Another post linking to a video. What is the net coming to? 🙂
This time it’s a wonderful recently aired documentary on Gerald Gardner and the development of Wicca featuring my favourite historian, Ronald Hutton. The video is very well made, lots of nice images and lovely people being interviewed. Professor Hutton obviously had a good time making it. Overall, a jolly good show, wot? 🙂
However, there were a few points that made me scratch me noggin’. Especially since this is coming from the pre-eminent historian on modern Wicca. Since I am, at least in part, an annoying swot-know-it-all, I can’t keep mum on these… so here they are 🙂
9:41 Hutton, when referring to Gardner’s putative initiation in September 1939, says: “From that night until his death, nearly 30 years later, Gerald Gardner devoted his life to Witchcraft.” Er … maybe. There is no evidence Gardner did very much at all on the Wiccan front until ten years later in 1949, or at least after his meeting with Crowley in 1947 (1). I think we can say this from the early 50’s for sure, , but not before 🙂
12:43 Hutton talks about a ‘large group of Freemasons based nearby’ Highcliffe. Pedantic, I know but they were Co-Masons (2). Still, I suppose ‘Freemason’ could have been used in a generic sense for the Channel 4 audience? 🙂
13:45 This is the one that really made me splutter. Hutton says, “In Britain there is a long tradition of useful Witchcraft dating back to the Middle Ages. Known as the cunning folk these Witches would cast spells to heal the sick or bring good luck”.
Ye gods and little fishes! Where did this come from? Hutton, Owen Davies (and others) have been very clear in the past – cunning folk were mostly religiously (heterodox) Christian (3). They fought against bewitchment and it seems most would have been appalled to be called witches. Hutton himself describes cunning craft as the ‘least relevant’ of the influences on Wicca he examined (4). But there’s more – Hutton goes on to say, “Research has shown that Gerald essentially used these spells in his own new Forest rituals”. What? The bases for the Wiccan rituals have been shown to be mostly Crowley and a few other key sources, none of them spells from traditional cunning folk. Weird.
22:05 Hutton says that in 1951, at the time of the repeal of the Witchcraft Act, Wicca was developing into ‘a fully fledged religious system’. Yes, well it all depends on your view I guess. Some folk think Wicca only really began the previous year with the initiation of Barbara Vickers by Gardner – his first initiation. In 1951 it was, as far as I can make out, still all pretty nascent. (5)
25:45 When discussing how Gardner created his new religion of Wicca, Hutton says, “He [Gardner] borrowed heavily from both English folklore Witchcraft and modern shamanic magic for his spells and rituals.” If by “English folklore Witchcraft” he means what was found in Margaret Murray and a few others sources, yes, but not from any ‘witches’ themselves. And what, in 1950s England, was “modern shamanic magic”? The shaman craze was 30 years away, unless for some reason Hutton is using this term to refer to ceremonial magic like the OTO and the GD. But that is pretty strange considering arguments in his excellent Shamans – Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination (6).
So, yes, a good little doco, but one that reinforces some half truths still believed by the modern Wiccan and Pagan communities. Thanks 🙂
(2) Heselton, Philip, Witchfather: A Life of Gerald Gardner. Vol 1: Into the Witch Cult. (Loughborough, Leicestershire: Thoth Publications. 2012) and Heselton, Philip, Witchfather: A Life of Gerald Gardner. Vol 2: From Witch Cult to Wicca. (Loughborough, Leicestershire: Thoth Publications. 2012).
(3) Davies, Owen (2007). Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History. Hambledon Continuum.
(4) Hutton, Ronald (1999),The Triumph of the Moon (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1999), chapter 5.
(5) Clifton, Chas, Mouse’s Way: Philip Heselton’s Biographies of Gerald Gardner. http://blog.chasclifton.com/?p=5032