Gardner, Gerald Brosseau (June 13, 1884—February 12, 1964) - Witchcraft Hall of Fame

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Gardner, Gerald Brosseau (June 13, 1884—February 12, 1964)
Witchcraft Hall of Fame

Author and scholar Gerald Gardner is the founder of modern Wicca, sometimes called Gardnerian Wicca both to honor him and to distinguish his tradition from earlier, less formalized ones.

Gardner was born near Liverpool, England into a prosperous family of Scottish descent. His ancestors included Vice Admiral Alan Gardner, Commander in Chief of the Channel Fleet against Napoleon and Grizel Gairdner, burned as a witch in 1610 in Newburgh, Scotland.

Gardner spent much of his life as a globetrotter and despite severe asthma was an inveterate and hardy traveler. In his youth, he was influenced by the books of the Spiritualist Florence Marryat. He developed a firm belief in the immortality of the soul and began studying occult and spiritual practices of the many places he visited around the world, discovering correspondences between many of them.

Gardner went to work at age 16 on a Ceylon tea plantation. He spent time in the jungle with local tribespeople. In 1908, he went to Borneo where he spent time with the Dyak people. He continued on to Malaysia where he entered government service. In 1923, he served as inspector of rubber plantations and then later as a customs officer. He eventually made a fortune as a rubber planter in Malaya and also served for a time as an inspector of opium establishments.

Wherever he traveled, he studied local magical customs as well as anthropology and archeology. He was an authority on the art and lore of knives and accumulated a vast collection. His first book Keris and Other Malay Weapons (1936) is considered an authoritative text on the magical weapons of Malaya and Indonesia. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Singapore.

When he retired in January 1936 and returned to England, Gardner became involved with English witchcraft. He had originally wished to retire in Malaya but his English wife, whom he married in 1927, wished to return home. (Because of his asthma, Gardner still annually wintered outside England.)

The winter after his return, he visited Cyprus, Aphrodite’s holy island. While there, he had various spiritual experiences that resulted in his wish to establish a temple of Aphrodite. He purchased land that already included the ruins of a temple, but the local authorities disapproved and Gardner was forced to leave and return to England.

He retired to the New Forest region of Hampshire where he made contact with local occultists. He met people who were members of establish covens and who held secret sabbats in the New Forest. Gardner became a devotee and claimed to be initiated by “Old Dorothy” Clutterbuck in 1939.

In 1939, Gardner published his first novel, A Goddess Arrives, which focused on devotions to Aphrodite in 1450 CE.

Gardner, along with Dorothy Clutterbuck and Dion Fortune, was involved in “Operation Cone of Power” on Lammas Day, 1940. British witches coordinated massive major rituals against Germany’s threatened invasion of Britain.

In 1946, Gardner was introduced to Aleister Crowley by a mutual acquaintance, stage magician, puppet-master, occult scholar, and author Arnold Crowther. Their meeting is the crossroads where Ceremonial Magic met coven-based witchcraft. In the year before Crowley’s death, the two renewed the relationship.

Gardnerian Wicca is the oldest formal Wiccan tradition and is based on the teachings of Gerald Gardner. The Gardnerian Book of Shadows, which he coauthored with High Priestess Doreen Valiente, is the standard text and liturgy for Gardnerian Wiccans. It was based on one belonging to the New Forest Coven he had joined but was heavily modified by him. He included contributions from Aleister Crowley, Charles Godfrey Leland, and Rudyard Kipling. Doreen Valiente edited and revised this Book of Shadows, contributing much of her own poetry.

Gardner started his own coven in Bricketts Wood, St Albans in 1947; they convened in a cottage on the grounds of a nudist colony where Gardner was a member. He moved to the Isle of Man one year later, first living with Cecil Williamson (see page 769) who had earlier established the Witchcraft Research Centre there.

The last law against witchcraft was repealed in Britain in 1951. Prior to the 1951 repeal of the Witchcraft Act of 1604, books advocating the practice of witchcraft could not be published in the United Kingdom. Gardner had initially sidestepped the law, as had others before him (notably Dion Fortune), by publishing High Magic’s Aid in 1949 as a novel or work of fiction. He was now free to publish Witchcraft Today in 1954—a factual work published under his own name. A companion volume, The Meaning of Witchcraft, was published in 1959. The books established Gardner as a spokesman for witchcraft and garnered him fame.

Gardner continued to travel, journeying to New Orleans to study Voodoo. He made two trips to West Africa, in 1951 and in 1952.

Gardner died at sea while returning to England on a cruise ship from Lebanon. He was taken ashore and buried in Tunis. He bequeathed his museum to his High Priestess Lady Olwen (Monique Wilson).