread enough that authorities "condemned as rank idolatry the burning alive of bewitched cattle which was then universally practiced" (Maple 57). This type of exorcism lasted in England at least until well into the industrial revolution, where in 1866 a "goose was actually roasted alive and almost immediately horrifying shrieks were heard from the direction of Goody Gardner's cottage" (Maple 159). Maple explains this as a human form of scapegoating whereby "transferring the responsibility for social ills to the witch" (20) and then getting rid of the witch, primitive peoples could exorcise their fear of the unknown. Unfortunately this type of sympathetic magic often resulted in the prosecutors harming animals as much as or more than the suspected witch had in the first place. Circa 1652, one accused witch proposed authorities burn another witch's cat and dog; thus "we are told what was the common fate of all those pathetic little animals, both wild and tame, which in those mad times were condemned as witches' imps" (Maple 93).
This type of evidence reveals the difficulty identifying conclusively the roles animals played in ancient magic, a pre-modern psychology that lacked clear definition of cause and effect, 'truth' or forensic evidence. Western folklore, traditional stories, legal codes and church records overflow with accounts of witches using newt's eyes or bat ears or such esoteric animal parts in spells of all description; talking to beasts of field and forest (which suggests association with Christian saints like Francis of Assissi for example); and effectively a millenia of reprisal against practices that predated the arrival of Rome in western Europe. Marion Gibson summarizes this view as indicating more about the accuser than the accused, which "should make us…