Category Archives: Articles

John Belham-Payne

5 January 1952 to 15 February 2016

John Belham-Payne at the unveiling of the blue plaque for Gerald Gardner
At the unveiling of the blue plaque for Gerald Gardner (photo by Yvonne Aburrow)
John and Julie Belham-Payne at the unveiling of the blue plaque for Doreen Valiente
With Julie Belham-Payne at the unveiling of the blue plaque for Doreen Valiente

John Belham-Payne (born John Patrick Payne), the founder of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, is best known as the last high priest of Doreen Valiente. John was widely regarded as an inspirational Pagan leader, and his name is included in The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-paganism by Shelley Rabinovitch and James Lewis.

In 1992 John married Julia Belham-Payne and together they bought The Old Oast, in Maresfield, and began to convert the barn into a venue for Pagans to meet and learn about Paganism. They called it the Centre For Pagan Studies.

The Centre For Pagan Studies attracted many well-known Pagans, including Doreen Valiente. She soon became a firm supporter, and became the patron of the Centre for Pagan Studies.

This eventually led to John Belham-Payne working magically with Doreen and being with her constantly during her death. He held her hand as she passed to the Summerlands on 1st September 1999.

The collection of artefacts, manuscripts and documents that Doreen Valiente had bequeathed to John, formed the basis of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, the Charitable trust that John Belham-Payne founded, in 2011, known as the Doreen Valiente Foundation. He passed away from renal failure on 15 February 2016.

His Wiccan funeral was attended by many Pagans and witches from all over the world, and he was cremated at Woodvale Crematorium, the same place where he had been celebrant for the Wiccan funeral service for his priestess Doreen Valiente 16½ years previously. His ashes are scattered in a bluebell wood, in the same location where he scattered the ashes of Doreen Valiente.

John Belham-Payne
John smiling

Further reading

John Belham-Payne in the 1980s
John in the 1980s

Marget Inglis

Marget Inglis was a Scottish High Priestess who was very well-loved by all  who knew her.

Memories of Marget

Once when I was working in Aberdeen I rented a room above a pub. As it happened, Marget ran a moot in the pub downstairs once a month. She really was a remarkable woman – on the face of it an archetypal crone, but with a glorious wit and a scientist’s intellectual curiosity and unwillingness to take things at face value. We had many fascinating conversations, and I ended up guesting with the Oldmeldrum coven on several occasions. The combination of her and Crow in particular made for a stunning good time.
Even in her latter days when she knew she was dying, she remained cheerful and more interested in helping others than worrying about herself. I have nothing but praise for her – we will not see her like again.
~ Allan M

Madge Worthington

Madge Worthington
Madge Worthington

Madge was immensely important in the development of the Gardnerian Craft. She was initiated around 1964 by her high priest, Arthur, who was in turn initiated by Eleanor (Rae) Bone who died in 2003. Madge and Arthur used to hold their meetings in Arthur’s house in Whitecroft Way and to this day her many magical descendants speak of themselves as being of the Whitecroft line. Sadly, in the last few years of her life, Madge was progressively immobilized by Parkinson’s, and unable to pursue her great passions – the Craft, Green politics and animal welfare.

Here is a tribute to Madge that appeared in Pagan Dawn, Beltane 2004.

Memories of Madge

At Maureen’s she arrived with her toy boy, who was in his 50s and she was in her 80s. She still had a great body for her age. She was asked to do the Annis Charge and was powerfully beautiful with her rendition, then would insist that the quarters were treated with more respect and drawn slowly – which I always did anyway. She praised me for that hating this “modern” practice of zipping the pentagram at speed. She would wave goodbye to them at banishing and I felt dead chuffed that she said she could really see them after I drew them. Maureen told me that she got to nearly 100 but would never tell anyone her age – a lady didn’t! Maureen would go to see her when she was very old and alone, she was very ill at times and no-one there to look after her in her last days.

Madge was also camping out at the feminist camp against nuclear weapons for a while, not Greenham Common, the other one. She was in her 80s but saw no reason that should stop her. I think she was there for months but not sure about that.

I remember meeting her at the second big Gather in Cumbria and her first words were, “Have you read King Jesus by Graves, you must, you really must” and wandered off. I didn’t really know what to say to her, I was aware of the esteem she was held in and felt a little shy. I have a photo of her from there with her, Vivianne, me and one of my initiates, Karen – 4 generations of witches and 3 were Scorpios. They all wore turquoise and purple, unknown to each other (I’m Cancerian so wore green and ruined the effect).

