Those of us who’ve been rattling around for a while are often asked which have been the greatest influences on our way of thinking about life, magic, the Universe and everything … and it’s not always an easy question to answer. It must also be remembered that the collective terms of ‘paganism’ and ‘Wicca’ were not in general use at the time. Contemporary paganism grew from the explosion of interest in world religions and ancient revivalism during the 60s and 70s; as a name for the religion, ‘Wicca’ developed in Britain during the 1960s, although it is not known who precisely invented the term. The first recorded use of the word ‘Wicca’ appears in 1962, and it had been popularised to the extent that several British practitioners founded a newsletter called The Wiccan in 1968 …
My first introduction to ‘serious occultism’ was via the novels of Dion Fortune and she was instrumental in encouraging the interests of many of my generation. Her fictional works – The Demon Lover, The Winged Bull, The Goat-Foot God, and The Sea Priestess: Moon Magic, was left unfinished but completed by her protégé and published posthumously – were more accessible to the reader than her explicit, non-fiction texts and made the approach to magic appear natural and easy – providing the correct procedures were followed. Her work as an occultist, and both the creator and heir of several occult traditions, including the Golden Dawn in post-war England added to her credibility and led to a deep breath before tackling The Mystical Qabalah and Psychic Self-Defence. Her writing became the bench-mark against which other magical teaching could be compared – and all too often found lacking.
Quoted from the Obituary Daily Telegraph: Richard Cavendish , who died aged 86, was an authority on magic, myth and witchcraft and ,whose bestseller The Black Arts caught the imagination of spiritual questers at the tail end of the 1960s. Cavendish himself was agnostic about the beliefs and practices he documented. Many of them, he conceded, were ‘liberally embellished with lunacy’. He was friendly with white [sic] witches and would happily visit Stonehenge with druids, but he was careful not to dice with the dark arts. He viewed the whole area with a mixture of fascination and respect, and he understood its appeal. “I think basically it is a terrific reaction against materialism,” he told an interviewer in 1970. “They are turning towards mysticism and yoga because all these things involve looking inside yourself for the truth. The current catchphrase, ‘doing your own thing’, is very applicable to magic and mysticism.”
Dabbling in astrology, black magic and necromancy was all the rage at the time of the book’s publication in 1967, and the notorious occultist and voluptuary Aleister Crowley had been reinterpreted as an exemplar of countercultural freedom. According to Gary Lachman, The Black Arts (subtitled An Absorbing Account of Witchcraft, Demonology, Astrology and Other Mystical Practices Throughout the Ages) ‘was part of Mick Jagger’s favourite bedside reading’. Anthony Powell in The Daily Telegraph described it as ‘the standard work on contemporary occultism’. It was later republished as The Magical Arts by Arkana.
As an author he was scholarly but breezy in style and always aiming at a general audience. “It’s these odd corners of the human mind that I find fascinating,” he said. “What excites me too, about all these subjects, is the marvellous poetry and insight on human nature and the situation of man in the world.” Which was a refreshing approach to the subject back in the 60s and 70s and meant that the 24-volume set Man, Myth & Magic, which he subsequently edited and contributed to, had a healthy subscription base from the start.
Man, Myth & Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural was an encyclopaedia of the supernatural including magic, mythology and religion and originally published as a British weekly magazine by BPC Publishing, Ltd, commencing in 1970, and continued for 112 issues spanning 1,000 articles with some 5,000 illustrations, many of them in full colour. My battered set still occupies a place of honour on my bookshelves and I can remember avidly reading each issue – whilst not always understanding most of it at the time!
Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks and Covens was published in 1970 by G.P. Putnams – the first mainstream publisher to produce a do-it-yourself manual for the would-be witch or warlock [sic]. The book has been described as one of the main motivators of the so-called ‘occult explosion’ of the 1970s; it was regarded as one of the chief sources of information and ritual for ‘non-Wiccan and non-feminist witchcraft’.
