SILVER CIRCLE, a Wiccan network in the Netherlands

SILVER CIRCLE, CENTRE FOR THE OLD RELIGION, is located in the Netherlands, managed by Morgana and Merlin, who first became aware of the Craft in the mid-1970s, via books and magazines, because at that time there was nothing else available in the Netherlands. After a few years of searching, in the late 1970s, they were finally initiated, in England, into a traditional Gardnerian Coven.

Silver Circle was started in 1979 and aims to provide accurate information for interested seekers and the media. Over the years a range of small Dutch booklets have been published, for example The Horns of the Moon, a concise Dutch introduction into the Craft, and which is also sent to reporters to provide them with background information on the Craft.

Other publications include philosophical treatises, rituals, magical training, an English-Dutch Craft dictionary, a full-colour Celtic Moon Calendar, and computer software. Silver Circle also publishes an eight-part Dutch and English guidance course, which helps the student to transform intellectual knowledge about the Craft into practical everyday experience and inner spiritual and emotional development, under the guidance of an experienced witch.

Also since 1979, Silver Circle has published the quarterly magazine Wiccan Rede…. now Wiccan Rede Online. It is bilingual, about half the contents are in Dutch, the rest is in English. It contains both practical and philosophical articles, news, book and CD reviews, an agenda, advertisements and so forth.

In the autumn of 1997, after a long time of searching for a suitable location, the monthly Witches Café was born. Later, when Morgana became an official representative of the Pagan Federation International for the Netherlands, this Dutch-style pub moot was opened to all interested seekers-Witches, Asatruan, Pagans, Druids, etc. The Witches Café is a purely social event, and with an average of ten people each month it is a lively and inspiring evening.

Morgana was born in Wales, and grew up in Lancashire, close to Pendle Hill, of historic Witch trial fame. Merlin grew up in the wooded centre of the Netherlands. The couple lived in the wooded centre of the Netherlands with their teenage daughter and their two cats. They led a traditional Gardnerian Coven. (NB Merlin sadly died in January 2012)

(The Silver Circle brooch and logo designed by Merlin, photo by Chris Turk )

Although the general concept of the Gardnerian Craft is probably well known, they have found special points of interest within this spiritual stream. Gardner had contact with traditional, hereditary Covens in England, and in the course of his life he tried to combine many of the fragmentary bits and pieces of the Craft into one coherent whole. Bit by bit the rituals were completed and missing parts were discovered again. Doreen Valiente played a major part in this process, by writing or rewriting ritual texts and poetry that better captured the Pagan atmosphere and the love for the Goddess. Some have interpreted this process as Gardner inventing the Craft, but to our knowledge, the core, the essence, is truly very old and contains far too much mystery wisdom for one person to invent.

In the course of this process of rediscovering the Craft, various High Priestesses hived off from Gardner’s original Coven in order to start their own group, taking with them the material that had been assembled at that point, and in some cases adding more traditional and hereditary material of their own. This has resulted in a variety of initiatory lineages, all of which know slightly different rituals and customs, although initiates of these distinct lines will recognize each other’s practices. The Silver Circle line traces back to one of the early hivings and therefore has few of the later additions that are part of Gardnerian Craft today. Their personal contacts with other covens and people of hereditary lines have allowed them to continue this process, and this is why they call themselves “traditional Gardnerian.”

Silver Circle also call themselves traditional because they try to preserve and pass on the material that Gardner has assembled as pure and unchanged as possible. What Gardner had assembled basically was a puzzle with many missing pieces. Some pieces are dozens of centuries old, some pieces stem from medieval times, some pieces clearly originate from the time of the great occult societies, such as the Golden Dawn. This puzzle will eventually form a complete picture. Unfortunately, not all the pieces are there, some pieces are damaged or faded, and it may take years to put a piece in its rightful place. Around the world, there are people involved in restoring these pieces. Through historical research as well as meditation and ritual practice they uncover more and more of the backgrounds of a particular ritual text or a specific custom. Until the whole picture is clear, it is important not to throw away a single piece, even if its purpose or its position in the complete puzzle is not yet understood. It may change the picture into something personally pleasing, but also might make it impossible for others to discover the old truths that one may have missed.

Silver Circle also consider themselves traditional because they have kept closely to the original material that was given to them. They have not tried to change the Gardnerian Craft into a Dutch version, nor have they incorporated Dutch material or Dutch folklore or myth, although not as a value judgment on those people who do create a Dutch version of the Craft; there is much old Dutch lore that would fit in very well, as some of their experiments have shown. It is simply a result of their own affinity with the English language and culture, something that is also reflected by the magazine Wiccan Rede being bilingual.
However, in later years, they started working in Dutch and the Book of Shadows was translated. Nevertheless, the spirit of Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente and Eleanor Bone shone through as they evolved.

Silver Circle found the Gardnerian Craft to be a complete and philosophically consistent entity, a template or pattern, which puts one’s life into a certain context which is valuable for that life, as well as for the people around one. The seasonal festivals, the lunar cycle, the yearly rhythms and monthly rituals create a framework of universal wisdom, and the witch can use this to re-establish her or his lost contact with the forces of nature. This newly found harmony with the Otherworlds, these newfound insights into the processes of life and death, enable them to help others when asked, to offer solutions for large and minor problems, and to support others when they go through times of transition and change.

Modern Witchcraft is a happy mix of religion and magic, but Silver Circle puts more emphasis on the religious side. Religion in its traditional Latin meaning of connecting, learning how to connect with the Goddess and the God, with the divine in themselves, with the human elements in themselves, and with their own male and female qualities. They learn how to connect with the other worlds which exist beyond the physical world. They learn how to connect with their own life pattern, and through that with the life pattern of others around them. They learn to rediscover their connection with the spiritual – a connection that had to disappear in previous centuries in order to enable certain evolutionary processes on Earth – so that they can reclaim some of their own wisdom and intuition.

