The Man, the Myth & the Magick
by Mike Howard
In 1960 Gardner's wife Donna Rosedale, a clergyman's daughter and an ex-nursing sister, died after a period of ill-health. Donna has been described as " one of the most charming people anyone would wish to know" (personal communication from Cecil Williamson). She supported her husband in his Craft work, although she was never initiated. They have been described as a devoted couple, but it has also said that she was more of a mother than a wife to Gardner. She certainly closed a blind eye to his extra-marital sexual activities.
In the same year Jack Bracelin's biography Gerald Gardner: Witch was published by Octagon Press. Bracelin had been the high priest of the Brickett Wood coven in Hertfordshire while Gardner had virtually retired to the Isle of Man. Although Bracelin's name was on the cover it is said it had been ghost-written by the Sufi master Sayed Idries Shah (1924-1996). During the 1950s Shah had been Gardner's secretary at the museum. on the Isle of Man. He had allegedly been told by his 'inner plane' contacts that Wicca was destined to be the religion of the Aquarian Age, but he found it hard to believe. (Washington 1993).
Shah was the author of several books on Sufism, ceremonial magick and secret societies written under his own name and the nom-de-plume of 'Arkon Darual'. In them he promoted the theory that medieval European witchcraft had been influenced by Sufi beliefs and Arabic practices during the period when the Moors occupied Spain and the crusaders invaded the Middle East. Shah believed that words like 'athame' and 'sabbat' were derived from Arabic and that the ecstatic circle dances of the medieval witches had originated with the Sufi dervishes. (Shah 1964 and Daraul 196 l).
The Sufi writer also recognized that in the 18th century and after 'various attempts were made to revive witch practices'. He said: ' These can be identified quite easily as bogus because ignorance of the important Oriental elements in the cult causes errors of interpretation and ritual which point to fabrication of the materials' (Darual 1961:158). Bogus or not, these revived 'witch practices', "mixed with elements of folk magick, theosophical occultism, neo-druidism, Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism provided the basis for a considerable amount of what is today called 'traditional witchcraft'.
These ideas were not original. A similar theory had been put forward by the Egyptian occultist Rollo Ahmed in the 193Os. Ahmed ran his own magical group in Brighton in the 1950s and previously had been a member of the Hermes lodge of the Golden Dawn. He was also an occult advisor to the thriller writer Dennis Wheatley for his pre-war novel The Devil Rides Out, and he knew of the existence of the Crotona Fellowship and the New Forest coven. Ahmed says: ' Another effect of the Crusades was the mingling of Eastern and Western ideas and beliefs; men who had been prisoners of the Saracens in particular, bringing back with them the theories and practices of Oriental magic, upon which much of the current witchcraft came to be based.' (Ahmed 1936). Theories about the African influence on witchcraft also feature strongly in the oral legends of the Pickingill Craft (see Liddell 1994) and the Feri tradition founded by Victor Andersen in the States in the 1940s (Andersen 1994).
In January 1961 Shah took Gardner to visit Robert Graves at the poet's home on Majorca. Shah had previously corresponded with the author of The White Goddess and told him he was carrying out experiments with British witches involving the 'sacred mushroom'. Graves was very interested in the properties of hallucinogenic fungi and as a result of this correspondence Gardner and Shah spent several days in intense discussion at Graves' villa. In fact Shah and Graves became close friends.
In the early Sixties Gardner may have had, or may not have had, a brief contact with the founder of Alexandrian Wicca, Alex Sanders (1926-1988). Sanders attracted some sensational publicity in the 1970s with his claims to be 'King of the Witches' and his almost casual treatment of the Craft as a branch of show business. To his credit he attracted many young people into his coven and revitalised modern Wicca. Unfortunately his claims to be a hereditary witch who was initiated by his Welsh grandmother in the 1930s are less to his credit. In 1961 he wrote to the High Priestess of the Gardnerian coven in Sheffield, Yorkshire, Patricia Crowther, from an address in Manchester. He had seen her on a television program and said he had written because he had always wanted to be a witch. Unfortunately up until then he had not found anybody who could grant his wish.
