HISTORY OF WICCA IN ENGLAND: 1939 - present day
This talk was given by Julia Phillips at the Wiccan Conference
in Canberra, 1991. It is mainly about the early days of the
Wicca in England; specifically what we now call Gardnerian and
There are three main strands I intend to examine: one,
Gardner's claim of traditional initiation, and its subsequent
development; two, magical traditions to which Gardner would
have had access; and three, literary sources.
As we look at these three main threads, it is important to
bear in mind that Gardner was 55 years old at the time of his
claimed initiation; that he had spent many years in Malaya,
and had an enormous interest in magic, Folklore and Mythology.
By the time he published High Magic's Aid, he was 65, and 75
when "The Meaning of Witchcraft" appeared. He died in 1964, at
the age of 80.
Gardner was born in 1884, and spent most of his working adult
life in Malaya. He retired, and returned to the UK in 1936. He
joined the Folklore Society, and in June 1938, also joined the
newly opened Rosicrucian Theatre at Christchurch where it is
said he met Old Dorothy Clutterbuck.
I chose 1939 as my arbitrary starting point as that was the
year that Gerald Gardner claims he was initiated by Old
Dorothy into a practising coven of the Old Religion, that met
in the New Forest area of Britain. In his own words,
"I realised that I had stumbled upon something interesting;
but I was half-initiated before the word, "Wica" which they
used hit me like a thunderbolt, and I knew where I was, and
that the Old Religion still existed. And so I found myself in
the Circle, and there took the usual oath of secrecy, which
bound me not to reveal certain things." This quote is taken
from The Meaning of Witchcraft, which was published in 1959.
It is interesting that in this quote, Gardner spells Wicca
with only one "c"; in the earlier "Witchcraft Today" (1954)
and "High Magic's Aid" (1949), the word Wicca is not even
used. His own derivation for the word, given in "The Meaning
of Witchcraft", is as follows:
"As they (the Dane and Saxon invaders of England) had no
witches of their own they had no special name for them;
however, they made one up from "wig" an idol, and "laer",
learning, "wiglaer" which they shortened into "Wicca".
"It is a curious fact that when the witches became English-
speaking they adopted their Saxon name, "Wica"."
In "An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present", Doreen Valiente
does not have an entry for Wicca, but when discussing
Witchcraft, does mention the Saxon derivation from the word
Wicca or Wicce. In the more recently published The Rebirth Of
Witchcraft, however, she rejects this Saxon theory in favour
of Prof. Russell's derivation from the Indo-European root
"Weik", which relates to things connected with magic and
Doreen Valiente strongly supports Gardner's claim of
traditional initiation, and published the results of her
successful attempt to prove the existence of Dorothy
Clutterbuck in an appendix to "The Witches' Way" by Janet and
Stewart Farrar. It is a marvellous piece of investigation, but
proving that Old Dorothy existed does nothing to support
Gardner's claims that she initiated him.
In his book, "Ritual Magic in England", occultist Francis King
does offer some anecdotal evidence in support of Gardner's
claims. However, it is only fair to point out that in the same
book, he virtually accuses Moina Mathers of murder, based upon
a misunderstanding of a story told by Dion Fortune! With that
caveat, I'll recount the tale in full:
King relates that in 1953, he became acquainted with Louis
Wilkinson, who wrote under the pen-name of Louis Marlow, and
had contributed essays to Crowley's Equinox. He later became
one of Crowley's literary executors. King says that in
conversation, Wilkinson told him that Crowley had claimed to
have been offered initiation into a witch coven, but that he
refused, as he didn't want to be bossed around by a bunch of
women. (This story is well-known, and could have been picked
Wilkinson then proceeded to tell King that he had himself
become friendly with members of a coven operating in the New
Forest area, and he thought that whilst it was possible that
they derived their existence from Murray's "Witch Cult in
Western Europe", he felt that they were rather older.
King draws the obvious conclusion; that these witches were the
very same as those who initiated Gardner. King claims that the
conversation with Wilkinson took place in 1953, although
"Ritual Magic in England" was not published - or presumably
written - until 1970. However, on September 27 1952,
"Illustrated" magazine published a feature by Allen Andrews,
which included details of a working by, "the Southern Coven of
British Witches", where 17 men and women met in the New Forest
to repel an invasion by Hitler. Wilkinson had told King of
this working during their conversation, which King believes to
be proof that such a coven existed; there are some differences
in the two stories, and so it is possible that two sources are
reporting the same event, but as Wilkinson's conversation with
King came after the magazine article, we shall never know.
In the recently published "Crafting the Art of Magic", Aidan
Kelly uses this same source to "prove" (and I use the word
advisedly - the book "proves" nothing") that Gardner, Dorothy,
et al created Wicca one night following a social get together!
