Not enough can ever be said about the tremendous influence that Doreen Valiente had on the modern practice of witchcraft, in many, many of its forms. This is why she is widely considered to be the Mother of Modern Witchcraft. For more information about witchcraft and its practice, please click the image and check out our brother Si’s website, Mandragora Magika.
I was initiated into the Gardnerian Third Degree last night* and since then I’ve had trouble sleeping. In a lot of ways my restlessness reminds me of Christmas Eve when I was a child. Back then I’d lay in bed for hours, fitfully turning and tossing, trying so damned hard to go to sleep . . . . . and while I’m sure I slept a little bit, I mostly failed. I was so excited back then to get to the presents and and the familyness of it all that I worked myself up far past the realms of sleep.
My mind is wondering why I didn’t feel that way before the elevation. That should have been the excitement; a new ritual, a new title, a new closeness with the gods, but I slept just fine the night before. Not sleeping post-ritual could have been due to adrenaline (ritual gets me fired up), but I think it’s something more than that.
When people ask me why I’m a Gardnerian there are many answers that come to mind, but the one I use the most is “that it works.” In our circles power is raised, worlds are transformed, and we get to touch that divine something out there, that feeling most mortals only dream and wonder about. So yes, what we do in our rites works, but in the case of elevations and initiations there’s another force at play.
About a month after being initiated I was out walking with my wife and magical partner when she stopped for a second and turned to look at me. “Does everything look different to you now?” she said, her eyes wide and her tone serious. I probably gave her a quizzical glance, but then she continued. “I mean after initiation, it’s like looking at the world in color for the first time after living a lifetime in black and white.”
I nodded and agreed, everything had changed. The world did look different, and it felt differently too. For the first time I could really “see” the forces that move the world operating around me. It sounds so hokey sometimes and it’s hard to put the differences into words, but I remember looking at a tree after my wife stopped me that evening. It was a tree I had probably passed at least a hundred times before, but this time it wasn’t just a tree. It was this living thing radiating power, energy, and its place in the world.
Many years were spent as a first degree Witch, and many of those years I felt like a failure. I knew I had just unlocked something within and without but I had a hard time putting it into practice. In eclectic Pagan circles I was confident and sure-footed during ritual, as a first degree I felt like a bumbling idiot. There were practices my wife quickly adjusted to while I stood in the circle with two left-feet. It was humbling and a little bit humiliating (at least internally), but my HPS and HP never made me feel that way.
Elevation to second degree didn’t unlock immediate mysteries, but it too changed everything. Over the next few months “my Gard” began to truly click. Perhaps just being thought worthy of elevation removed some of the self-doubt, but I think my new sense self confidence came from the ritual its self. Doors were unlocked and new rooms were revealed. I suddenly felt “not stupid” when discussing the Craft, and I could feel this new power building inside of me.
It’s too early to tell exactly what last night’s/this morning’s elevation will bring, but I know I already feel changed. I experienced and felt things in circle that I had never felt or experienced before. I could feel the power of the gods in our rite and could feel them moving through my HP and HPS and now my “other” HPS. But it also feels like I’m at the start of a journey, but a journey I feel well prepared for.
I wrote at the beginning “that it works” when it comes to Gardnerian Craft, but there’s another thing I’ve been alluding to: it’s transformative.** I’ve been a part of things that work before, but I’ve never been a part of something that truly changed who am I and how I see the world until becoming a Gardnerian. I feel as if I’ve met deity long before beginning the Gardnerian Path, and certainly adopting the moniker of “Pagan” was a life change, but those things felt more like acknowledgements of things I already knew to be true. The “Pagan Path” appealed to me because deep down I had always believed that way. It was an acknowledgement of who I was, not a sudden revelation.
My initiations and elevations changed me; they altered how I look at and interact with the world. My soul often stirs, but rarely does it move. “Because it works” is a fine and easy answer and doesn’t require a lot of explanation, but it’s transformative better reflects my reality in the Craft. I rarely give that answer though because it takes too long to explain, and to be honest, some people don’t deserve that much detail anyway.
To my initiators and those who have walked this journey with my partner and I, you have our undying thanks and love. To those of you in our extended family, you’ve helped out in ways you don’t even realize. To my partner, love does not begin to express the bond between us.
*Technically it was this morning, but who is keeping score? Oh yeah, we are.
**Or as one of my colleagues and family members here might right “it’s fucking transformative!”
Casting is a funny term, and we here at ye olde Gardnerians blogge find that there are quite an unfortunate number of persons on the interwebz who are using it as though it has only one meaning. So, in an effort toward better communication, let’s take a walk down dictionary lane…
Technically, casting is a noun which refers to an object made by pouring molten metal or other material into a mold. Many of your pagan statuettes may be castings of original designs. We know that some of ours are, and we love them.
But let’s take a moment to discuss the verb “cast.”
Cast: /kast/ v. 1. Throw (something) forcefully in a specified direction.
Lemmings cast themselves off the cliff.
2. Cause (light or shadow)) to appear on a surface.
The moon cast a pale light over the cottages.
So, to cast means to throw (even light or shade, depending on your mood). Great. What does the single word cast not imply? That what you are throwing is a spell.
Magic incorporates many different practices and experiences that vary in size, scope, and effect in almost every facet. Magic can be an internal process, an external process, a sudden occurrence or seeming coincidence, or it can be the knock-your-socks-off kind of mystical experience that grants union with the divine, the innate knowledge of the workings of the universe, or even an inexplicable fondness for Canadian bacon. Really, there is no limit to what could be magic to someone, even if it makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE AND IS REALLY JUST HAM WITH A VERBAL VENEER OF GODLINESS.
Casting spells is one little sub-division of magic. Despite what you may come across in public witchcraft forums, it’s not the end-all, be-all of witchcraft or Wicca specifically. Wiccans and all witches, really, cast many things. Some of them work in entertainment and they cast actors in movie and TV roles. Some go fishing and they cast lures. While any of this can be done in a magical way, not all of them are. Many witches are proficient at divination, and cast lots, or runes, or those Ogham stick things we bought when we were 16 and never actually used but still have in a box somewhere. Witches also cast spells, but of the many things we’ve listed here, spells are only one type.
So when someone in a witchcraft forum online says, “What are you casting for?” they somehow forget that witches are people deeply involved in the world, and that witches cast many things for many reasons and not all of them are spells. People who use the solo term ‘casting’ to explicitly refer to casting a spell are displaying a type of ignorance not befitting a witch who is worth her words, and in doing so must remain ever aware that a frequent response will be others more adept at communication raising an eyebrow and casting aspersions on them and their faculties, and no one wants that. So be a hero and pair your verb with a noun, you know, for the sake of sounding at all erudite.
