Understanding the Charge of the Goddess

Gerald Gardner’s Book of Shadow

“Whenever you have need of anything,
once in the month or better it be when the moon is full,
then you shall assemble is some secret space

and so goes “The Charge of the Goddess”, a piece of prose which is probably closest thing to scripture that originated out of Wicca.  During this prose the Goddess seems to instruct (or guide) her followers in ways as to how she is recognised and can be worshipped.  Right from the beginning, the Goddess is introduced as “the Great Mother” who has been recognised by many difficult people and cultures by an assortment of names – Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Diana, Arianrhod, and Brid.

When Gerald Gardner (the “founder” of Wicca) first published an excerpt from The Charge in his book Witchcraft Today (1954), he claimed that the prose came from the Roman era – this has since been proven to be a form of elaboration of behalf Gardner as subsequent authors (in particular Stewart Farrar in What Witches Do (1971) and Aidan Kelly in Crafting the Art of Magic (Book I) (1991)) have exposed.  instead, The Charge of the Goddess appears to have been a joining of sections from Charles Godfrey Leland’s “Aradia” and Aleister Crowley’s “Liber LXV”.

The earliest form of “The Charge of the Goddess” Gardner entitled “Leviter Veslis” (“The Lifting of the Veil”) dates back to possibly before 1948.  This version contained a substantial amount of material “borrowed” from Leland as well as quotes from Crowley’s work.  It also contained the line “At mine Altars the youth of Lacedaemon in Sparta made due sacrifice” which Doreen Valiente (one of Gardner’s High Priestesses) removed for various reasons, possibly because it is geographically incorrect as Sparta was a city in Lacedaemon, and it contradicts a later line “Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice” amongst other things.

Further from “Leviter Veslis” (“The Lifting of the Veil”) came the lines straight from Crowley’s Gnostic Mass: “I love you: I yearn for you: pale or purple, veiled or voluptuous. I who am all pleasure, and purple and drunkenness of the innermost senses, desire you. Put on the wings, arouse the coiled splendor within you.”   As beautiful as these words were, Valiente also removed them.

Regardless of its origins, today, “The Charge of the Goddess” is still considered to be one of the most beautiful pieces of prose contained within the Wicca belief system and one that even non-Wiccans tend to use “once in the month or better it be when the moon is full”.

The version of “The Charge of the Goddess” that most Wiccans (together with other Pagans) are familiar with today is:

Whenever you have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full, you shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me who is Queen of all Witches.
There shall you assemble, who have not yet won my deepest secrets and are fain to learn all sorceries. To these shall I teach that which is yet unknown.
You shall be free from slavery, and as a sign that you be free you shall be naked in your rites.
Sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in My presence, for Mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and Mine also is joy on earth.
For My law is love unto all beings.
Mine is the secret that opens upon the door of youth, and Mine is the cup of wine of life that is the Cauldron of Cerridwen that is the holy grail of immortality.
I am the Gracious Goddess who gives the gift of youth unto the heart of mankind.
I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal and beyond death I give peace and freedom and reunion with those that have gone before.
Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice, for behold, I am the mother of all things and My love is poured upon the earth.
Hear the words of the Star Goddess, the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven, whose body encircles the universe:
I who am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars and the mysteries of the waters,
I call upon your soul to arise and come unto Me. For I am the soul of nature that gives life to the universe. From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return.
Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold — all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals. Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.
And you who seek to know Me, know that your seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.
For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.

And when recited under the light of the full moon, it is just a beautiful and just of potent in the 21st century as it was when originally penned by Gardner from his various sources.

Gardner’s original The Charge: “Lift up the Veil” can be found here.

For more indepth analysis of The Charge of the Goddess, these two links are highly recommended.
The Charge of the Goddess: A Source Analysis by Ceisiwr Serith
The Charge of the Goddess: Listen to the words of Leland and Crowley by Sorita d’Este
Charge of the Goddess : Textual Analysis by Sorita d’Este