Southeastern England is a rich agricultural area formed by a massive eroded chalk dome. The southern edge of the eroded dome forms the white cliffs of Dover. From Dover the continent is some twenty-one miles away across the English Channel – making it the stepping-stone for every traveller, and conqueror of the past.
Before the Channel existed there was a low valley between the Weald and the Continent. As far back as the Mesolithic, wanderers would make their way to this spot, teeming with game and wild crops. At some unrecorded time the Celts arrived and with them the Druids and the pagan pantheon. The ancient Mesolithic road across the Weald became The Ancient Path of the Druids, guiding the seekers of knowledge to Anglesey.
At some point the pagan gods became the warp and weft of rural life in the Weald. But for a brief 500 years of Roman rule, the covens, the High Priestesses and the Masters of the Sabbat reigned supreme…until the coming of Christianity. The rule of the men of Nicea drove the covens underground. It never managed to eradicate them.
The ‘religion’ through which we celebrated our connection with the sky above and the earth beneath – and every natural thing between the two – became the stuff of moonless nights, of dark ritual, and tales to chill the hearts of good Christian children.
The centuries that followed were filled with clear evidence that the pagan religion was alive and well if underground. And the one place it was strongest – was in the Weald of Kent. In was not until well after the second world war that laws to curb ‘witchcraft’ in England were cast off the books. Well before this a retired Civil Servant named Gerald Gardner was busy making his own connections with the witches of the Weald. Gardner had spent a career in the East Indies where he used his spare time to explore the odd and the arcane. He may have thought he was giving all that up when he retired to England.
Gardner began writing about witchcraft as a living religion in England. His books lived long after he did. They gave rise to worldwide religion of Wicca, the modern counterpart of the millennia old pagan religion.
Today the exponents of Gardnerian witchcraft still debate over exactly how Gardner came by his knowledge. Many believe he cobbled his ideas together from various written sources and archival research. Gardner always claimed that he was ‘introduced’ to the religion by a Doris Clutterbuck – a witch from the Kentish Weald. Many historians of the movement claim that Clutterbuck could not be found, that she was a figment of Gardner’s imagination. This is must be the result of poor research – for my grandmother knew the Clutterbucks – and the family name is still alive and well in Lamberhurst in the midst of the Weald. Hetty Leaney was the headmistress of the village school in Lamberhurst until shortly before World War II. More than a few stories of the “goings on” around Lamberhurst during the times of the pagan calendar have come down through the family.
In The Watch – Churchill’s Secret War for the Soul of Germany” I gave a nod to the memory of Hetty Leaney and Doris Clutterbuck by including some of that family history in a section of the book. In the book the earth of the Weald gives birth to a long buried ancient stone circle – the center of the witch’s spell casting against the black adepts of Hitler’s SS priesthood. Gardner spoke of such activities and was often derided at the time of the writing – after the war. They were all true.
There are many more stories buried in the soil of the Weald…a few in books yet to be written.