Behold, dear blog reader, one of the deepest and darkest secrets of the religion of Wicca: two Gardnerians disagreeing with each other! Spooky! Scandalous! Never before seen on the interne… oh wait.
Gardnerian B wrote, “The moment we begin a relationship with deity and magic inside a ritual circle we are acting as Priestesses and Priests.”
(Gardnerian A will respond not in quotes.)
When a wizened old court magician in the middle ages in Europe drew a magic circle on the ground and a triangle outside of it, and then began to invoke the names of God in order to compel a spirit to appear within that triangle, he fit the actions described above, but he was (frequently) not a priest. A rabbi could do the same thing, and unless he was born a Kohan, he also was not a priest. Interacting with a God does not make one a priest, otherwise every female Catholic saint would have been running an abbey somewhere that was probably Ireland. While I recognize and understand the desire to validate other people’s feelings, I do not understand the need to dilute who and what we are in order to do so.
If a God wants to make someone their priest, that’s great. The God can initiate them into their knowledge and mysteries in an infinite number of ways. But our Gods do not make one a Wiccan by Themselves. A Wiccan makes a Wiccan. It’s a priesthood created and promulgated by human beings who are witches. Who initiated the first Wiccan? I don’t care. Wicca traces to the New Forest, through either Gerald Gardner, or, when we’re feeling magnanimous, Sybil Leek. If the argument that the gods initiate people into our cult is made, the argument that they do so through their priesthood is also made. It happens through us. If we were to come across a devotee of the Horned God, Lord of Death and Resurrection, we would probably snatch them up, because they’d make a great Wiccan. If they didn’t feel the need for that, we’d invite ourselves to their circles and get to know them better and, through them and their devotions, possibly our own God more, which would be great. It would not, however, make that person a member of the Wica. They’d be like a spiritual cousin, but not a brother or sister of the Art as we know it to be.
An initiation in the Gardnerian tradition, or in traditional Wicca as a whole, means jack shit when it comes to other people’s witchcraft traditions or religions, but it does have meaning when it comes to Wicca. I would never expect a Feri initiate (which has only one degree) to give any extra shit about me or what I do more than any other pagan, just because I have 3 degrees in another form of witchcraft. This isn’t Hogwarts. Wiccan degrees are not accredited. They don’t transfer from one form of witchcraft to another. Within the initiated priesthood of the Wicca, if an Alexandrian and Gardnerian pair of third degrees honor each other as such, that makes sense, because they’re both traditional Wiccan HPs. Once you leave the arena of traditional Wicca, anything goes and things are not directly translatable.
Orange-flavored candy might smell vaguely like an orange, and have perhaps a hint of its (artificial) flavor, but there’s no actual orange in there. It’s like the difference between people who insist on using actual plant products and essential oils in their condition oils and people who buy artificially scented oils and claim they’re the same thing. They’re not. The only way to find out why is to try them both. You notice a difference. The spirit of the plant is present in the one that contains the actual botanicals. In synthetics, it’s just your energy alone. I prefer the real deal, otherwise one could call orange Gatorade “Orange Juice” and people will mistakenly think that they’re the same thing. They’re not. Ostensibly so. Arguing to a carton of orange juice that orange gatorade is also orange juice is just… I mean, it sounds delicious, but it’s not true. The same goes with traditional Wicca and Wiccan-based, eclectic witchcraft.
This other idea that language changes over time based on how the populace uses it is completely true. That doesn’t make it right. Words and their meanings can be completely diluted, or changed into their opposites, as Merriam Webster has delightfully done by changing the meaning of the word “literal” to “figurative” because so many pumpkin-spice drinking white girls just “literally cannot even.” Using Wicca in a way that includes anyone who casts a circle, or even those who don’t, but generally identify with what they think our philosophy is, dilutes the name, and names have power. Plus, there’s always the possibility that the tide can turn back in the other direction, and then the word Wiccan will mean the same here in the US as it does in the UK where it was born. Let’s not disempower ourselves by giving up, even if there’s a cacophony of well-meaning, but uninformed voices out there using it incorrectly. Disagreeing with something is not judgement. It is simple disagreement based on, hopefully, knowledge.
Also, to pretend one can be Wiccan but not “of the Wica” is like the idea that one can be Wiccan and not practice witchcraft. Can someone be a Christian but not “of the followers of Christ?” No. That’s silly. But here we are, doing silly things just to ensure that we’re not hurting the egos built by the uneducated masses. Why not just educate them? Why not just say, in plain English, what we said: Belief does not equal initiation. It’s good for people to hear. It makes them think. Well, it makes some of them think. Sometimes it feels like it makes most of them dig in their heels and start crying about how we’re bullies who won’t accept them, when they’re the ones co-opting the name of our priesthood, and then running around spouting inane things about it like it doesn’t taint us. I forget what it’s called when white people go to Coachella and wear traditional native feather headdresses, or when someone sets up shop in the French quarter and declares themselves a Vodou mambo, without any training, or when Rachel Dolezal did pretty much anything, but the feeling is similar. People outside of the priesthood, for various reasons, and most of them not ill-intentioned, looked at our culture, took what they like, and adopted it as their own without any of the experiences that go with them. I mean, people run around wearing the third degree sigil as jewelry, for fun, because it’s cute, and they started their own eclectic coven, so they feel entitled to it. What do you call that? Did Carl Weshke have the right to take the name of our priesthood and put “the words Wicca and Wiccan in the hands of anyone who wished to claim them”? I say you nay, sir. He was not one of us. He did not have that right. But this is AMURICUH, and Americans can ostensibly do whatever they want.
Gardnerian B: “If someone has eighteen books on their shelf with the word “Wicca” on them and they self-identify that way who am I to stop them? What purpose does that serve? Words get away from us and it’s hard to police their meanings after they do so.”
Let’s play hypotheticals. If someone has 18 books on the shelf with the word “Lukumi” or “Vodou” or “Catholic Priesthood” or even “African American” and they self-identify that way, even though they’re not initiated into the former three and clearly are not of the latter, who are you to stop them? I would think that any logical human being would disagree with them. No one is stopping anyone from doing anything, especially in America, but we don’t have to cater to the lowest common denominator among us, especially if it’s quite obviously uninformed.