Of one thing we can be certain though: whatever its origin,
modern Wicca derives from Gardner. There may of course be
other traditional, hereditary witches, but even if they are
genuine, then it is unlikely that they would have been able to
"go public" had it not been for Gardner.
There have been many claims of "hereditary" origin (other than
Gardner's own!) One of the most famous post-Gardner claimants
to "hereditary" status was actress Ruth Wynn-Owen, who fooled
many people for a very long time before being exposed. Roy
Bowers, who used the pseudonym Robert Cochrane, was another:
Doreen Valiente describes her association with him in "The
Rebirth of Witchcraft", and The Roebuck, which is still active
in the USA today, derives directly from Cochrane, via Joe
Wilson. "Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed" by Evan John Jones
with Doreen Valiente describes a tradition derived from Robert
Cochrane. Alex Sanders, of course is another who claimed
hereditary lineage, and like Cochrane, deserves his own place
in this history, and we'll get to both of them later.
Many people have been suspicious of Gardner's claims, and have
accused him of making the whole thing up. They suggest that
the Wicca is no more than the fantasy of an old man coloured
by a romantic imagination. One particularly virulent attack
upon Gardner came from Charles Cardell, writing under the
pseudonym of Rex Nemorensis.
One of Gardner's initiates who is still active in the Wicca
today has an interesting tale to tell about Cardell, whom he
"Cardell claimed to be a Witch, but from a different tradition
to Gardner's. Cardell was a psychopathic rat, with malevolent
intent toward all and sundry. He managed to get a woman called
Olive Green (Florannis) into Gardner's coven, and told her to
copy out the Book of Shadows so that Cardell could publish it,
and destroy Gardner. He also contacted a London paper, and
told them when and where the coven meetings were held, and of
course the paper got quite a scoop. Cardell led people in the
coven to believe that it was Doreen Valiente who had informed
Doreen had just left Gardner in a bit of a huff after a
disagreement; another coven member, Ned Grove, left with her.
Anyway, the day the paper printed the exposure, Cardell sent
Gardner a telegram saying, "Remember Ameth tonight". (Ameth
was Doreen's Craft name, and as it has now been published, I
see no reason not to use it here)."
My informant also said that Olive Green was associated with
Michael Houghton, owner of Atlantis book shop in Museum
Street, who was the publisher of High Magic's Aid. Through
this association, she also encountered Kenneth Grant of the
OTO, although their association was not friendly.
Cecil Williamson, the original owner of the witchcraft museum
on the Isle of Man, and present owner of the Witchcraft Museum
in Boscastle, has also published a number of articles where he
states quite categorically that Gardner was an utter fraud;
but, he offers only anecdotes to support these allegations.
Although Gardner claimed his initiation occurred in 1939, we
don't really hear anything about him until 1949, when "High
Magic's Aid" was published by Michael Houghton.
This book has very strong Solomonic leanings, but like
Gardner's own religious beliefs, combined the more natural
forms of magic with high ceremonial. In his introduction to
the book, Gardner says that: "The Magical rituals are
authentic, party from the Key of Solomon (MacGregor Mathers'
translation) and partly from magical MSS in my possession)."
Gardner did indeed have a large collection of MSS, which
passed with the rest of his goods to Ripleys in Toronto after
Scire (pseudonym) was the name Gardner took as a member of
Crowley's branch of the OTO; although it is generally agreed
that his membership was purely nominal, he was certainly in
contact with people like Kenneth Grant and Madeline Montalban
(founder of the Order of the Morning Star).
Gardner was given his OTO degree and Charter by Aleister
Crowley, to whom he was introduced in 1946 by Arnold Crowther.
As Crowley died in 1947, their association was not long-lived,
but Crowther confirms that the two men enjoyed each other's
In 1888, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was born,
beginning a renaissance of interest in the occult that has
continued to the present day. It is impossible to overstate
the importance of the GD to modern occultists; not only in its
rituals, but also in its personalities; and of course, through
making available a large body of occult lore that would
otherwise have remained unknown, or hidden in obscurity.
I will be looking at this body of occult lore with other
literary influences later, and will here concentrate on the
rituals and personalities that have influenced Wicca.
We cannot look at the GD in isolation from its own origins. It
is descended from a myriad of esoteric traditions including
Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, and Freemasonry. The latter in its
own right, as well as via the SRIA - a scholarly and
ceremonial association open to Master Masons only.
Whether the German Lodge or Fraulein Sprengel actually existed
is a matter still under debate; but either in fact or in
spirit, this is the source for the "Cypher Manuscripts" which
were used to found the Isis-Urania Lodge in 1888.
