The Gardnerian Tradition of Initiatory Wicca, is a modern form of Witchcraft, founded in the 1940s and 1950s in the south of England.
The Gardnerian tradition in its simplest sense focuses on the original traditions and practices passed down over generations of initiates and recorded and detailed in the Book of Shadows, which were developed and enriched by individuals such as Doreen Valiente, Patricia Crowther, Eleanor Bone, and many others, from the original work of Gerald Gardner and the New Forest Coven and the many sourced from which they drew from. These practices have evolved and changed as our own magical understanding and practice has grown over the decades since the loss of Gardner in 1964. Like many of the Traditions formed after 1951 repeal of the Witchcraft Act, many different branches have formed over time, and there are now many different Lineages and covens practicing our tradition all over the world, each with their own idiosyncrasies, philosophies, and practices. All linked by our connection and initiations of which we trace back through to Gardner and his initiates.
Our tradition is fundamentally a reincarnation “cult”, and we examine to see if someone fits the pattern of the coven and if we recognize them as belonging to the Wicca! The Gardnerian tradition is often referred to as a fertility religion, deriving from the now debunked theories of Margaret Murry in her book Witch Cult in central Europe. This is often interpreted as meaning that Gerald Gardner was rescuing a dying cult, which is a romantic view of a period of history that at that time had a contemporary interest in Nudism, Spiritualism, and an ease of access to occult materials inaccessible to the common man before. This combined with the onset of WWII created a period of our traditions history that was the cooking pot for the earliest ritual material of our tradition to be experimented with and ultimately worked into Gardeners Bok of Ye Art Magical, which was a precursor text to our traditions Books of shadows.
Our tradition is also an esoteric mystery tradition, one in which the dramas of the inner world are practiced by and for the benefit of its initiates, through rituals where these mysteries are explored and deeper understood. Where we engage with the Spirits of our tradition, the Goddess of Life and Lord of Death who engage in a mythical dance outside of time and space, gender, and sex. However, for our understanding we have socially set a reduced perspective and limit upon them for our recognition, to aid us in better understanding the complexity of the unfathomable. They are Form and Void, Evolution and Involution, Subject and Object, Unity and Manifold change.
All Gardnerian Covens have initiation ceremonies and rituals, and new coven members are always required to wait a up to the traditional Year and a day before receiving initiation to ensure they were serious and dedicated to wanting to work the tradition and its degrees. We have three initiatory degrees’; The first degree which makes a coven member and marks you as an initiate of our tradition, giving you access to our Books of Shadows and rituals. The second degree which elevates you and acknowledges your work as an initiate, where you begin work in helping others develop and take on more responsibility in our coven, or even potentially hive off and start your own coven. And finally, the third degree, which is personal advancement and inner development to a deeper understanding. These degrees take many years to work and achieve, they are not trophies to mark a celebration, but acknowledgements of the serious work and commitment you have put into the rituals and the engagement of yourself through the Mythos and Gods.
Our tradition is primarily a witchcraft practice and not a faith or religion. Many members of our tradition hold several personal faiths and religions: Secularism, Paganism, Hermeticism, Thelema, Satanism, and many others. Blind unquestioning Faith within our tradition is Anathema, it is against our nature as a tradition to dictate what should be believed and how an individual should live and express themselves. We work for all our initiates to come to Know themselves as individuals through the co-operative magic of coven practice.
Our practice is documented through the generations of initiated through our Books of Shadows, detailing our Mythos and Praxis which is a living breathing thing, it grows differently under different conditions, in different climates and uniquely around the world. We have this as a record of all the work and rituals done by those that have come before us in our lineages, but what we do now may not always reflect what those have done and believed before us. The Book of Shadows is a very influential but also commonplace book of rituals and records, it is not a holy text or religious document as many older initiates now treat the writings of Gardner to be “gospel” which is not how all Gardnerian coven’s work. We must acknowledge the history and times in which many of our rituals were written, times where there were unjust legal precedent and social ideology, hatred, and bigotry towards the LGBTQIA+, and POC. As a tradition we must now move onwards with a contemporary practice, reflecting modern society and its acceptance towards LGBTQIA+ initiates and those adaptations needed for their inclusion, such as “Post” gendered initiations, and the abandonment of enforced gender roles within rituals. The Gods are beyond gender enforcement and so too should we.
A Gardnerian coven is led by a High Priestess, or a High Priest, or a High Priestx, or a combination of these leaders.
Our tradition works Skyclad. “And ye shall all be freed from slavery, and so ye shall be free in everything; And as the sign that ye are truly free, Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men and women also” – Gospel of the Witches. This practice came from the Coven that Gerald Gardner himself was initiated into, and not an invention of Gerald himself. We must also recognize that at the time Gerald was initiated that Nudism and Naturism was actively being recommended by medical professional for a range of ailments. As such working Skyclad became an integral part of the idiosyncrasies of our tradition and is practiced by almost all Gardnerian covens.