I was not passed the Ardanes, so I have never recognized them as part of my Craft. However, they are of historical interest. Not because I believe them to have been written (or at least compiled) any earlier than the 20th century, but because of the light they shed upon the ideas of early Wiccans as to how the Craft could be organized.
It is fairly widely believed that Gardner wrote them, or at least compiled them from a collection of earlier ideas which he presumably picked up from the New Forest Coven, in 1957. Doreen Valiente and other members of the coven had produced a set of Craft laws in an attempt to curb Gerald Gardner’s enthusiasm for publicity, in particular his interviews with some of the more sensationalist newspapers. In response, Gerald produced the Ardanes.
Doreen Valiente et al’s Proposed Rules for the Craft (see Appendix below) are very sensible and apart from items 9, 10, 11, and 12, which would be rather impractical due to the very large number of Wiccans these days, are mostly adhered to in practice.
The dodgy bits of the Ardanes
The most offensive bits of the Ardanes were the section requiring the High Priestess to step down once she was no longer young and pretty, and the section about “as a man loveth a woman, by mastering her”. The document was also clearly not written by English witches, in that it mentions witches being burned. Witches were hanged in England and Wales, because witchcraft was a secular crime and therefore punishable by hanging. Witches were burned in Scotland and the rest of Europe, because there, witchcraft was a heresy and therefore punishable by burning. However, Gerald Gardner knew this.
Were the Ardanes genuine?
In 2004, Oakseer produced a very thorough analysis of the Old Laws, which analyses the old words used in it, and whether any of it might be genuine. I have recovered this from the Wayback Machine and posted it on the Pagan Theologies wiki. Oakseer suggests that some of it may be genuine, and believes that it was compiled by Gardner from fragments that he received from the New Forest coven, or some other source; in that case, I wonder if it was created or compiled by one of the Mason family, whose role in the foundation of Wicca is described by Philip Heselton in his book In Search of the New Forest Coven. Oakseer further points out that a lot of the points in it had already been mentioned in Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today, so Gardner cannot have produced the entire document in 1957; rather, it looks like he compiled it from earlier writings (either his or someone else’s).
It is also possible that Gardner compiled some genuine fragments from an earlier source, and added some sections. On the other hand, it is also possible that Gardner knew some archaic Scots words, and used them in the document. His nanny, Josephine “Com” McCombie, was Irish, but he had some relatives, the Sergenesons, from whom he picked up some family legends about Scotland:
In 1907 Gardner returned to Britain for several months’ leave. During his visit, Gardner spent a lot of time with family relations known as the Sergenesons. It was from the Sergenesons that Gardner claimed to have discovered a family rumour that his grandfather, Joseph, had been a practising witch, after being converted to the practice by his mistress. Another unconfirmed family belief repeated by Gardner was that a Scottish ancestor, Grissell Gairdner, had been burned as a witch in Newburgh in 1610.Source: Gerald Gardner 101, George Hoyle (this information is also in Philip Heselton’s biography of GBG)
The mixture of archaic and more modern language in the Ardanes suggests that either their author was not very good at writing in an archaic style, or that they are a mixture of older and newer material.
The worthwhile bits
Some parts of the Ardanes actually contain sensible advice which might be more widely heeded, if it wasn’t scattered amongst other more questionable material.
And it is necessary that the Circle, which is the Temple of the Gods, should be truly cast and purified, that it may be a fit place for the Gods to enter.
And the Wica should be properly prepared and purified, to enter into the presence of the Gods. With love and worship in their hearts they shall raise power from their bodies to give power to the Gods, as has been taught us of old.
For in this way only may man have communion with the Gods, for the Gods cannot help man without the help of men.The Ardanes
Here we have the view that deities are not all-powerful and that they need humans as much as we need them, which I have frequently mentioned.
To [a]void discovery, Let the working tools be as ordinary things that any may have in their houses. Let the Pentacles be of wax, so they may be broken at once. Have no sword unless your rank allows you one. Have no names or signs on anything.
Write the names and signes on them in ink before consecrating them and wash it off immediately after. Do not Bigrave [engrave] them. lest they cause discovery. Let the colour of the hilts tell which is which. Ever remember, ye are the Hidden Children of the Gods. So never do anything to disgrace them.
Never boast, Never threaten, Never say you would wish Ill to anyone.The Ardanes
The above would have been sensible advice in times of persecution.
