Gerald B. Gardner and His “Old Laws”

Gerald Brousseau Gardner (1884-1964) was a British civil servant, amateur anthropologist, writer, and occultist who published some of the definitive texts for modern Wicca, which he was instrumental in founding. Sadly, he didn’t live to see Wicca codified and evolve into the wildly popular religion that it is today.

He also played fast and loose with the facts surrounding his life, some of his false claims, including assertions of various educational degrees, hurt his credibility in later years. He remains a man of intense interest and equal parts mystery.

Gardner, a hereditary witch, was born in Blundellands, near Liverpool, England, on June 13, 1884.

His family was of Scottish descent, tracing its roots back to a woman named Grissell Gardner who had reportedly been burned as a witch in 1610 at Newburgh. In addition, Gardner's grandmother was also a witch, and some of his distant relatives are believed to have possessed psychic abilities.

Beginning in 1908 he was a rubber planter, first in Borneo and then in Malaya. After 1923 he held a civil service post as a governmental inspector in Malaya. In 1936, at the age of 52, he retired to England. He published an authoritative text, Keris and other Malay Weapons (1936), based on his field research into southeast Asian weapons and magical practices.

Apparently on medical advice, he took up naturism on his return to England, and also pursued his interest in the occult. Through the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship he claims to have met a family of traditional witches. The leading local witch Dorothy Clutterbuck, he says, initiated him into the craft in 1939, but many have asserted this was a fictitious name, and he was never initiated into any coven. It is more likely that he invented his form of witchcraft, which he named "Wica" or "Wicca," with the probable help of Dafo (his first magical working partner), Doreen Valiente, and/or others.

Professor Jeffrey B. Russell [1980] writes:

"[Gardner's] followers tell the story that he was initiated into witchcraft in 1939 by Old Dorothy Clutterbuck, a witch of the New Forest who later, they say, led the covens of England to the seashore where they prevented Hitler's invasion by sending out the cone of power towards him with the instruction, 'You cannot come.' When the Craft was destroyed in the 'Burning Time', it was argued, a few kept it alive secretly, and old Dorothy was the heir of this ancient tradition. In fact there is no evidence that Old Dorothy ever existed, and the ancient tradition is very dubious."

But, Valiente was so convinced that Prof. Russell was wrong, that she set out to find documentary evidence to contradict him, claiming there is ample evidence to prove the existence of Dorothy Clutterbuck, writing:

“Dorothy Clutterbuck had been born on 19 January 1880 and baptized in St. Paul's Church, Umbala, on 21 February 1880. Her parents were Thomas St. Q. Clutterbuck, Captain in the 14th Sikhs and Ellen Anne Clutterbuck.”

Scholar Julia Phillips [1991] writes:

“It is a marvellous piece of investigation, but proving that Old Dorothy existed does nothing to support Gardner's claims that she initiated him.”

Obviously, there is no direct proof that Old Dorothy initiated Gardner, but Valiente believed his claim.

Through the introduction of Arnold Crowther, Gardner met Aleister Crowley in 1946. Crowley made Gardner a honorary member of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), a magical order of which at one time Crowley held leadership. There is speculation that Gardner asked Crowley information about Craft rituals, which he might incorporate into his own.

Gardner desired to, but was kept from publicly writing about the survival of Witchcraft, because at the time Witchcraft was still against English law. So his novel High Magic's Aid concerning Witchcraft was published in 1949, under Gardner’s pseudonym Scire. The work included rituals which it is believed he had learned from his coven, and the worship of the Horned God. Significantly, the Goddess was never mentioned.

When the law against witchcraft was repealed in England in 1951, Gardner broke from the New Forest coven to form his own coven. In the same year he traveled to the Isle of Man where a Museum of Magic and Witchcraft had been established by Cecil Williamson housed in a 400-year-old Craft farmhouse. Williamson had originally named it the “Folklore Centre” and intended it to become a center for currently practicing witches. Gardner became the "resident Witch" and added his personal substantial collection of ritual tools and artifacts. Gardner eventually purchased the museum from Williamson.

