• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


The Ardanes - analysis by Oakseer

Page history last edited by Yvonne 3 years, 3 months ago

Gerald Gardner, Old Words and the Old Laws

By Oakseer


(originally published on the New Wiccan Church website in 2004. Recovered from the Wayback Machine on 2021-02-15)


The origins of Gardnerian Wicca1 have been the subject of controversy since Gerald Gardner’s description of the religion in Witchcraft Today in 1954. The primary question has been, "What was Gardner’s actual role? Was he inventor, reformer or merely transmitter of the ‘tradition’ he practiced and preached?" Although four decades of debate have failed to settle this subject, I hope to shed some light on one small corner of the argument.

Gardner claimed that he received initiation and training from an old coven of Witches in the New Forest area of England. Unfortunately, circumstances have placed serious obstacles in the way of our learning whether this is true:

  • We lack first-hand collaboration of Gardner's claims: No other member of the original "New Forest coven", from which Gardner claimed to have gotten his teachings, has ever come forth to confirm or deny his account, and as time goes on and people die, this becomes ever more unlikely. We have Gardner's word alone that the coven even ever existed.
  • We have no independent documentary evidence: Gardner said the New Forest coven was extremely secretive, since known Witches were (and still are) subjected to any kind of harassment. The last thing the Witches wanted was the kind of careful documentation needed to settle historical questions.
  • Gardner himself, who was anything but secretive at times, cannot be considered a completely reliable source: Despite his casting of Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft as anthropological studies, there is good reason to believe Gardner’s priority was his vision of reviving the Craft, rather than providing a scientifically accurate depiction of it.

Despite these handicaps, there is much that can and should be discovered from the data that is available. Much of my own work has involved examining the evidence available in the published material by and about Gardner: his two non-fiction works, Witchcraft Today and Meaning of Witchcraft, the biography, Gerald Gardner, Witch, by Gardner’s associate, Jack Bracelin.2 I have been attempting to determine whether there is any internal evidence in Gardner’s books that would either increase or decrease the credibility of his claims.

One argument that Gardner's detractors have made is that all of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows (BoS) documents could have been created by Gardner himself, using his rather extensive library of Witchcraft and occult subjects. The validity of this argument is open to question, since the age of a religion need not necessarily be judged by the age of its texts. The earliest texts of the New Testament, for example, are now believed to have been written decades after the events they describe. Still, since Gardner did claim that some of the material he passed on to his students was copied from his original High Priestess' book, finding evidence that any part of the Book of Shadows predates Gardner would be a step towards refuting his critics.

I believe I have found some of this evidence in examining a document called "The Old Laws" (also called the "Craft Laws" and the "Ordains") in light of the published material. "The Old Laws" is possibly the oldest document in the Gardnerian Book of Shadows3 and certainly the most controversial. It is also notable in a number of other respects, compared to the other published materials of Gardnerian Witchcraft:4

  • It is the only document in the published portions of the Book that contains more than superficially archaic language.
  • It is the only document containing references to the legal persecution of Witches as a contemporary phenomenon.
  • It is one of only four known documents in the BoS that contains "theological" material, and the only one of two which is not known to be of recent origin in its present form.5
  • It is the primary document containing information about how covens are organized and operated.

Because of its language and the references to the legal persecution of Witches, if the contents of "The Old Laws" are authentic, they would suggest that a form of witchcraft ancestral to today's has been practiced for centuries. Necessarily, this is a very long "if", since the debunkers of Gardnerian Witchcraft consider "The Old Laws" to be no more than a complicated forgery perpetrated by Gardner.

Certainly, the circumstances under which the document was first seen look extremely suspicious. Doreen Valiente describes the situation in her book The Rebirth of Witchcraft.6 In 1957, a disagreement had broken out between Gardner and some of the members of his coven over Gardner's penchant for indiscrete interviews with the press. Doreen Valiente, the coven's High Priestess, had felt that he was compromising both the security of the group and the integrity of his own teachings. She and another fellow covener attempted to resolve the situation by creating a set of rules for the group, called the "Proposed Rules for the Craft"7, which included:

No member of the Craft will give any information or interview about the Craft to any journalist or writer, or cause any such information to be published in any way, without the approval of the Elders, nor will any of the Elders do so without the approval of the rest of the Elders.

A further rule pointedly indicated that Gardner himself was specifically expected to follow these new rules:

It will be understood by all members that these rules are equally binding upon all Grades of the Craft, including the Elders, and that serious and/or persistent breach of these rules will be grounds for expulsion.

As a reply, Gardner claimed that these "Proposed Rules" were unneeded, since the Craft already had a set of traditional laws. He then sent his coveners "The Old Laws", a rambling document containing rules, cautions, practical advice and a smattering of theology. Ms. Valiente doubted the authenticity of these "The Old Laws" and strongly opposed them. She subsequently parted ways with Gardner for several years.8

Gardner apparently continued to give out these laws as part of the BoS, since they are often found in published material about the craft.9 Unfortunately, none of these published versions appear to be identical with the original as Ms. Valiente describes it. To a greater or lesser extent, the language has been modernized from the apparent original, often along with additions and misspellings. Were it not for a very unusual circumstance, we would not have what seems to be a copy of this original to analyze.

In 1977, Aidan Kelly was a student at the Berkeley Theological Union in California. As part of his coursework he chose to write a paper on the history of the Craft. Kelly was unusually fortunate in having made connections with Ripley's International, an entertainment company which had purchased the contents of Gardner's Museum of Witchcraft and Magic from his heirs. He was also was a friend of Issac Bonewits, who was working as an editor for Llewellyn Publications, the well-known occult publishing house.

During a visit to Ripley's, Kelly uncovered a previously unknown manuscript of Gardner's, "Ye Bok of Ye Arte Magickal," (BAM) which contained apparently early material, possibly before Gardner chose to use "Book of Shadows" as the title of Witches' books.10 He also found, in the Llewellyn archives, a collection of Gardnerian materials that had been sent to Llewellyn's owner Carl Weschcke by a student of Gardner's. Kelly was able to deduce that these papers had actually come directly from Gardner, since they appeared to have typed on the same typewriters that Gardner used in his correspondence with Weschcke himself. They also contain corrections in what appeared to be Gardner's own hand. Weschcke's correspondent subsequently confirmed this.

