Gerald Brousseau Gardner (June 13 1884 - February 12 1964) was an English civil servant, amateur anthropologist, writer, and occultist who published some of the definitive texts for Wicca, which he was instrumental in founding.
Gardner was born at The Glen, The Serpentine, Blundellsands
, near Liverpool
to a well-off family who had in their service Josephine "Com" McCombie, an Irish nursemaid. The family business was Joseph Gardner & Sons, the Empire's oldest and largest importer of hardwood. Gardner had been suffering asthma at the time, bearing the illness from a young age, and his nursemaid had offered to take him to the warmer climates of the Continent. They both eventually settled in Asia, where Gardner stayed for a large portion of his young-adult life.
Beginning in 1908 he was a rubber
planter, first in Borneo
and then in Malaya
. After 1923 he held civil service posts as a government inspector in Malaya
. In 1936, at the age of 52, he retired to England
. He published an authoritative text, Keris and other Malay Weapons
(1936), based on his field research into southeast Asian
weapons and magical
practices. Apparently on medical advice, he took up naturism
Retiring to England in 1936 he and his wife Donna soon moved from London to Highcliffe
, just south of the New Forest
. Here he pursued his interests in the occult
and naturism. Those who knew him within the modern witchcraft movement recalled how he was a firm believer in the therapeutic benefits of sunbathing.
Gardner became a member of the Folklore Society in 1939. His first contribution to its journal 'Folklore', appeared in the June 1939 issue and describes a box of witchcraft relics. Later, in 1946, he became a member of the society's council. He seemed to be anxious to achieve academic acceptance, and for a period claimed to have doctoral degrees from the Universities of Singapore and Toulouse. Doreen Valiente has shown this not to be the case.
While cycling around Christchurch, Gardner discovered the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship, where he took part in theatre productions. It was at this theatre that Gardner claims he first met members of the New Forest coven, who initiated him into a surviving tradition of English witchcraft. It has been suggested that Gardner may also have been introduced to Co-Freemasonry through this theatre; Mabel Besant Scott, the one-time head of the British Federation of Co-Freemasonry, was a prominent member of the theatre, and several of the members that have been proposed as members of the New Forest coven were also very active in Co-Freemasonry.
Gardner published two works of fiction, A Goddess Arrives (1939) and High Magic's Aid (1949) under the pen name of Scire. These were followed by two books, Witchcraft Today (1954) which was edited by Ross Nichols and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959), in which Gardner described the tradition of witchcraft he had been initiated into. He claimed that High Magic's Aid had been an attempt to portray the tradition under the guise of fiction, without revealing oath-bound material, but that following the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951 he had received permission from others in the coven to discuss the tradition more openly in the two non-fiction books.
Personal life and death
Gardner was married once. His wife Donna remained his loyal companion for 33 years during which she never took part in the craft or his activities within it. Gardner was devastated by her passing and began to suffer once more his childhood affliction of asthma. In 1964, after suffering a heart attack, Gardner died at sea on a ship returning from Lebanon
. He was buried on the shore of Tunisia
Gardner claimed to have been initiated in 1939 into a tradition of religious witchcraft that he believed to be a continuation of European Paganism
. The group he supposedly joined is known as the New Forest coven
. Doreen Valiente
, one of Gardner's priestesses, later identified the woman who initiated Gardner as Dorothy Clutterbuck
based on references Valiente remembered Gardner making to a woman he called "Old Dorothy". Scholar Ronald Hutton
instead argues that Gardner's witchcraft tradition was largely the inspiration of members of the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship
and especially a woman known by the magical name of "Dafo
". Her identity is uncertain, but Philip Heselton
believes her to be Edith Woodford-Grimes
. Dr Leo Ruickbie
concluded that Aleister Crowley
played a crucial role in inspiring Gardner to establish a new pagan religion. Ruickbie, Hutton, and others further argue that much of what has been published of Gardnerian Wicca
, as Gardner's practice came to be known by, was written by Doreen Valiente
and Aleister Crowley
and also contains borrowings from other identifiable sources.. Gerald Gardner was an initiate of the Ordo Templi Orientis
(OTO) under Crowley, and sections of Gardner's third degree Wiccan initiation ritual are lifted directly from Crowley's "Gnostic Mass," written for the OTO in 1913. This is consistent with Gardner's claims that the rituals he had received were fragmentary, and that he had incorporated other material to make a coherent system.
Notes and references