Often, Wicca is portrayed as a fertility cult. Our festivals and celebrations revolve around the changes of the seasons, and the waxing and waning moon. But, at least for Gardnerian Wicca, is an oversimplification. At its core, Gardnerian Wicca is a reincarnation cult.
Gerald Gardner was very explicit about this. He believed in group reincarnation. He was taught by the coven who brought him in that we find each other, life after life, and that we know, remember, and love each other again. An early hint is found in the way he concludes his book A Goddess Arrives, a story based on a personal experience: “Do you believe in reincarnation?” he asked, and began to tell her about Rudolph Steiner’s theory of group incarnation.
Gerald Gardner refers to reincarnation immediately in the introduction of his book Witchcraft Today, where he describes encountering the coven who brought him into the Craft: “and I met some people who claimed to have known me in a past life.” Reincarnation is a frequently recurring theme in the book, and there are such statements as: “The cult god is thought of as the god of the next world, or of death and resurrection, or of reincarnation, the comforter, the consoler. After life you go gladly to his realms for rest and refreshment, becoming young and strong, waiting for the time to be reborn on earth again, and you pray to him to send back the spirits of your beloved dead to rejoice with you at your festivals.” (Chapter III) and “What they wanted was prosperity and fertility for the tribe, a life after death in happy conditions, and reincarnation into their tribe or nation.” (Chapter VI).
And this is exactly why it is hard to say before meeting someone if they are suited to the Craft. We don’t particularly care if someone has a great deal of occult knowledge, or if they are brilliantly psychic and gifted with magic. We look to see if someone fits the pattern of the coven, and if we feel this sense of recognition; if they “belong” to the Wicca.
It sounds a bit esoteric, and is possibly confusing to Seekers. They can be wonderful priests and priestesses in their own right, and have a strong connection with the Gods. But without that sense of “knowing” them, they cannot find their place in our covens. Sometimes we feel that they are of the Wicca, but that they’re not close family. They can feel like a distant cousin, and in those cases we will send people on to a coven who seems to feel closer to their energy.
Not all initiates believe in reincarnation, and even among those who do, there are varying views on the concept. We certainly don’t live our lives with a view on the Afterlife, like many Christians do. There is no sense of “Karma” along the lines that you will have a better or worse next incarnation if you haven’t done enough recycling in this life. But all of us have this experience of coming home, a feeling that we belong here, in the greater scheme of things. Additionally, we often have a strong sense of recognition with other initiates when we attend larger gatherings, an instant sense of belonging together, and having known each other before.
This is one of the reasons why it isn’t possible to exclusively train people online, and why meeting in person on multiple occasions is essential. The training or “Outer Court” is mostly an excuse to feel out that connection with the group spirit, and if the Seeker will be at home in the coven they are with. And that “feeling out” should go both ways; if the Seeker doesn’t feel like they belong, which isn’t a judgement on the coven, they should move on to find their own place within the greater scheme of our existence.