The result of Kelly's researches was a book-length manuscript, "The Rebirth of Witchcraft: Tradition and Creativity in the Gardnerian Reform". Eventually Llewellyn published a version of this manuscript in 1991 as Crafting the Art of Magic, Book I, the first volume of proposed multi-volume history of modern Wicca and Paganism.

Unfortunately, (I believe) Crafting the Art of Magic has many defects in its logic. Worse, as Don Frew of the Covenant of the Goddess has demonstrated,11 in Kelly's supposed transcriptions of the manuscripts he found numerous errors. (One of these errors has recently caused two articles to seriously misrepresent the history of the "Charge of the Goddess".12)

Fortunately, Kelly's original manuscript was circulated around the Pagan community for some years before it reached published form. I have been able to examine a copy and compare its contents with some of the material he quotes. Strangely enough, I have discovered the manuscript to be quite accurate in quoting the BAM where the book is not. (Why Kelly allowed these errors to appear in Crafting the Art of Magic is unknown.) For this reason, I feel cautiously confident that the version of "The Old Laws" in Kelly's original manuscript is sufficiently accurate to base an analysis on.13

Many who have looked at the minor piece of Craft history mentioned above feel it is not unreasonable to suspect Gardner of inventing "The Old Laws" as a piece of political ammunition, a wonderful document that just "happens" to turn up at the right time. Their suspicions essentially revolve around four problems with the text and its timing:

At this point, Gardner had already been giving materials to his group for several years. If these Old Laws were genuine, why hadn't anyone seen them before?

Producing a "new" old document at this time could be seen as a power play on Gardner's part to assert his authority, especially since some of the Old Laws were seen at the time to enhance Gardner's authority as High Priest at the expense of High Priestess Valiente.

Many of the provisions of the Old Laws overlap or seem very similar to some of those in the "Proposed Rules"¾ enough so that it has even been suggested that Gardner used the "Proposed Rules" as a rough draft for the Old Laws. (Aidan Kelly, particularly, has proposed that Gardner created "The Old Laws" by using the "Proposed Rules" as a framework and "salting" the document with old words looked up in a reference book, probably the Oxford English Dictionary.)

If "The Old Laws" were really old, why is so much of the language so uneven? Some of the words and usages seem old, while others are obviously modern. Some parts even appear to have merely a thin veneer of pseudo-archaicism added later.

A closer examination, though, reveals weaknesses in all of these arguments: Even if Gardner did not choose to give the Old Laws to his people for several years, there is still plenty of evidence that he had at least some of them before then. A large portion of the document is either quoted or paraphrased in Witchcraft Today.14 One reason for the delay, I suspect, is that the Old Laws appear to have been not one document, but a collection of lore that originally was in a number of separate documents. These may have been copied by Gardner from material shown him by the New Forest coven and only assembled years later, when Gardner felt he had a need for a one-piece set of rules. This is not necessarily a unique occurrence: in his published works, Gardner cites teachings he claims to have heard from the Witches of the New Forest coven which do not seem to have any counterpart in the modern Craft. Modern Wicca (at least in the American branches) stresses that students receive all the material that their teachers received; such an injunction may not have existed in Gardner's time. Also, as will be seen, he may have delayed assembling the Old Laws and passing them out because he would have then had to explain why he himself had never followed them exactly.

While Gardner's timing of the Old Laws raises a reasonable suspicion, the idea that they were simply a political ploy does not stand up to scrutiny either. The argument between Gardner and his coven members was mainly about Gardner's habit of talking about the Craft to the press. "The Old Laws," rather than allowing Gardner to do whatever he wanted, is much more restrictive than the proposed rules his coveners had come up with. Where the "Proposed Rules" restrict interviews with journalists, "The Old Laws" absolutely forbid talking about the Craft to anyone! They also give near absolute authority to the High Priestess, who in this case was Gardner's principal political opponent. (With respect, I suggest that at the time Ms. Valiente was sufficiently angry with Gardner that she did not read "The Old Laws" closely enough to see this.) If Gardner had wanted to give himself more latitude, he surely would have written something else!

That the Old Laws and the "Proposed Rules" should look very similar should also be no surprise. In her The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente implies that the "security" provisions in the "Proposed Rules" were largely based on what Gardner had already taught them; the new rules were to make Gardner follow his own teachings. These teachings, in turn, might very well have had their origin in the Old Laws themselves (or the documents that originally contained them).

Finally, the language in "The Old Laws" might be what is expected, given documents (purportedly) created during the 16th or 17th century and haphazardly modernized.15

* * *

There are several stories I have heard that are supposed to account for Gardner writing portions of the Old Laws. The first is that when Doreen Valiente and her followers left Gardner's coven and started their own, they asked Gardner if they could continue meeting in the old coven's covenstead. Gardner reportedly turned them down, citing the Old Laws:

It be ardane that each Coven shall not know where the next Coven bide, or who its members are save the Priest and Priestess.

If the story is true, this may have been mean-spirited on Gardner's part, but he certainly did not make up the idea for the occasion. This had already been spelled out in Witchcraft Today, years before the coven split:

They deliberately never know where the next coven is. If they do not know, they cannot tell, for who knows when the persecution may break out again?16

Doreen Valiente said that she believed that Gardner wrote some of the provisions into the Old Laws specifically so that he could replace her with another woman as High Priestess of the group. It is true that the Old Laws specify:

And the greatest virtue of a High Priestess is that she recognizes that youth is necessary to the representative of the Goddess, so that she will retire gracefully in favour of a younger woman, should the Coven so decide in Council.

But the laws are not giving Gardner the power to depose or appoint High Priestesses here. The rest of the coven would have had to agree. Further, the Old Laws make his position as High Priest even more tenuous:

And the High Priestess shall rule her Coven as representative of the Goddess, and the High Priest shall support her as the representative of the God. And the High Priestess shall choose whom she will, if he have sufficient rank, to be her High Priest.

