The Man, the Myth & the Magick
by Mike Howard
It has been said that the account of the famous Lammas ritual in the New Forest in 1940 to stop the Nazi invasion was one of Gerald Gardner's 'fireside stories'. Cecil Williamson (1993) says that the whole idea was borrowed from a magickal ceremony performed in the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex by a group of occultists working for M15. Williamson, who served in the British Secret Service as a consultant on the occult during the war, says the ritual was a propaganda exercise held because it was known senior members of the German High Command dabbled in the occult and believed in astrology.
Aleister Crowley's son, Amado, who also participated in the ceremony, has independently claimed that it was part of the larger plot by British Intelligence to lure Rudolf Hess to Britain on his ill-fated peace mission. The Hess plot had been masterminded by Lt-Commander lan Fleming of Naval Intelligence, with a little help from the thriller writer Dennis Wheatley and Crowley. The Great Beast had worked as an agent for the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) before the war in Germany spying on occultists with political links. Wheatley's wife, Joan, and his stepson, Bill Younger, both worked for MI5. Wing-Commander Wheatley worked first for the Ministry of Information during the war and then for the Joint Planning Staff at the War Office. He became one of Churchill's staff officers and a member of the top-secret Future Operations Planning Unit (Wheatley 1963: 9-1 l)..
Joan Wheatley's boss in M15 was the deputy-director, Maxwell Knight who was also an occultist. He was the model for 'M' in Fleming's James Bond novels. Wheatley had been introduced to Crowley by the homosexual Labour MP and MI5 agent, Tom Driberg. In turn Wheatley introduced Knight to Crowley and the two men attended several magickal rituals organised by Crowley. Wheatley was later to use these experiences in his 'black magic' novels. Knight described Crowley as 'well dressed and middle-aged with the voice and manner of an Oxbridge don'. The MI5 man could not understand 'how such racy legends had sprung up around such a seemingly harmless, if eccentric, academic'. (Deacon 1969 & Masters 1984).
The Ashdown ritual took place in the spring of 1941. It involved forty Canadian soldiers as 'extras', wearing Army blankets embroidered with occult symbols, a magick mirror and a dummy of Adolf Hitler. Amado Crowley claims that Fleming was actually present at this occult- ' pantomime when twelve occultists and his father chanted "Rudolf Hess, Rudolf Hess, fly from Berlin to Britain" (Mandrake 1993). The rest, as they say, is history.
In March 1939 Gardner had joined the Folklore Society. On his application he gave his address as 23a Buckingham Palace Mansions, London SWI, and he was proposed by a Dr Hildburgh. Gardner contributed several articles to the Folklore journal and also gave lectures to the Society. One of the first articles concerned a box which he had purchased at auction and whose providence suggested it had once belonged to the 17th century Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins. T his box contained some curious items, including a bone plate inscribed with magickal symbols, a twig shaped like a cockerel's claw, a piece of parchment with the words 'Matthew Hopkins talisman against all witchcraft' on it, a wax head pierced with a pin, several (human?) bones, a Seal of Solomon made of lead, and a piece of animal skin with astrological symbols on it. The suggestion was that these were either items Hopkins had confiscated from suspected witches, or the naughty Witchfinder General was himself a cunning man who dabbled in magick. One folk tale alleges that at the end of his life Hopkins was swum as a witch.
Gardner's membership of the Folklore Society still causes unease today, nearly sixty years later. Writing in the Folklore Society News (July 1992), Jacqueline Simpson says that Gardner was regarded by other members as 'flamboyant and sinister'. Doubts were cast on his scholarship and the doctorate he fraudulently claimed from the University of Singapore. One leading member of the Society in the 1950s, Christina Hole, described him as having 'a curious personality'. When he was elected to the ruling Council the question was raised as to whether or not his presence was advantageous to the Society's image.
In 1954 Gardner gave a-lecture on Manx fishing craft to the International Conference on Maritime Folklore in Naples, Italy. one delegate described him as 'a strange man who wore a copper snake bracelet on one wrist'. When Gardner crossed the road to the bus stop on the harbour the local fishermen crossed themselves and made the sign to ward off the Evil Eye.
Ralph Merrifield, once deputy -director of the Museum of London and author of the cult classic The Archaeology of Ritual Magic, was a fellow member of the Folklore Society in the 195Os. He has told the story of how he visited Ghana in West Africa in 1956 to arrange an exhibition at the newly opened museum in Accra. He stayed with the museum's curator at a village outside the city. Locals told him of 'the white master' who had visited two years before. He was known to the natives as 'he who never sleeps' because he stayed up all night 'talking to devils'. Apparently this strange visitor was Gardner who, because of his asthma, had spent all night propped up on pillows.
