In more recent years modern Wiccans have tended to put some distance between themselves and Gardner, just as Gardner, for complex reasons, tended to distance himself in the early years of Wicca (circa 1944-1954) from the blatant sexual magick of Aleister Crowley, “the wickedest man in the world” by some accounts, and from Crowley’s organization, the Ordo Templi Orientis. Why Gardner chose to do this is speculative, but I’ve got some idea. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
While Turner showed me a blasphemous cross shaped from the body of two nude women (created for the 18th century infamous “Hellfire Club” in England and depicted in the Man, Myth And Magic encyclopedia; I bought it, of course) and a statue of Beelzebub from the dusty Garderian archives, a thought occurred to me. “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.”
It would be like finding The Book of Mormon in Joseph Smith’s hand, or finding the original Ten Commandments written not by God Himself, but by Moses, pure and simple.
I understated the case. It would be like finding The Book of Mormon in Joseph Smith’s hand, or finding the original Ten Commandments written not by God Himself, but by Moses, pure and simple. (Better still, eleven commandments, with a margin note, “first draft.”) I didn’t really expect anything to come of it, and in the months ahead, it didn’t.
In the meantime, I had managed to acquire the interesting document I first
mistook for Gerald Gardner’s (long acknowledged) initiation certificate into Crowley’s Thelemic magical Ordo Templi Orientis. To my eventual surprise, I discovered that, not only was this not a simple initiation certificate for the Minerval (probationary-lowest) degree, but, to the contrary, was a Charter for Gardner to begin his own encampment of the O.T.O., and to initiate members into the O.T.O.
In the document, furthermore, Gardner is referred to as “Prince of Jerusa!em”—that is, he is acknowledged to be a Fourth Degree Perfect Initiate in the Order. This, needless to say, would usually imply years of dedicated training. Though Gardner had claimed Fourth Degree O.T.O. status as early as publication of High Magic’s Aid, (and claimed even higher status in one edition) this runs somewhat contrary to both generally held Wiccan and contemporary O.T.O. orthodox understandings that the O.T.O. was then fallow in England.
At the time the document was written, most maintained, Gardner could have known Crowley for only a brief period, and was not himself deeply involved in the O.T.O. The document is undated but probably was drawn up around 1945.
As I said, it was once understood that no viable chapter of the O.T.O. was supposed to exist in England at that time; the only active chapter was in California, and is the direct antecedent of the contemporary authentic Ordo Templi Orientis. Karl Germer, Crowley’s immediate successor, had barely escaped death in a Concentration Camp during the War, his mere association with Crowley being tantamount to a death sentence. But Crowley himself clearly expected Gardner to establish an O.T.O. Camp, and was referring followers to Gardner for initiation as late as 1947.
The German O.T.O. had been largely destroyed by the Nazis, along with other Freemasonic organizations, and Crowley himself was in declining health and power, the English O.T.O. virtually dead. A provincial Swiss branch existed, but was highly insular and tending towards schism. The Charter also displayed other irregularities of a revealing nature. Though the signature and seals are certainly those of Crowley, the text is in the decorative hand of Gerald Gardner! The complete text reads as follows:
“Do what thou wilt shall be the law. We Baphomet X Degree Ordo Templi Orientis Sovereign Grand Master General of All
English speaking countries of the Earth do hereby authorise our Beloved Son Scire (Dr.G,B,Gardner,) Prince of Jerusalem to constitute a camp of the Ordo Templi Orientis, in the degree Minerval. Love is the Law, Love under will. Witness my hand and seal Baphomet Xo”
Leaving aside the misquotation from The Book of the Law (“Do what thou wilt shall be the Law” instead of “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”), which got by me for some months and probably got by Crowley when it was presented to him for signature, the document is definitely authentic. It hung for some time in Gardner’s museum, possibly giving rise, as we shall see, to the rumor that Crowley wrote the Book of Shadows for Gardner. According to Doreen Valiente, and to Col. Lawrence as well, the museum’s descriptive pamphlet says of this document:
“The collection includes a Charter granted by Aleister Crowley to G. B. Gardner (the Director of this Museum) to operate a Lodge of Crowley’s fraternity, the Ordo Templi Orientis. (The Director would like to point out, however, that he has never used this Charter and has no intention of doing so, although to the best of his belief he is the only person in Britain possessing such a Charter from Crowley himself; Crowley was a personal friend of his, and gave him the Charter because he liked him).” This was probably written well after Wicca was developed in the form it is today identified with, at least in Britain. As I point out elsewhere, Crowley clearly took the Charter seriously, even openly envisioning it extending to a Lodge to do the entire “Man of Earth Series” of O.T.O. initiations eventually. Gardner, for his part, places a different connotation on the Charter at an earlier time, giving out the impression that it makes him the Grand Master of the O.T.O. in Europe.
