Wicca, Witchcraft and Paganism, for the Novice to the Crone

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Gardnerian Wicca and the Bricket Wood coven (1946-1963)

Gardner, claiming to be fearful that the Witch-Cult religion would die out, began to propagate it through forming the Bricket Wood coven in Hertfordshire in circa 1946. He acted as the High Priest for the coven, and Dafo, who had also been a member of the New Forest coven, acted as High Priestess. However she became concerned that Gardner's attempts to gain publicity would lead to a public backlash against her, and so she left his coven in 1952, albeit remaining his friend.

In 1953 Gardner initiated a young woman, Doreen Valiente, into the craft, and she soon went on to become the High Priestess of his Bricket Wood coven. Around the same time, Gardner invented the Book of Shadows, a workbook of rituals, although he claimed it was of ancient origins. Valiente helped Gardner rewrite the Book, cutting out what she saw as "Crowleyanity", and writing sections such as the Charge of the Goddess in poetic verse. Valiente and Gardner later fell out, however, when she got fed up with his constant attempts to gain publicity and when he tried to impose the Wiccan Laws upon the coven, something which he claimed were used by the Witch-Cult, but which Valiente believed he had simply made up. She, and several other members of the coven, left, and founded their own. However, the Bricket Wood coven continued, with members that included Jack Bracelin, Dayonis, Frederic Lamond and Lois Bourne.

Gardner also propagated his witchcraft tradition, which had begun to be referred to as "Gardnerian", outside of his Bricket Wood coven; he initiated Patricia Crowther and Monique Wilson, both of whom went on to propagate Gardnerian Witchcraft through their own covens. Various other initiates began to spread the craft around Britain, for instance Charles Clark took the religion to England's northern neighbour, Scotland.

Gardner referred to members of his craft as "the Wica", although he called the religion itself "Witchcraft", and never used the term "Wicca" in the sense as it is now known.

Meanwhile Gardner tried to get more publicity for his religion; he gave interviews to several newspapers, some of which were positive, although others turned very negative, one even declaring "Witches Devil-Worship in London!". He also published a second non-fiction book on the subject, The Meaning of Witchcraft, in 1959, as well as running the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft on the Isle of Man up until his death in 1964.

Hereditary Witchcraft (1950s)

Gardner was not the only person claiming to be a member of a surviving remnant of the Witch-Cult, several others also emerged in the 1950s making this claim. They included Sybil Leek, Charles Cardell, Raymond Howard, Rolla Nordic and, most importantly,[dubious – discuss] Robert Cochrane. They claimed to have been initiated into the cult by their ancestors, and described themselves as following "Hereditary" or "Traditional" forms of Witchcraft, whereas Gardner, some said, was propagating a modern, and invalid form. Their beliefs and practices however, were similar to those of Gardner, and some of their modern followers describe their faith as being a form of Wicca, whereas others insist it is different and call it "Traditional Witchcraft".

The terms "Wicca" and "Wiccen" were first used by Charles Cardell, not to refer purely to Gardnerians, but to refer to all followers of the Witch-Cult religion. In his notebooks he used the term "Wicca" to refer to the religion, and he called it the "Craft of the Wiccens" in a 1958 article in Light magazine.

Initially there was an attempt to reconcile and unite all of these traditions claiming to be Witch-Cult remnants, for instance the Witchcraft Research Association, which was founded in 1964 by Sybil Leek. After Leek emigrated to the United States, Doreen Valiente took over presidency, and began publication of a magazine, Pentagram. However both the magazine and the organisation collapsed amongst infighting by the various traditions, with Cochrane consistently insulting, and even calling for a "Night of the Long Knives", against Gardnerians.

Wicca across the world (1960s)

Within a few years of Gardner's propagation of the craft, Wicca had spread from England into neighbouring Scotland and Ireland. However, in the 1960s, it also began to spread much further abroad, most notably in the English-speaking nations of Australia and the United States.

In Australia, Wicca "found a receptive social environment because of the long-standing presence and familiarity of Aboriginal culture with its 'pagan' (i.e. 'non-Christian') beliefs and practices".

