I will not say with finality at this point whether Wicca is an outright invention of these two divine mountebanks. If so, more power to them, and to those who truly follow in their path. I do know that, around 1945, Crowley met with Gardner, and gave him license to organize an O.T.O. encampment. This was, as it turns out, a serious effort by Crowley to establish a new
O.T.O. presence in Britain. As late as May of 1947 we have seen letters from Crowley to one of his key associates urging the latter to send his followers in London to Dr. Gardner so that they might receive proper initiation in O.T.O. through Gardner’s O.T.O. Camp, which Crowley anticipated being in operation in a matter of weeks. After Crowley’s death his close collaborator, Lady Harris, thought Gardner to be Crowley’s successor as head of the
O.T.O. in Europe. Gardner claimed as much himself.
Shortly thereafter, the public face of Wicca came into view, and that is what I know of the matter: I presently have in my possession Gardner’s certificate of license to organize said O.T.O. camp, signed and sealed by Aleister Crowley. The certificate and its import are examined in connection with my personal search for the original Book of Shadows n the next section of this narrative.
For now, though, let us note in the years since Crowley chartered Gardner to organize a magical encampment, Wicca has both grown in popularity and become, to my mind, something far less real than either Gardner or Crowley could have wanted or foreseen. Wherever they came from, the rites and practices which came from or through Gerald Gardner were strong, and tapped into that archetypal reality, that level of consciousness beneath the mask of polite society and conventional wisdom which is the function of True Magick.
At a popular level, this was the Tantric Sex Magick of the West. Whether this primordial access has been lost to us will depend on the awareness, the awayening or lack thereof among practitioners of the near to middle-near future. Carried to its end Gardnerian practices, like Crowley’s magick, are not merely exotic; they are, in the truest sense, subversive.
Practices that work are of value, whether they are two years old or two thousand. Practices, myths, institutions and obligations which, on the other hand, may be infinitely ancient are of no value at all unless they work.
Before we move on, though, in light of the furor over real and imagined “Satanism” that has overtaken parts of the popular press in recent years, I would feel a bit remiss in this account if I did not take momentary note of that other strain of left-handed occult mythology, Satanism. Wiccans are correct when they say that modern Wicca is not Satanic, that Satanism is “reverse Christianity” whereas Wicca is a separate, non-Christian religion.
Still, it should be noted, so much of our society has been grounded in the repressiveness and authoritarian moralism of what passes for Christianity that a liberal dose of “counter-Christianity” is to be expected. The Pat Robertsons of the world make possible the Anton LaVeys. In the long history of repressive religion, a certain fable of Satanism has arisen. It constitutes a mythos of its own. No doubt, misguided copycat fanatics have sometimes misused this mythos, in much the same way that Charles Manson misused the music and culture of the 1960s.
True occult initiates have always regarded the Ultimate Reality as beyond all names and description. Named “deities” are, therefore, largely symbols. “Isis” is a symbol of the long-denied female component of deity to some
occultists. “Pan” or “The Horned God” or “Set” or even “Satan” are symbols of unconscious, repressed sexuality. To the occultist, there is no Devil, no “god of evil.” There is, ultimately, only the Ain Sof Aur of the Qabala; the limitless light of which we are but a frozen spark. Evil, in this system, is the mere absence of light. All else is illusion.
The goal of the occult path of initiation is balance. In Freemasonry and High Magick, the symbols of the White Pillar and Black Pillar represent this balance between conscious and unconscious forces.
In Gardnerian Wicca, the Goddess and Horned God—and the Priestess and Priest, represent that balance. There is nothing, nothing whatever of pacts with the “Devil” or the worship of evil in any of this; that belongs to misguided ex-Christians who have been given the absurd fundamentalist Sunday school notion that one must choose the exoteric Christian version of God, or choose the Devil. Islam, Judaism and even Catholicism have at one time or another been thought “Satanic,” and occultists have merely played on this bigoted symbolism, not subscribed to it.
As we have seen, Wicca since Gardner’s time has been watered down in many of its expressions into a kind of mushy white-light “New Age” religion, with far less of the strong sexuality characteristic of Gardnerianism, though, also, sometimes with less pretense as well.