At Witchfest, she wandered in with a bandage on her leg having come undone. Reg and [Dot] his wife (we called them Rot and Veg but don’t know their real names), commented to me that this old lady had wandered in and needed help as she looked like she had dementia. I whirled round and told him that without that old lady, he and most of the witches there wouldn’t exist! He snorted and disappeared, but I ran after her and did up her bandage for her. She was a little bewildered by it all, walked around the stalls and had tea, but nothing much else.

She was at my handfasting, she said she loved handfastings, but I don’t remember much about that. She came down the wood where a lot of covens would meet up for circles, and danced with all of us, enjoyed the whole thing and we all panicked when she said she was going to jump the fire. I remember discussing jokingly with Chris how easy it would be to dress a dead body – we were afraid she might have a heart attack and we didn’t know how to explain it to the police – it was a joke… sort of. But she jumped with us all, nothing would stop her.

~ Debby

Fraud, and why it matters

What is a fraud?

In the context of witchcraft, it is someone who deliberately and knowingly seeks to deceive others about the origins and nature of their tradition, or claims that they were initiated by a genuine practitioner of a tradition, but they weren’t. In other words, they lie about their origins to make themselves seem more authentic.

Examples include claims that a tradition calling itself Wicca, or possessing a Gardnerian book of shadows, is older than Gardner, or used the word Wicca before Gardner; these should be treated with extreme caution. (There are witchcraft traditions that are pre-Gardner, but they mostly don’t call themselves Wicca.) Claims that a tradition has an unbroken initiatory lineage back to ancient pagan times are also fraudulent. Claims to an unbroken initiatory lineage stretching back any earlier than 1900 should also be treated with extreme caution.

Why does this matter?

If you are going to trust someone enough to engage in transformative and powerful ritual with them, you want to be able to take them at their word. You want to be sure that they know what they are doing, that they have been taught a tried and trusted set of techniques, and that you are not going to be asked to do something that is massively outside your comfort zone.

If someone lies about something as simple as where they got their initiation from, or the origins of their tradition, how can you trust their word about anything else?

It has been observed that fraudulent claims about origins, and fraudulent claims of initiation, are often accompanied by abusive behaviour. I don’t think an implausible origin story should automatically be seen as a sign of potential abuse, unless it is accompanied by other warning signs of abusive behaviour.

It is advisable to seek external confirmation that someone’s story (either about their initiation, or about the origins of their tradition) is true. Get a vouch from other Wiccans.

In a previous article, I mentioned that the Frosts were never part of Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca. Indeed, they never claimed to be. However, Gavin Frost did claim to have invented the word Wicca before Gardner did, and the Frosts claimed to be running “the oldest Wiccan school in the universe” (if you don’t believe me, look at their blog, it is right there in the header).

What is not fraudulent?

Any tradition or group that does not lie about its origins is not fraudulent.

A tradition that cannot trace its initiatory lineage to Gardner or Sanders, but doesn’t claim to, is not fraudulent. There are many Wiccan and witchcraft traditions, particularly in North America, that do not claim lineage back to Gardner or Sanders, but do call themselves Wicca. That is definitely not fraudulent. Wicca is a useful term for ‘softening’ the word witchcraft in areas where fundamentalism is rife. It is not fraudulent to call yourself a Wiccan if you don’t have a Gardnerian or Alexandrian lineage – as long as you don’t lie about your origins, lineage, or initiations.

Some Gardnerians and Alexandrians object to anything outside their traditions being known as Wicca. That is a different argument, and should not be confused with fraudulent origin stories.

A person who has been lied to by their initiators, but believed the story, and repeats in in good faith, believing it to be true, is not fraudulent. A bit gullible perhaps, but not deliberately lying about their origins.

A tradition that possesses a Gardnerian book of shadows, and thereby believes itself to be Gardnerian, but doesn’t have a lineage back to Gardner, and doesn’t claim to – not fraudulent; not actually Gardnerian by the standard definition of the term Gardnerian, either; but not actually fraudulent, because it is not lying about its origins.

Witchcraft traditions that are not fraudulent include (but are not limited to) Reclaiming witchcraft, Feri witchcraft, Bread and Roses, 1734 witchcraft, Clan of Tubal Cain witchcraft, Central Valley Wicca, Georgian Wicca, Wiccan Church of Canada, Blue Star Wicca, Mohsian Wicca, Kingstone Wicca, Algard Wicca, to cite some well-known examples. None of these traditions claim to be much older than Gardnerian Wicca; they have clearly traceable origin stories, and don’t claim a lineage that doesn’t exist.

