Gerald Gardner (Wiccan)

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Gerald Gardner (Wiccan) : biography

13 June 1884 – 12 February 1964

In 1952, Gardner had begun to correspond with a young woman named Doreen Valiente. She eventually requested initiation into the Craft, and though Gardner was hesitant at first, he agreed that they could meet during the winter at the home of Edith Woodford-Grimes. Valiente got on well with both Gardner and Woodford-Grimes, and having no objections to either ritual nudity or scourging (which she had read about in a copy of Gardner’s novel High Magic’s Aid that he had given to her), she was initiated by Gardner into Wicca on Midsummer 1953. Valiente went on to join the Bricket Wood Coven. She soon rose to become the High Priestess of the coven, and helped Gardner to rewrite his Book of Shadows, cutting out Crowley’s influence, which she feared was too shrouded in bad publicity.

In 1954, Gardner published a non-fiction book, Witchcraft Today, containing a preface by Margaret Murray, who had published her theory of a surviving Witch-Cult in her 1921 book, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. In his book, Gardner not only espoused the survival of the Witch-Cult, but also his theory that a belief in faeries in Europe was due to a secretive pygmy race that lived alongside other communities, and that the Knights Templar had been initiates of the Craft., Chapter V, "The Little People" and Chapter VI, "How the Little People Became Witches, and Concerning the Knights Templar" Alongside this book, Gardner began to increasingly court publicity, going so far as to invite the press to write articles about the religion. Many of these turned out very negatively for the cult; one declared "Witches Devil-Worship in London!", and another accused him of whitewashing witchcraft in his luring of people into covens. Gardner continued courting publicity, despite the negative articles that many tabloids were producing, and believed that only through publicity could more people become interested in witchcraft, so preventing the "Old Religion", as he called it, from dying out.The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 67

Gardner’s increasingly overt attempts at garnering media attention was one of the major reasons for rifts in his coven (and others). Many Witches felt he was threatening their traditional vows of secrecy and bringing about too much bad publicity, which in turn led to ostracism and job losses. Gardner introduced the Wiccan Laws to his coven, which drastically limited the powers of the High Priestess and even allowed the High Priest to call for the retirement of the High Priestess when he considered her too old. Valiente and other members of the coven were furious and left in disgust. Valiente herself said "we had had enough of the gospel according to Gerald, but we still believed that the ancient religion of Witchcraft had existed".

Later life and death

In 1960, Gardner’s official biography, entitled Gerald Gardner: Witch, was published. It was written by a friend of his, the Sufi mystic Idries Shah, but used the name of one of Gardner’s High Priests, Jack L. Bracelin, because Shah was wary about being associated with Witchcraft.Fifty Years of Wicca, Frederic Lamond, 2004, page 19Dancing with Witches, Lois Bourne, 1998, page 29 In May of that year, Gardner travelled to Buckingham Palace, where he enjoyed a garden party in recognition of his years of service to the Empire in the Far East. Soon after his trip, Gardner’s wife Donna died, and Gardner himself once again began to suffer badly from asthma. The following year he, along with Shah and Lois Bourne, travelled to the island of Majorca to holiday with the poet Robert Graves, whose The White Goddess would play a significant part in the burgeoning Wiccan religion. In 1963, Gardner decided to go to Lebanon over the winter. Whilst returning home on the ship, The Scottish Prince on 12 February 1964, he suffered a fatal heart attack at the breakfast table. He was buried in Tunisia, the ship’s next port of call, and his funeral was attended only by the ship’s captain. He was 79 years old.