As I'm sure everyone knows, Isis-Urania was founded by Dr
Wynn-Westcott, Dr Woodman, and MacGregor Mathers. Not only
were all three Master Masons; Wynn-Westcott and Mathers were
also members of the Theosophical Society. The most important
thing though is the fact the these three men were a ruling
triumvirate that managed the affairs of the SRIA. This is
important, for the SRIA included Hargrave Jennings in its
membership, and Jennings is reputed to have been involved with
a Pagan group at the end of the 19th century, which drew its
inspiration from Apuleius - The Golden Ass.
But back to the GD - whether the Cypher Manuscripts actually
existed, or Wynn-Westcott manufactured them is now irrelevant;
Mathers was commissioned to write-up the rituals into a
workable shape, and thus the Golden Dawn was born.
Members of the Isis-Urania Lodge at various times also
included Allan Bennett, Moina Mathers, Aleister Crowley,
Florence Farr, Maud Gonne, Annie Horniman, Arthur Machen,
"Fiona Macleod", Arthur Waite and WB Yeats. Also associated
were Lady Gregory, and G W Russell, or AE, whose "The Candle
of Vision" was included in the bibliography of "The Meaning of
Witchcraft". The literary and Celtic influences within the GD
From the Isis-Urania Lodge sprang all the others, including
the so-called Dissident Orders derived through Crowley. It is
this line that some commentators trace to modern Wicca, so it
is the one upon which we will concentrate.
Aleister Crowley was initiated into the Isis-Urania Lodge on
18 November 1898. As you most probably know, Crowley later
quarrelled with MacGregor Mathers, and in 1903 began to create
his own Order, the Argenteum Astrum, or Silver Star. In 1912,
Crowley was initiated into the OTO, and in 1921, succeeded
Theodor Reuss as its Chief.
According to Arnold Crowther's account, it was in 1946, a year
before Crowley's death, that Crowley gave Gardner an OTO
Charter. Ithell Colquhoun says only that it occurred in the
1940s, and further states that Gardner introduced material
from the OTO, and less directly from the GD, into "...the lore
of his covens".
As Doreen Valiente also admits, "Indeed, the influence of
Crowley was very apparent throughout the (Wiccan) rituals.".
This, Gardner explained to her, was because the rituals he
received from Old Dorothy's coven were very fragmentary, and
in order to make them workable, he had to supplement them with
To give an example of some of the lines by Crowley which are
rather familiar to modern Wiccans:
I give unimaginable joys on earth; certainty, not faith, while
in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy; nor do
I demand aught in sacrifice.
I am Life, and the giver of Life, yet therefore is the
knowledge of me the knowledge of death.
And of course, the Gnostic Mass has been immensely
Not only poetry, but also magical practices in Wicca are often
derived from GD sources. For example:
the way of casting the circle: that is, the visualisation of
the circle, and the pentagrams at the quarters, are both based
upon the standard GD Pentagram Ritual;
both the concept and word "Watchtowers" are of course from the
Enochian system of Magic, passed to Wicca via the GD (although
I would like to make it very clear that their use within Wicca
bears no relation to the use within Enochia - the only
similarity is in the name);
the Elements and colours generally attributed to the Quarters
are those of the GD;
the weapons and their attributions are a combination of GD,
Crowley and Key of Solomon.
In "Witchcraft Today", Gardner says, "The people who certainly
would have had the knowledge and ability to invent (the Wiccan
rites) were the people who formed the Order of the Golden Dawn
about seventy years ago...".
The GD is not the only influence upon Gardner; Freemasonry has
had a tremendous impact upon the Wicca. Not only were the
three founders of Isis-Urania Temple Masons, so too were
Crowley and Waite; Gardner and at least one member of the
first coven (Daffo) were both Co-Masons. Gardner was also a
friend of JSM Ward, who had published a number of books about
Doreen describes Ward as a "leading Mason", but Francis King
says only that Ward was, "a bogus Bishop... who had written
some quite good but far-fetched books on masonry, and who ran
a peculiar religious-cum-occult community called The Abbey of
Christ the King..." Whether the books were far-fetched or
not, we can assume that some of the many similarities between
Wicca and Masonry are in some ways due to Ward's influence.
Some of these include:
The Three Degrees
So Mote It Be
The 1st Degree Oath (in part)
Presentation of the Working Tools at 1st degree
and so on.
It seems to me quite clear that even if Gardner received a
traditional set of rituals from his coven, they must have been
exceptionally sparse, as the concepts that we know of as Wicca
today certainly derive from ceremonial magic and Freemasonry
to a very great extent. Indeed, Gardner always claimed that
they were sparse.
It could be argued that all derive from a common source. That
the appearance of a phrase, or technique in one tradition does
not automatically suggest that its appearance elsewhere means
that the one was taken from the other. However, Gardner admits
his sources in many cases, and Doreen confirms them in others,
so I think it is safe to presume that the rituals and
philosophy used by Wicca descends from the traditions of
Freemasonry and Ceremonial magic, rather than from a single
common source. However, as Hudson Frew points out in his
commentary upon Aidan Kelly's book, the phenomena of the
techniques and practices of ceremonial magic influencing folk
magic and traditions is widely recognised by anthropologists,
and certainly does not indicate plagiarism. And of course
there are many traditional witchcraft aspects in the Wicca.
