Author: Gerald Gardner
Trade Paperback, 288 pages
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 1959, 2004
Price & More Info: Click Here
If you have been trained in a lineaged tradition of Witchcraft, you have
probably read this book. If you joined the Craft more than 10 years ago, you
have probably read this book. If you don't fall into either of the above
categories, or if you simply haven't gotten around to reading this book, it
is time to pick up this reprint by Weiser. This was only the second public
statement of Witch beliefs in the modern English-speaking world.
Over the years I have heard a lot of people dispute Gardner's claims (and
claims about Gardner); mostly from people I strongly suspect have never
taken the time to actually read this book. While we can never know for sure
how much Gardner inherited from his initiators and how much he cobbled
together on his won, at least in this book we have his statements first
I first read this book more than a quarter of a century ago. Every time I
got a copy into my library, I made the mistake of loaning it out (and losing
it). With this reprint, I can now tell my students where they can get their
own copies. It belongs in the library of every serious student, if only for
the historical value.
One of the things which struck me as I began this book was how little things
have changed in four and a half decades - Churchmen still preach against the
"devil-worshipping Witches," and if something goes wrong in a locality with
a publicly known Witch anywhere in sight, you can be sure who will get the
blame for "causing" the misfortune.
Say what you will about Gerald Gardner, he knew human nature. He knew that
the public, although curious about Witchcraft, was reluctant to grant it
legitimate religious status. It was all a thrill to read about in the
Sunday papers near Halloween, but no rational person could possibly believe
in it; could they? In his time, there was no one to present the Witches'
side of things. Nowadays there are too many people presenting "the Witches'" side of things, and most of them disagree with each other.
In Chapter II ("Witches Memories and Beliefs") the author makes a statement
which many of his detractors seem to have missed: "It is just what I think,
not what I know, because I do not see how anyone will ever find the first
beginnings." [emphasis his] So, although his religious descendant might
treat his theories as holy writ, he didn't see it that way. Let us grant
him the same consideration we would any other researcher. His beliefs may,
or may not, be disproved, but they at least provided a starting point for
It is all too easy to dismiss Gardner's writings and speculations as being
his own inventions, but further research has both supported and supplanted
them. He is meticulous about reminding his reader that these are his ideas
about what may have happened. He should not be held accountable for the
actions and beliefs of those who followed him. He, personally, expresses a
level of tolerance which could be profitably imitated today.
The only thing which current readers may have a problem with is caused by
Gardner's education. He was educated at a time when the ability to read
Latin was a given. Consequently he includes some quotations from older
works in Latin (and some in French) without providing translations. These
instances are few, however, and do not detract from the value of the work.
Many other authors cite Gardner, and now Red Wheel/Weiser has made this
valuable text easily available. Buy this book. Read it. You will gain a
better understanding of the early days of modern Wiccan existence.
Reviewed by Mike Gleason