Educate people. That’s the purpose it serves: education. Words get away from us, yes, and policing their meanings is up to the likes of Merriam Webster and the Oxford English dictionary, but those meanings are formed and reformed based on us, the people, and if we give up on who and what we are, we become meaningless. I refuse to contribute to our priesthood being watered down and made meaningless. It means too much to me, and if that is a crime, then lock my ass up. Me and Kim Davis can have a lively debate while we’re in the clink together ;)
Labor Day Weekend is usually quiet on the Pagan front, but not so much this year. On Sunday morning a friend sent me a message saying: “the idea that you have to be initiated to be Wiccan is going around again.” Much of that debate was inspired by this article on the website Gardnerians. Let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of Gardnerians, it’s snarky and informative, but when it comes to the idea that one must be an initiate to be a Wiccan I’m in complete disagreement. Here’s a little bit of the post that upset my friend so much:
“Just as you cannot ordain yourself a Catholic priest, you similarly cannot initiate yourself as a priestess of Wicca. That is something that is done for us, by others of us . . . . Many pagans who lean toward Wicca but are uninitiated are under the false perception that they can initiate themselves into Wicca and become a priest or priestess by reading books and deciding that yes, they are feeling priestly. The sad thing is that these are usually the same people that don’t know that there is one Book of Shadows that is used in Wicca (in forms that vary slightly from coven to coven) . . . . .
To be initiated, you must be put through the Wiccan initiation rite present in the Book of Shadows. Hell, even if you want to go an eclectic route that doesn’t even use the Wiccan rites, have at it: but initiation will still be required for membership into pretty much any form of Wicca even if they do silly, un-Wiccan things like keep their clothes on.”
The moment we begin a relationship with deity and magic inside a ritual circle we are acting as Priestesses and Priests. There is no barrier between a Witch and the powers they serve (and that serve them). Just because one is a Priest or a Priestess though does not mean that they are a “High Priestess” or anything or that their authority extends anywhere beyond the circle they’ve cast. But I have to believe that what we do is about breaking down barriers between mortals and the divine. (This doesn’t of course mean every Priest or Priestess is doing things in a way to achieve maximum efficiency.)
I sympathize with other Wiccans who believe that initiation is a prerequisite to calling ones self Wiccan because that was the way of things for several decades. Wicca was originally an initiation only tradition. If you wanted the rituals and wanted to practice you had to be an initiate. That was the way of things until the 1970′s when the first “101″ books complete with rituals began to show up on the shelves.
It should be pointed out that most of those books used the word Witchcraft to define the (Wicca-like) systems they described, most but not all. Raymond Buckland’s The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft (1974) has the word Wicca literally right on page one, though it’s Wicca with one “c” (something we will get to a bit later). It’s important to remember that the entire point of The Tree was to provide a non-initiatory form of the Craft to interested persons.
Certainly to be a Gardnerian Witch (or a Witch of any tradition) one must have a valid initiation. No one has ever argued against that position. Even if someone were to have a complete copy of a Gard Book of Shadows (BoS) they still wouldn’t be a Gardnerian because much of the point is lineage. Having a book doesn’t connect you to a family tree, nor does it reveal the oral tradition associated with the tradition.
One of the problems with words is that they evolve over time and their meanings often change. At some point it’s no longer “you are using the word wrong” and it becomes “this is the new definition of the word.” As far as “word evolvement” goes one needs look no further than the word Wicca its self. In Triumph of the Moon Professor Ronald Hutton shares a bit of history surrounding the word Wicca:
“The 1950s were the decade in which Gerald Gardner announced the existence of of his with religion to the world . . . . .In 1954 his book Witchcraft Today gave that religion a generic name of ‘Wica,’ adapted by the 1960s to its enduring form of ‘Wicca,’ . . . The word in in Gardner’s spelling occurs only in Chamber’s Dictionary of of Scots-English, where it means ‘wise’ and this volume may have well been the source for it. The later adaptation resulted from the older and more precise connotation of the Saxon wicca, signifying a male witch (female version wicce).”
In his published works Gardner consistently uses the word Wica and he uses it in a way that’s equivalent to how we use the words “The Wiccans” or “The Witches” today. It’s not the name of a religion, it’s the name of a practitioner. Here’s Gardner’s one use of the word in Wica in Witchcraft Today (1954):
“These Wica generally work for good purposes and help those in trouble to the best of their ability. Of course whatever you do in this world you tread on someone’s toes; if a witch raised a good crop of corn in the old days, people complained she was deflating the prices. I think it unwise to lay down the law without knowing the subject.”
Gardner doubles down on Wica in The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959). In that book he uses the word seventeen times, this is the most famous instance:
“I realised that I had stumbled on something interesting; but I was half-initiated before the word ‘Wica’ which they used hit me like a thunderbolt, and I knew where I was, and that the Old Religion still existed. And so I found myself in the Circle, and there took the usual oath of secrecy, which bound me not to reveal certain things. In this way I made the discovery that the witch cult, that people thought to have been persecuted out of existence, still lived.”
Gardner’s use of Wica in Meaning matches his use of it in Witchcraft Today, it’s not the name of a religion but the name of a religion’s adherents. “Is there a future for the Craft of the Wica?” he writes on page 257 of the version I’m looking at. I’m quoting this because it’s a crystal-clear example of how he uses the word.
Curiously Gardner actually uses the word wicca six times in The Meaning of Witchcraft but it’s all limited to a discussion on word history. Here’s the first instance:
“By this time the Celts in their out-of-the-way dwellings were regaining their prosperity, and the Danish-Saxon lawgivers began making laws against the aboriginal magic they feared. As they had no witches of their own they had no special name for them; however, they made one up from wig, an idol, and laer, learning, wiglaer, which they shortened into wicca.”
So Gardner was clearly aware of a spelling with two c’s, he just chose not to use it.
In the tradition of Gardner I count myself very much among “the Wica” and the only way to be “of the Wica” is to be an initiate. I sometimes feel like I’m taking the easy way out by writing such things, but I also believe it to be true. Also no one’s ever been offended when I’ve said the only way to be of the Wica is to be an initiate of the Wica. It certainly cuts down on hurt feelings and it also retains Gardner’s original use of the term.
The words Wicca and Wiccan became popular during the 1960′s, but probably owe their popularity to one of Gardner’s earliest critics. In 1958 a witch going by the name of Charles Cardell claimed to be Wiccen in an English occult magazine, and soon thereafter declared “war” on Gardner and his initiates. (1) There’s some disagreement over whether or not Cardell’s wiccen was what lead to the word Wicca becoming commonplace. In 1960 a satirical poem by a friend of Gardner’s used the word Wicca in reference to Cardell and his sister Mary:*
‘We feel it is tragick
That those who lack Magick.
