Review: Witchfather, A Life of Gerald Gardner

By Philip Heselton

Thoth Publications

ISBN# Volume One:   978-1-870450-80-5

ISBN# Volume Two:  978-1-870450-79-0

Volume I – Into the Witch Cult

Volume II – From Witch Cult to Wicca

The life of Gerald Gardner had been exposed in 1960 by author Jack L. Bracelin in Gerald Gardner, Witch, published by Octagon.  This text was also said to have been ghostwritten by Idries Shah and was based on conversations with Gardner as he reminisced on his unusual life.  Much of Gerald Gardner, Witch has been notably regarded as a suspiciously questionable and clearly biased book.  Despite this, it is still a valuable addition to a Craft library for the simple fact that the stories are Gerald’s personal reflections of history and he recalls various vivid, fantastical and exiting adventures.  It is no surprise that Philip Heselton relied heavily on Bracelin’s work as the building block to his extensive research and he regards it saying “It really is virtually the only source of information for much of Gerald’s life and the broad narrative is largely accurate.” (Heselton, pp xviii) 

Gerald Gardner was quite a trickster who enjoyed a bit of ‘cloak and dagger’ even to the point of changing his and Dorothea’s names while travelling and in hotels. So working from Bracelin’s book, Heselton accomplished a type of investigation that should merit him with a Sherlock Holmes award of detective authorship.  Researching the scanty fragments of Gardner’s eccentric life, Heselton’s patience and seeming fascination with solving puzzles came to a head.  I could not help but notice that his background in geography and interest in landscapes allowed him a perspective that very few historians consider.  In fact it is precisely his geographic interests that may have given Heselton the ‘upper edge’ in his written work and opened doors of possibility and contacts he had perhaps not even dreamed.

At times the book may be overly detailed with lengthy descriptions of family, location, topographical maps, locations, letters and historical events.  If you are looking for a gripping, edge of your seat novel, this is not the book for you.  It is slow to read as Heselton uses every moment to add his methodical details to support his theories on who might have been involved with Gardner at various periods of his life, what Gardner might have been doing at that time, and even what Gardner might have thought.

Though there is a substantial amount of guesswork in Witchfather, it is held between areas of strong solid research and evidence.  Heselton does an excellent job to capture the picture of Gardner`s life, in a balanced and compassionate manner.  He has uncovered intriguing bits and pieces to Gardner`s biography and I am sure that there is plenty that he has kept in confidence due to the nature of the subject matter.

Overall Witchfather is a work to be applauded for not only the discovery of new material and people not generally known in Wica history but as well for a kindly and ethical search for truth, in the life of a man who enjoyed a few embellishments.

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