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What thou wilt: Traditional and Innovative trends in Post-Gardnerian Witchcraft

Jon Hanna

First edition. Cathair na Mart: Evertype, 2010. ISBN 978-1-904808-43-5.
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What thou wilt

The publication from 1954 of Gerald Gardner’s non-fiction works on witchcraft has led to the current public existence of two different trends of religious and magical belief and practice, both which identify themselves as Wicca. One form places a strong emphasis upon the transmission of traditional practices and a form of initiatory lineage similar to that practised by Gardner himself. The other covers a wider range of views on each of these aspects, but with the most common position being a strong distance between the traditional practices—giving a greater importance to innovation—and a complete or near-complete abandon­ment of the concept of initiatory lineage.

Both trends often see themselves and each other as being within a wider religio-magical stream of Post-Gardnerian Pagan Witchcraft of which the innovative form is a larger part, though in different ways. The traditional view of the innovative form typically labels that form Eclectic even in cases where the practitioners would understand Eclectic differently, and considers it to be something outside of what it terms Wicca. The innovative form generally labels all Post-Gardnerian Pagan Witchcraft, or beyond, as Wicca, and as such recognizes all traditional practitioners as Wiccan but does not generally make more signi­fi­cant distinctions between the various schools.

The traditional stream considers the differences between the two streams as significant to the point of typicality while the innovative stream considers the differences as much less important. This book examines the differences and offers insights into both.


“He wrote the book.” This most unfair expression suggests an apotheosis of expertise. What conviction one must need to publish! Certainly more than I would have possessed without the encouragement of others.

In the course of this work, I touch briefly upon the problem of self-efficacy—of accurately judging one’s ability and achieve­ments. While relevant here only in passing, it is not just a fascinating and sometimes amusing problem, but also one of importance to us all: How do we assess our own works’ worth? Why do some believe themselves gifted in the face of evident failure, while some clearly talented people are racked with self-doubt, even as they are lauded? Most importantly, do not all of us both overestimate and underestimate our skills, as we move between different tasks?

Personally, I consider myself a fair writer while my fingers are upon a keyboard, and a poor one the moment I rest, to the extent that right now, I am inclined towards confidence in this preface and doubt in what follows.

It does not help that in the course of this book I mention so lucid a writer as Stewart Farrar. Nor that I mention Doreen Valiente, the great poetess of the Craft, who wears her laurels still, in the Summerlands. I mention polemicists like Dworkin whose words bleed compassion, scholars of great insight and erudition like Hutton and Heselton, and a great many popular writers who fired the imaginations of multitudes. And of course, I mention the founders of several Traditions of the Craft, including my own. Bringing such to the reader’s mind, I put my writing in the company of the writings of those others—a truly daunting prospect. I am just a witch with a book, a very common creature these days.

Hence, I must offer great thanks to all those who have so-far complimented this work, starting with witches ranging in experience from seeker to elder, interested outsiders, and finally to Michael Everson, who reversed the conventional process in which it is the author that tries to persuade the publisher that a book should be brought out. I would not have allowed myself to see as much value in this work without their encouragement.

The value I now allow myself to see, is in two places.

The first is in my original goal of describing by difference. The earlier descriptions of most modern witchcraft naturally assume a Christian or post-Christian audience, with little or no previous knowledge of the Craft, and address what is remarkable to that perspective. That we honour the divine feminine, that we per­form magic, that we have a non-Mosaic ethic, and that we work in small groups, were each remarkable to such an audience, as perhaps were some statements made to distance ourselves from the image of the accused devil-worshipper and the fairy-tale villainess. The value of this approach is obvious, but it is also limited. In assuming a reasonable knowledge of the Craft and drawing comparison not between it and the more widely-known religions, but between different forms of witchcraft now in existence, there is the opportunity to look at aspects of the Craft with a narrower focus. The insights on offer, to students of any form of witchcraft or to the interested outsider, in how we are different to each other, should differ from the now-familiar ways in which we are often compared to the largest religion in the West.

These insights should also, I hope, be different to some readers than they were to me. I own to my biases: I am an Alexandrian initiate with a great love for that Tradition, and though my writing here is informed by also working other forms of witch­craft, it is only from that position as an Alexandrian that I can speak. Yet if I have had even middling success in objectively, then there will be cases of my describing how innovations differ from the traditions we keep to, where those who have a similar love for those innovations will feel they have the advantage in the comparison. I like to imagine that a reader from outside of the New  Forest-descended Traditions will, at least once, find it puzzling that I seem to them to be describing their practice more favourably than my own.

At the very least, I would hope that if I nowhere achieve such a balance as to allow this, that they will feel I have given them their due.

The differences within modern witchcraft—not just across the line between Innovative and Traditional, but within each of them, and between them and those that owe little to Gardner—often tend to be expressed in terms of polarization, disdain, and rumour. Within modern Paganism we often commend ourselves for our tolerance, and it would be nice to believe that our peaceful record doesn’t lie solely in our lack of the army or navy needed to commit atrocities. Yet this oft-vaunted tolerance is not always in evidence. At the same time, to seek it in a self-imposed silence, to “just get along”, is no solution either. What it leaves unsaid, it leaves unfinished. It can only postpone disagreements, not clarify them.