* * *

Having seen that "The Old Laws" gave Gardner no great advantage, another question comes up. Was he even capable of writing them? An examination of Gardner's published writings leads me to believe that he was not. Despite his considerable intellectual accomplishments in other fields, it appears that Gardner was singularly inept in understanding archaic English. His numerous errors in Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft lead me to believe that he did not understand some of the words in the Old Laws and therefore was unlikely to have written them. To illustrate this, I have gathered together some examples of Gardner's apparent ignorance. My first example, which appears in Witchcraft Today and is nearly an exact quote from the Old Laws, is sometimes called "The Warning":

Keep a book in your own hand of write. Let brothers and sisters copy what they will but never let this book out of your hand, and never keep the writings of another, for if it be found in their hand of write they will be taken and tortured. Each should guard his own writings and destroy them whenever danger threatens. Learn as much as you may by heart and when danger is past rewrite your book. For this reason if any die, destroy their book if they have not been able to do so, for if it be found, 'tis clear proof against them. "Ye may not be a witch alone," so all their friends be in danger of the torture, so destroy everything unnecessary. If your book be found on you, it is clear proof against you; you may be tortured.

Keep all thoughts of the cult from your mind. Say you had bad dreams, that a devil caused you to write this without your knowledge. Think to yourself, "I know nothing; I remember nothing; I have forgotten all." Drive this into your mind. If the torture be too great to bear, say: "I will confess. I cannot bear this torment. What do you want me to say? Tell me and I will say it." If they try to make you tell of the Brotherhood, do not, but if they try to make you speak of impossibilities, such as flying through the air, consorting with the Devil, sacrificing children or eating man's flesh, say: "I had evil dreams, I was not myself, I was crazed."

Not all magistrates are bad. If there be an excuse they may show mercy. If you have confessed aught, deny it afterwards; say you babbled under the torture, you knew not what you did or said. If you be condemned, fear not, the Brotherhood is powerful, they may help you to escape if you are steadfast. If you betray aught--THERE IS NO HELP FOR YOU IN THIS LIFE, OR IN THAT WHICH IS TO COME. If you go steadfast to the pyre, DRUGS WILL REACH YOU and you will feel naught, but will go to death and what lies beyond, the Ecstasy of the Goddess.

The same with the working tools. Let them be as ordinary things that anyone may have in their homes. Let the Pentacles be of wax that they may be melted or broken at once. Have no sword unless your rank allows you one. Have no names or signs on anything, write the names and signs on in ink before consecrating them and wash it off immediately after. Never boast, never threaten, never say you wish ill to anyone. If any speak of the craft, say: "Speak not to me of such, it frightens me, 'tis evil luck to speak of it."17

Because it refers to the execution of witches by burning, Gardner said he believed the passage originated on the Continent rather than England, since the English mostly hanged witches. He thought it had been "roughly translated into English." As an afterthought, he adds, "It might have been written in Scotland, but the Scots would have worded it more clearly, I think." Gardner thought of Scotland, I presume, because the Scots also burned Witches.

After reading Gardner's comments, I re-read "The Warning," trying to understand why Gardner thought it "roughly translated." Certainly, the last paragraph seems out of place, perhaps belonging after "so destroy everything unnecessary" in the first. Otherwise, the only thing that stands out is the phrase, "hand of write," which does, at first glance, look like something a Frenchman (for instance) might have written. Is this what Gardner thought the Scots would have worded more clearly? If so, Gardner is exactly wrong, because "hand of write," according to the Oxford English Dictionary, turns out to be specifically an old Scots expression.18

A similar case occurs in Meaning of Witchcraft. Here Gardner claims that he was told about an old "witch language" which no one really knew how to speak any more, but had left a legacy of strange-sounding words, including "halch," "dwale," "warrik" and "ganch." Gardner felt these "seem to belong to some older tongue."19 Actually, this "older tongue" is simply the English of other times—each of these words can easily be found in the Oxford English Dictionary.20 As an aside, I have never found most of these words in published (or unpublished, for that matter) books on Gardnerian Witchcraft, again indicating material that Gardner never passed to his students. One exception is "dwale"—one of the many archaic words that occur in the "The Old Laws".

Some might object that I am seeing only what Gardner wanted his readers to see, that he thought his material might somehow seem more authentic if the reader was able to discover information in it that Gardner seemingly missed. This super-cunning view of Gardner seems to appeal to some, particularly Aidan Kelly, although it is very unlike the portrait of Gardner in the published recollections of those who knew him.21

In any case, although Gardner would not have any reason to make these kinds of "mistakes" other than when writing about Craft teachings, he certainly does so. In a chapter in Witchcraft Today devoted to the Knights Templars and their demise, Gardner compares what is known of their beliefs with those of the Witches. In particular, he mentions that a cord used as a cincture had significance for both witches and Templars. To indicate that others had noted the Templars' use of these cords, he quotes the medieval Chronicle of St. Denis: "In their girdles was their mahommerie." [italics mine] Gardner explains:

It has been said that this meant that they were secretly Mohammedans; but to charge them with embracing Mohammedanism would have been the most damning charge, and it was never even hinted at. In those times a Mammot was used to denote a doll or an idol and Mahommerie would mean, "having to do with idols".22

Once again Gardner is wrong about an old word. "Mahommerie" has nothing to do with idols, but is an old word for mosque.23 This time, though, there is no reason to doubt that he meant what he wrote, since it's not dealing with the teaching of witchcraft at all, but with an old Christian chronicle. In this, he had absolutely no motivation to be mysterious or secretive.

Compare this ineptitude with the word usage in "The Old Laws." Not only are obvious archaicisms like "alther," "dwale" and "skith" used correctly, but also (and more subtly) some words which are still part of modern English are given their old meanings: "engine," to torture on the rack; "tormentor," the name for the officials who performed judicial torture; and "convenient," morally or ethically suitable. Even Kelly, in his original thesis could not bring himself to believe that Gardner could have written "The Old Laws." Rather, he imagines (not knowing the true situation) that "The Old Laws" were written, under Gardner's guidance, by the same person who wrote the "Proposed Rules."

While the foregoing is hardly conclusive, I feel it casts a significant doubt on Gardner's authorship of "The Old Laws." It is also, I think, based on more objective evidence than is often common in debates over Gardner. I examined Gardner's understanding of archaic words and found it lacking in a number of places that were related to the Old Laws. Since whoever did write the Old Laws appears to have had a much greater facility with archaic English, from the sixteenth or seventeenth century forward, then unless Gardner was even more cunning than I can believe, he was not the author.