We have looked at the development of the magical orders which
resulted from the British occult revival of the 19th and 20th
centuries, and now we can see where this ties in with Wicca,
and Gardner's claim of traditional initiation.
I have here a "family tree" of the main branches of British
Wicca. It is by no means exhaustive, and is intended to
provide an outline, not a definitive history! I have included
my own coven lines and development as an indication of the
kind of "cross-over" of tradition which often occurs, not to
suggest that these are the only active groups! Also, it would
not be ethical for me to include details of other covens.
We have two possible "hereditary" sources to the Gardnerian
Craft: one, the Horsa Coven of Old Dorothy, and two, the
Cumbrian Group which Rae Bone claims to have been initiated
into before meeting Gardner. (NB: Doreen Valiente says that
the Horsa Coven is not connected with Old Dorothy, but is
another group entirely.) There is also sometimes mention of a
St Alban's group that pre-dates Gardner, but as far as I know,
this is mistaken. The St Albans group was Gardner's own group,
which as far as research confirms, did not pre-date him.
To return to Rae Bone: she was one of Gardner's HPSs, and her
"line" has been immensely important to the modern Wicca; she
was featured in the magazine series, "Man Myth and Magic" if
anyone has a copy of that.
In her heyday she ran two covens: one in Cumbria, and one in
South London. Rae is still alive, and lives in Cumbria,
although her last coven moved to New Zealand many years ago,
and she is no longer active. No-one has ever been able to
trace the coven in New Zealand.
At this point, I will just mention George Pickingill, although
he is not shown on the tree, as I think it extremely dubious
that he had any connection with Gardner, or any other modern
Pickingill died in 1909, whilst Gardner was still in Malaya.
Eric Maple is largely responsible for the beginnings of the
Pickingill myth, which were expanded by Bill Liddell (Lugh)
writing in "The Wiccan" and "The Cauldron" throughout the
1970s. Mike Howard still has some of Liddell's material which
he has never published, and I have yet to meet anyone within
the British Craft who gives credence to Liddell's claims.
In the book, "The Dark World of Witches", published in 1962,
Maple tells of a number of village wise women and cunning men,
one of whom is George Pickingill. There is a photograph
included of an old man with a stick, holding a hat, which
Maple describes as Pickingill. This photograph has
subsequently been re-used many times in books about
witchcraft and Wicca.
Issue number 31 of "Insight" Magazine, dated July 1984,
contains a very interesting letter from John Pope:
"The photograph purporting to be Old George Pickingill is in
fact a photo of Alf Cavill, a station porter at Ellstree,
taken in the early 1960s. Alf is now dead, but he was no
witch, and laughed over the photograph when he saw it."
A very respected Craft authority has told me that he believes
the photo, which is in his possession, to be of Pickingill,
but like so much to do with Craft history, there is no
definitive answer to this one.
Many claims were made by Liddell; some obviously from cloud-
cuckoo land, others which could, by a stretch of the
imagination, be accepted. The very idea of Pickingill, an
illiterate farm labourer, co-ordinating and supervising nine
covens across the breadth of the UK is staggering. To accept -
as Liddell avers - that he had the likes of Alan Bennett and
Aleister Crowley as his pupils bends credulity even further.
The infamous photograph which Liddell claims shows Crowley,
Bennett and Pickingill together has conveniently disappeared,
and no-one admits to ever having seen it. Like most of
Liddell's claims, nothing has ever been substantiated, and
when pushed, he retreats into the time honoured favourite of,
"I can't reveal that - you're not an initiate"!
But to return to the family tree: the names of Doreen
Valiente, Pat and Arnold Crowther, Lois Bourne (Hemmings),
Jack Bracelin and Monique Wilson will probably be the most
familiar to you.
Jack Bracelin is the author of Gardner's biography, "Gerald
Gardner, Witch", (published 1960) now out of print, although
still available 2nd hand, and in libraries. (In Crafting the
Art of Magic, Kelly claims that this book was actually written
by Idries Shah, and simply published under Bracelin's name. As
with every other claim, Kelly offers no evidence of this)
I have seen a copy of Bracelin's Book of Shadows, which it is
claimed dates from 1949, although in The Rebirth Of
Witchcraft, Doreen says that Bracelin was a "relative
newcomer" in the mid-1950s. I have also been told by two
different sources that Bracelin helped Gardner write "The
Laws". In The Rebirth Of Witchcraft, Doreen states that she
did not see The Laws until the mid 1950s, when she and her
partner Ned Grove accused Gardner of concocting them in order
to re-assert control over the coven. As Bracelin was in the
Gardner camp during the break-up of the group, it seems
reasonable that he did in fact help with their composition.
