Brosseau Gardner (1884-1964)
Written and compiled by George Knowles.
Gerald Gardner is perhaps one of the best known and
talked about figures in modern witchcraft to date. An English hereditary
Witch, he was the founder of contemporary Witchcraft practiced as a religion.
Some consider him a man of great vision and creativity who had the
courage to try outrageous things during difficult times.
Others look on him as a con man, deceitful and manipulative.
He authored the now famous books “Witchcraft
Today” and “The Meaning of
Witchcraft”, both he wrote in the 1950’s. These two classic books
inspired the growth and development of many traditions of modern Witchcraft
throughout the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.
Gerald Gardner was born on the 13th June 1884 in a small northern town called “Blundellsands” near Liverpool, England. Born of Scottish descent into a well-to-do family, his father was a merchant and justice of the peace. His grandfather is reputed to have married a witch, and he claims others of his distant family had psychic gifts. Gardner believed himself to be a descendant of “Grissell Gairdner”, who was burned as a witch at Newburgh in 1610. Of his ancestors, several became Mayor’s of Liverpool, and one “Alan Gardner” a naval commander, was later made a Peer of the Land, he had distinguished himself as commander in chief of the Channel Fleet and helped to deter the invasion of Napoleon in 1807.
Mother and Father
Gardner was the middle of three sons, but was kept
distanced from his two brothers as he suffered severely with bouts of asthma.
As a result his parents employed a nanny “Josephine 'Com' McCombie"
to raise him separately. Com
persuaded his parents to allow her to take him traveling during the winter
months to help alleviate his condition. Traveling
across Europe, Gardner was often left alone to his own devices, but was content
to read and study academic subject such as History and Archaeology.
Later when he became a young man, his nanny married and went to live with
her husband in Ceylon. Gardner went with her and started work on a tea plantation.
He then moved on to Borneo and finally settled in Malaysia.
There with his interest in history and archaeology, Gardner became fascinated with the local culture and its religious and magical beliefs. Gardner also had a keen interest in all things occult and was particularly drawn to ritual knives and daggers, especially the Malay “Kris” (a dagger with a wavy blade). He made a name for himself in academic circles with his pioneering research into Malaya’s early civilizations. He also gained respect as an Author, and had some of his writings published in the journal of the Malayan branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. After 20 years of study he wrote his first book on the history and folklore of the Malay called "Keris and other Malay Weapons – Singapore, 1936", and became the world's foremost authority on Malaya's indigenous people and their weapons.
From 1923 until he retired in 1936, Gardner worked
as a civil servant for the British government, first as a rubber plantation
inspector, then as a customs official and inspector of opium establishments.
Gardner made a considerable amount of money in his dealings with rubber,
which allowed him to indulge in his favorite pastime, Archaeology.
On one expedition he claimed to have found the site of the ancient city
of Singapura. In 1927 he met and
married an English woman called “Donna”.
Gardner and his new wife aboard his Customs launch on the "Johore River" in Malaya.
After his retirement in Malaya in 1936, Gardner and
his wife returned to England and settled in the New Forrest area of Hampshire.
Gardner continued to indulge his archaeological interests and spent much
of his time traveling around Europe and Asia Minor.
In Cyprus he found places he claims to have dreamed about, and was
convinced he had lived there in a previous lifetime.
In 1939 he wrote and had published his second book, A
Goddess Arrives. It was based
in Cyprus and concerned the worship of a goddess called “Aphrodite” in the
year 1450 B.C.
By now the Second World War was looming and Gardner,
anxious to do his piece for King and Country, turn his thoughts to Civil
Defense. He wrote a letter publish in the Daily Telegraph stating that,
“As decreed in the Magna Carta, every free-born Englishman is entitled to bear
arms in the defense of himself and his household”. He further suggested
that the civilian population should be armed and trained in the event of
invasion. The German press picked
up the article and front-page headlines appeared in the "Frankfurter Zeitung", they where furious, raging against the
man who had made such a “medieval” suggestion. Shortly thereafter the
famous “Home Guard” came into being, known first as the “Local Defense
Volunteers”. We shall probably never know if the “Magna Carta
letter” was the impetus that instigated it?
Having settled in the New Forrest area of Hampshire,
of the oldest forests in England, Gardner began to explore its history.
