by Kyril Oakwind & Judy Harrow
appearing in the spring/summer 1989 issue of FireHeart
Each year, Garderians come together for the Annual Samhain
Garderian 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 continutity while learning
about of differences. There is a spectrum within Gardnerian
practice. Kryil 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 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 medeival 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 stronly 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
systhesis 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 Garnderianism, and those
who practiced these rituals as handed down (not as
published) became known as Garnderians.
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 wether our Craft is old or new. We know for sure
that it works. What we can prove is that Gerald Gardner,
Doreen Valiete, 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
generations 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.
Gardnerisnism, like mush of the craft, is an initiatory,
Mystery Tradition. To become a member of the Tradition, an
individual must be initiated by a Garnderian 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 unties 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 initiations.
Lineage-the sense of family and continuity- is intensely
important to Garderians. 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
Garderians 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 hierarchial form of leadership, a
three degree systems 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
Karama 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 flexiable- and far more real. Nor
are they considered to be holier or higher, simply more
The tree 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 amy result.