Should start a vendetta
With those who know betta
We who practice the Art
Have no wish to take part
Seems a pity the ‘Wicca’
Don’t realise this Quicca.’ (2)
By the early 1960′s the words Wica and Wicca began showing up in increasing frequency in British occult magazines. Melissa Seims sums up that history in her article Wica or Wicca:
Another example of the word ‘Wica’ being used in a defining way can be seen in a 1963 letter sent from Arnold Crowther to Gardner. The letter has the phrase ‘The Wica detective agency’ at the top and is about Crowther’s investigations into a new Witch that had appeared on the publicity scene – Alex Sanders. Such ‘detective’ work was probably partially inspired by the fact that Alex, who started to appear in the media in 1962, initially showed a clear preference for the one ‘c’ spelling. Arnold’s reference to himself as ‘The Wica Detective Agency’ reveals a sense of ownership of the word ‘Wica’.
This same year also sees the following advertisements appearing in Fate Magazine. One was for a ‘Wica Perthshire Circle’. This is almost certainly Monique and Scotty Wilson. Another advert is for ‘Wicca – Dianic and Aradian’ based in Cardiff Wales. Mary Cardell was originally from Wales and Diana is the main Goddess mentioned in the Atho material which appears to have originated with Cardell, so it seems likely that this advertisement is something to do with them.
By the late 1960s a glance through newspaper archives will readily show that the word ‘Wicca’ is increasing in frequency. This isn’t to suggest that Cardell’s Witchcraft was gaining strength but rather that people were becoming more aware of the etymology of the word and had started to assume that Gardner had mis-spelt it in the first instance. Additionally the writings of Doreen Valiente (whose more perspicacious personality generally chose correct etymology over Gardner’s spelling), were also increasing in frequency and I suspect that her use of Wicca served a double purpose. For not only was it etymologically correct, but it also meant that she could aid in reclaiming a word that she considered Cardell as unworthy of using. Other 1960s writings by Justine Glass and June John’s book, King of the Witches, also used ‘Wicca’, with Glass stating that ‘Wiccan’ was the correct plural form of ‘Wicce’. By the end of the 1960s its reclamation was just about complete.
In fifteen years the Wica became Wicca with traditions outside direct linkage to Gardner also using the term. By the middle of the 1970′s people even further removed from Gardner (and even Alex Sanders) began using the term to describe themselves. By the early 1980′s the name was being used in titles of books and in 1989 Llewellyn published Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide For the Solitary Practitioner forever putting the words Wicca and Wiccan in the hands of anyone who wished to claim them.
Has this all been good for Wicca? That’s up for every individual Witch to decide, but I probably wouldn’t be here without an eclectic path to first wander down. At this point in my life I’m comfortable calling anyone who casts a circle, calls quarters, invokes deity, and celebrates cakes and ale a Wiccan. I know that position is not popular in every circle, but I just don’t feel as if I have the authority to say who is what and who is not what. If someone has eighteen books on their shelf with the word “Wicca” on them and they self-identify that way who am I to stop them? What purpose does that serve? Words get away from us and it’s hard to police their meanings after they do so. Besides no one who self-identifies as a Wiccan and hears “you’re not a Wiccan” from an initiate is likely to change how they view themselves.
*Mary Cardell was not really Charles’s sister but that’s how they introduced themselves to others. The Cardells were odd ducks.
1. From The Triumph of the Moon by Ronald Hutton, Oxford University Press, 1999. This is from page 298, but Hutton writes about Cardell for about three pages.
2. Taken from this awesome article (Wica or Wicca) from The Cauldron issue 129 by Melissa Seims.
Wicca is not Christianity. Accepting the Goddess as your Lord and Savior does not automatically make you a Wiccan. Hell, doing that with Jesus doesn’t even make you Christian in most instances; you’d need a baptism, and that requires, *gasp*, an actual other Christian! Rites of passage, rites of entry, ordination, and initiation are all terms for similar processes. These rites which bring an individual into the group are things that necessitate an “other” into which one is being brought. Just as you cannot ordain yourself a Catholic priest, you similarly cannot initiate yourself as a priestess of Wicca. That is something that is done for us, by others of us.
I can’t initiate myself into the Masons or into a fraternity, but that doesn’t mean that my Abercrombie and Fitch wardrobe complete with pooka shell necklace doesn’t make me every ounce the cologne-abusing douchenozzle that a fraternity brother is. We may actually be quite similar in some sad, misinformed 90s way. But one is a frat brother and the other is…probably should become a frat brother, by pledging, binge drinking, and being initiated.
Many pagans who lean toward Wicca but are uninitiated are under the false perception that they can initiate themselves into Wicca and become a priest or priestess by reading books and deciding that yes, they are feeling priestly. The sad thing is that these are usually the same people that don’t know that there is one Book of Shadows that is used in Wicca (in forms that vary slightly from coven to coven, dependent on whether you’re a Gardnerian or a Gardnerian-lite, aka Alexandrian, and where you are). We all have the same rites, we perform the same or similar sabbats which enact the mythology of our Gods, which we also share. We do amazing and unique rituals during full moons, even though we also have a shared liturgy for that, and whenever we have need, so there’s little chance for our practice to become stagnant or stuffy. Our rituals are like the setting up of the diving board off of which we may choose to flip, twist, swan dive, or hit our heads and eat shit because we tried something we weren’t ready for. We’re all human, afterall and everyone can’t be Greg Louganis (but everyone should LOOK like 90s Olympics Greg Louganis).
These IRAB (I read a book) ‘Wiccans’ are also often the first and loudest in attempting to assert misinterpretations of some of our teachings in an effort to control and restrict other witches, which, to those of us who are initiated, is just silly. Just as we know that there is no universal law or rule of threefold return and also that the Rede of the Wicca is only eight words long and advice, not law, we also know that it takes more than reading and meditating and cultural appropriation to become one of the Wica.
Most of us have to seek. The vast majority of us, in fact. True, there are some witches who were so utterly lucky that they discovered there was a coven next door or down the street or maybe even multiple covens in the same town (I’m looking at you, Louisville, KY, Sandwich, MA, half the south shore of MA, and Salem.) But a fundamental part of each of our witches’ journies is their eventual coming home to the Wica. It’s a feeling we all share, one that we all relate to. It takes time and dedication and perseverance, and when it finally results in initiation, the feeling of finally making it back home is practically palpable. We are among our own kind once again, and that is one of the keys to unlocking the magic inherent in ourselves and in the worlds we straddle.
