The Great Wicca Hoax II: Attack of the Crones
By Adrian Bott
Originally published at Lughnasa 2002
I was not in the least surprised to see the wave of controversy which 'The Great Wicca Hoax' provoked. As our esteemed editrix has pointed out, part of our intention was to give the wasp's nest a good hard whack and see what came out. However, this was not done with the sole intention to stir up discord (well, not by me, anyway - I cannot speak for her what runs the show!) but was also intended to tackle issues at the very root of the Wicca/Trad debate.
It seems there are two kinds of negative reaction to an article like mine. One is the kind that would question one's very right to query the origins of Wicca. The other is that which at least tries to challenge one's findings by presenting contradictory evidence.
Concerning the first kind, I have no sympathy at all with those who think Gardner's lies should go unexposed just because he founded a religion to which many thousands of people now belong. Do such people think that the life of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, should likewise be free from inquiry? How about the corrupt televangelists in America or the paedophile priests who are causing such uproar in the Catholic church? Should we turn a blind eye to these just because some people need to believe in them? Perhaps the Turin Shroud should never have been subjected to scientific tests, just in case people were upset when they discovered it did not date from the time of Jesus after all?
Turning to the second camp, I am dismayed to find Michael Howard apparently attempting to criticise a completely different thesis to that which I was presenting. In the last issue of White Dragon, he wastes many column inches explaining how ridiculous it is that Wicca should have been created as a 'cover-up' for Gardner and Dafo's illicit affair. It would, he says, have been like covering up shoplifting by committing murder. Philip Heselton (whose good opinion, it seems, is being pursued by both sides in the debate like a sort of academic Golden Snitch) is cited as a disbeliever in the theory of the Cover-Up.
If I may crave my readers' patience for a few moments to sort this out altogether: Mr. Howard has dreamed up this notion of a 'cover-up theory' completely out of his own head. Although I did (and do) maintain that Gardner's 'Wicca' creation was engineered in the context of an illicit affair, I have never stated that it was ever intended as a cover-up. Those words are Mr. Howard's own, not mine. To mention only one glaringly obvious point, Wicca was secret. How, then, Mr. Howard can imagine anyone being so daft as to suggest that a secret organization was created to cover up secret activity is beyond me.
So, for the benefit of Mr. Howard and any other readers who might have gotten the wrong end of the besom, here is the 'Gardner/Dafo affair' theory once again. Wicca was originally created not as a cover-up but as a sanction of an extramarital liaison and a perpetuation and expansion of the past-life fantasy in which its principals were involved. Its origins lie in the myths which Gardner and Dafo spun around themselves and their trans-incarnational love affair. They were what inspired it. It is that relationship and not any genuine inherited pagan tradition which forms the basis of Wicca. Dafo believed that she derived her authority as a 'witch' from a previous incarnation, not from a surviving group of witches which had initiated and taught her in the real world.
The point of this theory is that it explains not only how but why Gardner created Wicca in the first place without having to draw upon the unsubstantiated, romantic and increasingly discredited myth of a hereditary witchcraft tradition.
Mr. Howard begs to inform us that Gardner apparently had no need to keep any extramarital affair secret from his wife, who was, according to anecdote, quite happy with his activities so long as she was not called upon to participate. In response, I beg to inform Mr. Howard that the issue is not one of secrecy but one of morality. One does not keep an affair secret by prancing about in the buff in someone's living room, waving a sword about. However, two people engaged in illicit sexual activity can allay their consciences and provide a justification for their actions if they believe that what they are up to is sanctioned by the Gods and by their previous incarnations. I'm not saying that was how it was all the way through, I'm suggesting that that was how it began. To cite Gardner one more time: 'Witches... are people who want release from this world into a world of fantasy. To certain kinds of person the relief gained has been of enormous benefit and these occasional nights of release are something to live for.'