Despite the weakness of Gardner's critics' arguments, and the lack any hard evidence for either case, Gardner's critics currently seem to be believed by many of the Wicca. I would guess that this is partially because would-be debunkers have written most of the books and articles that have addressed the subject. In particular, Aidan Kelly's Crafting the Art of Magic seems to have had an influence within the Neo-Pagan community that is all out of proportion to its merits. Even though Kelly claims that he has "proven" that Gardner created everything in the Book of Shadows, his logic, being often circular, is hardly convincing.

Another reason for the debunkers' success may be psychological: Many modern Pagans and Witches tend to go to great lengths to avoid seeming over-credulous, as a reaction, perhaps, to the romantic fantasies first put forward (beginning with Gardner) as to the Craft origins. As the Wicca become more concerned with establishing an acceptable image in the minds of the outer community, there is a tendency to favor what appears to be the most conservative version of our history. Certainly the idea of one or a few people inventing a new religion seems "safer" to believe in than that witchcraft, mostly thought of as a fairy tale, was able to spring up alive and real in the middle of the twentieth century after centuries "underground".24

At this point I should state that my own belief (though I cannot claim to "prove" it) is that Gardner assembled the "Old Laws" out of pieces of material he had gotten from the New Forest witches. I say "assembled" because the uneven texture of the material makes it seem unlikely to me that all of the sections were created together. In fact, the copy that Kelly examined was in two distinct pieces, which he labeled "Documents O and P".25

As to who the real author (or more likely, authors) were, I can only speculate. It is certainly possible that someone prior to Gardner attempted a revival of witchcraft and wrote "The Old Laws" to buttress his or her supposed authenticity. If so, when and how this occurred will probably never be known. Finally, one cannot entirely dismiss the possibility that the Old Laws are exactly what they seem to be, a record of a group of people who called themselves the Wica who, against all odds, managed to survive the Age of Persecution and pass on their legacy to twentieth century descendants.

Appendix A: "The Old Laws"26

A number of people have suggested that "The Old Laws" reads like it was several short documents or fragments pasted together. At the same time, it is very difficult to tell which paragraphs belong with which section, if indeed the document was originally created out independent sections. My attempts to use word usage, for instance, to divide the document have proven inconclusive.

For the purpose of this analysis in "Appendix C: The Language of 'The Old Laws'" (below), I have chosen to divide the document into 11 sections, each of which appears to follow a common thread. Whether or not these divisions are historically meaningful, they serve to provide a fairly reasonable breakup of the text into sections for discussion.

The old Laws

[The Gods, the Law and the Circle]

The Law was made and Ardane of old. The law was made for the Wica, to advise and help in their troubles.

The Wica should give due worship to the Gods & obey their will which they Ardane, for it was made for the good of the Wica. As the Wicas worship is good for the Gods.

For the Gods love the Wica, as a man loveth a woman by mastering her. So the Wica should love the Gods, by being mastered by them. And it is necessary that the Circle, which is the Temple of the Gods, should be truely cast and purified, that it may be a fit place for the Gods to enter.

And the Wica should be properly prepared and purified, to enter into the presence of the Gods. With love and worship in their hearts they shall raise powrer from their bodies to give power to the Gods, as has been tought us of old.

For in this way only may man have communion with the Gods, for the Gods cannot help man without the help of men.

[The High Priestess]

And the High Priestess shall rule her Coven as representative of the Goddess, and the High Priest shall support her as the representative of the God. And the High Priestess shall choose whom she will, if he have sufficient rank, to be her High Priest.

For. the God himself, kissed her feet in the 5 fold salute, laying his power at the feet of the Goddess. because of her youth & beauty, her sweetness & kindness, her wisdom & Justice, her humility & generosity, So he resigned his lordship to her, But the Priestess should ever mind that all power comes from him. It is only lent when it is used wisely and justly. And the greatest virtue of a High Priestess is that she recognises that youth is necessary to the representative of the Goddess, so that she will retire gracefully in favour of a younger woman, Should the Coven so decide in Council. For the true High Priestess realsies that gracefully surendering pride of place is one of the greatest of virtues, and that thereby she will return to that pride of place in another life, with greater power beauty.

[The Need for Secrecy]

ln the days when Witchdom extended far, we were free and worshipd in Alther Greatest Tempels. But, in these unhapy times we must hold our sacred mysteries in secret.

So it be Ardane, that none but the Wica may see our mysteries. for our enimies are many, And torture looseth the tongues of many. lt be ardane that each Coven shall not know where the next Coven bide, or who its members are. save the Priest and Priestess. That there shall be no communication between them. save by the Messenger of the Gods. or the Summoner. Only if it be safe, may the Covens meet, in some safe place. For the great festavals. And while there, none shall say whence thay come, or give their true names.

To the end that if any are tortured, in their agoney, they can not tell if they know not.

So it be Ardane that no one may tell any not of the Craft who be of the Wica. nor give any names, or where they Byde, or in any way tell anything which can betray any to our foes. Nor may they tell where the Covenstead be. or where is the Covendom. or where be the meetings. or that there have been meetings. And if any break these laws, even under torture, The Curse of the Goddess shall be upon them, so they never be reborn on earth, And may the remain where they belong, in the Hell of the Christians.

[Administration of the Coven]

Let each High Priestess govern her Coven with Justice and love. with the help of the advice of the elders. Always heading the advice of the Messenger of the Gods. lf he cometh.

She will heed all complaints of brothers, And strive to settle all differances among them. But it must be recognized that there be people who will ever strive to force others to do as they will.

They are not necesseraly evil. & they often do have good ideas. andt such ideas should be talked over in council. And if they will not agree with their brothers, or if they say, I will not work under this High Priestess, lt hath always been the old law, to be convenient for the bretherin, and to void disputes, Any of the Third may claim to found a new Coven because they live over a league from the Covenstead, or that they are about to do so. Anyone living within the Covendom wishing to form a new Coven, to avoid strife, shall tell the Elders of his intention And on the instant void his dwelling and remove to the new Covendom. Members of the old Coven may join the New one when it be formed, but if they do, must utterly void the old Coven. The Elders of the New and the Old Covens should meet in peace and brotherly love, to decide the new bounderies.

Those of the Craft who dwell outside both Covendoms may join either indifferent, but not both. Though all may, if the Elders agree, meet for the Great Festavals, if it be truely in peace and brotherly love. But splitting the Coven oft means strife. So for this reason these laws were made of old. And may the curse of the GODDESS be on any who disreguard them. So be it Ardane.

