by Rick Johnson
P.O. Box 40451
Tucson, AZ 85717

This paper may be duplicated without charge so long as full credit is given to the author. It will be updated as input is submitted from other Gardnerians. Last update July 1997.

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The Coven
Rank and Validity and Lineage
Magick and Ritual


In recent years there has been a tremendous growth in the ancient religion of Witchcraft (Wicca). Unfortunately, due to the oaths of secrecy that we are required to take, the terms Traditional Witch and Gardnerian have been invested with unfortunate connotations. In this paper I will make an attempt to redefine, in more accurate words, a little bit about our Tradition. Bear in mind that Gardnerians, being Witches, will disagree with almost every sentence in this paper. Thus, this paper is a compilation of a number of papers and letters from Gardnerian Covens around the world. We sent and continue to send it to Gardnerians of various fame and authority in America, Canada, England and the Netherlands and their continuing input influences various editions of this document.
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(note that in Europe, they do not use epicene terms or politically correct words like Herstory)

In the late 1800's, one of the Grand Masters of Witchcraft (In those days, Wicca was ruled by the Master, not the Priestess) named George Pickingill saw Witchcraft as dying. The reasons for this were complex so Old George decided to save The Craft by creating a Coven, making a few changes to conform to modern conditions and sit back to see what worked. He then would form another Coven, keep what worked, toss what didn't and make a few more changes until he had created what Gardnerians now call 'The Nine Covens'.

One of these surviving Covens took refuge in the Rosicrucion Theater in England where, if discovered performing a ritual, they could claim that it was only a play. Remember, at this time being a Witch was still a capital offense. In 1939, a retired civil servant named Gerald Gardner joined this theater and met with this Coven and was eventually Initiated as a Witch.

Gardner also saw the Craft as dying partly because of the secrecy imposed by the Burning Times and partly because all of the Witches that he knew were elderly people. Gardner was determined to write the truth about Wicca before it died out altogether but was prevented from doing so by his Priestess who feared for a revival of the Burning Times. Remember, that only a few years earlier in 1925, a Witch was burned to death in New Mexico and another would be burned to death a few years later in Mexico in 1955. Eventually, in 1949, Gardner was permitted to write a fictional work called High Magic's Aid which told a very small part of Wicca. Later when he broke away from his Coven and formed his own, he wrote The Truth About Witchcraft where he stated what Witchcraft really was and admitted that he was a Witch himself.

Far from being almost extinct, Gardner began to receive letters from all over Europe from Witches and Covens who, like Gardner, thought that they were the last of a dying religion. The Craft, once laid out for the general population, touched something deep within humanity and grew at an enormous rate. In fact, it has been said that Witchcraft is the fastest growing religion in America today.

Over the next decade, Gardner added to the fragmentary rituals that he had received from his own Coven and trained a number of Priestesses, each of whom gave their Covens their own distinctive flavor. The most famous of these was Doreen Valiente who saw the value of Wicca but didn't like a lot of the judeo-xian ceremonial magick that Gardner had added. She rewrote the Book of Shadows in the early 1950's and her ability to communicate the poetry of the Goddess encouraged the Wiccan revival. All Witches who are descended from Gardner are now called Gardnerians (just as all xians who followed Martin Luther are called Lutherans), though they may better be called Gardner-Valientians.

In 1963, Raymond and Rosemary Buckland became Initiated by Gardner and his last Priestess, Monique Wilson and brought Gardnerianism to America. Today, almost all Gardnerians in America can be traced back to the Wilson-Gardner partnership by way of the Bucklands. However, in Canada and Europe, most Gardnerians trace their Lineage back to Gardner by way of one of his other Priestesses. These differing Lineages are what give Gardnerianism its different working methods and rules, some of which appear to be conflicting.
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Like all Witches, Gardnerians believe that every god that has been worshipped does exist, however, we prefer to concentrate our worship on the two Primary Aspects: The Great Mother and The Horned God. From these Two, many Gardnerians believe that all other gods came from or are considered to be aspects of the Primal Two. Other Gardnerians accept other Deities as equal but different from these.

