Eleanor Bone (1910-2001)

I became involved with Eleanor through my work on the book ‘Charge of  the Goddess‘ a posthumous publication of the ritual poems of Doreen Valiente. ‘Rae’ and I soon warmed to each other and although reclusive by nature Eleanor Bone proved to be one of the liveliest minds of the Wiccan community despite her croning years. I wrote her obituary for no other reason that I feared that no one else would and this wonderful snapshot or recollection of her years would be lost. I only hoped to capture something of the essence of a truly great soul whose life shaped the path of many others to come.

Eleanor “Rae” Bone was an English Witch who was instrumental in the revival of modern Witchcraft, sometimes called the Matriarch of British Witchcraft. She was born in London as the daughter of a school Headmistress, thereby receiving a wide and varied education. An experience in early childhood after a family pet died convinced the young child that reincarnation existed and from that time on she began to read on subjects connected with folklore, magic and ghosts.

During the Second World War, Eleanor was drafted to Cumbria in the North of England and became friendly with an older couple. On one occasion conversation fell to reincarnation and Eleanor said she believed in it, which is when the couple revealed to her that they were hereditary Witches. They then initiated Eleanor into the Cumbrian tradition in 1941, and she practised with them for four years before returning to London at the war’s end.

In London Eleanor married and settled down running a home for the elderly. Later she was introduced to Gerald Brosseau Gardner and the two became friends. Eleanor was made a Priestess of one of Gardner’s covens. Her connections in the magical and mystical world included the mysterious ‘Dafo’ of the New Forest coven, Jack Bracelin, Patricia Crowther, Doreen Valiente and Sufi teacher Idries Shah, of whom she was particularly fond.

Visiting Dafo on many occasions, Eleanor learnt that the New Forest coven was a hereditary coven that followed the old ways of the Hampshire region. She was a close confidant of Dafo and learnt that the coven believed itself to have been formed at the time of the death of King Rufus in the Norman era. Dafo told Eleanor during intimate discussions that among the Witches present at a famous night where prominent witches were said to have cast spells against Adolf Hitler were herself, Dorothy Clutterbuck and Gardner.

During the late 1960’s, Eleanor found herself being called upon to speak about the Craft. One memorable appearance on a US television chat show, had Eleanor seated next to the eccentric English Witch Sybil Leek. An exchange of dry witty insults ended when down-to-earth Eleanor was asked to turn Sybil into a toad and replied, ‘Why should I improve on nature’.

The sixties saw a multitude of coffee table books on Witchcraft and Eleanor was always willing to pose for the photographer, skyclad with sword in hand or spend time talking to authors, journalists and researchers. Motivated by trying to represent Wicca in a positive light, her hope was that modern society would finally accept Wicca as a legitimate religion alongside Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism etc.

Visiting Tunis in 1968 to see the grave of her old friend Gerald Gardner, she was informed by the Chaplain that the Tunisian Government was turning the cemetery into a public park. The Chaplain said that if she wished to disinter her friend’s remains and move them to a cemetery out of town, then that could be arranged. Donations made by members of the Craft made this possible and his remains were laid to rest close to the ancient city of Carthage, once a prominent religious centre of the Great Goddess. Eleanor arranged all of this in honour of her fellow Witch without ever mentioning it again publicly. Within Egyptian society, Bone had a close connection with Egyptian President Abdel Nasser and had met with him on several visits to the country.

In her coven working Eleanor (Rae) Bone initiated a great many people. This remarkable Witch was responsible for the growth of Wicca in Britain, alongside Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente and Patricia Crowther. Two of her most famous pupils were Chris and Vivienne Crowley. Eleanor used ‘low’ or ‘country’ magic rather than the Garderian Wicca she had practised in the fifties and slowly returned to the ways she had learnt in Cumbria. Some footage of her rites exists, but the sensationalist US film ‘Witchcraft ’70‘, wrongly describes Eleanor as a Satanist! Retiring to Cumbria in 1972, she lived in the tiny village of Alston. From here she lived a private life away from the burgeoning Witch cult that she had helped form.

The origin of her title ‘Matriarch of British Witchcraft’ is now unknown, but there is little doubt that she enjoyed a special regard within the Witchcraft community. Her name commanded the respect of most Witches largely because she chose not to engage in wrangles or disputes, preferring her rather mystical stance on the Craft. One incident that Eleanor did decide to get involved with was to counteract the sensationalist propaganda being generated by one particular publicity-seeking coven who were bringing the Craft into disrepute. The result was that the entire religion nearly got banned once more by the British Establishment until Eleanor, Patricia Crowther and Doreen Valiente stepped in. Thanks to their combined efforts they managed to persuade the media, the British Parliament and the public that the Craft was a harmless religion dedicated to harmony with nature.

In later years when Eleanor was approached by the Pagan Federation in 2001 to be listed as an honorary member, she politely declined. Privately, she stated that part of the reason for this decision was that she did not recognise several of the traditions supported by the PF, as she believed their origins to be spurious.

She was however, far from inactive during her final years and gave an interview for a Newcastle paper on Witchcraft, after which the elderly Witch was inundated with correspondence from young people yearning to know more. In the summer of 2001 Eleanor gave her final performance at the annual Occulture festival. In a live telephone link-up from her home, the Cumbrian Witch spoke about the origins of modern Witchcraft. The historic address discussed little-known facts about the New Forest coven. Her final comment on the live link-up was that she was proud that Wicca had finally taken its place side by side with other world religions. She reminded people that when she had first practised the Craft it had been illegal. Her comments received a standing ovation.

In August 2001, Eleanor stated that she would soon be “called back to the Old Gods” and made preparation to wrap up her affairs which included steps to publish a book on her life. With her failing health not helped by the harsh weather of the Cumbrian hills ‘The Matriarch of British Witchcraft’ finally passed over on September 21st 2001. She was buried alongside her husband Bill in unconsecrated ground at Garigill cemetery.

Further reading

Biography of Eleanor Bone

One thought on “Eleanor Bone (1910-2001)

  1. Pingback: Madge Worthington | Dowsing for Divinity

Comments are closed.