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Part 2: History
Now that we have an idea of what a Wiccan identifies as, let us rewind the clock and examine how the modern religion, Wicca, came to be. We will meet the greats of the religion – Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders, and the famed CoG.
Gerald Gardner. By S. Davis.
“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. (Grimassi pp 361-362)
Contrary to popular belief, Gerald Gardner is responsible for bringing the Wiccan Religion out of the “broom closet”. Through both his literary accomplishments, and active religious work, Gerald Gardner created a foundation for Wicca that some Wiccans discredit him for.
Wicca is a nature based religion that, in its simplest form, follows two documents. These documents were based on Gerald Gardner’s works, as well as pre-Christian influences. One may have been created by Gerald Gardner himself, while the other was created by a council of Witches after Gerald Gardner’s death.
The first of these documents is the Wiccan Rede, found in Gardner’s Book of Shadows. A Book of Shadows(BoS) is a book dedicated to the study of Wicca, written by the student /practitioner as they go along their path.
The Wiccan Rede is a collection of common knowledge and guidelines. It outlines some of the holidays and most of all, gives Wiccans one basic rule: ‘An it harm none, do what ye will’. Oftentimes, the first lesson a person receives in the study of Wicca is this document. The student receives a copy and is usually asked to memorize it, then analyze and explain the meanings behind each verse. Any questions are answered.
The second of these documents is the ’13 Principles of Wiccan Belief’. This document was laid out in the Spring Witch Meet of April,1974 by 73 witches who gathered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their mission was to define American Witchcraft. Without Gardner, this would not have happened. Gardner trained Monique Wilson, who trained Raymond Buckland. Buckland brought the Wiccan religion to America, where it gained much popularity. Without this spreading of knowledge, the ‘Spring Witch Meet’, as it is sometimes called, would not have been successful.
Gerald Gardner was born on June 13th, 1884, in Great Crosby, Lancashire, England. When he was a young child, he experienced bouts of asthma. His parents allowed his nurse to take him to warmer places, to escape from the harshness of an England winter. As he grew, this affliction left him, but the urge to travel remained with him the rest of his adult life.
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, not surprisingly, Gerald’s bouts of asthma reappeared.
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 cultures, and this led him into Witchcraft artifacts(and the collecting of them). 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, which prohibited the occult in England.
Unable to publish non-fiction books about Witchcraft due to the Witchcraft Act, Gerald published a fictional book called High Magick’s Aid in 1949, under the pen name of Scire. The Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951, deposing of the last laws against the occult. Just 3 years later, Gerald published the book Witchcraft Today, under his own name. (Knowles)
The coven that Gerald Gardner was trained within did not approve of him publishing non-fiction material about the Craft. His high priestess (Dorothy Clutterbuck) was wary and very traditional. Traditional covens are very secretive about the knowledge they have worked hard to gain, and this coven was no exception.
Throughout his life and teachings, Gerald met with and trained many people. One of these people, Doreen Valiente, is responsible for the compilation and beautifying of the materials that Gerald collected in his training. Doreen was one of many priestesses trained by Gerald, and she remained as his High Priestess for a time. Eventually, they parted ways due to a disagreement about coven rules. They reconciled before Gerald’s death in February, 1964, but the relationship was not as close as it had been in previous years. (Knowles)
“Truth is the daughter of time.” Is an old English proverb. Many people doubted the existence of “Old Dorothy”, Gerald’s teacher, but after his death, Doreen was determined to prove these people wrong. In the last few years of her life, she researched the existence of Dorothy Clutterbuck and then published a book (an autobiography) called The Rebirth of Witchcraft, which included details of her search. Doreen passed away in 1997, after a long bout with cancer, in her native birthplace in England. (Knowles)“The big question which remains to be answered is, how much of the Gardnerian ‘Book of Shadows’ represents the rites of the old New Forest coven and how much is Gerald Gardner’s own concoction?” (Valiente)
There has been much controversy over how much of Gardner’s work is authentic, and how much of it written by his own hand. “The Old Laws” is a document that holds much controversy behind it, as the grammar and common language used in it span centuries and continents in their origin. It is also the only document in the Gardnerian Book of Shadows that contains more than superficially archaic language, as well as containing references to the persecution of witches. More than that, it is the only document containing references to the operation of covens and the beliefs concerning deities.(Oakseer)
To some, it is easy to see that much of Gardner’s work was copied from other sources. These sources include, but are not limited to Aleister Crowley, Charles Godfrey Leland and Maragaret Murray. Also, Julia Phillips, an Australian speaker, considers the Gardnerian ceremonies to be based heavily on ceremonial magic and Freemasonry.
