This section lists some of the early practitioners of witchcraft and students of the occult. It is by no means as complete or as detailed as some sources available and, therefore, is intended to provide only a starting point for exploring the history of Wicca.
Those wishing to do so are strongly urged to begin their exploration at George Knowles’ http://www.controverscial.com.
We’ll begin with the Gardnerians and their linear predecessors.
George Pickingill (May 26, 1816 – 1909)
George was a “cunning man” and farm worker in southeastern England who abandoned the strictly oral traditions of older covens, took the idea of a coven rule book and
expanded it into a “Book of Shadows” which he then made available to each of his covens. He is credited with the introducing female leadership in covens.
George eventually established nine (9) covens of “hereditary witches”, situated in Norfolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Sussex and Hampshire, of which Dorothy Clutterbuck’s New Forest coven was a last remnant.
Aleister Crowley (October 12, 1875 – December 1, 1947)
In November, 1898 he joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Kicked out in 1900.
In 1899 he joined one of George Pickingill’s covens and is said to have gained his “second degree” before being kicked out. Reasons given for this included his “contemptuous attitude toward women, failure to attend rituals with regularity, his personal ego and sexual perversion”. was called, among other things, “The Great Beast” and “The Wickedest Man in the World”.
In 1946 his friend Arnold Crowther introduced him to Gerald Gardner. None of Gardner’s covens would have him.
Dorothy Clutterbuck (January 19, 1880 – January 12, 1951)
Described as a leading member of the New Forest coven was a witch of the “Old School” who felt the need for secrecy was paramount. She never publicly claimed to be a witch. Evidence, mainly from her diaries, fuels an ongoing controversy with regards to her involvement with the New Forest coven and witchcraft. On one side is her outward commitment to christianity through the Church of England and a bequest to the local Anglican priest. The other side argues that a marked lack of Christian themes and assorted Pagan references in her diaries argues strongly for her being a witch.
She reportedly initiated Gerald Gardner in September, 1939. This too is disputed with some claiming the Gardners real initiator was Edith Woodford-Grimes.
Edith Woodford-Grimes (?, 1887 – ?, 1975)
Despite the claim by some that she initiated Gardner instead of Dorothy Clutterbuck, her true relationship to Gardner and the New Forest coven is unclear. She is described as being Gardner’s “magical working partner”, “High Priestess”, teacher, and lover who was briefly a member of Gardner’s Bricket Wood coven from the late 1940’s until 1952. Reportedly quit the coven when Gardner’s thirst for publicity threatened to expose her.
Gerald Gardner (June 13, 1884 – February 13, 1964)
Reportedly initiated by Dorothy Clutterbuck or Edith Woodford-Grimes in September, 1939.
Gerald was raised by his nanny, Josephine McCombie. When she married and moved to Ceylon Gerald went with her. From there he moved to Borneo, then Malaysia where he became interested in the local culture and its religious beliefs. This interest made him famous for his pioneering research in Malaya’s early civilizations. His book Keris and other Malay Weapons made him the world’s leading expert on Malaya’s natives and their weapons.
In 1936, Gerald returned to England and settled in the New Forest area of Hampshire. There he met and was later initiated into a coven of the “Old Religion”.
Gerald moved again, this time to Bricket Wood in Hertfordshire. It was here that “Gardnerian Wicca” was born.
Barbara Vickers (July 13, 1922 – ?,1973)
Initiated by Gerald Gardner 1950 and was one of Gardner’s first, if not the first, initiates. An early member of Gardner’s Bricket Wood coven, she quit attending meetings by 1954. This was possibly due to pressure from her parents who were Catholic.
Barbara had promised to raise her daughter in this faith and probably felt that this promise and her membership in Gardner’s coven were too incompatible. She seems to have participated in at least one other ritual in 1956, however, when she filled in for Doreen Valiente at the initiations of Thelma Capel and Jack Bracelin.
Doreen Valiente (January 4, 1922 – September 1, 1999)
Initiated by Gerald Gardner 1953. If Gerald Gardner was the “Father” of modern Wicca, the Doreen is it’s “Mother”. In editing Geralds’s Book of Shadows she in effect co-wrote many of the basic rituals and other materials that continues to influence modern Wicca.
Doreen joined the Bricket Wood coven and eventually became it’s High Priestess. By 1957, however, Doreen became disillusioned by Geralds’s relentless pursuit of publicity. In her autobiography ‘The Rebirth of Witchcraft’ she says “that as the coven’s High Priestess, she felt that by speaking to the press, Gerald was compromising the security of the group and the sincerity of his own teachings”.
Thelma Capel (?? – ??) Initiated by Gerald Gardner in 1956.
Became High priestess of the Bricken Wood coven January, 1958 after Doreen Valiente left. Under her leadership, the coven abandoned scourging and binding as methods for raising energy during ritual and adopted circle dancing. They also began celebrating the Solstices and Equinoxes, thus beginning the tradition of the “Wheel of the Year” used in Wicca today.
She emigrated to Canada in October, 1959.
Jack Bracelin (?? – 1983)
Initiated by Doreen Valiente in 1956. Became High Priest of the Bricken Wood coven after Gardner’s death in 1964. He later resigned after deciding that the coven’s Book of Shadows wasn’t compatible with his own religious beliefs. In 1966 he married in a Roman Catholic church.
Lois Bourne (??-??)
Initiated by Gerald Gardner in 1957. Became High Priestess of the Bricket Wood coven after Thelma Capel’s departure in 1959.
Fredrick Lamond (1931- —-)
Initiated in 1956 by Barbara Vickers (?). A “fast tracked” initiate, per Gardner, Fredrick was an only child who was raised by his grandmother after his parents divorced in 1933.
While exploring his interest in pantheism Fredrick read Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today. They met, became friends, and in 1957 Fredrick joined Gardner’s Bricket Wood coven.
Patricia Dawson Crowther (October 27, 1927 – —-)
One of the last of Gerald Gardner’s initiates (June, 1960) she is considered to be his spiritual heir and works diligently to promote the “Old Religion”. She met Arnold Crowther in 1958 and was introduced by him to Gardner. Both gained their “2nd degree” on October 11, 1961 and on the 27th she became a High Priestess and by the end of the year had begun building her own coven.
Arnold Crowther (October 6, 1909 – May 1, 1974)
Initiated by Patricia Dawson in November, 1960. Crowther was a stage magician and ventriloquist who was interested in paganism and witchcraft. His major claim to fame was his introduction of Aleister Crowley to Gerald Gardner in 1946. He had met Gerald sometime before 1939 when Gerald and his wife Donna attended one of his lectures on curios. The two became good friends and shared several interests including exploring antique shops.
Eleanor Bone (??, 1910 – September 21, 2001)
Originally initiated by a couple of “hereditary” witches in Cumbria in August, 1941. She later met Gerald Gardner who insisted she be accepted into his Bricket Wood coven despite objections by several members. She was initiated by Gerald anyway sometime during 1958-59 and within a month had received her second and third degree initiations and been established as High Priestess in her own coven.
Her efforts to promote Wicca’s growth and acceptance earned her recognition as the “Matriarch of British Wicthcraft”. The origin of this title has been lost but she was held in high regard by members of the witchcraft community.
To be continued…