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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.
Part 2: Gardner's "dyslexia", his "conspirators"
& the reliability of Kelly's texts
Kelly refers to several persons, all of whom claimed to have personal knowledge of Craft groups similar to, but pre-dating Gardner. These persons include Gardner himself, Dafo, and Louis Wilkinson. Kelly dismisses this corroborative testimony by arguing that all of these persons were members of a conspiracy, all engaged in a pattern of deceit to protect the fictitious origins of the Craft. Kelly first introduces this concept on page xv, where, after examining papers alleged to be Gardner's (the Weschcke documents, more on these later), he concludes:
... Gardner was marginally dyslexic. That is, despite his intelligence... he could not spell or punctuate well enough to meet even minimal standards for being published, and his grasp of grammar was shaky at best. In other words, Gardner could not by himself have produced the books published under his name... (emphasis Kelly's)
By claiming that Gardner could neither spell nor write with any competence, Kelly prepares the reader to accept that other persons secretly assisted Gardner in his fabrication. The problem is that Kelly's own book provides ample evidence that Gardner was not dyslexic. On page 77, for example, Kelly quotes Gardner's private magical journal, "Ye Bok of ye Art Magical":
Ever remember the promise of the goddess, "For ecstasy is mine and joy on earth" so let there ever be joy in your heart. Greet people with joy, be glad to see them. If times be hard, think, "It might have been worse. I at least have known the joys of the Sabbath, and I will know them again." Think of the grandeur, beauty, and Poetry of the rites, of the loved ones you meet through them. If you dwell on this inner joy, your health will be better. You must try to banish all fear, for it will really touch you. It may hurt your body, but your soul is beyond it all.
(On page 100, Kelly says that the author of the above passage "could not write even a line of verse".) I have quoted this passage at some length to make a point. True, the text has been archaized a bit, but either Gardner was not dyslexic or Kelly has "cleaned up" the text before publication! If the former, the conspiracy theory starts to unravel. If the latter, then no text in Kelly's book can be trusted. Why doesn't Kelly reproduce some of this "dyslexic" text so that readers of his book can make their own judgement?
Unfortunately, this spectre of unreliable and doctored texts raises its head in other places. On page 67, Kelly presents what he says are Gardner's Sabbat scripts with the following introduction, reproduced in its entirety:
On pp. 271-288 of "Ye Bok of ye Art Magical" are outlines of rituals for the four cross-quarter days. The outlines are terse and cryptic, but they do not differ in any essential way from the later texts of the Sabbat rituals. They can be fleshed out as follows. (emphasis mine)
"Fleshed out" by whom? By what criteria? Which parts have been "fleshed out"? Kelly doesn't tell us. He has only told us that we are not dealing with the original texts; in which case, how can we trust either his reconstruction or his analysis?
On page 54, Kelly presents the earliest versions of the 1st and 2nd degree initiations. He prefaces the texts with:
I have augmented the text for the first two degrees from the full script in High Magic's Aid, pp. 290-303.
Exactly how has he "augmented" them? Which parts are "augmented"? We aren't told. We only know for sure that the text presented to us is not the original text.
Why does Kelly assume that the texts of initiation rituals intended for mass publication, i.e. in High Magic's Aid, are interchangeable or identical with whatever Gardner did in his private workings? Rather, I would assume that there would be at least a few differences. In fact Kelly seems to support this latter view on page 62:
On the other hand, some changes in "Ye Bok of ye Art Magical" -- for example, those about taking the measure -- were not made in High Magic's Aid at all, and yet they appear in later versions of the ritual; so they must have been entered in "Ye Bok of ye Art Magical" after High Magic's Aid had gone to the printer in about 1948.
In other words, Kelly is arguing that, since all of the details of the initiations were not in the published book, they must have been written later. It is much easier to assume that Gardner just held these details back from publication intentionally, not wanting to reveal all of the mysteries to the general public.
It is ironic that Kelly appears to have altered the texts with which he was working, as he takes Gardner to task for this very thing on page 45:
... Gardner never bothered to word things the same way twice; whenever he copied something, he simultaneously rewrote it. But this, of course, is the way that an author treats his own original material; it is not how anyone treats authoritative texts preserved from an earlier generation.
On page 4, Kelly praised the Craft for its flexibility, and on page 5 for its lack of dogma, so where does he get the idea that any text in the Craft is "authoritative"? Just because some later Witches have taken Gardner's words as revealed Gospel doesn't prove that he or his contemporaries thought of traditional material that way. Gardner's actions are completely consistent with a living folk tradition, changing and evolving with each person through which it passes. Kelly even quotes Gardner on page 102 as saying to Doreen Valiente (his initiate and later High Priestess) about the Sabbat scripts, "Well, if you think you can do any better, go ahead", but on page 150 again complains that rewriting "is obviously not how someone treats genuinely old material." This would seem to be a case of Kelly projecting his own experience as a student of Biblical texts, as he tells us on page xiii, onto Gardnerian material.