Ever recognising that there be people who can never agree to work under others. but at the same time there be some people who cannot rule justly. To those who ever must be chief, there is one answer, Void the Coven & seek another, or, make a Coven of your own, taking with you those who will to go, To those who cannot rule justly. The answer be. those who cannot bear your rule will leave you, For none may come to meetings with those with whom they are at variance. So an either cannot agree. get hence. For the Craft must ever survive. So it be Ardane.The Ardanes
Some sensible advice there about running away from autocratic and overbearing leaders.
So it is Ardane, that none shall use the Art in any way to do ill to any, how ever much they have injured us. And for long we have obeyed this law, “Harm none” and nowtimes, many believe we exist not. So it be Ardane that this law shall still continue to help us in our plight. “No one, however great an injury or injustice they receive, may use the Art in any to do ill or harm any.” But, they may, after great consultations with all, use the Art to prevent or restrain Christians from harming us and others. but only to let or constrain them and never to punish. … Do good, an it be safe, and only if it be safe, for any talk may endanger us. And strictly keep to the Old Law, never accept money for the use of the Art, for money ever smeares the taker, … if you accept not money, you will be free of temptation to use the Art for evil causes. All may use the Art for your own advantage, or for the advantage of the Craft, only if you be sure you harm none. But ever let the Coven debate the matter at length, only if all are satisfied that none may be harmed may the Art be used. If it is not possible to achieve your ends one way without harming any, perchance the aim may be achieved by acting in a different way, so as to harm none. … ‘Tis adjudged lawful an anyone need a house or land, an none will sell, to incline the owners mind to be willing to sell, provided it harmeth him not in any way, and that the full worth is paid, without haggling. Never bargain or cheapen anything which you buy by the Art. So it be Ardane.The Ardanes (excerpt)
In the above passage we can see some related concepts to the Wiccan Rede, as Shea Thomas points out. Here we can also see the prohibition on charging money for Wiccan teaching or spells, which is still very widely adhered to (and I have certainly never come across any initiates of Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca charging money for training or healing or similar).
Unusual words used in the Ardanes
Oakseer points out the use of some unusual words in the Ardanes, such as Dwale. According to Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, No. 701 (June 2, 1877):
Human cunning and human credulity have dowered with mystery certain plants which are worthy of being considered the most beautiful and passive of created objects. One plant at least has been said to utter shrieks on being torn from the earth, and to have avenged the violence by causing the death of him who removed it. This plant was the mandragora of the poets, the mandrake of Scripture, a species of the Solanæ or Nightshade tribe; the belief in whose qualities as a sedative or a charm was as old as the days of the childless Rachel. Indigenous to the East, where probably its uses as an anodyne and soporific were early known to the initiated, it may be that in order to enhance the wonder of its effects, and prevent the extirpation of the root by its too common use, miraculous powers were imputed to it, and superstition hedged it round with fabled terrors. The evil reputation of the plant procured it subsequently the name of Atropa mandragora, by which our oldest botanists distinguish it; a name borrowed from the most terrible of the Fates, Atropos, and since transferred to its relative Atropa belladonna (Dwale, or ‘Deadly Nightshade’).Mystical Plants, Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, No. 701 (June 2, 1877), page 348
The expression “hand of write” is apparently a Scots phrase. It appears in a number of classic works, which Gardner had probably read, such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Puck of Pook’s Hill (which he definitely read, because he used one of the songs in it). A rather obscure collection of stories from Galloway even uses the expression “in my own hand of write”.
The expression “the hidden children” was the title of a collection of stories published in 1914 by Robert W Chambers. Hidel, on the other hand, is a very archaic word meaning a hiding-place.
Oakseer also suggests that the use of the word ‘engine’ to mean an instrument of torture could be a genuinely archaic usage; but the expression “engine of torture” appears in a huge number of works (although not as a verb, it appears).
I suspect the most likely explanation of the source of the Ardanes was that Gardner had received them in some form from the New Forest Coven, and then dressed them up in archaic medieval-style language for his novel, High Magic’s Aid, but that they then got cut from the final version of the book. Whether or not this is the case, the novel does prove that he was capable of writing in a quasi-medieval style.
