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Gerald Brousseau Gardner

This article was written by John Michael Greer on April 01, 2005
posted under Gardner, Gerald

English civil servant, author, occultist, and Witch, 1884-1964. Easily the most important figure in the creation of modern Wicca, Gerald Gardner spent most of his life as an English colonial bureaucrat. Born to a wealthy family in England, near Liverpool, he suffered from severe asthma as a child and spent winters in southern Europe. Later, when his nurse married an English colonist from Ceylon and moved there, Gardner accompanied her and worked on a tea plantation, then took up positions with British colonial administration in Borneo and Malaysia. Successful investments in the rubber industry made him a wealthy man, and enabled him to dabble in archeology and pursue his interest in native weapons. His first book, The Kris and Other Malay Weapons, was published in Singapore in 1939.

In 1936 he retired from government service and with his wife Donna, whom he married in 1927, he returned to England and settled in the New Forest area. He soon made contact with a group called the Rosicrucian Order of the Crotona Fellowship, a quasi-Theosopical organization based in the town of Christchurch…Gardner also joined the Folklore Society and became a close friend with one of its most controversial members, the former Egyptologist Margaret Murray, who had proposed in her 1921 book The Witch Cult in Western Europe that medieval Witchcraft was a survival of an ancient Pagan tradition.

According to Gardner, and to Gardnerian Witches since his time, the Crotona Fellowship had an inner circle consisting of people who claimed to practice this same original Witch-cult, a Pagan religion passed down in secret through the centuries. Dorothy Clutterbuck, the High Priestess of the coven, is said to have initiated Gardner in 1939…

In 1946, Gardner was introduced to Aleister Crowley, and apparently joined one of Crowley’s magical orders, the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). Gardner’s involvement was somewhat limited by the fact that, by the 1940s, the OTO itself was completely inactive in England, and the only initiation Crowley offered at the time consisted of being given copies of the rituals and other papers to read. Shortly after Crowley’s death, Gardner tried to revive the OTO with himself as head, but Crowley’s reputation was bad enough that Gardner was unable to attract any interest…

In 1949, Gardner published his first work on occult subjects, a novel entitled High Magic’s Aid, which was issued under the pseudonym Scire (Gardner’s magical motto). He gave his rank as "4°=7¬ OTO" on the title page…The novel includes detailed descriptions of initiation rituals into a medieval Witch-cult; according to Doreen Valiente, these were nearly identical to the ones used when she was initiated into Gardner’s coven in 1953.

In 1951, as a result of pressure brought by Spiritualist churches, England’s laws against Witchcraft were finally repealed. That same year, Gardner formed his own coven and moved to Castletown, on the Isle of Man, where he took up a position as resident Witch at the museum of Magic and Witchcraft. A few years later Gardner bought the museum from its original owner, Cecil Williamson.

The year 1954 saw the publication of Gardner’s first nonfiction work on Witchcraft, Witchcraft Today. It presented Wicca (or, as Gardner spelled it at that time, Wica) as a healthy, life-affirming Pagan religious tradition, and attracted widespread attention from the media and the public. He followed it with his last book, The Meaning of Witchcraft, in 1959. All through the last decade of his life, he made frequent media appearances to promote Witchcraft, initiated dozens of people into the Craft, and presided over the first Wiccan coven whose existence can definitely be proved. After a few years of failing health, he died in 1963 while returning by ship from a vacation in Lebanon.

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