(NB: Alex Sanders increased the number of "The Laws" much
later - these appeared in June Johns' book, "The King of the
Although Doreen claims that the reason for the coven break-up
was the fact that Gardner and Bracelin were publicity crazy,
there was another reason, which was the instatement of a new
lady into the coven, effectively replacing Doreen as HPS. This
is also the main reason for Gerald's Law which states that the
HPS will, "...gracefully retire in favour of a younger woman,
should the coven so decide in council." Needless to say,
Doreen was not impressed, and she and Ned left the coven under
very acrimonious circumstances. It was quite some time before
Doreen had contact with Gardner again, and they never quite
regained the degree of friendship that had previously existed.
Monique and Campbell Wilson are infamous, rather than famous,
as Gardner's heirs who sold off his magical equipment and
possessions after his death, to Ripleys in the USA.
Monique was the last of his Priestesses, and many Wiccans
today still spit when her name is mentioned. Pat Crowther was
rather scathing about her recently in an interview, and in The
Rebirth Of Witchcraft, although Doreen tells of the sale of
Gardner's magical possessions to Ripleys, she doesn't ever
mention the Wilsons by name. In effect, the Craft closed ranks
against them, and they became outcasts.
Eventually, in the face of such opposition they had to sell
the Museum in Castletown, and they moved to Torremolinos,
where they bought a cafe. Monique died nine years after
selling the Museum. It is rumoured that Campbell Wilson moved
to the USA, and met with a car accident there: this is only
hearsay though - I really do not know for sure what happened
However, Monique was influential in a way that even she could
not have imagined, when in 1964 or 5 she initiated Ray
Buckland, who with his wife Rosemary (later divorced), was
very influential in the development of the Wicca in the USA.
Fortunately, Richard and Tamarra James managed to buy the bulk
of Gardner's collection back from Ripleys in 1987, for the
princely sum of US$40,000, and it is now back within the
Craft, and available for initiates to consult and view.
D and C S. are probably completely anonymous, and if it were
not for the fact that C initiated Robert Cochrane (briefly
mentioned earlier) they would probably stay that way!
Cochrane's origins are obscure, but I have been told that he
was initiated into the Gardnerian tradition by C S, and met
Doreen Valiente through a mutual acquaintance in 1964. When he
met Doreen, however, he claimed to be a hereditary witch, from
a different tradition to Gardner's, and as Doreen confirms,
was contemptuous of what he called "Gardnerian" witches.
Indeed, Doreen believes he coined the term, "Gardnerian".
Doreen said she was completely taken in by Cochrane and for a
while, worked with him and the "Clan of Tubal-Cain" as he
described his tradition, which was also known as "The Royal
Windsor Cuveen", or 1734.
The figures "1734" have an interesting history. Doreen gives a
rather strange account of them in The Rebirth Of Witchcraft,
which contradicts what Cochrane himself describes in a letter
to Joe Wilson, dated "12th Night 1966", where he says,
"...the order of 1734 is not a date of an event but a grouping
of numerals that mean something to a witch.
"One that becomes seven states of wisdom - the Goddess of the
Cauldron. Three that are the Queens of the Elements - fire
belonging alone to Man, and the Blacksmith God. Four that are
Queens of the Wind Gods.
"The Jewish orthodoxy believe that whomever knows the Holy and
Unspeakable name of God has absolute power over the world of
form. Very briefly, the name of God spoken as Tetragrammaton
... breaks down in Hebrew to the letters YHVH, or the Adam
Kadmon (The Heavenly Man). Adam Kadmon is a composite of all
Archangels - in other words a poetic statement of the names of
"So what the Jew and the Witch believe alike, is that the man
who discovers the secret of the Elements controls the physical
world. 1734 is the witch way of saying YHVH." (Cochrane, 1966)
Although Doreen says that Cochrane's group was small, it still
proved to be remarkably influential. As well as Cochrane and
his wife (whom Doreen refers to as "Jean") and Doreen herself,
there were others who are well-known today, and a man called
Ronald White, who very much wanted to bring about a new age in
England, with the return of King Arthur.
In The Rebirth Of Witchcraft, Doreen elaborates upon the
circumstances surrounding the death of Cochrane: the bald
facts are that he died at the Summer Solstice of 1966 of an
overdose. Craft tradition believes that he became in fact, and
of his own choice, the male ritual sacrifice which is
sometimes symbolically enacted at the height of Summer.