Gardner gave a talk on witchcraft a@ of all places, the YMCA in Accra. This was so popular that a riot nearly broke out when people were refused entry to the overflowing hall. During his visit Gardner met some of the local obeah men and witch doctors and he was also consulted by the natives for spells and charms. One day he was walking through the village market place when a young native woman demanded to have his babies. Gardner replied: " 1'm too old, dear". He also visited Nigeria in the winters of 1952 and 1953, presumably to escape the damp English weather, and to increase his knowledge of obeah and ju-ju.
Merrifield asked Gardner how he had discovered witchcraft and received a strange reply. Gardner said: "I fell in love with a witch when we were fire-watching during the war" This reply was either a Gardner leg-pull or concealing the facts, or there may have been some truth in it. Cecil Williamson has told us of a wartime encounter Gardner had with the high priestess of an coven from Epping in Surrey. They met while he was filling sandbags as an ARP Warden in Parliament Square. This suggests there were other people around during the war who claimed to be witches and had no connection with Old Dorothy Clutterbuck's lot in the New Forest. Gardner himself claimed to know of two other covens in the New Forest (one of these may have been Sybil Leek's Horsa group), and others in Highgate, North London and Leeds.
After Gardner published Witchcraft Today in 1954 he claimed to have received letters from other witches all over Britain. When Williamson founded his Witchcraft Research Centre in the 1940s he held an annual midsummer's 'Witches Convention' for other members. Gardner also attended and Williamson has said: ' Unfortunately Gardner found himself at cross purposes with many of the group's leading members - which was not altogether surprising, for Gardner's version of what witchcraft was differed considerably from the view and systems worked by other members (Pentagram Candlemas 1967)
lf some accounts can be believed, wartime London was teeming with 'witches'. Rolla Nordic, a tarot designer and occultist, has claimed: ' During the war there were two hundred of us [witches and we met every Tuesday in a certain place in London and always sat at the same place and we sent color rays to where was the worst fighting. And we could see by the newspapers it would slacken off.' (Enchante 1993) Nordic claims she was a student of the 'Witch of St Giles', Madeline Montalban (aka Dolores North) and also met Gardner. It is however hard to believe that there were 200 witches active in wartime London!
Sometime between Gardner's return to England from the Far East in 1936 and 1947 he met Aleister Crowley. The timing of this momentous historic event is unclear. The accepted Wiccan version is that the two men were introduced in March 1946 by Arnold Crowther, husband of Patricia Crowther and High Priest of the Sheffield coven. Crowley at this time was living in a private hotel called, evocatively, Netherwood, just outside Hastings in East Sussex. Other sources have claimed that the two men knew each other as early as 1936 or 1938. Francis King mentions a date of 1943 or 1944 (1971:12) Whatever the date, Gardner purchased from Crowley, for about £300 according to their mutual friend Gerald Yorke, an Ordo Templis Orientis (OTO) charter. This authorised Gardner to found and run an OTO lodge. This charter was decorated with four wax seals and ribbons, and was apparently written on the back of a 19th century bill and land document (Smith 1981). Williamson has informed us that in fact Gardner paid Crowley £25 a time for a course of instruction. One day Gardner turned up for the next installment and Crowley began to cross-examine him on the previous documents he had supplied. Gardner, a typical Gemini, had only glanced at them and could not answer the questions. Apparently, Crowley became very angry and the two men parted on bad terms. Williamson also claims that it was Gerald Yorke who introduced them, presumably at an earlier date then 1946. (Personal communication 23.2.97)
Gardner does not appear to have practised any of the OTO rituals, because he said he had 'neither the time or the money', although he did include extracts from Crowley's Gnostic Mass and The Book of the law in his Wiccan rites. However he did display the OTO charter in the witchcraft museum on the Isle of Man.
