Gardnerian Wicca was founded by Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), a British Civil Servant, in the 1950s. Gerald Gardner was born in Liverpool, England, June 13, 1884. (Interestingly, that was Friday the 13). Gerald suffered from asthma and was allowed to travel to the Far East when young in an attempt to alleviate his condition. While there, he became familiar with various Easter and occult philosophies. He had an avid interest in archaeology; and upon his retirement after seeing some ancient sites, he became convinced of reincarnation. He was initiated into a Witchcraft coven in 1939, met Aleister Crowley in 1946, and wrote a novel called "High Magic's Aid." In 1951 England repealed the laws making Witchcraft illegal, and this opened the door for Gardner to be more public. He formed his own coven and included the various practices he had picked up through his travels, thus the beginning of Gardnerian Wicca. Gardner published "Witchcraft Today" in 1954, and The "Meaning of Witchcraft" in 1959. He considered the occult witchcraft practiced in England to be the remnants of ancient earth-based worship system. His Wiccan tradition was his attempt to restore that ancient religious system. He died in 1964. Gardnerian Wicca was brought to America by Raymond Buckland whom he met in 1963.1
Gardnerian Wicca is considered one of the oldest forms of Wicca and most Wiccans acknowledge it to be the beginning of the Wicca Movement.2
"Although there is no question that Gerald Gardner should be credited with bringing our religion into the public eye in the 20th century, he did not invent Wicca. it would be more by developing the tradition that bears his name, Gardnerian Wicca, from which many of the present-day myriad Wiccan traditions may have themselves evolved. Gerald Gardner, Aleister Crowley, and Margret Murray have all made an indelible contribution to the revival of the Wiccan religion it [sic] exists today, and their part in our evolution must never be forgotten."3
As stated above, Gardner became interested in spiritual and occult phenomena early on and was initiated into an occult group before 1940. He was a believer in the power of witchcraft and combined it with some Masonic practices such as "blindfolding, initiation, secrecy, and "degrees" of priesthood." From his studies in occultism, he also included Tarot cards, wands, chalices, and the pentacle into his practices.3 Of particular interest is the inclusion of nudism into his Wiccan practices. This is known as skyclad.
"Some Gardnerian innovations have sexual and even bondage-and-discipline overtones. Ritual sex, which Gardner called "The Great Rite," and which was also largely unknown in antiquity, was part of the liturgy for Beltane and other feasts (although most participants simulated the act with a dagger--another of Gardner's penchants-and a chalice). Other rituals called for the binding and scourging of initiates and for administering "the fivefold kiss" to the feet, knees, "womb" (according to one Wiccan I spoke with, a relatively modest spot above the pubic bone), breasts, and lips."4
Gardner "compiled a volume of spells, rituals and magical lore that he called the Book of Shadows."5 The Book of Shadows has become a very common staple among the various Wiccan Traditions, especially Gardnerian Wicca. However, not all branches of Wicca follow the Garnderian Book of Shadows. Basically, the Book of Shadows is a compilation of various spells, rituals, and incantations developed by various Wiccans according to the style of their tradition. This book can be quite different among wiccans.
The Gardnerian Wicca tradition focuses on the God and Goddess who are equally balanced, reincarnation, nudity during circle rituals, celebrate the eight Sabbats, etc. Each coven is autonomous.
- 1. http://www.themystica.com/mystica/articles/g/gardner_gerald_b.html.
- 2. Cantrell, Gary, Wiccan Beliefs and Practices, St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2004, p. 35.
- 3. Ibid., p. 17.
- 4. Allen, Charlotte, "The Scholars and the Goddess," Atlantic Monthly, Jan., 2001, vol. 287, issue 1.
- 5. "Forecasts," Publishers Weekly, June 12, 2000, vol. 247, issue 24.