There are clearly some traditions of folk witchcraft that do pre-date Gerald Gardner, but not by more than fifty years, as far as I am aware. Claims of origins back in the mists of time should be treated with extreme caution.

Some groups are not entirely sure of their early history. In these cases, an honest answer to a question about origins would be, “We don’t really know for certain, but to the best of our knowledge and belief, what happened was this…” If new evidence comes to light which refutes the origin story, the members of the tradition accept the new historical information. For example, if contemporary Alexandrians and Gardnerians discover that Sanders or Gardner made something up, we admit it, and don’t seek to cover it up.

Once Ronald Hutton had traced the historical origins of Wicca (in The Triumph of the Moon: a history of modern Pagan witchcraft), the vast majority of Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccans accepted the new information and stopped claiming older origins for Wicca. Subsequent research by Philip Heselton has shown that Gardner’s story that he was initiated into an existing coven was true (and they sincerely believed themselves to be reincarnations of nineteenth century witches). I believe that Gardner sincerely believed he had stumbled upon something really old, whose fragmentary nature he sought to supplement based on his reading of Margaret Murray’s work and The Key of Solomon.


A fraud is someone who deliberately and knowingly seeks to deceive others. If you can’t trust their word, it would be inadvisable to trust them about anything else.

“Good” people do bad things: statement on the Frosts

There is absolutely no excuse, ever, for advocating the molestation of children.

Therefore, there is no excuse for the publication of chapter 4 of the book by Gavin and Yvonne Frost which claimed to be about Wicca, which (until it was modified in 2007) advocated for the sexual molestation of minors. If they had repudiated the chapter and apologised for its inclusion and tried to do something to make reparation for its consequences, perhaps there might be a reason to rehabilitate them, cautiously.

Even in the 1970s, when some people were apparently rather confused about the boundaries of what consent was, the majority view was that sex between children and adults was always wrong. I am informed by people who were in the Pagan scene at the time that the issue was discussed in the pages of Green Egg and other zines, and plenty of people stated that it was unethical.

But the Frosts never did apologise or repudiate it or seek to make reparation for it. (They did say that it didn’t apply to people under 18, but what they advocated is abusive even if it involves people over 18, and it was 40 years before they even did that, despite numerous people in the Pagan community strongly rejecting what they wrote.) So there is no reason to pretend it didn’t happen, or try to claim that they did good things other than that. They may very well have done – people can do both good and bad things – but unless and until they apologised for the publication of such an unethical ritual, it should neither be forgiven nor forgotten.

Many people have been put off of Wicca by reading that book, as they assumed it spoke for all of Wicca.

The Frosts were never part of either Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca, and their organisation is not recognised by any legitimate Gardnerian or Alexandrian, nor by most other witches and Wiccans.

Legitimate Wiccans do not and never have engaged in sexual activities with minors, and consider such actions extremely unethical.

The Frosts also advocated sexual initiations at every initiation. Legitimate Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccans do not include sexual intercourse as part of the first or second degree initiations, and it is optional at third degree and may be replaced with a symbolic ritual act.

In my personal opinion, sexual intercourse should not form part of the third degree unless it has been discussed a long time beforehand, and enthusiastic and informed consent (which can be withdrawn at any time) has been established.

We also need to realise that “good people” and “nice people” do bad things. Being “nice” doesn’t make someone immune from being an abuser, or a racist, or a transphobe, or a homophobe, or an exploiter of slave labour in the third world. Far too often, people deny that someone can have engaged in abusive behaviour, because they are “nice”. But you only have to look at public figures who have been revealed to be serial abusers to realise that they too were previously considered “nice”.

I am very disappointed that several self-styled “elders” of the Pagan community have continued to defend the Frosts and try to excuse or diminish what they did. I am sure it is true that they also did good things – very few people are all bad – but that does not mean we can or should sweep this under the carpet.

This is why we need the Pagan and Heathen Symposium Code of Conduct for all events. This is why we need to discuss consent culture and strive to create it in our Pagan communities. This is why “big name Pagans” need to speak out and condemn those who advocate for or commit abuse, and refuse to invite them to events, or attend events where they will be speaking. We also need to stop seeing things as a binary (the idea that people are iether all good or all bad is extremely dangerous and makes getting away with abuse easier), and help to create a culture where people can retract a statement that they made which they might regret. We all make mistakes – but if someone calls you out on a mistake, the correct response is to acknowledge it and try to make reparation, not to double down on it and continue to advocate for abusive practices.