For many starting out in the 1970s, and continuing to the present day, this book gave/and still gives some folk the jitters; it was described as ‘A genuine vade mecum for those who want a ‘do it yourself kit in witchcraft’ by the Catholic Herald. Mastering Witchcraft took a different approach; is it all inclusive; no, but it provides the basics, although there are parts that have not aged quite as well … Then there’s the chapter on forming a coven; the information contained in it was, at the time, not generally shared in print, but is fairly common knowledge now, as such things go. But yes, the coven rituals are ‘correct’. His Mastering Herbalism was also a welcome edition to our bookshelf as it discussed the mind-expanding powers of herbs.
While still a student at the Slade, he studied the Qabalah and the Western Esoteric Tradition with Dion Fortune’s Society of the Inner Light; in 1964 he worked as a research assistant at the American Society of Psychical Research in New York. In 1965 he studied the history and practices of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Stella Matutina under the aegis of Israel Regardie.
of Sorcerer’s Apprentice fame remains one of my occult heroes: imposing, charismatic and irascible … and while he didn’t suffer fools, he would always give of his time and expertise to genuine magical questers. I worked with him during the SAFF years when he was fighting the dreaded SCRAM (Satanic Child Ritual Abuse Myth) allegations and I was researching Malleus Satani and was interested to pick up on the Tony Rhodes’ (Director SAFF) post on the wyrduk blog, acknowledging the comments from the people that Chris Bray has helped in extremis, quietly and without fanfare over the decades. ‘Free-thinkers like us owe him a great debt … Having someone willing to take it on the chin, like him, and hold out for everyone’s freedom of belief has had extensive and historic effects for the future.’
Under his Frater Marabas persona, his magical knowledge was legendary, and there were many of us benefitted from the endless source of munificence and wisdom. The Lamp of Thoth (LOT) magazine was published throughout the 1980s by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and, as former editor of Pagan News, Phil Hine, remembers ‘was eclectic, sometimes provocative, and above all, contemporary, providing a glimpse into current events and concerns in the occult/pagan scene of that period. Its contents ranged through every possible permutation of esoteric thought at the time, and in addition to the articles which might range from Abramelin to Chaos Magic. It also featured ‘contact ads’, Aunt Sally’s often ascerbic ‘problem page’ and – something which the few other ‘zines of the time lacked – a sense of humour …’
Bob & Meriem Clay-Egerton
whom I was introduced to by Chris Bray, were then running Coven of the Scales from Newcastle on Tyne, although it can trace its recorded lineage back to the mid-1800s from a Cheshire mining community near Alderley Edge. Bob had been a member of the origin ‘Aldersley’ Coven and subsequently, the local magical Order since the 1940s. The early name was, according to old records, ‘Aldredsley’ and it was from this name that the title of the magical order, the Wardensi Aldredsley was derived. The coven had its origins deeply-rooted in the pre-repeal of the Witchcraft Act times, and never lost sight of that legacy.
The couple were prolific writers and teachers of all matters magical from both the Craft and ritual magic perspective although they were not into the pick–and-mix approach so popular today. One held a doctorate in geology, which influenced a considerable amount of our knowledge of the Earth and the components that had a direct bearing on the magical and archaeological influences of our beliefs. The other had received an extensive military training and looked upon the knife as a weapon rather than just a piece of ceremonial equipment. This level of instruction was aimed at giving a clear understanding of the different types of knives and the magical symbolism represented by them – and which grade of piano wire made the best garotte!
It should be understood that although they firmly held the philosophy and opinion that all faiths were One and all Paths lead to the same Goal, they did not advocate what is now referred to as ‘eclectic paganism’. What they did teach was the desire for knowledge and experience, regardless of source. Each new experience was, however, studied within the confines of that particular religion, path or tradition. Each new discipline was kept completely separate from each other. It was only when the quester had a thorough understanding of the tenets of each discipline were they encouraged to formulate them into their own individual system.
