A Day for Gerald Gardner
This was another great day, following on from last year’s “Day for Doreen”, on the 10th anniversary of Doreen Valiente’s death. It was organized again by the Centre for Pagan Studies at Conway Hall in London UK.
John Belham-Payne and Brian Botham introduced the day. Last years event had been the keeping of a promise, a memorial celebration of Doreen for all those who couldn’t attend her funeral. The atmosphere had been really great, and repeating this kind of event had been an evidently good idea. This years celebration of the life of Gerald Gardner would also be a fundraising for a proposed museum dedicated to Doreen Valiente’s legacy. In addition to this, there would be a re-launch on this day of Doreen’s newly republished “Where Witchcraft Lives”, now with added photos not in the original edition.
was the first speaker, on “The Life of Gerald Gardner”, which stretched between 1884 and 1964. Gerald came from a Lancashire family, with Scottish ancestry on his mother’s side, while he was actually born in a Liverpool suburb. His family were timber importers, and it seems that it was a practice for one member of the family to be placed in the customs office, in order to benefit the family business.
Gerald suffered from asthma, for which there were limited treatments at the time, and his family were wealthy enough to send him to warmer climates for nine months of the year as a child. He didn’t go to school and had no formal education, instead being accompanied by his governess, who however seems to have taken little interest in his welfare or development, and largely left him to fend for himself. Gerald taught himself to read, and even as a child had a great interest in knives, which he continued to collect throughout his adult life.
On reaching adulthood he became a trainee tea planter in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and it’s notable that he liked to mingle with the local people and explore. He became a freemason and attended a Masonic lodge in Colombo.
Later he went to Borneo as a rubber planter. He got malaria here (unfortunately!) and is known to have attended “séances” in the local villages. After the First World War the demand for rubber declined, and in his 30s he returned to England and worked in a hospital for a while.
He then became an inspector of opium shops, and he liked opium, considering it to be beneficial. According to Doreen Valiente and some other sources he took bribes as part of his job.
After marrying his wife Donna he moved to Malaya and became interested in archaeology, excavating some sites here. His interest in knives continued, and particularly in “Keris”, which were knives with magical properties found in this part of the world.
In 1936 he retired at the age of 52 and returned to England with Donna. They lived for a few years in London before moving to Christchurch in Hampshire. He was by now a naturist (also known by the name of “nudism”). Back in England he maintained his curiosity and would go cycling and exploring, and while cycling between the naturist club and his house he came upon a building marked as the “First Rosicrucian Theatre in England”. Gerald had been interested in theosophy and co-masonry amongst other things, but in the mid thirties he left co-masonry for the Rosicrucian Theatre. There he met “Dafo” (Edith Woodford-Grimes), her name probably being taken from her family nick name of “Daff”. Dafo helped Gerald to write the book “A Goddess Arrives”, and introduced him to members of the “New Forest coven”.
It is at this time that Gerald was initiated into the Craft at a large house in the area owned by “Old Dorothy”. Gerald came to feel that the Craft was in danger of dieing out, and he wanted to help prevent this.
After the Second World War Gerald moved back to London and met the occultist Aleister Crowley. Crowley wanted Gerald to revive the OTO, and Gerald wanted grand titles - neither gave the other what he really wanted however.
Gerald wrote “High Magic’s Aid”, another work of fiction, again helped by others in the writing process (Gerald needed a lot of help with writing throughout his life, probably on account of his originally being self taught in writing and reading itself). He paid for the cost of publication himself and the book did not sell in great numbers, but people did start to approach Gerald for initiation. Gilbert and Barbara Vickers were his first initiates. Gerald had himself not formed anything you could call a coven at this time.
Gerald then sought permission from Dafo to write a factual book - “Witchcraft Today”. This sold better and was fairly successful. The Witches Cottage was relocated to next to the naturist club. By 1947 there was still no coven resulting from Gerald’s endeavours. He had a house in Holland Road, London, where quite a few met him and would be initiated.
Around this time Cecil Williamson wanted to start a museum of witchcraft and acquired a property on the Isle of Man.
By the 1950s a coven was in existence, including Ned Jones, Jack Bracelin, Fred Lamond, Eleanor Bone and Monica English. In 1959 “The Meaning of Witchcraft” was published, in which Gerald wanted to refute common negative allegations about witchcraft. Doreen Valiente was the writing partner with this book. Gerald also painted, and often painted scenes featuring witches.
