Protean Declaration of Independence

at Merrymeet, 1991

People, I have good news and I have bad news. First, the bad news: There is an irreconcilable schism in the Gardnerian Tradition of Witchcraft, a divorce in the Gardnerian family. We have tried to resolve our differences for years now, never realizing how deep they went. Only very recently, and with great sorrow, have we come to perceive that all our disagreements come down to one -- and that is our basic understanding of how religion works. Our conflict is not just Pagan. It eventually manifests in all religious communities.

The dispute is over whether Gardnerians may or may not adapt our rituals to suit our changing needs and growing insights. I have been told, by a Gardnerian brother, that "if you change anything, the first thing you change is your name." I have been told, by a Gardnerian sister, that Gerald Gardner lived at a very rare historical moment, when a new spiritual pattern was emerging. He was called to give form and expression to that pattern, like Jesus, like the Buddha, in their own times. We who live in a more normal period, by this reasoning, should not tamper with the rituals we inherited, but simply work with them, unchanged in word and spirit, hoping to attune ourselves to the Sacred Pattern they express.

This is a limitation I and mine can never accept. For us, the creative process is the first channel by which we call the Sacred back into our world. Our sincerest tribute to the memory of Gerald Gardner - who all his life researched, adapted, and experimented with our rituals - is to continue the work he so well began. What we create - in ritual and in many other forms - is our gift of love to the Old Ones and Their People.

We certainly do not deny the Gardnerian identity of those who deny ours. We are both Gardnerians, but after a different manner. They are the Gardnerians who use what he wrote; we are the Gardnerians who do what he did. For three years now, a few who believe in an invariant liturgy have closed their Circles to those of my lineage. By this act, the family tie is broken.

These liturgical purists seem to be a small minority of Gardnerians, but they are outspoken and highly visible. They also happen to coordinate the annual Gardnerian gatherings and publish the Gardnerian magazine. So their influence far exceeds their numbers. Although we have tried to persuade them to relent, we must finally recognize the right of any Wiccan to exclude anyone from their Circle for any reason. Nor do we wish to stand in Circle with those that do not want us there. It takes at least two to make a family; but it only needs one to make a divorce.

The record also shows - sadly - that American Gardnerians have for the most part accepted the premise that "the first thing you change is your name." I have heard this many times in many places, sadly, wistfully: "I was trained and initiated Gardnerian, but I wanted to try out some of my own ideas, so I guess I'm not Gardnerian anymore." The thinkers, creators and innovators have quietly gone away. The cream rose, was skimmed, and was discarded.

To my knowledge, my coven and the lineage that springs from it are the first to insist on both our creative freedom and our name. This is the good news about the bad news: we broke the pattern. For this, all credit goes to my own Queen, who never once gave me the standard stifling message. She has always stood by us, and she still does. I bless the day, fifteen years ago Samhain, that I attended my first Circle in her living room.

Now we're making a new space where all Gardnerians can come together and find out about one another and our full range of practice. In 1992, people of my line will be starting a new Wiccan magazine, intended to be the voice of the living Gardnerian Tradition. [note: sadly, this never happened] We hope it will become the basis of a more inclusive Gardnerian grouping, open to all who have a direct, human connection to the Gardnerian family, and who pass on the Gardnerian Book of Shadows in full, whether they use any of it or not, so that historical continuity may be preserved. We certainly also welcome all those who choose to practice by the older forms, as long as they recognize that this is simply one possible choice, and do not deny the Gardnerian validity of other choices.

Most of all, our light is in the window for the alienated and exiled Gardnerians. By our refusal to go away quietly, we have earned the right to welcome you back home.

There is also bad news about the good news. Six years of Gardnerian infighting have taken their toll. Some of my people lost heart. Some within my line no longer wish to be identified as Gardnerian. This is surely their right, and yet, our immediate family bond is strong and warm. When the first of them, Lady Dancejoy, said to me "I don't want to be Gardnerian, but I sure still want to be your kid," I couldn't - and certainly didn't want to - deny her. We figured out a way to cope with an uncomfortable situation. It seemed like no big deal at the time. Though neither of us understood, a seed was planted that day. It has rooted, sprouted, budded and flowered.

Today, that seed bears fruit. This is the good news. Today, here at Merrymeet, at the heart of presentday Wicca, I say to you all that the Protean Tradition is an independent Tradition of Witchcraft. Most, but not all, Proteans are also Gardnerians. Many Proteans are also initiated in other Wiccan traditions - I'm certainly proud to be NROOGD. But whatever else we are, we are also our own thing. And what is that?

In ordinary English, "protean" means "many formed," like the Old Man of the Sea, whose name we bear. Those who prove they can hang on through all the changes will find the answers they seek. Know us by our actions. Judge us by our actions. We have done well for the Craft. We will do more.

We are about learning. We are about creativity. We are about ethics and integrity. We are about love and trust. We are a family. But, as all that lives changes, may we never be fully defined. May the good Gods preserve us from ever developing a set of "litmus test" rituals, for to prevent the forms from changing is to kill the Spirit.

I thank the other coven leaders in NELCCoG, and in the New York Area Coven Leaders' Support Group, for years of listening and encouragement. Deirdre's ironic invitation to represent the Gardnerian Tradition on this panel gave us Proteans that last push we needed to come out. Thank you, Deirdre.

Most of all I thank the people of Proteus for all their unstinting love. Some made special efforts to be here tonight; others are sending support from afar. A rocky road led to this threshold. The journey has been stressful, and has contained moments of real emotional pain. But today I look around at what we have done, at where we have reached -- and I bless even the feet that brought me here.

Judy Harrow
HPs, Proteus Coven
August 30, 1991

1997 update

This is how the relationship between Protean and Gardnerian looks to me now:

By far most, but not all, Proteans are Gardnerians.

Most Gardnerians recognize Proteans as Gardnerians. A small but significant - and very loud - minority of Gardnerians will not recognize Proteans as Gardnerians.

Judy Harrow
January 6, 1997

diagram: Protean/Gardnerian relationship

You can go back to:
  • The History of Proteus
  • The Proteus Library

  • Originally given as a speech at the Covenant of the Goddess "Merrymeet" gathering in Massachusetts, August 30, 1991
    Subsequently published in the Covenant of the Goddess Newsletter
    The address of this page is
    Contents of this page are copyright 1991, 1997, 2001 by Judy Harrow