Tradition in Gardnerian Wicca

1 Conversation

When I received my First degree in Gardnerian Wicca (longer ago than it seems) and my HP & HPS gave me their Book of Shadows to copy, I was interested by the Laws that were hidden discretely somewhere in the middle of the section labelled “Miscellaneous”. When I pointed them out to my HP he said that I didn’t have to put them in my own BoS if I didn’t like them. And I didn’t like them, not one bit. They had an atmosphere of the time of the Witch-hunts, and spoke of how witches might protect themselves under torture and other such things. But I didn’t discard them, and now the Laws are discretely hidden in my own BoS, in the middle of the section labelled “Miscellaneous.”

Some time later, I read in another Craft publication, the proposal that Gerald B.Gardner produced the Laws only after meeting with John Score on the Isle of Man. (This item interested me a great deal, since a large portion of our own BoS has “JBS 1969” written on the bottom of the pages.) If this collaboration between GBG and JBS over the Laws is correct, it suggests that either (a) they concocted the Laws there and then, or (b) they found them from some earlier source but kept them hidden until then. If the former is true then what was their reason for making the Laws appear older than they were, implying a mediaeval age of persecution? Was it simply to give Gardner’s Revivalist Craft an atmosphere of authenticity? As practicable Laws they are useless in the 20th Century. So were GBG and/or JBS deliberately trying to deceive us? On the other hand, if the Laws are genuinely old, where do they really come from? And if the Laws are really old, it is also reasonable to assume that some of the other “JBS 1969” material is also considerably older than 1969.

It is clear that very likely only a small portion of what we now have in our BoS’s is original GBG or earlier. Probably there will be a few common threads running through all of our BoS’s, and this will be the ‘real McCoy’. It seems, then, that GBG intended that his own material be a very bare framework upon which individuals could build their own complete BoS. If this was the case, then he succeeded remarkably well, since a vast diversity within the Gardnerian Craft, even within a single initiatory line of it, is more than glaringly obvious.

In a similar vein, it has also been suggested that the 1st degree initiations have been deliberately altered due to the fact that the basic ritual has been published. I noticed our own 1st Degree’s are different from the ones I’ve seen published, even those published by Gardnerian/Alexandrian writers, and recently I’ve been a guest at the 1st Degree ‘s of another coven of our own line, which is different in other ways. Likewise, other rituals and practises vary in subtle ways from one another as well as from published versions. I don’t think it’s deliberately to maintain the Mystery, though it’s useful that this has been a result. I think it’s more because different people like different ways of working, and so they make these changes to suit themselves. Most variations I’ve seen on basic rituals are more to do with actions and “stage directions” rather than words.

It has become fashionable amongst non-Gardnerian Pagans (even Wiccans) to slag off GBG by saying that his Craft wasn’t as old as he claimed but he made it up, or plagiarised it from Aleister Crowley, mostly as a way of fulfilling his own sexual fantasies. The argument will go on until both Gardnerians and non-Gardnerians are blue in the face, and now that GBG is no longer around it is unlikely that we’ll ever know the truth. (Would he have told the truth himself??!)

It is a hobby-horse of mine, and I’ll argue about it till I’m blue in the face as long as there’s someone in the world who disagrees with me. I propose that it doesn’t matter whether GBG invented his Craft or whether he really inherited it from the Traditional English Craft. The point is, he brought it (whatever “it” is) out into the open and it has become, in it’s own right, a valid magical and religious tradition. Over the fifty-odd years since the Gardnerian Craft first emerged into the public view, it has undergone a great many changes. Every BoS is an adaptation of the one that came before it as new rituals are added and changes are made. This is to be expected; the Craft is a living, breathing, growing religion.

Each new initiate takes their initiator’s BoS and copies it out (or photocopies it) and as they learn and grow they expand it and add to it, bringing in new rituals from other Witches and writing their own, and changing things to suit their own preferences. What is most important, is that all the material you have been given by your initiators MUST be preserved for the sake of your initiatory descendants. Add to it as much as you like, but never take away. Not even that ritual you really hated, and were determined that you would never use. The next person you initiate might have liked it.

To look even further into the future, it is likely that historians both inside and outside the Craft would be grateful to discover original material from the century in which the Craft emerged. Let’s face it, fifty years is not a long time in history, and already, original GBG material is obscure, even while there are still Witches alive who worked with him. How much more so will it be in a hundred and fifty years? Or five hundred? Once a text is lost, no matter how irrelevent it seemed at the time, it is gone for ever, and future Witches will never get the opportunity to judge it’s value, practical or historical, for themselves.

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