Why is Doreen Valiente Important?
Ronald Hutton, Professor of History at the University of Bristol, has called Doreen Valiente "... the greatest single female figure in the modern British history of witchcraft". So what was special about her?
Doreen Valiente is principally known today through her books, published between 1962 and 1989. She was a very good and clear writer and her books have over the years informed numerous readers on the subject of modern witchcraft, or 'Wicca' as it is often now known, and indeed brought many to the realisation that initiation into witchcraft was the right path for them to take.
Doreen is essentially important because she approached witchcraft in a sensible and practical way but without losing that feeling of mystery and magic transcending the everyday which the Craft bestows. This comes over strongly in the five books which she wrote.
Her first book, Where Witchcraft Lives, is an account of witchcraft, past and present, in just one county - Sussex. As well as her historical research, Doreen gives some vivid accounts of rituals held up on the South Downs and on the seashore. The nature and quality of these accounts have inspired many.
Doreen's next book, An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present, is a good coverage of all aspects of witchcraft. It was published in 1973 at a time when good quality information about witchcraft was far more difficult to obtain than it is today.
Doreen's own approach to witchcraft developed over the years and she documented this in her next two books, Natural Magic (1975) and Witchcraft for Tomorrow (1978), which were really a personal manifesto for her. She emphasised that working magic does not require elaborate paraphernalia, but it does require a concentration of the mind. Also, whilst not denying the value of initiation into an established coven or magical working group, Doreen was a very strong advocate of allowing all who wanted to worship the Old Gods being given the opportunity to do so. So she provided what she called a 'Liber Umbrarum' (Book of Shadows) that she had written herself to provide a start for those readers who wanted it.
Doreen's desire to remove obstacles from the path of those wanting to become more involved in witchcraft led her to support such organisations as the Witchcraft Research Association and the Centre for Pagan Studies. She was also one of the main founders, in 1971, of what became the Pagan Federation.
Doreen's last book was The Rebirth of Witchcraft, which was in effect the history of the modern witchcraft revival from the 1940s to the 1980s. It is clear from reading this book that Doreen's own contribution to that history was considerable. She helped Gerald Gardner with writing his own Book of Shadows and some of her ritual pieces have become well-known, not just in witchcraft circles but beyond. The chant which starts "Darksome night and shining moon", often called "The Witches' Rune", is by Doreen, and she added to The Charge of the Goddess with some of the most moving words ever written.
Doreen was also an accomplished poet, giving on one occasion a recital to the Poetry Society in London. Her poems have now been posthumously published.
Those who knew her often described Doreen as being the most remarkable person they had ever met, one who continues to have a profound effect equally on them and on those who never met her.