The Increase of Disorder

18 06 2008

Bear with me, my friends; this could be a long one!

The full moon seems to be fostering this enormous outpouring of drivel ideas from me, and you are to be the recipients!

Having dinner with Seshat’s Voice last evening, we got onto the subject of group dynamics, both on the small group and the macro level. What happens across human experience when you get a large amount of people all supposedly going the same way?

The premise starts with the sowing of a seed, of an idea; in this instance, it was Gardner’s drawing-together of Wicca with a coherent-enough belief system and historiography. Gardner had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve, what he wished to set in motion; he had enough natural showmanship and a deep enough need for publicity (note I say ‘deep enough’. He wasn’t as much of a headline grabber as some who came afterward) to set the scene effectively and with an eye for the future.

Almost immediately things began to suffer the effects of entropy. And entropy is a good construct to use here; the ‘increase of disorder’ neatly describes the process which Wicca underwent in the years after 1939.

By 1949 and the publication of ‘High Magic’s Aid’, Wicca was already established and becoming known (Davis 1.1:45). Gardner was certainly the most influential spokesperson for Wicca. Behind him and to each side, however, were an increasing band of associated and interconnected personalities. Gardner was 65 by the time HMA was published, and by 1955 was no longer the undisputed head of his order. It had, in effect, grown legs and run off.

Gardner may be credited with his title ‘The Father of Modern Witchcraft’ whether you believe he was initiated into a pre-existing tradition or made the whole shooting match up. In a sense, from our vantage point in 2008, it’s irrelevant anyway. It is Gardner’s personality that enabled his great success in introducing a most unusual and some might say subversive religious system into post-war Britain; his knowledge and the uses he made of it that caused such widespread acceptance amongst the intelligentsia. And almost immediately that his success was beginning to manifest itself, others were setting out their stalls in similar fashion.

Julia Phillips discusses the competing hereditary tradition claims made by Robert Cochrane, Alex Sanders, Charles Cardell (2004:5) and Eleanor Bone (2004:12). We learn that denouncements of Gardner were beginning, particularly from Cardell, who appeared to have a mounting antipathy for Gardner, from the very start.

It might be said at this point that, by the time of the breakup of Gardner’s coven, he had become something of an enemy to himself; Doreen Valiente claimed that one reason she left the group was that Gardner invoked ‘Gerald’s Law’ which enabled the investiture of a new, young and presumably beautiful High Priestess. This effectively displaced Valiente; and seems high-handed and egotistical of Gardner to say the least. He clearly wanted to retain control. The argument flared up again over the introduction of The Laws – which Valiente and her Partner Ned Grove suspected Gardner of inventing after the fact as a bid to retain power (2004:10).

Briefly, just some of the subsequent fracturings and reformings of the emerging religion may be summarised thus, and there is no chronological order imposed here; 

Valiente and Grove left the Coven, in bad humour with Gardner. Robert Cochrane represented himself as a hereditary witch in the style of Gardner, and in opposition to Gardnerian Wicca. His coven, the Royal Windsor Cuveen, was reinvented as The Regency after Cochrane’s death in 1966. Eleanor Bone, despite being initated by Gardner, still laid claim to an external lineage. Alex Sanders claimed both an external lineage, AND obtained initiation into a Gardnerian coven, then left to form his own coven on different lines. Maxine Sanders joined him, and they later initated the Farrars.

Within this melee we can see the constant jockeying for position, the political one-upmanship and above all the strength of the personalities involved. It appears to me as though there is a mechanism at work here, one which is active in any group gathered around an emotive and valuable central theme.

Another similar situation I have heard of recently, from the Rationalist Humanist, in fact, is the formation of modern Tae-Kwon Do. Similarly to Wicca, it was formalised around 50 years ago. Similarly to Wicca, it suffered internal schism and personality-led breakaways from the central core. These schisms continued, across continents and decades. Now, the form of Tae-Kwon Do practised by the majority of adherents in the UK is so markedly different to that practised by Korea, where it originated, that even a lay person can differentiate between the fight-styles. This shows once again the power of an idea, ownership of that idea and the lengths inspired or angry people will go to to preserve their version of that idea intact.