Crowley confided in Gardner that when he was a young man he had joined the 'witchcult'. He left, so he said, because he 'did not want to be bossed around by a woman.' Patricia Crowther has confirmed this story as she says her husband also introduced her to Crowley (the date is uncertain). He admitted that witchcraft was not suitable for him because it was 'a woman's cult'. (Crowther 1970). Louis Wilkinson, who was a close friend of Crowley , and also knew the New Forest coven, confirmed this story to Francis King in 1953. In the controversial Lugh material published in The Wiccan in the 1970s, it is claimed that circa 1899 Crowley was inducted into one of the Nine Covens founded by the 19th century East Anglian cunning man George Pickingill. The Great Beast was allegedly expelled from this Norfok coven because he could not convene on time, sought self-advancement and was regarded by his high priestess as a 'sex pervert' (Liddell 1994:22). Recently Williamson has confirmed that Crowley and Gardner discussed Pickingill. In fact the Great Beast sent Gardner down to Canewdon, the Essex village near Southend-on-Sea where Pickingill spent the last years of his life, to check out the local legends about this infamous wizard. Williamson says: ' A.C. had heard about George Pickingill from Gerald's chatter about his New Forest witches' (Personal communication 23.2.97) This seems to confirm a definite link between Pickingill, Crowley and Gardner which many people have been denying over the years.
Another (more speculative) source linking Pickingill with Crowley comes from a Colonel Lawrence whose family have been running a witchcraft/folk magick museum in Glaveston, USA since before World War 11. Lawrence claims that Gardner and Crowley met at least ten years before Arnold Crowther is supposed to have introduced them. Lawrence's family are of Scottish descent and came to America around 1720. His great-grandmother, Lydia, allegedly found a coven in Galveston around 1900. This coven was neo-classical in nature and worshipped the Roman goddess Diana. It was inspired by a visit that Lydia made t6'ltaly a few years earlier when she allegedly met Charles Leland! She also told her great-grandson that she visited England at the same time and was introduced to Crowley while she was studying with George Pickingill. Lawrence claims that Pickingill gave her one of his famous blackthorn walking sticks which is now on display in the museum., Obviously such stories are almost impossible to substantiate, and one linking Leland, Crowley and Pickingill is certainly too good to be true.
It has been alleged by both Francis King and Amado Crowley that Gardner paid the Great Beast to write the rituals of modem Wicca. There may be some confusion here with the payment of the OTO charter. The Lugh material also claims that Crowley used 'magical recall' to remember the rites of the Norfolk Pickingill coven, which included neo-classical material complied by the 'Cambridge Coven' of academics in the early 180Os. Evidence does exist however to suggest that Crowley did offer Gardner some help and this surfaced on the Internet in 1993. The source said that while carrying out research at the Humanaties Library of the University of Texas he had found a document sent by Gardner to Crowley 'for correction'. This person who saw the document, and is not a Wiccan and did not immediately realise its significance, said it involved Persephone's descent to the underworld and is very much a passion play'. From this description it sounds like a version of the Descent of the Goddess used in the preliminary to the third degree initiation in Gardnerian Wicca. Crowley had certainly wanted to found a popular neo-pagan religion. He had outlined such a religion to his American disciple, Frater Achad, as early as 1914 with seasonal festivals celebrating the sun and moon and monthly meetings at the new moon. He had also discussed this concept with Dion Fortune in the 193Os. As this was also Gardner's aim, and one of the reasons why he had fallen out with his earlier traditional contacts, perhaps the two men did collaborate to this goal.
In 1949 Gardner published the first of three books on witchcraft. This was written under the pen name of Scire and was a historical novel called High Magic's Aid. It was privately printed by Michael Houghton (aka Michael Juste). Houghton owned the famous Atlantis bookshop in Museum Street, London WC2, opposite the British Museum, and had founded it in 1922. He ran his magical group, the Order of Hidden Masters, from the shop and had a temple in the basement. Houghton was also a friend of Madeline Montalban (Dolores North) who lived just around the corner from the shop in St Giles Circus. As we mentioned in our last issue, Montalban typed the manuscript of High Magic's Aid for Gardner. During the war Montalban served in the Royal Navy as a Wren, and she told us that she was actually on Lord Louis Mountbatten's staff as his personal seer. In the early days of the war Mountbatten was chief of Combined Operations and in charge of SOE (Special Operations Executive) raids and the infiltration of M16 agents into occupied Europe. He later became Supreme Commander of South-East Asia Command and the last Viceroy of India before its independence from the British Raj. From evidence Madeline showed me, she and Mountbatten had been wartime friends. It has always been rumoured that Mountbatten had more then a passing interest in occultism.
