Monday, June 05, 2006

Gardner's Witchcraft Today

I finally got around to buying a copy of Gerald Gardner's book, Witchcraft Today. Since deciding to read it last summer, I had kept an eye out for a used copy of the book but to no avail. I decided it was time to read it anyway, and ended up buying the book online. As I read it, I will be posting what I have learned from the book.

As many of you know, Gardner's book was the first non-fiction book published on the religion of Wicca. There is much controversy regarding the history and the beginnings of the Wiccan religion. One such controversy is the accusation that Gardner and his friend, Aleister Crowley, made up the religion by mixing elements of the Golden Dawn, ceremonial magic, anthropology and mythology.

In the first chapter of the book, entitled Living Witchcraft, Gardner introduces the ideas of how he got involved in Witchcraft and why he has the expertise to impart knowledge of "the cult." He states his roles as an anthropologist and as the director of the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft in England. He also mentions that he had a long-time fascination with magic* and like subjects.

Gardner's explanation of how he got involve in the Witch cult, as he calls it, seems to imply that he joined the group almost by accident. "I found myself in the circle and took the usual oaths of secrecy...." I guess I found his explanation to be a little silly and wished he could have been more forth coming with his reasoning. Still, this chapter did answer several lingering questions I had regarding other things such as why Gardnerians worship naked, the use of the circle in ritual, and the necessity for a partner (as many these days are considered solitary Witches).

Why worship naked? That was one question that no one could seem to answer for me when I asked. A friend of mine told me that she didn't understand that part of the Gardnerian denomination and that was why she didn't belong to a group that was Gardnerian, even though she had been learning that path. She felt that when you go to worship, you should feel at your best, which for her was to be nicely dressed with full make-up.

What I read in the book regarding this issue, however, seems to make sense. Gardner states that this is how Witches release their energy. In other words, clothes will impede that release. He goes on to explain that if your mind believes that something will not work unless you do certain things (in this case, take of your clothes), it will not work. This sounds like a case of using superstitions as your logic, but I can understand his reasoning. The mind and body work together, and if your mind says no, so will your body.

Another question I had was regarding the use of a circle for the worship rituals. The space inside the circle is seen as being between worlds and is the domain of the Gods. I have heard many confusing details of why a circle is necessary, but I found out that it is to seal the energy in with the worshipers until it is ready to be formed to their will. Another thing that I find interesting is that people have said that you have to cut a doorway if you are walking out of the circle and to seal it once you are back in. In the book it just states that if you walk out of the circle you will lose some built up 'power' and to avoid doing so as much as possible.

As for the use of partners, he states "to form [a] battery of wills, male and female intelligences are necessary in couples." I am taking this to mean that to build up the right balance of energy, there needs to be both male and female energy. At the end of the chapter, he states that if you don't have time to learn the practice or have a suitable partner, don't take up Witchcraft. His discussion regarding a suitable partner was amusing, basically seeming to state that anybody that has similar interests and seems like a decent partner will work with only one exception: whatever you do, don't bring you maiden Aunt - even if she is a romantic.

*To those that have a habit of spelling magic with a "k", Gardner does not use the added letter to distinguish between the religious use of magic and stage magic.


Katherine Ayala said...

I've never read that book. hmmm.. I may have to look into it... let me know how it turns out and I'll let you know how it turns out with my book...

Cosette said...

Great post. One thing that struck me about this book is how much Gardner can't tell us because of his oaths; it seemed like a cop-out to me and I often got the impression that he couldn't tell us the reasons for certain things because he didn't know himself. And, by the way, it was Aleister Crowley who popularized the 'k" in magick.

As for the nudity, I still struggle with this. I really don't think it's necessary and I've yet to hear a strong argument for it. If your energy can't make it through flimsy fabric, it's never going to make it to its destination. It's the one thing that has kept me from being initiated and it bugs me to no end that my inability to get naked with other people closes so many doors.

Katherine Ayala said...

Personally, I don't have issue with nudity as long as the ritual is done with respect and it's not turned into a leering session. But I respect if anyone has a issue with it...Different strokes for different folks.

Rubicon said...

being a Witch with Taoist sensibilities I see the divine as a whole and not bits and parts. That means that wearing clothing doesn't detract from ritual or magic because they too are made of up energy. I also don't believe in cutting "magic doors" when leaving a circle. I agree that the circle is enhanced by will and intent but I don't believe that cutting a doorway will "magically" save the energy from dissipitating.

The Tao (divine) is everything. One of the first rules of physics is; energy cannot be created nor destroyed; only changed. That's why I don't create superstitious boundaries in my spiritual practice but then I tend to be more devotional as opposed to being into spellcraft etc.

Sojourner said...

Thanks everyone for your great comments!

LAPaganChick - I will be writing more about the book in the following days. Keep checking back! Also, I think that it a book that everyone should read if they want to know more about Wicca. It is, after all, the first published book on the subject.

Cosette - The same thing came to my mind as well. But another way to look at it is that Gardner still lived in a time where there was still much discrimination against Witches. Maybe he was worried that if he published more details people would come after him. There have been so many more details that have been published as people became a little more receptive to the idea of Witchcraft as a religion.

I agree with your point regarding the energy issue and nudity. I also agree that it is difficult to find just the right group to join.

bluemilk - Good point regarding circle energy and energy in general.

soleclaw said...

Wow! I love that you're reading this book! I haven't read it myself though I admit I feel that my understanding of Wicca and witchcraft depends on my knowledge of the different "denominations" like Gardnerian and Alexandrian.

I have to say thank you for reading it and writing about it. This will definately help me understand more, and further understand myself.

I can see where nudity could be seen as necessary by some if you take the energy aspect into consideration. But again, the will plays a huge role in the directing of energy and I see no problem in wearing clothing. I myself usually direct my energy out of my fingertips or head, and neither my hands or head are clothed. LOL

Sojourner said...

I'v noticed that many people say that they have read Starhawk and Adler but they haven't read this book.

I would highly recommend this book, but I think that it should be read after someone has the basic idea of the religion. The reason why I say this is that after getting an understanding of Paganism, people can think critically about some of the subjects presented in the book. I don't think that some people will truly understand it until they have a little backgroud in Wicca, especially some of the younger people (ie - teens) that are drawn to Paganism.

Soleclaw - Your comment makes me wonder how people direct their energy. As you said, your hands and head are not clothed, and in this case it would not present a problem. This may sound a little silly, but if Gardnerians are inhibited by clothing where do they direct their power from?