Gerald had his detractors, and one was Charles Cardell, who claimed that Gerald was making his witchcraft up. He got a woman called Olive Green to infiltrate Gerald’s coven, and she gave Cardell a copy of Gerald’s book of shadows.
Idries Shah, the Sufi figure and author, had some involvement with Gardner and wanted to write a biography of him, but he gave this up, it being finished by Jack Bracelin and published by Shah’s publishing company under the name “Gerald Gardner, Witch”.
Donna died in 1960 - Gerald had initiated her into all three degrees, though she apparently did not have a great interest in witchcraft.
In the same year that JFK was assassinated, Gerald went to Lebanon. He heard by letter that things with the coven were going well while he was there. Gerald died in Tunis harbour in 1964.
In answer to a question from the audience, Philip said that rumours that Gerald met Jack Parsons (the American Thelemite and rocket propulsion researcher) were almost certainly untrue.
wanted to address two things in his talk:
What kind of man was Gerald Gardner?
Why does he matter?
Gerald Gardner was the founder of one of the most radical of modern religions, one which formed the template for modern Paganism, yet he was himself a Victorian, born in the reign of Queen Victoria, with all of his education done by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. He existed on the fringes of the British Empire, coming face to face with tribal peoples. He was very much an old fashioned Victorian Tory, yet he showed how courageous (and eccentric?) these people could at times be.
Gerald was part of that class of people in that time and circumstance who had the money, time and space to pursue their unconventional interests. He was a child of the industrial revolution, and of that time from 1850 - 1940 when its wealth filtered down to make unexpected things possible. You could actually trace the commodities that funded various esoteric fields. Tea made the Golden Dawn possible. Brewing gave Aleister Crowley the resources to expend on his travels, pastimes and occult interests, and timber put Gerald in the position to live the life that he did, and follow his own course. You can name the commodities that excavated ancient civilisations also! One of Prof Hutton’s delightful one liners was that “marmalade dug up Avebury”.
This class of people had privilege and leisure time, but it’s what they did with it that is interesting. The 20’s, 30’s and 40’s saw a burgeoning of clubs, initiating societies and orders, and experimentation with the occult in England. It’s a largely uncharted history which is yet to be written.
Contrary to the typical pattern of the moneyed sons of Empire, Gerald spent his peak years leading a repressed life on the frontier, behaving himself, in relative solitude, married to one woman that he stayed faithful to, working hard and staying sober. It’s only when he retires that he lets rip! By then his health was not good, and he was making up for lost time.
One thing that Ronald Hutton wondered at was how so many figures in the Modern Pagan revival did their work late in life, in middle age and after. Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders, Stewart Farrar. How much more could they have done if they had started earlier?
In Gerald’s case, his work seems to have a long and mysterious prelude. His family pretty much disposed of him and forgot about him in sending him off with his nanny. He was self educated, learning to write phonetically. He wanted to be a scholar, with particular interests in archaeology and spiritual beliefs, though his scholarly ambitions would be frustrated. He was a man with immense curiosity. Wicca had the side effect of giving him a reputation which eluded him in his attempts at academia.
There is an archive in Toronto, Canada, which gives an interesting insight into both Wicca at the time and Gerald. In this archive there are many letters, and a file of complaints by initiates against each other. By 1960 the Craft seemed to be in a state of chronic, low level, civil war. Gerald never exploited this, never sought to manipulate this or “divide and conquer”, and he always in these letters seemed to try to get people to live with each other. Notably, there are really no complaints against him, and no reports of viciousness or exploitation. Even Olive Green (who was no friend) characterised him by qualities of “child like trust and simplicity”. He was easily hurt by people, and trusted journalists (and initiates) too much. He inspired real affection in people.
He has however been described as “slippery” and a “trickster”. By the mid 1950s there is an amount of duplicity creeping in, in terms of how he is portraying Wicca, seeking to legitimize and promote it by linking it to “old witch families” etc. Dionis, one of his priestesses, was encouraged to say she was from an old witch family when she wasn’t. So he was asking initiates to make false claims.