In his letter Sanders said that his grandmother had spent her childhood in Wales and had told him her mother had been a well-known witch in the Snowdonia area. This information had sparked his interest in the occult and also as a child he had experienced instances of the Second Sight. In the 1950s he had also dabbled in Spiritualism and ceremonial magick. After three meetings with Crowther and the other members of the coven he was rejected for initiation. They questioned his mental attitude and concluded that he was completely confused in his understanding of what the Craft was. This rejection did not prevent Sanders from later falsely claiming to be a member of the coven at his public lectures.
Sometime in 1961, Sanders did receive a first-degree initiation into Gardnerian Wicca from a small coven in Manchester. This was run by an ex-member of the Sheffield coven called Pat Kopanski, who had been the English wife of a Polish ex-servicemen. This group did not last long and soon broke up. It was briefly mentioned in one of the earliest News of the World stories about Sanders. Pat Kopanski is quoted as saying it was "theatrical" and a "waste of time" and that it broke up after one of its members emigrated to Australia. She was Sylvia Tatham, who later moved to New Zealand and became the handfasted wife of 'Lugh' (E.W.Liddell). Tatham also received a Gardnerian initiation from Scotty and Monique Wilson on the Isle of Man. Before she left Sanders appointed her as his 'High Priestess for Australia'. Another member of this interesting little coven in Manchester became a well-known Cabbalistic magician.
At a talk given to the Pagan Conference in November 1996 Patricia Crowther told the audience that Pat Kopanski was a new member of her coven and was only first-degree. Kopanski had met Sanders on the last of his visits to the Sheffield covenstead and had passed her telephone number to him. According to Crowther, as Kopanski was herself a newcomer to the Craft and only first-degree she had no authority to initiate anyone. Doreen Valiente (1989) claims that Sanders also visited Gardner on the Isle of Man and was allowed to copy his Book of Shadows. This has been challenged by others, including Crowther, who were closer to the Old Man at the time. Another version is that Sanders obtained his BoS from the Wilsons. However, it seems more probable that he copied the BoS from another member of the Kopanski coven. Kelly . (1 991:178) says there is a letter in the Gardner collection of the Church of Wicca in Toronto from Kopanski giving the date and details of Sander's initiation.
When Sanders moved from Manchester down to London in 1967 he expanded on his Welsh links. He claimed to be a descendant of the rebel Welsh prince Owain Glyndwr and that his Welsh grandmother, Mary Bibby, had initiated him into the Craft as a young boy in 1933. He also claimed that he had been initiated into the Egyptian Mysteries as a teenager by Aleister Crowley in a sex rite performed in the Great Beast's flat in Museum Street, London WCI. As the Alexandrian BoS is almost identical to the one revised by Gardner and Valiente in the mid- 1950s it seems very unlikely that he was given it by his Welsh granny twenty years before.!
Following Gardner's death from a heart attack during a Mediterranean cruise to Lebanon in February 1964 it is amazing that his version of modem witchcraft survived the events that followed. In fact his original Brickett Wood coven still survives in North London and in 1984 it had thirteen members. Four of them had been initiated during Gardner's lifetime and in the 1980s the coven included a computer consultant, artist, teacher, university lecturer and an engineer in the music industry. The pentacle and Goddess figurine (Minoan in origin) still used by the coven had originally been owned by Gardner (Luhrmann 1989).
Gardner's fears that Wicca would die out were to be unfounded. In 1962 Gardnerian Wicca was exported to the USA by Rosemary and Raymond Buckland, who had been initiated by the Wilsons, and a year earlier a version of it had arrived in Australia. In 1961 an initiate from Brickett Wood called Anton Miles established a coven in Sydney. This group practised skyclad rituals and worshipped Diana and Pan. handfastings were held where the couple jumped a broomstick and Miles told reporters that the aim of the coven was to bring its members in harmony with nature. (Valiente 1973:29).
Information first coming into public in the 1980s has claimed that there was a second origin for Gardnerian Wicca in the early Sixties apart from the Bucklands. According to the New Wiccan Church in California, a form of Gardnerian Wicca arrived in the Joaquin Valley on the West Coast via a British woman known by the Craft name of Queen Morrigan. She allegedly settled in the Stockton, California area in 1960-62 and established what is now known as Central Valley Wicca. This has been described as a fusion between English and French magisterial traditions and early Gardnerianism' and is today composed of several Orders or traditions known as Silver Crescent, Majestic and Kingstone. CVW has been described as 'proto-Gardnerian Craft' possibly originating from the New Forest tradition or people associated with it. The New Wiccan Church see Gardner as a moderniser and reformer of English Traditional Craft who produced a modernised version of witchcraft with a popular appeal. (International Red Garters Vol # 19 Nos 1-3)
With the publication of Gardner's will in 1964 there was an outbreak of controversy among his followers. He left 25,000 pounds (about 250,000 pounds by today's values) together with the Witches Mill and 'all my equipment for making magic' to Lady Olwen (Monique 'Monica' Wilson). She also inherited the copyright of his books. His kilt and other Highland regalia, including his grandfather's sword and dirk, were left to his sister-in-law.
