Doreen Valiente was perhaps one of the most respected English witches to have influenced the modern day movement of Witchcraft. She was an early initiate and High Priestess of Gerald Gardner and did much to co-write with him the basic rituals and other materials that helped to changed and shaped contemporary Witchcraft as it is perceived today. As Gerald Gardner is now commonly thought of as the "Father" of contemporary Witchcraft, so Doreen is known affectionately as the "Mother".
Doreen was born Doreen Edith Dominy the daughter of Harry Dominy, an architect, and his wife Edith (nee Richardson) in Mitcham, South London, on the 4th January 1922. Little is known of her family except that they were Christian and very religious. During her early years the family lived near Horley in Surrey, and here Doreen had her first psychic experiences. When she was just seven years old, she became fascinated with the motion of the moon as she studied and gazed at it from the garden, and while doing so experienced her first spiritual contact:
"I saw what people would call the world of everyday reality as unreal, and saw behind it something that was real and very potent. I saw the world of force behind the world of form".
Far from a disturbing experience, it did more to boost her intrigue in the true nature of life's existence:
"Just for a moment I had experienced what was beyond the physical. It was beautiful, wonderful, it wasn't frightening. That, I think, shaped my live a lot".
At the age of thirteen, Doreen begun to experiment with simple magic. Once when learning that her mother, who worked as a housekeeper, was being constantly harassed and tormented by a co-worker. Doreen was able to obtain a few strands of the women's hair, and concocted a spell to stop her bullying. The spell apparently worked but her devoutly Christian family, perhaps out of fear, were far from happy and sent Doreen away to convent school. Doreen walked out of the convent when she was fifteen and refused ever to return.
As time went by, Doreen became more aware of her own psychic abilities and began to read and study all the occult material she could lay her hands on, including the works of: Charles Godfrey Leland, Aleister Crowley and Margaret Alice Murray whom she particularly admired.
On the 31st January 1941 having just turned 19, Doreen was working as a secretary in Barry, South Wales. There she met and married her first husband 'Joanis Vlachopoulos'. Not a lot is known about Joanis, except that he was a 32 year old 'Able Seaman' serving with the Merchant Navy out of Cardiff. This was a dangerous occupation at that time as the course of World War 11 spread across Europe and our navy's struggled to re-supply troops and forces employed over there. On a daily bases, many ships and seamen were lost as they crossed the treacherous waters of the Atlantic. Just six months after their wedding, Joanis was reported missing at sea and presumed dead. Despite her loss, Doreen continued to work as a secretary in Wales, then later moved to London.
On the 29th of May 1944, just a week before the Normandy Landings, Doreen married her second husband Casimiro Valiente. Casimiro was a refugee from the Spanish Civil War, who while fighting with the Free French Forces against the German occupation, had been wounded and sent back to England as an invalid. He met Doreen while convalescing in London and they were married at St Pancras Registry Office. They would remain together for the next 28 years until Cosimiro died in April 1972.
Sometime after the war ended, Doreen and Cosimo moved from London and took up residence in Bournemouth, not to far away from the New Forrest area where Gerald Gardner had first been initiated into Witchcraft. After the bombed-out ruins of war-time London, the peace and tranquillity of the area appealed to Doreen and such was it's history steeped in folklore, her interest in Witchcraft, the Occult and Psychic Phenomena was re-kindled. In 1952 shortly after the repeal of the old witchcraft laws, Doreen read an article about Cecil Williamson who was opening a Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft based on the Isle of Man. The article mentioned a coven still operating in the New Forrest area, and this so intrigued Doreen that she wrote to Williamson seeking further information. Williamson in turn passed her letter on to Gerald Gardner.
After corresponding back and forth for a while, Doreen expressed her interest in joining a coven. Gardner invited Doreen to tea at a friend’s house near the New Forrest. During the summer of 1952 in a little town called Christchurch, Hampshire, there still lived a lady called 'Dafo', the very same lady who had introduced Gardner to the New Forrest coven in the autumn of 1939. She wisely used 'Dafo' as a pseudonym, because it was only a year before that the old antiquated 'Witchcraft Act of 1735' was repealed, and 'technically', witchcraft was still considered by many a criminal offence, and to declare oneself a Witch could bring about all sorts of social complications.
