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Posts tagged ‘Gerald Gardner’

Dark Green – Some Disturbing Thoughts about Faeries

The sleep of reason produces monsters; inversions, caricatures of what we know to be right and sensible. Sometimes the fancies of the night seem more substantial than the sober thoughts of daytime. The dreams of a folklorist are especially subject to this kind of inversion. Consider two magazine pieces published by that Victorian litterateur, Grant Allen of Haslemere. One is a serious contribution to folklore scholarship, while the other is its dark parody. But the night-time version is far more revealing. It says a great deal about the mind of its author; but it also tells us something about a hidden strand in twentieth-century paganism.

Novelist, freethinker and evolutionary theorist, Allen was much in tune with the spirit of his times, and had mastered an easy style which could be turned to most themes. In a piece for the Cornhill Magazine he addressed the subject of fairies. It was very curious that the English peasantry should believe with such tenacity in creatures who did not exist; at least, as far as he was concerned they did not exist. What could have inspired the idea of fairies? They were a little people, who used flint arrowheads and dreaded iron. That suggested Stone Age man, about whom so much had recently been discovered. They were to be met with in grassy hillocks, the ancient burial mounds of that people. So fairies were the ghosts of Neolithic man, dimly remembered and feared by subsequent races. QED, thought Grant Allen, or at least the rational side of him did.

The rest of this article by Jeremy Harte, which was published in White Dragon at Samhain 1998, can be read on the White Dragon website.

Dark Green – Some Disturbing Thoughts about Faeries

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The Great Wicca Hoax

The origins of Gardnerian Wicca – or at least, the story Gardner told of them – are well known. He was supposed to have made contact with a coven of genuine witches in the New Forest, and was initiated by them into the Wicca ‘cult’, as he referred to it. Among these were the old witch Dorothy Clutterbuck, and the young Dafo, who was Gardner’s own High Priestess. It was Dafo who wrote to Gardner late in his life to rebuke him for seeking publicity – a statement taken by many to mean Gardner’s decision to open the Craft up to a wider audience.

Since then, many people have endeavored to find out the truth behind Gardner’s account, most recently Philip Heselton in his book ‘Wiccan Roots’. Heselton seems to take the view that Gardner was telling the absolute truth, and that he really was initiated into a surviving coven; Wiccan Roots is a brave attempt to find facts to fit the theory, and certainly goes much further than any other attempt, though it is somewhat disappointing to find that the diaries of Dorothy Clutterbuck reveal her to have been a perfectly ordinary if nature-loving Christian. The trouble with Gardner’s core story, though, is that if he can be shown to be lying about some of the key elements. With that in mind, I intend to demonstrate once and for all that not only is Wicca a completely modern construct, but to indicate for the first time in print why Gardner invented Wicca in the first place.

The rest of this article by Adrian Bott, which was published in White Dragon at Lughnasa 2001, can be read on the White Dragon website.

The Great Wicca Hoax

Witchcraft in BBC radio drama

Browsing the BBC Radio 4 schedules today I noticed that the station had recently broadcast a play entitled Ursula and the Boy based on the historical episode of Ursula Kemp who was accused of witchcraft in 1582 and against whom one of the witnesses was her own 8 year old son.

I’ve not yet listened to the play but will try to make time to do so over this weekend.

I’m reminded of an earlier BBC radio play with an historical witchcraft theme – Colin Haydn Evans’s Gaveston which was broadcast originally on 7th June 1993 and then, if memory serves me correctly, on the actual summer solstice in 1994. I was fortunate on the second occasion to record the broadcast for my own personal archive.

Gaveston was based, as one might expect, on Margaret Murray‘s books (I’m very tempted to say novels), The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The Divine King in England. Her thesis was that there was an organised cult of witchcraft in mediaeval and early modern Europe, and that from time to time kings or their appointed substitutes were sacrificed to ensure the health of the realm. She particularly singled out William II, “Rufus”, who died in the New Forest under still unexplained circumstances in 1100, and Piers Gaveston, the youthful favourite of Edward II, as her purported sacrifices.

Now as a piece of drama Gaveston was a jolly decent play – thrilling and atmospheric; but as history, which Murray purported it to be (even if Evans didn’t), it was frankly crap. Even at the time that she published Witch Cult, Murray’s interpretation of history was scorned and ridiculed by academic historians working in the mediaeval and early modern fields, but it did inspire the imagination of Gerald Brosseau Gardner and become the basis of his creation of wicca. When Murray was invited to write the entry on witchcraft for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, her version of history quickly reached the general public and was accordingly accepted by hoi polloi as the last word on the subject. And so it remained until the early 1970s when academic historians began to publish new studies of witchcraft and magic. The first that came to general attention was Keith Thomas‘s Religion and the Decline of Magic in 1973. Through the 1970s and 1980s these new studies appeared, so that by around 1993, when Gaveston was first broadcast, only pagans and the general public still set any store by Murray’s work as history.

What turned the tide for most pagans was the publication during the 1990s of a series of works by Professor Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol, culminating in The Triumph of the Moon in 1999. There are, undoubtedly, the pagan equivalent of Flat Earthers who cling to Murray’s work, but they become fewer, and ever more desperate, as the years pass. They may eventually die out of their own accord, but it may yet take a comet to finish them off.

So if you ever get a chance to hear Gaveston, do so. It’s a jolly gripping yarn. But, for gods’ sake, don’t believe a word of it. It’s complete cobblers.