In any event, Satanism has popped up now and again through much of the history of the Christian Church. The medieval witches were not likely to have been Satanists, as the Church would have it, but, as we have seen, neither were they likely to have been “witches” in the Wiccan sense, either.
The Hellfire Clubs of the 18th century were mockingly Satanic, and groups like the Process Church of the Final Judgment do, indeed, have Satanic elements in their (one should remember) essentially Christian theology.
Aleister Crowley, ever theatrical, was prone to use Satanic symbolism in much the same way, tongue jutting in cheek, as he was given to saying that he “sacrificed hundreds of children each year,” that is, that he was sexually active. Crowley once called a press conference at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, where he announced that he was burning his British Passport to protest Britain’s involvement in World War One. He tossed an empty envelope into the water.
The most popular form of “counter-Christianity” to emerge in modern times, though, was Anton Szandor LaVey’s San Francisco-based Church of Satan, founded April 30, 1966. LaVey’s Church enjoyed an initial burst of press interest, grew to a substantial size, and appeared to maintain itself during the cultural drought of the 1970s. LaVey’s books, The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals, have remained in print for many years, and his ideas seem to be enjoying a renewal of interest, especially among younger people, punks and heavy metal fans with a death-wish mostly. By the 1980s, the Church of Satan had been largely succeeded by the Temple of Set. This is pure theater or psychodrama; more in the nature of psychotherapy than religion.
It is interesting to note Francis King’s observation that before the Church of Satan began LaVey was involved in an occult group which included, among others, underground film maker Kenneth Anger, a person well known in Crowleyan circles. Of the rites of the Church of Satan, King states that “…most of its teachings and magical techniques were somewhat vulgarized versions of those of Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis.”10 To which we might add that, as with the O.T.O., the rites of the Church of Satan and Temple of Set are manifestly potent, but hardly criminal or murderous.
By the 1980s, the Church of Satan had been largely succeeded by the Temple of Set. This is pure theater or psychodrama; more in the nature of psychotherapy than religion.
LaVey, like Gardner and unlike Crowley, appears to have had “the common touch”—perhaps rather more so than Gardner. This attraction was, however, caught up in the hedonism of the 1970s, and had little to say by the end of the 20th century.
I determined to trace the Wiccan rumor to its source. As we shall see, in the very year I “fell” into being a Gnostic Bishop, I also fell into the original charters, rituals and paraphernalia of Wicca.
THE CHARTER AND THE BOOK (BEING A RADICAL REVISIONIST HISTORY OF THE ORIGINS OF THE MODERN WITCH CULT AND THE BOOK OF SHADOWS)
“G. B. Gardner… is head of the O.T.O. in Europe.”
-Lady Frieda Harris, letter to Karl Germer, January 2, 1948
“It was one of the secret doctrines of paganism that the Sun was the source, not only of light, but of life. The invasion of classical beliefs by the religions of Syria and Egypt which were principally solar, gradually affected the conception of Apollo, and there is a certain later identification of him with the suffering God of Christianity, Freemasonry and similar cults.”
-Aleister Crowley in Astrology, 1974
“If GBG and Crowley only knew each other for a short year or two, do you think that would be long enough for them to become such good friends that gifts of personal value would be exchanged several times, and that GBG would have been able to acquire the vast majority of Crowley’s effects after his death?”
-Merlin the Enchanter, personal letter, 1986
“…On the floor before the altar, he remembers a sword with a flat cruciform brass hilt, and a well-worn manuscript book of rituals
—the hereditary Book of Shadows, which he will have to copy out for himself in the days to come…”
-Stewart Farrar in What Witches Do, 1971
“…the Gardnerian Book of Shadows is one of the key factors in what has become a far bigger and more significant movement than Gardner can have envisaged; so historical interest alone would be enough reason for defining it white first-hand evidence is still available…”
-Janet and Steward Farrar in The Witches’ Way, 1984
“It has been alleged that a Book of Shadows in Crowley’s hand- writing was formerly exhibited in Gerald’s Museum of Witchcraft on the Isle of Man. I can only say I never saw this on either of the two occasions when I stayed with Gerald and Donna Gardner on the island. The large, hand-written book depicted in Witchcraft Today is not in Crowley’s handwriting, but Gerald’s…”
-Doreen Valiente in Witchcraft for Tomorrow, 1978
“Aidan Kelly… labels the entire Wiccan revival ‘Gardnerian Witchcraft’… The reasoning and speculation in Aidan’s book are intricate. Briefly, his main argument depends on his discovery of one of Gardner’s working notebooks, Ye Book of Ye Art Magical, which is in possession of Ripley International, Ltd ”
-Margot Adler in Drawing Down the Moon, 1979
I was, for the third time in four years, waiting a bit nervously for the Canadian executive with the original Book of Shadows in the ramshackle office of Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.