Some people may ask why I am mentioning this now. I honestly thought until now that people realised that proper Wicca does not involve these practices. It seems that some people thought that the Frosts spoke for all of Wicca when they advocated compulsory sexual initiations or the practice of deflowering virgins with a dildo. They absolutely do not, and if you come across a coven advocating such practices, run a mile.

Yvonne Aburrow

Further reading

Model guidelines for group discussion

These are presented as a template or resource for your own use. They were developed by the Inclusive Wicca Discussion Group.

Model guidelines for group discussion

(Can be used face-to-face or online)

Guidance for use in a face to face group

Get participants to suggest their own guidelines and write them up on a flip-chart. If they omit any items from this list, you can suggest them.

Guidance for use in an online group

Post the guidelines as a list on the about page of your group. Invite people to suggest additional guidelines. Ask people to state in writing in the comments that they agree with the guidelines.

The guidelines

  • Focus on arguments, not people (no ad hominem attacks)
  • Address others respectfully
  • Avoid stereotyping of other groups
  • Don’t discriminate or be judgemental
  • There are no “stupid” questions or answers
  • Assume good faith by participants in discussions
  • Don’t assume that you know what someone else means by what they have written / said
  • New members are encouraged to contribute
  • Keep it confidential who said what
  • Don’t reveal personal information outside the group

Training expectations

By Kim Dent-Brown and Tracey Dent-Brown


(This is offered as a model  for discussion, not a fixed and final text. It is more or less what my coven gives to people asking for  preparatory training by a Gardnerian Wiccan coven towards possible first degree initiation. As a seeker, you can expect something broadly similar from most Gardnerian/Alexandrian covens with small individual differences. BB, Kim Dent-Brown.)


  • We are a Wiccan coven with a traceable line of initiation back to Gerald Gardner, and we offer training towards possible initiation with us
  • We will offer you our time, our hospitality, our knowledge, our experience and our honest feedback
  • If you ask, we will answer. If you challenge, we will respond. If you are looking for quick and easy answers or for spoon-feeding, you have come to the wrong place
  • If we think we see a problem, we will address it. Addressing a problem does not mean we don’t like you or want you; it means we want to know how you respond to challenges and whether you can learn and grow
  • If we do not think that Wicca, or this coven, is the right place for you, we will tell you and try to help you find another place where you might get the teaching you need
  • We will keep your study with us confidential and will never reveal to anyone outside the Craft that we have taught you
  • We will never ask you for favours in return for our teaching – financial, sexual, personal, domestic, or whatever
  • If you stay with the teaching to the end we will tell you when we have nothing more to teach, and will leave the decision about what happens next up to you


  • We assume that you are ready to grow, to change, to be stretched, to be honest, to try new experiences and to look within and tell us what you see
  • We expect you to keep to arrangements for meetings (or to do the socially acceptable thing and tell us in good time).  If we have a shared meal, we expect that you will bring a contribution
  • We expect you to keep your training with us confidential and not to tell all and sundry what you are doing and with whom. People very close to you and whom you can trust with a confidence are an exception to this
  • We expect you to do some things between meetings and to come back and report on how these have gone. If you have been unwilling or unable to do them, we expect you to have thought about why this was and discuss this with us
  • If you do not understand why we are asking you to do things, we expect you to ask us. We are not looking for uncritical obedience, but for intelligent engagement
  • Some of the things we ask of you may be strange, unfamiliar or challenging. Nothing we suggest is compulsory, but we ask you to trust us as far as you can and embrace the challenge. We will ask you to do nothing that we have not done ourselves
  • When we tell you that we have taught you as much as we can, we leave the next move to you. We will not offer you initiation, but if you ask for it we will decide and respond. Getting to the end of training does NOT automatically mean that we will say ‘yes’ if you ask.

Mystery Religions

Mystery Religions: the what and why

by Sarah Howe

Being a regular poster on a forum I am quite often exposed to interesting and sometimes touchy discussions centring around people’s personal beliefs and around specific traditions. One of these recent discussions was on the subject of Mystery Religions, their purpose and what the definition of ‘mysteries’ is. The question was also raised as to whether a solitary practitioner could gain access to the mysteries. These are questions I will endeavour to answer here.


So, what are these ‘mysteries’ and how can we define them?

The Oxford English Dictionary gives us this definition of ‘mysteries’

…something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain…”

In the context of a Mystery Religion the mysteries are the hidden knowledge and revelations pertaining to the divine and our place within the universe. These are usually accessed by an individual via a specific set of rites and rituals within a tradition or path that ‘opens the doors’ so to speak, to these mysteries. Each tradition has their own unique ‘toolkit’ (rites, rituals, symbols and practices) for unlocking these doors and allowing the individuals within that tradition the necessary set of experiences and knowledge to access and gain an understanding of the mysteries.