["The Warning"]

lf you would keep a book, let it be in your own hand of write, let brothers and sisters copy what they will, but never let the book out of your hands, and never keep the writings of another, for if it be found in their hard of write, they well may be taken and Engined.

Each should guard his own writings & destroy it whenever danger threatens. Learn as much as you may by heart, & when danger is past, rewirit your book, an it be safe. For this reason, if any die, destroy their book if they have not been able to. For an it be found, tis clear proof against them, And, our oppressors well know, "Ye may not be a witch alone" So all their kin & friends be in danger of torture. So ever destroy anything not necessary. If your book be found on you. tis clear proof against you alone. You may be engined. Keep all thouqhts of the Craft from your mind. Say you had bad dreams, a devil caused you to write it without your knowledge. Think to yourself. I know, nothing. I remember nothing. I have forgotten everything. Drive this into your mind.

If the torture be to great to bear. Say, I will confess. I cannot bear this torture, What do you want me to say? I will say it. if they try to make you speak of the brotherhood, Do NOT. But if they try to make you speak of imposabilaties such as flying through the air, Consorting with the Christian Devil, or sacrificing children, or eating mens flesh. To obtain relief from torture. say. I had an evil dream, I was not myself. I was crased.

Not all Magestrates are bad, if there be an excuse they may show mercy. If you have confessed aught, deny it afterwards, say you babbled under torture. You knew not what you said. If you are condemed, fear not. The Brotherhood is powerfull. They may help you to escape, if you stand steadfast.

If you betray aught. There is no hope for you, ln this life, or in that which is to come.

Be sure. if steadfast you go to the pyre, Dwale will reach you, you will feel naught. You go but to Death and what lies beyond. The ecstacy of the Goddess.

Tis probable that before you are engined, Dwale will reach you. Always remember that Christians fear much that any die under torture. At the first sign of swoon, they cause it to be stopped, and blame the tormenters, for that reason, the tormenters themselves are apt to feign to torment, but do not, so it is best not to die at first.

lf Dwale reaches you, tis a sign that you have a friend somwhere. you may be helped to escape, so dispair not. If the worst comes, and you go to the pyre. wait till the flames and smoke spring up, bend your head over, & breath in with long brewths, you choke & die swiftly. & wake in the arms of the Goddess.

To void discovery, Let the working tools be as ordinary things that any may have in their houses. Let the Pentacles be of wax, so they may be broken at once. Heve no sword unless your rank allows you one. Have no names or signs on anything.

Write the names and signes on them in ink before consecrating them and wash it off immediatly after. Do not Bigrave them. lest they cause discovery. Let the colour of the hilts tell which is which. Ever remember, ye are the Hidden Children of the Gods. So never do anything to disgrace them.

Never boast, Never threaten, Never say you would wish Ill to anyone. lf you or any, not in the Circle, speak of the craft, say, "Speak not to me of such, it frightens me. tis evil luck to speak of it" For this reason. The Christians have spies everywhere. These speak as if they were well affected, as if they would come to Meetings, saying "My mother used to go, to worship, the Old Ones. I would that I could go myself." To these ever deny all knowledge.

But, to others ever say, tis foolish, men talk of witches flying through the air, to do so, they must be light as thistledown. and. Men say that witches all be bleared eyed old crones, so what pleasure can there be in witch meetings? such as folk talk on? Say, Many wise men now say there be no such creatures. Ever make it a jest, and in some future time, perhaps the persecution will die. and we may worship safely again. let us all pray for that happy day.

May the blessings of the Goddess and the God be on all who keep their Ardane.

[Money and Properties of the Craft]27

lf the Craft hath any Appenage, let all brothers guard it, and help to keep it clear and good for the Craft, & let all justly guard all monies of the Craft. But if some brothers truely wrought it, Tis right that they have their pay, an it be just. And this be not taking money for the use of the Art. but for good and honest work. And even the Christians say "A labourer is worthey of his hire." But if any brothers work willingly for the good of the craft without pay, tis but to their greater honour. So it be Ardane.

[Resolving Quarrels and Hiving New Covens]

lf there be any disputes or quarrels among the bretheren, The High Priestess shall straight Convene the Elders & enquire into the matter, and they shall hear both sides. first alone. then together. And they shall decide justly, not favouring the one side or the other.

Ever recognising that there be people who can never agree to work under others. but at the same time there be some people who cannot rule justly. To those who ever must be chief, there is one answer, Void the Coven & seek another, or, make a Coven of your own, taking with you those who will to go, To those who cannot rule justly. The answer be. those who cannot bear your rule will leave you, For none may come to meetings with those with whom they are at variance. So an either cannot agree. get hence. For the Craft must ever survive. So it be Ardane.

[The Law of "Harm None"]

In the olden days when we had power, we could use our Arts against any who illtreated any of the Brotherhood. But in these Evil Times, we may not do so, For our enimies have devised a burning pit of everlasting fire, into which they say their God casteth all the people who worship him, except it be the very few who are released by their priestes spells and Masses. and this be chiefly by giving money and rich gifts to recieve his favour, for their Alther Greatest God is ever in need of Money.

But as our Gods need our aid to make fertility for men and crops. So the God of the Christians is ever in need of mans help to search out and destroy us. Theyir priests tell them that any who get our help or our cures are dammned to this Hell forever, so men be mad for the terror of it,. But they make men believe that they may scape this hell if they give victims to the tormenters. So for this reason. All be forever spying, thinking an I can but catch one of the Wica I will scape this fiery pit.

But we have our hidels, and men searching long and not finding say, "there be none, or lf they be, they be in a far country." But, when one of our oppressors die. or, even be sick, ever is the cry "This be Witches Malice." and the hunt is up again. and though they slay ten of their people, to one of ours, still. they care not, they have many thousands, while we are few indeed.

So it is Ardane, that none shall use the Art in any way to do ill to any. how evermuch they have injured us. And for long we have obeyed this law. "Harm none" and nowtimes, many believe we exist not. So it be Ardane that this law shall still continue to help us in our plight. "No one, however great an injury or injustace they recieve, may use the Art in any to do ill or harm any."

