Wicca is said to be the only self-contained religion that England has ever given the world. While its mythical history has been established, it’s factual history is shrouded in mystery. Philip Heselton’s Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardiner* and the Modern Witchcraft Revival represents a major landmark in the recovery of those origins.
There are many nagging questions: Was Gardner really initiated into an existing tradition? Who were the members of the New Forest coven? What were their rituals like? Did they practice the sort of witchcraft Gardner popularised?
Wiccan Roots is a detailed consideration of the circumstances surrounding Gerald Gardner’s initiation into Wicca. It is a work of primary research with data retrieved from local and national archives. Heselton doesn’t pretend to have the definitive answers to all those questions and he raises some more, but he certainly presents compelling evidence for the existence of a group of self-described witches who did perform an initiation on Gardner.
The bulk of Wiccan Roots deals with those characters that are said to have been involved in Gardner’s initiation: Dafo, Dorothy Clutterbuck, and the players of the Rosicrucian Theatre. Heselton also looks at the 1940 Lammas rites performed to protect Britain from Nazi invasion. Heselton has worked hard to compile local birth, death, and property records, press articles, photographs, and other documents making this book a fine scholarly examination. It’s worth mentioning that Heselton is Pagan. He does not automatically dismiss what scholars and scientists might, namely intuition, spirit communication, and magic. It adds to the book’s charming and engaging style.
Heselton’s Wiccan Roots is essential reading for serious students of Wiccan history.
*This is a typo, but not on my part. The cover of my copy have incorrect spellings of Gardner’s and Heselton’s surnames.