Tag Archives: Wicca

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.

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.