The Great Mother is Mother Nature. It is She who gave birth to the universe. She is the primal source from which all comes. She has connotations with the Moon and so is often worshipped as a Triple Moon Goddess in Her aspects of Maiden, Mother and Crone.
From the Goddess came the Horned God, Her Consort. He is the Lord of the Hunt, the Lord of the Dead and the Underworld and the Lord of Life who is shown with antlers to show that he is an Earth God.

One of the ways that Gardnerians can tell who is valid or not is by the Names that we call The God and Goddess. Because of the Law of Power, these Names are secret, though many Gardnerians will call them by the terms Diana and Pan in public.
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One common Gardnerian belief is that if we are faithful to the Gods and hold the Sabbats, we will be reborn among our loved ones to know and love them again. If not, we will be reborn among strangers. Another Gardnerian belief is that we can choose our own parents in each life in order that we may learn a new lesson, be a better person and be certain that we will be reborn among our loved ones. In fact one Gardnerian Question we often ask to our students is, "Why did you choose your parents?"

Fate, the ancient Gardnerian belief, and Karma, a modern Wiccan belief borrowed from India are tied together as major influences in our lives. Karma can be understood in its simplest form as a reaction to a prior situation. Fate is simply an incident to which we must react. In each case, our actions/reactions determine what type of parson we are and we are encouraged to become better people by understanding our lives and their relations to the universe.

The one moral code by which Witches live can be summed up in the Wiccan Rede which says: AN IT HARM NONE, DO WHAT THOU WILT. This allows the Witch to determine on their own what to do and forces them to 'grow up' and make them think for themselves. Gardnerians tend to write pages on this Rede which are called Exegesis' or intense thinking and analysis about a subject. By doing this, we are better able to follow the Rede. In Gardnerian Wicca, there is no escape or forgiveness so whatever we do, good or ill, will return to us three times as strong. If we do good, we will receive three times as much good in return and if we do bad, we will receive three times as much bad in return. Thus we are taught to be responsible for our own actions by following this positive moral code.

Unlike the contemporary books on the market about Witchcraft that have one chapter on the religion which includes one paragraph on reincarnation, one paragraph on morals and one paragraph on the Gods then has ten chapters on spells and five chapters on rituals to do, a Gardnerian book would have one chapter on spells, one on rituals and a couple of dozen on the religion. The Wiccan Rede alone would cover at least three chapters. Gardnerians tend to be more concerned with the religion than the magick. Thus, it can be seen that Gardnerian thoaology is complex and inclusive and takes years to earn. Each person is then expected to understand each aspect thoroughly enough make some contribution and expansion on the faith. However, we do not allow blind obedience. We stress understanding over accepting.
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The Coven is the church, the school and the extended family of the Witch. This is where the Witch learns of the religion and of magick and psychics. Whenever the Witch has a problem or a need, the Coven will be there to help from something as simple as fixing a leak in their roof, to moving the entire household across the state to helping another Witch get a job to just offering a shoulder and sympathetic ear. Because of this, Gardnerians refer to the Tradition as 'The Family'. And like any family, our internal arguments can be quite nasty. But, like a family, we accept this and still accept each other as brothers and sisters.

A Gardnerian Coven has no more than 13 people, best if they are 6 couples and a High Priestess. The Coven is ruled by the High Priestess who is assisted by her consort, the High Priest. Their rule is supported with the advice of the Council of Elders (all Second and Third Degree members of the Coven), thus making Gardnerian Wicca one of the more organized and authoritarian of the Traditions.

Although British Gardnerians will allow a Second Degree to form and run a Coven and generally grant the Third Degree after a couple of years when the new HP/S have proven their capability, American Gardnerians allow only a Third Degree to form or run a Coven and some American Covens won't even Elevate to the Third Degree until a new Coven is about to be formed.

