Trans and nonbinary Witches respond to “Traditional Gardnerian Wica” declaration

Me on the beach at Worthing, FUSE 2012

For transgender and nonbinary Gardnerians, the controversy surrounding a recently published document deemed transphobic elicited strong condemnations and widespread dismissal of any influence the statement’s authors have in the Gardenarian community.

As The Wild Hunt previously reported, a small group of anonymous Gardernarians recently posted “A Declaration of the Traditional Gardnerian Wica,” claiming that the tradition’s principles are strictly rooted in male/female polarity and denying the compatibility of other gender identifications with their practice.

Among those expressing outrage are Yvonne Aburrow, author of All Acts of Love and Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca, along with other titles. Aburrow is nonbinary and became a Gardnerian in 1991. They have been part of the magical community since 1985 and have long advocated for a more inclusive Wicca.

“The first time I met a trans initiate was in 1995, and she was in a relationship with a member of Gardner’s original coven,” Aburrow said via email. “Various members of the mainstream Gardnerian community who have responded to the transphobic declaration have broken down in some detail how it actually contradicts things that Gerald Gardner wrote. The individuals making the declaration are marginal within the online community (and have set up their own Facebook groups where they can promote their view of the Craft). They do not represent the vast majority of the Gardnerian community, and they certainly do not represent a traditional view of Gardnerian Wicca.”

Aburrow, who holds an master’s in Contemporary Religions and Spiritualities from Bath Spa University in England, is concerned with the declaration’s claims of a more authentic understanding of Gardener, especially given their research’s focus on queer spirituality in both Christianity and Paganism at large.

“I am always disturbed when people use the concept of tradition as a cover for their bigotry,” they explained. “Tradition is a growing and changing thing, it is not set in stone (and the people behind this declaration are actually trying to change the tradition into something that is at odds with its general themes).”

Aburrow was also quick to point out the declaration’s potentially negative ramifications to creating a welcoming space.

“It has also been sad to see seekers and newer initiates being dismayed by the declaration, as it is very disheartening for people who are not really acquainted with the wider community to think that this sort of bigotry might be widespread in the community they are joining,” they said. “For those of us who have been part of the community for decades and are familiar with the attitudes and beliefs of Gardnerians, it is clear that [the declaration] is a rant by a small number of disaffected bigots, who do not like it that the community is moving towards greater inclusivity.”

Misha Magdalene, who describes herself as a “multi-queer Witch” from Rhode Island, was initiated in both the Anderson Feri and Gardnerian traditions. As the author of Outside the Charmed Circle: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in Magical Practice, Magdalene characterizes the situation through a similarly nuanced lens.

Cover to “Outside the Charmed Circle” by Misha Magdeline [Llewellyn]

“My initial reaction was a bit of a non-reaction: ‘Oh, there go the transphobes again,’” she said. “At a certain point, you just get used to these periodic, nonsensical gurglings from the usual suspects. It’s an attempt at instilling the Craft with a right-wing agenda. It’s harmful, in part because it tarnishes the reputation of Gardnerian Craft for people who might not be informed enough to understand that these folks only represent a small-but-loud fraction of the Craft, but it’s neither new nor noteworthy.”

While Magdalene admits to having experienced discrimination within the Gardnerian community, she notes it is not the overriding sentiment.

“I’ve dealt with ugliness from particular individuals, but the Gardnerian community as a whole has been welcoming, accepting, and thoughtful in its approach to transgender people,” she explained. “I’ve had longtime friends and Elders within the Craft reach out to me in recent days to see how I’m doing, and to offer their support. It’s been lovely.”

Aburrow has also had their fair share of negative reactions, but noted a shift within the community.

“When I first started talking about making Wicca more inclusive, I did get pushback from some people, especially from some of the individuals behind this statement,” they said. “Over the last seven or eight years, a lot more people have become interested in making our rituals more inclusive for LGBTQ2SIA people.” (Aburrow has included two spirit, intersex, and asexual identities, along with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning.)

In the wake of the declaration’s publications, many trans and nonbinary Gardnerians felt the need to express radical pride and remind fellow practitioners of their presence in the tradition. Shane Mason, a nursing student and nonbinary Gardnerian in New York City, was resolute.

“There was sadness, and anger, of course, but also resolve,” they said. “Determination to continue living authentically as myself, and to continue honoring the gods and ancestors of my tradition as I have always done. No ‘declaration’ with a few dozen signatures is going to prevent me from doing that.”

Like Aburrow and Magdalene, Mason views the declaration’s authors and its supporters as outnumbered.

“I can’t help but feel like the small segment of the Gardnerian community who are so adamant about gatekeeping the tradition from gender nonconforming practitioners know good and well that they are in the extreme minority,” they said, “and that their position is becoming less and less popular as the world evolves and changes.”

This tracks with Mason’s overall journey in the Gardenarian tradition. When Mason began seeking out training a decade ago, a few people in the wider Pagan community suggested that they might face discrimination, but Mason found the opposite.

“The first time I met the local Gardnerian coven at a Pagan Expo, they had a typed sign in a frame on their information table. It read: ‘We are non-racist, non-sexist, and non-homophobic – and expect our students to be also.’ When I answer e-mails from seekers these days, I tend to include a similar statement about inclusion,” Mason explained. “The vast majority of Gardnerians I know are wonderful, loving, generous people. But like any cross section of the population, there are going to be a handful of people you want to steer clear of. Being a Witch doesn’t necessarily make someone a good person.”

Instead of focusing on the negativity of the declaration, Mason is determined to recognize the progress that has been made in the Pagan community, and to move forward.

“The tide of progress cannot be stemmed. I have been focusing on the mysteries of the Craft as I interpret them, and on the group that I run. I have a flourishing coven of my own initiates, as well as an Outer Court (training group), so I’m busy attending to their needs, and don’t have a ton of extra time to argue fruitlessly with people on the internet.”

Magdalene strikes a similarly defiant tone. She casts the declaration’s authors in the wider context of an increasingly more inclusive magical community that does not tolerate transphobic rhetoric.

“The folks who put together this “declaration” are a loud minority within the broader community, one that’s quickly rendering itself persona non grata within that community,” she said. “They claim to be the only ones practicing Gardnerian Craft the ‘one, true, right, and only’ way, but the reality is that they’re actually the ones deviating from the traditions and precedents set by our Elders. I see no reason to let their bad faith attempts to co-opt the narrative interfere with my practice of the Craft, or my communion with our Gods.”