He soon found that local folklore was steeped in Witchcraft, and
curiosity ignited he began to seek out involvement.
Through neighbors he became acquainted with a local group of occultist
Co-masons, a fraternity that called themselves “The Fellowship of Crotona”.
A “Mrs. Besant-Scott” the daughter of “Annie Besant” a
Theosophist, and founder of the women’s Co-Masonry movement in England, had
established it. (The order was affiliated to the Grand Orient of France,
and therefore not recognized by the Masonic Grand Lodge of England.).
They had built a small community theatre called “The First Rosicrucian
Theatre in England”, and there they used to meet. Gardner joined them and helped to put on amateur plays with
occult and spiritual themes.
Within the fellowship another but secret group
operated, a member of which spoke to Gardner and claimed to have net him in a
previous life, he went on to describe the places Gardner had found in Cyprus.
Soon after they drew Gardner into their confidence, claiming to be a
group of hereditary Witches practicing a craft passed down to them through the
centuries. The group met in the New Forest where he was introduced to
“Mrs. Dorothy Clutterbuck”.
Old Dorothy as she was affectionately known, accepted Gardner for
initiation and in September 1939 at her own home, a big house in the
neighborhood, and he was initiated into the old religion.
Old Dorothy’s coven was believed to have been the
last remains of a coven directly descendant from one of the famed “Nine
Coven’s” founded by “Old George
Pickingill” some forty years earlier.
In the following year 1940, while working with this coven, Gardner
claimed to have helped with and took part in the now famous “Coven Rites”,
aimed at and against the Nazi High Command and the threatened invasion of
Hitler’s forces. This we now know
was not true. The “Coven Rites”
against Hitler had been orchestrated by “Cecil
Williamson”, the founder of the Witchcraft Research Center, and was
performed by “Aleister Crowley” the
famous occultist. It’s possible though and more probable, that they performed
some sort of rite of their own recognizance.
Just before the outbreak of war, Gardner met with Arnold
Crowther, a professional stage Magician and Ventriloquist, he and Gardener
formed a friendship that would last for many years. It was after the war
in 1946, that Gardner first met Cecil Williamson.
They met at the famous Atlantis Bookshop in London, where Gardner was
giving an informal talk. Gardner had been eager to meet Williamson in order to extend
his network of occult contacts. While
they would meet frequently thereafter, their relationship was strained and would
later end on bad terms. Williamson
describes Gardner as a “Vain, self-centered man, tight with his money, and
more interested in outlets for his nudist and voyeuristic activities, than in
learning anything about authentic witchcraft”.
In 1947, his friend Arnold Crowther introduced
Gardner to Aleister Crowley. Their
brief association would later lead to controversy over the authenticity of
Gardner’s original “Book of Shadows”.
Crowley had allegedly been a member of one of Old George Pickingill’s
original Nine Covens in the New Forest, and Gardner was especially interested in
the rituals used by that coven, so to augment the fragmented rituals used by his
own. He asked Crowley to write down
what he could remember and implement them with other magical materials.
Crowley by this time was in poor health and only months away from death,
but he acquiesced to Gardner’s request. He
also made Gardner an honorary member of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), a
Tantric sex magic order at one time under his leadership, and granted him a
charter to operate his own lodge. Crowley
was also an acquaintance of Cecil Williamson.
In the mean time, Gardner had moved from the New
Forrest, to Bricketts Wood, outside St Albans.
There he had bought a cottage on the grounds of a nudist club, from where
he ran his own lodge. Not having a
car or able to drive, Gardner would prevail on Williamson to drive him down to
Crowley’s lodgings in Hastings for consultations. Williamson later claimed to have participated as an observer
in some of Gardner’s, new lodge activities.
The alter he said, was made up of an old “Anderson” air raid table
with a metal top, and was used to perform the Great Rite (A rite involving
sexual intercourse.). The lodge he
say’s, had far more men than women with about 80 to 20 percent splitting the
difference, this because many of the women who joined his lodge, didn’t favor
the sexual rites. At one point
Gardner had to resort to hiring a London prostitute to play-act the role of High
Priestess, and engage in the sex act.
Over time Gardner accumulated a vast amount of
knowledge on Folklore, Witchcraft, and Magic, and had collected many artifacts
and materials on magical procedures and ceremonial magic.