In 1953, Gardner initiated Valiente into his coven. The coven's rituals were virtually identical to those that Gardner described in High Magic's Aid. In his coven, Gardner reworked his material and updated the rituals with his own work, as well as adding quotations and extracts from Crowley's work. Valiente discouraged its inclusion, arguing that Crowley's material was inappropriate because it was "too modern," thus most of Crowley's work was subsequently deleted through rewriting of the material. Gardner and Valiente collaborated through the years of 1954 to 1957 on writing ritual and nonritual material. The work, or Book of Shadows, became the authority for what is currently known as the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca.

Valiente writes:

“The big question which remains to be answered is, how much of the Gardnerian 'Book of Shadows' represents the rites of the old New Forest coven and how much is Gerald Gardner's own concoction? I braved some hostile criticism from devoted Gardnerians by trying to answer this questions when I collaborated with Janet and Stewart Farrar in their book The Witches' Way. I remain totally unrepentant, because I too seek the answer and shall continue to do so. There has been too much childish cloak-and-dagger business in the world of the occult, too much of what Aleister Crowley satirized as swearing someone to the most frightful penalties if they betray the secret knowledge and then confiding the Hebrew alphabet to their safekeeping.”

Phillips concludes:

“It seems to me quite clear that even if Gardner received a traditional set of rituals from his coven, they must have been exceptionally sparse, as the concepts that we know of as Wicca today certainly derive from ceremonial magic and Freemasonry to a very great extent. Indeed, Gardner always claimed that they were sparse.

“It could be argued that all derive from a common source. That the appearance of a phrase, or technique in one tradition does not automatically suggest that its appearance elsewhere means that the one was taken from the other. However, Gardner admits his sources in many cases, and Doreen confirms them in others, so I think it is safe to presume that the rituals and philosophy used by Wicca descends from the traditions of Freemasonry and Ceremonial magic, rather than from a single common source.”

In 1954, Gardener published his first nonfiction book about Witchcraft, Witchcraft Today. The book supports the theory espoused by British anthropologist Margaret A. Murray that modern Witchcraft is the surviving remnant of organized Pagan religion, which existed during the witch hunts. Murray wrote the introduction to Gardner’s book.

The book's immediate success gave rise to new covens/groves forming throughout England. Gardner suddenly found himself in the spotlight. Due to his numerous media appearances the press referred to him as, "Britain's Chief Witch," a title he had not sought. He was not interested in exploiting his fame for money and/or personal glory. In 1959 he published his final book, The Meaning of Witchcraft.

In 1960, at a Buckingham Palace garden party Gardner was recognized for his distinguished civil service work in the Far East. In the winter of 1963 he met Raymond Buckland, an Englishman who had moved to America. Buckland was initiated into the Craft by Gardner's then High Priestess Monique Wilson (Lady Olwen). It was Buckland who introduced the Gardnerian tradition to America.

Gardner died aboard ship when returning from a voyage to Lebanon on the morning of Feb. 12, 1964. His burial was in Tunis, Feb. 13.

Valiente has described Gardner as a man "utterly without malice," who was generous to a fault and who possessed some real, but not exceptional, magical powers. Those in the Craft who knew him called him "G.B.G."

Gardner had believed that one of the missions of Wicca was to attract young people to the Old Religion. He feared witchcraft was dying because only the elderly knew of it, and when they died the Craft would die with them. In Witchcraft Today he said science was replacing reliance on the old ways.

“I think we must say good-bye to the witch. The cult is doomed, I am afraid, partly because of modern conditions, housing shortage, the smallness of families, and chiefly by education. The modern child is not interested. He knows witches are all bunk...”

He died before he saw how greatly his own writing inspired the revival of modern witchcraft worldwide. The Craft continues to grow and spread more than he ever could have envisioned. The "Gardnerian Tradition" continues to be the dominant path of modern Wiccan Witchcraft.

The Old Laws or the Ardanes
by Gerald B. Gardner, attributed to the New Forest Coven, 1957

Note: This version of the Old Laws is Annotated. It was found at Wicca for the Rest of Us, and is reposted here in its entirety.

