Reportage

King of the Witches

The strange life of Gerald Gardner…

GardnerGerald Gardner, the man whom the British press called ‘King of the Witches’, a title not likely to have been disputed by Gardner and his followers was one of the leading figures of 20th century witchcraft. Admired and loathed in equal measure his achievements as the founder of modern-day witchcraft or Wicca are perceived by many as being little more than a vehicle to drive his own sexual appetite.

Born in Lancashire, England in 1884 he spent much of his early childhood travelling in North Africa and the Canary Islands before moving to Ceylon with his nanny at the age of sixteen. During numerous jobs in Ceylon, Malaya and Borneo Gardner became interested in the occult and mysticism and brought his new-found beliefs back to England where, upon his retirement he joined the Folk-Lore Society and shortly after his first witch coven.

A clever man, but not as he purported to be, a university degree holder or a descendent of an Admiral from the Napoleonic Wars. Whilst he did little to conceal his admiration and influence of Aleister Crowley the books he wrote on witchcraft in the 1950s made little reference to sexual practice in ceremonies in a bid to drive witchcraft into the mainstream and receive acceptance akin to religious worship. In reality however Gardner did not practice what he preached. His rituals contained many sexual overtones including flagellation and nudity.

Gardner became acquainted with Crowley towards the end of ‘The Great Beast’s’ life, Crowley invited him to join one of his tantric sex Orders and eventually allowing him to form his own Order which, like Crowley’s involved sexual intercourse as part of its initiation ceremony. Unfortunately for Gardner the Order and others like it seldom contained enough women because of their sex rites and Gardner would often resort to hiring a prostitute to carry out key roles in the ceremonies.

He was undoubtedly a strange man and one who courted publicity, a publicity not always welcomed by other followers who questioned his real beliefs and attitude towards women in the covens. His life and career as a Wiccan can easily draw comparison with leaders of other cults and religions, he alienated true believers by his sense of importance based on unsubstantiated claims and the sex rites he advocated deserve scrutiny for their legitimacy of reason.

Gardner died in 1964 aged 79 as he sailed towards Lebanon. He was buried in Tunisia and later exhumed when the land where his grave lay was earmarked for re-development. His former home, a ruined windmill on the Isle of Man was turned into a museum which housed his collection of weapons and other ceremonial artefacts.

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