Gardnerian ... or not

Ideally, it would be really easy to tell who was Gardnerian and who was not; because simply asking a person would get you an accurate answer. However we do not live in an ideal world. ;( It can be a challenge to sort things out. What was it someone said the other day? AFGO (another f-ing growth opportunity). All that being said ‘accurate’ (as in ‘an accurate answer’) is a whole ball game unto itself. Some people say they are Gardnerian, and they are not. That by itself is only a tiny glimpse into the problem.

When it came close to my initiation, I was very excited to realize that I was going to be a part of a much larger community. Like every community or tradition, I knew there would be rules, and definitions. It was only later that I found out that there would also be some very serious misunderstandings.


But what constitutes a 'lie' depends on what the truth, and the speaker's opinion of the truth, actually is.

Just plain BS

My personal favorite. This is a person who is not Gardnerian, and has no question about it, and no qualms about saying that they are anyway. This is actually one of the rarest kinds of lies there are, as well as being the easiest to detect. It is, because of that, the most pointless; but on the other hand, the most amusing as well. I like it because it wastes the least amount of my time.

The Wannabee aka "I want the title therefore I should automatically get it"

Another piece of work that can be downright amusing. This is a person who wants to be Gardnerian and has not done the work. The reasons vary considerably; a few follow, and the list will be added to as I encounter more idiots who offer me choice stories.

1- 'I have not found a teacher'

I have little or no respect for this one. The people who trained me drove out of state to get their training. Monthly (and sometimes more than once a month) they made their way to what was at the time the nearest place they could learn. This is not uncommon, and in fact I know of those who had to cross more than two state lines to get to their circles. I freely admit that I lucked out to find people so close. If someone wants it, and wants it bad enough, they will work for it.

2- 'don't want to actually to the work'

Again, I’m not impressed. In fact I deplore cross-initiations (carefully phrased - 'cross-training' can be another matter). I consider any Craft path a call to the ministry by the Gods of the path you follow. If you were actually called and you are seriously answering, you ought to be expecting to do some work – and if the people who are training you are not assigning any, well then find it yourself. Slightly related are the folks who have done 'some sort of training' and figure that it's all the same anyway, so they ought to be instantly recognized for 'having made an effort' regardless of any possible differences in requirements, or details of the actual path.

3- 'well I *want* to be a Gardnerian, therefore you ought to consider me one'.

The one thing that these folks tend to have in common with the 'I don't want to do the work' stuff above is that they think that the title 'Gardnerian' has a usefulness that they desire, and they tend (by and large) to not really be interested in actually doing what actual Gardnerians do. For that matter a great many of these types don't even want to know what that might be. Long on 'I want' and short on personal responsibility. Frankly, when I first met Gardnerians, they expected me to have all sorts of pre-conceived notions about them. In a move that was quite anti-climactic to them at the time, I truthfully confessed to them that I'd never even heard of the path.

4- 'Well I have done some work (somewhere, at some time) and since it's all just the same as Gardnerian, well, I'm Gardnerian'

Well if you are so sure that you are Gardnerian, you certainly don't need me. If you want me as an actual Gardnerian to somehow validate you as a fellow Gardnerian, then get the stick out of your behind and start working.

Ah, but then we go back to 'what is a lie'?

Second worst: A Painful Misunderstanding

This is the second most common lie that I have run into, and the thing I hate about it, is that it is too often well meant. It happens like this: I run into people who start the interaction saying "I'm Gardnerian" - which is something I like to hear (it's usually happily received by any Gardnerian). Then when pressed, they admit that they "read a book" or "got initiated by a group that met an Alexandrian" or some such. Yes it's a lie. It's usually the lie of a well-meaning, but not particularly ethical or confident person who wants, but hasn't worked for it (maybe someone who hasn't been able to). These are the same folks who tend to think "I'm Wiccan" means that they can believe whatever they want to. What can I say, for some people, eclectic is such a way of life that they don't even know there are alternatives.