Theoretically, this was passed down through the years within the coven that introduced Gardner to Wicca. The problem is that no one's sure if the New Forest Coven even existed or, if it did, how old or organized it was. Even Gardner confessed what they taught was fragmentary.

1.It may be that the Old Laws are largely the work of Gardner himself. The Old Laws did not even come to light until 1957, when a disagreement broke out over Gardner's continued interviews with the press, despite his own rules concerning secrecy. Doreen Valiente and another covener created the "Proposed Rules for the Craft", which included a stipulation concerning the granting of interviews.

...As a reply, Gardner claimed that these "Proposed Rules" were unneeded, since the Craft already had a set of traditional laws. He then sent his coveners "The Old Laws", a rambling document containing rules, cautions, practical advice and a smattering of theology. Ms. Valiente doubted the authenticity of these "The Old Laws" and strongly opposed them.1

However, large sections of the Old Laws did appear, if not word for word, at least in concept in Gardner's Witchcraft Today in 1954.

The other interesting fact to note is the correctly used archaic language used in the Old Laws, which makes the Old Laws perhaps unique among Wiccan documents. The language, however, is uneven, employing both modern and archaic phrases. This has led to the theory that Gardner may have assembled the Laws from multiple older fragments.

It should also be noted that while the Old Laws speaks only of the punishment of burning for witches, England mostly hung their witches. Scotland, however, did burn them.

The version below is based on what is believed to be a version typewritten by Gardner himself.2 Many other versions, with varying spellings and word usage, also exist.

The Old Laws are sometimes broken up into the 161 Laws or 161 Rules of the Witch.

I find much of this document, regardless of origins, to be outdated and unnecessary. It is at points sexist and ageist, and it is saturated with the paranoia associated with the myth of the Burning Times.

[Ardane - Generally taken as "ordain", it has also been suggested that it should read "Aredan", a form of the obsolete word "aread" which has the meaning of "to declare by supernatural counsel." 11th to 16th century.]


The Law was made and Ardane of old. The law was made for the Wica, to advise and help in their troubles.

The Wica should give due worship to the Gods & obey their will which they Ardane, for it was made for the good of the Wica. As the Wicas worship is good for the Gods.

For the Gods love the Wica, as a man loveth a woman by mastering her. So the Wica should love the Gods, by being mastered by them. And it is necessary that the Circle, which is the Temple of the Gods, should be truely cast and purified, that it may be a fit place for the Gods to enter.

And the Wica should be properly prepared and purified, to enter into the presence of the Gods. With love and worship in their hearts they shall raise powrer from their bodies to give power to the Gods, as has been tought us of old.

For in this way only may man have communion with the Gods, for the Gods cannot help man without the help of men.

And the High Priestess shall rule her Coven as representative of the Goddess, and the High Priest shall support her as the representative of the God. And the High Priestess shall choose whom she will, if he have sufficient rank, to be her High Priest.

For the God himself, kissed her feet in the 5 fold salute, laying his power at the feet of the Goddess. because of her youth & beauty, her sweetness & kindness, her wisdom & Justice, her humility & generosity, So he resigned his lordship to her, But the Priestess should ever mind that all power comes from him. It is only lent when it is used wisely and justly. And the greatest virtue of a High Priestess is that she recognises that youth is necessary to the representative of the Goddess, so that she will retire gracefully in favour of a younger woman, Should the Coven so decide in Council. For the true High Priestess realsies that gracefully surendering pride of place is one of the greatest of virtues, and that thereby she will return to that pride of place in another life, with greater power beauty.

[Alther - an archaic form of the word "all," meaning (combined with a superlative) "of all". Thus, "alther greatest temples" would be "the greatest temples of all". 11th to 16th Century]

ln the days when Witchdom extended far, we were free and worshipd in Alther Greatest Tempels. But, in these unhapy times we must hold our sacred mysteries in secret.

So it be Ardane, that none but the Wica may see our mysteries. for our enimies are many, And torture looseth the tongues of many. lt be ardane that each Coven shall not know where the next Coven bide, or who its members are. save the Priest and Priestess. That there shall be no communication between them. save by the Messenger of the Gods. or the Summoner. Only if it be safe, may the Covens meet, in some safe place. For the great festavals. And while there, none shall say whence thay come, or give their true names.