The purpose of this essay is not to mourn the schismatic nature of Wicca, nor hark back to an earlier ‘golden age’ of the form. My purpose here is to examine entropy at work and see whether it is creative or destructive to the form upon which it acts. And taking Wicca aside for a moment, I’m interested to see whether the form causes the entropy, or whether the entropy is simply what happens when you gather strong personalities together under a supposedly common banner.

Entropy is all around us; we fight it constantly and rarely win. When you gather humans together, the old adage applies; any more than two and a faction will form. When you multiply that natural tendency for partisanship with intelligence, spirit and a nascent social and political force, which is what Wicca was in the late 1940’s and early 50’s, you’ve got an explosive combination. I’m actually surprised Wicca survived at all.

Regarding destruction, the argument could of course be made both ways; Wicca has changed immeasurably from the original distillation by Gardner; we are reaching a visible limit for the threads of lineage driven initiation. At some point, the juice will dilute no further; validation may well become nigh-on impossible. ‘New’ branches of Wicca, and of witchcraft in general, are in the frame; new means by which one can be initiated are discussed. The ‘New Age’ has made self-development a realistic possibility for anyone. Not everyone agrees with these new paths; it goes without saying that there is debate, not all of it polite.

Having said all this, the destructive impulses within Wicca are remarkably weak. Wicca is changing, splitting, arguing and agreeing almost constantly, and yet there are no truly entrenched positions across the board, and so no really heart-rending breaks can occur. There’s still the great urge to ‘stick together’ and sort out the differences amicably. This is encouraging stuff.


… and here’s an interesting sidebar from The Wild Hunt on this issue.



A History of Wicca in England, Julia Phillips, 2004 Revised Edition

From Man to Witch: Gerald Gardner 1946-49, Morgan Davis, v1.1

The Meaning of Witchcraft, Gerald Gardner, Red Wheel/ Weiser 2004 Edition

Personal Notes and Wiki




8 responses

19 06 2008

Bear with me as I am sitting here a bit fuzzy-headed with a large cup of coffee having just spent 36 hrs straight in bed with a virus; so I will endevour to make sense, but I am not guaranteeing anything 😉

According to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, entropy (the level of availability/unability of the systems energy to do work) of a closed system increases over time, until such point that the system effectively is no longer able to produce work and breaksdown; now theoretically whilst we could say that Gardners’ Wicca is in it’s purest form is a closed system, that wouldn’t be an acurate representation; new members are being initiated into covens, each bringing their own energies to the system. In addition members of the Wiccan traditions have brought ideals and concepts out into the wider populace, this effectively ensuring that the system is not as closed as it would initially seem.

It is the acts of schizm and growth that has allowed Wicca to survive, the ability for disorder and sponateous change that has allowed the system to grow and remain at least partially open thus reducing the overall entropic effect. Had it remained totally closed I suspect Wicca wouldn’t have made it much past the 1980’s and the beginning of the end of it’s first generation.

19 06 2008

I could see you sparking off the Rationalist Humanist 🙂 – glad the evening inspired you to produce such an interesting post. Is there someone who would currently name themselves Head of Wiccans? I think this lack of strict hierachy means that everyone is on an equal playing field (to a certain extent) and that any ideas have to be considered. The lack of conventional hierarchy allows for a flexibility that bends more in response to the internal discord, rather than rigidly resisting and breaking.

19 06 2008
The Green Witch

Hi Nicnevyn – I hope you’re feeling much better! 🙂

‘Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society’ is the sense in which I refered to entropy – I’m clearly! not a commentator on Thermodynamics, knowing less about that than just about anything else. And I agree, Wicca cannot be considered a closed system – it would be pretty pointless if it was!

Entropy also implies energy; there’s a great deal of latent energy in Wicca and its developing forms.

