To get a panel opinion on the use of amber and jet jewelry within British Traditional Wicca, I turned to the archives of the aptly named Amber and Jet BTW Yahoo Group. Although this is a fantastic resource, I find myself under utilizing it because it is severely dated forum technology, which makes the discussion archives very difficult to effectively navigate. I did, however, find a couple of discussion threads from 2005 and 2006 that addressed this very topic.
The thread began with a couple of witches noting that the trads in their areas all gifted initiates with amber necklaces at the first degree, jet necklaces at the second, and amber and jet at the third, and a 3rd degree Blue Star initiate chimed in to confirm that this was the practice within all of Blue Star, as far as she was aware. (Another prominent Blue Star initiate eventually mentioned that this was not the practice with her coven, and that her necklace was made of acorns.) Eventually a Gardnerian stated that his coven’s necklaces were all “chunky”, but that the “segments might be composed of any material selected by its owner” and that the materials “do not relate to initiatory degrees.” This Gardnerian finished by noting that “amber and/or jet are optional at any degree, but also any other combinations of components, including wood, silver, glass, pearls, copper, sea shells, stones, etc. Plastic is discouraged.” Another poster acknowledged the first as “one of the most senior Gardnerians in the US” and added that Gardnerians “had the statement of one of Gardner’s original HPSs that she had no idea of the concept [of using necklaces to signify rank].” Moreover, this poster added that no amber and jet necklaces were found in either Gardner or Valiente’s belongings and hypothesized that the practice of using amber and jet to signify rank was an Alexandrian innovation. the first Gardnerian then added that “if this [practice] has now become a hallowed custom in the ‘LI Line’, then it was a later addition” from his coven’s sources.
Another third degree Gardnerian confirmed that in his/her coven, the necklace guidelines for Outer Court were simply that women wore necklaces without clasps and “preferably of natural materials for the obvious Goddess and circular representations.” It was the only specification he could remember, despite it being specifically for pre-initiates, but he finished by noting that the Amber and Jet to signify rank might not be “official” in any Gard line, but might have become a widely embraced idea. The first Gardnerian again replied to the thread with a couple quotes found from Gardner’s writing. One was the line of “the necklace itself is the important thing” from Witchcraft Today that I previously quoted, but found another mention in the notes:
Diana of Ephesus wore a necklace of acorns; many Celtic goddesses are mentioned as wearing them. At witch meetings every woman must wear one. When the ritual objects are being set out for a meeting, a number of strings of beads are put handy, so that if any witch hasn’t brought a necklace, she promptly borrows one for the occasion. I remember one girl coming wearing a small string of pearls being told: ‘You know, dear, you mustn’t do that; get a proper one from the box, one that can be seen.’ They cannot give me any
other reason than that a witch must wear a necklace that is obvious.” GBG. Witchcraft Today, Notes
I don’t believe that Gardner meant that every woman must wear a necklace of acorns; just that she must wear a necklace–and an “obvious” one at that! But, aside from the “obvious” remark and an implication that acorns are fine, there’s not a single mention of materials or ranking.
The second Gardnerian then made a funny comment that the amber and bet emphasis might have been a Farrar influence and that “the only rule we got is that the necklace had to be CHUNKY…no pearls unless they were FABULOUSLY BIG!” He got a couple of notable responses: one from a LI-line Gard who agreed that he’d not heard of the amber and jet ‘rules’ in his branch, but thought it a nice custom, and one from an Alexandrian, who was directly downline from the Farrars and said that while they did give her an “amber and jet necklace on [her] third, […] they did not give amber and jet automatically as a third gift, nor did they hold with the amber 1st, jet 2nd.” They simply “gave the gifts as it suited the recipient.” Another LI-line Gard shared that when she was initiated by Lady Dierdre in ’73/’74, Dierdre told her that her “necklace could be any natural substance, but that it was in ‘poor taste’ for [her] to use either Amber or Jet.” She mentioned that it wasn’t a law, but more of a custom or fashion. The first Gardnerian replied that Dierdre was “knowledgeable about the symbolic meanings and magical properties of minerals, seeds, and other natural substances” and that “apparently she had reasons of her own for considering A&J to be in poor taste”, and noted that she remembered Dierdre had a particular fondness for turquoise.
I think this is about as good a ‘response’ to my question as I’ll get from as many different Gardnerians as I can find. In short: I can use whatever necklace I darn well please within my tradition and almost certainly within any Gardnerian group. In larger Wiccan gatherings, it’s probably unlikely anyone would make the blanket assumption that their practices are the same as others…and it’s probably just fine to gently correct them if they do make the assumption that I am a higher degree initiate.