This week I am returning yet again to my 20th Century Witchcraft Series to talk about the 1950s which was a huge decade for the modern Neopagan revival. No figure was perhaps more influential to the widespread of witchcraft as the man commonly referred to as “The Father of Wicca”; Gerald Gardener. While his history is peppered with unusual anecdotes and a bit of controversy, his contributions have had a lasting and indelible impact on the philosophy and beliefs of modern Pagans. While Gardener was born in 1884 much of his most influential work within the community didn’t happen until much later in his life; in the 1950s. So, let’s learn a little more about the “Father” of Wicca:

Gerald Gardener was born in England in the late 1800s to a middle-to-upper class family that owned its own timber company. However, Gardener was a suffered of asthma and at the ripe young age of 4 his nurse-maid began bringing him to the South of France over winters. This began a long lifetime of travel; in part in search of weather than did not trigger his illness and in part because Gardener very quickly in life developed a love and interest in observing and studying other cultures; fancying himself something of a anthropologist and archaeologist despite never having a formal education. (Indeed, he taught himself to read and write by reading magazines!)

Gardener spent a significant amount of time in British Malaya where he enjoyed studying their cultural and spiritual practices which involved, in great part, rituals involving trance and ritual weaponry. These early beginnings deeply and fundamentally colored his beliefs and later teachings. As early as 1907 Gardener also joined as an Apprentice Freemason beginning his lifelong adventures with the occult. Despite his fledgling interest in anthropology, in his early life Gardener worked on tea and rubber plantations which led him to many other interesting destinations such as Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Borneo where he met more indigenous people with cultures he enjoyed exploring and learning more about.

Gardener spent a significant amount of time in British Malaya where he enjoyed studying their cultural and spiritual practices which involved, in great part, rituals involving trance and ritual weaponry. These early beginnings deeply and fundamentally colored his beliefs and later teachings. As early as 1907 Gardener also joined as an Apprentice Freemason beginning his lifelong adventures with the occult. Despite his fledgling interest in anthropology, in his early life Gardener worked on tea and rubber plantations which led him to many other interesting destinations such as Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Borneo where he met more indigenous people with cultures he enjoyed exploring and learning more about.

In the late 1920s – early 1930s Gardener began to get involved with Spiritualism and Mediumship having several experiences in which he reportedly made contact with the spirits of deceased family members. In fact, he met his wife, Dorothea Frances Rosedale (pictured here), because she was herself a spiritualist medium. He returned to Malaya where he re-immersed himself in the indigenous culture and began excavating (illegally and in secret) there. Throughout his early life as he studied the culture and learned more about the artefacts he unearthed, he wrote some well-received academic papers, including a book, and gave talks on the subjects. (Primarily rituals specifically centered around weaponry which was another one of his great interests.)

Gardener retired young in 1936 (at the age of approximately 52) which freed up his time to pursue further his interests in magic, ritual, and indigenous culture. After retirement he moved back to England at the behest of his wife although the climate still did not agree with him. A doctor suggested to him that nudism might help. (Honestly this really tripped me up in my research — I STILL cannot find any other resources that explain the — even antiquated — logic that was used here.) Gardener became a fast and staunch proponent of the wholistic benefits of nudity which no doubt in great part continued to inform his future writings and beliefs as well.

In the late 1930s Gardener dabbled with an ill-fated Rosicrucian theatre group where he met the members of what would become the New Forest Coven; renowned for Operation: Cone of Power; a much written about ritual in which Gardener and the coven performed a ritual to prevent Hitler from invading England. The coven regularly practiced out of a historice “Witches Cottage” that had been built in the 1700s. (Pictured.) During the ’40s Gardener also dabbled in the Ordo Templi Orialis (OTO) and befriended Aleister Crowley (who passed away in 1947).

Now, we find ourselves finally in the 1950s in which Doreen Valiente (whom this blog post was nearly about, but it was so early in her history it seemed an odd choice to me) met Gardener. She was initiated into his Gardenerian Wicca tradition (skyclad and scourging included). She rose to the station of High Priestess and became highly influential to the evolution of Wicca as it was she who went through great pains to remove much of Crowley’s influence from Gardener’s Book of Shadow from which he taught initiates.

The 1950s is when Gerald Gardener published his famous book, Witchcraft Today including a preface by Margaret Murray (who I talk about at some length in my Roaring ’20s video) who was well-known for a book she wrote in 1921 regarding the persistence of she called “witch cults” through history. The paper was very formative for Gardener so it was, I’m sure, a great honor to have her included in his book. Despite some of the bad, misleading press surrounding the publication, Gardener persisted convince that this type of widespread information — even if not completely truthful — was the only way to make sure the “Old Religion” did not die out.

Gardener passed away in 1964 from a heart attack at the age of 79. Only one person attended as he was traveling overseas at the time. He was originally buried in Tunisia (North Africa), but when the graveyard was threatened with being renovated and built over, people within the Wiccan/Witchcraft community raised enough money to have Gardener interred and moved to a new resting place in Tunis where a plaque marks his grave that reads: “Father of Modern Wicca. Beloved of the Great Goddess”.

Have you ever read Witchcraft Today? Tell me about how you feel it reflects on the modern Wiccan and Witchcraft community in the comments below!

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