Wiccan Roots – Gerald Gardner and the Modern Witchcraft Revival by Philip Heselt

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    Wiccan Roots – Gerald Gardner and the Modern Witchcraft Revival by Philip Heselton  © 2000   Capall Bann    ISBN 186163110-3     338 pages   paperback  $26.35 (U.S.) (Approximately)            L14.95

    This book by Philip Heselton offers an intriguing, behind the scenes look at the background of Gerald Gardner’s involvement in the “outing” of Witchcraft in England.  It is somewhat biographic (although not as much as Gerald Gardner: Witch by Jack Bracelin), and somewhat a study of the state of the magickal art in Britain during the first half of the 20th Centur7y.  It is eminently readable, more than a little entertaining, and based on a lot of primary research, which is often a tough combination to bring off.

    Although this is a book about Witchcraft, it is not a Witchcraft book.  You won’t find rituals here, nor will you find “Craft secrets”.  What you will find is a thoughtful, well-researched look into the lives and times of those who were instrumental in the experiences which led Gerald Gardner to the path which later became known as Gardnerian Witchcraft.

    I have no doubt that this work will not sit well with those revisionists who insist that Gardner created Wicca whole cloth.  I have been told in no uncertain terms that “Wicca is the religion invented by Gerald Gardner.  Witchcraft is old folk magic,” and “Of course you can be a member of another religion and a witch, witchcraft isn’t a religion.”

    While some people might believe the above statements Mr. Heselton demonstrates, convincingly to me, that there was a pre-existing group of Witches whom Gardner encountered and into which he was adopted.  Remembering the times and culture, it would have been very unusual for them to have self-identified as Witches (especially as such was still illegal in Britain).  Even decades later, the term “Witch” was fraught with danger (friends of mine regularly had their windows shattered as late as the 1980s), while “Wiccan” generally got a blank stare and a “What’s that?” response.

    Mr. Heselton is careful to differentiate what he has found in primary sources (birth and death records, local newspapers, etc.) from that which has appeared second- or even third-hand (writings by those other than the participants).  He is also quite happy to admit that some areas need much further research which may, ultimately, prove some of his conclusions wrong.

    Even if you are not a Gardnerian Witch, perhaps especially if you are not a Gardnerian Witch, this book is a valuable addition to the history of Wicca and needs not only to be in your library but to be read.  While the author’s primary purpose is to present the historical background to Gardner’s involvement in Wicca, he succeeds in the secondary purpose of making the information enjoyable to read

    He lays out a number of interesting avenues for further examination.  I, for one, hope that many of them are taken up by future researchers (and soon, too), so that this information may be recovered before they are lost for all time.


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