February 12, 1964 marks the day of the death of Gerald Gardner, the “father of modern witchcraft.” He passed away while at sea, returning from Lebanon.
Gerald Gardner is the founder of modern Wicca. He has contributed so much that anyone, from the beginner to a veteran knows one thing or another about Gerald Gardner and has learned from him. He authored the books: Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft. Both books were the basis of the growth and development of the different traditions in modern Wicca throughout the world.
Gerald Gardner was a man who had a vision. He was crazy and was not afraid to try out anything. He was a man who went against the grain. Let’s go back in time to know a little bit more about the man who felt it was of utter importance that Wicca survived.
Gerald Gardner was unremarkable in his early life, even though he came from a wealthy family. He was sent by his family to Madeira in 1884, to alleviate his asthma. When he returned to England in 1936, he became interested in history and archaeology. He was also fascinated with the local culture and its religious and magical beliefs and was also keenly interested in all things occult especially in ritual knives and daggers.
Gardner worked as a civil servant for the British government, first as a rubber plantation inspector, then as a customs official. The amount of money he made in his dealings with rubber, allowed him to indulge in his hobbies and interests, most especially archaeology.
Road To Wicca
In 1947, Arnold Crowther introduced Gardner to Aleister Crowley, who was a member of one of Old George Pickingill’s original New Forest Coven. Gardner was initiated into Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis. Gardner eventually became well-versed in matters of Folklore, Witchcraft, and Magic. He also collected artifacts and materials on magical procedures and ceremonial magic. He wanted to write about his learnings and pass on the knowledge, but at that time, Witchcraft was still against the law in England. He was advised to maintain secrecy and avoid writing anything about Witchcraft and Magic.
But Gardner eventually wrote about his learnings, but in the form of fiction which was a novel called “High Magic’s Aid.” The book details the basic ideas for what would become “Gardnerian Wicca”.
In 1951, the public began showing new interest in the Old Religion. A repeal of the very last antiquated witchcraft laws was being enforced in England. Gardner felt that he was finally free to go public and break away from the New Forest coven. Gardner began establishing his own Wiccan path and writing his own books. Gardner took from numerous sources, such as other magical orders, the Freemasonry, fellow occultists, and of course, Aleister Crowley.
A man scrutinized
There were and still are many people who took Gerald Gardner for a deceitful and manipulative con man who had a penchant for false claims, stretching the truth, and ritual nudity. Many witchcraft practitioners found it wrong for Gardner to make public what should have been a secret. Many also shunned publicity thinking it will harm the craft. His apparent egotism and publicity-seeking tried the patience of his own coven members and this resulted in them breaking off ties with Gardner.
However you may choose to see it, you cannot deny Gerald Gardner’s legacy. Not a lot of Wiccans are as illustrious. He still is one of the most respected albeit controversial Wiccans in the world of Wicca. And by the time of his death in 1964, Gardnerian Wicca had spread all over the world.