Gerald Gardner (Wiccan)

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Gerald Gardner (Wiccan) : biography

13 June 1884 – 12 February 1964

In 1907 Gardner returned to Britain for several months’ leave, spending time with his family and joining the Legion of Frontiersmen, a militia founded to repel the threat of German invasion.Heselton 2012a. pp. 57–59. During his visit, Gardner spent a lot of time with family relations known as the Sergenesons. Gerald became very friendly with this side of his family, whom his Anglican parents avoided because they were Methodists. According to Gardner, the Surgenesons readily talked about the paranormal with him; the patriarch of the family, Ted Surgeneson, believed that fairies were living in his garden and would say "I can often feel they’re there, and sometimes I’ve seen them", though he readily admitted the possibility that it was all in his imagination.Bracelin 1960 p. 121.Heselton 2012a. pp. 59–62. It was from the Sergenesons that Gardner claimed to have discovered a family rumour that his grandfather, Joseph, had been a practicing witch, after being converted to the practice by his mistress.Bracelin 1960. p. 123.Heselton 2012a. pp. 62–66. Another unconfirmed family belief repeated by Gardner was that a Scottish ancestor, Grissell Gairdner, had been burned as a witch in Newburgh in 1610.Heselton 2012a. pp. 3–4.

Gardner returned to Ceylon in late 1907 and settled down to the routine of managing the rubber plantation. In 1910 he was initiated as an Apprentice Freemason into the Sphinx Lodge No 107 in Columbo, affiliated with the Irish Constitution. Gardner placed great importance on this new activity; In order to attend their meetings, he had to arrange a weekend’s leave, walk 15 miles to the nearest railway station in Haputale and then catch a train to the city. He took the second and third degrees of Freemasonry within the next month, but this enthusiasm seems also to have waned and he resigned the next year, probably because he intended to leave Ceylon.Bracelin 1960. p. 35.Heselton 2012a. pp. 66–67. The experiment with rubber growing at the Atlanta Estate had proved relatively unsuccessful, and Gardner’s father decided to sell the property in 1911, leaving Gerald unemployed.Bracelin 1960. p. 36.Heselton 2012a. pp. 67–68.

That year, Gardner moved to Borneo, gaining employment as a rubber planter Mawo Estate at Membuket. However, he did not get on well with the plantation’s manager, a racist named R.J. Graham who had wanted to deforest the entire local area.Bracelin 1960. pp. 38–39.Heselton 2012a. pp. 70–71. Instead Gardner became friendly with many of the locals, including the Dyak and Dusun people.Bracelin 1960. p. 43.Heselton 2012a. p. 71. An amateur anthropologist, Gardner was fascinated by the indigenous way of life, particularly the local forms of weaponry such as the sumpitan.Bracelin 1960. p. 44.Heselton 2012a. pp. 72–73. He was intrigued by the tattoos of the Dayaks and pictures of him in later life show large snake or dragon tattoos on his forearms, presumably obtained at this time.Heselton 2012a. p. 72. Taking a great interest in indigenous religious beliefs, he also told his first biographer that he had attended Dusun séances or healing rituals.Bracelin 1960. pp. 45–48.Heselton 2012a. pp. 74–76. Gardner was unhappy with the working conditions and the racist attitudes of his colleagues, and when he developed malaria he felt that this was the last straw; he left Borneo and moved to Singapore in what was then known as Malaya.Bracelin 1960. p. 51.Heselton 2012a. pp. 76–77.

Malaya and World War I: 1911–1926

Arriving in Singapore, he initially planned to return to Ceylon, but was offered a job working as an assistant on a rubber plantation in Perak, northern Malaya, and decided to take it, working for the Borneo Company.Bracelin 1960. pp. 56, 60–61.Heselton 2012a. p. 81. Arriving in the area, he decided to supplement this income by purchasing his own estate, Bukit Katho, on which he could grow rubber; initially sized at 450 acres, Gardner purchased various pieces of adjacent land until it covered 600 acres.Heselton 2012a. p. 85. Here, Gardner made friends with an American man known as Cornwall, who had converted to Islam and married a local Malay woman.Bracelin 1960. pp. 57–60.Heselton 2012a. pp. 82–83. Through Cornwall, Gardner was introduced to many locals, whom he soon befriended, including members of the Senoi and Malay peoples. Cornwall invited Gardner to make the Shahada, the Muslim confession of faith, which he did; it allowed him to gain the trust of locals, although would he would never become a practicing Muslim. Cornwall was however an unorthodox Muslim, and his interest in local peoples included their magical and spiritual beliefs, to which he also introduced Gardner, who took a particular interest in the kris, a ritual knife with magical uses.Heselton 2012a. pp. 83–84, 91–95.