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Protean Witchcraft: some history of our lineage

by Judy Harrow (High Priestess, Proteus Coven)

I was trained and Initiated in the Gardnerian Tradition, eventually taking my Third Degree and hiving off from the Coven of Iargalon. Proteus Coven was born at Midsummer of 1980. Daystar, who was my first working partner, and I wanted to do some things our own way. We checked in with Lady Morvoren, my Queen, about these changes. She gave us her approval to follow our own values and the inspirations we had received, while continuing to participate in the larger Gardnerian family. Back then, this "check in" procedure was how Gardnerians maintained a dynamic balance between continuity and change. For the first five years, all went quietly and well.

However, in 1985, some more conservative Gardnerians attempted to define the Gardnerian Tradition as consisting of "the writings and teachings of Gerald B. Gardner, unchanged in word and spirit." This is, of course, an oxymoron, since to freeze the words is to kill the spirit. But the fundamentalist virus can infect any religion, and perhaps the fact that it infected ours is some sort of sign of maturity. In any case, there was an attempt at that time to excommunicate all Gardnerians who trace their lineage from Proteus Coven. Some Gardnerians supported this move, others opposed it, and the controversy remains unresolved to this day.

Then one of the High Priestesses downline from Proteus, Lady Dancejoy, declared that she was disgusted with the heresy hunting that some Gardnerians seem to like to engage in. She said that she henceforth wanted no part of the Gardnerian affiliation and infighting, but still very much wanted to stay connected with her immediate lineage and close kin. Dancejoy and those who agree with her are usually called "Protean Eclectics."

Others descended from Proteus felt equally strongly that they wanted to maintain their Gardnerian affiliation. Perhaps the strongest advocate for this was Lady Brighit, eldest daughter of Proteus Coven and founder of the Calgard Line, who persuaded me. We "Protean Gardnerians" have strong opinions about religion being an ongoing co-creation, the continuous work of human creativity and (we hope) Divine inspiration. We believe that those who would prohibit any changes to the Gardnerian liturgy and engage in heresy hunting on that basis are just plain wrong, and we are unwilling to concede the name of "Gardnerian" to them. We want to keep Gerald's legacy alive and growing.

(The impression I have is that most Calgards today, despite their descent from Proteus Coven, would prefer to identify simply as Gardnerians and not as Proteans. That is entirely their prerogative. Affiliation only works when both sides are happy to choose and continue it.)

So we extended the term "Protean" to include all of us - descendants as well as members of Proteus Coven - both those who did and those who did not wish to continue our Gardnerian affiliation - to give us a category under which we could all be connected with each other. If you're familiar with the concept of Venn diagrams, picture two circles that partially overlap, so there is an almond shape of overlap and two crescents that do not overlap. That's the relationship between Proteans and Gardnerians. I am both. Most of us are both.

Later on, "Protean" took on a secondary meaning. In 1987, we created a Dedication ritual, as a rite of passage for people who are just beginning to study the Craft. We use this rite long before Initiation would be appropriate, because we want to ritually install certain ethical principles before we teach our students anything much (and we need to teach them this stuff before they can be qualified for Initiation). This Dedication rite has been widely published, and I'm delighted that many other folk have adopted it and use it. This rite, by itself, can't make a person Protean. That requires the human family connection, same as with any other Craft tradition. You don't get to be a Gardnerian by reading Gerald Gardner's books.

Meanwhile the exclusionary faction gained strength within the Gardnerian community. Eventually they succeeded in imposing a "litmus test" for participation in the main ritual Circle at the most important annual gathering of Gardnerians in the United States. Rumors were spreading throughout the Pagan community. In an effort to clarify matters, I announced the birthing of the Protean tradition at the Covenant of the Goddess' Merrymeet festival in 1991. My effort at clarification failed. Many people seemed to get the impression that, by establishing our own identity, the Proteans were seceding from the Gardnerian family. The reality is that almost all of us are proudly maintaining our dual identity.

In 1994, Lady Brigantia and I became working partners. During that partnership, she made two major contributions to the development of Protean praxis. Because of her strong academic background, she guided us through the development of a more formal, structured training curriculum. This was "kitchen tested" with the study group that started in 1997, with astonishing success. As part of this curriculum, she advocated for a strong element of actual nature study. We call this "geocentricity." If our primary worship is directed toward our beautiful and endangered Mother Earth, surely we should understand Her as best we can.

So, what has happened is that, in addition to the human bond of lineage, which is primary, Protean has come to mean a few other things:

1. The ethical principles (we don't tell, we don't sell, we don't force, and we don't train those who would.)
2. A commitment to spontaneity and creativity in ritual. A prizing of feeling over form.
3. An emphasis on "geocentricity," the notion that nature religion mandates a real commitment to understanding, protecting and healing the Earth.
4. An understanding that Wicca is not just a religion, but a committed Pagan religious order, and as such requires real training in clergy skills as well as intense personal psycho-spiritual development.

I hope other Proteans will share their perspectives about the meaning of this thing that we share. With a small "p," protean is a regular English word meaning "many-formed." That which is many formed cannot be accurately described by any one person or any one viewpoint.

For more information about Gerald Gardner, the founder of Gardnerian Wicca, please visit the Gerald Gardner web site.

written by Judy Harrow , HPs, Proteus Coven, 1998
updated: February 8, 2012; © 1998, 2000, 2012 Judy Harrow
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