To Vouch: to assert or confirm as a result of one’s own experience the truth or accuracy of (something)
When you find somebody who runs a group and is willing to help you along your spiritual path, it is always important to find out if that person has a good reputation in the Pagan community. Paganism is by nature not a community with a well organised structure and we do not have a generally recognised seminary or other broadly accepted training method for the Priesthood. Anyone can decide to call themselves Pagan, Priest(ess) and community leader. It requires no diploma or experience.
As in any other religious community there are decent people who are hard working and do not expect anything in return, but there are also people who are more interested in ‘power play’ and being adored. And then there are those very well meaning folks who simply don’t have the skill set to deal with the dynamics that are involved with group work and who leave a trail of exploding groves or covens behind.
Whatever group you decide to get involved with, ask around. Ask other well respected Pagan leaders in your area about the person with whom you are planning to work. Get several opinions and take your time to get to know the group members and group leaders before you commit yourself to anything.
In Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca there are some other considerations involved in finding a group. Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca are initiatory traditions, and each of the members of the Priesthood is able to trace their line back to Gerald Gardner. Tracing your line or lineage means that the Priest(ess) who initiates someone into the priesthood, was initiated by somebody who was initiated by somebody (and so on) who was initiated by Gerald Gardner through the use of a specific set of rituals. That is the specific requirement that we look for when somebody states that they are a Gardnerian or Alexandrian initiate of the Wicca.
Sadly, there are many groups who claim or think that they are Alexandrian or Gardnerian when they are not. Some folks were duped by others, some have read books and think that makes them an initiate, and others want to legitimise their practice and think that they will be more important by claiming an Alexandrian or Gardnerian lineage. It is a problem that has become bigger with the advance of Internet and the rise of popularity of Paganism and Witchcraft.
There is no central place where every Gardnerian or Alexandrian initiate is enrolled upon initiation. For privacy reasons many in the Craft would very much object to such a system ever being put into place. At present there is no official place where you can get an initiate diploma and I highly doubt that there ever will be one.
So, if you are a seeker of Alexandrian or Gardnerian Wicca, how can you be sure that the group or person you are dealing have a legitimate lineage?
The answer is simpler than you might expect: ask someone who you are sure is a valid initiate.
Over the years a system of validating has been developed by initiates called ‘vouching’. Most legitimate groups will be more than happy to give the name of a locally or internationally well known initiate who will be able to confirm that the group leader has a valid lineage.
Since there are different type of vouches you should be clear about what information you need. The first is the most obvious one, being a vouch that someone is a valid initiate with a lineage tracing back to Gerald Gardner.
Secondly, a vouch can be given for the type of training someone gives. A coven leader could be initiated as a Gardnerian, but either not be qualified to teach or be teaching a different system altogether. If an initiate is qualified to teach and to pass on Gardnerian Wicca but teaches and initiates in a Druidic system like OBOD, the people who are a member of their group would obviously be Druids and not Gardnerian Wicca.
And finally there is the vouch for someone’s character. It is the most inclusive vouch, saying both that someone is a valid initiate and that they are of good standing within the community. Most people would only give this kind of vouch for someone who is well known to them and with whom they share ritual space with on a regular basis.
There is some etiquette involved with asking for a vouch. Lineage as such is considered a fairly private thing by a lot of initiates, and many consider it to be something that they are not willing to share with third parties. Asking someone directly to give their lineage is considered a big ‘faux pas’ in our community. So how does it work?
If you are already in direct communication with someone, you can just ask them directly for the name and contact details of somebody who would be willing to vouch for them. Any self respecting initiate would be more than happy to give you one. If somebody acts insulted or tells you that it is not the correct thing to ask, please consider that as a major red flag. It is quite likely that the person in question is not what they are claiming to be.
If you don’t know the person you would like information on, you could get in touch with other initiates to ask for a vouch. Our community is relatively close knit. Initiates have always had fairly frequent written contact, but with the onset of the Internet and Facebook we are only an electronic message away from covens on the other side of the world.
Facebook now has 2 groups specifically set up by initiates for the purpose of helping Seekers find a group to work with and to be able to get a validation or vouch of the fact that people are who they say they are. Both groups have a list of valid initiates and the admins are happy to help provide vouches.
The Gardnerian Seekers Facebook group: Gardnerian Wicca Seekers and Initiates
The Alexandrian Seekers Facebook group: Alexandrian Wicca Seekers and Initiates
The usual procedure is to go to any of the above sites and ask the following question:
Hello, I was wondering if anyone could help me. I am looking for a vouch in area ABC in country DEF for someone in the tradition of XYZ. Could someone please contact me via private message? Many thanks, <insert name>.
When an initiate replies to you to with an offer of help, respond by explaining why you would like a vouch and what type of information you are looking for (confirmation of initiation, teaching qualifications or good character). We do not give out information about our Brothers and Sisters in the Craft to satisfy curiosity, but we do so for valid reasons such as when people offer training or run public circles.
Even given the above precautions, Buyer Beware (Caveat Emptor). The vast majority of initiates are hard working, dedicated people but, sadly, some less savoury characters have slipped through the cracks. Trust your instincts and vote with your feet when you feel that something is fishy: even if you are wrong, it probably isn’t the right teacher for you.
Some interesting links related to this topic:
The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame
Approaching Groups – Phil Hine