To the end that if any are tortured, in their agoney, they can not tell if they know not.

So it be Ardane that no one may tell any not of the Craft who be of the Wica. nor give any names, or where they Byde, or in any way tell anything which can betray any to our foes. Nor may they tell where the Covenstead be. or where is the Covendom. or where be the meetings. or that there have been meetings. And if any break these laws, even under torture, The Curse of the Goddess shall be upon them, so they never be reborn on earth, And may the remain where they belong, in the Hell of the Christians.

Let each High Priestess govern her Coven with Justice and love with the help of the advice of the elders. Always heading the advice of the Messenger of the Gods. lf he cometh.

She will heed all complaints of brothers, and strive to settle all differances among them. But it must be recognized that there be people who will ever strive to force others to do as they will.

They are not necesseraly evil. & they often do have good ideas. andt such ideas should be talked over in council. And if they will not agree with their brothers, or if they say, I will not work under this High Priestess, lt hath always been the old law, to be convenient for the bretherin, and to void disputes, Any of the Third may claim to found a new Coven because they live over a league from the Covenstead, or that they are about to do so. Anyone living within the Covendom wishing to form a new Coven, to avoid strife, shall tell the Elders of his intention And on the instant void his dwelling and remove to the new Covendom. Members of the old Coven may join the New one when it be formed, but if they do, must utterly void the old Coven. The Elders of the New and the Old Covens should meet in peace and brotherly love, to decide the new bounderies.

Those of the Craft who dwell outside both Covendoms may join either indifferent, but not both. Though all may, if the Elders agree, meet for the Great Festavals, if it be truely in peace and brotherly love. But splitting the Coven oft means strife. So for this reason these laws were made of old. And may the curse of the GODDESS be on any who disreguard them. So be it Ardane.

[Engine - To be put on a rack for torture. 15th and 16th Century
Hand of Write - Handwriting. Scottish. 19th Century.]

lf you would keep a book, let it be in your own hand of write, let brothers and sisters copy what they will, but never let the book out of your hands, and never keep the writings of another, for if it be found in their hard of write, they well may be taken and Engined.

Each should guard his own writings & destroy it whenever danger threatens. Learn as much as you may by heart, & when danger is past, rewirit your book, an it be safe. For this reason, if any die, destroy their book if they have not been able to. For an it be found, tis clear proof against them, And, our oppressors well know, "Ye may not be a witch alone" So all their kin & friends be in danger of torture. So ever destroy anything not necessary. If your book be found on you. tis clear proof against you alone. You may be engined. Keep all thouqhts of the Craft from your mind. Say you had bad dreams, a devil caused you to write it without your knowledge. Think to yourself. I know, nothing. I remember nothing. I have forgotten everything. Drive this into your mind.

If the torture be to great to bear. Say, I will confess. I cannot bear this torture, What do you want me to say? I will say it. if they try to make you speak of the brotherhood, Do NOT. But if they try to make you speak of imposabilaties such as flying through the air, Consorting with the Christian Devil, or sacrificing children, or eating mens flesh. To obtain relief from torture. say. I had an evil dream, I was not myself. I was crased.

Not all Magestrates are bad, if there be an excuse they may show mercy. If you have confessed aught, deny it afterwards, say you babbled under torture. You knew not what you said. If you are condemed, fear not. The Brotherhood is powerfull. They may help you to escape, if you stand steadfast.

If you betray aught. There is no hope for you, ln this life, or in that which is to come.

[Dwale - A stupefying or soporific drink. 15th and 16th Century
Tormenter - An officer who inflicts torture or cruelty; an official torturer. 15th and 16th Century]

Be sure. if steadfast you go to the pyre, Dwale will reach you, you will feel naught. You go but to Death and what lies beyond. The ecstacy of the Goddess.

Tis probable that before you are engined, Dwale will reach you. Always remember that Christians fear much that any die under torture. At the first sign of swoon, they cause it to be stopped, and blame the tormenters, for that reason, the tormenters themselves are apt to feign to torment, but do not, so it is best not to die at first.

lf Dwale reaches you, tis a sign that you have a friend somwhere. you may be helped to escape, so dispair not. If the worst comes, and you go to the pyre. wait till the flames and smoke spring up, bend your head over, & breath in with long brewths, you choke & die swiftly. & wake in the arms of the Goddess.

