The Great Wicca Hoax - Part 1
By Adrian Bott
Published at Lughnasa 2001
The origins of Gardnerian Wicca - or at least, the story Gardner told of them - are well known. He was supposed to have made contact with a coven of genuine witches in the New Forest, and was initiated by them into the Wicca 'cult', as he referred to it. Among these were the old witch Dorothy Clutterbuck, and the young Dafo, who was Gardner's own High Priestess. It was Dafo who wrote to Gardner late in his life to rebuke him for seeking publicity - a statement taken by many to mean Gardner's decision to open the Craft up to a wider audience.
Since then, many people have endeavored to find out the truth behind Gardner's account, most recently Philip Heselton in his book 'Wiccan Roots'. Heselton seems to take the view that Gardner was telling the absolute truth, and that he really was initiated into a surviving coven; Wiccan Roots is a brave attempt to find facts to fit the theory, and certainly goes much further than any other attempt, though it is somewhat disappointing to find that the diaries of Dorothy Clutterbuck reveal her to have been a perfectly ordinary if nature-loving Christian. The trouble with Gardner's core story, though, is that it he can be shown to be lying about some of the key elements. With that in mind, I intend to demonstrate once and for all that not only is Wicca a completely modern construct, but to indicate for the first time in print why Gardner invented Wicca in the first place.
Part One: Crowley and the Wiccan Rituals
Gardner claimed that the rituals which he possessed were the original ones that had been practiced by witches for centuries, yet it has been demonstrated that they are composed of material from a variety of sources, most notably Aleister Crowley. There are plenty of examples, but here are some of the most obvious.
Wiccan Third Degree:
Crowley's Gnostic Mass:
Knowing that his plagiarism would doubtless be discovered eventually, Gardner attempts to create a cover story in 'Witchcraft Today':
It was Gardner who was a member of Crowley's organization, not the other way around. He knew perfectly well that these 'expressions' did not merely smack of Crowley. Whole passages were lifted verbatim, as I have already demonstrated. It is entirely likely that Gardner once stood bound hand and foot, blindfold, had a sword applied to his body, and later heard the words of the Star Goddess 'I give unimaginable joys upon earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstacy: nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.' This is exactly what happens in the Minerval Initiation of OTO, and it is known that Gardner underwent this. More tellingly, in the course of the Minerval, the candidate is given a copy of the Book of the Law and instructed to study it. It is thus impossible to pretend that Gardner was not intimately familiar with the Crowley texts.
And yet, he tries to pretend that Crowley - who, by the way, utterly lambasts 'witchcraft' (as he understood it) as a mere artifice of rearrangement with no creativity in it - was a Wiccan in his youth; this in order to gull the reader into thinking that Crowley may have written the rituals himself. (Naturally, he waited until Crowley was safely dead before saying this.) In case anyone is tempted to think there is anything of substance in this, all I need to say is that Crowley wrote the Gnostic Mass in 1911 or thereabouts, long after his 'youth', and we have seen how the Wiccan Third Degree is basically made of bits of the Gnostic Mass. Obviously Wicca came after Crowley, patched together by Gardner from Crowley's writings, and other sources.
(As a side note, the myth that Crowley was a witch was picked up and run with by 'Lugh', the author of the Pickingill Papers, who invented a whole rather slanderous Wiccan career for Crowley in which he appears as a misogynistic monster who fell out with every High Priestess he ever worked with. Lugh's accounts have been taken to pieces by better scholars than I, and I do not intend to mention them further here, except to note in passing that those who claim a mystic secret circle of Brethren as their source of information and can offer no corroboration whatsoever for their stories deserve all they get.)
Also from 'Witchcraft Today':
Why is Gardner now asking us to consider Kipling as a possible author for his Wiccan rituals, one asks? Probably because Kipling's 'Oak and Ash and Thorn' was incorporated into Gardnerian Wicca (though to be fair this may have been after Gardner's time): also, because there is clearly a lot of Masonry in Gardnerian Wicca, and Kipling was a great Masonic enthusiast.
Further from 'Witchcraft Today':
'There is much evidence that in its present form the rites were worked long before Kipling and Crowley were born.'(my emphasis).