The first step toward initiation into Wicca is what we call seeking. No, that’s not getting on your broom and chasing down a flying golden ball called a snitch. Snitches get stiches. We’re gangster like that. Just ask, what was his name again..? Seeking is when you actively start to look for the right group of people for you. Seeking is often times done online, by scouring Witchvox.com, Facebook groups, Twitter, and a ton of other places. You have to look. A lot. There’s no guarantee that you will find anything even remotely possible, but therein lies part of the mystery. You might overlook a coven nearby for months before the time is right and the observation is made and comes slamming down into your consciousness. You may find no coven within 500 miles. You may have to board a plane or a train or an automobile and travel great distances, because you want to and because it’s worth it to you to make this happen. It takes sacrifice. All of these things have happened before: some people flew from Poland to the UK for training, regularly, for years. Some people just walked down the block. Wicca exists in Tasmania. TASMANIA FOR GODS’ SAKES. I even heard that one of us has been to Antarctica. Baller.
Seeking is also something that starts within. Who is it that we must ask when we wish to find other witches? Strangers on the internet always make for a fascinating foray in most situations, but truly, the first beings that should be asked are the Gods. Don’t know Their traditional names? No worries, They’ll hear you. We have a monopoly on what we call Them, but we don’t control Their ability to hear other witches who are trying to find their way back to Them. In fact, we count on it. Ask the Gods. Have a circle, light your candles, and make an honest and earnest plea to Them to lead you in the right direction, to bring you to the right people and to bring the right people to you. Amazing magic can be worked when you have an honest need and ask for the assistance of our Gods in seeing it come to fruition, especially if it brings you closer to Them and Their service. Thaumaturgy is fun, but theurgy is fucking amazing.
Spellwork to find a coven should be a logical first thought and one of the first steps taken when seeking. Some witches decide to incorporate this into a ritual for themselves which we commonly refer to as a dedication. They dedicate themselves officially toward studying the Craft for a certain period of time, frequently a year and a day because that is the traditional minimum amount of time a coven will wait in order to get to know a seeker and for a seeker to get to know them. When you’ve seen someone in every season, you get an idea of whether you will mesh with them and whether they would be a good fit for the group.
A dedication is not initiation, but it’s a start on the road toward it. Spellwork to assist you and strengthen your resolve, to grant insight and to bring one closer to the Gods is a great idea, especially when you place no specifics on it and ask for Them to enable you as They see fit. Magic with our Gods’ assistance can accomplish much.
Even though spellwork and magic are all about visualization and fiercely reinforcing your visualization with energy and intent, THERE IS NO SPELL THAT MAGICALLY INITIATES YOU ALL BY YOURSELF IN YOUR HEAD OR YOUR MOM’S BASEMENT WHILE EVERYONE ELSE IS AT CHURCH. To be initiated, you must be put through the Wiccan initiation rite present in the Book of Shadows. Hell, even if you want to go an eclectic route that doesn’t even use the Wiccan rites, have at it: but initiation will still be required for membership into pretty much any form of Wicca even if they do silly, un-Wiccan things like keep their clothes on.
The hard thing is that options are limited by everything from age to geographical location, frequently depending on transportation and thus either income or municipal transit. If any of these are lacking enough to be a barrier, then that is where your efforts are best suited. Don’t have enough money for a bus pass? Work some prosperity magic, get yourself a better job or an additional job and work your way up toward car ownership as a means to be able to get to coven. Ask the Gods for help with these things as well. You need to be the change required for magic to successfully help you, and the Gods help those who help themselves. The Gods can also help you get a bus pass. I’ve seen it because I’ve been the one shelling out the $80 for a friend to make it to circle reliably. We’re a family, after all.
The great part is that it’s worth it. The best part is that initiation into the Wica comes with family. You become a brother or sister of the Art, and you will have coven siblings and a veritable shit ton of craft siblings around the world who will meet up with you at Pantheacon, invite you to stay at their place in the Netherlands, and generally be completely wonderful to you for no other reason than the fact that you have something truly wonderful and unique on common: a devotion to the Craft, to our Gods, and enough will power to find your way home to all of us. Initiation is a welcoming, and it is also a transformation. I highly recommend it. So don’t half-ass it. Get up and seek.
Lineage. We all have it. It’s what links us to our ancestors. It’s what predisposes us to things like celiac disease and alcoholism and being hilarious (if you’re Irish enough). Genetic lineage is passed in the womb. Paternal lineage was traditionally passed when you’re born in wedlock. One’s lineage says, to a degree, who they are, and also implies what they were exposed to, how they may have been raised, and what they are likely to inherit.
Wiccan lineage is similar to filial lineage in many ways. While being made a Gardnerian doesn’t expose you to any specific disease other than the very American High Priestess disease, what it does do is ensure that you went through our initiation rite and were exposed to very specific parts of our tradition, introduced to our Gods and spirits as one of us, and basically brought into our tribe by us. The same can be said about Alexandrians and other British Traditional Wicca, though really Alexandrians are just another line of Gardnerians who decided to use more incense and we all know it. Egyptian libraries. Please.
In Wicca, lineage is passed through the initiation and elevation rites. Lineage specifies that one was brought into the Wicca in a ritual in which all of the hallmarks, or core, of our liturgy were present, and that it was performed by someone who was empowered to initiate (not just some random IRAB HPS or a rogue first degree). Accordingly, most Gardnerians in America trace their lineage through Ray Buckland, to his HPS, Monique Wilson, to her HP, Gerald Gardner, and from him to the New Forest coven which brought Gerald into the Wica and gave us what many of us consider to be our core.
Why then, do we run into other witches and pagans online and in person who claim to have lineage going back to Gerald Gardner, but are obviously not Gardnerian or any other kind of traditional Wica? When Silver Ravenwolf supposedly made this claim many years ago, it seemed an honest thing. What non-initiates know of Wiccan lineage is like what they know of filial lineage, or that part of the Bible that’s a bazillion pages of Levi begat Joseph who begat Joshua who begat seventy other people who all eventually lead to Jesus’s step dad, because that was important for some reason: oh yeah, paternal lineage and inheritance rights and validity. Lineage has, for time immemorial, been tied together with the concept of legitimacy. A bastard child was not legitimate and could not inherit, unless his father claimed him and gave him his lineage, despite the political and social fallout. It would seem that errant claims of lineage made in the greater neo-pagan community may still bear the trappings of a need for validity.
Claims by eclectics and members of eclectic traditions (a slightly oxymoronic term, for sure) to have lineage going back to Gerald Gardner show a shallow understanding of lineage. Wiccan lineage isn’t just “Gerald initiated Monique who initiated Ray who initiated me into the Masons, and so therefore I am a mason and also a Gardnerian with lineage going back to Gardner.” It doesn’t work that way. In order for lineage to be passed within Wicca, one needs to do certain things to pass it, and those things are contained in the traditional rites of initiation. Initiation and elevation within Wicca places a spiritual marker on a witch. It flags them as one of us, and as a result, certain deities, spirits, and other beings will take heed when they call, will help them, aid them, protect them, maybe even smite their enemies if approached in some fabulously biblical manner. If an actual, lineage member of the Wica were to toss out the initiation rites, or replace them with something different, then traditional Wiccan lineage is not conferred. Or, if one would like to persist that something is passed, then one must also concede that it is not the same. It is different.