That sounds quite dogmatic. How does that make Mystery Religions any different to, for example, the Catholic Church?

The definition of mysteries and Mystery Religions isn’t really at all similar to anything within the Catholic Church or that type of religion. Why? Because they are what is known as ‘revealed religion’ – that is religion whereby the whole thing is supposed to have been revealed by a god or gods (sacred books and the whole shebang). These religions and their practices are freely available and open to anyone who cares to pick up a copy of their sacred text and feels that it is for them. Quite often with this style of religion, whilst the individual can pray or talk to their god(s), there is usually a member of the clergy who acts as an intermediary between the divine and the individual.

Mystery religions are the exact opposite to revealed religions. They generally don’t have a set sacred text or a set of laws or tenets or in fact any dogma that must be followed and that has been supposedly handed to them by a god or gods. Each tradition allows the individual access to the mysteries via their specific set of doors that each member must pass through in order to access them and the toolkit (rites and rituals) for doing that are different for each tradition. In addition, there is no single intermediary who acts as the mouthpiece of the divine. Each person has direct access and communes with their god or gods as feels best to them.


Wicca is a religion of mysteries and when one is initiated it is not only into to the coven, but also into the mysteries. Does this mean that you have to be in a coven to know the mysteries?

There are numerous Mystery Religions and Traditions and each one has its own ‘toolkit’ and way of perceiving the mysteries. This means that you have to be initiated into that tradition or religion in order to gain access to the mysteries of that tradition and indeed that particular group.

My experience as an initiate of a Mystery Religion is that the individuals within the tradition seem to have a similar set of experiences in terms of contact with the divine or the unseen worlds that we work with and within. It was and is the common practice of my parent coven to either not share at all or to give only very vague details of experiences to newcomers and in this way the potential experiences of that newcomer were not coloured by the experiences of the rest of the group. It was always amazing to see just how many similarities would crop up once that newcomer began to have their own experiences. This leads me to think that the particular ‘toolkit’ of the tradition is absolutely key to accessing the mysteries relating to that tradition and giving each individual similar experiences that binds the group together and gives them shared understanding and knowledge.


It is said that the mysteries cannot be told, only experienced. So why can’t a solitary have those same experiences?

I do think that a solitary can have knowledge and understanding of the ‘mysteries’ (what is known as personal gnosis), but to have knowledge of the mysteries attached to a particular tradition, one must be a member of that tradition, usually via initiation or a similar ritual. These specific mysteries are experiential and cannot be accessed by people who are not members of those traditions because they do not have access to the ‘toolkit’ belonging to that tradition or religion that allows its members to experience the mysteries particular to it.

This is a system that dates back thousands of years to religions such as the Eleusinian Mysteries of Greece and the Mithraic Mysteries or Mysteria Mater.

The mysteries are experiential and they are specific and individual to each tradition. My experiences of the mysteries through my tradition will be different to those of someone from a different tradition or of a solitary path though of course there may well be similarities and common ground between them.

I am fairly certain that a solitary witch, for example, would reach their own understandings and have their own revelations from their experiences just as well as a person following a Mystery Religion would. They may reach understanding in a different way and see things differently because of that, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to reach that understanding, or that they can’t or won’t reach it because they aren’t a member of a group.

Why are the mysteries hidden? Why are they only revealed to some people and not open to everyone?

There’s no reason they are. They just are. People have always searched for deeper meanings to life and the divine through millennia and this is just one of the ways that people try and reach that understanding. There is a huge amount we don’t know about this world and the worlds around ours, the astral and the places where the gods reside and so on. They aren’t hidden for a purpose and no one hid any of this knowledge for their own gain but it is impossible to know everything about all things and perhaps not everything should be revealed to all people all of the time.

People who follow Mystery Traditions do so because they feel that there is more to life than what is in front of our noses and they feel that the particular tradition they follow is the best one for them to access those deeper meanings and mysteries. Other people feel that revealed religion is right for them. It’s not about keeping things away from other people but about finding the right way for you to gain that knowledge and understanding and that is why the mysteries are experiential. They can’t be explained – you have to find out for yourself.

Of course it may seem as though these mysteries are only revealed to a select few and I’m sure that some people see that as a little bit elitist, which of course it is in many ways. The mysteries are revealed to those people who have a thirst for that kind of knowledge, just as the mysteries of science are revealed to scientists who look for particular things and make new discoveries. So, it is absolutely true to say that the mysteries are not revealed to everyone because not everyone looks for them or wants to know. The people that do want to know go and seek out a way that suits them; sometimes that is alone and sometimes that is as part of an established group or religion.