By the 1960s they had moved to the ‘land of the covens’ in rural Warwickshire (the Moonraker Coven), before decamping to Newcastle Upon Tyne following the outbreak of a vicious anti-occult campaign in the area. After Bob’s death and just prior to her own, Mériém handed the reins to Melusine Draco, who remains Principal of the EoS and, who has recently appointed Old Crafters Julie Dexter as Dame and James Rigel as Magister of Coven of the Scales to keep the tradition alive.
was a fellow CoS member and one of the most capable and enterprising ‘parish pump witches’ I have ever met. She’s probably best remembered for Raven Magical Supplies where she concocted all manner of magical preparations that she prepared and blended herself, in addition to producing the Corvus magical chap-books. Blessed with a phenomenal memory she could answer most witchcraft enquiries off the top of her head, and was never too busy to advise personal callers. In the true tradition of the wise-woman or parish pump witch, she could create teas, perfumes, incenses, beauty products, cures, aphrodisiacs, and potions with a variety of herbs and spices; or prepare any variety of magical charms, talismans and amulets and instruct on the endless ways of empowering them.
Losing touch with old friends like this can feel tragic. As significant and special and magical as our close friendships can be, how they came into existence is truly wonderful; to a large degree, it’s just a matter of who was there when the big thing happened to us. The good times and strong bonds of friendship we shared are in the past where they belong and when friendships fade, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Neither of us failed the other as a friend; the relationship we had is in no way devalued because it hasn’t endured – but the magical lessons learned have increased in value and fond memory.
was a prolific author on esoteric topics and from 1976 until his death he was the editor of The Cauldron magazine. We were neighbours in Wales and his knowledge of Craft was encyclopaedic from his early friendship with the Luciferian ceremonial magician, Madeline Montalban to his initiation into Gardneria Wicca in 1969; he published his first book, Candle Magic, which was followed the next year by the beginning of The Cauldron. Hence my request for him to give Traditional Witchcraft & the Pagan Revival the once-over to check for any errors before it went off for publication.
From 1977, the magazine became the vehicle for Bill Liddell’s controversial articles about the 19th-century cunning man George Pickingill, and it would also serve as a platform for articles by a wide range of esotericists. It was founded to cater for pagans and witches, giving space in particular to non-Gardnerian traditions of witchcraft and so provided some balance to The Wiccan (now Pagan Dawn), the mouthpiece of the Pagan Front (later the Pagan Federation). During its lifetime The Cauldron was edited by a man who had been active among pagans and ritual magicians since the early 1960s. In later years, he was instrumental in raising the profile of the Craft of Robert Cochrane and the Clan of Tubal Cain though a series of articles and publications. In 1999, he was contacted by Andrew Chumbley, and subsequently joined his traditional witchcraft order, the Cultus Sabbati and published By Moonlight & Spirit Flight by Three Hands Press, acting as co-editor of Hands of Apostasy, a witchcraft anthology to which I was invited to contribute on behalf of traditional British Old Craft.
T C Lethbridge
was an English archaeologist, parapsychologist and explorer, and a specialist in Anglo-Saxon archaeology, serving as honorary Keeper of Anglo-Saxon Antiquities at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology from 1923 to 1957. Over the course of his lifetime, he wrote twenty-four books on various subjects, becoming particularly well known for his advocacy of dowsing. In this work he argued that the mind was separate from the brain; believing that the mind was connected to an ancestral collective mind which everyone inherited. Many of the ideas expressed in this work were akin to those of Carl Jung, although it is not clear if Lethbridge had been aware of this beforehand – nevertheless it resonated with certain beliefs that were contained within various older Craft traditions of the time.
As a result of the widespread rejection of his theories, Lethbridge became increasingly critical of the academic and professional archaeological community, believing that an attitude of what he called ‘trade unionism’ had caused most archaeologists to reject independent thought. His work Witches – Investigating an Ancient Religion (1962), which articulated a form of Margaret Murray’s witch-cult hypothesis but also contained many digressions and anecdotes unrelated to that topic. And, although adherents of traditional British Old Craft didn’t always agree with many of his findings, it made a refreshing change to the ‘Izzy-wizzy let’s get busy’ [Hand up all who remember Sooty & Sweep?] style of magical application currently prevalent in emerging Wiccan trends, or the dogmatic findings of Alfred Watkins’ Old Straight Track.