Gerald Gardner’s initiation rites contain certain things. Let’s call them A, B and Nudity™. When I was initiated, I was given/shown/revealed A, B, and Nudity™, by people who experienced the same from people leading in a chain of individuals putting others through the same rite, in the same way (coughcoughnaked™coughcough). When Ray Buckland initiated the woman next in line from him to me, he did it with the Gardnerian rites, passing Gardnerian lineage.
At some point in time, Ray Buckland decided to branch out, and created Seax Wicca. He created this. He didn’t come across a secret, Saxon coven of witches that had been clandestinely hiding out in the wilds of Long Island in the 1960s. He was a fan of Saxon culture and religion and magic, and he made a workable religio-magical system out of it. He likely wrote initiation rites for it. This is all well and good. But what people don’t understand is that those rites aren’t the rites of entrance into traditional Wicca. When Mr. Buckland was initiated by Monique Wilson, he swore an oath that we all take to basically not reveal information which is bound by that oath. This covers things like the Names of the Wiccan Gods to the identities of other witches, to what is found in our BoS and a bunch of other lore both written and oral. Because he could not pass this on to outsiders, and because anyone being brought into Seax Wicca was still technically an outsider from the traditional oath and practice of Wicca, those new initiation rites did not convey Wiccan lineage going back to Gerald Gardner, because they did not contain the Gardnerian oathbound information and practices. I am not saying that they weren’t equally wonderful and powerful and moving and fulfilling rites or that Seax Wicca is bogus. I am only outlining that it is different, and different is not less-than.
But in recognizing that it is different, one must be willing to admit that because Ray was the creator of that tradition, its lineage started with him. A Gardnerian priest putting a woman through a Co-Masons initiation rite does not make her a Gardnerian any more than a Jewish PhD conferring an engineering PhD on a student makes that student Jewish. The same goes for different traditions of Wicca, as we know them today. A Seax Wicca HP does not pass Gardnerian lineage by initiating someone into Seax Wicca, because even if that person was also a Gardnerian, the initiations are different. You learn different things. You don’t get passed the Gardnerian info or mojo.
Yet, even today, we have people online who claim that their lineage goes back to Gardner through Michael Reagan to Ray Buckland (possibly even through same-sex initiation, which is a big Gardnerian no-no) back up the line to Gardner. Why? Why is it so important to have lineage to the man who brought Wicca out of the broom closet, instead of to someone two links down the chain from him who created another system of witchcraft? Gerald was not the first witch, nor will he be the last, but his name does seem to be one that people cling to, for many reasons.
If your line of initiators goes back a good way, great. If it goes back through multiple varying and different eclectic traditions, wonderful. But the lineage passed to you, if any, would start with your tradition’s founder, not the founder of their previous tradition, or the founder of that person’s previous tradition. Lineage is, after all, a way to identify someone, to have an understanding of who they are and what they do and where they got it from. If you slap that term onto anyone who’s ever high-fived you or walked slowly enough across your lawn, then the term becomes meaningless, and anyone on earth can claim lineage back to anyone if they have only the most flimsy and tangential association with them. The Correllian Nativist tradition does not, from what I understand, convey any actual native American lineage on its members. In the same vein, traditional Wiccan lineage is passed intentionally, and not outside of the realm of itself. If you’re from an eclectic tradition, take pride in it. Don’t attempt to grasp for some unnecessary sense of further legitimacy by reaching out for something that isn’t there.
Or, if you feel that you really need it, then come and get it. It’s still being passed today, around the world, and when a seeker is ready, a teacher can appear.
Witchcraft is a wide, wide world. Since no one can agree on just what it encompasses, it has at times included everything from mediumship and healing to any non-Judeo-Christian (or Muslim) religious and folk practices. Open-minded people call Spiritualists (practitioners of the religion of Spiritualism) mediums, and close-minded people may just call them witches, and scream about how dark-sided they are, like Wife Swap’s the God Warrior.
Witchcraft changes people, usually for the better, but sometimes for the worse. Minds can be opened, usually by the acquisition of knowledge and the utilization of compassion and empathy. But minds can also grow closed through fear and insecurity. People don’t like fear. They don’t innately like the unknown, as much as they are also inherently drawn to it (hence, witchcraft). People who live in fear often times fail to control those fears, and instead turn their minds toward controlling what causes their fears. They attempt to control their environments, their families, their children, their politics and countries, and in the worst cases, large swaths of the world, leading to some of the most dreadful events in human history.
Fear is a very strong force in this world. Fear leads to a need to control. Sometimes fears are warranted and control is good, like when an invasive species takes over a certain locale and checks need to be put in place to balance out the environment, like this amazing project explaining How Wolves Change Rivers. But sometimes a lot of the time, fear leads to unhealthy actions, like attempting to control other people.
We’ve all heard the stories when it comes to Wicca: such and such a hypothetical person, let’s call her Luna, is looking for information on Wicca online. She’s read a few things, maybe even quite a few things: books and websites and listened to podcasts and studied her little heart out! Then she takes the next step: actually talking to other people online. (We know this is a hypothetical situation. Obviously no modern-day person from AMURICUH would wait until after amassing knowledge about something before talking about it. And pontificating about it. And acting like they know everything about it. But this is OUR story and we won’t let you ruin it with reality or facts. And you’ll see why as we continue to describe a certain type of individual ;)
So Luna has decided to talk to other witches. She likely reads a few sites, visits a few forums, and eventually ends up where everything on the internet ends up: Facebook. She allegedly joined a group that is supposedly about traditional Wicca.™ There are a hundred or so other people in there and the HPS who owns/runs/moderates it allegedly presents herself as a High Priestess of a tradition of Wicca, which sounds quite respectable and knowledgeable! She easily spouts off a few well known platitudes about traditional Wicca, like “Traditional Wicca never costs money!” She seems legit to our dear Luna. This alleged traditional HPS, let’s call her something normal-sounding (which is odd for online Wiccans these days), like Jordana Smith, HPS™. (Though we all know she has like 237 different names and switches between them all because pagan name, craft name, circle name, trad name, real name, title she gave hersel…we mean, that her tradition very validly and ostentatiously bestowed upon her, etc…) Besides, she’s pushing 60 and mentions it A LOT! No one that old would misrepresent themselves!
