Category Archives: principles

Lumpers and splitters

Witches on Their Native Soil

Once upon a time nobody in Britain said out loud that they were a witch. After all, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 made it a crime to claim magical powers or practise witchcraft, with a year’s prison sentence if convicted under the Act. After a couple of centuries, in 1951, Britain repealed the Witchcraft Act, and replaced it with the Fraudulent Mediums Act. It became at least possible to admit one was a witch—although, as one of the mid-20th-century known witches wryly commented, “Witchcraft doesn’t pay for broken windows.”

First Out of the Closet

Gerald B. Gardner was first to publish about witchcraft as a religious survival, and out himself as a witch. He published the non-fiction title Witchcraft Today in 1954, sketching his interactions with a sub-group within a particular lodge of Co-Masons, which eventually led to his 1939 initiation into “the brotherhood of the Wica.” His amateur archeologist’s enthusiasm for the believed discovery of a Murray-type religious survival is evident in its pages, stirred into Gardner’s own life-long interest in matters occult and magical. As a result, it takes some reading to cull his reporting of witch beliefs and witch practices from Gardner’s amalgamated studies and opinions. In this first book about Witchcraft, Gardner attempts an observer’s voice. Gardner went on to publish The Meaning of Witchcraft in 1959 with a less “outside” voice. He gave many news interviews to papers, radio, and TV, sometimes to his fellow witches’ dismay. At one point, a coven of his fractured over the issue of publicity. The tabloid press (the paparazzi of his day) once planned to ambush a coven meeting at the Five Acres nudist club, though the attempt was foiled. Over the course of a dozen or more years, Gardner brought in a good many witches, several of whom founded covens in locations across England and into Scotland, and many of which continue in practice today.

Another Early Public Witch

Another “public” witch, Sybil Leek, lived and worked in Burley into the early 1960s, proprietor of antique shops in the region. (Incidentally, Burley itself is situated less than eight miles from the Mill House in Highcliffe, where Gardner had been initiated.) Leek’s notoriety as a witch led eventually to her being asked by her landlord to vacate her lease; news reporters and tourists had created that much nuisance in Burley. Author of the 1964 book  A Shop in the High Street, about antiques, Leek was invited by a US publisher to tour in the States. During that visit, Leek also appeared (April 13, 1964) on an episode of the CBS TV show To Tell the Truth.  Taking permanent residence in the USA, Leek’s Diary of a Witch was published in 1968, though her witchcraft had long been fodder for her TV and newspaper interviewers. Less well known is the fact that Leek, like Gardner, founded (at least one) coven which also continues in practice.

Leek used deliberate inaccuracies that have caused many to discount everything she said. For instance, in the case of her birth year, those inaccuracies continue to haunt her biographers. (Professional astrologer Leek considered her accurate birth data tantamount to exposing herself to personal or psychic attack, and hence maintained secrecy in that and other matters.) Her secretive ways, whatever her reasons for them, have rendered the witches of her heritage suspect in the eyes of some other witches.

Other Counties Heard From

Other strains of witchcraft were also known in the England of the 1950s & 1960s: Cochrane’s Craft, Horsa Coven, Coven of Atho, The Regency, and so on. The public witches leading those groups were often at odds, sometimes vehemently. Robert Cochrane, founder of the Clan of Tubal Cain, coined the term “Gardnerian” as an insult to the witchcraft that Gardner passed on. Its cheerful adoption by its targets was a lovely instance of transformative magic.

Wicca vs. Witch

Despite recent assumptions that it was Gardner who supplied the word Wicca based on the Old English word wicca, it was already circulating as a term applied to Witches throughout Britain. The Old English (Anglo-Saxon) word wicca translates witch, in the male gender (the female form is wicce). Anglo-Saxon 9th century surviving documents use both as well as wiccian (to bewitch) and wiccecræft (witchcraft).

By the late 1960s, the label “Wicca” had been adopted by religious and magical practices entirely unrelated to British Witchcraft. Examples include the women-only Goddess spirituality called Dianic, the teachings of the Frosts and their “Church and School of Wicca,” and generations of bootstrap witch covens relying on what was available in print for their instruction. In North America today Gardner’s Witchcraft has come to be known as British Traditional Wicca (in Europe it remains simply Wicca or Initiatory Wicca), of which Gardnerian Wicca is probably the best-known single Tradition.

Witch or Wicca, in Britain’s occult circles of the twentieth century, a witch was a witch was a witch. Gardner was a Witch. Leek was a Witch. Cochrane was a Witch.

The Balkanization of the Craft

Nowadays, a Witch is a Wiccan is a Gardnerian Wiccan is a Hokey-Pokey line Gardnerian is a Yukon line Gardnerian is a Southpaw Yukon line Gardnerian is a Panama Gardnerian who used be a Southpaw Yukon line Gardnerian… and so what? When the Yukon line Gardnerians teach their students that the Southpaw Yukon line Gardnerians are neither Gardnerians nor even Wicca, they do the whole of the Witch priesthood no favors.

