Who is Doreen Valiente?

In 1951, the last of the old Witchcraft Acts was repealed. Many thought that the practice of witchcraft had died centuries before, but the opening of a museum of witchcraft on the Isle of Man together with some newspaper and magazine articles made it clear that there were still people around who called themselves witches.

One article in the magazine Illustrated in September 1952 was read by a 30-year-old secretary by the name of Doreen Valiente. The article mentioned witchcraft activity going on in the New Forest area of Hampshire, quite near where she was living. This eventually led to her initiation into 'the witch cult' by Gerald Gardner, who had discovered an old coven of witches some 13 years previously.

But who was Doreen? Her ancestors came from the New Forest and from the chalk hills of Dorset. She had been aware that she had psychic ability from her earliest years and, when growing up, began to have prophetic dreams, work magic spells and have memories of previous lifetimes.

After a fascinating wartime job that utilised her skill in languages, she settled into married life and developed her interests to include Spiritualism and ceremonial magic.

Following her initiation, she helped Gerald Gardner in the writing of rituals, until a dispute over publicity led her to seek other witchcraft traditions, such as those led by Robert Cochrane and Raymond Howard.

In 1956, Doreen and her husband moved to Brighton, a town which would be her home for the rest of her life. Visiting local libraries and archives, and exploring by bus and on foot, she began to investigate the prevalence of witchcraft in her new home county of Sussex. This resulted in her first book, Where Witchcraft Lives, being published in 1962.

Doreen clearly fell in love with the landscape of southern England, and rarely left it, even for visits. For her, witchcraft was intimately bound up with the land on which she lived, particularly the chalk Downs. And, with growing confidence, she wrote a series of books which were, effectively, a 'personal manifesto' of her ideas about witchcraft, most notably Natural Magic and Witchcraft for Tomorrow.

Doreen was always concerned to make sure that witchcraft was represented fairly in press reports and frequently challenged those who, by their words or actions, brought it into disrepute. To this end she supported such organisations as the Witchcraft Research Association and the Pagan Federation, which she did a considerable amount to help found.

While Doreen learned a lot from the traditions imparted to her by Gardner, Cochrane and others, she became increasingly aware that she found most fulfilment in her own version of witchcraft. This was based on simple natural magical techniques, and she was happiest going up onto her beloved South Downs, under a full moon, either alone or with a small group, toasting the Old Ones, our ancestors and the local deities.

Whilst she saw the merits of initiation into an established group or coven, Doreen felt it was important not to exclude those who were unable to find such a group or preferred to work on their own. So she gave a method of self-initiation which, particularly in the 1970s, when contact was more difficult, was much appreciated by her readers.

Doreen's books sold very well over the years and have influenced generations of those intrigued by and wanting to know more about witchcraft. Since her death in 1999, her reputation has continued to grow, and, at midsummer 2013, a blue commemorative plaque, the first ever to a witch, was unveiled on the building where she had lived for the last 25 years of her life.