As the founder of modern-day Wicca, the life of Gerald Gardner is a very interesting and magickal one.
Gardner was born in 1884, in Blundellands, England. He was the son of a local justice of the peace, and had three brothers.
His family was no stranger to witchcraft. One of his ancestors was burned as a witch in 1610, and even Gardner’s own grandfather married a women who was rumoured to be a witch.
Due to his asthma, Gardner spent most of his childhood travelling through Europe with his nurse. This travelling awoke in him an interest in other cultures, other religions and other ways of life. When his nurse married a man from Ceylon, she brought Gardner with her. He started a career there on a tea plantation. He also worked through Malaysia and Borneo.
During his time in Asia, Gardner continued to study local folklore and beliefs as well as archeology. He wrote his first book, on the ritual kris daggers of the Malay. During this part of his life, he worked on a rubber plantation as an inspector, and a customs official. Even after he married and returned to England, he continued to travel abroad for archeological pursuits. Experiences that convinced him of a past life in Cyprus, led to his second book “A Goddess Arrives”, which is a fictional novel.
Through Gardner’s involvement in a local Masonic group, the Fellowship of Crotona, he was introduced to a coven of hereditary witches who claimed to be practicing rites handed down from the Middle Ages. Gerald Gardner was initiated into the New Forest coven by Old Dorothy Clutterbuck, in 1939.
Witchcraft was still illegal in England, so Gardner was unable to write publicly about what he was learning. In 1949, he published another fictional novel called “High Magic’s Aid”, under the name Scire. Much of the material in the story was based on the rituals of his coven.
When England repealed its witchcraft laws in 1951, Gardner began his own coven. A few years later, Gardner initiated another well-known figure into that coven: Doreen Valiente. Gerald and Doreen worked together to refine Gardner’s writings, and much of their work has been passed down to covens today that work in the Gardnerian tradition.
Their work began its way towards a more mainstream audience when Gardner wrote his first non-fiction book on witchcraft, “Witchcraft Today”. He gained notoriety as Britain’s “Chief Witch”. Though he did not enjoy the spotlight, he published a second book on the subject, “The Meaning of Witchcraft”.
In 1964, Gerald Gardner died on at sea on a ship returning from Lebanon. Unfortunately, he never got to see how his work truly revived the old witchcraft practices, and reshaped the world’s view of religion.