How did the founders of these traditions find those specific doors and tools to access these mysteries?

It would be hard to categorically state how the founder of any of the Mystery Traditions, ancient and modern, came to find their particular way. That said, I think we could guess based on historical accounts and so on that they either came to it via experimentation of their own or perhaps because they were part of a similar (pre-existing) tradition prior to forming their own. Don’t forget that many of the people who formed some of these Mystery Traditions (thinking of the more modern ones here) were intelligent people who had already spent a lot of time in research and practice of various occult and magical paths before hitting upon a combination that worked for them and setting that combination down to form their particular Mystery Tradition.

If it was written down, doesn’t that make it set of laws, dogma and rules?

Writing something down obviously does not make it dogma, law or a rule. As an example: Initiatory Wicca has the Book of Shadows that is handed from initiator to initiate; but this is not akin to the Bible, the Qur’an or similar sacred text, which are supposed to be the word of God. The Book of Shadows is essentially a guide, giving the basic rituals and rites, spells and magical workings that have been used within that tradition. This Book of Shadows will certainly vary from tradition to tradition (the Gardnerian Book of Shadows will be different from Alexandrian etc.) and may even have some variation in the various lines within that tradition but there will still be the same basic structure. This means that each Wiccan from that tradition will share the same basic experiences and have the same basic toolkit for accessing the mysteries. However, the Book of Shadows is not a laid-down-in-stone, word of God, must-be-abided-by rulebook. It gives the basics, nothing more. It is a part of the toolkit but the rest is gained from the group, not from the book.

Given that some of these rites and rituals are available to the public, wouldn’t someone who read and enacted those rituals experience the mysteries of that tradition and be able call themselves an initiate?

You don’t become an initiate of a Mystery Tradition just because you happen to get your hands on a copy of their rituals. The written portion of the ritual is a very tiny part of the experience. The rest is handed to the initiate verbally and experientially. So, even if you did get a copy of the ritual and enact it with a group of friends (because you wouldn’t be able to do these rituals alone unless you developed several sets of arms and multiple personality disorder!) there would be symbols and language within that ritual that you would not understand unless it was explained to you and you would be missing the experiential and verbal teaching aspect, which is actually the biggest part. You might be lucky and stumble onto a small part of what an initiate of that tradition experiences but without the whole of the teaching and experience, you wouldn’t find the right doors and experience the same mysteries that an initiate of that tradition would experience and understand.

Quite simply, the only way to experience the mysteries relating to a particular tradition is to become a member of that tradition.

So as a solitary, how would you go about approaching the mysteries? Using the definition from the beginning of this article, how would you go about finding out about our relationship to the divine and our place within the universe?

Well, there are several ways of doing this, such as:

  • Finding out about the folklore and mythology in your locality. Are there any local gods for example?
  • Getting out and about in the local natural environment, whether that be woods, seashore, fields or the wild and windy moors. Get a feel for the place, its energy and peculiarities.
  • Meditation and path working: focusing the mind and travelling into those unseen worlds to make contact with elementals, spirits and divine energy and learning what they have to teach you.
  • Creating an altar space. Really thinking about what you put on that altar and why. Does it reflect a relationship you have with a particular god or goddess or is it more about your surroundings and the seasons? Maybe both?
  • Creating rituals. These are personal to you and you will probably put a lot of thought into what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. Is it a ritual to honour a deity or to celebrate the start of Spring?
  • Music, dance and poetry. These are good ways of focusing on a particular thing and can help to create a magical atmosphere or even induce an altered state of mind in which experiences can be gained.

So, going back to the dictionary definition of ‘mysteries’, we can summarise that they cannot be explained or written down in a book for all to read. They must be experienced and how those experiences are arrived at is for the individual to decide.

© Sarah Howe 2011

Wiccan ethics

by Sarah Howe

With the interplay between the Wiccan Rede and Threefold Law, Wiccan morality and ethics is a far more complex subject than a casual glance would have you believe.  Once the additional ideal of Perfect Love & Perfect Trust comes into play, it is obvious that the complexity of the issue of Wiccan morality and ethics can only increase.

“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfil.
An it harm none, do what ye will.”

The Wiccan Rede is an interesting concept and whilst simple at first glance, it is far more complex in practice, especially when you take into account that the Rede doesn’t mention the concept of unavoidable harm – the ending of an unhealthy relationship for example, which may cause harm to the person involved, but will prevent a greater harm in the long run.  A great deal of thought must be put into an action as to whether harm would be caused, whether it can be avoided and, if not, whether the harm caused will negate a greater harm.

