Gerald Gardner, from the cover of The Meaning of Witchcraft

B.C. on Paganism: A Biography of Gerald Brosseau Gardner



  • Born: June 13th, 1884 at Great Crosby, near Blundell Sands in Lancashire, England.
  • Began travelling at the age of four; his nursemaid took him to warmer climates to help alleviate his asthma.
  • Had jobs planting tea and rubber in the Far East. He eventually became a Customs officer until he retired in 1936.
  • Was initiated into the New Forest Coven, a traditional Wiccan coven by "Old Dorothy" -- Dorothy Clutterbuck -- in September, 1939.
  • Published High Magick's Aid, a fictional account of witches, in 1949 under the pen-name Scire. After the repeal of witchcraft laws in Britain in 1951, Gardner published Witchcraft Today in 1954, a non-fictional account of modern witchcraft.
  • Became a spokesperson for the pagan community
  • Invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace in 1960.
  • Died: February 13th, 1964, while returning from abroad on the SS Scottish Prince.



It is important to note that Ray Buckland was initiated by Monique Wilson in 1963 and didn't actually know Gardner very well. In his own words: "I had been corresponding with Gerald for over a year prior to [the initiation] and finally met him face-to-face, briefly, at that time." Shortly thereafter, Gardner left on vacation to Lebanon, and died on the return journey.

Buckland had been living in the United States at this time.

According to Ray Buckland, Ph.D., in 1934 Gardner was working in Singapore:

Among his archaeological finds, he identified the real site of the ancient City of Singapura. He also reconstructed models of one of the old sea-going ships of the ancient civilization. One of his models is in the Singapore Museum and another in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. As a result of his work, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Singapore.

However, Doreen Valiente [1989:pp.41-42] writes:

In 1951 Gerald Gardner told the journalist Allen Andrews, or at any rate allowed him to receive the impression that he had been created a Doctor of Philosophy in Singapore and a Doctore of Literature in Toulouse. [...]

However, when I wrote to the University of Singapore some while after Gerald's death and asked him them if they could confirm that they had given him this honourary degree, they replied that not only had they never done so but the University of Singapore was not even in existence in 1934. Later I wrote to the University of Toulouse, asking about the alleged Doctor of Literature referred to in the 1951 press cutting. They too replied that they had never conferred any such degree upon anyone called Gerald Brosseau Gardner.

It has been suggested to me that in the Far East it was customary to give the courtesy title of 'Doctor' to almost any learned person. However, the claims in Gerald's case are rather too detailed for that explanation to hold water.

These "falsifications of credentials", unfortunately, do a great deal to undermine Gardner's credibility in other issues.

Enigmas and Questions

Traditional Initiation

Jeffrey B. Russell [1980] writes:

[Gardner's] followers tell the story that he was initiated into witchcraft in 1939 by Old Dorothy Clutterbuck, a witch of the New Forest who later, they say, led the covens of England to the seashore where they prevented Hitler's invasion by sending out the cone of power towards him with the instruction, 'You cannot come.' When the Craft was destroyed in the 'Burning Time', it was argued, a few kept it alive secretly, and old Dorothy was the heir of this ancient tradition. In fact there is no evidence that old Dorothy ever existed, and the ancient tradition is very dubious.

Doreen practically dedicates this research to Jeffrey Russell -- she was so convinced that Prof. Russell was wrong, that she set out to find documentary evidence to contradict him.

Regarding the existence of Dorothy Clutterbuck, however, there is considerable evidence, as researched by Doreen Valiente:

Dorothy Clutterbuck had been born on 19 January 1880 and baptized in St. Paul's Church, Umbala, on 21 February 1880. Her parents were Thomas St. Q. Clutterbuck, Captain in the 14th Sikhs and Ellen Anne Clutterbuck. (p. 292).

Other material that Valiente acquired places Dorothy Clutterbuck (later, Mrs. Fordham) in the right area (Gardner was a resident in Christchurch in 1939) from 1933 to at least 1938, so it is highly likely that Gardner knew a real Dorothy Clutterbuck.

Julia Phillips [1991] states:

It is a marvellous piece of investigation, but proving that Old Dorothy existed does nothing to support Gardner's claims that she initiated him.

Obviously, there is no direct proof that Old Dorothy initiated Gardner, but Valiente believes his claim.

Gerald Gardner without his distinctive beard.

The Origins of the Wiccan Rituals

Doreen Valiente writes:

The big question which remains to be answered is, how much of the Gardnerian 'Book of Shadows' represents the rites of the old New Forest coven and how much is Gerald Gardner's own concoction? I braved some hostile criticism from devoted Gardnerians by trying to answer this questions when I collaborated with Janet and Stewart Farrar in their book The Witches' Way. I remain totally unrepentant, because I too seek the answer and shall continue to do so. There has been too much childish cloak-and-dagger business in the world of the occult, too much of what Aleister Crowley satirized as swearing someone to the most frightful penalties if they betray the secret knowledge and then confiding the Hebrew alphabet to their safekeeping.

Julia Phillips [1991] points out that:

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.

Wiccan Family Tree

Julia Phillips [1991] has reconstructed a "family tree" for Gerald Gardner; although I haven't seen it, from her words, I've pieced together this basic map.

Some of the relationships are more complicated than appear here. For example, Gardner had several High Priestesses including Doreen Valiente, and Monique Wilson. Alex Saunders, although initiated as first degree by Pat Kopanski, later claimed third degree status by hereditary initiation. Vivienne Crowley has been initiated in both the Alexandrian and Gardnerian traditions.



Copyright © 1997, 1999 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated November 18th, 2001.

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