Gerald Gardner: The Father of Modern Witchcraft
Whenever and wherever the subject of witchcraft is discussed, the name Gerald Gardner is invariably mentioned. He is, in fact, often credited with the present-day revival of witchcraft throughout Europe and the United States, and is said to have coined the term “Wicca.” Occult textbooks frequently place him among such other recognized masters as Aleister Crowley. B. P. Blavatsky, Israel Regardie, and Sybil Leek.
Born the son of a wealthy lumber merchant on June 13th, 1884, near Liverpool, England, Gardner grew up believing he was a descendant (or reincarnation) of Grissell Gairdner, the infamous witch who was burned at the stake in Newburgh in 1610. His father, a well-know eccentric who is said to have frequently sat nude in the rain in public, apparently influenced young Gerald’s moral and sexual attitudes, Gerald displaying a strong propensity toward voyeurism and being spanked; practices that became the subjects of his books and were incorporated into many of the rituals he created.
Though attracted to the occult from a very early age, Gardner did not actually pursue his interest in its practice until past the age of fifty, sometime after returning from Malaya where he had lived for many years as a tea and rubber planter, and for a time as a customs officer.
According to his own account, Gardner's introduction to the “craft” actually occurred in 1946 while living in the New Forest in southern England where he met a self-professed witch known as Old Dorothy. Dorothy taught him about the old ways and instilled in him the idea that it was his destiny to help perpetuate the ancient Pagan religion that had fallen under England’s prohibition laws centuries before.
Latimers, where Gardner is said to have been initiated
Gardner is said to have been involved with several Neo-Pagan and Wiccan covens in his later years, but to what extent is mostly a matter of urban legend as his life was highly secretive--except when he chose to make it otherwise. In 1949 Gardner gained great notoriety for publishing the highly regarded magical tome, High Magic’s Aid, which he said he wrote under the secret name Scire because the practice of witchcraft was still a punishable offense in the British Isles at that time.
In 1949, however, although “craft” was still officially considered illegal, its practice was no longer prosecuted as British authorities already knew of the intended lifting of the ban. Even so, Gardner’s followers, a number that has grown steadily since the release of High Magic's Aid, contend that it was actually Gardner who caused Britain’s ban on witchcraft to be repealed.
Now considered the “Father” of modern Wicca and Neo-pagan witchcraft, Gardner wrote a number of other craft-related books throughout his life including Witchcraft Today (1954), The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959), and a work of fiction originally penned in 1939 called A Goddess Arrived which was reissued shortly after his death--all of which have become required reading for aspirants.
In 1963, on a return trip from Lebanon, Gardner suffered a fatal heart attack while eating breakfast. He was buried in Tunisia, the ship’s next port of call, on February 12, 1964, with the ship’s captain the only person in attendance. He was 79 years old. While many modern practitioners of Wicca are too young to have followed Gardner’s rise from obscurity to becoming the most well-known witch in modern history, his methodology, known as Gardnerian Witchcraft, is the most commonly practiced approach to ritual magic today, with followers said to now number in the hundreds of thousands world-wide.
For additional articles on this subject see:
The Meaning of Witchcraft
High Magic's Aid
images via wikipedia.org