At the time Gardner knew Montalban he was living nearby at a flat in Ridgemount Terrace, off Tottenham Court Road. In November 1949 Kenneth Grant, head of the British branch of the OTO, and his wife Steffi, attended a ritual held at Madeline Montalban's flat on the site of what is now Centre Point . Gardner and one of his female witches were also present. The purpose of the ritual was for Gardner to raise 'a current of magical energy with the purpose of contacting certain extra-terrestrial intelligences'. This involved those present dancing around a large sigil inscribed on parchment which hadbeendesignedbytheartistandmagicianAustinOsmanSp4re.(1886-1956) Unfortunately, the rite was interrupted, before the invocation could be completed , by Michael Juste ringing the doorbell. Grant claims that as a result of this abortive ritual Montalban 'died under mysterious circumstances', while Gardner was 'himself not long in following suit'. ( Grant 1977:123-124) This is a spooky story to scare the kiddies, but in fact Madeline died of cancer over thirty years later in 1982, and Gardner of natural causes in 1964 at nearly 80 years old!
In his introduction to his novel, Gardner informs his readership that the magickal rituals in it are authentic ones from the medieval grimoire known as The Key of Solomon ( and we know that this material was in use in the New Forest coven) and 'magical MSS in my possession.' The novel itself has been described as a pastiche of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. It is a tale of magick and witchery set in an imaginary medieval England shortly after the Norman Conquest. lts central character, Morven, belongs to the 'witch cult', which is called by its traditional name in the book of 'The Brotherhood.' In Chapter XVII the two leading male characters are initiated by Morven and it has been claimed that the ritual she uses is the same one as used by the pre-war New Forest coven. It has also been said that Gardner's decision to 'go public', even in fictional form, upset the Elders of his parent coven and he left them. Justine Glass says: '...after a relatively short time he and his coven [in the New Forest] parted company. The reason seems to have been his urge to publicize Craft matters' (1965:131). This desire for publicity was to cause more problems in the future as we shall see in the next instalment of this series.
Dorothy Clutterbuck-Fordham died in 1951 but by then, according to Cecil Williamson, Gardner had established his own covenstead for several years at Brickett Wood, near St Albans in Hertfordshire. It met in an Elizabethan 'witch's cottage' on some wasteland next to the Five Acres naturist club. Several of whose members slipped through a gap in the hedge surrounding the club to attend rituals. The cottage was registered as a place of worship under the name of the 'Ancient British Church', and Gardner also started his own company called Ancient British Crafts Ltd which had a hundred shareholders. One of these was Dafo, the ex-maiden of the New Forest coven. Gardner had allegedly joined the Five Acres club after leaving his former club in Finchley, North London under a cloud. He had fallen out with its middle-aged members who had objected to his radical ideas of introducing ritual dancing and other acts common to the Far East' (Cecil Williamson - Personal correspondence 23.2.97)
At first the coven met in a converted wooden chicken shed, but later Gardner purchased the cottage from his old friend Father Ward. This building, whose interior was to later feature with dancing skyclad witches in newspapers and books, originally came from Herefordshire and it was an exhibit in the eccentric Ward's Folklore Museum in Barnet. Gardner had it transferred brick by brick to its new site and re-assembled. The original altar inside it was an old Morrison air-raid shelter, which resembled a large metal table, covered by ex-Army mattresses for comfort during the Great Rite! Gardner tried to tell Williamson that the cottage had been George Pickingil's in Canewdon, until WiiIiamson checked out the story with the local council in Essex and found out that the old cunning man's house had been demolished years before. In 1992 the 'witch's cottage' was reported as being for sale with an asking price of £5000, At that time the wife and son of Jack Bracelin (who was a member of the Brickett Wood coven in the 195Os) were said to have made an unsuccessful claim on it. (Williamson 1992).
The Lugh material claims that Gardner was introduced into one of Pickingill's Nine Covens in Hertfordshire in 1945 (Liddell 1994:152). This came to pass because of his membership of a CoMasonic lodge, into which he had allegedly been sponsored by Madeline Montalban. Francis King has said that there was a pre-Gardnerian coven in at St Albans in Hertfordshire (1971). An independent source has recently confirmed this and that Gardner joined them in a rather junior position. Another very reliable source has also recently confirmed that Gardner met and worked with a pre-existing coven in Cheshire in the 194Os. As far as is known, this had nothing to do with the Pickingill Craft.
