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.
Coven work includes individual and collective spellwork, leadership training, ritual construction, and the pursuit of progressively deeper levels of magical understanding.
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 B. Gardner (1884-1964) 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" who died in battle against Hereward the Wake in 1071.
Gardnerians in America keep careful written 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.
Gardnerians’ emphasis on legitimacy and secret Mysteries sometimes evokes 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 is a relatively new invention, rather than the demonstrably unbroken continuation of beliefs and ways from ancient, even primordial times.
A third type of misleader craves power: Lacking a goodly Witch rep of their own, they try to spread lies to ruin the reputation of someone they consider a magical rival, or seize on differences in practices to denounce entire groups of fellow Gardnerians as “illegitimate”. They are "bate-breeders" (a Witch word for folk who foment discord).
The fact is, branches of the Gardnerian family tree in America, called "Lines", differ somewhat in how their Priest/esses pass down their lineage. An important tenet that distinguishes the California Line from its mother 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 refuses to discriminate based on a person's sexual preference. Indeed, the "CalGard Line" not only recognizes same-sex covens and initiations and elevations (raisings of magical rank), but also acknowledges the legitimacy of initiations or elevations when performed and the circle cast by a High Priest alone, without a High Priestess present — which is sometimes necessary when, for example, a coven is geographically isolated.
Like so much of CalGard practice, the option of males casting circles for initiation or elevation represents a return to Gardnerian tradition. Rosemary Buckland, from whom most American Gardnerians descend, was initiated in a circle cast by her male mate at the time, Raymond Buckland. And all of the following well-known Gardnerian Elders were, according to their own statements, initiated, elevated, or both in a circle cast by Gerald Gardner without a High Priestess present: Doreen Valiente, Patricia Crowther, Dayonis, Donna Gardner, and Olive Green. Rosemary Buckland HPS, from whom most American Gardnerians descend, was initiated in a circle cast by a man. All the initiation and elevation scripts that Gardner copied down from his Elders in his Ye Bok of ye Art Magical are in the form of a man casting a circle and initiating a woman by himself: No doubt he was given this version on purpose because he was a lone High Priest at the time.
In short, the peculiar notion currently held by some American Gards that a Gardnerian initiation or elevation is legitimate only if it takes place in a circle cast by a High Priestess (even when she plays no other part in the rite, and may even be a stranger to the candidate) is a misunderstanding based on faulty information or distorted teaching.
Morgann (Don Frew), HP of Coven Trismegiston and our Elder in the California Gardnerian Line, has extensively researched Gardnerian history, studied Gerald Gardner's manuscripts, and helped lead a decades-long project to collect, collate, and share with other Gardnerian covens all known versions of the Book of Shadows. The following April, 2013 communication from him to *Diuvei and Lady Passion is excerpted with permission:
Re: men casting circles for initiations and elevations. ...
- ALL of the initiation and elevation scripts in Gardner's own "Ye Bok of ye Art Magical" are in the form of a man ("Magus") initiating a woman ("Witch") by himself. The texts are clear that the man casts the circle before the woman is brought in. (BAM pages 94-99, 101-106, 108-112 & 225-227) It makes sense that the texts would be in this form since it was Gardner's Book and he would be doing the rituals.
- I corresponded with Doreen Valiente in the '90s. In November 1990, among other questions, I asked her: "Did Gerald ever cast the Circle for an initiation? Did he ever allow other men to do so?" In her letter to me of 7 January 1991 she answered my question..."Yes, Gerald did cast the Circle for an initiation — in fact he did so when I was initiated. Moreover, he never raised any objection to another man doing so, that I ever heard. Why should a man not cast the Circle, if he is competent to do so? ... There certainly seem to be a lot of debates going on over on your side of the Atlantic. It puzzles me how they have arisen, and I find it hard to escape the conclusion that, as I said in my recent book, THE REBIRTH OF WITCHCRAFT, the formation of a 'power-structure' seems to be behind it all."
- The HPS of Gardner's Bricket Wood Coven after Doreen was the Priestess known as Dayonis. She is a good friend and has stayed at my home and circled with my coven. She confirms what Doreen wrote. In addition, she states unequivocally that Gardner cast the circle for and officiated at her 2nd and 3rd Degrees himself, without a Priestess present (other than her). She also says that during her time as HPS of the Bricket Wood Coven, she cast the circle for initiations & elevations if she was present, but that it was perfectly fine for the HP to do so if she could not be present.
(Note: This appears to have been more a matter of the HPS being the supreme authority in the coven, rather than a matter of which gender could cast circles.)
- Patricia Crowther states in her book Witch Blood (pages 35-43) that she was initiated and elevated by Gardner acting alone, without a High Priestess.
- Olive Green described her initiation & elevation to HPS by Gerald in Cardell's Witch (1964, pages 46-56). She is explicit that there was no other Priestess present and that Gardner cast the circle and performed the ceremonies himself.
In other words... Doreen, Dayonis, Patricia, and Olive were all initiated and/or elevated in a circle cast by a man, by their own statements. Further, Doreen and Dayonis have both stated that there was nothing wrong with a man casting a circle for initiations in their own covens while they led them as HPS. Rosemary Buckland, the progenetrix of almost all American Gardnerians, was initiated in a circle cast by a man. All the Gardnerians with whom we have spoken from the UK, Canada, Australia, and Nigeria have not had any problems with male-cast circles unless & until they have encountered Gardnerians from the US who did have a problem with it.
In allowing for the possibility of male-cast Circles for initiations, the California Line has preserved the original, tried and true practice of the Gardnerian tradition from before Gardner's time down to the present day and as practiced across the globe. If some Gardnerians in the United States have chosen to change the traditional practice and exclude men from casting circles for initiations & elevations, that is their decision and their business.
Morgann, HP of Coven Trismegiston