To void discovery, Let the working tools be as ordinary things that any may have in their houses. Let the Pentacles be of wax, so they may be broken at once. Heve no sword unless your rank allows you one. Have no names or signs on anything.

Write the names and signes on them in ink before consecrating them and wash it off immediatly after. Do not Bigrave them. lest they cause discovery. Let the colour of the hilts tell which is which. Ever remember, ye are the Hidden Children of the Gods. So never do anything to disgrace them.

Never boast, Never threaten, Never say you would wish Ill to anyone. lf you or any, not in the Circle, speak of the craft, say, "Speak not to me of such, it frightens me. tis evil luck to speak of it" For this reason. The Christians have spies everywhere. These speak as if they were well affected, as if they would come to Meetings, saying "My mother used to go, to worship, the Old Ones. I would that I could go myself." To these ever deny all knowledge.

But, to others ever say, tis foolish, men talk of witches flying through the air, to do so, they must be light as thistledown. and. Men say that witches all be bleared eyed old crones, so what pleasure can there be in witch meetings? such as folk talk on? Say, Many wise men now say there be no such creatures. Ever make it a jest, and in some future time, perhaps the persecution will die. and we may worship safely again. let us all pray for that happy day.

May the blessings of the Goddess and the God be on all who keep their Ardane.

[Appenage - Refers to a "specially appropriated possession" and apparently originally meant some sort of endowment (in land, offices or money) for the younger children of royalty. By the nineteenth century the meaning had broadened to include any sort of valuable possession with which some person or class of people were endowed. Not archaic.]

If the Craft hath any Appenage, let all brothers guard it, and help to keep it clear and good for the Craft, & let all justly guard all monies of the Craft. But if some brothers truely wrought it, Tis right that they have their pay, an it be just. And this be not taking money for the use of the Art. but for good and honest work. And even the Christians say "A labourer is worthey of his hire." But if any brothers work willingly for the good of the craft without pay, tis but to their greater honour. So it be Ardane.

lf there be any disputes or quarrels among the bretheren, The High Priestess shall straight Convene the Elders & enquire into the matter, and they shall hear both sides. first alone. then together. And they shall decide justly, not favouring the one side or the other.

Ever recognising that there be people who can never agree to work under others. but at the same time there be some people who cannot rule justly. To those who ever must be chief, there is one answer, Void the Coven & seek another, or, make a Coven of your own, taking with you those who will to go, To those who cannot rule justly. The answer be. those who cannot bear your rule will leave you, For none may come to meetings with those with whom they are at variance. So an either cannot agree. get hence. For the Craft must ever survive. So it be Ardane.

In the olden days when we had power, we could use our Arts against any who illtreated any of the Brotherhood. But in these Evil Times, we may not do so, For our enimies have devised a burning pit of everlasting fire, into which they say their God casteth all the people who worship him, except it be the very few who are released by their priestes spells and Masses. and this be chiefly by giving money and rich gifts to recieve his favour, for their Alther Greatest God is ever in need of Money.

But as our Gods need our aid to make fertility for men and crops. So the God of the Christians is ever in need of mans help to search out and destroy us. Theyir priests tell them that any who get our help or our cures are dammned to this Hell forever, so men be mad for the terror of it,. But they make men believe that they may scape this hell if they give victims to the tormenters. So for this reason. All be forever spying, thinking an I can but catch one of the Wica I will scape this fiery pit.

[Hidel - Hiding place. 14th to 17th Century
Skith - almost certainly the word "scathe," meaning harm or injury. Anglo-Saxon. There is a more specific and recent (18th and 19th Century) meaning found in Jamieson's Scottish Dictionary of "injury supposed to proceed from witchcraft."]

But we have our hidels, and men searching long and not finding say, "there be none, or lf they be, they be in a far country." But, when one of our oppressors die. or, even be sick, ever is the cry "This be Witches Malice." and the hunt is up again. and though they slay ten of their people, to one of ours, still. they care not, they have many thousands, while we are few indeed.