The Royal Windsor Cuveen disbanded after Cochrane died, only
to be re-born from the ashes at Samhain that year under a new
name - The Regency. All of its early members were from the
Royal Windsor Cuveen, and they were under the leadership of
Ronald White. The Regency proved to be of great importance to
the development of the Wicca, although its existence was kept
a fairly close secret, and even today, there are relatively
few people who have ever heard of it.
Meetings were held in North London, at a place called Queens
Wood. As well as Ron White and Doreen Valiente, members
included "John Math", founder of the Witchcraft Research
Association in 1964, and editor of Pentagram magazine, and the
founder of the Pagan Movement, Tony Kelly. At its height,
there were frequently more than 40 in attendance at rites,
which tended to be of the dramatic, pagan kind rather than the
ceremonial associated with high ritual magic. The Regency
operated fairly consistently for over twelve years, finally
disbanding in 1978. The Membership roll reads like a who's who
of the British Wicca! Some of the rites have been incorporated
into modern Wiccan rituals - in fact, one was used at the Pan
European Wiccan Conference 1991 with very great success.
Moving back over to Rae Bone's line, there are a number of
influential people here, mainly through her initiates, Madge
and Arthur, who probably take the award for the most prolific
pair in Wiccandom! Rae, although initiated by Gardner, does of
course also claim a hereditary status in her own right.
Madge and Arthur's initiates include:
John and Jean Score
John Score was the partner of Michael Houghton (mentioned
earlier), and the founder of the Pagan Federation, which is
very active today.
Houghton died under very mysterious circumstances, which is
briefly mentioned in "The Sword of Wisdom" by Ithell
Colquhoun. My Craft source told me that this was actually a
ritual that went badly wrong, and Houghton ended up on the
wrong end of some fairly potent energies.
There is an interesting anecdote about Houghton in The Rebirth
Of Withcraft, which is taken from "Nightside of Eden" by
Kenneth Grant, and agrees in some respect to a similar story
that I was told some years ago. Doreen suggests in The Rebirth
Of Witchcraft that the story may relate to a magical working
involving Kenneth Grant and his wife, Gardner, Dolores North
(Madeline Montalban), and an un-named witch, who was probably
They were all to perform a ritual together, supposedly to
contact an extra-terrestrial being. The material basis for the
rite, which took place in 1949, was a drawing by AO Spare.
Apparently soon after the rite commenced, a nearby bookseller
(Michael Houghton) turned up and interrupted proceedings. On
hearing that Kenneth Grant was within, he declined to enter,
and wandered off. The rite was disrupted, and the story goes
that everyone just went home.
Kenneth Grant claims that as a result of disturbing their
working, Houghton's marriage broke up, and that Houghton died
in mysterious circumstances. In fact, the Houghton divorce was
a cause celebre, with her suing him for cruelty because he
boasted of being a Sagittarian while sneering at her because
she was only a dingy old Capricorn!
The interrupted ritual could well have taken place. Madeline
had a flat near to Atlantis (Houghton's shop), and would
certainly have known both Grant and Houghton. I know for a
fact that Madeline was acquainted with Gerald, although her
opinion of both him and the Wicca was rather poor. One of
Madeline's older students told me that she thought Gardner
rather a fraud, and ritually inept. She also had a very low
opinion of Wiccans, and refused to allow her own students to
participate in Wiccan rites. The reason for this lies in an
anecdote which Doreen doesn't relate: the story goes that
Madeline agreed to participate in a rite with Gerald, which
turned out to involve Madeline being tied up and tickled with
a feather duster! The great lady was not amused.
Prudence was for many years the president of the Pagan
Federation, and editor of its newsletter. She inherited her
role from John Score, after he passed away. With Nigel
Pennick, Prudence also runs the Pagan Anti-Defamation League
(PADL), and is an active astrologer and therapist. She has
edited a book on astrology, and with Caitlin Matthews, edited
"Voices from the Circle", published by Aquarian Press.
Although Prudence took her degree in Philosophy, her main
interests lie in the areas of the Grail and troubadour tales,
and she has published privately an excellent essay on the
Grail and Wicca. She is also a very highly respected
astrologer, who lectures extensively in Britain.
Vivianne and Chris Crowley
Vivianne Crowley, is author of "Wicca - The Old Religion in
the New Age", and also secretary of the Pagan Federation. She
has a PhD in Psychology, and is perhaps the only person to
have been a member of both a Gardnerian Coven and an
Alexandrian one simultaneously!
Vivianne is very active at the moment, and has initiated
people in Germany (having memorised the ritual in German - a
language she doesn't speak!), Norway, and - on the astral -
Brazil. As a result of her book, she receives many letters
from people from all around the world, and organised the first
ever pan-European Wiccan conference, held in Germany 1990. The
second conference was held in Britain at the June solstice,
and the third (1992) in Norway. In 1993, the Conference will
be in Scotland.