Much as he wanted to write about and pass on this knowledge, he was
prevented from being too public. Witchcraft
was still against the law in England and he was cautioned by Old Dorothy to
remain secretive and not to write. Later
she reluctantly allowed him to write in the form of fiction.
The result was an occult novel called “High Magic’s Aid”. It
was published in 1949, by “Michael Houghton” who was also known as
“Michael Juste”, the proprietor of the famous Atlantis Bookshop in London.
The book contained the basic ideas for what was later to become
In 1951 there was a resurgence of belief and new interest shown in the Old Religion, brought on by the repeal of the last antiquated witchcraft laws still being enforced in England. Gardner was now free to go public and breaking away from the New Forest coven, he began to establish his own. This change in the law also made it possible for Cecil H. Williamson to open the famous “Museum of Magic and Witchcraft”, (formerly called the Folklore Center) at Castletown in the Isle of Man. Later that year after a dispute with his trust fund, Gardner turned up on his doorstep in financial trouble. Williamson took him in as the museum's director, and soon he became known as the “Resident Witch”.
Gardner in front of an exhibit showing in the "Museum of Magic and Witchcraft".
Through his association with the museum, Gardner became acquainted with everyone there was to know in occult circles at that time. His reputation as a leading authority on witchcraft began to spread. A year later in 1952, with his financial problems resolved, Gardner bought the museum buildings together with its display cases from Williamson. Gardner’s collection of artifacts and materials were not as extensive as Williamson’s, and he found that he hadn’t enough objects to fill all the cases. He asked Williamson to loan him some of his talismans and amulets. By now weary, if not openly disliking Gardner, Williamson reluctantly agreed but took the precaution of making plaster casts and imprints of each item. Gardner reopened the museum and operated it on his own.
The Witches Mill home of the museum in Castletown
In 1953 Gardner met “Doreen
Valiente”, and initiated her into his coven.
Doreen proved to be his greatest asset, it was she who helped Gardner
rewrite and expand his existing “Book of Shadows”.
Collaborating together, they embellished the numerous text and rituals he
had collected and claimed to have been passed down to him from the New Forrest
Coven. Doreen also weeded out much
of Aleister Crowley’s materials on account of his black name, and put
more emphasis onto Goddess worship. So
it was between them, that Doreen and Gardner established a new working practice,
which evolved into what is today one of the leading traditions of the Wicca
movement, “Gardnerian Wicca”.
In 1954 Gardner wrote and had published his first
non-fiction book on witchcraft, “Witchcraft
Today”. In it he supported
the theories of anthropologist “Margaret A. Murray” who purported that
modern Witchcraft is the surviving remnant of an organized Pagan religion that
had existed before the witch-hunts. Murray
also wrote the introduction to the book. The
book on its release was an immediate success and because of it new covens
sprang up all over England, each practicing its dictates.
The Gardnerian tradition had been born.
Gardner soon became a media celebrity and courted their attention. He loved being in the spotlight and made numerous public appearances, dubbed by the press as “Britain’s Chief Witch”. However not all the publicity was beneficial. Gardner was a keen naturist and his penchant for ritual nudity was incorporated into the new tradition. This caused conflict with other hereditary witches who claimed that they had always worked robed. Many also believed he was wrong to make so much public, what had always been to them considered secret. They believed that so much publicity would eventually harm the craft.
Gardner became difficult to work with, his egotism and publicity seeking tried the patience of his coven members, even that of Valiente, by now his High Priestess. Splits began to develop in his coven over his relentless pursuit of publicity. He also insisted on using what he claimed were “ancient” Craft laws that gave dominance to the God over the Goddess. The final revolt happened when he declared that the High Priestess should retire when he considered her to old. In 1957, Doreen Valiente and others members having had enough of the gospel according to Gardner, left and went their separate ways. Undaunted, Gardner continued on, he wrote and had published his last book “The Meaning of Witchcraft” in 1959.
In May of the following year 1960, Gardner was
invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace, this in recognition of his
distinguished civil service work in the Far East. A few weeks later on the 6th June, he initiated
Patricia Dawson into his coven and she in turn initiated his old friend Arnold
Crowther. On the 8th November,
Patricia and Arnold were married in a private handfasting, officiated by
Gardner, and followed the next day with a civil ceremony.
