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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, January 20, 2008
    The roots of modern sorcery beside the Irish Sea
    Talk about knowing the place for the first time. The Serpentine - so named for its snaking course - is a road I've travelled countless times. Posh Liverpool by the sea, twisting along the edge of Blundellsands beside the beach now famous for Antony Gormley statues, location of the city's wealthier types, it appears to summarise suburban respectability. Connecting three big churches, two commuter railway stations, one of the city's most celebrated hotels and the area's main golf course, The Serpentine is very much out-of-town and exclusive. Historically it's been the comfortable home of shipping magnates, JPs, elite civil servants and other business folk. Today rumour has it that millionaire comedy defender Jamie Carragher lives along there.

    Fascinating, then, to discover that outpost of monied respectability The Serpentine was the birthplace of the founder of 'the only religion which England has given the world' (Ronald Hutton) - Gerald Gardner, formulator of Wicca, which began to become widespread after the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951. Interesting to trawl the web and discover that the timber merchant's son was descended from Grissell Gardner, who was apparently burned as a witch in Newburgh in 1610, and that Gerald's own grandfather married a women who was rumored to be a witch.

    They were decent citizens, the Gardners. Hugo Gardner was a seventeenth-century Burgess of Liverpool. The Gardner family established Britain's first timber firm in 1748 and the following century Joseph Gardner III helped create Hall Road station and the Blundellsands Key Park and built the Serpentine water fountain on the Crosby shore for cocklers [source]. Then Gerald, who reinvented the occult for a new set of twentieth-century devotees, reputedly did his bit to defeat Hitler with a sacrificial ritual in the New Forest in 1940.

    These are discoveries I didn't expect to make in reading Joanne Pearson's book: the roots of modern sorcery beside the Irish Sea, so close to my suburban home. Not sure what to do with that knowledge, except to suggest it should be written back into our cultural history which has evidently brushed it out - a convenient oversight for those most concerned with six-and-seven-figure property prices in L23. The Grange - is it still there? Looks like another walk along The Serpentine is due.