In the past, villages had few adepts and naturally had small, local circles. During the Burning Times, keeping the number of Witches clannish afforded the Olde Religion protection since the fewer who knew the secret Mysteries, the fewer might be tortured, name names, and be killed. Traditionally, Witches' covens contain no more than 13 members.
Each Coven member is a "Priestess (or Priest) and Witch" who has undergone Initiation into the Mysteries following at least a year and a day of studying the Craft intensively. The higher the magical degree (First, Second, or Third), the longer the person has studied, and thereby mastered deeper magical skills.
The High Priestess & High Priest teach students and Coven members written liturgy, the oral history and meaning of what the ancients recorded, magical lore, spellcraft, and much more.
In Coven Oldenwilde, we've taught hundreds of students magic for many, many years. Many study for months only to find themselves unready to become an Initiate with more responsibilities. Others become First degree Initiates, only to plateau and not become a Second degree Elevant. A select few persist, thrive, and eventually achieve the Sublime & Ultimate Third Degree, thus becoming Wiccan clergy able to "marry and bury" legally in North Carolina and most other states. They may then elect to found their own "hive-off" or daughter Coven, and thus help entire communities.
Here are pictures and statements of just a few of the many Witches we have Initiated and Elevated, who perpetuate the Gardnerian traditions we have taught them.
About Craft Names
Witches have traditionally used "magical names" to make themselves known to each other. Doing so reminds us that we are innately spiritual beings — drawing a distinct boundary between our mundane and our magical personae — as well as protecting those who are not publicly known as Witches from persistent societal and institutional prejudice and persecution.
For instance, we may assume the name of a Deity, or a sacred plant, animal, object, or mythological figure. Some names may initially strike you as strange, but they have been chosen by or given to Witches for specific magical reasons.
Gardnerianism is a form of British Traditional Witchcraft that traces its roots or lineage — the formal transmission of its magical heritage from teacher-to-student via ritual initiations and elevations -- to Gerald Gardner and those who came before him.
Gardner was an initiate of the New Forest Coven, one of the "Nine Covens" in the 1800s in which Old George Pickingill, the "cunning man of Canewdon", served as Magus or High Priest. In turn, Pickingill's magical lineage traced back to Julia, the "Wicce of Brandon" executed in 1071.
American Gardnerians keep careful track of their lineage as a check against posers fraudulently claiming to be members of this august tradition. We have also successfully kept certain centuries-old magical teachings that have been passed to us as closely guarded secrets.
Our emphasis on legitimacy and secret Mysteries sometimes evokes mean-spirited jealousy from two types whose views abound on the 'Net: Eclectic Pagans who attack older traditions to try to justify their idiosyncratic inventions; and reductionist non-practitioners who reinforce academic and religious marginalization of Witchcraft by positing dismissive or lurid interpretations of Craft history.
Both separately and in tandem, these ilk mislead many sincere Seekers into believing that British Traditional Witchcraft lineage is a relatively new invention, rather than the demonstrably unbroken continuation of beliefs and ways from ancient, even primordial times.
Branches of the American Gardnerian family tree, called "Lines", differ somewhat in how their Priest/esses pass down their lineage. An important tenet that distinguishes the California Line from its parent Long Island Line is this:
"We affirm that, in principle, the genders are equal in our Gardnerian practice, e.g. males may both cast circles and initiate without a Priestess." (Article 13 of The Declaration of the California Line, San Francisco Bay Area, 1988-89.)
Coven Oldenwilde is of the California Gardnerian Line and proudly does not discriminate based on a person?s sexual preference. Indeed, the "CalGard Line" not only recognizes same-sex covens and initiations and elevations, but acknowledges the legitimacy of initiations or elevations when performed by a High Priest alone, without a High Priestess present — which is sometimes necessary when, for example, a coven is geographically isolated. (Gerald Gardner himself set the precedent for this practice when he elevated his wife Donna to Third Degree when a High Priestess was unable to participate.)
While Gardnerians do not publicly detail our entire lineages because posers might copy and use them to mislead Seekers, it's traditionally sufficient to provide details of our own initiations and highest-degree elevations. Coven Oldenwilde's Initiates can say that our Line goes to Gardner through his High Priestess Lady Olwen; back farther to Old Dorothy Clutterbuck of the New Forest Coven; and thence, to George Pickingill.
High Priestess Lady Passion was Initiated by Lady Runach & Morgann of Coven Trismegiston,
and Elevated to the Third Degree by *Diuvei of Coven Oldenwilde.
High Priest *Diuvei was Initiated by Lady Bhride & Morgann of Coven Tobar Bhride,
and Elevated to the Third Degree by Lady Maeve & Niklas of Coven Triskell.
For the dates of these rites, see About Lady Passion & *Diuvei.