Returning to the claim of a conspiracy, on page 30 Kelly says:
In September 1939, probably on the 28th, the evening of the full moon, Gerald Gardner, Dorothy Clutterbuck Fordham, Dafo, and others of their occult circle of friends were, I believe, sitting in Dorothy's living room, discussing England's perilous state, now at war with Germany.... Encouraged by the tension of that moment, they decided to try to recreate the "witch cult of Western Europe" described by Margaret Murray. (emphasis mine)
Kelly does not offer a single shred of evidence to support his "belief" that this event occurred, yet this does not stop him from speculating as to the identities of others who joined this alleged group: Dolores North, Louis Wilkinson, George Watson McGregor Reid, J.S.M. Ward, Charles Richard Foster Seymour, Christine Hartley, Mrs. Mabel Besant-Scott, and G.A. Sullivan (Pages 31-33). In the same paragraphs, Kelly calls in Doreen Valiente to support him on this, but the strongest statement she can make is that some of these persons "could" have been members. There is no documentary evidence presented that any of these individuals were, in fact, members of Gerald's coven beyond the fact that it is convenient for Kelly's conspiracy theory for them to be so. Any statements by a "member" that contradict Kelly's views can be discounted as lies to protect the myth, as Kelly argues regarding Wilkinson and Clutterbuck on page 106.
The speculations continue unhindered by a lack of supportive evidence. Only one page later Kelly says:
If we are assuming that the New Forest group was basing itself on Murray's concepts...
Note that the "assumption" that Kelly is acknowledging for the reader's benefit is only in regards to what "the New Forest group" practiced. That such a group existed has advanced from speculation on page 30 to an assumed fact, a "given", on page 34. This easy sliding from speculation into "fact" is present throughout the book. On page 41, Kelly notes that Rhiannon Ryall's coven "must represent a hiving-off from the New Forest coven sometime before the end of World War II". Once again, Kelly has not yet proved that his hypothetical coven of conspirators ever existed, but that does not prevent him from referring to them as established fact.
It is interesting to note, as Kelly does not, that Margaret Murray was aware of Gardner's claims and endorsed them in her preface to Gardner's Witchcraft Today (Gardner, 1954, p.15). Of course, Kelly might point out that Murray could very well have been lying since Gardner's claims supported her theory, but just how far are we expected to stretch the conspiracy?
Hartley's and Seymour's membership in the group is seemingly contradicted by Kelly's observations on page 36:
If the pagan section of the Fraternity of the Inner Light had evolved a pagan system of magic by 1939, Gardner apparently did not know about it.
Well, the pagan section of the Fraternity, led by Hartley and Seymour, had at least started to evolve a pagan system of magic by 1939, as detailed in 20th Century Magic and the Old Religion by Alan Richardson. Richardson reproduces extracts from their magical working journals between July 1937 and February 1939, during which time they shifted their ritual focus from Egyptian to Celtic deities. How can Kelly assert that Seymour and Hartley were dedicated members of Gardner's alleged group and yet Gardner had no inkling of their work with pagan magical energies? If he really wanted to resolve this question, why didn't Kelly simply ask Hartley about it? On page xiii, Kelly states that he began his research in 1970. Christine Hartley did not die until 1985.
British occultist Louis Wilkinson's alleged involvement in the "New Forest group" is addressed on page 38, where Kelly cites Francis King quoting Wilkinson. In response to King's skepticism regarding the existence of Witches, Wilkinson says that "he had himself become friendly with members of a witch-coven operating in New Forest" and goes on to describe their practices (King, p. 177). Kelly observes that:
He [i.e. Wilkinson] is... saying that their intellectual (Masonic) occultism was providing a framework for the spells, charms, and dances of folk magic, precisely what we have already seen is logically necessary in order to "reconstruct" the religion that [Margaret] Murray describes.
Rather than take Wilkinson's account as independent testimony of the existence of a pre-Gardner coven, Kelly argues on page 39 that:
... Wilkinson is almost certainly not an independent witness here. He describes himself as a member of the occult circle of friends around the New Forest coven, and so was probably a member of the coven himself (how else would he know the details of its practices?)
This is nothing but innuendo. I can hear Senator McCarthy saying, "If you associate with Communists you must be a member of a cell yourself!" Kelly presses this argument when Wilkinson describes to King the practice of wearing grease to protect naked bodies from cold weather. Kelly notes:
This information about the grease is not in any other published source -- but the only way Wilkinson could have known about it is if he had been there himself; that is, again, he appears to have been a member of the coven.
Or one of his Witch friends told him about the grease. Or he was a guest at that particular ritual. Or he made that part up. It suits Kelly's purposes to say that Wilkinson is telling the truth about the grease and is lying about membership in the coven, but we are not given any supporting evidence or even criteria to evaluate his statements.
What is at all suspicious about Wilkinson's statements? Wilkinson has said that, as a noted occultist, his Witch friends felt that they could talk to him a little about their practice. He does not claim to know secret passwords or the details of initiation scripts, just a general description of a ritual of national importance: the protection of Britain against Hitler. Even if Wilkinson was invited to participate as a guest in that ceremony, that would still not prove that he was a member of the coven.
What is interesting here is the convenient and judicious bit of editing that Kelly does on King's quote. The last line of Kelly's quote from King on page 38 is as follows:
[He] went on to tell me various interesting details of the practices of these Hampshire witches...
The complete sentence from King (page 178) is as follows:
Louis Wilkinson went on to tell me various interesting details of the practices of these Hampshire witches -- details which, I felt sure, made it certain that the group was not simply derived from the jaded tastes of middle-class intellectuals who adhered to the theories of Margaret Murray.
In other words, King felt that, in his opinion as a knowledgeable and scholarly occultist, Wilkinson's account supported the existence of a pre-Gardner coven; an opinion expressed in a statement almost exactly contradictory to Kelly's conclusion! No wonder Kelly opted not to inform the reader of the complete text of the sentence.
Unfortunately, this is not the only instance where Kelly omits necessary quotes or parts of quotes in order to avoid arguing against his own point, as we shall see later. He does so in the case of "Lugh", once again involving King and Wilkinson.
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