In 1950 Cecil Williamson founded a witchcraft museum at Castletown on the Isle of Man. It was located in a ruined 17th century windmill, already known locally as the Witches' Mill. Folklore said that after the mill was burnt down in the 19th century the ruins were used as a meeting place by local witches. Williamson transformed the collection of derelict cottages, a huge granary and old barns into .a museum , cafe and living quarters. He opened it as 'The Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft' and it soon became a popular tourist attraction. Shortly after the opening Gardner turned up on 'a flying visit' with his overnight things stuffed in an old music case. He liked what he saw and was keen to offload a large number of unsold copies of his novel. An agreement was reached to sell the books in the museum on a commission basis. The 'flying visit' became more permanent when Gardner rented a terraced cottage at 77 Malew Street, Castletown. He became the 'resident witch' at the museum during the summer season and entertained old and young ladies in the teashop with colorful stories of his adventures in the Far East.
In July 1951 The Sunday Pictorial featured the museum and Gardner was described as 'a member of the Southern Coven of British Witches'. Gardner introduced Williamson to Dafo as 'the High Priestess of the Southern Coven'. Using Gardner as the middle-man, she offered some artifacts belonging to the coven on loan to be exhibited in the museum. The objects have been described to us by Williamson a the sort of stuff produced by 'an arty-crafty house potter'. They included pots, bowls and various bottles made from glazed earthenware of a darkish brown or grey colour. Many had runic-type symbols on them. There were also black and white handled knives, home-made wands and necklaces made of beads, pieces of pottery and twigs strung on leather thongs. There were also small boxes carved from tree branches, sheets of parchment covered with magickal script, antique wooden spoons and three pronged forks. This 'junk', as Williamson calls it, was evidently the ritual equipment of the old New Forest coven.
After much badgering from Gardner, Williamson finally relented and sold him the museum, moving back to England to open a similar establishment in Windsor High Street. Gardner changed the name to The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic and he added to the exhibits with suits of armour and weapons from his private collection , as well as displays of amulets and charms he had found on his travels. One room was decorated out as a 'witch's cottage', and another as a 'magician's den', with life-size wax models in medieval costumes and magickal paraphernalia. Gardner was described by one visitor to the museum in the 1950's as 'about 5'8" tall and stocky with snow white hair and a goatee beard, wearing tweeds and a homespun jumper, sandals on his bare feet. His glasses hung in a case around his neck and his fingers supported magical and seal rings. Along with a certain nervous twitching of his hands and eyelids, his speech was rather jerky.' (Morgant)
It was through Cecil Williamson and the Isle of Man museum that Doreen Valiente was to meet Gardner. It was a meeting that would be fateful to both of them, and it would mark a new era in the history of the modem witchcraft revival..... to be continued.
In Part 3: The initiation of Doreen Valiente into Wicca, the re-writing of the Book of Shadows, the publication of Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft, the Craft Laws, and publicity splits Gardner's coven.
Interview with Cecil Willamson in Talking Stick (Winter 1993), Ian Fleming's Lure for Rudolf Hess by Mandrake in The Sunday Telegraph (4.7.93), The Man Who Was M.- The Life of Maxwell Knight Antony Masters (Basil Blackwell 1984), A History of British Secret Service Richard Deacon (Muller 1069), Gunmen, Gallants & Ghosts Dennis Wheatley (Arrow 1963), Which was Witch and Which was What ? by Jacqueline Simpson in Folklore Society News # 15 (July 1992), Which Witch was Which? by Alan W.Smith in FLS #16 (November 1992), Gerald Gardner by John Yeowell in FSN #18 (November 1993), Gerald Gardner & the 20th century 'Witches' by Ralph Merrifield in FSN #I 7 (June 993), Enchante # 14 (February 1993), Knights of the Solar Cross G.Smith (1981), The Day I Met Aleister Crowley by Patricia Crowther in Prediction (November 1970), The Pickingill Papers by E.W. Liddell (Capall Bann 1994), Mountbatten by Philip Ziegler (William Collins 1985), High Magic's Aid by Scire (Gerald Gardner) (1949), Witchcraft, the Sixth Sense & Us Justine Glass (Neville Speannari 1968), The Doreen Valiente Interview by Kevin and Ingrid Carlyon (1990), Nightshade of Eden Kenneth Grant (Muller 1977), Gerald Gardner by Cecil Willamson in Talking Stick (Autumn 1992), Se,xuality, Magic & Perversion Francis King (Neville Spearman 1971), The Witchcraft Museums by Cecil Williamson in Pentagram (1966), Witchcraft in the Isje of Man by Gerald Gardner in New Dimensions (March 1964), Gerald Gardner; the Truth About the Myth and the Man I Knew by Cecil Williamson in Lamp of Thoth (n.d.), and Gardner; Father of Wicca or inventive romantie? by Morgant in Lamp of Thoth (n.d.)