This sort of misunderstanding can also be a very painful situation. I once met, online, an individual who started out saying something to the effect of “I’m sort of Gardnerian”. Note that this person was quite (refreshingly) honest about not having been formally trained in the Gardnerian tradition. I asked what was meant by this; and the person said that they had been in the Craft for years (like over a decade) and had based pretty much most of their practice, and most of their training (yes, this person had run a coven and taught many over the years) on whatever “Gardnerian” stuff they had come across. It worked for them, they liked it, but had just not been formally trained.

Well my reaction was pretty blunt. Gardnerian Craft is oathbound. Which means that anything specific; like any practices; anything is oathbound. Which meant if there is any “Gardnerian Stuff” out there (and depending on where you look, there are things that purport to be) it comes from two possible sources. Either a liar made it up, or someone broke their oath to detail it. Or maybe both, depending on the situation. What I was telling this person was very very hard for them to hear. They had not realized that there were any ethical considerations here. They had based much of their life on what turned out to be either actual or lied about stolen goods.

At the time, I was not in a position to offer them training. I would have offered if I could have. I do not know what this person chose to do. I will say that since that first time, I have encountered this situation multiple times. Each time since then, I've offered to train them, or find them someone who can. No one has cared to take me up on it.

From the position of 'well I didn't know' such a 'harvest what I can find' approach can look harmless enough. On the other hand, once I know I'm in possession of 'stolen goods', what is the effect on me when I decide that I'm keeping them? Still, it seemed to hurt, and that in and of itself is tragic. Or maybe it was the 2x4 of the Gods, and the person had the chance to learn an important lesson here.

Worst of all: Scr*w*d by a teacher - seven 'generations' back

This one is bad. Okay, that's a moral judgment, and not really a useful habit to get into. No, wait a minute – this one really is bad, because it is responsible for an incredible amount of pain, and for no good reason at all. In my book that’s bad. Basically what it describes is that at some point, Teacher A started teaching students something other than Gardnerian Craft. There are too many ways this can happen; if you are an initiate of a tradition, I don't need to explain and if you are not, I don't want to walk that close to what I see as the edge of my oaths, so this is probably all as clear as mud.

Okay; take any coven. Most covens are fairly close-knit groups. Coven autonomy (the leaders of the coven have the right to run it any way that they chose). Maybe add in a few mistakes (haven’t seen this version yet), or misunderstandings (have seen things that claim to be this, but I’m not that naïve) or unfortunate choices (this is the biggie). Now think about this. Bring it forward a few generations. The students-become-teachers have believed for years that they are Gardnerian. Their students have started teaching. It can go on for quite a while before they run into a situation that demonstrates the difference between what they were told they were getting, and actual Gardnerian Craft.

Then somewhere down the line, a student of a student of a student meets and actual Gardnerian. Who greets them eagerly at first, then cold shoulders them. Which is something I've had to do. See, I can talk in generalities here, but I cannot give any details, what with Gardnerian being an oathbound path and all. So all I could say to such a person is something along the lines of "I cannot consider you Gardnerian". No biggie, being Gardnerian is not the end of the rainbow. Speaking only for myself, if I had never been initiated, if I had only had access to the materials used in Pagan circles as I trained, I could have had that be my priesthood. But to someone who believes that they were trained in the same "family of choice" as I was, I'm sure it seems damn rude when I tell them that they are not my family.

In a really sad way, here is an example of the sins of the fathers (and mothers, for that matter) being visited upon the children. Which actually never made much sense to me before. Lucky me, another learning experience.

But let's go back to the theoretical "not actually Gardnerian as I understand it" people I just met. What are they supposed to do then? It could have been a misunderstanding way up the line. It could have been malicious (more likely it was foolish) – but they are not really in a position to know. They may have had generations of loving, dedicated and devoted teachers. They may actually be loving dedicated and devoted teachers (and I have to admit that the times I have seen it, they have been). So what do they do now? Generally the responses fall into two categories:

#1 Nothing. What they have works, they didn’t do anything wrong, and by God we (here referring to those Gardnerians who don’t consider them Gardnerian) are the problem, not them. As you can imagine, this approach doesn’t lend itself to bridge-building. On the other hand, if each side is willing to relate to the other as ‘related but not identical BTW Craft traditions’ then maybe it’s not really that much of a problem. Some bridges don’t need to be built.

