Wednesday, July 20, 2011

DEJA BROOM: Gerald Gardner, the man and the myth

"DEJA BROOM" denotes a blog repost from my old site.  Feel free to read anew, or refresh your memory to re-live the ranty goodness.  Otherwise, feel free to skip ahead to more modern mayhem

The idea that he made the whole thing up is completely and utterly false. What he himself purported to be was a revivalist of an insular British cult/religion that he was initiated into and didn't wish to see die out in his homeland, and later wanted to see spread elsewhere in the world because he found it so enriching and valuable. I also did not say Gardnerians have proof of Wicca as we know it today being around before the advent of Christianity ---- what I said was that Wicca, or at least the progenitor to what most folks today think of Wicca, pre-dates Gerald Gardner if only because there is evidence that Gerald himself was initiated into something which existed before he came along.

Here's another funny aside....can anyone on here even tell me how "Gardnerians" got their name? It wasn't because Gerald called it that. In all actuality, the epitaph started out as one of derision bestowed by a different variety of traditionalist witch from within the UK (Robert Cochran aka Roy Bowers), who used it to distinguish his own way of practice from Gardner' in "Oh, you must be one of those....GARDNERIANS!" rather than a witch practitioner of a his tradition, another family tradition of insular British origin. It is also interesting to note that Gardner himself, and his first several priestesses (a few of which you may know from their biographical books) didn't call themselves Gardnerians, they called themselves, simply, witches.

Most non-initiates are probably not going to like or be satisfied with my answer, but I can only tell you that there is proof, written proof, available, but it is presently only accessible by initiates of our tradition. There was indeed an old Dorothy. There was indeed a group/coven into which Gardner was initiated. There was indeed a set of written and oral materials which he was passed when he became a member of that coven.

Was there a lot of written material? As I've said before, no there wasn't. And this was why Gardner was afraid that as the older members of the tradition were dying off, he feared their ways would go into the grave with them. To reiterate what I said earlier, Gardner took the skeletal framework he had been given, and with the permission of those from whom he studied, he began to add pieces from other occult resources in order to flesh things out into a more viable practice that could be taught to and shared with others. Gardner's oft-quoted goal was to ensure the survival of the Craft, a religion which in the context of his times, he felt was endangered. Once the laws against witchcraft in England were repealed, Gardner sought to promote the ways he was taught to others to encourage the spread of the Craft.

Along the way, that initial framework he had was added to with the intent to make it more viable and attractive along side the occult learning of the day. Yes, there is some ceremonial magic in there, some borrowings from Charles Leland, from Robert Frost, from W. B. Yeats, from Dion Fortune, from Margaret Murray, from Aleister Crowley, Doreen Valiente, and others. But these are additions, not alterations. That idea, to add but never subtract or alter, is a hallmark of many traditionalists.

As for the Laws, those are a whole other matter and not one I would respectfully prefer to discuss. Matters concerning their origin and application are, to me, something I hold sacred and oathbound, despite what may or may not be said about them elsewhere.

Finally, to speak of "the Old Religion" my opinion, there is no evidence to say that the orthopraxy we use today was delivered to us in an unbroken chain since time immemorial. I prefer to think that the phrase is actually a euphemism, one alluding to the concepts of deity being something which is nameless, timeless; unknowable through our human capacity except as it is referenced through the immanent lifecycle of nature.

We call it a religion because we hold reverence for it. We call it old because its cyclical nature of birth-life-love-death-rebirth is the experience we can see, taste, touch, hear and smell, veritably witness and participate in first-hand for ourselves.

Ritual is simply a repetitive way of honoring and enacting those moments of epiphany so that we remember them and, hopefully, ingrain them into our subconscious, perhaps our universal consciousness.

By whatever means that makes sense to you, to the next person or to Gerald Gardner, makes difference only to those who chose to perform those acts. Those who elect to use the skeleton which Gardner had been given and further supplemented, we do not look to him as some demi-god or guru. He isn't thought of as our "pope" or some infallible dignitary. He was a man like any other man...but a man who was passionate in his goal of reviving something he perceived as lost and propagating it through a specific means so as to keep the integrity of the material he was passed by his initiators.

The in today's world, a person seeking to participate in witchcraft has the option to choose to go the route of immersing themselves in Gardnerian or one of several other lineaged trads. Or they can just as easily come up with their own recipe for achieving results which are meaningful to them. There is no value judgment to the path, just different paths to similar goals.
You know,  when speaking with newcomers to the Craft, I find it remarkable that one would whole-heartedly side with Scott Cunningham's view of how modern witchery should be and yet emphatically deny everything about Gardner's contributions. Got a newsflash for you, Scott wasn't a "pagan saint" either.

Mr. Cunningham's own "lineage" per se has some underpinnings of information which derived from British Traditional Witchcraft and it is from those connections where he'd borrowed some of his ideas, repackaged them and gave to them in a watered down version the masses in an effort to make witchcraft more accessible to those who couldn't locate a coven to train with.

These concepts of "you too can be a witch if you subscribe to the minimalist view, the least common denominator" I don't think he'd meant to extrapolate into a DIY-witchcraft worldview, but it has become so today and even traditionalist folks acknowledge that this new strain is a mostly healthy derivation which ensures that the Craft as a whole thrives.

Now before you go getting your collective panties in a twist, I am emphatically NOT saying that you have to be a properly initiated traditionalist of whatever variety to be a proper witch.

I certainly think eclecticism is as valid and viable path as is anyone who participates in a format which is Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Roebuck, CVW, Georgian, BlueStar, MacFarland Dianic, Kingstone, Mohsian, Georgian, Minoan Brotherhood/Sisterhood or what have you.

*Heck, did you even know that there were other branches in the traditionalist family tree beyond Gerald's and Alex's?*

Anyway, back on point with another newsflash. Gardner never claimed to have created anything. What Gardner was passed by his initiators --- and yes, Virginia, Gardner had initiators, he did NOT invent this thing called "Wicca" --- was a skeletal system of beliefs, practices and rituals.

Like other burgeoning occultists of his time, Gardner had often sought out and traded information with other practitioners, using his best judgment to reconcile the information he gleaned to from others against any then-known historic evidence in order to corroborate and supplement the set of practices, rites and ideas he had been given to work with. He did this to fill in the gaps of what he'd been given, not to create something which never before existed.

This was not any mindless grabbing of whatever came across Gardner's path, as some of the more fluffy/less educated variety of eclectics do today. No sir! Gardner took vast amounts of reference notes, had intellectual dialogs in person with other occult contemporaries and wrote many, many letters to others not within his immediate scope of travel. Most of these letters are not available or currently accessible to the general pagan populace, but as a Gardnerian initiate myself, I can only assure you they do exist. They are oathbound materials which pertain to our ways of doing things and are therefore, not something which should be of great concern to those outside our tradition.

Gardner is NOT the founder of Wicca. 

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