Donna Gardner a Wiccan? Unlikely.

In the current issue of The Cauldron, a writer known only as “Tof” tells us that Donna Gardner, wife of Gerald, chief founder of Wicca, was lying when she said that she was not involved in the Craft.

First, though, Tof tells us, “In all this [biographical summary] there is not evidence of Donna Gardner’s involvement, even occasionally, in the witchcraft practised by her husband.”

And then s/he proceeds to “find” some. Examples:

1.  Donna was supposed to have been photographed “in witch vestments and posing with a ceremonial sword in her hand.”

But we all know that that Gerald Gardner’s idea of “witch vestments” for women consisted of a necklace and nothing else.

Thanks to Philip Heselton’s legwork, we know that Gardner was involved in other esoteric and magical groups in the 1940s before the founding of Wicca circa 1950. Could not these vestments pertain to one of them?

2. Donna apparently “knew some details of Wica [Gardner’s spelling] rituals at a time when they were known only to insiders.” But the time period is not given, and there is no source for this statement—it is just asserted.

3. There is allegedly a high priestess’s symbol on her gravestone. That is interesting, if true, but no photographic proof is offered.

Sloppy speculation like this article is just one more reason why I wish that someone would write a critical biography of Gardner—I would love to see it in Equinox’s Pagan Studies series, which I co-edit.

Aidan Kelly, who started the biographical ball rolling back in 1991 with Crafting the Art of Magic, assumed that Gardner and Edith Woodford-Grimes (“Dafo”) were lovers and that she was, at least for a time, the first high priestess of Wicca in the early 1950s. (I have some concerns with the Wikipedia entry, but at least it has her photo.)

She certainly seemed to be on the scene much more than Donna did. And new religious movements often start under messy circumstances that later followers try to clean up and sanitize.

4 thoughts on “Donna Gardner a Wiccan? Unlikely.

  1. Pitch313

    On one hand, it’s very interesting to find out whether Donna Gardner was involved in/during the formation of “Wica” as we know it. On the other, it probably doesn’t matter all that much. Several other women were. Doctrine required a priest and a priestess. Proto-paparazzi snapped pics of some.

    Honestly, I sometimes imagine the founders of the post-WWII Neo-Pagan movement as presenting themselves as did various of the staff and artists of MAD Magazine. You just could not tell by looking at them how wacky they really were. You only found stuff like that out in more congenial and risky circumstances.

    Critical biography of Gerald? A contribution Pagan scholarship does need!

  2. I had a hard time getting to that page, although the URL is correct. I had to navigate from the site’s home page.

    At any rate, the symbol is indeed there. Whether she asked for it or not is the next question.

  3. Robert Mathiesen

    Pretty clearly the stone was put up after Gerald’s death in 1964. By whom I don’t know.

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