John and Kathy (Caitlin) Matthews, are probably well-known to
everyone, but possibly their Gardnerian initiations are not
such common knowledge. The story that John Matthews relates in
"Voices from the Circle" is essentially the one which he told
the HPS who initiated him.
Pat and Arnold Crowther
I have left Pat and Arnold till last, as it is from their line
that the infamous Alex Sanders derives! It is no secret
anymore that Alex, far from being initiated by his grandmother
when he was seven, was in fact turned down by Pat Crowther in
1961, but was later accepted by one of her ex-coven members,
Pat Kopanski, and initiated to 1st Degree.
In "The Rebirth of Witchcraft" Doreen says that Alex later met
Gardner, and was allowed to copy from the Book of Shadows;
Craft tradition is somewhat different! It has always been said
(even by Alex's supporters!) that he pinched what he could
from Pat Kopanski before being chucked out, and that the main
differences between the Alexandrian and Gardnerian Books of
Shadows occur where Alex mis-heard, or mis-copied something!
There are certainly significant differences between the two
Books; some parts of Gardnerian ritual are quite unknown
within the Alexandrian tradition, and the ritual techniques
are often different. It is usually very easy to spot whether
someone is an Alexandrian, or Gardnerian initiate.
Alex needed a HPS, and as we know, chose Maxine Morris for the
role. Maxine is a striking Priestess, and made a very good
visual focus for the movement which grew in leaps and bounds.
In the late 1960s, Alex and Maxine were prolific initiators,
and a number of their initiates have become well known. Some
came to Australia, and there are still a number of covens in
the UK today whose HP and/or HPS was initiated by Alex or
Alex and Maxine's most famous initiates are almost certainly
Janet and Stewart Farrar, who left them in 1971 to form their
own coven, first in England, then later, in Ireland. Through
their books, they have probably had the most influence over
the direction that the modern Craft has taken. Certainly in
Australia, the publication of "What Witches Do" was an
absolute watershed, and with Janet and Stewart's consistent
output, their form of Wicca is more likely to become the
"standard" than any other type.
Since their early days of undiluted Alexandrianism, they have
drifted somewhat towards a more Gardnerian approach, and
today, tell everyone that there are no differences between the
two traditions. In fact, despite the merging that has been
occurring over the last few years, there are very distinct
differences between the traditions; some merely external,
others of a very significant difference of philosophy.
Seldiy Bate was originally magically trained by Madeline
Montalban, and then took an Alexandrian initiation from Maxine
and Alex. Her husband, Nigel, was also initiated by Maxine,
and they have been "public" witches for a number of years now,
often appearing on TV, radio and in the press. Their
background in ritual magic is expressed in the type of coven
that they run; a combination of Wicca and Ceremonial Magic.
In 1971, Alex and Maxine went their separate ways. David
Goddard is a Liberal Catholic Priest, and for many years, he
and Maxine worked in the Liberal Catholic faith, and did not
run a coven of any kind. Then in 1984, Maxine gathered
together a group again, and started practising a combination
of Wicca, Qabalah and Liberal Catholicism. She and David
separated in 1987, and since then her coven has been
exclusively Wiccan. In 1989, she married one of her initiates,
Vincent, and they are still running an active coven in London
Alex's history after the split was a little more sordid, with
one girl he married, Jill, filling the gutter press with
stories about Alex being homosexual, and defrauding her of all
her money to spend on his boyfriends. Sally Taylor was
initiated by Maxine and David, but then transferred to Alex.
She was trained by him, and then started her own group.
I'd now like to focus upon the last of the strands which I
believe has been influential upon the birth and development of
Wicca; that of the literary traditions and sources to which
Gardner would have had access. To a certain extent these are
contiguous with the magical traditions described earlier, as
nowhere is it ever suggested that Gardner did in fact ever
work in a magical Lodge, so we must assume that his knowledge
came from the written form of the rites, not from the actual
practise of them.
From reading Gardner's books, it is quite apparent that
Margaret Murray had a tremendous impact upon him. Her book,
"The God of the Witches" was published in 1933, and twelve
years previously, "The Witch Cult in Western Europe" had
appeared. "The God of the Witches" has been tremendously
influential on a number of people, and certainly inspired
In fact, "Witchcraft Today", published by Gardner in 1954
contained a foreword by Margaret Murray. At this time,
remember, Murray's work was still taken seriously, and she
remained the contributor on the subject of witchcraft for the
Encyclopedia Britannica for a number of years.
Now of course her work has been largely discredited, although
she remains a source of inspiration, if not historical
accuracy. In Gardner's day, the idea of a continuing worship
of the old pagan gods would have been a staggering theory, and
in the second article in my series about Murray (published in
The Cauldron), I made the point that Murray may have had to
pretend scientific veracity in order to get her work published
in such times. Don't forget that Dion Fortune had to publish
her work privately, as did Gardner with High Magic's Aid.