Gardner is quite clearly lying, and futhermore he is lying ineptly. There is no such evidence, because the rites can clearly be shown to contain material originating from Crowley. We can thus not allow Gardner the benefit of the doubt here, and state that he honestly believed what he was saying; no, he here says that there is 'much evidence' for something which we know for a fact there can have been NO evidence for.
It is clear that Gardner wants the reader to believe that Wicca as he created it is that same witch-cult of which Margaret Murray wrote, and which was supposed to have subsisted down through family groups.
More from 'Witchcraft Today':
The Book of the Law was received by Crowley in Egypt, and contains the utterances of Egyptian entities. The Gnostic Mass, which as we have seen Gardner plagiarized, contains Egyptian and Graeco-Roman elements. What we clearly have here, then, is Gardner's attempt to retroactively explain the presence of material which he has drawn upon. The whole iron-agey 'Horned God and Great Mother' bits which Gardner wanted to include in Wicca are compelling to the imagination, but don't have much in the way of a literary heritage. So Gardner drew upon Thelemic texts, which are potent, resonant and evocative, worked them in, and then wrote the above paragraph to tackle the predictable question of what the hell the utterances of an Egyptian Goddess were doing turning up in the rites of an allegedly Old Religion which was allegedly indigenous to Europe.
The final nail in the coffin of the Crowley-as-author theory requires an intimate knowledge of Crowley himself, beyond the crude caricature presented by the likes of 'Lugh'. Crowley couldn't have done it for one very simple reason. He would not have permitted, much less committed, the alteration and mutilation of the Book of the Law which was performed by the author of the Wiccan rites. Why? Well, one reason is simple veneration, but a more significant reason is that the very book itself forbade him to perform any such alteration in the strongest terms, and whatever Crowley's other foibles, he took the Book of the Law utterly seriously. He never changed any of it, or suffered anyone else to do so.
From the Book of the Law:
Gardner, by contrast, changed such things as 'I am alone; there is no God where I am' to 'I am alone, the Lord within ourselves' and 'peace unutterable, rest, ecstacy' to 'peace unutterable, rest, the ecstacy of the Goddess'. Crowley would have been furious if he'd known about it; rightly so, in my opinion, since Gardner was an OTO member and was supposed to hold the Book of the Law sacred, defending its principles with his life.
Part Two: Gardner's Motive
I've already demonstrated that Gardner made the rituals up from Thelemic material. What hasn't yet been addressed is why . The following, in my opinion, is the final and decisive answer.
Gardner was once asked by a friend where he learned his craft from. Gardner replied that he fell in love with a witch, who taught him her craft. Given that Gardner was married at the time he was supposed to have been initiated, that 'fell in love' is more than a bit important. It is the key that unlocks the whole mystery of why Wicca was created. The story can easily be assembled from the facts we know, with a little judicious consultation of 'Wiccan Roots' to check times, dates and names...
1n 1939, while firewatching in the early days of the War, Gardner met Edith Grimes, or Dafo as she was later to be known. It transpired that they were both members of the New Forest nudist club. They fell rather seriously in love. This was awkward, since both were married, Edith to a parson from whom she was estranged and Gardner to a wife of several years.
Somewhere along the line, they got it into their heads that they had been lovers in a past life. Gardner, inspired by this, wrote the novel 'A Goddess Arrives' which deals with the themes of witchcraft and trans-incarnational romance. In Gardner's novel, the protagonist and his wife are the couple who were lovers in a former incarnation, she being a witch, while the evil tyrant of the past time is the seducer who tries to steal away the wife in the present. In reality, Gardner and Edith considered themselves to have been the lovers and Edith's legitimate husband to be the evil influence. 'Dafo' appears in the novel is 'Dayonis'. This was the beginning of their conviction that their status as lovers had a higher legitimacy than that of mere marriage law. It was something magical, something sacred.
Edith regarded Gerald as the man who had been her partner and the father of her children in an earlier existence. When one considers her position - working hard, living away from her clergyman husband and supporting her sixteen year old daughter - it is easy to understand how she would have said, as Gardner's 'witch' was supposed to have said, 'you belonged to us in the past - why don't you come back to us?' It was Gardner, not her estranged husband, who gave away her daughter at her wedding.
