Founders and Exemplars

If Paganism is seen as the ancient human response to the sacredness of nature then it is as old as humanity and no founder can be identified. However, contemporary Paganism, or at least strands within it, can point to people who could be seen as founders, for example Gerald Gardner (1884-1964) is often seen as the founder of Wicca in the 1950s, although he himself claimed to be publicising an ancient tradition, and Ross Nichols (1902-1975) founded the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids in 1964. Gardner and Nichols were friends, which to some extent helps to justify linking Wicca and Druidry together in the category of contemporary Paganism. Both men were drawing on earlier groups and traditions, such as the 18th century romantic revival of Druidry, secret societies such as Freemasonry, and the esoteric practice of magic within Christian and Jewish cultures. Doreen Valiente (1922-1999), another younger companion of Gardner, is sometimes seen as ‘the Mother of Witchcraft’.

In the present, although it unlikely that they would claim to be exemplars, well-known Pagans in Britain include Philip Carr-Gomm, leader of the worldwide Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids; Philip Shallcrass (Greywolf), chief of the British Druid Order; Vivianne Crowley, who has written many books on Wicca; Kathy Jones, co-founder of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple; and Emma Restall-Orr, who founded the Druid Network (although on her current website she states that she no longer identifies as Druid). Prudence Jones, who was President of the Pagan Federation from 1979-91, is an important spokesperson for Paganism. In the USA, Starhawk, Wiccan and founder of the Reclaiming Collective, has been very influential with her feminist, environmentalist and politically activist form of Wiccan Paganism. Other influential spokespersons for Pagan traditions in the USA might include Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary and Isaac Bonewits. It is perhaps significant that these leading figures are all authors. Books, and to a lesser but increasing extent websites, are important ways in which Pagan ideas are spread. There are also several academics who both write about and would identify as or in some way sympathise with Paganism, such as Ronald Hutton, Graham Harvey, Michael York and Joanne Pearson and there are authors including Philip Heselton, who has researched and written biographies of both Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente.

In addition to the UK and the US, mention should be made of the Wiccan organisation, “Silver Circle”, founded in 1979 in the Netherlands, by Merlin & Morgana, who have been producing the magazine Wiccan Rede. Silver Circle and Pagan Federation International have been supporting the spread and growth of Pagan traditions in Europe and further afield. They have been producing the magazine Wiccan Rede since 1980, which presents articles that are now translated into German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Russian and Turkish.

Download the entire essay here



498.5 KB

Download resource