#2 What I would call the Malinowski approach. To explain where the name comes from; Malinowski was a Polish anthropologist who was one of the first to study an often ignored aspect of native religions. The idea that only some have the ‘right’ to use or to teach their rituals. This can most easily be seen in America in the disdain (to use a mild word) with which many Native American Holy people view the massive white influx into Native spiritual practices. The disdain being reserved for those students to whom it is NOT important that their teacher has a right to teach. To be clear about it – it is important that every link back from student to teacher was done properly, up to and including the point at which the Gods or Spirits deemed these lessons important. The word I was taught to use here was 'respect'.

It would be the ones truly called, that would want and need to know what was really going on. That would be the sort of student I would teach myself if they asked for such help, and there are plenty of folks that react that same way. However possibly because it starts out by me (or whoever) having to say 'urp, you have been lied to', it doesn’t usually get far. After all, it's so much easier in a situation like that to just get angry and define me as the enemy.

On the other hand, Satan originally meant 'opponent' and like the Green Knight of Arthurian legend, the goal was to have the person act, and become the best that they could be. So maybe that's actually a compliment, even when it's not intended that way.

Isn’t an Alexandrian Gardnerian? Or at least close to it?


According to Alexandrian Tradition, the materials Alexandrians used were gotten as a result of Gardnerian training. Now there are two ways to look at this. The first is to see "Gardnerian Craft" as a sort of gateway or connection to the divine. Once that connection was made, people could have been inspired to create and teach as the Gods instructed them. In this case, though there would be a sort of a connection; none of the materials would overlap.

I've actually heard of a tradition that developed this way. Off of something other than Gardnerian; and the person who began this 'inspired' tradition thinks that the tradition she first trained in didn't matter to the inspiration she got. She believes that she now is practicing the way she was meant to.

Back to the Gardnerian/Alexandrian question; the second way to look at it is to interpret "materials gotten as a result of Gardnerian training" literally. Since in the Gardnerian Craft, you can add material but not delete (see other rants) if any deleting was done, then those trained are not Gardnerian and those who did the training (at least the first generation, and *IF* they used some, but not all of what they were passed as Gardnerian material) were all oathbreakers. If this is true, then any Alexandrian would be in the position of someone receiving stolen goods. So one could argue that, if this interpretation was the correct ones, then among those who 1-trained as Alexandrians and found this out and 2-continued to practice as Alexandrians without seeking Gardnerian training, there would be no ethical individuals.

And some would disagree totally. Did I mention that not everyone agrees with me?

Isn’t a Protean Gardnerian?


The name Protean comes from a coven called Proteus. The leadership of that coven was originally trained Gardnerian. The founder of that tradition clearly states that "no particular ritual script will ever be a litmus test to determine if someone is or is not Protean". The Protean clergy describe their path as "a Pagan ministry".

Obviously this is a very different approach from the Gardnerian one. In Gardnerian practice, additions are permitted, deletions are not. A Gardnerian is dedicated to the Gardnerian Gods. So if that early Protean leadership used and passed (some, but not all of the)actual Gardnerian materials to those they taught, that would make them oathbreakers. And, like the Alexandrians mentioned above, those trained Protean would be in the unenviable position of having 'received stolen goods'.

And like a television set, the ‘goods’ would probably be workable. Or at least they might appear to be. To me, because I believe that it is important to obtain things in a proper manner, the cost to how I saw myself would be too high.

Isn’t someone who uses published Gardnerian materials considered Gardnerian?


No reputable Gardnerian would ever publish anything that actually was Gardnerian. So-called "Gardnerian" materials have only two possible sources. Someone who describes themselves as an oathbreaker and is telling the truth. Or it could be someone saying the broke or lied about their oath, and they are telling the truth. About that. Which means any way you slice it, this is a self-proclaimed liar. Not what I would call a source to put a lot of faith into.