Cecil Williamson considers Gerald Gardner a “vain, self centered man, tight with his money, and more interested in outlets for his nudist and voyeuristic activities, than in learning anything about authentic witchcraft…”. Cecil Williamson collaborated with and employed Gardner for a time in the Museum of Witchcraft, on the Isle of Man. Yet, without Gardner, where would Wicca be today?“8. Calling oneself ‘witch’ does not make a Witch – but neither does heredity itself, or the collecting of titles, degrees and initiations. A Witch seeks to control the forces within him/herself that make life possible in order to live wisely and well, without harm to others, in harmony with nature.” – American Council Of Witches, 1974
In 1974, seventy three witches gathered to define American Witchcraft. With Gardner as its foundation, Wicca gained more of the general population’s interest and attention. If Gardner, like his covenmates, had been secretive, then many a Witch would not be where they are today. If Gardner had not had the courage, the initiative and the means of offering Wicca to the public, then Wicca as a religion may have died. Without the spark of fire that Gardner offered, the room for change, the foundation for growth, where would Wiccans be? Where would the world be without its healers?
If anything, everybody should respect Gerald Gardner as they would a grandfather, for he has dared to bring into light what was kept in darkness. He helped create a solid foundation for a religion that has lasted for at least 60 years. Even if all of the works that he offered to the public were of his own creation, what he did in this world was truly amazing. His beliefs, his work, have given this generation, as well as the generation before, a chance to learn, grow, evolve and develop as needed. Gerald Gardner is very responsible for bringing the Wiccan religion ‘out of the broom closet’.“6. We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their grater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who have courageously given themselves in leadership.” – American Council of Witches, 1974
References Used In This Article:
- “Gerald Gardner”. http://home.graffiti.net/seekers/gardner.html
- “Why I choose to drop the Wiccan Label”. Visited 15 Dec 03. http://www.geocities.com/notuswill/rewicca.html
- Adler, Margot. Drawing Down The Moon. Canada: Beacon Publishing, 1979.
- Aleister Crowley Foundation. http://www.thelemicknights.org/acfresources.html
- Apologia Report. Hawkins Interview. Visited 11 Dec 03. http://www.gospelcom.net/apologia/mainpages/WhatsNews/Hawkins/Interview.html
- 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//sks15.sirs.com/cgi-bin/hst-article=display?ID=0000NY0048-SIZ482WA&artno=078472&type=ART&sound=yes&key=WICCA
- Knowles, George. Controverscial.com. Visited 11 Dec 03. http://www.controverscial.com/Gerald%20Brosseau%20Gardner.htm
- Lacoste, Rikki. Gerald Gardner. Visited 15 Dec 03.
- Oakseer. “Gerald Gardner, Old Words and the Old Laws.”. Visited 15 Dec 03. http://www.angelfire.com/ca/redgarters/gerald.html
- Phillips, Julia. History (2) of Wicca in England. Visited 11 Dec 03. http://wikca.tripod.com/hiswicca2.html
- Phillips, Julia. History of Wicca in England. Visited 11 Dec 03. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~sjgavula/wiccahist.html
- Valiente, Doreen. The Rebirth of Witchcraft. Custer: Phoenix Publishing Inc., 1989.
- Wicca Modified 29 Nov 2003. http://en2.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicca
- Witches, American Council of. Principles of Wiccan Belief. http://wiccanhuntress.tripod.com/13principlesofwiccanbelief.html
Please read through the above Wikipedia entries to learn a little more about these terms, people, and groups, which you will often encounter in your studies.
Exercise 2: Find the unifying ideas and concepts
Although you’ve seen four different descriptions of history of traditions in Wicca, they tend to be different. What unifying concepts are there within each? Cite at least three outside resources used in defending your opinion.