26th August 1987
Dear Tessa and Glyn,
These rites which I send you are ideas and suggestions, nothing more. Once you have grasped the basic principles of any ritual, you can create your own. In witchcraft, there is no dogma, no set liturgy. Instead, there are traditions. Once you have understood them, it is up to you. The Craft will live through you, and through what you bring to it. And it is these traditions, these eternal themes, which I want to convey. You will find them referred to by other writers on the Craft, and sometimes you will see them in mythology and folklore. So read widely and learn everything you can on the subject of witchcraft and Paganism. Learn, as well, the related disciplines of divination, trancework, natural philosophy, herb magic, the properties of plants and trees and all countryside lore. You will then develop your own feelings about, for example, the spring equinox and how it should be celebrated. In time, you will develop your own style. This is the strength of witchcraft. Its roots are in the oldest religion and yet it is created anew, by each individual witch, every time it is practised.
Witches of the Gardnerian and Alexandrian school (that is, the modern mainstream of British witchcraft) have certain fixed and definitive forms for many of their rites. Yet the structure and definition are not so final that they do not permit a creative improvisation and alteration. This is as it should be, for a religion which had crystallized would be dead. There must always be room for change.
These ’mainstream’ rites are based on handed-down material expanded and developed by Gerald Gardner, a precursor of the first wave of the Pagan revival. Following the repeal of the Witchcraft Act, in 1951, he was able to make public certain old teachings which became the basis of much modern witchcraft. His followers are called Gardnerians.
Alexandrian witches work in a manner initiated by a couple, Alex and Maxine Sanders, and constructed on the foundation of Gardnerian ritual, but with amendments. Alexandrian rites and beliefs have been extensively described by Pagan writers, Janet and Stewart Farrar. Their books and those of Gerald Gardner, and of his original High Priestess Doreen Valiente, who wrote or adapted many passages in Gardner’s final Book of Shadows, producing a coherent and consistent whole, give a comprehensive introduction to the ideals and practices of ’Wicca’ (modern witchcraft). They are all worthwhile reading for any apprentice witch, in spite of the fact that they teach mostly about the structure of ritual for covens.
The Gardnerian rituals and teachings are authentically traditional. The basics were handed on to Gardner by the New Forest coven which had initiated him. Nevertheless, there is no such thing as holy writ or law in witchcraft. The whole Pagan world owes an immense debt to Gardner and to Doreen Valiente for the richness and the inspiration of their Book of Shadows, and for the feeling of heritage which it gives to all witches, even to those like us, who may draw upon it but work in other ways. However, it is not the last word.
There are many schools of witchcraft in existence, many organized forms of teaching, which are increasingly available. The followers of each one, in the past, would have been happy to tell you that theirs was the best, or even the Only True Way to become a real witch. Some would still do so now. Don’t listen to them.
This letter is to say, Don’t take anyone’s word as the last, least of all mine. Listen to everybody, and then let yourself be guided into doing things in your own way.
Blessings on your search for knowledge. May it lead you to yourself.
Perhaps you are wondering about my story, about how I came to be a witch? Was I initiated, and by whom? But if self-initiated, at whose suggestion and because of whose teachings?
Well, I was once associated with an Alexandrian coven, though not fully initiated. I have never been through full initiation into any coven, and I would not wish to. The Alexandrians whom I knew were kind and informative but I felt that their way was not for me. It was not what I had meant, when I first knew that I was going to become a witch. On the advice and with the help of a Gardnerian High Priest, a friend, I broke all links with them and returned to the solitary path of Self-Initiation which I had initially chosen. Since then, I have been helped by many people, either through their books or through conversation. The work of Marian Green, teacher of village witchcraft, has been a big influence. So have Starhawk’s books. And so have the beliefs and the occult fiction of my life-partner, Cole. And then there is Rowena, Gardnerian priestess, whose aspirations and life direction have taken her from a coven and into the role of solitary wisewoman. Her words have often helped me to become clear about my own direction. Weaving through all this and leading to or identifying the next strand, there has always been inner guidance.
Nowadays, it sounds corny to declare ’I was guided’ to this, that or the other person, book or idea. However, I was. Without these inner contacts, all ideas are arid intellectual concepts, lacking real resonance for the person who finds them. And, as any true witch will tell you, it is this inner experience, this access to psychic reality behind the concepts and the ritual observances, that makes a witch.
So if a witch is what you truly are, you will develop these contacts. Others will help you to do so. That is my own aim, to put you in touch with Pagan inner realms. For those who have been on this path before, it need not take much to achieve this.
Wise and blessed be,