Gerald Gardner is most well known for increasing public knowledge of the Wiccan religion, through his writing and the founding of the branch known as Gardnerian Wicca. Gardner was born in England in 1884, but spent much of his childhood and youth travelling in warmer climates to alleviate his severe asthma symptoms. He returned to England in 1927, after his father became very ill. During this time, Gardner began showing an interest in spiritualism and mediumship. He would attend seances and had several encounters in which the spirits of his deceased family members communicated with him. This was the beginning of Gardner’s lifelong interest and experimentation with the supernatural and magic.
While in England Gardner had gotten married, and soon moved to Malaya with his wife, and learnt a great deal about the folk magic that they practiced. After his father’s death, they returned to England and settled down in Highcliffe where he joined the Rosicrucian Order. A group of friends from the Order initiated him into the New Forest Coven, in January 1939. Gardner had previously believed that witchcraft had ended many centuries earlier ago, but wrote about the coven being a hidden witchcraft cult that had survived the persecution. Research shows, however, that the coven had been formed in the 1930s.
Gardner became a noted member of several occult and religious groups, but remained devoted to Wicca. He aimed to spread knowledge about the religion, and increase its practise. His fictional novel, High Magic’s Aid, contained descriptions of the details of the practice. The book was set in the 12th century, and included scenes from The Key of Solomon. In addition to spreading knowledge publicly, Gardner recorded his private rituals in his ‘Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical.’ This was the beginning of Wicca record keeping in The Book of Shadows.
Gardner’s first initiates were Gilbert and Barbara Vickers, who joined him between 1949 and 1950.
In 1952, he initiated Doreen Valiente who went on to join the Brick Wood Coven where she rose to High Priestess. Valiente helped Gardner revise his Book of Shadows, removing all the content that had been influenced by Aleister Crowley. In 1954, he published a non-fiction book, Witchcraft Today, in which he proposed the continuation of the witch-cult, accused The Knights Templar of being witches and stated that faeries lived in England. Gardner invited journalists to record, and publish, details of his life and the Wiccan religion. The reports were met negatively, but he continued undeterred, determined to prevent the ‘Old Religion’ from dying out.
In 1960, Gerald Gardner’s biography, Gerald Gardner: Witch, was written and published by the Sufi Mystic Idries Shah. After his wife died, Gardner’s asthma got worse and he began to travel more frequently. On February 12, 1964, while returning home from Lebanon aboard The Scottish Prince, Gardner died and was buried at the next stop in Tunisia. Several years after his death, High Priestess, Eleanor Bone located his remains and moved them to Tunis. In 2007, a plaque was attached to Gardner’s grave, pronouncing him ‘Father of Modern Wicca. Beloved by the Great Goddess.’