History 8 – Gerald Gardner and the Founding of Wicca

Gerald Gardner was initiated into the New Forest Coven in 1939 by a woman known as “Old Dorothy” Clutterbuck. Believing the coven to be related to the theories of Margaret Murray regarding the European Witch Cults, he started working to revive the faith, borrowing ritual elements from Freemasonry and ceremonial magic. However there are some differing arguments around these events and their validity. Some believe that the coven had ancient origins, some believe it was more modern, and still others believe that there was never any person known as Old Dorothy.

During Gardner’s visits to a local nudist club he met Ross Nichols. Nichols was later to become the founder of the “Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids”. In 1947 he was introduced to Aleister Crowley by a mutual friend. Before his death, Crowley had initiated Gardner to the 7th degree of the Ordo Templi Orientis and after Crowley’s death, Gardner was considered the highest ranking member but due to poor health was replaced in 1951 by Frederic Mellinger.

In 1952 Gardner became employed at the “Folk-Lore Center of Superstition and Witchrcraft”, buying it from Cecil Williamson 2 years later and changing the name to the “Museum of Magic and Witchcraft”. He continued to run the museum until his death 10 years later. During this time Gardner had started communicating with Doreen Valiente and initiated her in the summer of 1953. She later joined the Bricket Wood Coven (founded by Gardner in the late 1940’s) and assisted Gardner in re-writing his book of shadows.

In 1954 Gardner continued bringing the revival of pagan beliefs into the public eye with his book “Witchcraft Today” despite the negative impact which started to cause issues with the other members of the coven. This led to Gardner writing/revealing The Laws (also called Wiccan Laws, Old Laws, Ordains) in 1957 which ended in some of the coven members leaving later that year.

Soon after his wife died in 1960, Gardner began travelling again. He died of a heart attack aboard a ship returning home from Lebanon in 1964 and was buried in Tunisia. All of his artifacts and copyrights to his books were left to his High Priestess, Monique Wilson who later sold the artifacts and his book of shadows to Ripley’s Believe it or Not. His book of shadows was bought by Richard and Tamarra James of the Wiccan Church of Canada in the 1980’s. Eventually Gardner’s body was moved to a cemetery in Tunis where it remains today with a plaque stating “Father of Modern Wicca. Beloved of the Great Goddess”.

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