Tag Archives: Hagley Wood

The Hagley Wood Murder: The body in the Wytch Elm

The actual witch elm in Hagley Wood

The actual witch elm in Hagley Wood

In April of 1943 three boys went bird egg hunting in Hagley Woods – lands on the estate of Lord Cobham below Clent Hills in the Cotswolds District of England. In the midst of the forest was a stunted elm tree. It was a likely spot for a nest, so one of the boys clambered up to the top, some five feet from the ground. The boy, Robert Hart, discovered that the tree was hollow. Staring up at him from the rotting leaves inside the trunk was a human skull. A body had been tossed into the hollow trunk of the ancient elm.

Within a short while Worcestershire County Police were able to determine that the skeletal remains belonged to a woman of medium height. At the time of her death she was dressed in a dark striped woolen cardigan, a light blue plastic belt, a dark cloth skirt and blue crepe soled shoes.

The bones showed no evidence of injury, so the cause of death could not be determined. The only distinctive feature of the entire skeleton was the mouth – the teeth were particularly irregular. Professor J. M. Webster, one of the country’s top forensic pathologists, was called in to minutely examine the remains. It was he who developed a mass of evidence including the clothing and the teeth. The teeth were especially important. Dental records, even in the 1940s, were such that the identity of the woman would not long remain a mystery. Even so, the police contacted shops and manufacturers, possible sources of the clothing and the distinctive crepe soled shoes.

As the police investigation widened, several disturbing facts surrounding the location of the body came into consideration. The tree that served as the woman’s grave for some eighteen months was known locally as “The Wytch Elm.” Looming above Hagley Wood were the Clent Hills – atop which was an ancient circle of stones said to have been used by local witches for sabbats. Eighteen months after the body in the Wytch Elm was discovered there another killing 40 miles away. The body of Charles Walton was found beneath an oak tree at Meon Hill, his body staked to the ground with his own pitchfork – and a cross deeply carved in his throat with a knife.

The villagers in nearby Lower Quinton were convinced that witchcraft was behind the Walton murder. Police began to consider that the Hagley Wood murder might have similar connections.

As I write this, 71 years after the body of this 35 year-old woman was discovered, she remains unidentified. Despite the wealth of clues, nothing was ever learned about who she was, or how she died – or who murdered her.

I came across both murders in my research for The Watch: Churchill’s Secret War for the Soul of Germany. I decided to keep the memory of the lost woman in the wytch elm alive by weaving it into the storyline. In the book (a reflection of the still largely secret truth) Churchill uses occult groups in England to actively combat the pagan work of Himmler’s black priesthood, the SS. Himmler and Hitler both used astrologers – so Churchill employed them to tell him what Hitler might be thinking. It was also important to let Himmler know that an occult war was being staged against the Nazi Reich.

In the book the body in the wytch elm finally gains a name and a face. It might be fiction – but then again, there are those who believe it may not be far at all from the truth.

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The Witches Of The Weald: A New Halloween Story

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Ms. Jaqui Wood, the archaeologist who discovered the neolithic ritual site in Cornwall, England (Courtesy Archaeology Magazine)

Thanks to Gerald Gardner, many a new witch and warlock may well be dancing to the beat of the drum on the night of Samhain, October 31st. How many truly ancient witches of the “Old Religion” will be drawing down the moon among the newbies, the wannabees and the converted cowans?

Since Gardner began to publish his books on the revival of ancient witchcraft a great many residents of the myth wrapped British Isles have turned to ‘Neo-Paganism’ as an alternative to the man-made Christian religion that arose in 435 A.D. in a highly successful effort to organize the then gathering viral power of the teachings of Jesus.

Gardner wrote of the “Old Religion,” the Paganism that was world wide since before the Neolithic and perhaps even Paleolithic times. Gardner was a British colonial official in the East Indies and an amatuer anthropologist. He retired to England in the mid 1930s and claims to have connected with an ancient witch coven of the New Forest in the Weald of Southeast England. Britain, never a nation to easily give up a favored ancient and draconian law, repealed the Witchcraft Act of 1736 in 1945. It was then that Gardner began to openly write about active witchcraft in the British Isles. It is accepted today that he was largely responsible for the re-emergence of a new paganism dubbed “Wicca.”  In the years since it has gained massive popularity around the world and especially in the US.

British authorities and the Anglican and Catholic Churches liked to maintain that the “old” witchcraft traditions never really existed in any organized form, or that it died out centuries ago. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anthropologist Margaret Murray began to draw the veil aside in the 1920s when she published “The Witch-Cult in Western Europe” a book that drew largely on historical records of witch trials and other accounts. The book also made veiled references to current activity in England and so garnered the opposition of many other researchers and historians.

In truth, the ancient practices of witch covens are–and have been–as alive today under the cloak of the new Wicca as they ever were. In the middle of World War II a body was discovered stuffed inside the “Wytche Elm” and ancient hollow elm tree in the middle of Hagley Wood in the English Midlands. The event was believed to have been the result of witchcraft, as was another murder in the same area. Both killings were documented in “Murder by Witchcraft” by Donald McCormick. In the “Watch: The Secret War for the Soul of Germany” I give an account of the Hagley Wood murder–and use the licence of fiction to completely explain it. There are similar accounts throughout rural England of current witchcraft practices and many more that pre-date the resurgence of Gardnerian Wicca. One of the most fascinatingaccounts is given in Archaeology Magazine article by Kate Ravilious in Volume 61 Number 6, November/December 2008. The article relates the excavation of a Neolithic ritual site where crystalline rock had been carefully laid around a natural spring. Evidence showed that the site had been used for spellcasting in later centuries. One specific spell to promote fertility had been buried in the ground over and over again since Medieval times. Scientists were astonished to find the same ritual objects being buried there as late as the 1950s!  Here is evidence of continuous pagan practice since neolithic times.

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I am a Celt from Southern Wales and not unfamiliar with the pagan practices of this still magical land. I also dwelled for many years in the midst of the Kentish Weald – and I can attest to the truth of Gardner’s claims. Much of this knowledge is used in my fictional account of the efforts in England to counter the magical works of the Nazi Regime. Here I have gone back tomy childhood to resurrect some of the characters of the Weald I knew or heard about–and the secret Sabbats they mounted as part of Churchill’s amazing and little discussed “Watch.” This was the group he organize to wage the occult war against Hitler.

So, as the fires burn and the cauldrons bubble this coming All Souls Eve, look over your shoulder as you dance deosil upon the magic circle. The naked maiden behind you may well be a witch of true power, and true religion with the magic of many a century in her veins!

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