But, they may, after great consulations with all, use the Art to prevent or restrain Christians from harming us and others. but only to let or constrain them and never to punish. To this end. Men say, "Such an one is a mighty searcher our and persecutor of Old Women whom he deemeth to be Witches. and none hath done him Skith. so this be proof they cannot, or more truely, that there be none." For all know full well, that so many folk have died because somone had a grudge against them, or were persecuted because they had money or goods to sieze. or because they had none to bribe the searchers. And many have died because they were scolding old women. So much so, that men now say that only Old Women are witches. And this be to our advantage, and turns suspicion away from us. ln England tis now many it year since a witch hath died the death. but any misuse of the power might raise the Persecution again. So never break this law, however much you are tempted. and never consent to its being broken, lf you know it is being broken in the least, you must work strongly against it, And any High Priestess or High Priest who consentes to it must be immediatly deposed. For tis the Blood of the Bretherin they endanger. Do good, an it be safe, and only if it be safe. for any talk may endanger us. And strictly keep to the Old Law, never accept money for the use of the Art, for money ever smeares the taker, Tis Carcerors and Conjurers and Priests of Christ who ever accept money for the use of their Arts. and they sell Dwale and evil love spells and pardons to let men scape from their sins. Be not as these. "Be not as these" lf you accept not money, you will be free of temptation to use the Art for evil causes. All may use the Art for your own advantage, or for the advantage of the Craft, only if you be sure you harm none. But ever let the Coven debate the matter at length, only if all are satisfied that none may be harmed may the Art be used. lf it is not possible to achieve your ends one way without harming any, pervhance the aim may be achieved by acting in a different way, so as to harm none. May the Curse of the Goddes, be on any who breach this law. So It be ardane.

Tis adjudged lawful an anyone need a house or land, an none will sell. to incline the owners mind to be willing to sell, provided it harmeth him not in any way, & that the full worth is paid, without haggling. Never bargain or cheepen anything which you buy by the Art.

So it be Ardane.

[All Conflicts to be Remain within the Craft]

lt is the Old Law and the most important of all Laws, That no one may do or say anything which will endanger any of the Craft, or bring them in contact with the law of the land. or the Law of the Church or any of our persecutors. ln any disputes between the bretheren, no one may invoke any laws but those of the Craft. or any Tribunal but that of the Priestess and the Priest and the Elders. And mat the Curse of the Goddess be on any who so do.

So it be Ardane.

[What to Say to Outsiders]

lt is not forbiden to say as Christians do. "There be Witchcraft in the Land" Because out oppressors of old made it Heresy not to believe in Witchcraft, & so a crime to deny it. which thereby put you under suspicion. But ever say I know not of it here, perchance they may be, but afar off. I know not where. but ever speak so you cause others to doubt they be as they are Always speak of them as Old Crones, consorting with the Devil and riding through the air. But ever say, but how may men ride through the air an they be not as light as Thistle Down? But the Curse of the Goddess be on any who cast any suspicion on any of the Brotherhood. or speaks of any real meeting place. or where any byde. So it be Ardane.

[The Herb Books]

Let the Craft keep books with the names of all Herbs which are good for man. and all cures, that all may learn. But keep another book with all the Banes & Apies. & let only the Elders and trustworthy people have this knowledge. So it be Ardane.

And may the Blessings of the Gods be on all who keep these. Laws and the Curses of both God and Goddess be on all who break them. So it be Ardane.

Appendix B: The "Proposed Rules for the Craft"


  1. No member of the Craft will initiate any person unless that person has been interviewed by at least two Elders and accepted as suitable.
  2. No affairs of the Craft will be discussed by members in the presence of uninitiated persons, or in places where conversation is likely to be overheard.
  3. No copies of any papers relating to the Craft will be made or retained without the Elders' permission. Such papers as are permissible will be kept in a secure place.
  4. As it is essential for the successful working of ritual by a group that there should be unity of purpose and an harmonious psychic atmosphere, members who create dissension and discord within the Craft will be asked to resign. Should they fail or refuse to do so they will be informed in writing by the Elders that they have been expelled.
  5. No member of the Craft will give any information or interview about the Craft to any journalist or writer, or cause any such information to be published in any way, without the approval of the Elders, nor will any of the Elders do so without the approval of the rest of the Elders.
  6. If any member of the Craft feels that he or she has reason to complain of the conduct of any other member in matters affecting the Craft, or of any misdemeanour towards any member whilst on Craft premises, he or she will bring the said complaint to the notice of the Elders as soon as possible. The Elders, after considering all available evidence, will, if they find the complaint justified, take appropriate action.
  7. No member will be present at any meeting where the working is that of a higher Grade than he or she has attained, except by invitation of the Elders. These invitations will only be extended on very rare occasions where special circumstances exist.
  8. No member will disclose the name and address or telephone number of any other member to any person whatsoever without the said other member's previous permission.
  9. Members will meet upon the traditional occasions, or as near to them as possible, and such meetings will be arranged by the Elders, or such officers as the Elders authorise to do so. If the Elders be not present at such meetings, they will receive a report of them. Members may arrange other meetings for their private working if they so desire, but if more than two members be present at such a meeting, the Elders will receive a report of it. This report will take the form of a short letter to the Elders giving place and date of the meeting, names of members attending, and details of ceremonies carried out. Where convenient, verbal reports will be accepted.
  10. Members will endeavour to acquaint themselves with the traditions of the Craft, and will not introduce innovations into the working without the Elders' approval. Nor will the Elders give approval to any important innovation without first asking the approval of the rest of the Craft.
  11. In the event of any member resigning from the Craft, he or she will honourably observe the Oath of Secrecy taken at initiation, and will also return to the Elders any written matter relating to the Craft which may be in his or her possession.
  12. All members will receive a copy of these rules, and all new members will be given a copy of these rules upon initiation. New members, prior to initiation, will read these rules and declare upon their honour that they will abide by them in letter and in spirit. This declaration will be made to the Elders in writing, and signed.
  13. It will be understood by all members that these rules are equally binding upon all Grades of the Craft, including the Elders, and that serious and/or persistent breach of these rules will be grounds for expulsion.

Appendix C: The Language of "The Old Laws"

It would pointless to claim that Gerald Gardner did not write "The Old Laws" because he could not have used the archaic language correctly unless it is shown that that language was used correctly. In this, I must admit here that my own knowledge is far from expert. It is much easier for an amateur like myself to demonstrate Gardner's linguistic ignorance than it is to show the competency of whoever wrote "The Old Laws." However, until someone with the requisite training appears, I shall have to say (like Gardner) that I am attempting to do this work simply because someone needs to do it.

Some sections have a considerable number of archaic words and usages, while others have few or none. Further, at least one word, "Ardane," occurs in the exact same phrase ("So be it Ardane" or "be it ardane") so many times, one could easily suspect that it was added in more places than it originally occured to create a continuity for the document as a whole.

These are:

  1. The Gods, the Law and the Circle
  2. The High Priestess
  3. The Need for Secrecy
  4. Administration of the Coven
  5. "The Warning"
  6. Money and Properties of the Craft
  7. Resolving Quarrels and Hiving New Covens
  8. The Law of "Harm None"
  9. All Conflicts to be Remain within the Craft
  10. What to Say to Outsiders
  11. The Herb Books

In the paragraphs below I identify each of the archaic and uncommon words and usages found in "The Old Laws" and attempt to determine the accuracy of the usage. I also attempt, within the limits of my resources, to date the word or usage.

1. The Gods, the Law and the Circle

Here we see the word "Ardane" for the first time. This is a difficult word, because it appears to be a misspelling of something, but it is uncertain exactly what that is. Most people have taken it to be "ordain," a common enough word which occurs in both modern and old usage. Properly though, this should past tense, "ordained," and the writer appears, for the most part, to be otherwise grammatical. Aidan Kelly has suggested that this word is actually "aredan," which involves a simple rearrangement of letters. Aredan is a form of the obsolete word "aread" which has the meaning of "to declare by supernatural counsel." The Oxford English Dictionary cites "aread" to have been used between the 11th century and the end of the 16th, which covers most of the period of witch-hunting in England.28 "Aredan" would make perfect sense in the context given.

As mentioned above, the phrase "be it ardane" is sufficiently common within "The Old Laws" that it may very well have been added for continuity in various place for continuity's sake. For that reason, I shall ignore most of the appearance of "ardane" in the following sections.

The other uncommon word in this section is "Wica" which Gardner identified with "wicca," one of the branches of the Anglo-Saxon Pagan priesthood and the source of the modern word "witch". While Gardner's interpretation seems to be nearly universally accepted, there is another candidate, "wice," which is a Scots dialect spelling for "wise".29 While this may seem farfetched, Gardner always insisted that Wica was "the craft of the wise," the root of the word "wicca" seems to be (according to most authorities) come from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "to bend".

2. The High Priestess

This passage is entirely in modern language.

3. The Need for Secrecy

Besides using Ardane and Wica again, this passage includes the word "alther," an archaic form of the word "all," meaning (combined with a superlative) "of all". Thus, "alther greatest temples" would be "the greatest temples of all". This word would have been used from about the 11th century to the end of the 16th, and is entirely appropriate for something written during the "burning times".30

4. Administration of the Coven

This passage contains a common word used in an uncommon way. "Void" as used in "void the coven" and "void your dwelling" has the sense of "To go away, depart, retire, withdraw from, to leave or quit (a place)". According to the Oxford English Dictionary this sense is now obsolete, but was "very common from c1400 to c1645."31

5. "The Warning"

This is the best known portion of "The Old Laws," because Gardner published it nearly word-for-word in Witchcraft Today. It is the longest single section I have identified in "The Old Laws" and contains much archaic language. We have:

An (meaning "and if")32
Bigrave ("engrave")33
Dwale ("A stupefying or soporific drink.")34
Engined (In this sense, to be put on a rack for torture)35
Hand of Write ("Handwriting")36
Tormenter(s) ("An officer who inflicts torture or cruelty; an official torturer")37
In terms of dating, these words are something of a mixed bag. The words involving torture and relief from pain — "engined," "tomenters" and "dwale" — would have been current during the Witch persecution of the 15th and 16th centuries. My only citations for "Bigrave" are earlier, about the 14th century, although this word, like many others, may have been carried forward, either by the Witches or as dialect, into later times. "An," on the other hand, was rare before the 16th century in the sense used. "Hand of write" was later still, apparently being mostly a 19th century usage. Curiously, this phase is one of the two specifically Scots expressions in "The Old Laws" (the other is "skith" — see 8. below)

6. Money and Properties of the Craft

This passage contains the word "appenage," which is one of the more difficult words to analyze here. The word, usually spelled "apanage" or "appanage" (although the OED also gives "appennage") is not quite archaic, but now merely rare.38 It refers to a "specially appropriated possession" and apparently originally meant some sort of endowment (in land, offices or money) for the younger children of royalty. By the nineteenth century the meaning had broadened to include any sort of valuable possession with which some person or class of people were endowed.

7. Resolving Quarrels and Hiving New Covens

The only older usage in this passage is "void". (See 4 above.)

8. The Law of "Harm None"

This is another section rich in archaicisms, although most of these have appeared before. "Ardane," "alther," "tormenters" and "Wica" appear, along with two others, "hidels" and "skith". A hidel is a hiding-place, and naturally this fits with the sense of the sentence.39 The dictionary finds usages for this word between the 14th and 17th centuries.

"Skith" is almost certainly the word "scathe," a now obsolete word meaning harm or injury, which goes back to Anglo-Saxon and only appears in current English as "unscathed". There is a more specific and recent (18th and 19th century) meaning found in Jamieson's Scottish Dictionary of "injury supposed to proceed from witchcraft".40 This word, with its particularly appropriate usage, the use of "hand of write" and the possibility that "Wica" derives from Scots dialect all point to a possible Scots connection for Gardner's Wica.

9. All Conflicts to be Remain within the Craft

Beside the use of "So be it Ardane," this passage is entirely in modern language.

10. What to Say to Outsiders

Beside the use of "So be it Ardane," this passage is entirely in modern language.

11. The Herb Books

The short section on book of herbs presents only two uncommon words, "banes" and "apies". Bane is a word for poison and is commonly found in combinations such as "henbane" and "wolfbane". This usage is now rare, but occurs from the 14th century onwards.41

"Apies" is a puzzle. Most versions of the Craft Laws have re-written this as "spices" and connect it with aphrodisiacs. Another possibility, though, is a connection with a group of plants called "apiaceous" which contains hemlock, one of the plants long associated with Witches.42


Abbreviation: Throughout this paper, I have made considerable use of The Compact Edition of the Oxford Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1971, which I have indicated simply as "OED". In this edition the original multi-volume set is reduced to two volumes by reducing the size of the type so that four of the original pages could be printed on each page. (This has the disadvantage of requiring a magnifying glass to read.)

