A note on Ross Nichols' work on Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today
Although the publication of The History and Practice of Magic marked the end of the collaboration between Nichols and Kirkup, it was followed at once by an intensification of an even more significant literary collaboration between himself and Gerald Gardner. Nichols was to help Gardner with his first work of non-fiction on Witchcraft. The publisher was to be Riders, perhaps thanks to Gerald Yorke, known to both Gardner and Ross who worked for Riders. It was originally titled New Light on Witchcraft, but was re-titled Witchcraft Today, and published in 1954. Iseult Weston, from Spielplatz, describes Gardner as an ‘old windbag who talked endlessly’. Ross liked to talk too – my mother recalls long evenings when he and my father would talk late into the night, and when he and I met, I invariably did the listening whilst he did the talking. We can imagine both men: Ross aged 51, Gardner aged 69, spending time together, perhaps through 1953, or earlier, working on the book and talking endlessly about witches, druids, history and occultism.
In the foreword to the book, Gardner says “I wish to thank Mr Ross Nichols, editor of Christian’s History and Practice of Magic, for supplying me with supplementary information and for his many useful suggestions and comments.” Others have stated that Ross’ contribution to the book was substantial: Francis King says “In 1954 Rider published Gardner’s Witchcraft Today – not at all a bad book, for the reader responsible for its acceptance, himself an occult scholar of distinction, managed to blue-pencil most of the more rubbishy passages.” Mike Howard, Editor of the craft magazine The Cauldron suggested the publisher’s reader was Ross when he said: “The book itself is a typical scissors-and-paste job and overall a bit of a hotchpotch, even though it was supposed to have been heavily edited by the druid Ross Nichols. Gardner’s close friend and working partner, Doreen Valiente, confirmed that Ross was indeed the book’s editor in her speech to the Pagan Federation on 22 November 1997 shortly before her death, when she said “In publishing Witchcraft Today Riders were sticking their necks out. But it was carefully edited by Ross Nichols.”
In Gardner’s second and final book on Wicca, The Meaning of Witchcraft, published in 1959, Ross’ influence is again apparent: his Occult Observer article on the Glastonbury Zodiac reproduced in this collection is cited in the Bibliography, and in discussing the four Celtic fire festivals, or Sabbats, he quotes from Ross’ book Sassenach Stray.
In 1954, the year Witchcraft Today was published, Ross finally became a member of the Order that Gardner had joined at least eight years earlier.
Excerpt from Journeys of the Soul – a biography of Ross Nichols, by Philip Carr-Gomm