Gardnerian Wicca came to the United States through an Englishman who had recently emigrated to the USA, named Raymond Buckland, and his wife, Rosemary. Raymond, working for British Airways, regularly returned to England, and he began to correspond with Gardner. In 1963, both Bucklands were initiated into the Gardnerian craft by Monique Wilson in a ceremony in Britain. The couple returned to America where they founded the Long Island coven in New York state, basing their practice upon the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. The coven was later taken over by a couple known only as Theos and Phoenix, who enlarged the Book of Shadows, adding further degrees of initiation which were required before members could found their own covens. Interest outstripped the ability of the mostly British-based covens to train and propagate members; the beliefs of the religion spread faster by the printed word or word of mouth than the initiatory system was prepared to handle.

Also in the 1960s, non-Gardnerian forms of Witchcraft (which are sometimes viewed as Wicca, or sometimes as "Traditional Witchcraft") made their way to the USA. The American Joseph Bearwalker Wilson corresponded with the English Robert Cochrane prior to Cochrane's ritual suicide in 1966, and from this he founded the 1734 Tradition. Sybil Leek too, an English witch from the New Forest, emigrated to California, where she continued to practice her craft, and teach others. In 1968 Gavin and Yvonne Frost established the Church and School of Wicca; which in 1972 became the first Federally recognised Wiccan church.

It would be in the 2000s that Wicca would begin to gain a foothold in other nations; for instance, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti began to publicise it in India, and it also has a number of adherents in South Africa.

Alexandrian Wicca (1963-1973)

In the 1960s, an Englishman called Alex Sanders emerged, appearing in various newspapers. He claimed to be a hereditary witch, having been initiated into the craft by his grandmother. Later researchers, such as Ronald Hutton, have shown that he actually had been initiated into a Gardnerian coven, although Hutton notes that Sanders' grandmother was in fact "skilled in cunning craft". Sanders had previously practiced as a spiritualist healer.

His reputation in the tabloids increased when he married the much younger Maxine Sanders in a handfasting ceremony, and subsequently the duo began to refer to themselves as the "King and Queen of the Witches", at one point claiming to have the allegiance of 1,623 witches, and 127 northern covens. His tradition, which was later coined as "Alexandrian" by Stewart Farrar, an initiate of Sanders, incorporated aspects from ceremonial magic and the Qabalah, as well as Judeo-Christian iconography. Sanders justified this by claiming that his version of Wicca and Christianity were both forces for good, battling against the forces of darkness which were practiced by Satanists and black magicians.

Several Gardnerians, including Patricia Crowther and Ray Bone, tried to denounce Sanders as a charlatan, but he simply responded by accusing them of being the charlatans, and as being practitioners of black magic who abused their initiates.

In 1973, Alex and Maxine separated, but both continued to practice the craft. One of the key reasons for their separation was that neither would compromise on Alex's bisexuality. After the divorce, Alex focused on formulating Wicca so that it could be followed by homosexual men, who had been partially prevented from involvement previously because of the religions' focus on gender polarity. He also initiated a number of people from continental Europe, who then spread the faith there. In 1979, Sanders issued an apology for his "past hurts" and "many public stupidities" and tried to encorouge co-operation between Gardnerians and Alexandrians. He died in 1988.

Algard and Seax (1972-1974)

In the United States, several forms of Wicca formed in the 1970s, based upon the Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions, but with certain differences. These traditions were actually formed by those who had previously been initiated into Gardnerian or Alexandrian crafts, and so can still be traced to Gardner, and thereby are often considered to be forms of British Traditional Wicca.

The first of these was Algard Wicca, founded in 1972 by Mary Nesnick, who had been initiated into both of the aforementioned traditions. Algard attempted to fuse the two together, thereby trying to prevent the arguments that were going on between the two.

The following year, in 1973, Raymond Buckland, who had brought the Gardnerian craft to the USA originally, ceased to practice it, and formed a new tradition, known as Seax-Wica. Seax used the structure of traditional Gardnerian covens, but used the iconography of Anglo-Saxon paganism, so the God and the Goddess were represented not as the traditional Horned God and Mother Goddess, but as Woden and Freya. Seax was virtually unique amongst Wicca at the time as it did not work on an initiatory basis of covens; Buckland deliberately published all its rites and rituals in a book, The Tree, so that anyone could practice them.

