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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.

Folk tradition in the Gardnerian circle

Throughout this book, Kelly denies the existence of any pre-Gardnerian Witch group, yet he constantly makes reference to the presence of folk tradition in Gardnerian material:

We therefore see... a situation in which Judaeo-Christian magic... provides a framework, a circle, within which non-Christian folk magic can be worked (page 51).

Kelly assumes that the "magic circle" is a "Judaeo-Christian" innovation which Gardner grafted onto his practice. This is not supported by the evidence. Dr. G. Storms, in Anglo-Saxon Magic, demonstrated that the "magic circle", most likely especially when drawn by an iron knife (e.g. an athame?), is an established part of English folk magic (Storms, 1948, pp. 76-78, 217, 221, and 309). However, the words employed when doing so have not survived. That Gardner or someone else borrowed casting words from a popular grimoire does not mean that they got the concept of casting a circle from that source.
 We also have to ask the question... what "non-Christian folk magic"? If there was no earlier group, where did this folk material come from? Liturgical texts could have come from such collections as the Carmina Gaedelica, which have been available since 1900, but the collections that I have had to track down to find descriptions of practices resembling Gardner's were collected and published well after 1939.
 On page 94, Kelly reports that:

In the September 27, 1952, issue of the English popular magazine Illustrated appeared an article entitled "Witchcraft in Britain" by Allen Andrews. The article quoted at length the remarks of Cecil Williamson, who had opened a witchcraft museum on the Isle of Man in 1951. Williamson described various practices of the "Old Religion of the witches," mentioned the New Forest as being the meeting place of the "Southern Coven of British Witches," and revealed how, on the night of 1 August 1940, the Sabbat of Lammas, seventeen men and women had gathered in New Forest...

Kelly goes on to say on page 101, that:

Doreen [Valiente] says that other witches were quoted in the 1952 Illustrated article as saying that their rituals were based on "instructions handed down from the elders, eked out with the Clavicules of Solomon", and argues that therefore "Gerald Gardner did not introduce this practice of blending witchcraft with ceremonial magic." However, all the witches known to Williamson seem to have been members of the one and only coven that we know was then in existence, the Southern Coven, and their description of the rituals exactly fits those in Gardner's Book of Shadows at that time; so there is no independent evidence here. (emphasis mine)

Neither is there evidence against Gardner's claims! Note how Kelly glosses over the fact that these only "seem" to be the same group as Gardner's. Note also how the "coven" hypothesized back on page 30 is now one that we "know" existed. The information above does not argue against the existence of a "pre-1939" coven, rather, it is completely consistent with one.
 It is important to note that the Witches in the Illustrated article referred to the "Clavicules of Solomon". Kelly claims, on page 38, that Gardner wrote the Book of Shadows using the Mathers edition of the Greater Key of Solomon, as found in Gardner's library. The bibliography of Gardner's The Meaning of Witchcraft (page 287) lists several works by Mathers, but not this one. This bibliography does, however, make reference to "KEY OF SOLOMON, THE. Also known as the Clavicule of Solomon." Both Gardner and the Witches of the Illustrated article refer to this legendary grimoire by its folk title "Clavicule of Solomon", and not by the title of the Mathers edition, the Key of Solomon the King, nor by its correct Latin title, Clavicula Salomonis, given in Mathers. If Gardner had owned a copy of this book when he was writing The Meaning of Witchcraft, wouldn't he have gotten the title right? And if he owned it and was willing to list it in his bibliography, wouldn't he have ascribed it correctly to Mathers?
 I think that it is far more likely that Gerald Gardner acquired a copy of the Mathers edition in much the same way I did. Being a practitioner of ritual magic, I recognized some of the materials I received with my Gardnerian initiation as being the same as in the Key of Solomon. Some time later, I needed some magical symbols for a piece of paper on which I was going to write a magical text. There were none in my Book of Shadows, "but", I thought to myself, "since several of these symbols are similar to those in the Key of Solomon, why don't I just use the parchment symbols from that book?" I did, and those symbols are now in my Book of Shadows. I suspect that once Gardner discovered that some of the material he received was in the Key of Solomon, he too went and got a copy to use to fill in gaps in the traditional texts. Gardner himself seems to have admitted almost as much to Valiente, as Kelly reports on page 101:

... [he told her] that the rituals he had received from the old coven were very fragmentary, and that in order to make them workable, he had to supplement them with other material.