Lethbridge’s next book was ESP – Beyond Time and Distance, published in 1965 that dealt with the theme of extra-sensory perception and articulated Lethbridge’s argument that rays of energy were transmitted from every object, and that they could be detected using pendulum dowsing. In 1966 he published A Step in the Dark, which repeated many of his theories regarding pendulum dowsing present in earlier works. Archaeologist Niall Finneran asserted that Lethbridge had a ‘distinguished if fairly unspectacular reputation’ within British archaeology prior to his adoption of fringe theories. Various colleagues expressed critical praise of his work in this field; for instance, Lethbridge’s fellow Anglo-Saxon archaeologist Audrey Meaney noted that his ‘observations on features in the cemeteries he excavated around Cambridge were perspicacious but in advance of his time’. Another Anglo-Saxon archaeologist, Sam Lucy, later noted that Lethbridge’s observation that those buried with Anglo-Saxon material culture need not have been ethnically descended from continental migrants was – while largely ignored by his contemporaries – widely accepted in scholarship by the end of the 20th century.
However, his embrace of unorthodox and pseudo-scientific views later led to professional archaeologists becoming increasingly critical of his work; as his biographer Terry Welbourn noted, Lethbridge’s peers came to view him as being ‘too radical … a loose cannon and maverick’. Nevertheless, having a ready insight into and understanding of such things, he was preaching to the choir when it came to those of a magical and esoteric bent who were being spoon-fed Meriem Clay-Egerton’s theories on the magical and cultural properties of quartz for our ancient ancestors, some forty-years before its acceptance by modern archaeologists.
On his death, Glyn Daniel praised much of Lethbridge’s writing for its ‘freshness and an eager restless sense of enquiry’ An anonymously authored obituary in The Antiquities Journal referred to ‘the strength and honesty of Lethbridge’s character as a man, and the singleness of purpose that united all his work, as experimental testing of what he found by observation’, seeing these as the unifying characteristics behind his divergent research interests. As such, Finneran asserted that Lethbridge’s ‘true legacy’ lay outside of ‘conventional archaeology’, and could instead be located within the Earth Mysteries movement.
It’s been my personal experience that if Crowley can’t find a way to explain how magical stuff works, then no one can. On top of which he was blessed with an inimitable sense of humour that could put even the most complex magical working into some sort of perspective. This, offered with his philosophy that magic is a blend of science and art is the perfect jumping off stage for anyone who is interested in how magic worked. Agreed, it can all get extremely complicated with his highfalutin phraseology and purple prose but over the years I’ve learned more about magical working practice from his writings than from any other source.
Of course, Crowley’s colourful, over-the-top, macho bombast is anathema within contemporary paganism and few actually realise how much of an impact he had on it because of his ‘language and poetry that was borrowed by both Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente when assembling much of the liturgy that would come to define British Wicca’. Admittedly the latter removed much of his writing because ‘his name stank’ but she didn’t know her Aleister, and a considerable amount remained, much to the delight of the better read who preferred Crowley’s prose to Valiente’s hideous and pretentious verse! While Gardner drew heavily on Crowley’s work during the early stages of the Wicca movement, this gradually lessened as the years went by, thanks to Valiente’s judicious editing.
Like Lethbridge, Margaret Murray’s work was derided by fellow academics of the time, and yet The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) and The God of the Witches (1931) ensured that she became part of the modern pagan revival because of it. She was an Egyptologist, archaeologist, anthropologist, historian and folklorist, and, the first woman to be appointed as a lecturer in archaeology in the United Kingdom, working at University College London (UCL) from 1898 to 1935; she served as President of the Folklore Society from 1953 to 1955, and published widely over the course of her career.
Murray’s work in folkloristics and the history of witchcraft have since been academically discredited and her methods in these areas heavily criticized, but perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty in condemning her out of hand without further examination by genuine practitioners of traditional witchcraft. As with Lethbridge, Murray’s detractors were fellow academics and even with the production of a Folklore research article by Jacqueline Simpson, ‘Margaret Murray: Who Believed Her, and Why?’ (1994), the only Craft reference work quoted was The Life and Times of a Modern Witch by Alexandrian Wiccan couple, Stuart and Janet Farrar!
