Wiccan Laws

Wiccan Laws

The Wiccan Laws, also called the Craft Laws, the Old Laws, the Ardanes (or Ordains) or simply The Laws are the traditional laws of Wicca from the Book of Shadows. The text of the Book of Shadows was theoretically passed down from generation to generation within the New Forest Coven, which was the coven that introduced Gerald Gardner to Wicca. It is not known whether the New Forest Coven actually existed, as most covens are reclusive by nature. Many Wiccans treat these laws as guidelines instead of governing rules.

It is believed that Gardner could have written these laws himself, or at least expanded them. The laws were first revealed by Gardner to other members of the Craft in 1957, after a disagreement arose over Gardner's continued interviews with the media despite his own rules of secrecy. The laws were originally unnumbered, and used the spelling wica, rather than Wicca or Wiccan. The Laws contain correctly used archaic language, however they mix modern and archaic phrases, suggesting a possible assembly from older fragments. The Laws do not appear in earlier known Wiccan documents, including Gardner's Ye bok of Ye Art Magical, Text A or B, or in any of Doreen Valiente’s notebooks including one commonly referred to as Text C.

Several of the provisions in these laws seem rather disagreeable to many Wiccans of today. For example, its sexist language ("as a man loveth a woman by mastering her"), and cursing people and condemning them to an eternity in the Christian hell ("And if any break these Laws, even under torture, THE CURSE OF THE GODDESS SHALL BE UPON THEM, so they may never be reborn on earth and may remain where they belong, in the hell of the Christians.") Another controversial law which irked Valiente was that: "And the greatest virtue of a High Priestess be that she recognize that youth is necessary to the representative of the Goddess. So will she gracefully retire in favor of a younger woman, should the coven so decide in council." Noticeably the Laws have several anachronisms and refer to the threat of being burnt for witchcraft even though this did not happen in England or Wales, where witches were hanged during the witch hunts.

Valiente, who was High Priestess at the time, as well as others in the coven, were highly suspicious of the Laws and their patriarchal language, and wondered why were they not included in the Book of Shadows if they were so important, and why Gardner had not produced them before. Parts also seemed suspiciously similar to extracts from Gardner's books. Their refusal to accept the Laws eventually led to Doreen Valiente and others leaving Gardner’s coven later that year. If Gardner did forge the Laws, this would have implications for earlier aspects of Wiccan history. The Laws nevertheless became a standard part of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows.

To Gardner's original 30 Laws Alexandrian Wicca added another 130. This much larger set of Laws was first published in King of the Witches by June Johns in 1969, and later, in slightly altered form, in both The Book of Shadows (1971) and The Grimoire of Lady Sheba (1972) by Jessie Wicker Bell (aka Lady Sheba). In these two books, Bell also published the bulk of the Wiccan Book of Shadows, introducing to the general public for the first time the possibility of practicing Wiccan-style ritual. Accordingly the Laws are known by some non-initiatory Wiccans as Lady Sheba's Laws or 161 Rules of the Witch (her title for them). Lady Sheba, self-styled "Queen of the Witches" of America, originally claimed she had received the material from her grandmother, however the text has been identified as being plagiarised (with errors) from an Alexandrian Book of Shadows no earlier than the mid-1960s.

In 1979 a Council of Elders at a festival in America produced a set of heavily revised Laws which made them more acceptable to modern Wiccans.

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