Oaths and Secrets in Wicca

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Gerald Gardner liked drama and prestige[1]. When he first started promoting the religion of Wicca he included oaths of secrecy as part of the first degree initiation rite. This served to impress on initiates that Wicca was a serious secret society. It also acted to preserve Wiccan teachings as exclusive to those who had been formally admitted to the group.

The oaths given in the Neophyte ritual in Israel Regardie’s “The Golden Dawn” and in Freemasonry texts such as “Duncan’s Ritual” and groups like the O.T.O. should be familiar in content to anyone who has taken a Wiccan initiatory oath.   We know that Gardner drew heavily from Freemasonry, the Golden Dawn, and the O.T.O. when he was fleshing out the material he would teach as Wicca, so it should be no surprise that the Wiccan oaths would be patterned after these.[2]

Witches have always had a reputation as outsiders. Their Craft is one shrouded in mystery and intrigue – with practitioners literally risking their lives at various times through history. In the English-speaking world today it is hardly the same. Many Witches today are able to practice their Craft openly without fear of arrest or worse.

Knowledge has spread enormously since the times of the witch persecutions too. Practices that used to be taught in person from one generation to the next are now documented in minute detail in countless books, websites, video and audio recordings. It’s really easy to get instructions on the arts of divination, spell-casting, and occult ritual through public libraries, bookstores, or on the internet.

Are the oaths meaningful today? Do they accomplish their intended purpose? Or should we consider new oaths that have purpose and meaning for our circumstances today?

Doreen Valiente, one of Gardner’s early (and possibly most influential) High Priestesses, had clear opinions about the oaths and their purpose. In her book “The Rebirth of Witchcraft” (page 54) she says that she is totally unrepentant for including large portions of the previously secret Gardnerian Book of Shadows in Janet and Stewart Farrar’s book “The Witches’ Way.” As she put it, “There has been too much childish cloak-and-dagger business in the world of the occult, too much of what Aleister Crowley satirized as swearing someone to the most frightful penalties if they betray the secret knowledge and then confiding the Hebrew alphabet to their safe keeping.”

She goes on to state, “The only reason for secrecy today is when witches themselves prefer not to have their identities and their private addresses revealed – and this, oddly enough, is the area in which their fellow-witches tend to be the most lax.”

What is the purpose then of oaths that require initiates to never discuss Wiccan philosophy, practices, teachings, or liturgy with outsiders especially since most of it has either been borrowed from non-Wiccan published sources in the first place, or has already been published by Wiccan founders such as Gardner himself or Doreen Valiente? How does preventing the free discussion of ideas help anyone?

Oaths can serve the noble purpose of affirming one’s loyalty to the group. That is not in question. What should be examined is why should there be secrecy included in the oaths, and what exactly does deserve to remain secret.

As Valiente suggested it is perfectly reasonable to expect confidentiality regarding the identities and personal contact information for other initiates. It is also reasonable to expect secrecy regarding what specific rituals or spells an individual or group might be performing at the time, when they are performing them, and where. If an individual practitioner or group creates a new chant, or prayer, or way of doing things then it should be their right to share it, or not, with others. However to expect secrecy to be preserved about basic teachings and practices, especially ones that have already been publicly revealed, serves no purpose.

Expecting initiates to preserve secrecy about already published material only serves the purpose of establishing power-over those initiates by the group hierarchy. It’s a power trip for those at the top of the hierarchy that undermines key teachings in Wicca such as the concept that Wiccans do not require a mediator between themselves and the Divine, and that each Wiccan is a Priest/ess autonomous and sufficient unto themselves.

And with that, here is a suggested Oath:

I, (name), in the presence of the Mighty Ones, the Lord and Lady of us all, do of my own free will and accord swear my loyalty to Them, to the Mysteries, and to my sisters and brothers in the Craft. I will respect the privacy of my brothers and sisters in the Craft, never betraying them, as they would never betray me. I will ever seek to strengthen the Craft and the reverence of the Lord and Lady. So Mote It Be.


[1] See Philip Heselton’s two-volume biography, “Witchfather: A Life of Gerald Gardner,” Thoth Publications, 2011. Heselton’s account is sympathetic but does not shy from discussing Gardner’s faults, particularly his penchant for seeking perceived social status and publicity.

[2] Gardner had a charter from Aleister Crowley authorizing him to start up an O.T.O. camp administering the first three degrees (see http://www.geraldgardner.com/archive/charter/index.php for photos of the charter). We also know that Gardner had copies of Israel Regardie’s “The Golden Dawn” published in three volumes at the end of the 1930s, and was a Freemason.