“The moment that you set foot upon the path of Witchcraft a call rings out in the unseen world announcing your arrival.” – Paul Huson
Back in 2018, my friend Chase asked me if he could borrow some books on Wicca. I wasn’t aware that he had an interest in the subject, but I was happy to be of assistance, and I loaned him a few titles that would give him a good historical overview and solid tips on creating a personal practice: Elements of Ritual by Deborah Lipp; The Rebirth of Witchcraft by Doreen Valiente; Lid Off the Cauldron by Patricia Crowther; The Tree by Raymond Buckland; Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham.
A year or so went by, during which time Wicca didn’t come up again in discussion, and I forgot who I loaned my books to and put a lot of effort into impotently wondering where they went. And then Chase called me one day and was all, “I keep googling Gardnerian Wicca in Houston, but the only thing that comes up is your blog.”
So I directed him to the Gardnerian Wicca Seekers and Initiates group on Facebook and suggested that he post an introduction. And a couple of months after that, he sent me a message that was all, “I don’t know why, but I feel almost mad at myself for being surprised that you’re the local High Priest I would have to contact to begin seeking.”
I had every confidence that he’d figure it out eventually and was not disappointed.
I wasn’t really in a place to take on students myself, but I still wanted to help, so I led him through a Pagan Way dedication ritual and then passed him off to a lovely married couple who had hived from my coven. And that was about the extent of my involvement.
Gardnerian covens are autonomous, so even though the group I introduced him to was downline from me, I don’t have any real authority over them — we’re not a pyramid scheme. I mean, I will certainly come running if there’s a problem that they’re unable to fix on their own (“So… we can’t get Chase’s eyes back in his head…”), but Trothwy and I trained them, and I trust them, so I knew he would be in good hands.
That was a little over a year ago. Last weekend, I was present for Chase’s initiation. And hoo boy, did that bring back some feelings.
I remember being right where he was, the excitement and manageable terror, anxious over what was about to happen but encouraged by the fact that everyone around me had been through the same thing and made it through unscathed. And I remember being both proud of myself and relieved that I survived the experience. Chase survived as well. And there was this glimmering microsecond of a moment when he went from Chase the seeker to Chase the Witch, and it was a privilege to witness that.
I’ve always done my best to convince other people that I don’t have human emotions, but I may or may not have gotten a little teary-eyed.
Leaky sockets aside, the world is a much different place than it was when I was initiated. And the rest of this post is going to suffer from a “Back in my day” miasma with which I’m not 100% comfortable, but… okay, back in my day, apprentices didn’t interact much with Gardnerians outside of their covens. We weren’t under gag orders or anything, but it was understood that we needed to focus on getting to know the Witches we’d be working with, and any questions or concerns we had should be directed to them.
When Chase and I met up prior to his initiation (we carpooled), the first thing he said to me was, “I need to touch your butt.”
“That… feels like a boundary,” I replied. “May I ask why?”
Seventeen years ago, social media was just taking off, and podcasts were barely a blip on the radar. Today, sending a seeker to a Facebook group means that they will probably develop relationships with initiates from literally all over the world, and as guides along their journey, there’s not much we can do to restrict the never-ending flow of information and communication. We can’t, like, pre-approve their friend requests. And that makes me feel like a parent having to let go of their children on the first day of school, which is the opposite of reassuring. But it does have an upside.
Prior to the advent of social media, this is how Gardnerians identified each other:
“Do we know anyone in the Detroit area named Shonda?”
“I personally do not. Who’s she supposed to be down from?”
“Huh. Let me make some phone calls.”
[nine hours later]
“Okay. Shonda is down from Felicity, who’s down from Lillian, who’s down from Johnette — she says hello, by the way — who’s down from Theresa, who’s down from Beth Ann…”
“Wait. Iowa Beth Ann, or Arkansas Beth Ann?”
“Arkansas. I’m getting to that. So Beth Ann is down from Nadine, who was originally initiated by that one guy — you know exactly who I’m talking about — but then she moved to Arkansas and got redone by Darryl, who’s down from Rosario, who’s down from Wilhelmina, who’s initiator was in the Long Island Coven.”
“Oh, okay. So she’s definitely family.”
“Looks like it.”
“Good to know.”
Now, here’s that same conversation today:
“Do we know anyone in the Detroit area named Shonda?”
“Yes! She’s family. I follow her on Instagram.”
The vouching and vetting process is a lot easier these days, and the frauds we used to have to wrangle with — Fraudnerians, we called them — have mostly scuttled away. And when I say “frauds,” I mean people who claimed to be Gardnerian when they weren’t. It used to happen all the time.
There was this woman somewhere in East Texas named Ravenweed who, upon realizing that there were no Gardnerian covens in her area, and therefore no one to contradict her, set herself up as the local Gardnerian High Priestess without any actual connection to the tradition. And she got away with it for a good long while. She used to send out email newsletters that would say things like, “Today is the Vernal Equinox: In the Gardnerian Tradition, this is when we celebrate the Morrigan in Her incarnation as the Norwegian Sun Goddess.”
It was bizarre, ridiculous stuff, but when questioned, she would be like, “I don’t owe anyone proof of who I am. If you don’t accept me as Gardnerian, then you’re the problem. You’re probably not even Gardnerian yourself.”
I cannot begin to describe how frustrating it was. And it wasn’t as if we could report her to, like, the Commission on Anti-Gardnerian Activities — all we could do was try to make our own presence known in the face of hers and hope that nobody believed her. Today, though, it’s like, “Hi, Ravenweed! I mentioned your name in a Facebook group, and there are no Gardnerians in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, or New Zealand who have ever heard of you. But tell me again how you’re the maligned, legitimate one in this situation.”
So that’s something Chase won’t have to deal with. He will have other challenges ahead of him, though. There’s somehow even more misinformation about Wicca floating around out there than there used to be, and at some point or another, someone will get all up in his Kool-Aid over him being one of those vile, elitist Gardnerians. His mouth is absolutely going to get him in trouble, and I am fully prepared for him to burst through my front door all, “PAGANS ARE YELLING AT ME,” at which point I will offer a comforting shoulder and a sympathetic ear.
On top of that, there will be times when the Gods hit him up like, “Hey, we need you to do this thing.” And he’ll be like, “Um… how?” And They’ll be like, “You’re a Witch, dude. Figure it out.” So that will be fun for him.
Will Chase be able to juggle his work life and private life and coven responsibilities and the online ire of Pagandom and the occasional Divine directive? Or will he flip out and go rogue and become the next great bane of the Tradition? There’s no way to know, unfortunately. As Gardnerians, the best we can do is love and trust our initiates, and hope that they love and trust us back. Everything else will just have to work itself out.
But I will say this.
He totally touched my butt.