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Crafting The Art Of Magic:
A Critical Review
By D. Hudson Frew (Morgann)
Copyright 1991 by D. Hudson Frew.
Used by permission of the author.
Doreen Valiente, probably the closest living source to Gerald Gardner and any "pre-1939" coven, maintains her belief that there was such a coven. She points to the testimony of Louis Wilkinson, Dafo, and her own research on Dorothy Clutterbuck as supporting evidence. She could also point to the supporting testimony of Lugh and Margaret Murray. Kelly criticizes this belief on page 107, saying that these points "do not prove the existence of anything before 1939". True, but neither do they disprove it! Kelly continues to criticize Valiente's belief, saying that "like the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, it does not qualify as historical fact". Also true, but there are degrees of likelihood involved here. All the information and evidence presented by Kelly is consistent with the theory that Gerald Gardner did make contact with a pre-1939 coven; a coven preserving material from the folk tradition, including material from the grimoires, which Gardner reshaped using his knowledge of Masonry and Rosicrucianism into the Witchcraft that we know today. If Kelly is unable to distinguish between such a plausible chain of events and such an unprecedented supernatural occurrence as the Resurrection, no wonder he has had the trouble analyzing data that has been demonstrated above.
That Gerald Gardner was initiated in 1939 into a pre-existing coven preserving fragmentary knowledge of a genuine folk tradition has been neither proven nor disproven. It is possible that this claim cannot be either proven or disproven, but I believe that the preponderance of evidence favors the former.
Kelly dismisses the corroborative testimony of persons in a position to know the truth or falsity of Gardner's claims by claiming that they conspired to protect the fictitious origins of modern Witchcraft. Kelly would have us believe that this conspiracy of deceit included:
- Gerald Brosseau Gardner
- Dorothy Clutterbuck Fordham
- Louis Wilkinson
- Dolores North
- George Watson McGregor Reid
- J.S.M. Ward
- Charles Richard Foster Seymour
- Christine Hartley
- Mrs. Mabel Besant-Scott
- G.A. Sullivan
and presumably, since she endorsed Gardner,
None of these individuals ever publicly denied or questioned Gardner's claims regarding the origins of modern Craft. None of them ever told any witness "Yes, we made it all up." Is it really credible to assert that such a conspiracy of deceit and misdirection could have stayed secure and unbroken for these past fifty some years without at least one person confessing the "truth"?
As I stated at the start of this article, Crafting the Art of Magic does have its good points. Kelly's are some of the most eloquent defenses of the Craft as a contemporary religion that I have read. I wish that they were available in pamphlet form to distribute. The collection of historical texts presented, such as can be considered reliable, will delight the scholarly appetites of many a Gardnerian, or indeed Witch of any tradition. It is also quite satisfying to see the Wiccan book market move beyond the plethora of "Introduction to Witchcraft" titles that have filled the shelves. Kelly's book, along with Luhrman's Persuasions of the Witch's Craft, represent the first steps towards a more profound and academically sound approach to Craft scholarship (albeit with varying success), and as such are refreshing and long overdue. I can only hope that, as with most fledgling disciplines, it will improve over time.
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