To view Murray’s writings as a hotch-potch of distortion and misrepresentation, ‘torn from the background of their own age and divorced from the serious study of their historical antecedents’ when the likes of Malleus Maleficarum is still allowed to stand with only a cursory comment is a mistake. We have to understand why the research of so eminent an archaeologist was so unsafe once she stepped outside the boundaries of her speciality. She began studying witchcraft during World War I because at that time the Egyptology department was virtually out of action. Her findings appeared first as an article in Folkloremagazine in 1917, and then as her first book, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. As she particularly prided herself on having used contemporary records only, it must have been galling that she was instantly attacked by historians for misinterpreting and distorting them.
So, what went wrong? Murray maintained that witches were keeping alive an ancient religion concerned with fertility, a notion which fitted current assumptions in the 1920s – but as Robert Cochrane was known to comment: ‘There had been no cause for a fertility religion in Europe since the advent of the coultershare plough in the 13th-century’. When this theme reached its full
flowering in her third book, The Divine King in England (1954), even her admirers were embarrassed and her work was dismissed as the ‘senile wanderings of a 90-year old crank’.
What was the appeal of her work? Jacqueline Simpson believed that part of the answer lies in what was at the time perceived as her sensible, demystifying, liberating approach to a long-standing but sterile argument between the religious-minded and the secularists as to what witches had been. At one extreme stood the eccentric and bigoted Catholic writer Montague Summers, maintaining that they really had worshipped Satan, and that by his help they really had been able to fly, change shape, do magic and so forth. His attitude can be judged by his passionate admiration for the Malleus Maleficarum, in which he found ‘inexhaustible wells of wisdom’.
‘She believed she was rediscovering forgotten facts of history; she never dreamed her work would be used to train new generations in the beliefs and practices of magic. She refused to give any attention whatsoever to what she called ‘operative magic’, which included all the supernatural damage of which witches were accused, such as blighting crops, bringing disease, raising storms, killing beasts and men. Her sources, the trial records of Britain and the writings of continental inquisitors and demonologists, were of course full of such material, plus all the marvels associated with the Sabbath [sic]: the personal presence of Satan, often in animal form; magic flight; shape-shifting; magic eating of the essence of animals, and so on. Murray was of course right to say that all these are impossibilities. But, instead of examining them in terms of recurrent and socially conditioned fears, beliefs and story-patterns, as a modern folklorist or social historian would do, she dismissed ‘operative magic’ from consideration and struggled mightily to find some core of material fact within each item of the alleged cult.’ [‘Margaret Murray: Who Believed Her, and Why?’]
Sometimes certain motifs survived her selection process because she had not noticed that they were magical. But, as the writer observes in What You Call Time, the principal difficulty in authenticating claims as to the traditional aspects of any brand of witchcraft lies in the fact that there are no genuine historical documents written by witches of the period. All documents, from medieval times onwards, which form the basis of ‘historical’ witchcraft, has its roots in Inquisitional material – which is hardly an unbiased source. Contemporary traditions all stem from the fragmented remains surviving under the guise of folklore. And, W G Gray’s valid observation that since witchcraft saw less persecution in Britain than on the continent, the probability is that it survived in these islands in a somewhat better state of preservation than elsewhere, deserves more than a casual thought. Oral traditions can be amazingly tenuous if subjected to local variations and, in this fashion, considerable fragments of Old Craft descended to the present day.
Murray was a whole-hearted sceptic and rationalist, who wanted to strip away every notion of the paranormal or supernatural from the concept of witchcraft – and yet in the 1950s her descriptions of alleged rituals, festivals and organisations of witches were used by Gerald Gardner as a blueprint for setting up a new system of magical and religious rituals, the Wicca movement of Britain and America, now the most widespread and best known branch of neo-paganism.
