Gerald Gardner (Wiccan) : biography
The New Forest Coven: 1939–1940
Although skeptical of the Rosicrucian Order, Gardner got on well with a group of individuals inside the group who were "rather brow-beaten by the others, kept themselves to themselves." Gardner’s biographer Philip Heselton theorised that this group consisted of Edith Woodford-Grimes (1887–1975), Susie Mason, her brother Ernie Mason, and their sister Rosetta Fudge, all of whom had originally come from Southampton before moving to the area around Highcliffe, where they joined the Order. According to Gardner, "unlike many of the others [in the Order], [they] had to earn their livings, were cheerful and optimistic and had a real interest in the occult". Gardner became "really very fond of them", remarking that he "would have gone through hell and high water even then for any of them."Bracelin 1960. p. 165. In particular he grew close to Woodford-Grimes, being invited over to her home to meet her daughter, and the two helped each other with their writing, Woodford-Grimes probably assisting Gardner edit A Goddess Arrives prior to publication. Gardner would subsequently give her the nickname "Dafo", for which she would become better known.Heselton 2012a. pp. 199–200, 205.
One night in September 1939 they took him to a large house owned by "Old Dorothy" Clutterbuck, a wealthy local woman, where he was made to strip naked and taken through an initiation ceremony.Farrar & Farrar (2002). Halfway through the ceremony, he heard the word "Wica", and he recognised it as an Old English word for "witch". He was already acquainted with Margaret Murray’s theory of the Witch-cult, and "I then knew that that which I had thought burnt out hundreds of years ago still survived. How wonderful; to think that these things still survive."
This group, he claimed, were the New Forest coven, and he believed them to be one of the few surviving covens of the ancient, pre-Christian Witch-Cult religion. Subsequent research by the likes of Hutton and Heselton has shown that in fact the New Forest coven was probably only formed in the early 20th century, based upon such sources as folk magic and the theories of Margaret Murray.Heselton (2000:262)
Gardner only ever described one of their rituals in depth, and this was an event that he termed "Operation Cone of Power". According to his own account, it took place in 1940 in a part of the New Forest and was designed to ward off the Nazis from invading Britain by magical means. Gardner said of this:
Bricket Wood and the Origins of Gardnerianism: 1945–1950
Throughout his time in the New Forest, Gardner had regularly travelled to London, keeping his flat at Buckingham Palace Mansions until mid-1939 and regularly visiting the Spielplatz nudist club there.Heselton 2012b. pp. 293–294. At Spielplatz he befriended Ross Nichols (1902–1975), whom he would later introduce to the Pagan religion of Druidry; Nichols would become enamoured with this faith, eventually founding the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.Heselton 2012b. pp. 295–296. However, following the war, Gardner decided to return permanently to London, moving into 47 Ridgemount Gardens, Bloomsbury in late 1944 or early 1945.Heselton 2012b. p. 298. Continuing his interest in nudism, in 1945 he purchased a plot of land in Fouracres, a nudist colony near to the village of Bricket Wood in Hertfordshire that would soon be renamed Five Acres. As a result, he would become one of the major shareholders at the club, exercising a significant level of power over any administrative decisions and was involved in a recruitment drive to obtain more members.Heselton 2012b. pp. 299–309.