This is a mirror site and material here was not created by New Moon. It has been provided as a resource only.
by Jeannette Waldie
Gardnerian Wicca is a matriarchical tradition whose magic is based on
psychic female/male polarity. "If it harms none, do what you will,"
is the ethical statement for this tradition. Reincarnation is a basic tenant.
The patron Goddess is the Great Mother, though the Maiden and Crone are
also often acknowledged. The patron God is the Horned god of hunting, death
and magic. Each coven calls them by their own choice of name. All rituals
include the symbolic Great Rite, (now a common method of blessing the wine
for many pagan traditions) which consists of the ceremonial dipping of
the athame into the chalice. The chalice is then passed around the circle.
Gardnerian covens are autonomous and led by a High Priestess. The High
Priest is always seen as secondary. The High Priestess and High Priest
are allowed to use the title "Lady" and "Lord" before
their craft name. (This is much more common in North America than in England.)
Most groups can trace their lineage through various High Priestesses back
to Gerald Gardner. Most Gardnerian covens follow a three degree system
(though there are some that do use a 2 degree system). Tradition, as well
as keeping and following a complete Book of Shadows, is emphasised in all
Gardnerian groups. New rituals are written for specific purposes, keeping
the same framework. Most, but not all, work skyclad.
Gardnerian Wicca is one of founding traditions of modern paganism. As
Dr. Leo Martello writes in his forward to Gardner's The Meaning of Witchcraft,1
"Pioneer, publicist, advance pressman, Gardner was the right man for
the right time, a channel, who tapped the dormant spritual reservoir of
thousands. Not his faults, nor his distortion or omission of certain facts,
nor the matter of his idiosyncratic existence but the spirit of his life
and works, these live on. Without Gardner there are many today, regardless
of what they call themselves, who simply wouldn't exist . . not as Witches
or Pagans." Over the years, however (mainly due to misquotes and poor
copying), there have been many misconceptions about Gardnerian Wicca. For
example, many think Gardner and his tradition are sexist. This is not the
case. Gardner was one of the first to say that the High Priestess was leader
of the coven and for a coven to work effectivey, all power had to pass
through her. The language of Gardner's books may appear to be sexist, but
readers need to understand that Gardner wrote his books over 40 years ago.
For the English culture of that time, Gardner was very much a visionary,
regarding giving women their due.
Another misconception is that Gardnerianism is rigid in structure. Once,
telling someone I was an eclectic Gardnerian, someone asked "isn't
that an oxymoron?" Though there may be some covens who continue to
use the same rituals over and over, this is not the case for most Gardnerian
groups. In the Gardnarian group with whom I trained, not only did we regularly
write and perform different rituals, they were seldom repeated. To obtain
my 2nd degree, I had to write and lead a circle!
Another misunderstood aspect of Gardnerian tradition (and the punchline
of many jokes) is the emphasis on secrecy. The oath for secrecy is not
to pretend published material is not available, but rather the oath is
considered as "promising not to give a baby a loaded gun," i.e.
not teach something to a student before they are ready to handle it. It
is also to ensure that privacy of fellow coveners is respected so that
no one is "outed" without their permission.
Born in 1884, Gardner was a self educated civil servant and anthropologist.
After a lifetime in the middle east, he retired near the New Forest in
England. There, he became involved in "The First Rosicrucian Theatre."
Through people he met there, he was introduced to the New Forest coven
and "Old Dorothy" who would eventually initiate him as a witch
in 1939. Gardner felt the "Craft of Wica"2 was in danger of dying
out, so in 1949, he published his first book on witchcraft (under the guise
of fiction), titled High Magic's Aid. This book contained many of the rituals
he had learned from "Old Dorothy." Once the Witchcraft Act (which
had made practicing witchcraft a criminal offense) was repealed, Gardner
published Witchcraft Today. He then became involved with the Museum of
Magic and Witchcraft on the Isle of Man. In 1952, He met Doreen Valiente
who eventually became his acting High Priestess. In 1954, Gardner gave
Doreen Valiente permission to rewrite the "Book of Shadows" and
it is she who is the author of both the verse and prose versions of "The
Charge of the Goddess."
Many American Gardnerians claim to have unpublished material in their
Book of Shadows, but if that is the case then it is from the period after
Doreen Valiente left Gardner's coven up until his death.
It is now known that Gardner drew on many different sources in creating
his "Book of Shadows" (a term which Gardner first used). This
has led to much debate whether Gardner made up (or borrowed) everything.
But Doreen Valiente writes, "People may well wonder why, having traced
Gerald's rituals to their component parts as having been derived from the
works of Margaret Murray, Chalres Godfrey Leland, Rudyard Kipling. Aleister
Crowley, the Key of Solomon, and the rituals of Freemasontry, I continued
to believe that they were descended from an old witch coven discovered
in the New Forest. The reasons is that underlying all these I found a basic
structure which was not from Corwley or Margaret Murray or any of the other
sources mentioned."3 For those interested in Gardner's work, I recommend
that you pick up a copy of "A Witches Bible Compleat" (also published
as in two volumes as "8 Sabbats for Witches" and "The Witches'
Way") by Janet and Stewart Farrar. This work gives a complete, annotated
version of Gardner's Book of Shadows, listing history, sources and other
information. Other recommended reading are:
The Meaning of Witchcraft by Gerald B. Gardner Witchcraft for Tomorrow
by Doreen Valiente The Rebirth of Witchcraft by Doreen Valiente High Magic's
Aid by Gerald B. Gardner
- Gerald B. Gardner, The Meaning of Witchcraft (New York: Magickal Childe,
Inc., 1988) 2-3.
- Gardner always spelt this with one "c". He claims the word
was Saxon in origin; from wig (an idol) and laer (learning) which was shortened
- Doreen Valiente, The Rebirth of Witchcraft (Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing,
Inc., 1989) 63.
Fararr, Janet & Stewart, A Witches Bible, Vol. I & II, Magickal
Childe Publishing, Inc, 1984, ISBN #0-939708-06-X (Vol I) ISBN 0-939708-07-8
Gerald B. Gardner, The Meaning of Witchcraft, Magickal Childe, Inc.
1988, ISBN 0- 939708-02-7
Doreen Valiente, The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Phoenix Publishing, Inc.,
1989, ISBN 0- 919345-39-5
Doreen Valiente, Witchcraft for Tomorrow, Phoenix Publishing, Inc.,
1987, ISBN 0- 919345-83-2