This is very in keeping with Gardner’s own description of the Rede in explaining its origins.

“They [the witches] are inclined to the morality of Good King Pausol, “Do what you like so long as you harm no one”.  But they believe a certain law to be important, “You must not use magic for anything which will cause harm, and if, to prevent a greater wrong being done, you must discommode someone, you must do it only in a way which will abate the harm”.  This involves every magical action being discussed first, to see that it can do no damage and this induces a habit of mind to consider well the results of one’s actions, especially upon others”.

(The Meaning of Witchcraft – Page 108)

 In my experience, I have known many people on a variety of spiritual paths, to have taken the Rede to be a law (often seen shortened to “Harm None”); however it is clear that such a law would be impossible to follow.  The word Rede actually means ‘advice’ and it is therefore a more sensible approach to look at the Rede as a guideline and an ideal to strive for rather than a hard and fast rule.  I like to think of it like the bumpers you have down each side of a bowling alley.  The ball may veer off course but the bumper helps it back on track.  This is how I believe the Rede works:  as a bumper to keep us from veering too far from our paths.

The Rede is a positive way of thinking, giving freedom of personal morality rather than imposing a set of strict religious rules.  Quite often, when we are told we aren’t allowed something or are told we can’t do something, it makes us want it even more; as the saying goes – forbidden fruit tastes sweeter.  Where certain religious laws seek to suppress and contain those elements of human nature that they find distasteful or undesirable, the Rede gives freedom of personal expression in a healthy way.  So long as you are not causing harm to others or to yourself, then your morality and individuality are yours to express.

I have heard it argued that such freedom of personal expression would allow for the breaking of non-religious laws and criminal activity but I would argue that not only is the Rede intended for operation within the law (as would be common sense), but that there is no such thing as a victimless crime and that any such activity would constitute harm in any case.  Aside from this, I am of the opinion that any person given to break a law is going to do so regardless of any religious guidelines or commandments.

Vivianne Crowley makes a wonderful point in her book, Wicca:  A Comprehensive Guide to the Old Religion in the Modern World:

“This moral sense is developed by seeking to adhere to certain basic ideals of love, joy, truth, honour and trust, and making decisions which are in accordance with them.”

When you consider three of the main ideals within Wicca – The Rede, Threefold Law and Perfect Love & Perfect Trust – it makes sense to make your decisions both magically and otherwise based on the concepts cited by Vivianne.  That being said, we are also only human and not every decision we make will take all or any of these things into account.

The Law of Threefold Return

I have noticed a tendency to use the word “Karma” in conjunction with Threefold Law but it is often a westernised view of Karma, which is applied. In doing this the idea of Karma is interpreted as some sort of universal power that hands out punishments to those who do bad things and rewards those who do good things. The Eastern view of Karma, though, is simply that actions have natural consequences.  By being mindful of them, you can earn “good Karma” and thus earn a better future.  However, failing to take into consideration the results of your actions will earn “bad Karma” and lead to some sort of hardship as a result.

If the Rede has been (as often occurs) mistaken for a law and is applied to everything, in conjunction with Threefold Law in its misunderstood form (i.e. “westernised” karma), it would be difficult to see how a person could even get out of bed in the morning for fear of causing harm!

In my opinion, Threefold Law is actually closer to Karma as it was intended in the East or to the Biblical maxim “You reap what you sow”. It is an easier concept to accept if it is not looked at in terms of whatever you send out comes back to you times three, but instead is considered in terms of how our choices are made.  In numerology, the number three is representative of divine trinities and of completion (birth, life, death; beginning, middle, end; past, present, future).  This lends itself to the idea of Threefold Law representing a completion of our choices, i.e. Course of action decided upon, course of action taken, results of action taken.

Combined with the Rede, it is essentially a method of keeping us mindful of our actions and ensuring that we are fully aware of their potential outcomes and impacts.  This applies not only to our spiritual lives (such as when performing a magical working) but also to our daily lives.  It reminds us that whatever choices we make, there are repercussions and that we must take responsibility for our own choices and deeds.  There is no “big bad” to blame when things go wrong, we are responsible for everything we do, good or bad.

Perfect Love and Perfect Trust

 I feel that when it comes to Wiccan morality and ethics, this concept is often greatly neglected.  But what really happens if you incorporate into your life the “highest ideal” of Perfect Love and Perfect Trust?