I agree that schism can tear enough holes to let light in so an organism like Wicca can grow, but can we say its been preserved? Or has it had to evolve away from what it was intended to be, to survive?

And in the end, I’m interested in the base facts of human nature – that when you have a group of people all united under one cause, you inevitably get schism and dissent. Schism in this instance was not a requirement nor a wanted outcome of Gardner’s work; but it has furthered the cause of Wicca. Or perhaps we ought to say that Wicca has furthered its own cause, despite the internecine strife.

19 06 2008
The Green Witch

Hello, Seshat, my dear. Argh! No! Not the RH!! 🙂 What he had to say was extremely interesting and really got the old grey cells in a tizz!

I’m not sure there is one who claims that title; Julia Phillips believes the most likely successor to the headship at least in terms of scholarship would be Janet and Stuart Farrar, and now of course Gavin Bone. By the nature of the system, there’ll be those who disagree!

I think you’re right about the hierarchy. You can see the sort of stultifying effect a rigid heirarchy has in some of the more organised of the world religions. Not something we need to emulate nor work towards.

19 06 2008
Abdur Rahman

Peace, one and all…

Although I am not a Wiccan, nor even a Pagan, I think that much of what you write here applies to religious traditions/commuities in general. In Christian terms, perhaps the idea of the Incarnation led to a vast range of opinions in reaction to what was perceived as a cosmic event. Kind of like ‘hey! what was that? It was an amazing outpouring of grace. What does it mean?’ And at that point comes the detailed argumentation and the ultimate development of an ‘orthodoxy’.

In Islamic terms, the appearance of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the Quran caused a similar creative explosion – although, given our current climate, I should be very wary of combining ‘Islam’ and ‘explosion’ in the same sentence. At any rate, this accounts for the later development of different schools of thought – Sunni and Shi`a, and within these broad traditions, of a whole range of different groups – with very different ideas and methodologies.

Perhaps entropy is a feature of all religions. Or, perhaps, it might be better to see it as a plethora of creative voices talking about a shared original inspiration – Christ (as) for Christians, the Quran for Muslims and nature in all its glory for pagans/Wiccans (if that seems an oversimplification, it is not meant as one – I simply don’t know enought). With regards to authority, the moment someone becomes authoritative, it seems to me, another refuses to accept that authority and thus begins a counter-movement/group.

Just a few thoughts.

Abdur Rahman

19 06 2008
The Green Witch

Salaam, Abdur! I laughed without meaning to at your comment about explosions – it reminded me of when I was learning to drive and asked my instructor whether he could give me a ‘crash course’ of lessons….. 🙂 Perhaps not a serendipitous choice of words!

What you see as a plethora of creative voices sounds wonderfully right to me. And authority does breed dissension, as I suppose it must when you think about it.

I believe one of the strange things about Wicca is that there isn’t currently a recognised authority; and even Gardner, while the instigator, and the main publicist, never really had a firm and autonomous grip on Wicca from what I can make out!

19 06 2008

Can anything stay preserved and remain alive? I just get images of Damian Hurst like creatures suspended in nothingness. It’s >singing< “that old black magic called …” CHANGE. We fear it, we long for it and nothing is untouched by it.
Janet Farrar and Bone as heads? Couldn’t help but let out a little “hrumph” at that. I admire some of their writing, it’s not personal. Just the thought of anyone proclaiming themself “head honcho” of Wicca makes me feel like someone has walked over my grave. That could never be a good thing, could it?

19 06 2008
The Green Witch

I can’t say that, if a ‘head’ was proclaimed, even by acclamation, that I would choose to follow. I just am not made that way.

I hope it doesn’t come across as simultaneously subversive and arrogant if I say that I presently don’t need any sort of figurehead in this life to follow; if I do need such, then the Goddess and God will point me in the direction of the right person. Of this I am sure.

Change is wonderful, terrible, necessary. It is the means by which we understand life to move forward.

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