I’ve found myself dealing more and more with people who rabidly assert that either Crowley and Gardner were members of the same coven, or that the Golden Dawn and/or the Ordo Templi Orientis “stole” everything from George Pickingill.
One of the things I particularly like about the OTO is that it bolts up nicely to Wicca. The reason why is because Crowley most assuredly wrote the first Book of Shadows. Either he was paid to write the Book of Shadows by Gardner (although no such volume has been produced in Crowleys hand) or he encouraged Gardner. We have Gardners initiation papers to the 3rd Degree of the OTO, signed by Crowley, and there’s really little reason for Gardner to seek initiation into the OTO if he was already a leg up on magic. Point being, the reason why Wicca and the OTO rituals tend to bolt up nicely on the face of them is that the OTO allowed you to substitute rituals and themes and Gardner did exactly that. Gardner knew to do this because Crowley did exactly this when the Golden Dawn broke up. The magic is all the same, the words are the same, the operation is the same, and the results are the same. For what amounts to a low magic style (think Mathers and the Peas which might comfortably fit into voodoo), it works really well.
Where does the contrary opinion come from? It seems to mostly stem from the idea that people need to be practicing something with some spiritual authority lent to it from antiquity. With the OTO, this idea makes sense. The oldest imagery the Golden Dawn and the OTO could get it’s hands on was Egyptian and Greek, and the important question to ask it “Why Egyptian and Greek?” The problem is the official church had a hand up on them with the Christian and Hebrew imagery. Despite drawing on the Kabalah and the Tree of Life and other Jewish staples, along with crosses and the forumas of birth, death, and resurrection, they adopted the Egyptian and Greek iconography because, well, everything else was taken. Even the grimoires of the day reflect this with the Enochian sources being stepped in Christian imagery, the planetary grimoires being stepped in Greek imagery, and the goetic grimoires claiming their authority from Hebrew imagery with Solomon. What’s a fun loving mystical society to do? Wicca, being the late player to the game, adopts pretty much the only thing left and claims the local saxon pagan imagery. For a guy who grew up in Malaysia, only to come back to the UK in his middle ages, you would think Gardner would have brought back some Pacific Rim culture but it didn’t happen minus a few neat knives and axes. In fact, this I feel is a strong argument against Gardner being involved in any mystical tradition pre-wicca whatsoever. After returning to England we know he spent a lot of time at Rosicrucian Theater before finding Crowley, but so did Crowley. While Gardner enjoyed the theater, his (first) wife hated it, and by the time Crowley was aging and treated it mostly as a culture club similar to his own Scottish Rite Freemason start.
Wait, Scottish Freemasonry? Yup, someone cornered the market on the combination of Pagan practices and Christianity which is Scottish Rite Freemasonry before Gardner. Crowley looks absurd in a kilt, but I digress.
There’s two books in particular which keep popping up in these discussions. The Triumph of the Moon, and The Pickingill Papers. The former you can find in dollar book stores, the latter is impossibly hard to find because there was never enough demand to warrant a reprint. The Pickingill Papers, paradoxically, was so poorly written that no-one purchased it and the rarity of the book contributes to it’s price alone. Note that the Pickingill Papers seems to have an official website but it hasn’t been updated since such horrors as netscape have stalked the Earth.
The Pickingill Papers is extremely easy to discredit – a farm hand with a second grade education wouldn’t have enough time nor social status to get away from work to start the nine covens claimed, nor would he have witten in a similar style to Gardner. The Book of Shadows borrows extensively from literary sources and since we know Pickingill was almost illiterate, he wouldn’t have had the exposure. We can safely separate Gardner from Pickingill. We can safely separate the high society Crowley from Pickingill. More on the point, Bill Liddell, supposedly initiated into one of the Pickingill covens in 1950, is too little, too late. What he does describe is the normal medieval magical process we know and love (circles, wands, knives) but also a hearty mix of the standard rumors of witching which includes pissing off the church, flying, and transformation. To add insult to injury, we’re never actually told how the magic is done, so it’s not entirely clear why Liddell published except to try to steal the thunder from Gardner. While Pickingill himself may have practiced magic in some form or another, it’s doubtful he founded nine covens and almost certainly false that he taught anything to Gardner.
The second oft cited book is The Triumph of the Moon. While the first book is interesting from a biographical perspective, The Triumph of the Moon actually does try to be at least middle of the road. It acknowledges Crowley and the OTO, it acknowledges the Golden Dawn and the contributions therein, but then it lumps Wicca into the same tradition as all the other high magic lodges. Therein lies the problem. Wicca works with them because of the ritual, not because of the theological underpinnings. It tries to tease out this idea that all these orders were founded on Goddess worship, but it simply isn’t the case. Most Western Mystery Traditions are founded on the union of male and female polarities, but the ultimate expression of these things (either Baphomet or whatever analogy you use) is that GOD is either hermaphroditic or without gender. While true that almost all of these then have women being created first, they also hold men and women on equal footing. Wicca skipped the equal footing part and emphasizes the feminine. We might as just as well have Christianity with Jesus as a woman. Dan Brown, please don’t read this blog.
In other words the book is right, for the wrong reasons. While it nails down the history in a mostly correct fashion – Yeats is misaligned as Wiccan, he was involved in the Golden Dawn until the end where he vanished from the magic scene – it misses the first versions of the book of shadows. Aidan Kelly wrote Crafting the Art of Magic. You can read the lite-version of the book at USMINC. Similar to Gardner to Crowley, Kelly was initiated by Gardner towards the end of his life (1960). Kelly was a relatively happy Wiccan and named his own order the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn – which was perhaps his joke at the Golden Dawn “stealing” Gardner’s work. By 1991, he had published a book originally written in 1977 for his doctorate thesis in Theology. He came to the same conclusion many others did that Gardner didn’t even come up with Wicca until 1945 (“give or take a year”). “The paper trail simply ends”, he concluded.
Now, this isn’t a slight against Wicca, it merely indicates that Wicca isn’t some ancient religion it purports to be.
“But Phergoph”, you might ask, “If Wicca is part of the Golden Dawn tradition, doesn’t that make it an ancient order also?”
Nope, because the Golden Dawn was likely founded in 1809 (at earliest) or 1855 (at latest). The ciphertext documents themselves are likely to be fakes. It didn’t stop Gardner, and others, from trying to use the Golden Dawn as an ancient authority on wisdom.