Gerald Gardner (Wiccan) : biography
Gerald Brosseau Gardner (1884–1964), also known by the craft name Scire, was an English Wiccan, as well as an author and an amateur anthropologist and archaeologist. He was instrumental in bringing the Contemporary Pagan religion of Wicca to public attention, writing some of its definitive religious texts and founding the tradition of Gardnerian Wicca.
Born into an upper-middle-class family in Blundellsands, Lancashire, Gardner spent much of his childhood abroad in Madeira. In 1900, he moved to colonial Ceylon, and then in 1911 proceeded to Malaya, where he worked as a civil servant, independently developing an interest in the native peoples and writing papers and a book about their magical practices. After his retirement in 1936, he traveled to Cyprus, penning the novel A Goddess Arrives before returning to England. Settling down near the New Forest, he joined an occult group, the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship, through which – he claimed – he encountered the New Forest coven, into which he was initiated in 1939. Believing the coven to be a survival of the pre-Christian Witch-Cult discussed in the works of Margaret Murray, he decided to revive the faith, supplementing the coven’s rituals with ideas borrowed from Freemasonry, ceremonial magic and the writings of Aleister Crowley to form the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca.
Moving to London in 1945, following the repeal of the Witchcraft Act of 1736 he became intent on propagating this religion, attracting media attention and writing about it in High Magic’s Aid (1949), Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959). Founding a Wiccan group known as the Bricket Wood coven, he introduced a string of High Priestesses into the religion, including Doreen Valiente, Lois Bourne, Patricia Crowther and Eleanor Bone, through which the Gardnerian community spread throughout Britain and subsequently into Australia and the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Involved for a time with Cecil Williamson, Gardner also became director of the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft on the Isle of Man, which he ran until his death.
Gardner is internationally recognised as the "Father of Wicca" among the Pagan and occult communities. His claims regarding the New Forest coven have been widely scrutinised, with Gardner being the subject of investigation for historians and biographers such as Aidan Kelly, Ronald Hutton and Philip Heselton.
Involvement in Wicca
The Rosicrucian Order: 1938–1939
In Highcliffe, Gardner came across a building describing itself as the "First Rosicrucian Theatre in England."Heselton 2012a. pp. 186–187. Having an interest in Rosicrucianism, a prominent magico-religious tradition within Western esotericism, Gardner decided to attend one of the plays performed by the group; in August 1939, Gardner took his wife to a theatrical performance based on the life of Pythagoras. An amateur thespian, she hated the performance, thinking the quality of both actors and script terrible, and she refused to go again.Bracelin 1960. p. 162.Heselton 2012a. pp. 187–188, 195–196. Unperturbed and hoping to learn more of Rosicrucianism, Gardner joined the group in charge of running the theatre, the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship, and began attending meetings held in their local ashram. Founded in 1920 by George Alexander Sullivan, the Order had been based upon a blend of Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, Freemasonry and his own personal innovation, and had moved to Christchurch in 1930.Heselton 2012a. pp. 196–198.
However, as time went by, Gardner became critical of many of the Rosicrucian Order’s practices; Sullivan’s followers claimed that he was immortal, having formerly been the famous historical figures Pythagoras, Cornelius Agrippa and Francis Bacon. Gardner facetiously asked if he was also the Wandering Jew, much to the annoyance of Sullivan himself. Another belief held by the group that Gardner found amusing was that a lamp hanging from one of the ceilings was the disguised holy grail of Arthurian legend.Bracelin 1960. p. 163.Heselton 2012a. p. 198. Gardner’s dissatisfaction with the group grew, particularly when in 1939, one of the group’s leaders sent a letter out to all members in which she stated that war would not come. The very next day, Britain declared war on Germany, greatly unimpressing the increasingly cynical Gardner.Bracelin 1960. p. 164.