So young, self-taught, slightly naïve-but-using-her-brain-nonetheless Luna begins to learn. She hears Jordana Smith, HPS™ spout off about such erudite Wiccan concepts as teaching within the Craft, her book, mythology, and the like. She speaks of respect for other peoples’ traditions of Wicca, all of them! She says that they do not all operate the same and that we must all respect that those differences exist. She says that if your opinion or experience differs from hers, she has no problem with that. And yet, she brings up legitimacy and validity, which implies that some are, and some definitely aren’t. It gives her an elevated, insider air. She’s presenting herself as someone who is capable of pointing the finger and saying, “No. They are not legit. They do not belong,” frequently about people from outside her own tradition, or outside of any tradition.
Luna, gods bless her for the burden she bears for it, was born with a functioning brain. She starts to sense, subconsciously at first, that something seems ‘off’ here. She is reading these things about peace and love and harmony and respect, and then seeing, well, things that don’t quite jive with those oft-touted concepts. She starts to wonder about what Jordana Smith, HPS™, is saying. Some things sound great, but other things sounds a bit contradictory to what she’s learned elsewhere. There is a seeming conflict of information to her, and so, in a common act of simple naivety, she decides to ask about it.
She pipes up, saying, “But I learned something different from this other tradition. The Gardnerians teach something different. (Cause like everyone knows who we are, cause we named ourselves after our founder by making someone hate him so bad that he gave us a name, Gardnerians, in an attempt to dispel us like the Nothing in the Neverending Story. But really, he threw our proverbial Dobby a sock and unleashed us onto the world, and for that, we are grateful to him. RIP.)
Luna says, “But I read that not all Wiccans follow the Rede in everything. It’s just advice that applies to situations which cause no harm. It’s not a law across the board.” And Jordana Smith, HPS™ hisses and recoils. The heretofore polite HPS-apparent replies, “Well surely you adhere to the 161 Laws,” but Luna shakes her head (online. Somehow.) and replies, “But, those were made up after Wicca got off the ground and running and only like 1 of Gardner’s HPSes paid them any mind at all. Most of them saw them for what they were, some fancy old type of speak that doesn’t really apply to the modern world in which witches/Wiccans think for themselves, because they’re all equal at 3°. Also, gays are fine and Gardner wanted Doreen to step down because either he wasn’t into her or she was actually as much in control as he was and so he came up with an excuse to solve that little problem.”
Jordana Smith, HPS™, hisses again, recoiling even farther. But she would not give up her hold…err, hope just yet. She greeted Luna with a hello and informed her that everyone needs a high Priest or High Priestess and Elder in the Craft to teach them like she does EVERY PERSON WHO ENTERS THE GROUP JUST IN CASE SHE CAN BE THAT PERSON (HINT: SHE’S IMPLYING THAT SHE FITS THAT DESCRIPTION. PERFECTLY.) So she issues a further challenge, saying, ‘SURELY YOU ADHERE TO THE THREEFOLD LAW!”
Luna, at this point, should probably just nod her head and curtsy and say “Of course I do, my Lady, because if you say that its required dogma in traditional Wicca then it must be so!” But Luna is accursed with the affliction of a functioning brain, and she responds almost without thinking, “What? There’s no Threefold Law of Return in traditional Wicca. That came from a misinterpretation of something in a work of fiction that Gardner wrote in the 1950s. I read it on some crappy Gardnerian blog.”
Jordana Smith, HPS™ has had enough. She flies into an ALL CAPS RAGE!!!!11one and roars “CERTAINLY YOU MUST SEE WICCA AS A RELIGION!!!” To which Luna’s bane of a brain/mouth combo replies without even a thought, “Actually, Wica is traditionally the name of the priesthood of the witchcraft that was practiced in the New Forest region of the south of England in the first half of the 20th century. The actual religion itself has no name.”
Jordana Smith, HPS™ does the only thing that she can possibly do in such a situation. She is being presented with conflicting information from another person who got it from arguably the most well-known and oldest Wiccan tradition on the planet, and her group rules say quite clearly,
“it is imperative that everyone understand before discussing Traditional Wicca that all Traditions are different and may not adhere to the same practices within their respective frameworks.
Everyone needs to respect everyone else’s way of doing things.”
So Jordana Smith, HPS™ BUSTS OUT THE BAN HAMMER SO FAST, THOR THOUGHT THAT RAGNAROK HAD COME BECAUSE NOTHING SINCE MJOLNIR HAD BEEN ABLE TO KNOCK SOMEONE OUT OF THEIR WORLD THAT QUICKLY IN 15 CENTURIES.
While this fictitious character, Jordana Smith, HPS™, couldn’t possibly be real, there are people out there who are just like her. Such people have their own Facebook groups where they spin their tangled web of Wiccan lies in order to construct a universe that fits them instead of trying to construct themselves in a way to fit the universe (or Wicca). What seekers have to worry about here is being lured in by a bunch of erudite-sounding shit and then finding out that the person or idea that they invested so much of their time and spirit/identity into turns out to not be what they thought. It happens all the time, sadly, and it continues to happen to this day. Why? Because we’re an unorganized religion. We don’t have a Vatican or a Holy See or a Pope to sit on high and proclaim what and who is official and what and who isn’t. So people can get up on a soap box like a protestant preacher on a sidewalk in rural Pensacola and proclaim themselves a High Priestess, and there’s no way to fact check it. The onus of proof lies with the person making the claims to the priesthood. If they can’t prove it, don’t take their word as fact.
This is why we need things like community, even as fiercely autonomous and independent as we are. We need to have a body of peers to review, from afar, what is going on, and to voice their collective approval or disapproval, kind of like science before Ted Cruz got put in charge of the congressional subcommittee of science and became the very anti-science pope that rationalists have feared for centuries.
What can an honest seeker do to be aware of people like this? They need to have (and use!) a functioning brain. If a purported HPS™ has fancy claims of lineage (which turns out to be bullshit, but most seekers won’t be able to debunk that on their own), they are most often undone by themselves, through the time-honored tradition of hypocrisy. When they ban/kick out EVERY SINGLE legitimate and valid British Traditional Wiccan priestess in
her their group who happens to disagree with her them, that’s a great red flag for seekers. When it becomes so much, so often, that it’s the majority of what goes on there, and known Gardnerian High Priests are casually dropping the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Form in that group as a simple conversation piece, your functioning brain should recognize a warning.
But then again, when your cockamamie idiocy and draconian behavior gets featured on some shitty Gardnerian blog, then you really know you’ve made it ;)
Blessed Be, Witches.
