eclectic witchcraft

opinions

Two Gardnerians, Twenty-one Opinions

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 😉

*BB*

Gardnerian, A

County

 

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wicca ritual

What To Do When Your Lineage Isn’t Gardnerian (other than cry)

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.

monique wilson

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.

initiation

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.