At the time the will was published Monique Wilson and her husband Campbell (Scotty) were living in a pre-fab in New Road, Perth, Scotland. She told reporters she was a hereditary witch whose parents 'had the power'. In fact she had been initiated by Gardner only a few years earlier. She had met and married her husband, an ex RAF bomber pilot, in Hong Kong after the war. He still wore his RAF 'wings' badge on his jacket lapel and a rather imaginative and over-excited reporter once described it as a 'flying penis fertility symbol'! The Wilsons had returned to Britain in 1954 and she was initiated in 1961.
The newspapers also reported that Monique Wilson had inherited the title 'Queen of the Witches' along with the museum. lf the news stories can be believed, this caused outrage among those female witches who had only received small amounts of money in Gardner's will or had been ignored altogether. One of these ex-High Priestesses, Eleanor Bone, the matron of a rest home for the elderly in Tooting, south London, told the Daily Mirror rather ambiguously that "There is no such thing as the Queen of the Witches. lf there were we other witches would have to approve the person appointed."
The criticism and foreboding that followed the Wilsons inheritance was fully justified in 1973 when they sold the collection of exhibits to the Ripley 'Believe it or Not' company in Canada for 120,000 pounds. The 10,000 items from the collection were shipped to the States to create a Museum of Witchcraft and Black Magic at Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco. They included 3000 books from Gardner's library and his silver chalice, ivory wand and personal altar. It has been said that the Wilsons were reluctant to sell but, according to the Ripley organisation, Monique was a sick woman and they needed the money to retire to Spain. (Douglas 1974). They subsequently opened a, cafe on the tourist coast where Monique Wilson later died of a heart attack.
Unfortunately with commercial pressures the collection from the Witches Mill did not stay intact for long. In the late 1970s when the San Francisco museum closed items from the collection began to appear for sale in American occult magazines. One advertisement was placed by the A & B Trading Company in Florida. Other items owned by Gardner turned up for sale from private buyers and even in a tourist gift shop in Augusta, Florida. Most of Gardner's correspondence was purchased in 1987 by the Wiccan Church of Canada. This archive is open by appointment to Gardnerian initiates only at the Church's H. Q. in Toronto.
lf the will and the sale of the museum collection was not a bodyblow to the Gardnerians, only a few months after Gardner's death a version of his Book of Shadows was privately published. This was the work of a psychologist and rival witch called Charles Cardell who used the classical nom-de-plume 'Rex Nemorensis' . Cardell and his sister, Mary, ran a small mail-order company called Dumblecott Productions from their home near Gatwick Airport in Surrey which sold perfumes, oils, amulets, talismans and charms. Cardell also had consulting rooms in Queen's Gate, London which included a temple. The Cardells also had their own robed coven which met in woodland on their property. They claimed to follow an old tradition of witchcraft handed down to them by their mother. Because of this they regarded Gardner as a fraud who should be exposed.
The story goes that the Cardells persuaded a young woman to befriend the aged and ailing Gardner and ask for initiation. His coven were not interested in her, but Gardner was so infatuated that he gave her a private initiation at his London flat. This does not seem to have been uncommon in Gardner's later years. She then copied the BoS and passed it to Cardell. This was in 1957 and he waited until the Old Man was dead before publishing it. In common with Aidan Kelly in the 1990s, the Cardells did not gain much praise or public credence for exposing Wicca as a modern made-up religion. Shortly afterwards they sued the London Evening News for libel after it published an account of one of their woodland rituals. In court it was suggested that Charles and Mary Cardell were in fact not brother and sister at all. They lost the case and were forced to pay the legal costs which bankrupted them. Shortly afterwards Charles Cardell was badly injured in a road accident.