At this first meeting in Dafo's home, Gardner didn’t invite her to join his coven, but presented Doreen with a copy of his book 'High Magic’s Aid'. This he did to all potential initiates in order to gauge their reactions to ritual nudity and scourging. After further correspondence, a year later in 1953, Doreen received her first degree initiation into the Craft. Tradition demanded that an opposite member of sex conduct the initiation, and so Gardner decided to conduct it himself. On Midsummer's Eve he was due to attend a 'Druid Solstice' gathering at Stonehenge, where he was to loan the 'Order' his ritual sword. Travelling in from his witchcraft museum on the Isle of Man, on his way he stopped off at the home of Dafo to initiate Doreen. That evening Doreen was reborn as "Ameth" the pseudonym or craft name as it is called, by which she was to be known.
During the initiation Gardner used his own Book of Shadows containing as he claimed, information and remnants of rites taken from an Old Religion passed down through the ages to the old New Forest Coven, but from it he also read a passage Doreen instantly recognized. It came not from an old religion, but from a more contemporary source, the 'Gnostic Mass' written by Aleister Crowley. Gardner then gave Doreen free access to his 'Book of Shadows' and other materials he had collected. He still claimed most had been passed down to him from the old coven, but much of it was fragmentary. Doreen immediately recognized some of Crowley's other work among his material, but accepted Gardner’s assertion of how it came to be there. Working in collaboration with Gardner, she began to re-write his 'Book of Shadows' using her considerable poetic gifts. Due to his unsavoury reputation, she removed much of Crowley’s influence and instead inserted the influence of Charles G. Leland, this is evident in her most famous piece 'The Charge of the Goddess'. This revised version of the Book of Shadows served as the basis for what was to become known as “Gardnerian Wicca”, which still today is one of the most dominant traditions of contemporary Witchcraft.
From these early beginnings we can see how Doreen Valiente's influence helped to shape and mould the future of modern witchcraft as it evolved into many other traditions. Doreen was also credited with increasing the emphasis on Goddess worship and thus transforming the craft into a fully-fledged Religion.
By 1957 however, a rift was starting to form between Gardner, Doreen (now his High Priestess) and the rest of his coven. It was caused mainly by his relentless pursuit of publicity and would lead to Doreen (and others) leaving his coven. In her autobiography 'The Rebirth of Witchcraft' she explains:
"that as the coven's High Priestess, she felt that by speaking to the press, Gardner was compromising the security of the group and the sincerity of his own teachings".
As was his way, Gardner persisted forcing a separation, so Doreen left to set up her own coven with a man called Ned Grove. Later, before Gardner died, they restored their friendship and mutual respect, but never to the same degree as before.
Life then changed dramatically for Doreen in 1964, when both her mother Edith, and Gerald Gardner died. It was also the year, perhaps due to the growing tensions of internal politics emerging within Gardnerianism that Doreen decided to move on and take up with another tradition. She was initiated into the 'Clan of Tubal-Cain', a coven run by Robert Cochrane. Cochrane claimed to be a hereditary witch and was the founder of the tradition now referred to as the '1734' tradition, a tradition allegedly handed down through his family. However, Doreen soon became disillusioned with Cochrane as she began to realize he was more fiction than fact. He was openly contemptuous of Gardnerian Witches, which irked her, and when she noticed his obsession with 'witches potions' (Drugs), she left him. Cochrane died in 1966 in what would appear to have been a ritual suicide, he had ingested belladonna leaves, more commonly known as 'Deadly Nightshade'.