Dianic Wicca and the feminist movement (1971-1979)

In 1971, a Hungarian-American named Zsuzsanna Budapest, who had no connection to any Gardnerian or Alexandrian covens, mixed Wiccan practices with feminist politics, forming Dianic Witchcraft (although now it is better known as "Dianic Wicca"). She began this with a coven in Los Angeles, that she named the Susan B. Anthony Coven Number One.

Dianic Wicca focused almost exclusively upon the Goddess, and largely, and in some covens completely, ignoring the Horned God. Most covens were women-only, and some were designed specifically for lesbians. Like Seax-Wica, which developed around the same time, the rituals of Dianic Wicca were published by its creator so that any woman could practice it, without having the need of a specific initiation into a lineage. Indeed, Budapest believed that it was every woman's right to be able to practice the religion, and she referred to it as being "women's spirituality".

Dianic Wicca was criticised by many Gardnerians at the time for having an almost monotheistic view of theology, in contrast with Wicca's traditional duotheism. One Gardnerian even declared "spare us Jahweh in drag!" in response to the focus on the one Goddess.

One Gardnerian, who went under the craft name of Starhawk, started practising Dianic Wicca, and tried to reconcile the two, writing the 1979 book The Spiral Dance on the subject. The tradition she founded became known as Reclaiming, and mixed Wicca with other forms of Neopaganism such as Feri, along with strong principles of environmental protection.

Solitaries and the "Wicca or Witchcraft" Debate (1972-Present)

In traditional Gardnerian and Alexandrian craft, initiates took an oath of secrecy never to reveal the rituals of it to outsiders. Despite this, both Gardner and Sanders sought publicity, and allowed reporters to witness their practices. Initiates such as Valiente and Buckland had been annoyed at this, the first commenting that "by speaking to the press, Gardner was compromising the security of the group and the sincerity of his own teachings". However, the key rituals of the Gardnerians (which were the basis for most of the Alexandrian ones) were made public in the 1960s when Charles Cardell, in an act of spite against the recently deceased Gardner, published the Gardnerian Book of Shadows.

In 1970, Paul Huson published Mastering Witchcraft a book purportedly based upon non-Wiccan traditional British witchcraft, and the first do-it-yourself manual for the would-be witch, which became one of the basic instruction books for a large number of covens. In 1971 "Lady Sheba" (Jessie Wicker Bell, self-styled "Queen of the American Witches") published what she claimed was her family's centuries-old grimoire, but was in fact substantially plagiarised from the Gardnerian Book of Shadows, and included poetry by Doreen Valiente that is still under copyright.

Following this, several prominent Wiccans decided that it would be better to simply reveal the Wiccan mysteries to the public in their true form. Most prominent among these were Stewart and Janet Farrar, two Alexandrian initiates. Stewart, prior to his marriage, had already published information on Wiccan rituals (with Sanders' blessing), in his 1971 book What Witches Do. Together they published further works on the subjects, such as 1981's Eight Sabbats for Witches and 1984's The Witches' Way. They were joined by their friend, Doreen Valiente, who also published information on the subject of pagan Witchcraft in general.

From these published writings, (some of which, such as Valiente's 1973 book An ABC of Witchcraft, contained a self-initiation ritual), many other practitioners began to follow the Witchcraft religion, working either as solitary Witches or in non-lineaged covens. Valiente herself considered all of these such people to be "Witches", as she reserved the term "Wiccan" to refer solely to Gardnerians, however most of these new followers used the term "Wiccan" to describe themselves. As such, in the United States, it became the norm to refer to any Neopagan witchcraft as "Wicca", and so Gardnerians, Alexandrians and Algards, wishing to emphasise their lineage that stretched back to Gardner, began referring to themselves as followers of "British Traditional Wicca".

The History of Wicca

The Development of Wicca

Copyright © 2000 Gray Seal