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Notes on Gardnerian Witchcraft in England

by Frederic Lamond

Since time immemorial, family witchcraft traditions in England have been concerned with:

  • Ensuring the fertility of the land, and
  • Protecting sacred sites from destruction or interference.

Not all family traditions did both. There is no known link between any of these family traditions and Gerald Gardner.

From here there are two strands to our history:

  1. Gerald Brosseau Gardner (GBG), an Englishman, and one-time rubber planter.
    • 1920: Gerald became a customs official in the British administration of Malaya.
    • In the 1920s: Gerald encountered the Sea Dayaks, a head- hunter tribe, and learned their spell-casting techniques.
    • 1936: Gerald retired to England.

       
  2. Around 1930: The Fellowship of Crotona, a Co-Mason lodge was founded in Christchurch, New Hampshire. Highly experimental, it practised Theosophy and Rosicrucian rituals, and had an inner core that was trying to reconstruct  country  witchcraft rituals along the lines of Margaret Murray's books ("as all magical lodges were doing in those days" according to Cecil Williamson), with the help of one or two cunning men from the New  Forest.
    • Late in 1939: Gerald was initiated into the Crotona Fellowship and its inner witchcraft core by its leader, whom he called ´Dafo´. He found "everything he had ever looked for in his life". He wanted to  publicise it,  but met strong resistance from the other members of the group, who feared for their jobs and their standing in the community.
    • 1946: Dafo allowed Gerald to describe some of their rituals in fictional form. The resultant book, High Magic´s Aid,was published in 1948.
    • Spring 1947: Gerald met Aleister Crowley, who after three more meetings gave Gerald a charter to revive the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) in Britain.
    • Summer 1947: Gerald sailed for America to meet the American OTO heads. He met Jack Parsons in California, who may have persuaded Gerald to promote witchcraft rather than the OTO.
    • 1948: Upon his return from America, Gerald abandoned his plan to become the OTO head in Britain, and wrote Ye Boke of ye Arte Magickal as a compendium of rituals for a revived witchcraft. He then founded a nudist club in Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire, as a cover for witchcraft activities.
    • 1951: The Witchcraft Act was repealed in Britain. Cecil Williamson transferred his Museum of Witchcraft to the Isle of Man. Gerald became his "resident witch" and started giving interviews.
    • 1952: Doreen Valiente first wrote to GBG.
    • 1953: Gerald bought the Museum of Witchcraft from Cecil Williamson, who returned to England and founded another museum at Boscastle in Cornwall (which he sold in 1997.)
      Gerald initiated Doreen Valiente, who became his High  Priestess. He gave her his Book of Shadows to copy; this was a simplified derivative of Ye Boke of ye Arte Magickal . She recognised a lot of Crowley material in the Book, and warned Gerald that Crowley's bad  reputation would rub off on witchcraft if he kept it in the Book. Gerald invited her to rewrite the Book "if you think you can do better". Doreen did rewrite it, thus producing the Gardnerian Book of  Shadowsthat has become authoritative.
      Thus 1953 is the true date of the commencement of Gardnerian Wicca in England.
    • 1954: Gerald's book Witchcraft Today was published in England. This started a rush of new recruits for Gerald's coven.
      1954 could thus be considered an alternative date for the commencement of Gardnerian  Wicca in  England.
    • 1957: Doreen and Gerald split on the issue of publicity. Older coven members went with Doreen, but she dropped Gardnerian rituals after a year, looking instead for more "authentic" country witchcraft. Younger  members  stayed with Gerald. Dayonis, who had previously been the coven's Maid, became Gerald's new High Priestess.
    • 1959: Gerald's book The Meaning of Witchcraftwas published in England.
    • Sometime between 1952 and 1961: Gerald initiated Pat and Arnold Crowther; this was the start of the Sheffield line. Dayonis has said that Pat was present at her initiation in 1954. I remember hearing about the Crowthers  when I  was initiated in 1957.
      In her books, Pat Crowther claims to have been initiated in 1961, but as early as 1962 her maid Pat Kopinski left her "because Pat refused to give her her 2nd degree."  Pat Kopinski in turn  initiated Alex Sanders.
    • 1960: Gerald raised Rae Bone to 2nd and 3rd degree. Rae is the ancestress of the Whitecroft line in England.
    • 1962 or 1963: Gerald initiated Monique and Campbell Wilson, who in turn initiated Raymond Buckland who first brought Gardnerianism to America.
    • 1964: Gerald died at sea while on a Mediterranean cruise.
    • Late 1960s: The term "Wicca" came into use to describe Gardnerianism and Alexandrianism:
      • to get away from the pejorative associations of the word "witchcraft" and
      • to distinguish the Gardnerian initiatory and coven based mystery cult from traditional country witchcraft, which are mainly solitary healers with strong herbal knowledge utterly lacking in Gardnerianism.

Closing notes

Most of these historical details come from my own knowledge. I have also drawn upon the valuable historical research that is being done by Prof. Ronald Hutton of Bristol University.  He intends  to publish his work, tentatively titled Triumph of the Moon: a history of modern pagan witchcraft, in 2000.

The Bricket Wood coven, although no longer meeting at the nudist club, still exists. It is now  under its fourth High  Priestess since 1973.

For more details I recommend three books:

Bourne, Lois
        1998: Dancing with Witches. Robert Hale, London. Lois was High Priestess of the Bricket Wood coven (after Dayonis) from 1959 to 1964. In this book, Lois retells many of her experiences there.

Bracelin, Jack
        1963: Gerald Gardner, Witch . Octagon Press. Although Jack was credited with being the author, in fact the book was written by Idries Shah, the prolific author on Sufism.

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

While I am promoting books, I shall mention my own book, Religion without Beliefs: essays in  pantheist theology, comparative religion  and ethics. It was published in August of 1997 by Janus Publishing, London, and was officially launched in America in February of 1998. My book is mainly about Paganism in general,  but the last three (out of thirteen) chapters are about  Wicca.


written by Frederic Lamond
updated: June 25, 1998
document BGRDTRAD © 1998 Frederic Lamond

You may go on to:

An essay on being a Witch in Britain today.

You may return to:

The index of English Traditions of the Craft.
The Stone and Mirror Library.