Into the 1960's, a time that brought change to many people, in many ways, and a time that changed many public perceptions. Freedom was in the air, a sexual revolution started, rock and roll was here to stay and peace movements proliferated as people took to the streets against war, racism and environmental issues. Social upheaval led to the old-fashioned ideas that Governmental-control and suppression, as well as public opinion could be changed. The public had finally found a voice.
From this social freedom emerged many alternative 'New Age' traditions as people cast of the restraints of orthodox religion. Some witches took advantage of this new found freedom and the likes of Sybil Leek and Alex and Maxine Saunders became media personalities actively courting publicity. Many Elders of the craft still refused to come forward publicly, and stoically shunned all contact with anyone outside the Craft. Doreen was one of the few who managed to find a middle-ground, she never denied paganism nor feared to speak out in its defence.
After the death of her husband Casimiro in April 1972, Doreen began to devote much of her time to writing. Her first book was 'An ABC of Witchcraft' (1973), which soon became a sought after book. It was followed by 'Natural Magic' (in 1975) and 'Witchcraft for Tomorrow' (in 1978). These three books did much to established Doreen as an authority on Witchcraft and magic. Many of today's leading authors, researchers and pagans then contacted Doreen, who helped them with her knowledge, anecdotes and personal reminisces of leading craft figures. For those more discerning, she also made available her large and extensive private library, and by guiding their research, proof-read and edited many of their works. In this way Doreen helped and contributed to many of today's leading Wiccan titles.
It was also in the 70's that Doreen spoke out and challenged the British Government, who perhaps out of ignorance were attempting to pass new legislation against Witchcraft. However, they hadn't expected the persistence of someone like Doreen Valiente. She succeeded in lobbying the 'Member of Parliament' concerned, and in the end the new laws were never passed.
In 1980, Doreen began her quest and search for 'Old Dorothy Clutterbuck', the High Priestess who had allegedly initiated Gardner into Witchcraft in 1939. So little was known about Old Dorothy, that many craft sceptics believed she never existed and was merely a figment of Gardner’s imagination. Doreen set out to disprove these allegations and after a diligent and determined search, succeeded in proving through 'Birth and Death records', that Old Dorothy had indeed been a real person. Her account of the search which lasted over two years is published as “Appendix A” in Janet and Stewart Farrar’s book - 'A Witches Bible'. She also wrote and had published her own autobiography, 'The Rebirth of Witchcraft' in 1989.
Through-out the last three decades of her life, Doreen gave freely of her time and energy, and contributed much of her research, knowledge and experience, not only through her writing and poetry, but through her personal appearances and public speaking at events and conventions regularly organized by the 'The Pagan Federation' founded in 1971. In her efforts to provide genuine information on Paganism, and to counter the many misconceptions about it's religion, in 1995 she agreed to become 'Patron' of the 'Centre for Pagan Studies'. It was founded by John Belham-Payne, her last High Priest and working partner, and it was to the 'Centre for Pagan Studies' that Doreen made her last public speech.
In her later years Doreen lived in Brighton, Sussex, where after a long struggle with cancer, illness finally overcame her. In her last few days she was moved to a nursing home for extra care and attention, and there friends would visit and keep her company. Through-out her final mortal hours, John Belham-Payne and his wife Julie were at her bed side, and at 6.55 a.m. on the 1st September 1999, she crossed the threshold into the Otherworld.
Doreen had been a strong person in life, strong in her beliefs through-out her life, and while her illness sapped her physical strength, she retained her mental strength right up until the end. Just two weeks before she passed away, Doreen notarized her 'Last Will and Testament'. In it she bequeathed to John Belham-Payne her extensive collection of witchcraft artefacts, her personal library, and copyrights to all her writings, research material and poetry for prosperity. The artefacts included many items made for her by Gerald Gardner, together with some of his ritual items, his original Book of Shadows and her own Book of Shadows, thought by many to be contemporary witchcraft’s most important documents. She also requested John to perform a simple pagan service for her funeral and invite all her friends to the same.