P.S. Apparently other witches have come forward to offer up the same warnings that we have about this fictitious person. It’s amazing how much coverage a fake character in a story on Facebook can receive from such different types of witches. While hypocrisy is usually an unintentional red flag warning that such persons tend to send up on their own, sometimes if you just have a really good comments section on your blog, you’ll also give them enough rope to hang themselves as they wade tactlessly and idiotically into a conversation about rape-culture and child pornography.
P.P.S. This little gem was also brought to our attention. The beloved Donald Michael Kraig dodges bullets while giving a wonderful assessment of the Rede and the Threefold Law. Unfortunately our girl of the hour still finds a way to change the very meaning of words. That is some powerful magic.
Sometimes in life, things move us. Sometimes it’s a bolt of inspiration that allows us to narrow in on something that we find to be important. Sometimes it’s the identification of a pattern or meaningful coincidence that we come across. Both of these things are common occurrences when it comes to modern religious witchcraft. Today’s blog was inspired by our dear sister Thorn Mooney’s (pictured above) most recent post to her Oath Bound blog on Patheos.com, “What Good is Gardnerian Wicca.” (Why it’s called Oath Bound, we have no idea, but she knows what’s up and what’s secret, so she has as much right to the term as any one of us, if not more for smooshing it in the public’s face. Go, sister, go.)
We’re about halfway through her most recent post, and about halfway through 6 or 8 whiskeys, and you know what, we think we’ve been forced to think. Brava, Thorn. Brava. The conflict within, between whether to write as the spirit moves us or whether to finish reading so we can make informed commentary tears us asunder.
Ok, we chose to finish reading, because reason.
Something that Thorn and we have in common (and she whoops our ass at it) is that we both have degrees in Religious Studies. We have a BA in it, but this witch has an MA. That means she sunk a lot more time, thought, and money into the pursuit, and we do not envy her student loans. This is a priestess who went for it, because she was called to it, and her writings have left us with spiritual truth bomb after spiritual truth bomb as a result. For this, we are grateful as fuck. (We’re also grateful as fuck for this issue of The Burning Times that her coven sent us. I mean, Lies For Dead Seahorses has needed to be shared for decades, obviously. Hit her up. Beg her to send you a copy. It’s solid gold.)
Her candor in the written medium is flawless. Witness the sentence “I don’t even have words for how boring these conversations were,” in regards to her description of the debates between atheists and protestants in her graduate student courses. Another straight up truth bomb is, “If there’s anything I’ve learned through studying religion, it’s the futility of pretending that it’s a definable thing with neat boundaries that make sense to everyone involved.”
She’s flawless in describing to the rest of us how her (our) Gardnerian Wicca doesn’t tell her how to vote, how to think, how to spend her money or fight injustice. She affirms quite clearly that we don’t have a central hierarchy, and she highlights that many conversations at the masters level of education in regards to religion don’t even apply to her (us). She is a light in the darkness of the Judeo-Christian constructed process of studying religion. Encountering Hinduism and Buddhism caused religious scholars to eventually think outside of their shells, but encountering Wicca has mostly led them to deconstruct Wicca in a Judeo-Christian framework, highlighting the similarities and (mostly) differences.
We don’t wish to presume, by reading her blog posts on Patheos.com, what Wicca has given her. But we do feel confident repeating what she says on its behalf; it “made her feel like she had some impact on her own life. It gave her some sense of agency she hadn’t had before.” It empowered her, and caused her to find a sense of empowerment, making her feel more effective over her own life. That personal power, that is the effect of witchcraft. Witchcraft is empowering, which is why is has been so villified by established western religious authority for centuries.
One of the biggest and best things that Thorn Mooney writes about on her blog at Patheos.com is that Gardnerian Witchcraft has given her a sense of family, and we echo this sentiment strongly. When you are initiated into a coven, you are essentially presented with siblings in the Craft. At first, they are usually the men and women who have also seeked, worked, and successfully pursued initiation under the same High Priest and Priestess as yourself. They become your siblings in a way that defies words, because they are not related to you, but they have the same deep understanding of the Mysteries that you do, presented in the same way by the same people, and because this is one of the most defining experiences of your life, you grok them, and they you, in a way that can only be described as kin.
Fuck the royal we for a minute. I’m a Gardnerian. I’m a member of one of the most reclusive witchcraft traditions and Wiccan traditions in existence, and all I can say about my tradition is that it is family. It is finding my, our way back home. My coven is my family, in addition to my kin who I was born into, who love me unconditionally. The level of love and trust inherent in a truly functional Wiccan coven is bar-none. As Thorn says in her blog, we, collectively as a coven, are bigger than any one person’s practice. It is as much beautiful as it is sublime. We rein each other in as much as we lift each other up and soar with each other through the ethos of life and that which we experience beyond. We become co-creators of our shared realities and recognize the divine within ourselves and each other without the need for yoga mats, yoga pants (or any pants, really), or an excessive amount of blissed-out new agey platitudes.
One of the most spectacular things about the traditional Wicca movement is that we have a shared liturgy. Many pagans might scoff at the idea of liturgy in a witchcraft movement, but when it comes to the study of ritual, it has been found time and time again that the repetition of certain actions, certain affirmations, certain observances and practices, has assisted and, in fact, enhanced the state of mind in regards to those practices. We train ourselves through repetition, and in so doing, we form the launch pad for the witchcraft and the religious experiences of ecstasy, communion, and enlightenment that we strive for. When the very basic circle structure and casting, the calling of the quarters, the invocation of the Gods, and the forming of the traditional Wiccan circle become something we can do with our eyes closed, we prepare our minds for true transcendence, because at that point, our rites are primed to transcend our normal senses and ways of thinking. The traditional Wiccan practice does not restrict: it sets the stage for a show that is ineffable, an experience that is transcendent, and a practice that unites us with our gods in a way that words fail to describe.
I, err…. We are grateful to Thorn for sharing so much of her experience with us, and we look forward to reading so very much more from her in the future. And to Jason Mankey, who writes his own blog, Raise the Horns, (and possibly edits Thorn’s?), we offer our thanks, not just for years of beautiful community ritual, but for bringing to us yet another modern voice that reflects the truly visceral experience of Gardnerian witchcraft. We treasure it, and just because she’s not *really* on Facebook doesn’t mean we value it any less. *CoughCoughHintHintAFanPageIsCrapGetARealOneAlreadyCoughCough*
Our brother over at the House of the Midnight Sun has written a 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief that we can really get behind. Here’s a little taste:
“To be a witch or even a Wiccan coven leader does not necessarily mean I need to be a pillar of the community in service to any and all. I am in service to my gods and spirits and to the people they bring to me for help, not every single person who emails me or stops me in the street.”
Also, there’s rum.
Go read it.