Neopaganism, in a now archaic “hippie” misreading of ecology, mistakes responsible stewardship of nature for nature worship. Ancient pagans did not “worship” nature; to a large extent they were afraid of it, as has been pointed out to me by folk practitioners. Their “nature rites” were to propitiate the caprice of the gods, not necessarily to honor them. The first Neopagan revivalists, Gardner, Crowley and Dr. Murray, well understood this. Neopagan Wiccans usually do not.
In introducing a “goddess element” into their theology, Crowley and Gardner both understood the yin/yang, male/female fundamental polarity of the universe. Radical feminist Neopagans have taken this balance and altered it, however unintentionally, into a political feminist agenda, centered around a nearmonotheistic worship of the female principle, in a bizarre caricature of patriarchal Christianity.
I do not say these things lightly; I have seen it happen in my own time. If this
be truth, let truth name its own price. I was not sure, until Norm and John got back from the Old Jail.
A couple of months earlier, scant days after hearing that I was to become a Gnostic Bishop and thus an heir to a corner of Crowley’s legacy, I had punched on my answering machine, and there was the unexpected voice of John Turner saying that he had located what seemed to be the original Book of Shadows in an inventory list, locating it at Ripley’s office in Toronto.
He said he didn’t think they would sell it as an individual item, but he gave me the name of a top official in the Ripley organization, who I promptly contacted. I eventually made a substantial offer for the book, sight unseen, figuring there was (at the least) a likelihood I’d be able to turn the story into a book and get my money back out of it, to say nothing of the historical import.
But, as I researched the matter, I became more wary, and confused; Gardner’s texts “A” “B” and “C” all seemed to be accounted for. Possibly, I began to suspect, this was either a duplicate of the “deThelemicised” post-1954 version with segments written by Gardner and Valiente and copied and recopied (as well as distorted) from hand to hand since by Wiccans the world over.
Maybe, I mused, Valiente had one copy and Gardner another, the latter sold to Ripley with the Collection. Or, perhaps it was the curious notebook discovered by Aidan Kelly in the Ripley files called Ye Book of Ye Art Magical, the meaning of which was unclear.
While chatting with Ms. Deska, Norm returned from his mission, we introduced in businesslike fashion, and he told me he’d get the book, whatever it might be, from the vault.
The vault?! I sat there thinking God knows what. Recently, I’d gotten a call from Toronto, and it seems the Ripley folks wanted me to take a look at what they had. I had made a considerable offer, and at that point I figured I’d had at least a nibble. As it so happened Norm would be visiting on a routine inspection visit, so it was arranged he would bring the manuscript with him.
Almost from the minute he placed it in front of me, things began to make some kind of sense. Clearly, this was Ye Book of Ye Art Magical. Just as clearly, it was an unusual piece, written largely in the same hand as the Charter I had obtained earlier—that is, in the hand of Gerald Gardner. Of this
I became certain, because I had handwriting samples of Gardner, Valiente and Crowley in my possession. Ms. Valiente had been mindful of this when she wrote me, on August 8, 1986:
“I have deliberately chosen to write you in longhand, rather than send a typewritten reply, so that you will have something by which to judge the validity of the claim you tell me is being made by the Ripley organization to have a copy of a “Book of Shadows” in Gerald Gardner’s handwriting and mine. If this is… “Ye Book of Ye Art Magical,” … this is definitely in Gerald Gardner’s handwriting. Old Gerald, however, had several styles of handwriting… I think it is probable that the whole MS. was in fact written by Gerald, and no other person was involved; but of course I may be wrong ”
At first glance it appeared to be a very old book, and it suggested to me where the rumors that a very old, possibly medieval Book of Shadows had once been on display in Gardner’s Museum had emerged from.
Any casual onlooker might see Ye Book in this light, for the cover was indeed that of an old volume, with the original title scratched out crudely on the side and a new title tooled into the leather cover. The original was some mundane volume, on Asian knives or something (an interest of Gardner’s), but the inside pages had been removed, and a kind of notebook—almost a journal—had been substituted.
