Gardnerian Wicca, or Gardnerian Witchcraft, is a tradition in the neopagan religion of Wicca, whose members can trace initiatory descent from Gerald Gardner. The tradition is itself named after Gardner (1884–1964), a British civil servant and scholar of magic. The term "Gardnerian" was probably coined by the founder of Cochranian Witchcraft, Robert Cochrane in the 1950s or 60s, who himself left that tradition to found his own.
Gardner claimed to have learned the beliefs and practises that would later become known as Gardnerian Wicca from the New Forest Coven, who allegedly initiated him into their ranks in 1939. For this reason, Gardnerian Wicca is usually considered to be the earliest created tradition of Wicca, from which most subsequent Wiccan traditions are derived.
From the supposed New Forest coven, Gardner formed his own Bricket Wood coven, and in turn initiated many Witches, including a series of High Priestesses, founding further covens and continuing the initiation of more Wiccans into the tradition. In the UK, Europe and most Commonwealth countries someone self-defined as Wiccan is usually understood to be claiming initiatory descent from Gardner, either through Gardnerian Wicca, or through a derived branch such as Alexandrian Wicca or Algard Wicca. Elsewhere, these original lineaged traditions are termed "British Traditional Wicca".
Beliefs and Practices
Covens and Initiatory lines
Gardnerian Wiccans organise into covens, that traditionally, though not always, are limited to thirteen members. Covens are jointly led by a High Priest and High Priestess and celebrate both a God and a Goddess.
Gardnerian Wicca and other forms of British Traditional Wicca operate as an initiatory mystery cult; membership is gained only through initiation by a Wiccan High Priestess or High Priest. Any valid line of initiatory descent can be traced all the way back to Gerald Gardner, and through him back to the New Forest Coven.
Rituals and coven practices are kept secret from non-initiates, and many Wiccans maintain secrecy regarding their membership in the Religion.
In Gardnerian Wicca, the two principal deities are the Horned God and the Mother Goddess. Gardnerians use specific names for the God and the Goddess in their rituals. Doreen Valiente, a Gardnerian High Priestess, revealed that there were more than one. She said that Gardner referred to the Goddess as Airdia or Areda, which she believed was derived from Aradia, the deity that Charles Leland claimed was worshipped by Italian witches. She said that the God was called Cernunnos, or Kernunno, which in Celtic meant "The Horned One". Another name by which Gardnerians called the God was Janicot (pronounced Jan-e-ko), which she believed was Basque in origin.
Ethics and Morality
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The tradition has a focus on community, placing great emphasis on ethical conduct and reverence towards all sentient beings as central to spiritual maturity. The basic principle of acting "with harm to none" is mentioned repeatedly in the Ordains, a body of traditional guidelines for behavior both within the coven and within the larger human community.
The belief that "ye may not be a Witch alone" extends the idea that personal growth, both intellectually and spiritually, is dependent on and affects one's surroundings and the people therein. This concept is not limited to magical or overtly religious behavior, but includes also one's day-to-day life and conduct. For example, Gardnerian High Priestess Eleanor Bone was not only one of the most respected elders in the tradition, but also a matron of a nursing home. Moreover, the Bricket Wood coven today is well known for its many members from academic or intellectual backgrounds, who contribute to the preservation of Wiccan knowledge. Gerald Gardner himself actively disseminated educational resources on folklore and the occult to the general public through his Museum of Witchcraft on the Isle of Man. Therefore, Gardnerian Wicca can be said to differ from some modern non-coven Craft practices that often concentrate on the solitary practitioner's spiritual development.
The religion tends to be non-dogmatic, allowing each initiate to find for him/herself what the ritual experience means by using the basic language of the shared ritual tradition, to be discovered through the Mysteries. The tradition is often characterised as an orthopraxy (correct practice) rather than an orthodoxy (correct thinking), with adherents placing greater emphasis on a shared body of practices as opposed to faith.
Gardner and the New Forest Coven
On retirement from the British Colonial Service, Gardner moved to London but then before World War II moved to Highcliffe, east of Bournemouth on the south coast of England. There he claimed to have been initiated into a traditional coven of witches, a survival from pre-Christian times, which continued to meet in the New Forest in the south of England.
Gardner claimed to have been initiated in 1939 into a tradition of religious witchcraft that he believed to be a continuation of European Paganism. He knew and worked with many famous occultists, including Aleister Crowley. After his retirement Gardner moved to Highcliffe near the New Forest on the south coast of England, where he says he met a group of people who had preserved their historic occult practices. They recognised him as being "one of them" and convinced him to be initiated. It was only halfway through the initiation, he says, that it dawned on him what kind of group it was, and that Witchcraft was still being practiced in England.
Doreen Valiente, one of Gardner's priestesses, later identified the woman who initiated Gardner as Dorothy Clutterbuck, referenced in A Witches' Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrar. Valiente's identification was based on references Gardner made to a woman he called "Old Dorothy" which Valiente remembered. Scholar Ronald Hutton argues in his Triumph of the Moon that Gardner's tradition was largely the inspiration of members of the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship and especially that of a woman known by the magical name of "Dafo". Dr. Leo Ruickbie, in his Witchcraft Out of the Shadows, analysed the documented evidence and concluded that Aleister Crowley played a crucial role in inspiring Gardner to establish a new pagan religion. Ruickbie, Hutton, and others further argue that much of what has been published of Gardnerian Wicca, as Gardner's practice came to be known by, was written by Blake, Yeats, Valiente and Crowley and contains borrowings from other identifiable sources.
