I have been part of a Gardnerian coven located in southern Ohio for almost 10 years. I like the structed system of Gardnerian. Gardnerian is the tradition founded by Gerald Gardner. He was one of the first to go public with formation about the Craft. This is an extremely traditional path with a hierarchical grade structure. The covens are very secretive and take oaths upon initiations. This is really the foundation of modern Wicca. Although there are a number of Gardnerian Covens active in the US, they are difficult to locate and once located are not easy to join. This tradition does not lend itself well to solitary practice, but some aspects of it do.
A retired British civil servant named Gerald B. Gardner is the 'Grandfather', at the very least, of almost all Neo-Wicca. He was initiated into a coven of Witches in the New Forest region of England in 1939 by a High Priestess named 'Old Dorothy' Clutterbuck. In 1949 he wrote a novel [*High Magic's Aid*] about medieval Witchcraft in which quite a bit of the Craft as practiced by that coven was used. In 1951 the last of the English laws against Witchcraft were repealed (primarily due to the pressure of Spiritualists) and Gardner published *Witchcraft Today*, which set forth a version of the rituals and traditions of that coven.
Gardnerism is both a tradition and a family. The High Priestess rules the coven, and the principles of love and trust preside. We follow our handed down book more carefully than many others, but we are free to add and improvise, as long as we preserve the original. To be considered a legitimate Gardnerian coven, you must be able to trace the coven lineage back to the original. Each High Priest or Priestess claiming to have hived off of another coven to join a new one must have permission to carry on the Gardnerian name.
Most Gardnerian covens work skyclad (ritual work in the nude), practice binding and scourging, are hierarchal and secretive, therefore are controversial. We're also controversial because we were first - the first craft tradition in the U. S. and descended from the man largely responsible for starting the craft revival. So, we're called 'the snobs of the Craft', but I think we're as much fun as anyone else; our parties as good, our jokes as bad.
A Gardnerian can trace his/her lineage matrilineally back to a High Priestess who worked with Gerald. For virtually all American Gardnerians, that means his last HPS, Monique Wilson. Monique initiated the Bucklands and Rosemary Buckland initiated Theas, so far as anyone knows, the only one of Rosemary's Thirds who passed the initiation on - which is why she has been called (but doesn't call herself) 'Witch Queen of America. '
Reincarnation and the Wiccan Rede [An it harm none do what you will] are basic tenants of the tradition. Covens are as much as possible composed of male/female pairs for balance. Most working is accomplished with the energy raised by the interaction of the Lord and Lady as represented by the couples in the coven by dancing, chanting, etc.
Like many Wiccan traditions, Gardnerians have three degrees. An American Gardnerian must be of the 3rd degree before she can become a HPS. The HPS/HP are responsible for conducting services (circles), training their conveners, and preserving and passing on Gardnerian Craft.
A lot of the controversy surrounding Gardnerianism questions the sources of the rituals and other materials, particularly those appearing in print. It is true that Gardner presented these materials as if they were directly from his New Forest tradition. It is clear, however, that whatever materials the coven may have had when he was initiated, Gerald made a lot of changes and added a great deal. Literary sources of the published Book of Shadows include Blake, Kipling, Yeats and Crowley. Much of the published material was written by Doreen Valiente, a member of the coven for a time and later founder of her own groups and author of many excellent books on the Craft.
Gardnerian Witches without doubt do have many materials which have not appeared in print, however, their emphasis on secrecy has made them a punch line in the Wiccan social world. How many Gardnerians does it take to change a light bulb? That's a secret! Their High Priestess will usually be called 'Lady' So-and-so and High Priest, 'Lord Whats-his-name'. [This is far more true in the U. S. than it is in England.]