To Silver Circle, the Gardnerian Craft is a religious path, a mystery path, a mystical path, and finally a magical path. It is a way of inner spiritual and emotional growth and development. They hope to accept people into their Circle who eventually can grow into proper spiritual leaders: people who are able, from their own insight and experience, to help, guide and support others in their spiritual development. They are both priestess (or priest) and Witch. Priestess, because they work together with the Gods and help them to give shape to their spiritual ideals on Earth. And Witch, because we are there to help others to solve their problems, and we can call on the Gods to aid them. Never without being asked though, and you may also note that we believe in helping others to solve their problems, and not in solving other people’s problems. It is the person that needs help, not the problem!

A beautiful example of both archetypal functions, priestess and witch, can be found in the traditional witches’ tools for the element water. On the one hand is the crystal goblet – clear, sparkling, full of rainbow colours, which contains the sacred water that is used to cleanse the Circle. And on the other hand the black cast iron cauldron, the witch’s cauldron, containing poisonous and healing herbs that are transformed into a potion that can help humans to regain their lost balance, their lost relationship with their own life pattern.

In the coven, the factor of overriding importance has always been friendship. Silver Circle does not seek those with the best psychic abilities, nor those with the most knowledge or those with the most successful spells. They look for people in whom there is a sparkle, people who will fit seamlessly into the existing group and who will have something to contribute to that group. Within the Craft people work together on a very intimate and emotional level, opening themselves to the Divine, and to other influences around them. They are naked, not only physically, but also psychologically, to the Gods and to each other. Therefore it is vital that they will find the friendship, safety, security and support within a Coven that will allow them to feel comfortable when naked in this sense, to find an atmosphere that will allow them to grow and develop, and to find love and trust that is unconditional, love and trust for them as a person, not based on what they have or own, who they know or what they can do.

To Silver Circle, security, safety, and friendship are very important preconditions for spiritual growth. These elements are sufficiently present in the traditional Gardnerian Craft. The closed coven, the privacy and the prerequisite of initiation all help to create such a safe and private environment.

The Gardnerian Craft works with three degrees of initiation. These traditional three degrees are not ways to divide and conquer, nor ways to create artificial boundaries between initiates. The degrees are not exams one needs to pass, and one does not have the right to a next degree after a year and a day. All these interpretations have more to do with the pyramidal power-structure of the corporate world than that they reflect the circular friendship and support atmosphere of a Coven. The patterns of the pyramid and the circle can be found in many organizations in the world, and in many religions too. Most monotheistic religions use a pyramid model, whilst most tribal nature religions use a circular model. Sometimes it seems that the pyramid model is the natural “male” way to organize things, and this is sufficient reason to be careful not to lose the intricate circular structures when men start organizing things in the Craft.

The three degrees reflect stages of development. They are processes one experiences that should lead to new insights, reflecting spiritual development within a Craft framework. Some people have already had a full and interesting life when they join the Craft, but this does not mean that their development will go any faster. Others may join when young but have a wisdom far beyond their years which helps them to grow rapidly. To Silver Circle, the degrees are not badges of rank but reflections of inner growth, and as such they are not something you flaunt to the outside world either.

The first degree is the ritual of acceptance within the Coven. These days it often marks the end of a period of pre-initiation training, and one becomes a priestess and Witch (or priest and witch). The term “priestess and Witch” should by now (or soon) be an accurate description of your abilities in spellcraft and the individual work you can do, using both magical and mundane means. But the first initiation is only the starting point on the journey in a Coven setting, and there is much to learn!

The second degree is the ritual of maturity in the traditional Gardnerian stream. It confers the authority to hive off and start one’s own Coven, to teach and train others and to pass on the spiritual content, as well as the actual knowledge. This does not mean that those who have second degree are all professionals who know how to deal with groups, conflict situations, and group dynamics. Neither does it mean that professionals who have those skills, will automatically get second degree. No doubt these skills are handy, but a coven is more like a family than anything else. In a family, parents try to pass on those values they find important – not in order to give the child a readymade answer to every possible situation they may encounter in later life, but to give them an inner core that will be of help in trying to find solutions. Within a coven it is no different. Knowing first hand how the Craft has helped an individual, and how the spiritual ideas have shaped their life, will teach them how to judge what to pass on to their own initiates. Seeing these realizations take shape in an initiate is the essence of the preparation for second degree.

The third degree in the traditional Gardnerian stream is a mystery-degree, the ultimate experience of the union of the Goddess and the God, an intensely emotional and private experience. Silver Circle believes that this is not something one person can give to another, because a person does not have the power to give such an experience to another. By thinking in such a way, the third degree becomes an object which one can own and give away. Silver Circle believes that it is not an object, but a process, embedded in love and trust and the spiritual spark shared with all matures, and blossoms.
The third degree is not necessary in order to hive off and lead one’s own Coven, and neither is it a badge of rank, nor has it any secrets that can be explained using ordinary words.

History usually is the selection of certain events by the historian, believing that cause and effect are both to be found in the material plane. The Craft’s history is the description of the entity that wants to express itself in this world. Witches call this entity the Goddess and the God. It is the ultimate cause, of which all material events are merely effects.

  This article was written by Merlin for the “Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft” – edited by Raven Grimassi/ Llewellyn Publications September 2000, ISBN 1-56718-257-7

Revised and slightly updated by Morgana. April 2019

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