All Covens which derive from that Parent Coven are called Daughter Covens and accept their former High priestess and/or High Priest as their Queen/King or Magus. This gives the new Coven a tie to their past, allows them to go to their Queen for advice and requires their Queen to continue to teach them as needed. However, this relationship is purely honorary. The Daughter Coven does not have to obey their Queen nor can the Queen force their Daughters to obey. This gives the Gardnerian Lineage a family tree look as well as a method of determining validity within the Tradition.
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Gardnerian Witches prefer to worship Skyclad or naked because nudity is a symbol of freedom from the mundane world, because clothing tends to hinder the growth of psychic and magickal power and the Goddess said to be naked as a sign of freedom and equality. Gardnerians generally wear no jewelry except a subtle piece of jewelry, a bracelet, a Cord that denotes rank and a necklace for the women. Gardnerians allow no make-up or such to be worn in the Circle.

Gardnerians must work in male-female couples as much as possible. Thus, Gardnerians prefer the new prospect to already have a working partner when they join. His requirement on male-female polarities has given many the thought that Gardnerians are homo-phobic which is no longer true. In the past, this polarity was mis-interpreted by some as meaning that gays could not belong to a Gardnerian Coven, but in today's enlightened world, we know that it is simply a matter of energy flows.

Gardnerians are among the few remaining Traditions that still practice Binding and Scourging as an integral part of the Rites. Although the actual reasons and methods are a secret, if done wrong, they are simply a game. If done properly, they are a means to power. Dropping B&$ from your rites or allowing same gender working partnerships generally means that you have left the Family and are no longer a Gardnerian Witch.

Gardnerianism is a Mystery Religion and so we guard our secrets carefully. True, some have managed to publish portions of our Book of Shadows, but the majority of the work is still unpublished and cannot be seen by anyone other than another valid Gardnerian. Likewise, Gardnerians don't normally tell the hows and whys of our Rituals or Magicks. To learn the actual reasons or methods of a Gardnerian Rite or working, it is necessary to join a Gardnerian Coven.

Gardnerians are one of the intellectual Traditions. We will write pages and pages on the interpretation of the Wiccan Rede to dissect and analyze it. To determine exactly what it means and to toss examples and situation back and forth to be completely certain that the Rede is understood and not blindly followed. To do so, we have a number of magazines and newsletters that are restricted to proven Gardnerians only. Reading one may anger and upset you but they are guaranteed to make you think. We seek to teach leaders, not followers.
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Gardnerians tend to separate learning and responsibilities into levels of advancement called Degrees. Although different Covens have different requirements, generally speaking and in it's loosest definitions, the First Degree is the student/Witch, the Second Degree is the practitioner/Priest/ess and the Third Degree is the teacher/High Priest/ess. It generally takes a year-and-a-day to progress from one Degree to the next, but some people advance faster and some slower. In Britain, this time is usually the minimum and often British Gardnerians will spend up to five years between their Second and Third Degrees. Again, not all are required to advance as some are happy being First Degree and most refuse to take on the required work and responsibility of the Higher Degrees.

Validity is important to Gardnerians. To be a Gardnerian is more than simply reading Farrar and doing what the reader perceives to be 'Gardnerian Rites'. You must be properly Initiated by another Gardnerian in a proper Gardnerian Circle in the accepted Gardnerian manner. If anything is dropped from the Initiation Ritual, it is no longer valid.

If the Initiator is not a valid Gardnerian, the Initiate is not Gardnerian. Not all Initiations done by a Gardnerian are Gardnerian Initiations. Like all of the Traditionals (Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Algard, Sheban, Heriditary, etc.), you can call yourself a Gardnerian ONLY if you have met the Gardnerian requirements.

American Gardnerians keep records of their Initiations and tend to pass them on to a couple of central locations which are made accessible to other Gardnerians. In this way, we can check-up on someone and determine if they are actually Gardnerians or just playing around. Many Lineages even write up Validity papers to tell that this person is Valid. However, in Britain, with it's close knit family and smaller geographic area, they keep no records, preferring the time-honored method of word of mouth to determine validity.