It is easiest to apply this concept to our coven mates, and it is reasonable that this should be the case; after all, it is with our coven that we first experience perfect love and trust, in the form of initiation.  Their trust that we are the right person for their group and the love everyone bears for each other as friends and as part of the wider Wiccan family.  Then there is the trust and love that we ourselves express in putting ourselves in a vulnerable position with them, by undergoing initiation itself.

We could even apply the concept to our family (however you define that) with whom we share a bond of unconditional love and trust.  It is sometimes possible to apply it to friends and lovers, although here, love and trust may not be unconditional.  Often, trust must be earned and love is given but not without a certain amount of fear of betrayal or rejection.

So, the question becomes, should the concept of Perfect Love and Perfect Trust be applied outside of the coven environment?  Is it even possible to apply it those people we don’t know closely?  Perhaps we leave ourselves open to all kinds of mundane and spiritual problems if we try to define our morality further by including this idea away from the environment where it is most often encountered.

Is it even possible to have any love or trust for people whose motivations we don’t actually know, let alone perfect love and trust for them?  It becomes a little like the commandment, “love thy neighbour as thyself”.  It’s a nice idea in principle, but does it actually work in practice or does it become something unachievable, which we still strive for?  Perhaps the best step we can take is to be good people and to treat others with respect and in turn, earn respect through our actions.

In summary, it very difficult anticipate the outcome of any decision we take but by being mindful of our actions and accepting of their consequences, we can take a great step towards living our lives according to the ethical principles of Wicca and to strive ever onwards towards our highest ideals.  I believe this quote from Fred Lamond’s book, Fifty Years of Wicca serves to best sum up what I have attempted to discuss here in his direct quote from Gardner:  “If you concentrate on helping others, your spiritual development will take care of itself”.

Sarah Howe, 2008

What do we have in common?

by Keith Galapas

As an initiated Gardnerian I am restricted on what I can say about my chosen path in any public medium. I made a promise back in 1976 that I would not discuss the specifics of what we do in in the Gardnerian craft. This means that I am oathbound. There is really no one who enforces this except myself and my own definitions of ethics and honour. It is something I have done my entire adult life. This shows the first two things all Gardnerians share.

1) We have been initiated. It takes a Gardnerian to make a Gardnerian.

This is not limited to our tradition. Many occult and Pagan groups work on the model that it takes one to make one. For Gardnerians, the authority to initiate starts after second degree. Many covens feel that a third degree needs to be there are well. Others view the third degree as optional and a personal choice of the individual.

2) We are bound by oath. We all have made a similar promise.

While we may have different views on what that promise covers, we have all made it. I see it as covering the details of what takes place in the circle. Who was there and what we did. It is clear to me that mentioning the legal name of a witch who has not declared themselves to be one publicly is breaking that promise. When it comes to passed lore, there are more disagreements. Selling a copy of our BoS on Ebay is generally frowned upon. If I were to do so, most others of my tradition would no longer work with me or socialize with me. I would no longer get invitations to visit other covens or to attend workshops. So while we do not have central authority, there are predictable reactions to some behaviours. These take place on a person to person level.

3) We have no central authority.

For the most part, covens are autonomous. Some are more independent than others. That is usually by choice. The leadership in a coven can vary. It has always been my experience that in ritual, it is the High Priestess who is in charge. Outside of the circle the most common model is that it is the High Priestess is in charge as well or has the final veto. But this will vary from coven to coven. Some coven or coven members prefer a more hierarchical structure both within a coven and between covens. Others prefer more of a collection of equals. This is very much a matter of coven fit.

Another aspect of this is that there is no one who speaks for all of us. I personally resent it when anybody goes out and claims to speak on any issue for all Pagans, all Wiccans or all Gardnerians. I may or may not agree with their view. I think it hubris or presumptious to assume that their view is mine because I am one of the above. I will listen with respect and consider the views of anyone who has walked the walk for a decade or more. They may convince me, but cannot order me. Any authority or rank I have ends outside of my circle. Only if my views have merit in others’ eyes will they be adopted.

4) We have a lineage.

We know our lineage and can trace who initiated who back to Gardner. The format of those lists will vary in different areas. Some are by public Pagan names only. Others are by legal names. So for some, stating that lineage is not oathbound is correct (if Pagan names are used). All will agree that giving out legal names is considered oathbreaking.

5) We do not charge for training or participation.

This is one of the most common red flags on an invalid Gardnerian group. That they charge for training or charge for participation in the circles. If a group is meeting at a place, such as a camp-ground, there may be a site fee for the camping.