Each year, Gardnerian come together for the Annual Samhain Gardnerian Gather. In the years since it began, the Gather has grown from a small local get-together to a national gathering, with participants from both East and West coasts. This year, England was represented as well! Our experience in the Gardnerian community has shown that we are not a homogeneous group. These family reunions have allowed us to maintain a certain amount of continuity while learning about of differences. There is a spectrum within Gardnerian practice. Kyril represents the more traditional or conservative side of the family, while the practices of Judy's coven look more eclectic or innovative. We felt that by working together, we could describe our tradition more clearly than either of us could by writing alone.
Gardnerianism as a distinct Tradition began with the writings of Gerald B. Gardner. He was initiated into the New Forest coven in England by "old Dorothy" Clutterbuck. During World War II, Gardner participated in the efforts of British Witches, led by Dorothy Clutterbuck, to turn back Germany's invasion troops. Gardner was active in the Craft and published a fictional novel about medieval Witchcraft in 1949. He started a Museum of witchcraft on the Isle of Man after the 1951 repeal of the last anti-witchcraft law in England. Coming out publicly as a Witch in 1954, he published "Witchcraft Today".
At that time, he believed the Craft was dying out-most of the members were older and few young members were being initiated. Gardner strongly believed not only in reincarnation, but that he would be reborn to the craft. If it died out, this could not be, and so he dedicated himself to reviving the Craft. Unable to directly reveal much of his coven's workings, he developed a system that was a synthesis of various elements from Masonic ritual, ceremonial magick, French Mediterranean Craft and the teachings of his coven. Gardner and later Doreen Valiente, rewrote some of the ritual, improving its poetic qualities and adding yet another dimension. As generations of Witches, they became the basis of Gardnerianism, and those who practiced these rituals as handed down (not as published) became known as Gardnerians.
Gardneriansim was brought to America by the Bucklands in 1962. Their coven was passed on to Lady Theos and Pheonix in 1972 and to Lady Rhiannon in 1985.
Judy notes that the existence of the earlier New Forest coven is unproven, and not particularly important. We may not know whether our Craft is old or new. We know for sure that it works. What we can prove is that Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, and their associates did develop a ritual and symbolic system, drawing from many sources including their own inspirations. Their single greatest innovation was to make the Goddess their main focus. The fruit of that generation's research, innovation, and creativity was a strong and flexible ritual structure that forms a foundation for the research, innovation, and creativity of later generations. In fact, we know that each successive generation of Gardnerians did augment the materials they received, and develop the Tradition. As we live with this material, use it and practice it, while continuing to study whatever Pagan sources we can find and, we hope, grow in our understanding both experientially and intellectually, we must and will make changes. A tradition that does not change is dead.
Gardnerianism, like mush of the craft, is an initiatory, Mystery Tradition. To become a member of the Tradition, an individual must be initiated by a Gardnerian who was initiated by a Gardnerian, on back to Gardner and his High Priestesses, and the initiation ritual used must be the Gardnerian ritual. Initiation is more than a rite of passage that unites the participants. They have not only undergone a similar death and rebirth but are reborn into a particular world. That world is a microcosm of the universe with a unique psychic pattern of the created by the particular ritual, energy current, and vibration of the Deity names used by the participants. They take on the group karma of their new family and clan, and they add to it as well. They also take an oath of secrecy.
From a more eclectic Gardnerian viewpoint, any initiation ritual that is based on the Gardnerian structure and contains certain elements is a valid Gardnerian initiation. Lineage-the sense of family and continuity- is intensely important to Gardnerian. Within Judy's line, any variants on initiation or elevation rituals must be checked with the Priestess immediately senior to the one making the changes. In this way, we make room for growing understanding and changing times without sacrificing the continuity that all Gardnerian value equally.
Kyril points out that Neo-Gardnerian or Gardnerian based groups using the published versions of Gardnerian rituals, while performing and having perfectly valid initiatory experiences, are not being "reborn" into the same psychic pattern as that of the Gardnerian Tradition. A real difference exists in the energy they draw on and the psychic patterning that is being done. Gardnerianism is very much a family. We have our different covens and our different practices, but the family feeling is very strong. We are bound by the magickal ties of the initiation and our oath of secrecy. We are bound by the ties of love. No amount of book knowledge can ever replace human contact and the feeling of belonging to a loving family. This is why Judy feels a re-written ritual within the context of lineage, makes you a Gardnerian in a way that a word-perfect ritual out of a book never could.
Gardnerianism as a Tradition has a body of rituals passed down from Gardner that helps to form the core identity - a shared current of energy which is added to and drawn on by all the initiates, secret Deity names, and a specific group Karma. It also has a hierarchical form of leadership, a three-degree system of training, experienced and knowledgeable Witch Queens and Maguses (high Priestesses and High Priest who have successfully trained a coven to the point where another coven has hived off from theirs) from which to draw on. And there is an oath of secrecy.
Judy feels Gardnerianism is not much so the body of rituals as the ritual system and the symbolic vocabulary. She tells her students that Gerald, Doreen and their associates were the architects, but we are the interior decorators. The structural pattern can be gotten from books almost as easily as a particular script can be. More and more, she believes that the personal affiliation, the group Karma if you will, and the energy current are as definitive as the ritual and symbol system.
Our respect for lineage, and for the seniors within our lineage, is very important. But Judy does not think of it as hierarchical. In hierarchy, those "above" us would have been assigned by those above them, without our consent. We choose to work with our teachers, our Priest/esses, our Queens and Maguses out of respect and love and trust. The bond is freer and more flexible- and far more real. Nor are they considered to be holier or higher, simply more experienced.
The three-degree system is an uncomfortable but necessary form of quality control. An initiation is a statement, not only to the Gods, but also to the community, that this person is a Priest/ess, qualified to fulfill certain roles. If we initiate people, or do degree elevations, before they are competent, harm may result.
~by Kyril Oakwind & Judy Harrow
(appearing in the spring/summer 1989 issue of FireHeart)