There are some helpful ideas in the Ardanes, and some that are clearly antiquated (and let us hope that the need for the ones relating to the persecution of witches remains firmly in the past). It is worth studying the Ardanes because they are part of the history of Wicca, whatever their origins actually were.
There are many unwritten rules that are generally adhered to by members of the Craft (some of which are derived from the Ardanes) and maybe one day someone will decide to write them down for the benefit of future generations. These rules mostly involve behaving honourably, maintaining confidentiality, and other decent behaviour. They tend to be transmitted orally in conversations, but they seem to be pretty widely-held tenets of Craft lore/law.
There also seems to be a general suspicion of attempts to create codified written laws for the Craft, mostly because we have seen what happens in other groups that have an overly-rigid reliance on laws and rules. This is understandable, but various ethical guidelines already exist, some as oral lore and some in writing, and a lot of them are pretty reasonable.
- C N Beyer, The Old Laws or the Ardanes, Wicca for the Rest of Us.
- Patti Wigington (2017), Gerald Gardner and the Ardanes.
- The Old Laws (1961) at Sacred Texts.
- Philip Heselton (2016), Doreen Valiente: Witch. (published by the Doreen Valiente Foundation in association with the Centre for Pagan Studies)
- Philip Heselton (2020), In Search of the New Forest Coven. Fenix Flames Publishing.
- Oakseer (2004), Gerald Gardner, Old Words, and the Old Laws. (Originally published by the New Wiccan Church, recovered from the Wayback Machine on 2021-02-15) Thank you, Wayback Machine.
- The Ardanes – Tryskelion (compiled from a number of different published sources and presented as a numbered list)
Appendix: The rules proposed by Doreen Valiente and others
PROPOSED RULES FOR THE CRAFT.
- No member of the Craft will initiate any person unless that person has been interviewed by at least two Elders and accepted as suitable.
- No affairs of the Craft will be discussed by members in the presence of uninitiated persons, or in places where conversation is likely to be overheard.
- No copies of any papers relating to the Craft will be made or retained without the Elders’ permission. Such papers as are permissible will be kept in a secure place.
- As it is essential for the successful working of ritual by a group that there should be unity of purpose and an harmonious psychic atmosphere, members who create dissension and discord within the Craft will be asked to resign. Should they fail or refuse to do so they will be informed in writing by the Elders that they have been expelled.
- No member of the Craft will give any information or interview about the Craft to any journalist or writer, or cause any such information to be published in any way, without the approval of the Elders, nor will any of the Elders do so without the approval of the rest of the Elders.
- If any member of the Craft feels that he or she has reason to complain of the conduct of any other member in matters affecting the Craft, or of any misdemeanour towards any member whilst on Craft premises, he or she will bring the said complaint to the notice of the Elders as soon as possible. The Elders, after considering all available evidence, will, if they find the complaint justified, take appropriate action.
- No member will be present at any meeting where the working is that of a higher Grade than he or she has attained, except by invitation of the Elders. These invitations will only be extended on very rare occasions where special circumstances exist.
- No member will disclose the name and address or telephone number of any other member to any person whatsoever without the said other member’s previous permission.
- Members will meet upon the traditional occasions, or as near to them as possible, and such meetings will be arranged by the Elders, or such officers as the Elders authorise to do so. If the Elders be not present at such meetings, they will receive a report of them. Members may arrange other meetings for their private working if they so desire, but if more than two members be present at such a meeting, the Elders will receive a report of it. This report will take the form of a short letter to the Elders giving place and date of the meeting, names of members attending, and details of ceremonies carried out. Where convenient, verbal reports will be accepted.
- Members will endeavour to acquaint themselves with the traditions of the Craft, and will not introduce innovations into the working without the Elders’ approval. Nor will the Elders give approval to any important innovation without first asking the approval of the rest of the Craft.
- In the event of any member resigning from the Craft, he or she will honourably observe the Oath of Secrecy taken at initiation, and will also return to the Elders any written matter relating to the Craft which may be in his or her possession.
- All members will receive a copy of these rules, and all new members will be given a copy of these rules upon initiation. New members, prior to initiation, will read these rules and declare upon their honour that they will abide by them in letter and in spirit. This declaration will be made to the Elders in writing, and signed.
- It will be understood by all members that these rules are equally binding upon all Grades of the Craft, including the Elders, and that serious and/or persistent breach of these rules will be grounds for expulsion.