What is Progressive Witchcraft? by Terminus
“We do not see our ‘trainees’ as empty vessels, waiting to be filled up, but as individuals with a wealth of experience and ideas which they can contribute to the craft.”(Ariadne Rainbird, 1993)
The use of the term progressive arose from a discussion between Ariadne Rainbird and Tam Campbell in London in the late 1980s (*3) They were discussing the evolution of Wicca, and the fact that it had moved on over the decades, beyond the labels of “Gardnerian” or “Alexandrian”. They clearly stated that the term was being used to describe a trend, not a tradition, and that any coven that was eclectic in its approach and not limiting itself to the Book of Shadows was being progressive.
In 1991 Ariadne Rainbird formed a network for covens who subscribed to a more eclectic view of Wiccan practice, called the Progressive Wiccan network (*1). This network included covens in Wales, England, Germany and Canada. 1991 also saw the first Grand Sabbat, at Lughnasadh, with around 30 witches from six different covens meeting up to camp out in the wilds of South Wales and celebrate together. This tradition was to continue for some years, developing into an annual weekly gathering in Cornwall for members of different covens to work together.
In 1992 David Rankine became the editor of the magazine Dragon’s Brew, which became the magazine of the Progressive Wiccan movement. Dragon’s Brew was created by Chris Breen in 1990, originally as the house magazine for the Silver Wheel Coven (*1).
To quote from the magazine (1992):
“Progressive Wicca is a movement which spans the traditions and emphasises networking, closeness to nature, personal growth and co-operative development. Personal experience of other paths is welcomed and integrated into covens, and we do not slavishly follow a Book of Shadows, as we see Wicca as an ever growing religion and the Book of Shadows changes and grows with each new Witch.” (*1)
Contact details for a number of covens were given in the back of each issue of the magazine. The editorial stance of the magazine was actively supportive of environmental protection, detailing protests, distributing leaflets and supporting organisations like Dragon (eco-magick environmental network) and Friends of the Earth Cymru in their actions. Campaigns like the ones to save Oxleas Wood and Twyford Down were covered, as well as events in other parts of the world, like proposed wolf culling in Canada, tiger conservation in India, and anti-nuclear testing by the French in the Pacific. (*1)
Dragon’s Brew ran quarterly until 1997, with a circulation of several hundred copies, and covered a wide range of subjects, from chakras and kundalini to Enochian magick and running effective open rituals. Different pantheons were also explored, including the Welsh, Greek, Sumerian and Egyptian. A number of prominent academics also contributed to the magazine, which received articles from distinguished figures such as Professor Ronald Hutton and the Egyptologist Terry DuQuesne. (*1)
By 1994 Progressive Witchcraft was widely known throughout Europe. David Rankine gave a number of talks at events like the Talking Stick Meet the Groups conference in 1994, and at various University Pagan Societies. The growth of the movement was acknowledged by Michael Jordan, who gave it a sizeable entry in his 1996 book Witches: An Encyclopaedia of Paganism and Magic. (*3)
To avoid some disharmony caused by the term “Progressive” in the Wiccan community the term was changed from “Progressive Wicca” to Progressive Witchcraft in 1993, as was demonstrated by the cover of Dragon’s Brew (*1). In combination with this Ariadne Rainbird and David Rankine set up the Progressive Witchcraft Foundation, to deal with enquiries about Progressive Witchcraft, and also ran workshops under the banner of Silver Wheel with other coven members on a variety of related subjects.
In 1994 Ariadne Rainbird and David Rankine started running correspondence courses on natural magick based on much of the (non-oathbound) Progressive Witchcraft material. This material was to form the basis for their book Magick Without Peers: A Course in Progressive Witchcraft for the Solitary Practitioner, published by Capall Bann in 1997. (*2)
(*1) Dragon’s Brew, a Magazine of Magick, Paganism & Progressive Witchcraft, (1992 -1997)
(*2) Magick Without Peers, A Course in Progressive Witchcraft. Capall Bann 1997
(*3) Witches, An Encyclopaedia of Paganism and Magic; Michael Jordon, 1996
Patchwork of Magic, Julia Day, Capall Bann, 1995
(*4) Talking Stick Magical Directory, 1993
This article was written by Terminus, 2000 and provided for free distribution.
On a personal note…
The ideas of progressive Wicca were very much in the air when I started out in the Craft in the early 1990s. It was a very important development in the history of the Craft, and deserves to be remembered. It was a big influence on the development of inclusive Wicca.