Originally, I had planned to write about the intersection of gender and paganism, particularly from the perspective of my two traditions: Gardnerian Wicca and Kemetic Orthodoxy. But that’s a really heavy and heady discussion and it’s finals week, so instead I figured I would write about Gardnerian Wicca. Recently, I participated in a book club that surveyed Wicca from a traditional perspective using authors who were themselves, traditional Wiccans, and much of the discussion generated focused on the differences between Traditional Wicca and eclectic or neo-Wicca, so I figured I would continue that discussion here.
Gardnerian Wicca is an orthopraxy; not an orthodoxy.
Gardnerian Wiccans are bound together by a shared praxis. Gardnerian Wiccans share the same ritual system that has been handed down through the generations. Gardnerian Wiccans share in a constellation of common rites and practices that are recognizable by all of their initiates.
However, as an orthopraxy (and not an orthodoxy), there is very little that Gardnerian Wiccans all share in belief. No two Gardnerian Witches will believe the same thing and the system, itself, that is, the religion of Wicca, does not prescribe a particular set of beliefs which all members must share. Indeed, Gardnerian Wiccans who worship in the same rites may have entirely different beliefs on what is occurring, why, and how.
Unlike neo-Wicca for which in any book you can find chapters detailing what Wiccans believe about the Gods, the Universe, morality and ethics, magick, or the Afterlife, Gardnerian Wicca is an experiential religion. Gardnerian Wicca does not teach what to believe but how to experience.
Gardnerian Wicca has two traditional deities.
Gardnerian Wiccans work with two specific deities whose names are oath-bound. These Gods have specific attributes, titles, and lore. They are not interchangeable with other Gods and Goddesses; They are, as Gardner describes Them, “tribal gods.”
This is in stark contrast to neo-Wicca wherein one can mix-and-match Gods and Goddesses from various cultures as one might fancy. The pervasive idea throughout neo-Wiccan paradigms is that all Gods are one God and all Goddesses are one Goddess and as such it does not matter which God or Goddess you invoke in any rite. Also, the common duality of Goddess as Mother and the God as Son and Consort is not Gardnerian.
Gardnerian Wicca does not teach “harm none.”
Those first learning about Wicca, especially from published self-study books (i.e., neo-Wicca), will be very familiar with the concept of the Rede and it is often presented to the reader as a fundamental belief. In fact, it’s not uncommon for it to be written of as law a of the religion to which all Wiccans must or should adhere. However, this is far from the case. While Gardnerian Wicca does feature the Rede, it is not treated as a law.
The Rede (“An it harm none do what ye will”) is an adage, a piece of advice or counsel, which any Witch would be wise to heed. It is not a prohibition that tells the Witch (s)he cannot harm. In fact, the Rede only offers the advice that if an action does not harm, one should go for it. It does not say that you cannot harm. Indeed, the Rede is mute on harmful actions. (But more on that for letter M or R, perhaps!)
Gardnerian Wicca’s “Threefold Law” isn’t about punishment.
The idea of the Threefold Law as a moral belief in which “what energy one puts out into the Universe comes back threefold”, that is, if one puts out bad, then the Universe/the Gods/karma bad will return to individual magnified by three times, is not something commonly found among many Gardnerian Wiccans. In fact, I have yet to meet a single Gardnerian Wiccan who actually believes in this interpretation of the Threefold Law. And, indeed, I, personally find the Threefold Law a bit of ridiculous amorality (read more about how the Threefold Law is not moral here.)
Gardnerian Wiccans don’t celebrate Mabon.
Admittedly, this one is not entirely true. You will find that “Mabon” is not a name that is commonly used for the Autumnal Equinox amongst Gardnerian Wiccans and many, in fact, have a bit of disdain for it. Instead, this holiday is often referred to by its traditional names: Harvest Home or (*drum roll*) the Autumn Equinox.
There are a great number of differences between Gardnerian Wicca and other varieties and the above only represents a small sample of those differences.