Gerald provided a new “history” for the Witchcraft Museum, and was the first person to call it “the Witches Mill”. He also turned extant folklore about various characters using magic, hexing etc, into tales about initiated witches, thus creating a new mythology and history for Wicca, and manipulating the truth to create a pedigree. He was desperate that his religion should survive in the time that he had left.
As a religious “founder” he was notably self effacing though, placing little emphasis upon himself or his own qualities or biographical history.
On a different note, Ron Hutton contests the claim that Gerald was into flagellation or some kind of BDSM, and put flagellation and binding into the religion for this reason. Gerald’s archives give us some indication of his erotic tastes, and nowhere does bondage or whipping turn up, despite expressions of such eroticism being widely available at this time. Where these things feature in the practice of the religion, Prof Hutton feels that it is due to Gerald’s age and state of health, which meant that out of the eight fold practices, things like ecstatic dance and sex were less feasible, while binding and rhythmic flagellation would have worked for him in assisting him into trance states.
Next Prof Hutton asked what made Wicca special?
There are a number of traceable sources for elements within Wicca, amongst them Aleister Crowley’s work, the Key of Solomon and Rudyard Kipling - but at the heart of the rituals are two novel things. These concern the attitude to the survival of the soul, and the attitude to Deity. These have helped provide a template for modern Paganism.
A particular sense of salvation is evident within Wicca, concerned with the promise of reincarnation with loved ones. This is quite unique.
Gerald’s own interpretation of theology is noteworthy - that there is a Goddess and a God in partnership, but with the Goddess slightly elevated and more in charge, giving rise to an ecstatic, creative religion.
The God is most essentially Pan, the favourite of the Victorian and Edwardian Romantics, the god of the English countryside.
The Goddess is that found in Crowley’s writings, and in Charles Leyland’s Aradia.
As previously mentioned, binding and scourging were what got Gerald into trance given his age.
What makes Wicca special are those things which Gerald liked in it and met his needs. But it proved to be a religion with potential for the modern age. Whether Gerald Gardner devised Wicca or not (and Prof Hutton cannot tell which), he put it on the map. He pulled it off, and that’s why it matters.
During questions afterwards, Prof Hutton noted that Gerald tried freemasonry, co-masonry, spiritualism, just about everything, and it was only in the last 14 years of his life that he went full out for Wicca.
was next interviewed by Brian Botham for a good humoured half hour. In response to a question about her early years, Lois recounted how she had psychic experiences going back to when she was four years old, seeing her deceased brother in the garden. A gypsy who visited their front door told her mother that “this child will have the sight and the power”. Her mother sometimes wondered if the fairies had left Lois with them. When she was grown and working as a nurse she would see spirit forms by the side of patients before their deaths. Lois just wanted this to all go away, but her mother thought it would lead to great things. She was the seventh child of a seventh child.
Lois read “Witchcraft Today” when she was approaching middle age, and everything fell into place. After this she then became more grounded, because she was then able to use all the extra energy and control it.
At the time of her first meeting with him, Gerald Gardner was living in a very untidy flat in London, and he had a shock of white hair. She described him as “lovely, a perfect gentleman, very gentle”. After their first talk he said to her “well, it’s very clear to me that you are a witch”, which Lois seems to have reacted to with some disbelief at the time. She was however initiated into the Bricket Wood coven.
Doreen Valiente was dismayed by Gerald’s courting of publicity, and a number of people left the coven on this account. She described Jack Bracelin as a wonderful man, and very practical. The high priestess at the time was a woman called Thelma. Lois was maiden, but after Thelma fell in love and moved with her partner to Utah, Lois took over as high priestess.
In response to Brian’s question of “how did you run a coven successfully for so long?” Lois said that she was very fond of the people and didn’t quarrel with them. They discussed the work they were going to do, and Fred Lamond was good at mediating disagreements between people. People wanted it to go on, and they were free of jealousy.
Gerald Gardner was publicity seeking, but Lois felt that he was really touched in some special way to bring back the Pagan religion, and he was invisibly pushed and goaded to do this.
On “life after Gerald Gardner” Lois said that after he died she felt that an element of materialism crept in. Gerald had introduced an aristocratic woman called Monica to the coven, and she was “fantastic, had terrific energy”. Monica said she belonged to a coven in Norfolk with an unbroken tradition going back 200 years, and she wanted Lois to join them.