Lineage is who Initiated Whom and is vitally important to a Gardnerian. All Gardnerians can trace their Lineages through one of Gardner's nine Priestesses. In every case, a Gardnerian is expected to be able to recite their Lineage to another Gardnerian as evidence of Validity. Since many Gardnerian HP/S are well known in the Family, somewhere in your Lineage will be someone who is well known by another Gardnerian. And these Lineages can easily be traced to determine Validity. Lineage tells how well you were trained, what general interpretation of the rules you follow, which version of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows you possess and it is also an introduction to other Gardnerian Covens when you travel.

As can be seen, Gardnerians do not accept self-Initiations or self-Dedications as valid within the Family. These are acceptable to a degree, but only until the person can locate, join and become Initiated in the proper manner. It is not unusual to find Gardnerians who drove a hundred miles one way each week for years to learn the Tradition. This kind of dedication is accepted and understood by the Tradition.
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As mentioned earlier, most American Gardnerians are descended from Monique Wilson. Most British and Canadian Gardnerians are not. Those who follow the Wilson Lineage have a number of rules that are stricter than the British. Also, the American Lineages tend to be devided into Conservative and Liberals. It is these Lineages that give the differences of flavor to Gardnerians and allow for our most vehement and thought-provoking arguments.
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Gardnerians do not emphasize magick. We see magick as simply a means to make our lives better and as an aid in our mundane workings. The Gardnerian world-view is concerned with the universe, the religion and our own growth. The old Law was that if we didn't perform the Sabbats regularly and properly, then the Wheel of the Year wouldn't turn. Thus religion was vitally important. Gardnerians almost never do magick as a Sabbat, preferring to reserve that for the Esbat or a separate Circle. When we do magick, it is generally for a personal end such as to get a job, heal someone sick or make the roses grow better. The spells are simple but planned. Generally, Gardnerians leave the 'save the world' spells to the other Traditions. We prefer to save the world by making ourselves better and thus influencing others to live better lives. To the Gardnerian, the reason to Circle is to celebrate the God and Goddess. If any magick is done, it is secondary.

All Rites, however, must be done in a properly consecrated Circle. It has been said that a Gardnerian will spend an hour Drawing a Circle and a half-hour Purifying the Coven just to do a five minute Sabbat. Gardnerians believe that it takes months to train someone how to draw a Circle. Thus we tend to dislike allowing new and untrained people to do so.

Rituals generally tie us to our Gods and celebrate our connections with nature. There are four main types of ritual. First are the Esbats which are Lunar Rites dedicated to the Goddess and occasionally to do magick. Second are the Sabbats which are Solar Rites and are usually dedicated to the Horned God and the Cycle of the Year. Third are Passage Rites and celebrate Wiccanings (birth), Puberty Rites, Handfasting (weddings) Rites and Passing Rites (funerals).

There are Eight Sabbats named as follows.

Samhain is called by many names and celebrates the New Year, the change from the Goddess to the God and is a time of remembrance of those loved ones who have died in the last year and are awaiting rebirth. This is the most important holiday of the year and is held on October 31st.

Yule is the time when the Horned God is reborn as the Sun-God. Yule is celebrated on the Winter Solstice, or around December 21st.

Imbolc is the Sabbat that celebrates the recovery of the Goddess and the beginnings of life. It is celebrated on February 1st.

Ostara is the first day of Spring celebrates the return of life in all its glory. It is held on the Spring Equinox or around March 21st. This is the time when the Goddess again becomes pregnant with the Horned God.

Beltane is a fertility ritual where the influence of the year shifts from the Horned God to the Great Mother Goddess. Many Witches consider this to be as important as November Eve. It is held on May 1st.

Litha is the day that celebrates the Strength of the God and reminds us of the Three-Fold Law. At this time the Horned God is wounded and begins to weaken. It is celebrated on the Summer Solstice or around June 21st.

Lammas is the first celebration of the Harvest and is held on August 1st.

Mabon is the final harvest Ritual and the time when, in many Covens, the Horned God dies and returns to the Summerland to watch over the souls of the dead until they can be reborn. It is held on the September 21st or the Autumn Equinox.
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Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451,
Tucson, Az. 85717
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