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Gardner, G(erald) B(rosseau) (1884-1964)

Gardner, G(erald) B(rosseau) (1884-1964)

Pioneer of the modern witchcraft revival. Gardner was born at Blundell Sands near Liverpool, England, June 13, 1884. Beginning at age 16, he spent much of his life in the East, as a tea planter in Ceylon (1900-19), a rubber planter in Borneo and Malaya (1923), and a customs official in Malaya (1936). In the East he took the opportunity to study magic practices and even became an expert on the kris, a Malay ceremonial dagger, about which he wrote a definitive text. In Ceylon he also became a Mason.

On his retirement from Malaya, Gardner and his wife settled in New Forest in Hampshire, England, where he associated with members of a theosophical group, the Crotona Fellowship of Rosicrucians. One of the members supposedly had belonged to a secret witch coven and introduced Gardner to witchcraft. In fact, it appears that Gardner set out to construct a new popular occult religion, drawing upon all the things he had learned in the East. Elements of this new religion were first published in 1949 in a novel, High Magic's Aid, issued under a pseudonym, Scire. Then in 1951 the last of the archaic anti-witchcraft laws (which had in this century been used primarily to attack Spiritualists) were removed from British law. Three years later Gardner completed his most important book, Witchcraft Today. By this time he had created a working coven, but he presented his new religion as the faith of an old witchcraft group that was dying out. The book was a means of contacting people who wanted to be members of the witchcraft faith. It was followed by Meaning of Witchcraft (1959).

Throughout the 1950s the practice of witchcraft spread in England. Gardner opened a witchcraft museum on the Isle of Man and made himself available to the press and to prospective new witches. In 1962, shortly before Gardner's death, the Americans Rosemary and Raymond Bucklad traveled to his home and were initiated as priestess and priest and returned to found the Gardnerian movement in the United States. Gardner died at sea on February 12, 1964. After his death the contents of the museum were sold to Ripley's Believe It or Not and were subsequently disbursed to various Ripley's museums and sold to private collectors.

Gardner's form of witchcraft was based on a polytheism centered on the Great Mother Goddess and her consort, the Horned God. In the coven, the basic organizational and worshiping group of the movement, the two deities are symbolized by the priestess and priest. The priestess has clear dominance, and the lineage of authority is passed through her. The ritual is in three degrees, Gardner having assembled ritual elements from a variety of sources. Much of the third degree is taken from the writings of Aleister Crowley.

As Gardner's movement spread, a number of variations developed, first by former members Alexander Sanders and Sybil Leek, and in the United States by various self-described "traditionalists." In North America upward of fifty thousand people have been attracted to the Gardnerian or Neopagan Wiccan movement.

Sources:

Bracelin, L. L. Gerald Gardner: Witch. London: Octagon Press, 1960.

Gardner, Gerald. A Goddess Arrives. London: A. W. Stock-well, 1948.

. Meaning of Witchcraft. London: Aquarian Press, 1959.

. Witchcraft Today. London: Jerrolds, 1954.

Kelly, Aidan A. Crafting the Art of Magic: A History of Modern Witchcraft, 1939-1964. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1991.

Valiente, Doreen. The Rebirth of Witchcraft. London: Robert Hale, 1989.

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