When Gerald died Lois felt her responsibilities with the Bricket Wood coven were discharged, and she left to join the Norfolk coven. They worked in a very different way, in which the God featured more, and not so much the Goddess, and it was very agriculturally based. She is not known as a high priestess in the tradition, but as a magistra, which means a “teacher”.
Lois felt that Wicca was a version of witchcraft, sanitized to make it acceptable to the outside world, but witchcraft had always existed.
She felt that in the modern world people were looking for answers, and they turned to Wicca for them, but when the answers didn’t come quickly they tended to drift away. Witchcraft means so many different things to so many people.
She drew much laughter from the audience when she said of the majority of witches she’d heard about that “if you gathered them all together, they couldn’t boil a cauldron of hot water”.
Lois did recount some moving stories of mediumistic spirit experiences she’d had, in their human contexts. She also invited people to never loose their sense of gratitude and humility, and gentleness, that the gods had chosen them for their life’s path.
was unable to attend, so two people (sorry, can’t remember their names) delivered his talk on Ross Nichols, the founder of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, and the relation between Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols. The talk was dedicated to Philip’s father.
Both Gardner and Nichols were naturists and shared a good deal during a formative period of the modern Pagan movement.
During 1954 - 55 Nichols helped with editing “Witchcraft Today”. Back in 1951 the Witchcraft Act was repealed, and during this year both Nichols and Gardner visited Italy. Ross went to Pompeii in the summer and probably told Gerald about it.
Nichols’ diary records of the visit to Pompeii focus on a particular Villa which he felt was dedicated to the mysteries of Isis and Orpheus:
“….. Large painted rooms of initiation and instruction; the mother Isis, Silenus and his masks, Bacchus, the little cupid, the bride prepared for the mystic marriage, the child being instructed in the scripture of the legend. These realistic-imaginative paintings, with their background of heavy red, make a concrete impact on the mind as the reconstructed shops, the statues and the wall inscriptions, somehow do not. Some great emotional discharge had occurred here, an untold story wished to be heard from the pictures. What was it that these walls wanted to say?
“Some message of discovery of a truth, some deep conviction of the oneness of spirit with flesh, of old Silenus ridiculed with masks, of Venus as a young woman whispering her secrets into the ears of the young bride-to-be with a curved veil… and the young lad being taught from the book, what is he learning? That the mysticism of the flesh is the way of life? I cannot accept that this may be merely a normal villa with eccentric décor, merely because it is not built in temple fashion; nobody really knows, but I feel that this was a place of enlightenment. This ‘villa’ was most probably a temple for initiations into the women’s part of an Orphic cult, exempt from interference, run by an emperor’s sister”.
Italy can likewise be seen to have exerted an influence on Gerald Gardner and the development of Wicca, through Charles Leyland’s Aradia from his source Madelena, an influence which lies at the heart of the Charge. Thus Italy lends a core vibration to Wicca.
On their return to England the two men cooperated on “Witchcraft Today”, which had such influence on the modern Pagan revival. We can picture them meeting and sitting together at the naturist club, naked, focussing on a return to a spirituality based on Nature and her seasons, in contrast to the warfare and industrialisation that their times witnessed.
The two men had much in common. Both were naturists, both had been minister in obscure and unorthodox Christian churches, both were asthmatics, childless and well travelled. Both were Druids, Gardener having become a Druid before Nichols did.
In other ways they were quite polarized, politically, socially and in temperament. Gardner was a political conservative, Nichols a socialist. Gardner a hedonist, Nichols an ascetic. Gardner self-educated, Nichols an academic. Gardner married, Nichols a life long bachelor.
In 1954 Ross chose the path of the Bard and the Druid, restoring the link between poetry and the sacred, reflecting his own cerebral nature. Gerald followed a path of the physical and sensual, and of practical magic. These two influential figures showed how the mutual fostering of creativity can work through a complimentary meeting of diversity and difference.
I believe the body of this talk can substantially be found on Witchvox at:
was also unable to attend the conference, but Chris Crowley delivered a message from him.
Fred first met Gerald in 1956 and was initiated into the Bricket Wood coven at Imbolc 1957. He described Gerald as “very lovable, unassuming, an old gentleman with a fine sense of humour and imagination”.
Some of the things which Gerald taught about witchcraft were that while ceremonial magicians cast a circle to keep spirits out, witches cast a circle to keep the power in.
The book of shadows was not like a Bible or Quran, it was a personal cook book of spells that have worked for the owner, and that which didn’t work was discarded.
Some of what Gerald taught though did not fit with the archaisms that he added to make the Craft look ancient, for much had been put together by him and Doreen Valiente on a cut and paste basis. It pained Gerald to think that people would think that the Craft hadn’t been handed down with an ancient provenance.
Gerald taught that the seasonal festivals had been public, while the full Moon esbats were for private work of the coven. Only the persecutions had turned us into a priesthood without a congregation according to Gardner. He also considered that the timings of festivals were dependent upon climate, and that dates should be determined by the climate in which we lived.
On the origins of Wiccan rituals, Fred said that Gerald had been forbidden to use the New Forrest coven’s material, so he drew from things like Freemasonry and the Greater key of Solomon. Fred Lamond saw some contradictions in all this, for instance the referencing to angels and demons within a pantheistic Pagan religion. Another contradiction was that while initiates were sworn to secrecy, this didn’t seem to constrain Gerald himself in what he chose to disclose publicly. It would have been more reasonable if the inexperienced were bound by secrecy, with the more experienced eventually being granted discretionary freedoms in this regard.
Six months after his initiation the coven split, with some going with Doreen Valiente and some staying with Gerald. After the split Gerald told the newspapers that his priestess was from a hereditary witch family, although she in fact wasn’t.
At one time Fred had wondered “if the old fraud had invented witchcraft altogether”, but an inner voice had told him that it didn’t matter if it worked spiritually. These lies may have contained spiritual truths, at the level of the collective human unconscious, or in terms of previous incarnations.
In 1959 Idries Shah took an interest in Gardner, and Jack Bracelin introduced them to each other. A biography was published, but only Jack was publicly credited with the authorship of the biography, as Shah did not want to confuse his Sufi students with his association with Gardner and Witchcraft. Eventually Shah became disillusioned with Gardner, who he felt was driven by a power he didn’t fully understand. Though part of him felt that Wicca could become the religion of the coming age, he rationally did not think this could be so.
Fred considered Gerald Gardner to have been a visionary.
gave a fascinating talk. He first met Gerald Gardner in 1958 when Gerald was tall, skinny and coming to the end of his physical powers. He was a man full of enthusiasm.
Zach from an early age had been interested in esoteric matters, and had been involved in Theosophy and Crowley’s magick amongst other things. A mentor lent him “High Magic’s Aid” (authored under the name “Scire”) which interested him. Zach then saw a documentary which featured Gerald Gardner talking about witchcraft, and Zach made a connection between the man in the documentary and High Magic’s Aid, without realizing that he was the author.
Next there appeared an article in the News of the World about Gerald’s coven which showed it in an unsympathetic light. Zach could see what was happening here and wrote a letter of protest to the newspaper and also to the coven, which he asked the paper to forward on to the coven. The reporters claimed that the editors had stitched them up as well as the coven, but Zach still didn’t know the truth today. Zach was actually not sure if the spiritual reality that was manifesting behind Gerald Gardner didn’t actually want the situation to blow up and bring people in.
The letter was however forwarded to the coven, and a letter back from Fred Lamond followed, inviting Zach to meet them.
He met them at the club house of the Bricket Wood coven, which was a large chalet. There was Gerald Gardner, who turned out to be “Scire”. They got on very well, and Zach said he had a “child-like innocence”. No one saw the deeper layers to Gerald Gardner, and he felt that Gerald was doing much more than he appeared to on the surface.
The Bricket Wood coven was an open minded environment, there were open relationships in which there was no sense of ownership rights. The 60s hadn’t happened yet. There were these small, very esoteric groups, then the 60s happened. Zach’s coven contacts “reset the switches” on his life.
His old mentor who had loaned him “High Magic’s Aid” met Gerald, and said that he had met holy men in the East, and he recognized Gerald as one.
Zach felt that Gerald’s wife Donna was the real source of what was going on, something which he did not feel many people saw.
He compared Gerald’s nature to that of a magus - for a magus has to play the part of the fool, but to play the fool you have to be the fool to an extent. Zach was not sure how much conscious contact there was between Gerald the personality, and what overshadowed him, and the True Self.
In response to questions Zach said that he thought that if we choose to call Wicca a religion we should be careful what we mean. Wicca doesn’t have hard dogmas, but hopes and faith are some of its positives. He also felt that the next 10 years will bring things we couldn’t imagine, and we have to be up to that.
Zach also felt that supposed “improvements” to Wiccan ceremony and liturgy were not always necessarily improvements.
One audience member asked if Gerald had lived longer, did Zach think he would have gone more towards the “traditional” (folk lore based etc) and away from the ceremonial, to which Zach replied that he thought Gerald would probably have been happiest with what turned out to work well. Zach questioned the tendency to always look “back” towards the more “primitive” etc.
Rufus Harrington expressed the conviction that the Craft was a carrier of a way of relating to human beings and the world.
Zach also made the observation that a coven was neither a family nor an open group, but was something between, a group of peers not linked by genetics. This departure from the genetic and biological still was characterized by an evolutionary process, and still had a recursive, repeating process, but favouring the development of consciousness, imagination etc, not physical characteristics such as strength. It was an interaction between form and life.
This was part of an ongoing impetus of the evolution of consciousness which was ultimately cosmic in scope.
The panel discussion included Morgana, Julia Philips, Vivianne Crowley, Rufus Harrington and Prudence Jones.
“What did the panel think about the idea of a ’Church’ of Wicca?”
Vivianne could understand it in the US context. Morgana pointed out that the word Church can mean something different in Europe, where it has a sense of coming together as a community - she wouldn’t be too negative about the term until she knew the context. Vivianne preferred the term “Temple”, but wondered how she would feel about it if she came from a Jewish background. Prudence thought that calling yourself a Church carries dangers in its wake. We should be aware of the baggage that language carries.
“Do you think that hand fasting should be legalized the same as marriage?” (reference was made to the variety of handfastings that exist, year and a day, life long etc).
Morgana said that for many parts of Europe it is not a problem. Vivianne said that we should have a separation of Church and State, and that one can have a hand fasting without legal bindings, though we want the same rights. Rufus questioned where we take our sense of legitimacy from, stating that the legitimacy of tradition stands, whatever its legal status.
In response to a question about Anton Miles and his activities in Australia, Julia responded that he was a very important man, but his legacy did not appear to have lasted.
“How can we ensure getting a Pagan funeral and burial in the UK?”
Vivianne said that one had to appoint an executor of your will, and then you could write your own ceremony and the executor should ensure that it was carried out.
John Belham-Payne added that people should make wills to preserve their Pagan and Witchcraft effects - people didn’t realize they were valuable, but they were a living history that could be lost. A great amount of Doreen’s correspondence with Gerald Gardner had been lost through it not being explicitly identified on the will as going with other Witchcraft and magical items to the relevant person to preserve.
“Is pop Wicca putting off men?”
Rufus said that there was something of a bias towards Goddess mysteries within Wicca (which he considered appropriate for our times), and only certain types of men get called to the Craft. As the Craft becomes more visible, more men come into the Craft. Wicca is a genuine initiatory current.
Julia said that it depends on the coven. Vivianne felt that Starhawk had attracted a section of women looking for empowerment and not an occult current. Some women tended to leave when they got what they needed, and the balance was reasserting itself now. Men who turned up tended to stay.
Morgana said that she had found that Wicca has offered gay men a platform, and that had given an enrichment to Craft practice, which had exhibited homophobia at times. Wicca offered gay men a path, whereas the Christian Churches had seemed to do the opposite. Paganism had given *human beings* a way of exploring their spirituality (irrespective of gender).
“What is the next ‘threat’?”
Julia said it was fundamentalism as a mind set, and Morgana agreed that it was a mind set that insisted on “digging it’s heels in”, and included Pagan fundamentalism.
A Pagan magistrate in the audience said that Pagans are not yet using the law as they could, and taking advantage of existing laws that could protect them, eg laws relating to religious harassment.
Prudence thought that health and safety regulation culture was in danger of making things in circle increasingly dubious or illegal, while Rufus cautioned that we shouldn’t get paranoid about “threats”, as there were vast amounts of people who were sympathetic to Paganism. We have many friends out there, and we are part of a broader evolution of consciousness.
“About the UK Census in 2011 - should we put ‘Pagan‘ down?”
Vivianne felt the census gives us the power to put down a unified response as Pagans. This will also be the last chance we have for some time to record our numbers officially, as after this census the religion question will be dropped in order to save costs.
In terms of representation it was pointed out that Wicca does not develop centralized bodies, which positively leads to great creative space, but negatively makes communication with legal and official bodies difficult. But things like the Pagan Federation were effective, while each coven remained autonomous.
“How did Gerald Gardner affect you and your life?”
Morgana said that he changed her life, inspired her and led her to look at different cultures. Vivianne thought he was a visionary and a genius.
Julia also thought he was a genius, doing what he did with the resources he had during retirement. We have yet to uncover the impact of Malaysian magic on Gerald Gardner. Again, he changed her life, and led to her coming into contact with extraordinarily talented and creative people.
Rufus considered him to be a magical genius, forging a religion that went global in 40 years. He started a fire which we intend to continue. He gave us a profound gift, a current of magic going beyond himself. He was the gate through which that current came.
Prudence said that without Gerald Gardner and his revived religious Witchcraft, she doubted that we would be here tonight (as Pagans).
Zach said that it is what is happening to humanity that is important, and Gerald’s contribution was substantial and had worth - and that was good enough.
In summary, Gerald Gardner was a product of a particular time and class in the British Empire, a Victorian Tory, subject as a child to a combination of privilege and neglect. The wealth and lifestyle which he inherited allowed this self-educated man to quietly follow his interests in a relatively unremarkable way, until the last 14 years of his life when what almost seems like a mission kicks in. He belonged to a past era yet set in motion a spiritual-religious movement of a radical nature with relevance for a future beyond his own life.
Gardner is not alone, and Wicca is not alone, as an occult product of its times, the 1920s - 40s seeing a proliferation of occult societies in England. While historians cannot tell whether Gardner substantially created Wicca, rather than passing on the Craft, he culturally put religious Witchcraft on the map, and seems to have been strongly motivated by the need to preserve a spiritual stream which he saw as being in danger of extinction. This even led to his use of misrepresentation and duplicity, in order to give his religious Witchcraft a pedigree and ancient provenance which it lacked in traceable historical (and factual) terms. He was known to play the
“trickster” and the “fool” (in common with a few other magus figures we could think of) to represent what he probably perceived as a deeper truth.
The vision of Deity in Gardner
’s Witchcraft is unique, being modelled on partnership, albeit with the feminine component emphasised. Gardner’s Goddess was perceptibly formed from that in Leyland’s “Aradia” and Crowley’s work (I presume Nuit in chapter 1 of Liber AL vel Legis). The God is most essentially Pan, the god of Nature and the countryside so beloved of English Romantics of his time.
If as Fred Lamond says, the New Forrest coven forbade the use of their material in Gardner
’s Witchcraft, then much of the liturgical form of his religion would presumably be seen as his and his covens work of magical and religious synthesis.
Several speakers expressed their sense that Gardner was moved by a spiritual current which he was not fully aware of himself.
After the panel discussion we had to leave to make our way home, so we missed the last few speakers, including Francis Cameron’s prose “Dafo’s Tale”, and the film clips of Gerald. It had been an amazing day with a high level of spiritual energy.
What I remember most was a sense of a bigger picture. Gerald was an interesting figure, and inspiring in what he achieved, but there was a cosmic aspect to his circumstance, in which his personal identity was far from irrelevant, but neither was it the point either. He was the right person, at the right time, in the right circumstance, and a spiritual current was needing to manifest. Whether he fully understood it or not, Gerald responded to that current and went for the work. Thus an elderly man with 14 years left to live changed part of the religious reality of the modern world.
I found the day both enlightening and humbling, and was left feeling just a little closer to the stars, reminded of the patterns and broader processes in the evolution of consciousness that affect all our lives.
When we think not just of initiatic Wicca, but of all that it has catalysed and given rise to in modern Paganism, then we get some interesting questions and reflections on where we are, and where we might be going, whether we consider ourselves part of Wicca, Witchcraft, or other parts of modern Paganism.
|Gerald's BoS open to 1* Oath|