As far as I could see, no dates appear anywhere in the book. It is written in several different handwriting styles, although, as noted above, Doreen Valiente assured me that Gardner was apt to use several styles. I had the distinct impression this “notebook” had been written over a considerable period of time, perhaps years, perhaps even decades. It may, indeed, date from his days in the 1930s when he linked up with a NeoRosicrucian performance theatrical troupe, that could have included among its members the legendary Dorothy Clutterbuck, who set Gardner on the path which led to Wicca.
Turner showed me a Gardner scrapbook in Ripley’s store room which was mostly cheesecake magazine photographs and articles about actresses.
Thinking on it, what emerges from Ye Book of Ye Art Magical is a developmental set of ideas. Much of it is straight out of Crowley, but it is
clearly the published Crowley, the old Magus of the O.T.O. and A∴ A∴
Somewhere along the line it hit me that I was not exactly looking at the “original Book of Shadows” but, perhaps, the outline Gardner prepared over a long period of time, apparently in secret (since Valiente, a relatively early initiate of Gardner’s, never heard of it nor saw it, according to her own account, until recent years, about the time Aidan Kelly unearthed it in the Ripley collection long after Gardner’s death).
Dr. Gardner kept many odd notebooks and scrapbooks that perhaps would reveal much about his character and motivations. Turner showed me a Gardner scrapbook in Ripley’s store room which was mostly cheesecake magazine photographs and articles about actresses. Probably none are so evocative as Ye Book of Ye Art Magical, discovered hidden away in the back of an old sofa.
This is not the “ancient religion of the Wise” but the modern sayings of “the Beast 666” as Crowley was wont to style himself.
I have the impression it was essentially unknown in and after Gardner’s lifetime, and that by the Summer of 1986 few had seen inside it; I knew of only Kelly and my own party. Perhaps the cover had been seen by some along the line, accounting for the rumor of a “very old Book of Shadows” in Gardner’s Museum.
If someone had seen the charter unquestionably signed by Crowley (“Baphomet”) but written by Gerald Gardner, and had gotten a look, as well, at Ye Book, they might well have concluded that Crowley had written both, an honest error, but maybe the source of that long-standing accusation. There is even a notation in the Ripley catalog attributing the manuscript to Crowley on someone’s say-so, but I have no indication Ripley has any other such book. Finally, if the notebook is a source book of any religious system, it is not that of medieval witchcraft, but the 20th century shining sanity of the famous Magus Aleister Crowley and the Thelemic/Gnostic creed of The Book of the Law.
As I sat there I read aloud familiar quotations or paraphrases from published material in the Crowley-Thelemic canon. This is not the “ancient religion of the Wise” but the modern sayings of “the Beast 666” as Crowley was wont to
But, does any of this invalidate Wicca as an expression of human spirituality? It depends on where one is coming from. Certainly, the foundations of Feminist Wicca and the modern cult of the goddess are challenged with the fact that the goddess in question is Nuit, her manifestation the sworn whore, Our Lady Babalon, the Scarlet Woman. Transform what you will shall be the whole of history, but THIS makes what Marx did to Hegel look like slavish devotion.
What Crowley himself said of this kind of witchcraft is not merely instructive, but an affront to the conceits of an era. “The belief in witchcraft,” he observed, “was not all superstition; its psychological roots were sound. Women who are thwarted in their natural instincts turn inevitably to all kinds of malignant mischief, from slander to domestic destruction…”
For those who neither worship nor are disdainful of the man who “made sexuality a god” or, at least, acknowledged it as such, experience must be its own teacher. If Wicca is a sort of errant Minerval encampment of the O.T.O., gone far astray and far afield since the days Crowley gave Gardner a charter he “didn’t use” but seemed to value, and a whole range of rituals and imagery that assault the senses at their most literally fundamental level; if this is true or sort of true Mythos has its place and role, but so, too, does reality.
It is of more than passing interest that the late Jack Parsons, one time (Acting) Master of Agape Lodge O.T.O. in California, began writing extensively of a revival of witchcraft from 1946 on; that is, at about the time of Crowley and Gardner’s acknowledged association. Crowley referred to Dr. Gardner and his O.T.O. encampment in private correspondence almost to the time of his death, and spoke of it with optimism and enthusiasm.