I am also in the happy position of being able to reveal yet another Gardner-related deception which, had it been exposed much earlier, would have nipped the whole absurd notion of Crowley having been involved with witchcraft right in the bud. The earliest reference to this which I can find is in J.L. Bracelin's 'Gerald Gardner: Witch', the relevant passage being as follows:
'At Oxford, Crowley said, he had been on the edge of witchcraft. Why had he not followed the way of the witches? Because "he refused to be bossed about by any damned woman"... His feeling about witchcraft as Gardner described it to him was "You don't pay to belong - how is that possible?"'
These words, attributed to Crowley, are a fabrication and one indisputable historical fact proves it. Crowley's own magical organization, the A.'.A.'., was not a fee-paying body. (The O.T.O., which Bracelin incorrectly states was created by Crowley, was a fee-paying body because it was social, worldly and organized along Masonic lines. The O.T.O. and the A.'.A.'. are separate and distinct.)
So, Crowley knew perfectly well how one could have an order in which one did not have to pay. But wait! It gets better. Not only did one not pay to belong to Crowley's own magical organization, one was forbidden from accepting money in exchange for anything to do with the Order at all:
"Members of the A.·. A.·. of whatever grade are not bound or expected or even encouraged to work on any stated lines, or with any special object, save as has been above set forth. There is however an absolute prohibition to accept money or other material reward, directly or indirectly, in respect of any service connected with the Order, for personal profit or advantage. The penalty is immediate expulsion, with no possibility of reinstatement on any terms soever." - One Star In Sight
We therefore cannot accept this image of a bewildered Crowley wondering how witches can be members of a group without paying to belong. In fact, the picture painted of him here amounts to a deliberate insult. It implies that Crowley was not only piggishly opposed to female authority (he wasn't) but that he was so unimaginative and dense as to be baffled by the concept of an organization whose members did not fork out their cash to some top bod. Bracelin does state that in Gardner's opinion, Crowley was only interested in the occult to chase women and gull money out of people. While it is true that Crowley was very keen on women and borrowing money, he never made his magick into a scam, as the above shows.
Gardner's alleged quotations from Crowley as reported by Bracelin are thus shown to be spurious. The whole section regarding Crowley is nothing but a nasty piece of propaganda designed to portray Wicca as genuine and Crowley as the charlatan; and very effective it was, too. I have often heard Wiccans speak of Crowley in terms identical to those presented by Gardner, while having no acquaintance with his work or any understanding of the real origins of their Third Degree.
Why did Gardner try to present Crowley as a charlatan? It's not necessary to look very far to answer that. We have already seen how Gardner plagiarised Crowley's rituals and presented them as the inherited ceremonies of the witchcraft tradition. This, then, was a hypocritical attempt on Gardner's part to cover up (insert ironic smile here) the real source of his material.
Since the presence of Crowley's material in Gardner's rituals is indisputable, certain persons with quite staggering powers of creative imagination have tried - and still are trying! - to argue backwards and claim that Crowley must therefore have pinched his material from an earlier witch coven. The most frequent culprit is one E.W. Liddell, whose claims have for many years been published by The Cauldron, a magazine which many readers will know is edited by Mr. Mike Howard. I think it is fair to say that the Cauldron has become something of a bastion for those who believe in 'hereditary Craft' and claim to be participants in witchcraft traditions which predate Gardner.
Here is an excerpt from one of Mr. Liddell's articles, which shows the kind of distortion of facts of which he is capable. It is taken from 'Old George Pickingill, the OTO and the Golden Dawn'.
"You may not be aware that Crowley drew heavily from [George] Pickingill's magical rituals when compiling his own OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis) rituals. They speak of a volume of sacred lore, a magic dagger, quarters etc. A dagger is immersed in a sacred chalice as a 'substitute for the Great Rite'."
The trouble with making up your own history for something, in this case the OTO rituals of Crowley, is that sooner or later someone will come along who knows a lot more about the subject than you do and will point out exactly where you have been creative with the facts. In Mr. Liddell's case, there are a great many people who know more about the history of Crowley's rituals than he does and therefore view his attempts at deception with amusement and irritation. Frankly, it would be a lot less annoying if Mr. Liddell were not taken seriously in some quarters and presented as an authority on the 'pre-Gardnerian Craft'. Perhaps the situation would be different if division had not been sown so many years ago between admirers of Crowley and admirers of Gardner; but we have Gardner to blame for that.
