Gerald Gardner (Wiccan)

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Gerald Gardner (Wiccan) : biography

13 June 1884 – 12 February 1964

Between 1936 and 1939, Gardner had met the Christian mystic and prominent Freemason J.S.M. Ward (1885–1949), with the two becoming friends. Ward was the proprietor of the Abbey Folk Park, the oldest example of an open-air museum in Britain; one of the exhibits was a 16th-century cottage that Ward had found near to Ledbury, Herefordshire and had transported to his park, where he exhibited it as a "witch’s cottage". Gardner eventually made a deal with Ward whereby he exchanged the cottage for Gardner’s piece of land near to Famagusta in Cyprus. Ward and his fellow sect-members subsequently moved to the island, where he would live for the rest of his life. The witch’s cottage, meanwhile, was dismantled and the parts transported to Bricket Wood, where they were reassembled on Gardner’s land at Five Acres. In Midsummer 1947 he held a ceremony in the cottage as a form of house-warming, which Heselton speculated was probably based upon the ceremonial magic rites featured in The Key of Solomon grimoire.Heselton 2012b. pp. 315–324.Valiente (1989:56) Furthering his interest in esoteric Christianity, on 29 August 1946, Gardner was ordained as a priest in the Ancient British Church by Dorian, the Bishop of Caerleon, a fellowship open to anyone who considered themselves a monotheist. However, there is no evidence that Gardner ever took an active part in any of the Church’s rituals.Heselton 2012b. pp. 315–318.

Gardner also took an interest in Druidry, joining the Ancient Druid Order (ADO) which had been founded by George Watson MacGregor Reid in 1909. Reid died in 1946, with leadership of the ADO falling to his son, Robert, who was installed as Chosen Chief at Midwinter, in a ceremony attended by Gardner. He subsequently began attending the annual Midsummer rituals at Stonehenge.Heselton 2012b. pp. 327–332.

On May Day 1947, Gardner’s friend Arnold Crowther introduced him to Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), the ceremonial magician who founded the Pagan religion of Thelema in 1904. Shortly before his death, Crowley elevated Gardner to the VII° of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) and issued a charter decreeing that Gardner could perform its preliminary initiation rituals. The charter itself was written in Gardner’s handwriting and only signed by Crowley.Valiente 1989. p. 57. Crowley’s friend and student, Gerald Yorke, was reported to have stated that Gardner had paid £300 for Crowley to sign the charter, though this story seems highly apocryphal. Despite owning it, and later displaying it in his Museum of Magic and Witchcraft, Gardner never made use of his O.T.O. charter or performed any of the rituals it allowed him to, claiming that he "had neither the money, energy or time".Bracelin 1960. p. 171. After Crowley’s death on 1 December 1947, Gardner was considered the highest ranking O.T.O. member in Europe, and contacted another English member Lady Frieda Harris about continuing the work of the Order in the UK. Lady Harris wrote to Karl Germer, Crowley’s successor as head of O.T.O., on 2 January 1948 that Gardner was now the "Head of the O.T.O. in Europe". Gardner later met with Germer in New York to formulate further plans for the O.T.O. However Gardner’s continuing ill health during this period led to the abandonment of the plans, and in 1951 he was replaced by Frederic Mellinger as the O.T.O’s European representative.

Doreen Valiente and the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft: 1950-1957

Gardner also came into contact with Cecil Williamson (1909–1999), who was intent on opening his own museum devoted to witchcraft; the result would be the Folk-lore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft, opened in Castletown on the Isle of Man in 1951.Heselton 2012b. pp. 410–434. The following year Gardner and his wife moved to the island, where Gardner became employed as the museum’s "resident witch". On 29 July, The Sunday Pictorial published an article about the museum in which Gardner declared "Of course I’m a witch. And I get great fun out of it." The museum was not a financial success, and the relationship between Gardner and Williamson deteriorated. In 1954, Gardner bought the museum from Williamson, who returned to England to found the rival Museum of Witchcraft, eventually settling it in Boscastle, Cornwall. Gardner renamed his exhibition the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft and continued running it up until his death.