Col. Lawrence (“Merlin the Enchanter”), in a letter to me dated 6 December, 1986, adds that this appeared in Gardner’s booklet, The Museum of Magic and Witchcraft. The explanation for the curious wording of the text, taking, as Dr. Gardner does, great pains to distance himself from Crowley and the O.T.O., may be hinted at in that the booklet suggests that this display in the “new upper gallery” (page 24) was put out at a relatively late date when, as we shall discover, Gardner was making himself answerable to the demands of the new witch cult and not the long-dead Crowley and (then) relatively moribund O.T.O.
Now, the “my friend Aleister” ploy might explain the whole thing. Perhaps, as some including Ms. Valiente believe, Aleister Crowley was desperate in his last years to hand on what he saw as his legacy to someone. He recklessly handed out his literary estate, perhaps gave contradictory instruction to various of his remaining few devotees (e.g. Kenneth Grant, Grady McMurtry, Karl Germer), and may have given Gardner an “accelerated advancement” in his order.
There is, however, certainly reason to dispute this. I have read Crowley’s letters to Jack Parsons and to Karl Germer, and others, including the more famous letters published as Magick Without Tears, and his now celebrated authorizations to Grady McMurtry-all very late writings indeed, as well as his Last Will and Testament dated June 19, 1947, only six months prior to his death, and Crowley seems intent upon an orderly process of transition of his minor financial estate and, more importantly, his substantial literary estate, to the O.T.O. leadership which, he leaves no doubt in his Will, falls to Germer, then Grand Treasurer General of the O.T.O. To the end he continues to critique what he sees as unsound thinking (letters to Parsons and Germer in 1946), and to speak of moving to California to be with Agape Lodge, by then the remaining centerpiece of the O.T.O., but also referring to Gardner’s Camp in London as a virtual accomplished fact.
Ms. Valiente, a devoted Wiccan who is also a dedicated seeker after the historical truth, mentions also the claim made by the late Gerald Yorke to her that Gardner had paid Crowley a substantial sum for the document. In a letter to me dated 28th August, 1986, Ms. Valiente tells of a meeting with Yorke ”…in London many years ago and mentioned Gerald’s O.T.O. Charter to him, whereon he told me, ‘Well, you know, Gerald Gardner paid old Crowley about [$1,500] or so for that…’ This may or may not be correct…” Money or friendship do not explain the Charter.
Gardner was in the habit, after the public career of Wicca emerged in the 1950s, of downgrading any Crowleyite associations out of his past, and, as Janet and Stewart Farrar reveal in The Witches’ Way (1984, p3) there are three distinct versions of the Book of Shadows in Gerald Gardner’s handwriting which incorporate successively less material from Crowley’s writings, though the last (termed “Text C” and co-written with Doreen Valiente after 1953) is still heavily influenced by Crowley and the O.T.O.
Ms. Valiente has recently uncovered a copy of an old occult magazine contemporary with High Magic’s Aid and from the same publisher, which discusses an ancient Indian document called “The Book of Shadows” but apparently totally unrelated to the Wiccan book of the same name. Valiente acknowledges that the earliest text by Gardner known to her was untitled, though she refers to it as a “Rnnk nf Shadows ”
It seems suspicious timing; did Gardner take over the title from his publisher’s magazine? Ms. Valiente observed to me that the “…eastern Book of Shadows does not seem to have anything to do with witchcraft at all … is this where old Gerald first found the expression “The Book of Shadows” and adopted it as a more poetical name for a magical manuscript than, say ‘The Grimoire’ or ‘The Black Book’…. I don’t profess to know the answer; but I doubt if this is mere coincidence ”
The claim is frequently made by those who wish to “salvage” a pre- Gardnerian source of Wiccan materials that there is a “core” of “authentic” materials. But, as the Farrars’ recently asserted, the portions of the Book of Shadows “…which changed least between Texts A, B and C were naturally the three initiation rituals; because these, above all, would be the traditional elements which would have been carefully preserved, probably for centuries ”
But what does one mean by “traditional materials”? The three initiation rites, now much-described in print, all smack heavily of the crypto-Freemasonic ritual of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the O.T.O., and the various esoteric NeoRosicrucian groups that abounded in Britain from about 1885 on, and which were, it is widely known, the fountainhead of much that is associated with Gardner’s friend Crowley.
