Tag Archives: Witches

Gerald Gardner & The Witches of the Weald

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.

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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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