Wicca is a modern religion based on witchcraft. It was started by a British retired civil servant named Gerald Gardner in the first half of the 20th century.
When Gardner was getting his religion started he believed that he was preserving an intact pre-Christian religion although he felt it was so scarce and fragmented that he needed to put it together himself like a sort of jigsaw puzzle, drawing on diverse bits of folk lore, mythology, and magical practice from around the world in order to make Wicca a workable system. In order to convince everyone that it was a valid historical Pagan survival he was misleading about his own role in developing what we now know as the religion of Wicca. We now have a more accurate understanding of the origins of Wicca and despite his shortcomings must give Gardner credit with bringing together what truly is a workable modern Pagan religion built on a core of witchcraft beliefs and practices. Wicca is a modern religion with truly ancient roots.
Here are some good books about the history of Wicca that will help seekers understand where our religion comes from.
“A History of Witchcraft” second edition, by Jeffrey B. Russell & Brooks Alexander. This is a good introductory text on the history of witchcraft from ancient times up to and including the introduction of Wicca. Note, though, that it was mostly written before the more recent honest examinations of how Wicca developed so it might lead a reader to assume Wicca is an intact pre-Christian religion when it isn’t.
“Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca” by Isaac Bonewits. A good book that explains the basic types of witchcraft, comparing Wicca to other forms, along with some helpful explanations of how Wicca developed.
“The Triumph of the Moon,” “Witches, Druids, and King Arthur,” and “The Witch” by Ronald Hutton. Hutton is a leading scholar on the topic of British witchcraft; his work explores pre-modern witchcraft and occultism and how it influenced the development of Wicca which was founded by Gerald Gardner. His “The Triumph of the Moon” was a truly groundbreaking text when it was published as it firmly established the modern honest evaluation of Wiccan history rather than just repeating unverified claims that Wicca was an intact Pagan religion from pre-Christian times.
Since the publication of Hutton’s “Triumph of the Moon” another skilled historian, Philip Heselton, has taken up the task of exploring and documenting the life of Gerald Gardner and the influences that became incorporated in Wicca. He’s written quite a few books on this over the years. Look for “Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardner and the Modern Witchcraft Revival”, “Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration”, and “Witchfather: A Life of Gerald Gardner” (the last in two volumes). He’s also written an excellent biography of the Mother of Wicca, Doreen Valiente, titled “Doreen Valiente: Witch.”
Doreen Valiente has also written a number of books about Wicca and witchcraft but look in particular for her book “The Rebirth of Witchcraft”. This one is a must-read if you want to learn about how Wicca developed, written by one who was there herself and writes from personal experience. Doreen was one of Gardner’s early high priestesses, and was responsible for putting the Gardnerian Book of Shadows into the form that most consider “traditional” today. Doreen passed away in 1999 and there is a historical foundation that was established in her name: https://www.doreenvaliente.org
Another helpful collection of first-hand accounts about the early days of Wicca and how it developed since then is “Fifty Years of Wicca” by Frederic Lamond.
“Modern Wicca” and “Children of Cain” by Michael Howard. Howard is another figure in the British occult scene who was involved with all sorts of groups and people, and often wrote with insider knowledge. The first book focusses on the history of Wicca, the second focusses on modern non-Wiccan witchcraft groups, mostly in Britain. Both are must-reads if you want to know more about modern practitioners and groups. Read both if you want to understand how Wicca compares with other modern non-Wiccan English witchcraft groups. (And note too that Howard is honest in his book “Children of Cain” that modern non-Wiccan or “traditional” witchcraft groups, at least in Britain, don’t really go back much earlier than Wicca — despite their claims to be ancient.)
“The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft” by Rosemary Ellen Guiley. An excellent resource covering ancient witchcraft as well as modern witchcraft including Wicca. This book gives an honest explanation of the roles various individuals and groups have played in the development of Wicca.
“Inventing Witchcraft: A Case Study in the Creation of a New Religion” by Aidan A. Kelly is a good book that explores the history of Wicca from an honest historian’s approach. Unfortunately Kelly has a mixed reputation in the Wiccan community due to his failure to respect basic confidentiality and privacy with regard to those he dealt with at various times. Despite this his work is valuable.
There have also been a number of books written that provide an overview survey of Wicca as well as some other modern Pagan groups, mostly in the United States. Look for :
“Drawing Down the Moon” by Margot Adler. (This one is the classic survey!)
“Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America” by Chas S. Clifton.
“A Tapestry of Witches: A History of the Craft in America, Vol. 1” and its sequel, “A Tapestry of Witches Vol. 2” by Aidan A. Kelly.
“Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America” by Sabina Magliocco.
The most recent survey, and I believe drawing on the most respondents to date, is available as “Solitary Pagans: Contemporary Witches, Wiccans and Others Who Practice Alone” by Helen A. Berger. As the title suggests she found that the vast majority of modern practitioners are solitary practitioners rather than members of groups. This is a big change from even just a few decades ago when solitary practitioners were a minority.
There are also a number of autobiographies and biographies available recounting the lives and involvement in Wicca and witchcraft of a number of key modern figures. You’ll find a list of a number of them in Pagan Booklist: Biographies.
There are a number of valuable historical sources available online as well. Check out https://geraldgardner.com and https://www.thewica.co.uk in particular. The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, based in Boscastle UK, as well as the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft, Paranormal & Occult in Cleveland OH USA are also both worth checking out, if only through their websites. And you’ll find a copy of the publicly-available material from Gardner’s Book of Shadows online at https://sacred-texts.com/pag/gbos/index.htm but for the best detailed discussion of that material look for Janet and Stewart Farrar’s book “A Witches’ Bible”. The Farrars worked closely with Doreen Valiente in putting together the material from Gardner’s Book of Shadows and its commentary.
And finally, there is a growing collection of scholarly articles about Wiccan and witchcraft history available online at https://www.academia.edu if you search using appropriate keywords.