Carlo Ginzburg's excellent book, "Ecstasies", also supports
Murray's basic premise; although of course he regrets her
There were of course other sources than Murray. In 1899,
"Aradia: Gospel of the Witches" was published. Most of
Crowley's work was available during the pre- and post-war
years, as were the texts written and translated by MacGregor
Mathers and Waite. Also readily available were works such as
The Magus, and of course the classics, from which Gardner drew
Of paramount importance would have been "The White Goddess",
by Robert Graves, which is still a standard reference book on
any British Wiccan's bookshelf. This was published in 1952;
three years after High Magic's Aid appeared, and two years
before Gardner's first non-fictional book about witchcraft. I
would just like to say at this point that Graves has taken
some very unfair criticism in respect of this book. The White
Goddess was written as a work of poetry, not history, and to
criticise it for being historically innaccurate is to miss the
point. Unfortunately, I agree that some writers have referred
to it as an "authority", and thus led their readers up the
garden path. This is not Graves's fault, nor do I believe it
was his intention.
Another book which has had a profound influence on many
Wiccans, and would undoubtedly have been well known by Gardner
is "The Golden Bough"; although the entire book was written
based upon purely secondary research, it is an extensive
examination of many pagan practices from the Ancient World,
and the emphasis of the male sacrifice could certainly have
been taken from here equally as well as from Murray. Certain
of the Gardnerian ritual practices were almost certainly
derived from The Golden Bough, or from Frazer's own sources.
In "Witchcraft Today" Gardner mentions a number of authors
when speculating where the Wiccan rites came from. He says
that, "The only man I can think of who could have invented the
rites was the late Aleister Crowley."
He continues to say, "The only other man I can think of who
could have done it is Kipling...". He also mentions that,
"Hargrave Jennings might have had a hand in them..." and then
suggests that "Barrat (sic) of The Magus, circa 1800, would
have had the ability to invent or resurrect the cult."
It's possible that these references are something of a damage
control operation by Gardner, who, according to Doreen, was
not too impressed when she kept telling him that she
recognised certain passages in the Witch rites! "Witchcraft
Today" was published the year after Doreen's initiation, and
perhaps by seeming genuinely interested in where the Rites
came from, Gardner thought he might give the appearance of
innocence of their construction!
As mentioned previously, Gardner also had a large collection
of unpublished MSS, which he used extensively, and one has
only to read his books to realise that he was a very well-read
man, with wide-ranging interests. Exactly the sort of man who
would be able to draw together a set of rituals if required.
The extensive bibliography to "The Meaning of Witchcraft"
published in 1959, demonstrates this rather well. Gardner
includes Magick in Theory and Practice and The Equinox of the
Gods by Crowley; The Mystical Qabalah by Dion Fortune; The
Goetia; The White Goddess (Graves); Lady Charlotte Guest's
translation of The Mabinogion; English Folklore by Christina
Hole; The Kabbalah Unveiled and the Abramelin by Mathers; both
Margaret Murray's books and Godfrey Leland's Gypsy Sorcery, as
well as a myriad of classic texts, from Plato to Bede!
Although this bibliography postdates the creation of
Gardnerian Wicca, it certainly indicates from where Gardner
draws his inspiration from. There are also several books
listed which are either directly, or indirectly, concerned
with sex magic, Priapic Cults, or Tantra.
Hargrave Jenning, mentioned earlier, wrote a book called "The
Rosicrucians, their Rites and Mysteries", which Francis King
describes as a book, "concerned almost exclusively with
phallicism and phallic images - Jennings saw the penis
As I mentioned earlier, Hargrave Jennings, a member of the
SRIA, also belonged to a group, described as a coven, which
met in the Cambridge area in the 1870s, and performed rituals
based upon the classical traditions - specifically, from The
Golden Ass. There is no evidence to support this, except that
there are often found references to a "Cambridge Coven" linked
to Jennings' name.
Many of the rituals we are familiar with today were of course
later additions by Doreen Valiente, and these have been well
documented by both her and the Farrars, in a number of books.
Doreen admits that she deliberately cut much of the poetry by
Aleister Crowley, and substituted either her own work, or
poems from other sources, such as the Carmina Gadelica.
Of course we can never really know the truth about the origins
of the Wicca. Gardner may have been an utter fraud; he may
have actually received a "Traditional" initiation; or, as a
number of people have suggested, he may have created the Wicca
as a result of a genuine religious experience, drawing upon
his extensive literary and magical knowledge to create, or
help create, the rites and philosophy.
What I think we can be fairly certain about is that he was
sincere in his belief. If there had been no more to the whole
thing than an old man's fantasy, then the Wicca would not have
grown to be the force that it is today, and we would not all
be sitting here in Canberra on a Saturday morning!