“They’re at the jail,” a smiling secretary-type explained, “but we’ve called them and they should be back over here to see you in just a few minutes.”
The jail? Ah, St. Augustine, Florida. “The Old Jail,” was the “nation’s oldest city’s” second most tasteless tourist trap, complete with cage-type cells and a mock gallows. For a moment I allowed myself to play in my head with the vision of Norm Deska, Ripley Operations Vice President and John Turner, the General Manager of Ripley’s local operation and the guy who’d bought the Gerald Gardner collection from Gardner’s niece, Monique Wilson, sitting in the slammer. But no, Turner apparently had just been showing Deska the town. I straightened my ice cream suit for the fiftieth time, and suppressed the comment. We were talking big history here, and big bucks, too. I gulped. The original Book of Shadows. Maybe.
It had started years before. One of the last people in America to be a fan of carnival sideshows, I was anxious to take another opportunity to go through the almost archetypally seedy old home that housed the original Ripley’s Museum.
I had known that Ripley had, in the 1970s acquired the Gardner stuff, but as far as I knew it was all located at their Tennessee resort museum. I think I’d heard they’d closed it down. By then, the social liberalism of the early ’70s was over, and witchcraft and sorcery were no longer in keeping with a “family style” museum. It featured a man with a candle in his head, a Tantric skull drinking cup and freak show stuff like that, but, that, apparently, was deemed suitable family fun.
I was a bit surprised, then, when I discovered some of the Gardner stuff— including an important historical document, for sale in the gift shop, in a case just opposite the little alligators that have “St. Augustine, Florida—America’s Oldest City” stickered on their plastic bellies for the folks back home to use as a paper-weight. The price tags on the occult stuff, however, were way out of my range.
“You know,” I suggested, “if you ever, in all this stuff, happen across a copy of The Book of Shadows in the handwriting of Aleister Crowley, it would be of considerable historical value.”
Back again, three years later, and I decided, what the hell, so I asked the cashier about the stuff still gathering dust in the glass case, and it was like I’d pushed some kind of button.
Out comes Mr. Turner, the manager, who whisks us off to a store room which is filled, FILLED, I tell you, with parts of the Gardner collection, much of it, if not “for sale” as such, at least available for negotiation. Mr. Turner told us about acquiring the collection when he was manager of Ripley’s Blackpool operation, how it had gone over well in the US at first, but had lost popularity and was now relegated for the most part to storage status.
Visions of sugarplums danced in my head. There were many treasures here, but the biggest plum of all, I thought, was not surprisingly, not to be seen.
I’d heard all kinds of rumors about the Book of Shadows over the years, many of them conflicting, all of them intriguing. Rumor #1, of course, is that which accompanied the birth (or, depending on how one looked at it, the revival) of modern Wicca, the contemporary successor of ancient fertility cults.
It revolved around elemental rituals, secret rites of passage and a mythos of goddess and god that seemed attractive to me as a psychologically valid
alternative to the austere, antisexual moralism of Christianity. The Book of Shadows, in this context, was the “holy book” of Wicca, copied out by hand by new initiates of the cult with a history stretching back at least to the era of witch burnings. Rumor #2, which I had tended to credit, had it that Gerald Gardner, the “father of modern Wicca” had paid Aleister Crowley in his final years to write the Book of Shadows, perhaps whole cloth. The rumor’s chief exponent was the respected historian of the occult, Francis King. Rumor #3 had it that Gardner had written the Book himself, which others had since copied and/or stolen.
To the contrary, said rumor #4, Gardner’s Museum had contained an old, even ancient copy of the Book of Shadows, proving its antiquity.