So it is Ardane, that none shall use the Art in any way to do ill to any. how evermuch they have injured us. And for long we have obeyed this law. "Harm none" and nowtimes, many believe we exist not. So it be Ardane that this law shall still continue to help us in our plight. "No one, however great an injury or injustace they recieve, may use the Art in any to do ill or harm any."

But, they may, after great consulations with all, use the Art to prevent or restrain Christians from harming us and others. but only to let or constrain them and never to punish. To this end. Men say, "Such an one is a mighty searcher our and persecutor of Old Women whom he deemeth to be Witches. and none hath done him Skith. so this be proof they cannot, or more truely, that there be none." For all know full well, that so many folk have died because somone had a grudge against them, or were persecuted because they had money or goods to sieze. or because they had none to bribe the searchers. And many have died because they were scolding old women. So much so, that men now say that only Old Women are witches. And this be to our advantage, and turns suspicion away from us. ln England tis now many it year since a witch hath died the death. but any misuse of the power might raise the Persecution again. So never break this law, however much you are tempted. and never consent to its being broken, lf you know it is being broken in the least, you must work strongly against it, And any High Priestess or High Priest who consentes to it must be immediatly deposed. For tis the Blood of the Bretherin they endanger. Do good, an it be safe, and only if it be safe, for any talk may endanger us. And strictly keep to the Old Law, never accept money for the use of the Art, for money ever smeares the taker, Tis Carcerors and Conjurers and Priests of Christ who ever accept money for the use of their Arts. and they sell Dwale and evil love spells and pardons to let men scape from their sins. Be not as these. "Be not as these" lf you accept not money, you will be free of temptation to use the Art for evil causes. All may use the Art for your own advantage, or for the advantage of the Craft, only if you be sure you harm none. But ever let the Coven debate the matter at length, only if all are satisfied that none may be harmed may the Art be used. lf it is not possible to achieve your ends one way without harming any, pervhance the aim may be achieved by acting in a different way, so as to harm none. May the Curse of the Goddes, be on any who breach this law. So It be ardane.

Tis adjudged lawful an anyone need a house or land, an none will sell. to incline the owners mind to be willing to sell, provided it harmeth him not in any way, & that the full worth is paid, without haggling. Never bargain or cheepen anything which you buy by the Art.

So it be Ardane.

lt is the Old Law and the most important of all Laws, That no one may do or say anything which will endanger any of the Craft, or bring them in contact with the law of the land. or the Law of the Church or any of our persecutors. ln any disputes between the bretheren, no one may invoke any laws but those of the Craft. or any Tribunal but that of the Priestess and the Priest and the Elders. And mat the Curse of the Goddess be on any who so do.

So it be Ardane.

lt is not forbiden to say as Christians do. "There be Witchcraft in the Land" Because out oppressors of old made it Heresy not to believe in Witchcraft, & so a crime to deny it. which thereby put you under suspicion. But ever say I know not of it here, perchance they may be, but afar off. I know not where. but ever speak so you cause others to doubt they be as they are Always speak of them as Old Crones, consorting with the Devil and riding through the air. But ever say, but how may men ride through the air an they be not as light as Thistle Down? But the Curse of the Goddess be on any who cast any suspicion on any of the Brotherhood. or speaks of any real meeting place. or where any byde. So it be Ardane.

[Banes - Poisons. Not archaic.
Apies - Most versions of the Craft Laws have re-written this as "spices" and connect it with aphrodisiacs. Another possibility, though, is a connection with a group of plants called "apiaceous" which contains hemlock, one of the plants long associated with Witches.]

Let the Craft keep books with the names of all Herbs which are good for man. and all cures, that all may learn. But keep another book with all the Banes & Apies. & let only the Elders and trustworthy people have this knowledge. So it be Ardane.

And may the Blessings of the Gods be on all who keep these. Laws and the Curses of both God and Goddess be on all who break them. So it be Ardane.


1 Oakseer. Gerald Gardner, Old Words and Old Laws, January 2003.

2 ibid.
— Danu’s Daughter