As Mr. Liddell would have known if he had had access to a little more of the source material, such as he could have purchased off the shelf at Waterstones in the form of such a book as 'OTO Rituals and Sex Magic', there are plenty of earlier drafts of Crowley's OTO rituals available in which their evolution can be clearly tracked, beginning with the early and purely Masonic drafts. Moreover, Liddell's article contains some real howlers, which I am pleased to correct below:
1) 'Volume of sacred lore', or VSL, is a Masonic term, and Crowley's original OTO Degrees were entirely Masonic in their symbolism and style. It was only when trouble arose with the United Grand Lodge of England that Crowley discarded the Masonic elements, and rewrote the degrees setting them instead in an Oasis and basing the symbolism on Saladin and the Templars.
2) In OTO ritual, the dagger is used in the place of the Masonic compasses, and is both applied to the breast of the Candidate and placed across the open book, exactly as in Masonry. It is not considered to be phallic - the candlestick of Saladin takes that role.
3) At no point in any of Crowley's rituals, OTO or otherwise, is a dagger immersed in a chalice, and the words 'substitute for the Great Rite' are nowhere found. Nor, for that matter, are the words 'the Great Rite'! Mr. Liddell is confusing his source texts again. In the Sixth Degree (Knight Kadosch) of OTO, a Lance is dipped in a Grail. This alludes to the story of Parsival, which Crowley was greatly influenced by, and is also a prelude to the sex-magical doctrines of later Degrees. Similarly, a Lance is dipped into a Grail in Crowley's Gnostic Mass, which (as has already been pointed out ad nauseam) is the source for a fair chunk of Gardner's material.
4) The Quarters are not mentioned at any point in any OTO ritual. The closest any OTO ritual comes to including anything like the quarters is in the Second Degree, when the Candidate is circumnambulated as the Prayers of the Elementals (Levi) are recited. There is also the completely Masonic stationing of the Officers according to compass direction in Crowley's first version of the First Degree ceremony.
People do get very confused about the OTO. For some reason, people are shocked when one speaks with authority about it, presumably believing it to be oh so very arcane, and preferring instead to cite the likes of Francis King, whose understanding was incomplete, largely because he didn't have access to all the material. In truth, there is very little mystery left to it, and all the relevant material has now been available for some years. It is true that there has never been a thorough and detailed exposition of it, but current work in progress should go some way towards filling this gap.
Since there is no doubt at all as to the provenance, composition and evolution of Crowley's OTO rituals, the reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions as to the value of Mr. Liddell's statements concerning the derivation of OTO material from George Pickingill. Since Mr. Liddell's writings have been inflicted upon the world largely through the pages of The Cauldron, the reader is also invited to consider the irony of Mr. Howard's words in this very magazine in referring to myself:
"I shall now crawl back into the woodwork from whence I came until the next time somebody tries to pull the wool over our collective eyes in such a blatant and misinformed way."
Now, I do not mind an allegation that I am misinformed, since such allegations are easily substantiated if the material exists to substantiate them, following which correction can take place. So far, despite his allegations, Mr. Howard has not been able to present anything other than anecdotal evidence. In most cases, this stems from sources who are either known to be unreliable (e.g. Francis King, whose work on the OTO is rife with errors) or who never made the statements which he attributes to them in the first place (e.g. Crowley, who as we have seen was grossly misrepresented by Gardner).
What I do, however, find deplorable is the suggestion that I am deliberately misleading my readers. I am simply after the facts in this matter. Mr. Howard, by contrast, continues to publish the unsubstantiated (and in places demonstrably false) claims of E.W. Liddell in his magazine and on the Internet, where they are snapped up the world over by those who so desperately want to believe in traditional witchcraft. When it comes to blatant misleading of one's readers, this is evidently a case of the Cauldron calling the kettle black.