The main reason why Murray’s ideas had such impact must lie in the fact that in 1929 she was commissioned to write the entry on ‘Witchcraft’ for the Encyclopedia Britannica, and this entry was reprinted in later editions up to 1969, making her views virtually infallible in the eyes of the public. Along with the novels of Dennis Wheatley that also helped popularized occult fiction, and were probably responsible for an upsurge of interest in occultism, despite his using expert sources who, although great scholars, were as ignorant as fish as far as initiated magic was concerned. Nevertheless, these writings were also accessible to journalists, film-makers, other popular novelists and thriller writers, who adopted the details enthusiastically that by now they are so entrenched in popular culture that they will probably never be uprooted.
Folklorist, Hilda Davidson didn’t think Margaret Murray would have ever had much to do with people like Gardner; ‘to her, witchcraft was an academic subject and belonged to history, it was not something one put into practice’. On the other hand, she did write a brief introduction for Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today in 1955, at which time she was 93-years of age; but whether she ever knew how very practical was his interest in the subject remains an unanswerable question. Today, few Wiccans know who Gerald Gardner was, never mind being familiar with Margaret Murray and her endorsement of his re-vitalised new religion.
French historian, Le Roy Ladurie, has said of The Witch-Cult that it is a book ‘wherein sound inspiration and near nonsense are mingled’ – the sound aspect being Murray’s perception of a pagan substratum in witchcraft, an intuition for ‘genuine old strata of mythical belief embedded in the confessions, relating to pre-Christian rites. Similar, perhaps to the authentic elements concealed within Charles Leland’s Aradia: Or, The Gospel of the Witches(1899) and the comments made by Michael Howard:
‘As has been established by historians such as Dr Carlo Ginzburg and Eva Pócs. The elements of the medieval Witches’ Sabbat contain relics of the ancient spirit cults and localized ‘pagan’ folk beliefs of Europe.’ [By Moonlight and Spirit Flight ]
A lot of Margaret Murray’s theories, however, weren’t so far off beam, if not strictly accurate and it should be borne in mind that in 1921 when her first book was published, the repeal of the Witchcraft Act was still thirty years away. She maintained that in isolated communities the Craft had survived, although she mistakenly dismissed the idea if any mystical or magical powers attached to the belief. But equally wrong were her scholarly critics, one of whom suggested that …. ‘ her picture of the witch-cult seems far too sophisticated and articulate for the society with which we are concerned …’
Daniel Schulke of Three Hands Press said upon the publication of the Hands of Apostacy: ‘Of equal import to our endeavour was the emerging work of academics who have deemed traditional witchcraft worthy of study as a form of Western esotericism. In a sense this has become possible due to a new generation of researchers who have considered occult practice and exegesis from fresh and daring perspectives. I have long been an advocate of good relations between witchcraft practitioners and academia; Old Craft traditions need not fear, nor avoid, the work of good and principled scholars. But another important aspect of this shift in the winds is that, at a crucial moment in time, the Craft itself became self-aware, and in doing so fostered stronger creative and intellectual traditions within its own circles.’
I tend to disagree, simply because the problems are the same now as then. It is not possible to have an academic discussion on the subject of witchcraft and magic with anyone who has not been admitted to the Inner Court of traditional Craft. Yes, they want to learn and understand but from experience I can say that they will go to any lengths to obtain information to be revealed in their next publication because they are not oath-bound. Margaret Murray’s academic detractors hadn’t set foot in the Circle either and until they do, they don’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of learning our ways.
Those nebulous magical motifs that survived Margaret Murray’s selection processes – because she hadn’t noticed that they were magical – revealed that she had been talking to the right people even if she didn’t know it at the time. But then, neither did the scholars who belittled her work. Only someone schooled in traditional British Old Craft holds the key to such secrets – because some of them have never appeared in any other writings.
It should be obvious that the major influences on my own magical development have generally been mavericks who weren’t afraid to take a flyer in the face of academia… even if they came a cropper as a result. Many of those half-baked theories have been validated in later years and us ‘old uns’ can still derive a great deal of pleasure from re-reading those old dusty books with a hint of smugness!