A few years ago, I organized an event where Philip Heselton gave a talk based on his excellent multi-volume biography of Gerald Gardner. He was looking for a title and said that the talk was about the murkier aspects of Gardner’s life. I suggested calling it “He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy” which I’m sure you will recognize as a line from The Life of Brian by Monty Python. So that was the title of the talk.
Philip’s biography goes into full detail about all the stuff that Gardner got up to. Nothing that would make you unfriend him on social media, but let’s just say he was not perfect (none of us are).
I’ve just watched a reel from Georgina Rose (daatdarling) on Instagram, which says that there’s currently a debate between Thelemites and post-Thelemites. The Thelemites are asking “why are you moving away from Crowley’s ideas”, and the post-Thelemites are asking why the Thelemites are so obsessed with Crowley. All rather ironic considering that Crowley didn’t want Thelema to be Crowleyanity.
I’m very thankful that Gerald Gardner is not seen as the Wiccan messiah, and I hope it stays that way. We are now moving out of the era when it’s possible to meet and chat with people who actually knew Gardner. I have met four people who knew Gardner well, and one who met him in passing. Only two of those people are still with us, and one is the person who met Gardner briefly.
It’s possible to acknowledge the founder’s ideas without being entirely devoted to them.
I imagine that Thelema has already gone beyond the point where you’re able to chat with people who knew Crowley personally, since Crowley died in 1947. And I think that we are all aware that Aleister Crowley may have been very important to the magical world in many ways, but he was not the messiah either, and was definitely a very naughty boy. He hurt a lot of people.
So it’s important to maintain the view that whilst they did important groundbreaking work, they aren’t the sole source of these traditions, and the traditions should reflect that.
It makes you wonder if the generation of people who knew Yeshua ha-Notsri looked at the upcoming generations of Christians and shook their heads. At least, the ones who hadn’t contributed to the “son of God” mythology.
In our own day, thankfully, we have written records of the lives of the people who founded Wicca and Thelema. There are still some aspects of the founding of Wicca that are conjectural (who exactly was in the coven that Gerald joined, and what exactly were they practising?) But the foundation of Wicca is on the concept of witchcraft, and not on the life and person of Gerald Gardner. The foundation of Thelema is on the idea of a magical order (like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or the IoT), not on the life and person of Aleister Crowley. That is one of the reasons why both movements have survived long past the lifetime of their founders. It’s now 74 years (three generations) since Crowley died, and 58 years (two generations) since Gardner died.
So I think it’s good to focus on what these traditions are about. The lives of the founding people are very interesting and we shouldn’t forget them. We should honour them, because they were the pioneers who laid the groundwork for where we are now; but traditions evolve and change, so we shouldn’t adhere rigidly to the founders’ ideas, either.