Gerald Gardner, Traditional Witch

Just read this passage at starrycave.com, Nicolaj de Mattos Frisvold’s blog. Frisvold’s credentials are impeccable. He’s a Ph.D. psychologist, an initiated member of the Clan of Tubal Cain and an initiated Quimbandeiro and Palero. His books, especially his Pomba Gira and the Quimbanda of Mbumba Nzila and Exu and the Quimbanda of Night and Fire, have had an enormous influence on me. In his most recent blog entry I just read this passage.

The word ‘witch’ has become so problematic that practitioners of Traditional Craft often accept the label, just to escape it, as in the case of Robert Cochrane who merely accepted the label as holding some sort of meaning, though he would not define himself as a witch. For Cochrane this discomfort with the term ‘witch’ was partly caused by a group of Wiccans he dubbed ‘Gardnerians’, who also considered themselves ‘witches’. I will leave this issue alone and just state that Gerald Gardner — as demonstrated in recent research by Philip Heselton — most likely obtained a traditional induction into a lineage of traditional witches [italics mine].

I must look up in the local university library this research by Philip Heselton. —This is a sort of Golden Age of historical scholarship on witchcraft, with such luminaries as Emma Wilby, Éva Pócs, and Carlo Ginzburg demonstrating that witchcraft did indeed exist in forms much as Traditional Witchcraft does today from at least the early days of the Inquisition, and perhaps, as the archaeologists at Saveock Water in Cornwall are discovering, much earlier. Perhaps even in an unbroken tradition from truly ancient times.

And yet the myth — perhaps it’s time to start calling it a lie — that Traditional Witchcraft is a modern invention, of no earlier provenance that 1950, that Gerald Gardner invented Wicca, inspired by Margaret Murry and with liberal help from Aleister Crowley, persists. As Frisvold goes on to say:

But [Gardner] also wanted to make the transmission and the knowledge he received his own. For Gardener this meant turning witchcraft into a ritualistic system mediated by fringe masonry sprinkled with some Crowleyan and Rosicrucian elements. Nothing wrong in this…

And there is nothing wrong in that. —I’m not a Wiccan, let me state that outright. Most people would call me a witch or cunning woman, if they examined my praxis, despite my insistence on calling myself a sorceress. But neither am I an initiated Traditional Witch. —It simply irks me … no, it’s frankly beginning to make me angry that people persist in the unwarranted belief that today’s witchcraft is an invention out of whole cloth of no earlier a date that the mid 20th Century. Witchcraft has been a constant fact in the West for hundreds of unbroken years. Perhaps thousands. The gibbering and peeping of those who continue to assert otherwise proves they don’t read books.

It proves that all too many folks know how to do nothing except regurgitate obsolete lies.

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4 thoughts on “Gerald Gardner, Traditional Witch

  1. Chris Wildbore says:

    Hello,
    I very much enjoyed this post, though I found it a little harsh. Just like our Craft, people’s understanding of it is contextual. Most public schools these days don’t teach critical thinking or textual analysis.
    Some of the things they regurgitate are true–to a point. For example, although I am convinced Gardner was initiated into a genuine tradition, he did use many modern elements to create his own thing, enough so that picking out what is truly apostolic is something only the best of scholars, in my opinion, could do. I think it would be better, building on what you said, if people would look at a specific element or practice within a tradition and ask “where does this particular practice come from?” and then not painting the whole tradition with that answer….I’m not sure I’m making much sense. Haven’t had my coffee yet and it is still monday.

    Chris

    • Rachel Izabella says:

      I’m sure my post was harsh. I wrote it in the heat of the moment, as I often do and without apology. You are quite right in suggesting that what I wrote lacked much nuance.

      It’s probably true that much or most of the earliest version Wicca consisted of Gardner’s recension of it, as (I think) I said, and not of what he learned as an initiate of his traditional coven. This recension as I call it is clearly influenced by Ceremonial Magic(k) and by the ideas of Aleister Crowley and doubtless by other sources I’m not aware of. There is nothing at all wrong with this. I bear no ill will towards Wiccans or Wicca or Gerald Gardner.

      As for parsing out the origins of the practices of Gardner’s original Wicca, it’s a task quite beyond me. My only intents for this post were to point out that Traditional Craft has a long and still ongoing history, and that this fact is backed by the scholarly disciplines of biography, history and archeology, and that Gerald Gardner was in all likelihood an initiate in such a tradition. And last and mostly to bemoan the fact that so many in the magical world are ignorant of all this, or even willfully self-blinkered against reality. Whether I succeeded or failed is up to my adored readers.

      Thank you for your comment. Visit and comment often!

  2. Robert Mitchell says:

    I agree about 80%. I believe there was, and always has been, some form of traditional witchcraft. I’m not convinced (even after reading most of the authors’ books you mention) that it looked much like Garderian Craft though. I think old Gerald got pretty creative. The most convincing survival I’ve seen is Aradia, and I highly recommend the new compilation edited by Chas Clifton (if you haven’t read it already).

    • Rachel Izabella says:

      I think I need to edit this post because some people misunderstand what I wrote, or rather what I intended to write. I don’t believe anything like Wicca existed much before 1950 either. Instead what I intended to convey is that Traditional Craft (not British Traditional Witchcraft, which refers to covens of Wicca that are still very Gardnerian), in some form or other and I do not know what forms, is a survival from at least as early as the early Modern Age and perhaps even a survival from truly ancient times. I’m certain it has changed many times, with the times. But I’m also certain it’s been around a long, long time. —I’ll have to find where I messed up and am giving people the wrong impression. Thanks for comment!

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