Chapter The Sources of Wiccan Ritual

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egardless of the conflicting historical claims about whether there was ever a "real" coven into which Gardner was initiated, it is very clear from his own notes that he could have created the root liturgy of what was to become known as Wicca from available published sources and his own experiences in other Western occult organizations (books from several of which are known to have been in his personal library). I have studied the first draft materials found in Gardner's Ye Bok (see Chapter 9), which he eventually developed into the first Book of Shadows. There is simply nothing within its pages that can be demonstrated to be a remnant of a surviving underground British Paleopagan religion.

There is a saying among scholars, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," and generally this is true. However, in the field of liturgical design, missing evidence becomes quite important. People writing rituals almost always start by reworking ceremonial materials with which they are already familiar. As one example, the liturgies of the Episcopal and Lutheran churches resemble those of the Roman Catholic Church from which they sprung. For another, the rituals that Aleister Crowley wrote for his branch of the Ordo Templi Orientis — an offshoot of the Masons that he turned into a more magically "oriented" group — incorporate phrases and actions found in the older rituals of the Masons, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the initiation rites of the pre-Crowlean O.T.O. For a third example (which, of course, "proves all"), most of the early rituals of the Druid organization I founded, Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship (ADF), included segments from the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA) rituals I had learned years before; some of them, at least as I perform them, still do.

The earliest versions of Gardner's initiatory and liturgical scripts, as written by him in Ye Bok, are filled with obvious borrowings from Freemasonry, the Renaissance "Goetic" grimoires (magical books), the writings of Crowley, etc. There are no prayers, incantations, ritual actions, or liturgical patterns that reflect any sources other than the (Judeo-Christian) Western mainstream of occult tradition, the then-available published materials on anthropology and folklore, some tantric methods he could easily have picked up in the Far East or through Crow-ley, and some poetry lifted from Kipling and Yeats. If Gardner had attended rites with genuinely Paleopagan elements in England, even if he were forbidden to put secret words and phrases down on paper, Paleopa-gan patterns of worship should be visible in his private notes, yet they are not.

The authenticity of Gardner's "apostolic succession" from a Secret Underground Coven therefore becomes irrelevant. If there was a "real" coven that trained Gardner, the members of it apparently didn't show or tell him much of anything liturgical that was genuinely ancient or Pagan. This, however, may not matter much.

Gardner was extremely creative. He changed the Goetic magical techniques to make them usable by small groups of people instead of solitary magicians. He rewrote the first three Masonic initiations to make them applicable to both men and women (or stole them from the Co-Masons). He made sensuality and eroticism a central part (at least in theory) of his new/old religion by borrowing tantric techniques and symbolism. Finally, and most importantly, early in the 1950s he added Dion Fortune's syncretic theology of I sis and Osiris ("All gods are one God and all goddesses are one Goddess") and other polytheistic elements to make his creation genuinely Pagan — albeit Mesopagan. Around 1954, all of the notes he had made during the 1940s and early 1950s were transferred to a new book which became the first official Book of Shadows, and Ye Bok was retired to the back of a file cabinet, where it would lie forgotten for twenty years.

Whatever their origins, the first versions of the Wiccan rituals (especially those for the holidays) were extremely sparse, being usually only a page or two of text. Following Gardner's advice that "it is ever better to do too much ritual than too little," the members of his new religion added materials to them. Over the years, the rites have expanded considerably, with enormous variations in detail but with the same liturgical structure usually being more-or-less retained.

Of course, Gerald also wrote in his personal BOS, according to Lamond, "As you gain in experience you can gradually reduce the amount of ritual and eventually drop it altogether. But newcomers must always be made to experience and practice the full rituals." So you may feel free to take the following chapters with a few grains of consecrated salt.

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