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The Father of Modern of Witchcraft,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Meaning of Witchcraft (Paperback)
If you have been trained in a lineaged tradition of Witchcraft, you have probably read this book. If you joined the Craft more than 10 years ago, you have probably read this book. If you don't fall into either of the above categories, or if you simply haven't got round to reading this book, it is time to pick up this reprint by IHO Books. This was only the second public statement of Witch beliefs in the modern English-speaking world.
Over the years I have heard a lot of people dispute Gardner's claims (and claims about Gardner); mostly from people I strongly suspect have never taken the time to actually read this book. While we can never know for sure how much Gardner inherited from his initiators and how much he cobbled together on his won, at least in this book we have his statements first hand.
I first read this book more than a quarter of a century ago. Every time I got a copy into my library, I made the mistake of loaning it out (and losing it). With this reprint, I can now tell my students where they can get their own copies. It belongs in the library of every serious student, if only for the historical value.
One of the things which struck me as I began this book was how little things have changed in four and a half decades - Churchmen still preach against the "devil-worshipping Witches," and if something goes wrong in a locality with a publicly known Witch anywhere in sight, you can be sure who will get the blame for "causing" the misfortune.
Say what you will about Gerald Gardner, he knew human nature. He knew that the public, although curious about Witchcraft, was reluctant to grant it legitimate religious status. It was all a thrill to read about in the Sunday papers near Halloween, but no rational person could possibly believe in it; could they? In his time, there was no one to present the Witches' side of things. Nowadays there are too many people presenting "the Witches'" side of things, and most of them disagree with each other.
In Chapter II ("Witches Memories and Beliefs") the author makes a statement which many of his detractors seem to have missed: "It is just what I think, not what I know, because I do not see how anyone will ever find the first beginnings." [emphasis his] So, although his religious descendant might treat his theories as holy writ, he didn't see it that way. Let us grant him the same consideration we would any other researcher. His beliefs may, or may not, be disproved, but they at least provided a starting point for further inquiries.
It is all too easy to dismiss Gardner's writings and speculations as being his own inventions, but further research has both supported and supplanted them. He is meticulous about reminding his reader that these are his ideas about what may have happened. He should not be held accountable for the actions and beliefs of those who followed him. He, personally, expresses a level of tolerance which could be profitably imitated today.
The only thing which current readers may have a problem with is caused by Gardner's education. He was educated at a time when the ability to read Latin was a given. Consequently he includes some quotations from older works in Latin (and some in French) without providing translations. These instances are few, however, and do not detract from the value of the work.