Recently, a friend texted me with the following question. Here is that question and my reply in more-or-less the text format of my responses.
I have heard that the Gardnerian tradition is pretty secretive. Is this true, and to what extent are those details secretive?
I can’t tell you, because it’s a secret!
The word “secret” is bandied about in magic and Wicca a lot. It makes things feel special or important.
Many Wiccan traditions (e.g., Blue Star) have “secrets” of their own. It’s not unique to Gardnerianism.
However, “secrecy” is the wrong word. I like to use words like “mystery.” Or even better, privacy.
For a moment, consider a classic two-person relationship.
Such a partnership may include secrets; for example, that one of them shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
But such secrets are actually respected, at least in our society. For example, someone cannot be legally forced to testify against their spouse.
Then there is privacy. In that two-person example, I usually refer as private those intimacies that make relationships work. They’re not juicily illegal like bank robbery. They’re the glue helps the partners stick together.
The typical case I mention are the names used for body parts. You and your partner(s) know who “Mr. Peabody” is, but I don’t.
To continue with that analogy, the English language has only so many terms, and there are only so many parts that we humans have. It’s quite possible that the language of intimacy used by partners in one relationship is the identical language used by other sets of partners.
And yet, if one of those partners started publicly sharing those intimacies with the world, that might hurt worse than blabbing that the other had shot that guy in Reno. This might be true even if they knew that everyone else in their neighborhood happened to have those exact same intimacies.
Now we circle back to Wicca and Gardnerianism, with that analogy in mind.
The “secrets” in Gardnerianism are actually privacies.
Yes, others may use them. But that doesn’t matter to us. They’re our private magical language, the Mysteries we use to preserve our magical connection with each other, as the intimacies I mentioned above preserve the romantic connection between partners.
Now, people have written about some of those privacies. The analogy I use here is to extend the intimate relationship language to relationship advice.
Let’s say I start giving relationship advice to other people. I write a book or give lectures on the topic. Maybe in those presentations, I say “Don’t be afraid to adopt nicknames for each others’ body parts.”
(Now you know why I’m not a world-famous relationship expert.)
Maybe someone in the audience will ask, “What kind of names would you suggest?” I might come up with some answer reflecting general human relationships and body parts. (See “Mr. Peabody” above.)
But what if that audience member asked instead, “What are the intimate names that YOU use in your relationship? I need to know what they are!”
Then I’d probably suspect that person of trying to force themselves into my relationship without putting in the work it takes to make any such personal connection function.
This is why most Gards consider books on general magical practice and ritual (e.g., anything by Deborah Lipp or Scott Cunningham) to be fine, but take a dim view of books that purport to reveal the inner secrets of the Wicca. If you want magic, it’s out there. If you want to be a Gardnerian, you have to find a Gard teacher and do the homework.
Back to Gardnerianism:
There are books out there that talk about Gardnerian “secrets” and “Mysteries.” Maybe they’re right, maybe not. I would not say.
Those Mysteries are part of the relationship that we Gards have with the Gods, with magic, and with each other. It’s what makes that connection special with us.
This aspect of religious and/or magical practice is not unique to Gardnerianism. Lots of groups do it. Maybe Blue Star does exactly the same thing that Gards do. Maybe not. A Blue Star High Priestess wouldn’t tell me, nor I her, any more than we’d exchange the intimacies of our relationships we have with our respective romantic partners.
Some folks think that knowing (or thinking that they know) about what Gards consider “secret” somehow gives them power, or at least makes them Gard. It doesn’t, no more than “Mr. Peabody” is a password that gets me into your relationship.
Still, it’s a common misconception that Gards have some special secret that makes their magic “better” in some way. Part of the reason for that is, well, Gards. Some act like having a Mystery makes one superior to religions that don’t use them as part of their practice.
To switch analogies in mid-stream, consider Christianity. In its early days, up until 400AD or so, many Christians weren’t baptized until their old age. Until they were baptized, they could not attend Mass.
Now people are baptized when they’re babies, and I (a literal heathen) can walk into St. Patrick’s Cathedral and get Communion if I wanted.
The faith is there, but the Mystery is gone.
Does this make Wicca better than Christianity, or vice versa? Of course not! But it does make them different.
Christianity is more popular, in part, because everyone and anyone can know what goes on. But popularity is not necessary a measure of spiritual power for everyone.
In the case of Christianity, it’s a general tenet of the faith that only those who are Christian get into Heaven. Hence there are no “gateways” to pass through to become Christian. They’d like everyone to get into Heaven (a laudable and generous goal) and have no barriers to worship.
In Wicca, we don’t believe that. Anyone can have spiritual enlightenment, and there are many different paths to achieve it.
In Gardnerian Wicca, part of the path to our particular brand of spiritual enlightenment is for us to have what we call privacies (accurate), Mysteries (to be mysterious), or “secrets” (if we’re arrogant). To walk that path, you have to pass through our gateways.
I’ve got no problem with us having gateways to our Mysteries, because if someone doesn’t like that we do, there’s plenty of other places they can go to achieve the same thing.
Now you know the True Secret of Gardnerianism, Mr. Peabody!