It seems clear to me, when I have witnessed such disagree­ments, that parties are often talking at cross-purposes to an extent often unclear to at least one of them. We have enough differences within modern witchcraft to harbour very different views, but we are close enough neighbours to use very similar language, albeit often in sharply differing ways. The effect is to lead to false senses of consensus, and misunderstandings of the other’s position, that makes each other’s perspectives seem less reasonable than they are. Such misunderstanding of another’s meaning is beloved of the writers of situational comedy, but considerably less enjoyable anywhere else. For example, I explain in the course of this work why much that is new in witchcraft seems to me more dogmatic than Traditional Wicca, yet that Traditional Wicca is often seen as the more dogmatic is a widely-attested viewpoint. Since witches of both forms value their lack of dogma—to the extent that the term dogma becomes invective—it is not fruitful to simply refer to each other as such. Nor is it fruitful to think of each other as such, but not say it, or worse still, to say it only in private. The only prospect for a tolerant view of each other is to understand the differing perspectives that lead to this difference. We must seek not to always agree, but to understand the nature of our disagreements. If this volume can help this, then that is the second place I see value in it.

And maybe elsewhere too. I am a young witch, and as such, inclined to look at my future in the Craft as stretching ahead for quite some distance. Hopefully, some way along this path, taking another look at what I present here, I will not find too much embarrassment, and will myself take from it some fresh insight or value, that my younger self has placed in these sentences unbeknownst to me now.

I must give considerable thanks to Barbara Lee and Gavin Morrison, for many reasons, but especially for asking a student to write an essay, and not getting too annoyed when enthusiasm for his subject led to him presenting something much longer than anticipated.

Among other examples of their hospitality, Radella Corbin’s coven took me on a fruitful shopping trip that allowed me to acquire some research material at low Canadian prices. (Or maybe I just spend money more freely when not my own currency.) Radella was later to provide many useful comments on an earlier draft of this work, of which making me aware of the work of Lugones and Rosezelle stands out as particularly strength­ening one section. Any remaining weaknesses, there or elsewhere, are of course my own.

As indeed are all opinions expressed, and those acknowledged here may not agree with them.

Finally, my beloved Joanna must be thanked for many things, particularly for her patience when I would say, “Just a minute, when I’m finished this bit,” and she knew better than I, that I would take considerably longer.

Jon Hanna
Dublin, Samhain 2009

Table of Contents

1 On Wicca and Wicca
  • 1.1 What’s in a Name?
  • 1.2 Drawing Lines
2 Traditions in the Craft and Traditions of the Craft
  • 2.1 Denominations
  • 2.2 The Prevalence of Craft Traditions
  • 2.2.1 The Wiccan Rede
  • 2.2.2 Wiccan Prehistory
  • 2.2.3 Tools
  • 2.2.4 Initiation
  • 2.2.5 Coven Government
  • 2.2.6 Male–Female Pairings
  • 2.2.7 The Five-Fold Kiss
  • 2.2.8 Drawing Down the Moon & The Charge of the Goddess
  • 2.2.9 Feast Days
  • 2.2.10 Monetary Reward
3 Books, Books of Shadows, and Cultural Transmission
  • 3.1 The Book of Shadows
  • 3.2 Orthopraxies, Orthodoxies, and Heterodoxies
4 Training, Standards, and the Anti-Fluffy Backlash
  • 4.1 Standards and Training
  • 4.2 Self-Efficacy
  • 4.3 The Anti-Fluffy Backlash
5 Nature Religions and Fertility Religions
6 The Politicization of the Craft
  • 6.1 Traditional Wicca and Politics
  • 6.2 The Witch as Radical
  • 6.3 Feminist Histories of Witchcraft
  • 6.3.1 Mythological Elements in Feminist Witchcraft
  • 6.3.2 The Burning Times
  • 6.3.3 Matriarchal Prehistory
  • 6.3.4 Sisterhood
  • 6.3.5 Criticism of Feminist Witchcraft
  • 6.4 The Witch as Environmentalist
7 The ID Wars, Teen Witches, and Popular Culture
  • 7.1 The Identity Warriors
  • 7.2 Teen Witches
  • 7.3 Bubblegum for the Eyes
8 National and Tribal Cultures as Source Text
9 Sex and Sexual Politics
10 Churches, Incorporation, and Ministries
11 Conclusion
  • 11.1 Identity Politics and Teens
  • 11.2 Apolitical Traditions Revisited
  • 11.3 The Value of Lip Service
  • 11.4 Sexuality
  • 11.5 Expectations
  • 11.6 Nature
  • 11.7 The W-Word
HTML Michael Everson, Evertype, 73 Woodgrove, Portlaoise, R32 ENP6, Ireland, 2010-02-01

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