When Lady Harris wrote Karl Germer that she believed Gardner was the head of the O.T.O. in Europe after Crowley’s death, Germer didn’t refute her; he simply indicated he hoped to see Gardner during his US visit, which he did. Furthermore, as alluded to in the previous section, Gardner himself claimed in a letter written shortly after Crowley’s death that he was, in fact, the head of the O.T.O. in Europe.
The letter to Vernon Symonds, sent from Memphis, Tennessee where Gardner was then resident, and dated December 24, 1947, asserts that “… Aleister gave me a charter making me head of the O.T.O. in Europe. Now I want to get any papers about this that Aleister had; he had some typescript Rituals, I know. I have them, too, but I don’t want his to fall into other people’s hands…” I am editing Gardner’s spelling with great kindness. This claim should be viewed with a grain of salt, but Lady Harris and Gardner were both intimate Crowley associates, and this should be kept in mind. The Charter in question referred to by Gardner is probably the one now in my possession. He almost certainly had no other. It is also noteworthy that Gardner, a ranking O.T.O. member, was resident in the US at the same time that both he and Parsons began to discuss “modern witchcraft.” Both had extensive correspondence with Crowley and contact with Germer during this period.
But, does any of this invalidate Wicca as an expression of human spirituality? It depends on where one is coming from.
The question of intent looms large in the background of this inquiry. If I had to guess, I would venture that Gerald Gardner did, in fact, invent Wicca more or less whole cloth, to be a popularized version of the O.T.O. Crowley, and his immediate successor Karl Germer, who also knew Dr. Gardner, likely set “old Gerald” on what they intended to be a Thelemic path, aimed at reestablishing at least a basic O.T.O. encampment in England.
It is also possible, but yet unproved, that, upon expelling Kenneth Grant from the O.T.O. in England, Germer, in the early 1950s, summoned Gardner back to America to interview him as a candidate for leading the British O.T.O. Gardner, it is confirmed, came to America, but by then Wicca, and Dr. Gardner had begun to take their own, watered-down course.
Let me close this section by quoting two interesting tidbits for your consideration.
First consider Doreen Valiente’s observation to me concerning “the Parsons connection.” I quote from her letter above mentioned, one of several she was kind enough to send me in 1986 in connection with my research into this matter.
We must remember that Ms. Valiente was a close associate of Gardner and is
a dedicated and active Wiccan. She, of course, has her own interpretation of these matters.
The other matter of note is the question of the length of Gardner’s association with the O.T.O. and with Crowley personally. My informant Col. Lawrence, tells me that he has in his possession a cigarette case which once belonged to Aleister Crowley. Inside “is a note in Crowley’s hand that says simply: ‘gift of GBG, 1936, A. Crowley’.” (Personal letter, 6 December, 1986.)
The inscription could be a mistake, it could mean 1946, the period of the Charter. It could be a gift to Crowley from the Order GBG (“Great Brotherhood of God”) of Crowley’s alienated student C. F. Russell, but the GBG closed its doors in 1938, and well before this Crowley and Russell had gone their separate ways. But, as Ms. Valiente put it in a letter to me of December 8, 1986:
…I did know about the existence of the O.T.O. Chapter in California at the
time of Crowley’s death, because I believe his ashes were sent over to
them. He was cremated here in Brighton, you know much to the scandal of
the local authorities, who objected to the ‘pagan funeral service.’ If you are
referring to the group of which Jack Parsons was a member (along with
the egregious Mr. L. Ron Hubbard), then there is another curious little
point to which I must draw your attention. I have a remarkable little book
by Jack Parsons called Magick, Gnosticism And The Witchcraft. It is
unfortunately undated, but Parsons died in 1952. The section on witchcraft
is particularly interesting because it looks forward to a revival of
witchcraft as the Old Religion…. I find this very thought provoking. Did
Parsons write this around the time that Crowley was getting together with
Gardner and perhaps communicated with the California group to tell them
about it? Parsons began forecasting the “revival of Witchcraft” in the
notorious “Liber 49—The Book of Babalon” written in 1946. The timing of
the genesis of “The Book of Babalon”—which forecast a ‘revival’ of
witchcraft in covens based on the number eleven (the Thelemic number of
magick) rather than the traditional thirteen, seems to coincide with