Gardnerian Wicca is named after its founder Gerald B. Gardner. It is a matriarchal and a matrilineal tradition, based on the polarity of a male and a female. The tradition is focused on worshiping the Great Goddess and the Horned God, which are represented in covens by the High Priestess and High Priest. The basic assertions of Gardnerian Wicca are: the value of life, the inevitability of death, and the reincarnation after this life ends. It is an endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
As in any other neo-pagan traditions, Gardnerian Wicca honors the nature because the man and all living creatures are part of it. As in most Wiccan traditions, the Gardnerian Wiccans celebrate eight Sabbats as the seasonal holidays.
“Do what you will, so long as it harms none” is an ethical postulate of the Gardnerian religion.
Gardnerians worship the Goddess in her incarnation as a Great Mother (and sometimes as Maiden and a Crone). The Horned God is the God of hunting, death and magic. Each community calls them by their own special names. All rituals include the symbolic Great Rite (consecration of the wine – today’s common ritual in many pagan traditions), which includes a ceremonial immersion of an Athame dagger into a bowl of wine and then the bowl is shared across the circle, from one member to another.
Gardnerian Wicca is based solely on conciliar activities and initiations. Self-initiation is not practiced and the solitary practice is extremely rare, except for high rank Gardnerians that are “retired” from public life.
The Initiation is conducted by Gardner’s “Book of Shadows”. There are three degrees of initiation into this tradition. The usual period between one initiation and the other is a year and a day. But because many covens require studies of special techniques, this period between one initiation and next rank initiation cab be much longer. In Gardnerian tradition the initiation is a turning point in a life of the initiated, which forever changes his/her life.
The covens are completely autonomous. Each coven is managed by its High Priestess with the help and advice from the Elders of the coven. The final decision on any case rests upon the High Priestess, even if on some issues she has to share powers with the High Priest or the Elders. In some cases, the High Priestess may be the only leader in the coven without her High Priest; however, the partnership of both sexes is always preferable.
A distinctive feature of Gardnerian tradition is the so-called “skyclad”, which is a performance of all rituals in complete nudity. Gardnerians believed that performing rituals naked makes them closer to nature and equal to each other. Today there are some Gardnerian witch covens that abandoned this practice and prefer to wear special ritual garments.
Another feature of a Gardnerian coven is a purification ritual – every member of the coven goes through a light whipping with a rope as a sign of purification and a symbol of suffering. This practice was canceled in American Gardnerian covens.
Work is embraced by all members of the coven. Each member is dedicated in his own way and therefore the are no “observers” or “special meetings”. Gardnerian rituals are conducted exclusively within a magic circle, which is created deliberately and carefully by all classical rules. Whatever happens inside a magic circle is kept in secret by all those who were present in the circle. Traditionally, a coven practices only healing magic. No “evil” spells are created by Gardnerian Wiccans. It is against their beliefs.
Gardner approved sexual relationship between the High Priestess and the High Priest. Such a sexual act was called the Great Rite, but was replaced in the 80s by some Gardnerians with a symbolic immersion of Athame dagger into a bowl of wine. But there are still many Wiccan witches who practice sexual magic.
Gardnerian Wiccans also adopt an additional magic name and use it in their rituals but nowhere else, while the use of their “mundane” names during the rituals is strictly prohibited. Outside the magic circle, in everyday life, the participants may call the High Priestess as “My Lady” or “Mrs.” in the third person when her name comes in a conversation between members of the coven. This is common mainly by the American followers of Gardnerian Wicca, while in England, for example, such titles to the High Priestess are not given. Unlike some other Wiccan traditions in Gardnerian Wicca, there is no appealing to the High Priest with “Mr.” or “Lord”.
Each member of a Gardnerian coven can trace his initial line up to Gerald Gardner thanks to the Elders, who maintain and keep the records of all lineages. For brevity purposes usually only the High Priestesses’ lineages are documented, without the lineages of the High Priests. These initial lines are not a secret, but they are being used for internal purposes only and not for the general public.
Gardnerians use a standard Book of Shadows, which contains the rituals, handed down from generation to generation, supplemented with comments and new rituals, which are usually signed and dated by the authors. This tradition tries to stay alive and be flexible by supporting the creative work of the participants, while preserving the tradition for future generations.
The Gardnerian tradition was brought into the USA in the 60s by Raymond and Rosemary Buckland, British Wiccans who were initiated into the craft in 1963 by Gardner’s High Priestess Monique Wilson. Buckland moved to the United States and established there a first Wiccan coven, the Long Island Coven. After their divorce in 1973 the coven was also divided.
There are many Gardnerian covens in America who claim that there is unpublished Gardner’s material in their Book of Shadows. But if this is true, then it can be only those rituals and records, which were composed by Gardner after retiring from his coven (which included Doreen Valiente), in which he mainly worked. This is one of the clashes between the British and the American Gardnerian covens.
Many initiated Wiccans copy all or part of the Book of Shadows of their teacher in order to get familiarized with it. Rewriting texts is an ordinary occupation for the members of the coven. Often it is accompanied by the teacher’s commentary. The original Book of Shadows cannot be purchased or acquired in any way, if the applicant has not received the right for it by the Gardnerian tradition.
Many believe that Gardnerian tradition is too rigid and inflexible. Too much repetition and rewriting of the same identical rituals. Preparation of a specific ritual is often a prerequisite for achieving the next level of initiation. For example, for the 2nd degree, it may be necessary to write a ritual for the next meeting and to hold it.
Some people make fun of the secrecy which surrounds the Gardnerian rituals. But in general there is nothing funny about it: it is better to say less, than to say too much. Whoever is supposed to know – will know.
No money fees are ever charged for the dedication, nor for any other magical work. The High Priestesses mostly collect small amounts of money only for the coven’s rituals to buy candles, wine, spices, etc.
About High Priestess Altera
Having 20 years of dedicated experience with Wicca, Altera has been invited to participate as a writer and a Wiccan educator to help share her vast knowledge and guide others in the correct path.