The witches Gardner was originally introduced to were originally referred to by him as "the Wica" and he would often use the term "Witch Cult" to describe the religion. Other terms used, included "Witchcraft" or "the Old Religion". Later publications standardised the spelling to "Wicca" and it came to be used as the term for the Craft, rather than its followers. "Gardnerian" was originally a pejorative term coined by Gardner's initiate and contemporary Roy Bowers (also known as Robert Cochrane), a British cunning man.
Reconstruction of the Wiccan rituals
Gardner himself admitted that the rituals of the existing group were fragmentary at best, and he set about reconstructing them as a basis of his tradition, drawing on his skills as an occultist and amateur folklorist. Gardner seems not to have been confident writing original poetry, and instead borrowed and wove together appropriate material from other artists and occultists, most notably Crowley, Charles Godfrey Leland's Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, the Key of Solomon as published by S.L. MacGregor Mathers, Masonic ritual, and Rudyard Kipling. Doreen Valiente wrote much of the best-known poetry, including the much-quoted Charge of the Goddess.
The group into which Gardner claimed to be initiated, known as the New Forest coven, was small and utterly secret as claiming to be a witch was illegal in Britain since the Witchcraft Act of 1735 made claiming to predict the future, conjure spirits, or cast spells a crime, and likewise made an accusation of witchcraft a criminal offense). When the Witchcraft Laws were replaced, in 1951, by the Fraudulent Mediums Act, Gerald Gardner went public, initially somewhat cautiously. However, during the late 1950s and until his death in 1964, Gardner even courted the attentions of the tabloid press, to the consternation of some more conservative members of the tradition.
Bricket Wood and the North London coven
In 1948-9 Gardner and Dafo were running a coven separate from the original New Forest coven at a naturist club near Bricket Wood to the north of London. By 1952 Dafo's health had begun to decline, and she was increasingly wary of Gardner's publicity-seeking. In 1953 Gardner met Doreen Valiente who was to become his High Priestess in succession to Dafo. The question of publicity led to Doreen and others formulating thirteen proposed 'Rules for the Craft', which included restrictions on contact with the press. Gardner responded with the sudden production of the Wiccan Laws which led to some of his members, including Valiente, leaving the coven.
Prior to 1958 a method of raising energy in the coven's circle was by the practice of "binding and scourging", mostly used as an initiation rite, and related to the Roman Catholic scourging used to heighten the initiates sensitivity and spiritual experience.
Following the time Gardner spent on the Isle of Man, the coven began to experiment with circle dancing as an alternative. It was also about this time that the lesser 4 of the 8 Sabbats were given greater prominence. Brickett Wood coven members liked the Sabbat celebrations so much, they decided that there was no reason to keep them confined to the closest full moon meeting, and made them festivities in their own right. As Gardner had no objection to this change suggested by the Brickett Wood coven, this collective decision resulted in what is now the standard eight festivities in the Wiccan Wheel of the year.
The split with Valiente led to the Bricket Wood coven being led by Jack Bracelin and a new High Priestess, Dayonis. This was the first of a number of disputes between individuals and groups, but the increased publicity only seems to have allowed Gardnerian Wicca to grow much more rapidly. Certain initiates such as Alex Sanders and Raymond Buckland who brought his take on the Gardnerian tradition to the United States in 1964 started off their own major traditions allowing further expansion.
A partial summary of publicly known Wiccan descendants from Gardner is available here.
- The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 122
- The Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton
- The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 52-53
- The Gardnerian Book of Shadows by Gerald Gardner: http://books.google.com/books?id=NQNGLy-qTRsC&lpg=PA81&dq=so%20be%20it%20ardane&pg=PA80#v=onepage&q=so%20be%20it%20ardane&f=false
- Akasha and Eran (1996). "Gardnerian Wicca: An Introduction" http://bichaunt.org/Gardnerian.html
- Fritz Muntean (2006) "A Witch in the Halls of Wisdom" interview conducted by Sylvana Silverwitch http://www.widdershins.org/vol1iss3/l03.htm
- Gardner, Gerald (1954). Witchcraft Today London: Rider and Company
- Farrar, Janet & Stewart (2002). A Witches' Bible. Robert Hale. ISBN 0-7090-7227-9
- Hutton, Ronald (2001). The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285449-6
- Ruickbie, Leo(2004). Witchcraft out of the Shadows: A Complete History. Robert Hale Limited. ISBN 0-7090-7567-7
- Hutton, Triumph of the Moon p.237
- Pentagram magazine 1965
- Hutton, Triumph of the Moon p.247
- Hutton, Triumph of the Moon p.227.
- Valiente, Doreen. The Rebirth of Witchcraft (1989) Custer, WA: Phoenix. pp 38,66.
- Kelly, Aidan. Crafting the Art of Magic (1991) St Paul, MN: Llewellyn. pp 103-5, 145-161.
- Hutton, Triumph of the Moon p249.
- Allen, Charlotte (Jan., 2001, vol. 287, issue 1.). "The Scholars and the Goddess". Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved 17 March 2012.
- Anon. (Used with permission from the author). "The Scourge and the Kiss". Gardnerian Wicca. PB Works. Retrieved 17 March 2012.
- Lamond, Frederic. Fifty Years of Wicca Sutton Mallet, England: Green Press. ISBN 0-9547230-1-5
- Lamond, Fifty Years of Wicca, p.16.
- Hutton, Triumph of the Moon