Taxonomy, the Art of Labelling

Lumpers and splitters are opposing factions which place individual examples into categories. The lumper–splitter problem occurs when one needs to separate individual examples into groups or categories. Natural history is the source of the term lumper and splitter, used by Charles Darwin himself to describe the factions that arose while scientists worked to classify the variation among and within biological species.

A “lumper” is an individual who takes a gestalt view …, and assigns examples broadly, assuming that differences are not as important as signature similarities. A “splitter” is an individual who takes precise definitions, and creates new categories to classify samples that differ ….

—Wikipedia article “Lumpers and Splitters” Emphasis mine

Alas, among humans, that same issue of distinguishing and identifying becomes a means of exclusion and cliques, of one-true-wayism and division, of shunning for naught as much as shunning for aught.

I see splitters among the Wicca choosing corners in which to isolate themselves, when their choices of action do no service to the Wiccæ; it appears to me as isolationist as the UK’s recent Brexit vote, and as segregationist as the Transvaal and South African policies of apartheid.

I have found much more experiential evidence to support my lumpish view of Wicca (remembering always that by Wicca I mean British Traditional Wicca or Initiatory Wicca). And on my generous days, I find it in me to feel compassion for those Yukon line Gardnerians who so haughtily paint themselves into a small and lonely corner of the witching world.

May the gods preserve the Craft.

Perfect Love & Perfect Trust

The phrase “perfect love and perfect trust” comes directly—like the term Wica (Wicca)—from Gardnerian practice and through its many derivative traditions. In published British Traditional Wicca (BTW) sources, the phrase “perfect love and perfect trust” appears in only one place: in the phrase that a candidate for initiation gives upon requesting entrance to the initiatory circle. [i], [ii] , [iii], [iv]

Period.

(Very likely the phrase occurs in other traditional practices, depending on when or where the source custom evolved, but no published BTW source, at least, includes the terms in any “law.”)

The published discussions of perfect love and perfect trust, whether in BTW published sources or in eclectic sources, seem to have seized on the words and assumed that modern meanings of those words apply. All arguments about the origins of BTW practice aside, there seems to be some reason to believe that significant elements of surviving magical folklore persist within the practices that are currently being expanded beyond Gardner’s wildest dreams.

If there are survivals of older practice within modern Craft, this phrase perhaps being one of them, does it mean the same thing that it meant to its originators? Words today morph meanings in a matter of hours, or weeks. Many English words have come to mean the very opposite of their original meanings (look up the oldest meaning of pompous, some time).

So, let’s take a look at the words themselves, and their roots. Plain, historical, mundane definitions provide a reality check. Even the current-day commonest usage definition of a word can mean less (or more) than most folks think. In this case, I will focus on the earliest definition of each word because other meanings often drift from the central point of a word.

Let us review the word perfect to begin with. I will also pursue the “See XXX” references for the word roots, just to provide context for root meanings.[v], [vi]

Perfect

Perfect, a. [OE. parfit, OF. parfit, parfet, parfait, F. parfait, L. perfectus, p.p. of perficere to carry to the end, to perform, finish,
perfect; per (see Per-) + facere to make, do. See Fact.]

  1. Brought to consummation or completeness; completed; not defective nor redundant; having all the properties or qualities requisite to its nature and kind; without flaw, fault, or blemish; without error; mature; whole; pure; sound; right; correct.

Per-, A prefix used to signify through, throughout, by, for, or as an intensive as perhaps, by hap or chance; perennial, that lasts throughout the year; perforce, through or by force; perfoliate, perforate; perspicuous, evident throughout or very evident; perplex, literally, to entangle very much.

Fact, n. [L. factum, fr. facere to make or do.] A doing, making, or preparing. [Obs.]

When we look at the roots of a word, the source language(s) often give us hints to the heart of the word’s basic concepts: “to carry [on] to the end.”

Looking at the two Latin roots (Per and Fact) of the word “perfect,” we could define it as meaning “an act carried through.” In modern slang, one might define “perfect” as an adjective meaning, “take it to the limit.” Hmmm, something to chew on. For that matter, the sports term “follow-through” comes to mind rather vividly—a term I use in magic, too.

Next? Oh, yes, “love.”

Love

Love, n. [OE. love, luve, AS. lufe, lufu; akin to E. lief, believe, L.
lubet, libet, it pleases, Skr. lubh to be lustful.]

  1. A feeling of strong attachment induced by that which delights or commands admiration; preëminent kindness or devotion to another; affection; tenderness; as, the love of brothers and sisters.
  2. To regard with passionate and devoted affection, as that of one sex for the other.

I think it’s important to note that the older definition comes first, the “brotherly love” definition (there’s probably another whole essay in that simple fact). In the source language list, the Sanskrit source-word definition clearly indicates that both the “brotherly love” and “sexual love” definitions have accompanied this word across its usage through ages and language families. Nonetheless, the “feeling of strong attachment” is the older definition of the English word. OK, now we have enough information to take a look at the first part of the password: “perfect love.”