This edition carries two sets of page numbers, the page numbers of the twenty-four volume set and the page numbers for the two-volume set. In the notes below, I have used the former, so that those who wish to check references may use whichever version is available to them.

1. Throughout this paper I am using "Gardnerian" to denote all of the religious movements which are apparently derived from Gerald Gardner's work, including offshoots such as Alexandrian Wicca and (California) Central Valley Wicca, rather than just those branches of Wicca that specifically use the "Gardnerian" label.

2. There has been considerable controversy over the actual authorship of Gerald Gardner, Witch. Allyn Wolfe, for instance, has suggested that the work was actually "ghost-written" by the late Sufi writer Idries Shaw, who was associated with Gardner for a time. For purposes of this paper, I am ignoring this dispute and simply referring to Bracelin as the author of record.

3. Not considering, of course, the material borrowed from the Greater Key of Solomon, a grimoire that is datable back to at least late Medieval times.

4. I feel that credibility requires a public discussion of the history of the craft. We have had altogether too many instances of people making pronouncements about our history, but refusing to reveal their sources of information because of oaths of secrecy. For the most part, these claims have been transparently fraudulent. For this reason I am basing all of my conclusions on material that is published and generally available except the version of the "Old Laws" from the Kelly Manuscript (see below) which is included in full as Appendix B.

5. Two of these others are "The Charge of the Goddess" and "The Dryghtyn (or Blessing) Prayer," both of which are known to have been rewritten by Doreen Valiente during her time as Gardner's High Priestess (1953-1957). Gardner claims that he received the third, "The Legend of the Descent of the Goddess," from the New Forest coven, but he admits that it might have been written relatively recently.

6. Valiente, Doreen, The Rebirth of Witchcraft, (Robert Hale, 1989), pp. 69-71.

7. See Appendix B.

8. Ms. Valiente is an exceptional case. As I understand it, she doubts the authenticity of "The Old Laws," but strongly supports the idea that Gardner's Craft originated from traditional sources.

9. Two examples are contained in King of the Witches by June Johns (Pan Books 1969) and the Grimoire of Lady Sheba (Llewellyn Publications, 1974)

10. The title, "Book of Shadows," is apparently something Gardner found in a magazine circa 1949. This is discussed in Valiente, pp. 51-52.

11. "Don, Anna and Allyn Show Us 'Ye Book of ye Art Magical'" by Oakseer in Red Garters International, Vol. 22, No. 2.

12. In 1996 and/or 1997 two articles in the Wiccan magazines Enchanté and Aisling came to the near identical conclusion that Doreen Valiente had added material from Aleister Crowley in creating the Charge, even though she had said that she had only removed some of the Crowley material that she felt inappropriate. This was because the material in question did not appear in Kelly's transcription of "Leviter Veslis" from the BAM. These lines actually do appear, but were left out of Crafting the Art of Magic.

13. I have written to Carl Weschcke concerning the availability of a photocopy of the original text. To date this request has been unanswered.

14. Here we have opposite arguments leading to the same conclusion. Doreen Valiente dismissed "The Old Laws" because she believed they were new; Kelly argues against them because he believed they were merely some of Gardner's old ideas from Witchcraft Today. Neither argument holds water. We cannot judge the age of material based solely on when it first appeared.

15. Kelly's original thesis agrees with this. See Appendix C.

16. Witchcraft Today, pg. 129.

17. Witchcraft Today, 1954, pg. 51-52

18. OED Vol. H, pg. 55

19. The Meaning of Witchcraft, pg. 74-75

20. With the exception of "warrik" which is almost certainly a misspelling for "warrok".

21. In particular, I have had the opportunity to meet two people who were part of Gardner's coven in the late 1950s: "Dayonis," the woman who replaced Doreen Valiente as High Priestess and "Robert," who was also present at the splitting of the coven. "Dayonis" flatly denied that the idea that Gardner was capable of the level of deception required to invent modern Witchcraft and then pass it off as old tradition. "Robert" seems to believe that Gardner made many changes and additions to what he was originally taught, but based all of his work on (mostly) oral tradition that he received from the New Forest Witches.

Naturally, neither of these two people could provide definite proof of what Gardner had done almost twenty years before they met him, but it may be significant that no one who worked with Gardner has ever stated they believe that he had "invented" the Witchcraft he taught them.

22. Witchcraft Today, pg. 72.

23. OED, Vol. M, p. 38.

24. Interestingly enough, it is now known that an underground practice of religion spanning centuries can exist. In 1992, exactly five hundred years after the expulsion of the Jews of Spain, a group of people were discovered in the Southwest United States who had "officially" converted to Roman Catholicism before their emigration to Spanish Mexico, but had actually maintained their Jewish traditions secretly for 500 years.

25. Kelly, Aidan, The Rebirth of Witchcraft: Tradition and Creativity in the Gardnerian Reform, (unpublished manuscript, 1977), p. 144

26. The version which follows is from Kelly's original manuscript. I have tried to follow the original as closely as possible, as far as spelling (and misspellings) and punctuation, but cannot create an exact duplicate using HTML. Most of the changes are paragraph indentations, which vary considerably in the original.

27. According to Kelly, this section begins the second of the two manuscripts which make up "The Old Laws".

28. OED, Vol. AB, p. 438.

29. OED, Vol. W, p. 193.

30. OED, Vol. AB, p. 227.

31. OED, Vol. V, p. 287.

32. OED, Vol. AB, p. 298.

33. OED, Vol. AB, p. 770.

34. OED, Vol. D, p. 731.

35. OED, Vol. E, p. 176.

36. OED, Vol. H, p. 55.

37. OED, Vol. T, p. 161.

38. OED, Vol. AB, p. 380.

39. OED, Vol H, p. 269.

40. OED, Vol S, pp. 272-273.

41. OED, Vol. AB, 650-651.

42. OED, Vol, AB, 385.

© Oakseer. All Rights Reserved.


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.