One of her last wishes John tells us was that the poetry she had written over the years, be published. To achieve this last wish, John and his wife Julie moved to Spain in the following year 2000. This allowed them the time and freedom to restore and archive Doreen's now famous collection, and more importantly, to publish posthumously her final gift to the community, a new book of her poetry entitled "Charge of The Goddess" (published in 2000 by Hexagon Hoopix, the publishing arm of the Hexagon Archive). The book is available to order on-line.
Doreen's contributions to modern day Witchcraft are immeasurable, and yet she was one of the few early pioneers who shunned publicity. She believed that a certain amount of secrecy on the part of covens should and ought to be maintained, and that the future of paganism in the age of Aquarius, lies in feminism and Green issues associated with the environment. In her last address to the National Conference of the Pagan Federation, held at Fairfield Hall in Croydon, London on the 22nd November 1997, she stated that:
"The initiates of the ancient pagan Mysteries were taught to say 'I am the child of earth and Starry Heaven and there is no part of me that is not of the Gods". If we in our own day believe this, then we will not only see it as true of ourselves, but of other people also. We will for instance cease to have silly bickering between covens, because they happen to do things differently from the way we do them. This incidentally is the reason why I eventually parted from Robert Cochrane, because he wanted to declare a sort of Holy War against the followers of Gerald Gardner, in the name of traditional witchcraft. This made no sense to me, because it seemed to me, and still does, that as witches, pagans or whatever we choose to call ourselves, the things which unite us are more important than the things which divide us".
"I was saying this back in the 1960s", she continues, "in the days of the old Witchcraft Research Association and I repeat it today. However since those days we have, I believe, made great progress. We have literally spread worldwide. We are a creative and fertile movement. We have inspired art, literature, television, music and historical research. We have lived down the calumny and abuse. We have survived treachery. So it seems to me that the 'Powers That Be' must have a purpose for us in the Aquarian Age that is coming into being - "So Mote It Be".
Time will tell whether her new book of verse will be recognised for its spiritual and literary values. Designed for practical use in Witchcraft, it may well in time be used for fresh inspiration and contemporary thought, and even become a template for a new generation of Wiccans, those who have finally arrived in the new age of Aquarius, a new era in a new millennium.
In 2011, John Belham-Payne of the Centre For Pagan Studies issued the following press release:
“The Doreen Valiente Foundation was officially formed on the 6th March 2011 and has now received ownership of all artefacts bequeathed to John Belham-Payne of the Centre For Pagan Studies by Doreen Valiente.”
The objects of the foundation are: “To protect artefacts which are important to the past, present and future of all pagan religions”, and “to make such artefacts available for future education and research”.
The Foundations first Trustees each signed a “Declaration of Trust”, they include: John Belham-Payne, Julia Belham-Payne, Brian Botham, Patricia Botham and Ashley Mortimer. The Foundation held its first meeting and resolved to: Seek charitable status from the Charities Commission, which has now been achieved, and to design and prepare all artefacts for their new purpose, that of exhibition.
The Foundation has already received pledges of further artefacts to add to the Collection, and anticipates continued growth from future donations.”
On the 21st June 2013 (the Mid-Summer Solstice), sponsored by "The Centre for Pagan Studies" and the newly formed "Doreen Valiente Foundation", a Blue Plaque was unveiled in Brighton, UK honouring Doreen Valiente. Such commemorative Blue Plaques are only awarded to people of special interest those who during their life-time helped to shape our cultural heritage and history. This Doreen Valiente plaque is now prominently placed on the wall of the apartment block in Brighton where she lived and worked for the last 30 years of her life, and where she did most of her seminal writing. So far as is known, this is the first Blue Plaque of its kind to be placed on a council apartment block in this country, and one of the first to commemorate the life of a modern contemporary Witch.
http://centre-for-pagan-studies.com/ and http://www.doreenvaliente.com/
The Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft - By Raven Gramassi
The Encyclopedia of Witches &Witchcraft - by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.
Extract from her last speech to the Pagan Federation received by e-mail, Author Unknown. Believed published in the Pagan Dawn, the Federation's public magazine.