Gardner himself probably never realized how much of the traditional material contained references to other grimoires besides the Key of Solomon. As we shall see below, neither did Kelly.
 Well, if the grimoire material didn't all come into the Craft through Gardner, as Kelly alleges, how did it enter? I noted earlier just how common it is to find such material in folk magical practice. We do have in the Gardnerian "history" identifiable figures who could have done much of this mixing and matching: George Pickingill, Cunning Murrell, and/or others like them. I cannot prove that Pickingill or Murrell owned a copy of the Key of Solomon (although Maple, 1964 p. 170, does describe a book owned by Murrell that sounds a lot like a Key), nor can I prove that Gardner's folk material traces to them, but several interesting connections can be traced that seem to lead to Gardner.
 James Murrell, or "Cunning" Murrell, was a folk magician/sorcerer who lived and worked magic in Hadleigh, Essex between 1780 and 1860. His life and exploits have been described and documented by Eric Maple (Maple, March 1960). Ralph Merrifield, on page 178 of The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic, notes that Murrell was said to possess "a great chest of magic books and papers". On the same page, Merrifield reports that Murrell had pronounced that "there would be `witches in Leigh for a hundred years; nine in Canewdon; and three in Hadleigh forever'". As Maple explains elsewhere:

The Master of the Canewdon witches was always said to be a wizard. Cunning Murrell of Hadleigh was supposed to have been a Master of Witches, but George Pickingale was the last and perhaps the greatest of the wizards. (Maple, December 1960)

Maple reports that "Pickingale [or Pickingill] died in 1909 at the age of ninety-three." Additionally, Canewdon is less than 10 miles from Hadleigh. Therefore, when Murrell died Pickingill would have been forty-four. So here we have 2 "wizards", contemporaneous and proximate to each other, each a leader of Witches, and by the admission of Murrell not only connected, but seemingly representative of a common folk tradition! While the stories of Pickingill's life do not mention any books, he would likely have had access to Murrell's copies. Maple says that Pickingill "was visited by people from great distances". Might not some of these have been precursors to Gardner? Maple also notes that although there are no more wizards in Canewdon, "the last of the tradition lingered on until 1930", well within the grasp of members of a pre-1939 coven.
 Mind you, this hypothesis is not proven, but it is an alternative to the picture painted by Kelly and is not in any way refuted by the evidence presented.
 Kelly will no doubt be quick to point out that the only connections between Gardner and Pickingill are the claims of one "Lugh", who cannot be considered reliable. Kelly addresses the question of Lugh's claims and his reliability in pages 171 to 178.
 The only solid argument that Kelly can muster against Lugh's credibility (that isn't based solely on the by-now-familiar one of "Text A and Text B are the same, so A copied it from B") is that Lugh makes the statement:

The Pickingill covens have commemorated a cardinal tenet of the Old Religion. All our rites are conducted in toto by a woman. This derives from the Scandinavian and French models. (Lugh, 1982, p. 10)

This contradicts Gardner, says Kelly, because "as we saw in Section 5.1, before 1957, the dominant figure in Gardner's coven had been the High Priest" (page 174).
 There are several problems with this. First, the earlier references in "Ye Bok of ye Art Magical" are to Gardner working alone as a ceremonial magician, then references to making use of a Witch "if you have one" creep in, until by the end the "Bok" has become Gardner's first Book of Shadows (Wolfe, 1991). The "dominance" of the High Priest could easily reflect Gardner's own evolving practice as he gradually worked more closely with pre-existant (i.e. pre-1939) Witches, rather than traditional practice.
 Once again, Kelly omits important parts of Lugh's statements that clarify matters:

It is axiomatic that English covens have always been led by men. Indeed, the Magister, or Master, has always admitted candidates of both sexes (Lugh, 1982, p. 11).