Perfect Love Is…

Assembling the definition of definitions, we read:

A feeling of strong attachment, carried through or intensified.

In fact, Gardner wrote of his own strong attachments to the New Forest Coven folks, partly related to their feelings that they had shared history in past lives. That perceived connection with reincarnated companions was a piece of the path that led him into the Craft in the first place. Gardner also wrote of the strong feelings that individuals working magic together can develop, something that, in my opinion, qualifies as another aspect of “perfect love.”

But there’s another, more important, aspect to this definition: it describes the operative force behind magic itself. Emotion, intent, direction, and follow-through: these are the cornerstones of what makes magic work. So in the phrase “perfect love” we have encoded how to work magic!

Trust

All right, moving on; here’s the definition of “trust”:

Trust, n. [OE. trust, trost, Icel. traust confidence, security; akin to Dan. & Sw. tröst comfort, consolation, G. trost, Goth. trausti a convention, covenant, and E. true. See True, and cf. Tryst.]

  1. Assured resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle, of another person; confidence; reliance; reliance.

See true and tryst? Let’s check those out, just to see how they relate to all of this.

True, a. [Compar. Truer; superl. Truest.] [OE. trewe, AS. Treówe faithful, true, from treów fidelity, faith, troth; akin to OFries. triuwe, adj., treuwa, n., OS. triuwi, adj., trewa, n., D. trouw, adj. & n., G. treu, adj., treue, n., OHG. gitriuwi, adj., triuwa, n., Icel. tryggr, adj., Dan. tro, adj. & n., Sw. trogen, adj., tro, n., Goth. triggws, adj., triggwa, n., trauan to trust, OPruss druwis faith.] Conformable to fact; in accordance with the actual state of things; correct; not false, erroneous, inaccurate, or the like; as, a true relation or narration; a true history; a declaration is true when it states the facts.

Tryst, n. [OE. trist, tryst, a variant of trust; cf. Icel. treysta to make trusty, fr. traust confidence, security.]

  1. Trust. [Obs.]
  2. An appointment to meet; also, an appointed place or time of meeting; as, to keep tryst; to break tryst. [Scot. Or Poetic] To bide tryst, to wait, at the appointed time, for one with whom a tryst or engagement is made; to keep an engagement or appointment.

Surprise! Here’s a still-older—and much more concrete—meaning of trust, embedded under tryst. Why does that matter? Because I’m looking at the roots of the words, to see just what solid matter may underlie all the conceptual hot air expended on these terms.

Trust is an extremely abstract concept in its modern meaning. Almost every term used to define it is abstract. Worse still, it takes a lot of these abstract terms to try to define it! “Assured resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle, of another person…” That’s quite a string. It’s important to note that the examples used in the definition for trust do not lump all the exemplary “sound principles” into the definition:

trust means: counting on someone for integrity (wholeness) or veracity (truthfulness) or justice (even-handedness?) or friendship…not necessarily all of the above.

In more mundane terms, trust means being able to count on another person for some specific, positive quality (sound principle) or behavior.

Perfect Trust Is…

Hence, “perfect trust” becomes “being able to count on someone carrying through on a principle or behavior“…or, equally, “being able to count absolutely on someone’s principle or behavior.” Given the embedded meaning of tryst, a key behavior is that of keeping appointments.

In a broader sense, looking at the intertwined meanings of true and trust, here are some other definitions of the phrase perfect trust to consider:

  • speaking only [magical] facts (the power of words)
  • keeping one’s [magical] appointments (esbats and sabbats)

Perfect Love And Perfect Trust Are?

Now where are we?

  • Perfect love = feelings of strong attachment, carried through.
  • Perfect trust = being able to rely on someone in the extreme.

And when you put them together, you combine the familiar (family-type) ties of relationship (plus the emotional capability for magic) with the reliable opportunity to gather together (to work magic): the crucial ingredients for a magic-working group or family…encoded into a pair of passwords. Paying special heed to the point where this password is introduced, we note that it applies specifically to the locale of a magical meeting: the circle.

Taking all of this together, I see three very important points that little resemble some of the more New Age–style expositions on this topic:

  • Perfect love and perfect trust apply within a magical circle.
  • Perfect love and perfect trust are goals.
  • Perfect love and perfect trust encode within them the essence of magical witchcraft practice.

Footnotes

[i] Gardner, Gerald B., Witchcraft Today

[ii] Ibid., The Meaning of Witchcraft.

[iii] Farrar, Stewart and Janet, The Witches’ Bible Compleat.

[iv] Internet Sacred Text Archive, http://www.sacred-texts.com/bos/bos360.htm

[v] Webster’s Revised Unabridged, 1913 edition, online version. http://machaut.uchicago.edu/?action=search&word=&resource=Webster%27s&quicksearch=on

[vi] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition