Gerald Gardner

Well, I have to admit that I’m feeling lazy today, and I have an article in the works for later in this week. I believe that, at this particular moment, I am going to simply post an essay I wrote some time ago (4 years ago) regarding Gerald Gardner’s validity as the founder of Wicca. I am posting it merely because it provides background information. I’m not sure what point I was pushing, but as a sophomore in high school then, and a sophomore in college, now, I’m sure my opinion has changed slightly through the years and more research. I’m sure that in upcoming posts, I may rework the article to reflect that, or write a more comprehensive analysis of the issue at hand. With that said, enjoy.

“11. As American Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the Craft, the origins of various terms, the legitimacy of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with our present, and our future. ” – The American Council Of Witches, 1974.

Contrary to popular belief, Gerald Gardner is responsible for bringing the Wiccan Religion “out of the broom closet.” Though some discredit him for the work he did in his lifetime concerning the occult, it is possible to prove that Gerald Gardner, through his writings and experiences, helped create the foundation for the religion known today as Wicca.

“To be a Witch is to draw on our archetypal roots and to draw strength from them. It means to put yourself into close consonance with some ways that are older than the human race itself.” – Ed Fitch.

In 1974, a group of Witches, called the American Council of Witches, was established in order to define modern Witchcraft (Wicca). Wicca is difficult to define, by nature, because of its vast variety of traditions and followers. There is no established hierarchy among Wiccans, and they acknowledge no absolute authority of the religion. A Witch is a priest or priestess, and therefore a Witch is able to communicate with their gods without the use of a human medium.

Wiccans worship and perform their rites alone, or in small groups called covens, in order to attune themselves to the rhythms and cycles of Nature. Covens are closely knit, sometimes closer than the families that the members come from. Most Wiccans use meditation and prayer, and a combination of both, to help them guide their along the paths they find morally right. In being knowledgeable about what Wicca is, one can then take a look at someone who is by some, considered to be the founder of Wicca, and by others, “a con man, deceitful and manipulative.” (Knowles)

Gerald Gardner was born on June 13th, 1884, in Great Crosby, Lancashire, England. When he was a young child, he experienced bouts of asthma, which caused his nurse to take him to warmer locations in the harsh winters. As he grew, this affliction left him, but the urge to travel did not. When Gerald evolved into adulthood, he took on the job of a Customs officer. In 1927, he met and married a woman named Donna. She stayed faithful to him until her death in 1960. After her death, Gerald’s bouts of asthma reappeared, probably from depression.

Although Gerald retired from his Customs job in 1936, this did not mean that he retired from everything else. Gerald’s pastime was archaeology. He was fascinated by ancient artifacts, and this led him into Witchcraft articles. Having finally made contact with the occult, in September of 1939, Gerald Gardner was initiated into the New Forest Coven. At this time, the Witchcraft Act was still in effect in England.

Unable to publish non-fiction books about Witchcraft, Gerald published a book called High Magick’s Aid in 1949, under the pen name of Scire. His coven, and their high priestess, “Old” Dorothy Clutterbuck, were wary of his penmanship, and did not want him to publish anything related to their traditions. They, as most traditional Witches are, were very secretive. The Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951, deposing of the last laws against the occult in England. Just 3 years later, Gerald published the book Witchcraft Today, under his own name.

Doreen Valiente, a high priestess of Gardner’s until they parted ways for a time due to a disagreement, did much to improve Gardner’s status. Angered, or perhaps intrigued by people’s disbelief in “Old Dorothy”, spent a few years after Gardner’s death, proving Dorothy Clutterbuck’s existence.

Many people believe that Gardner drew on previously documented sources to create his own sets of rules and hierarchy; in essence, his own religion. This religion was then promoted through his books.

The document called the “Old Laws” is a perfect example of this. In this document, the language that was used was not uniform. The dialects came from all over Europe, from England and Scotland, and probably from other areas as well, such as France or Spain. The times that certain words were in common use span centuries, from the 16th and 17th centuries to modern usage.

Another fact which supports this belief is the similarity between parts of Gardner’s Book Of Shadows, and Aleister Crowley’s works. Aleister Crowley, an occultist and founder of Thelema, yet another religion, met with Gardner a few times, and obviously influenced his work. Sometimes, entire passages of Gardner’s works are the same as those of Aleister Crowley’s, although they are not the same religions. Doreen Valiente, one of Gardner’s high priestesses, took what Gardner had copied from Crowley and reworded it into a more poetic, smooth form. In this way, she gave Wicca some individuality. Without Gardner, this would have been impossible. Doreen is the author of the more poetic version of the Charge of the Goddess, as well as many other works found within a Gardnerian Book of Shadows. These all are based on many sources, from Charles Leland’s Aradia to some of Aleister Crowley’s works.

Dorothy Clutterbuck is a figure that was wrapped in mystery, who many considered to be a myth until Doreen Valiente proved that “Old Dorothy” existed. Dorothy was the high priestess that Gerald Gardner received his wisdom and instruction from. She ran the coven that Gerald Gardner was initiated into. This coven was one of nine covens that “Old George Pickingill” started. According to Gardner, Mr. Pickingill said that he founded nine covens in his life time, situated around England.

During Gardner’s lifetime, he also served as the “Resident Witch” of the Museum of Witchcraft, located on the Isle of Man. This was run by Cecil Williamson. Upon Gardner’s death, his possessions were given to the museum and then sold to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not organization. This angered some witches, but most weren’t aware of the change of ownership.

The work that Gardner done has soundly impacted Wicca as it is today. This can be seen with Raymond Buckland, one of Gardner’s students who moved to America. Buckland brought Gardnerian Wicca to America, and is one of Llewelyn Publishing’s authors. If one walks down the Witchcraft aisle of any book store, one is bound to see a large, dark blue book by Raymond Buckland.

But what other impacts did Gardner make? Without Gardner to spark the interest, the craft would not be recognized as a legal religion in the United States of America. In 1973, 74 Witches, with Carl Weschcke as the chairperson, formed together to officially define American Witchcraft. Carl Weshchcke is also the owner of Llewelyn Publications, the largest New Age publisher on the American market. The document created by these 74 witches is used in the US Army Chaplains. It is also recognized by the United StatesUnited States Census. Wicca retains rights as a full religion, just like Christianity or Judaism.

“11. As American Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the Craft, the origins of various terms, the legitimacy of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with our present, and our future. ” – The American Council Of Witches, 1974.

I am a Witch. Through the research of Gerald Gardner, I have enlightened myself both about other people’s opinions of the craft, and the history concerning it. Without knowing my history, I can not know my present or my future. I have pride to know that I have looked into Gerald Gardner’s life. It is my conclusion that Gerald Gardner greatly influenced the influx of Witches and perhaps permanently changed the path of Wicca forever during his lifetime. I believe that by knowing this, I can honor his memory properly, and respect him as an ancestor.

I am not threatened by debates on how deceitful Gerald Gardner was. Gerald Gardner deserves respect as the founder of tradition Witchcraft. Some will discredit him in an attempt to place themselves on a pedestal, but the fact remains that without Gardner, Wicca or Witchcraft would not be where it is today as a religion.


“Gerald Gardner”. <;

“Why I choose to drop the Wiccan Label”. Visited 15 Dec 03. <;

Adler, Margot. Drawing Down The Moon. Canada: Beacon Publishing, 1979.

Aleister Crowley Foundation. <;

Apologia Report. Hawkins Interview. Visited 11 Dec 03. <;

Grimassi, Raven. Encyclopedia of Wicca and Witchcraft. St. Paul MN: Llewellyn Publishing, 2002.

Hautn-Mayer, Joanna. “When is a Celt not a Celt?” Gnosis Summer 1998, pp 59-65. SIRS Brockport High School Library, Brockport, NY. 23 Dec 2003. <http//>

Knowles, George. Visited 11 Dec 03. <;

Lacoste, Rikki. Gerald Gardner. Visited 15 Dec 03.

Oakseer. “Gerald Gardner, Old Words and the Old Laws.“. Visited 15 Dec 03. <;

Phillips, Julia. History (2) of Wicca in England. Visited 11 Dec 03. <;

Phillips, Julia. History of Wicca in England. Visited 11 Dec 03. <;

Valiente, Doreen. The Rebirth of Witchcraft. Custer: Phoenix Publishing Inc., 1989.
Wicca Modified 29 Nov 2003. <;

Witches, American Council of. Principles of Wiccan Belief. <;


2 responses to “Gerald Gardner

  1. Do you think Gardner deliberatly lied about what he promoted as witchcraft or do you think he thought it all out carefully and decided to deceive people? After reading Wicca Magickal Beginnings by David Rankine I am starting to believe that Gardner was just a naive old man who got himself in too deep.

  2. Read:
    Triumph of the Moon, by Prof. Ronald Hutton
    Wiccan roots, by Philip Heselton
    Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration, by Philip Heselton

    “Wicca: Magickal Beginnings” is not a good book for understanding the history of Wicca and the motivations of Gerald Gardner. The book is too biased by the opinion of the authors, as opposed to a careful and methodical examination of the data, while keeping to the relevant information.

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