In other words, Lugh agrees that the High Priest was always the dominant figure in English covens, but that Pickingill introduced the concept of Priestess-led groups based on Scandinavian and French tradition.
 Kelly and others have shown that Lugh has little grasp of historical and anthropological theory and that he has a tendency to repeat gossip, but it has not yet been demonstrated that he is unreliable on matters of historical events within his experience. It is entirely possible that Gardner worked in a Priest-dominant framework until he was fully assimilated into whatever tradition may have been passed down to him, only later accepting the idea of Priestess-led groups.
 Kelly also attacks Lugh on the basis of Lugh's assertion that Aleister Crowley was a member of a Pickingill coven as a young man (thus providing a possible alternative explanation for the presence of similar texts in both Crowley's and Gardner's writings). Kelly dismisses this claim on page 173, saying:

It seems to me that this story about Pickingill and Crowley is an extrapolation on a paragraph in Chapter 4 of Witchcraft Today...

Once again, corroborative testimony becomes, in Kelly's view, an ever-widening conspiracy of deceit. Kelly says as much on the same page:

However, I think "Lugh" was purposely creating a phony history in order to throw researchers off the trail.

Kelly's conspiracy has now extended sixteen years beyond Gardner's death in 1964 to Lugh's alleged lies in 1980. Kelly's observations regarding this conspiracy are expounded in great detail, but first, let's return to this claim about Crowley. Kelly states on page 174 that:

I assume that Gardner simply made up the claim that Crowley had been a witch when young. There is no corroboration of this anywhere in Crowley's writings...

Maybe not, but there is corroboration that Crowley was at least in contact with such a group in the conversation between Francis King and Louis Wilkinson quoted by Kelly back on page 38. Part of that conversation, in fact the first half of the quote so carefully excerpted by Kelly on page 38 (the part that Kelly did not there and does not here tell the reader about), runs as follows:

... [Wilkinson] said that Crowley had told him that, as a young man, he had been offered initiation into the witch-cult, but had refused it as he "didn't want to be bossed around by women".... I politely asked him if he considered it possible that Crowley had been indulging in a gentle leg-pull, to which he replied that, while Crowley was apt to indulge in such jokes, in this case he was telling the truth; for in the late 'thirties or early 'forties, he had himself become friendly... [the rest of the quote as given by Kelly on page 38] ...I have since heard from two independent sources that Crowley had made this claim to them. (King, 1970, p.177)

So, as it turns out, there seem to be at least four persons, possibly five, who all claim that Crowley was in contact with Witches as a "young man", i.e. before his involvement in the Golden Dawn and O.T.O. Crowley could well have brought (probably oral) folk material gleaned from these Witches into his later ceremonial practice, providing yet another possible alternative explanation for the similarities in his and Gardner's texts. It looks like Lugh's claims are not as outrageous as Kelly would have us think; either that or the conspiracy is starting to embrace a sizable percentage of the British occult community. This is yet another example of Kelly's selective use of partial quotations in order to mislead the reader and change the sense of the quotation.
 Why, then, does Kelly rule out the possibility of a Gardner/Crowley/Pickingill connection? Kelly tells us on page 176:

It merely complicates life to suppose that Gardner had gotten the Masonic, Golden Dawn, magical, etc., raw material that he worked with at second hand, via these supposed Pickingill covens, rather than directly from the available sources.

Kelly seems to be saying that any further research would be too hard and would threaten his thesis, so he'll just stop here. This is not scholarship! A viable line of inquiry and research cannot be ruled out solely because it is "complicated".



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