Edith also believed herself to be a witch by re-incarnation, and Gardner supported her in this belief. She was a member of the Crotona Fellowship, and naturally interested in things occult. It was to the notion of witchcraft that Edith and Gerald would turn in their urgent need to find a sacred context within which they could be lovers. If they could be witches again...
Having been initiated into the OTO, Gerald had been thrilled with the work of Aleister Crowley and its inspirational promise of a new sexuality, a sacred sexuality. He gravitated towards Crowley's systems of ceremonial phallic worship, the adoration of the generative force. He and Edith decided to create a cult in which would exist a tradition of sacred ceremonial sex which would take no account of the marital status of the practitioners in the world of the everyday. Obviously, such a cult would have to be hedged about with secrecy. It was time to begin the 'witch-cult' of which Margaret Murray had written, and have a sexual rite at its core.
It is not known what went on between Gerald and Edith in the house of Dorothy Clutterbuck. It may be that she was a confidant of one or the other of them. What is certainly true is that what they had in mind could not be done at Gardner's house nor at Edith's, but required privacy. Edith, believing herself to have been a witch in a past life, made Gerald a witch. He was welcomed with a kiss. She and Gardner would concoct the formal rituals of initiation later. For now, their conviction of Edith's past life identity was enough:
So it was that Wicca was born, as a sacred context within which two people who desired one another could consummate that love. By making it sacred, it was redeemed from being mere adultery. By assuming the role of once-persecuted witches, the importance of security was made manifest. The metaphysics of the cult drew directly from Thelemic ideology; a bountiful Goddess who demanded nothing in sacrifice, a potent male principle. Edith, formerly a witch only by reincarnation, acquired formal status as a Priestess.
Gardner's writings stressed the sacredness of the sex they were having. 'We worship the divine spirit of Creation, which is the life-spring of the world, and without which life itself would perish... To us it is the most sacred and holy mystery... proof that God is within us whose command is 'Go forth and multiply'. Such rites are done in a holy and reverent way.' What he means is, they are not mere orgies. Gardner is here echoing Crowley yet again, in this case the anthem from the Gnostic Mass which is a commemoration of the male generative force:
And also, particularly illuminating in the light of Gerald's adultery with Edith:
No doubt these nights truly were a release. They had come halfway to Eden by being nudists. Sexual freedom was the next step, but it could not be mere debauchery. It had to be sacred.
Gardner writes 'There are... some unattached people, or some whose respective spouses are for some reason or another not members of the cult. I have heard fierce purists declare that no married man or woman should belong to, or attend, any club or society to which their respective partners did not also belong; but such strict views are not part of witchcraft.'
In order to give the impression that their new Wicca cult was an ancient thing, Gardner began to fabricate myths of its origin, which were set down later in 'Witchcraft Today'. He left enormous credibility gaps, requiring the informed reader to believe both that initiation (at least to the Third Degree) took place sexually, but also that this practice was handed down through families. (If true, this would have meant that either sacred Wiccan incest was taking place, or that every spouse that joined the family from without would have to have been indoctrinated into the craft!)
Though they drifted apart - and who knows what circumstances forced their separation - he and Edith remained close for the rest of their lives. Edith's daughter, though, refused to have anything to do with witchcraft, claiming that her father had taught her it was all wickedness.
Edith did once write to Gerald to rebuke him for his publicity seeking ways. One theory has it that this was because Edith was a hereditary witch and disapproved of the attention he was bringing to the Craft.
Another, to my mind far more credible, theory has it that she did not wish to attract more attention to what would have been, in the eyes of society at large, an affair.
Questioned later in life, Edith later denied any involvement in the craft, and claimed never to have met Gerald. I think she was hiding something far more straightforward than 'hereditary witchdom'. Remember that Gardner said he fell in love with a witch, that Edith fits the bill perfectly, and that she and he were both married. Look at Gardner's writings on Wicca again with that in mind. A whole lot of things spring into sharp focus.
So, here's to the memory of Gerald and Edith. I personally have previously held quite a grudge against Gerald, based on what he did with the Thelemic mysteries; but now at last the reason becomes clear why he did what he did, and to be honest I have to give the old bastard his due. Merlin, in the legend, wove a mighty magic so that Arthur could lie with Igraine; but Gerald and Edith started a whole new religion.