That same year his devoted wife Donna died. While she had never taken part in the craft or his activities
within it, she had remained his loyal companion for 33 years.
Gardner was devastated and began to suffer once more his childhood
affliction of asthma.
In 1962, Gardner started to correspond with an
Englishman in America, “Raymond Buckland”.
Buckland would later be responsible for introducing the Gardnerian
tradition into the United States. They
met 1963 in Perth, Scotland, at the home of Gardner’s then High Priestess,
“Monique Wilson” (Lady Olwen). Monique
initiated Buckland into the craft, just shortly before Gardner left to vacation
the winter months in the Lebanon. Gardner
would never get to see the impact of his tradition in America.
Returning by ship from his vacation, Gardner suffered a fatal heart
attack. On the 12th February 1964, he died at the
breakfast table on board ship. The
following day he was buried on shore in Tunis, his funeral attended only by the
Captain of the vessel he had traveled on.
In his will, Gardner bequeathed the museum in Castletown to his High Priestess, Monique Wilson, together with all its artifacts, his personal ritual tools, notebooks, and copyrights to his books. Monique and her husband continued to run the museum, and hold weekly coven meetings in Gardner’s old cottage, - but only for a short time. When they could, they closed the museum down and sold its contents to the “Ripley’s, Believe It Or Not” organization in America. They in turn dispersed the many artifacts amongst its various museums, some they sold on to private collections. Many of Gardner’s supporters were dismayed, even angered by these events and Monique was forced from grace as High Priestess. Other beneficiaries of Gardner’s estate were Patricia and Arnold Crowther (his old friends), and “Jack L. Bracelin” the author of his biography written in 1960 entitled, “Gerald Gardner: Witch”.
Imagine by John Lennon
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Witchcraft for Tomorrow
- by Doreen Valiente.
Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft
- by Raven Grimassi.
An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present - By Doreen Valiente.
First published on the 26th May 2001, 02:18:08 © George Knowles
Best wishes and Blessed Be
Site Contents - Links to all Pages
A Universal Message:
Let there be peace in the world - Where have all the flowers gone?
Wicca & Witchcraft
Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
Traditions Part 1 - Alexandrian Wicca / Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) / Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) / Blue Star Wicca / British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) / Celtic Wicca / Ceremonial Magic / Chaos Magic / Church and School of Wicca / Circle Sanctuary / Covenant of the Goddess (COG) / Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) / Cyber Wicca / Dianic Wicca / Eclectic Wicca / Feri Wicca /
Traditions Part 2 - Gardnerian Wicca / Georgian Tradition / Henge of Keltria / Hereditary Witchcraft / Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) / Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) / Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition / Nordic Paganism / Pagan Federation / Pectic-Wita / Seax-Wica / Shamanism / Solitary / Strega / Sylvan Tradition / Vodoun or Voodoo / Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /
Other things of interest:
Gods and Goddesses (Greek
Mythology) / Esbats &
Full Moons / Links
to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft
Resources / What's a spell? /
Circle Casting and
Sacred Space / Pentagram
- Pentacle / Marks
of a Witch / The Witches
Power / The Witches Hat
esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism
Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1
/ Part 2 / Part
3 / A
history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope
Innocent VIII /
papal Bull /
Malleus Maleficarum /
An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum
/ The letter of approbation
Nider’s Formicarius /
Heinrich Kramer /
/ Montague Summers /
/ The Albigenses
The Hussites / The
/ Shielding (Occult
and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Rituals:
Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Unicorn / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder. Also see: The Willow Tree (Folk Music)
Rocks and Stones:
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin: / Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murder by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A. Kelly / Albertus Magnus “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary / Carl Llewellyn Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Dorothy Morrison / Doreen Valiente / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry / Fiona Horne / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gerald B. Gardner / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater "Horrible Herman" / Israel Regardie / James "Cunning" Murrell / Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) / John Michael Greer / John Score / Johannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg / Joseph John Campbell / Karl von Eckartshausen / Laurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata / Monique Wilson the “Queen of the Witches” / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellers / Mrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /Rudolf Steiner / Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids / Sabrina - The Ink Witch / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather / Thomas Ady / Vera Chapman / Victor Henry Anderson / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest
Many of the above biographies are brief and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with aditional information, please cantact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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