The Third Degree ritual, perhaps Wicca’s ultimate rite, is, essentially, a nonsymbolic Gnostic Mass, that beautiful, evocative, erotic and esoteric ritual written and published by Crowley in the Equinox, after attending a Russian Orthodox Mass in the early part of the 20th century. The Gnostic Mass has had far-reaching influence, and it would appear that the Wiccan Third Degree is one of the most blatant examples of that influence.
Take, for example, this excerpt from what is perhaps the most intimate, most secret and most sublime moment in the entire repertoire of Wicca rituals, the nonsymbolic (that is, overtly sexual) Great Rite of the Third Degree
initiation, as related by Janet and Steward Farrar in The Witches’ Way (p.34):
The Priest continues: ‘0 Secret of Secrets, That art hidden in the being of all lives, Not thee do we adore, For that which adoreth is also thou. Thou art That, and That am I. Kiss I am the flame that burns in the heart of every man, And in the core of every star. I am life, and the giver of life. Yet therefore is the knowledge of me the knowledge of death. I am alone, the Lord within ourselves, Whose name is Mystery of Mysteries.’
The original was some mundane volume, on Asian knives or something but the inside pages had been removed, and a kind of notebook-almost a journal-had been substituted.
Let us be unambiguous as to the importance in Wicca of this ritual; as the Farrars put it (p.31) “Third degree initiation elevates a witch to the highest of the three grades of the Craft. In a sense, a third-degree witch is fully independent, answerable only to the Gods and his or her own conscience…” In short, in a manner of speaking this is all that Wicca can offer a devotee.
With this in mind, observe the following, from Aleister Crowley’s Gnostic Mass, first published in The Equinox over 80 years ago and routinely performed (albeit in the symbolic form) by me and by many other Bishops, Priests, Priestesses and Deacons in the O.T.O. and Ecclesia Gnostica (E.G.C.) today. The following is excerpted from Gems From the Equinox, p. 372, but is widely available in published form:
The Priest: 0 secret of secrets that art hidden in the being of all that lives, not Thee do we adore, for that which adoreth is also Thou. Thou art That, and That am I. I am the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star. I am Life, and the giver of Life; yet therefore is the knowledge of me the knowledge of death. I am alone; there is no God where I am.
So, then, where, apart from Freemasonry and the Thelemic tradition of Crowley and the O.T.O., is the “traditional material” some Wiccan writers seem to seek with near desperation? I am not trying to be sarcastic in the least, but even commonplace self-references used among Wiccans today, such as “the Craft” or the refrain “so mote it be” are lifted straight out of Freemasonry (see, for example, Duncan’s Ritual of Freemasonry). And, as
Doreen Valiente notes in her letter to me mentioned before, “…of course old Gerald was also a member of the Co-Masons, and an ordinary Freemason…” as well as an O.T.O. member.
We must dismiss with some respect the assertion, put forth by Margot Adler and others, that “Wicca no longer adheres to the orthodox mythos of the Book of Shadows.” Many, if not most of those who have been drawn to Wicca, in the last three decades came to it under the spell (if I may so term it) of the legend of ancient Wicca. If that legend is false, then while reformists and revisionist apologists (particularly the peculiar hybrid spawned in the late ’60s (under the name “feminist Wicca”) may seek other valid grounds for their practices, we at least owe it to those who have operated under a misapprehension to explain the truth, and let the chips fall where they may.
I believe there is a core of valid experience falling under the Wiccan- Neopagan heading, but that that core is the same essential core that lies at the truths exposed by the dreaded bogey-man Aleister Crowley and the “wicked” pansexualism of Crowley’s Law of Thelema. That such roots would be not just uncomfortable, but intolerable to the orthodox traditionalists among the Wiccans, but even more so among the hybrid feminist “Wiccans” may indeed be an understatement.