Since the Cardell book we have had Aidan Kelly's imaginative and quasi-academic account of how the Gardnerian BoS is supposed to have been created. (Kelly 1991). This included references to the mysterious manuscript known as Ye Bok of Ye Arte Magickal, a grimoire compiled by Gardner and discovered hidden in the Witches Mill by a Ripley representative before it was shipped to the States (Kelly 1984). This document appears at face value to be a proto-BoS, possibly compiled around 1948 or earlier. Amado Crowley (aka Andrew Standish), who claims to be one of Aleister Crowley illegitimate sons, has claimed that it was compiled by his father and Gardner in 1940. Although dogmatic claims have been made about its providence and significance nobody is really sure when this MS was written or what it really represents.
Over the last twenty years there have been many claims made about the origins of the New Forest coven, its alleged links with the Pickingill Craft and Crowley. Recently Amado Crowley has emerged from the shadows claiming Gardner invented 'Old Dorothy' Clutterbuck. He says that his father borrowed the name 'Old Mother Clutterbuck' from a pantomime dame and used it as a code name when he was recruited for Operation Mistletoe by M15 and the Naval Intelligence Department in 1941 to perform a ritual to lure Rudolf Hess to Britain. As we know now from Doreen Valiente's research, Dorothy Clutterbuck did exist and was a real person. Amado also claims to have been present when Gardner commissioned Crowley to write the rituals of Wicca at 'a guinea a page'. In 1995 speculative revelations emerged attempting to link the origins of modem witchcraft with the 'back to nature' movement of the 1920s and neopagan boy scouts such as the Order of Woodland Chivalry and the Woodcraft Folk. The web of speculation - and sometimes fantasy - spreads daily.
As even this brief examination of the life of Gerald Gardner has shown, he was no saint or Messiah and even as a guru he left a lot to be desired. We have tried to provide a balanced view within the confines of the information currently available to us. What has emerged has been a complex and enigmatic man. He has been criticized as a showman with a large ego and a flair for self-publicity who could be economical with the truth. Others have spoken of his generosity of spirit, his gentle nature, his sense of humour and kindness. He has been described as an archetypal English gentleman - and as a 'dirty old man' who liked to be tied up and whipped.. On the magickal level he was an accomplished magus with 'the elemental contacts' who could 'raise the power'.
In retrospect, Gardner's 'crime' of re-inventing Witchcraft for the modem age using material from diverse sources pales into insignificance when compared with the eclectic pick n' mix approach to neopaganism today and its creative spirituality often based on historical fantasy. What is important is not that Gardner invented, or more kindly created, his own version of witchcraft , but the impact that invention or creation has had since the event and whether it works in a spiritual context or not. Gardner did not invent modem witchcraft per se, but he was responsible for what is today its most successful tradition. Over thirty years after his death it is still bringing spiritual comfort to thousands of people worldwide. Surely that is Gardner's greatest legacy, and it is the one he should be remembered for today.
Gerald Gardner: Witch Jack Bracelin (Octagon Press 1961), Secret Societies Arkon Daurual (Frederick Muller 1961), The Sufis Idries Shah (Octagon Press 1964), The Black Art Rollo Ahmed (JohnLong 1936), The Pickingill Papers E.W.Liddell with Michael Howard (Capall Bann 1994), Fifty Year-s in the Feri Tradition Cora Andersen (privately printed 1994), Blavatsky and the Baboon: Theosophy and the Emergence of the Western Guru Peter Washington (Secker & Warburg 1993), Robert Graves & the White Goddess 1940-1985 Richard Perceval Graves (Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1995) 'ABC of Witchcraft Doreen Valiente (Robert Hale 1989), King of the Witches: the World of Alex Sanders June Johns 0?an 1971) , Maxine: the Witch Queen by Maxine Sanders (Star Book s 1976), World News Digest by Alfred Douglas in Prediction (January 1974), Witch Rex Nemorensis (privately printed 1964), The Secrets Of Aleister Crowley Amado Crowley (Diamond Press 1991), Crafting the Art of Magic Aidan kelly (Llewcllyn USA 1991), Inventing Witchcraft: the Gardnerian Paper Trail by Aidan Kelly in Iron Mountain (Summer 1984), and Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic and Witchcraft in Presentday England Tanya Luhrmann (Blackwell 1989).