Another gem from the Wayback Machine, by the same author as the obituary of Eleanor Bone that I posted previously. If anyone knows who the author is, please let me know; it seems to be by the person who founded the Occulture festival.
There are some very interesting points in the interview, such as the allegation that Gerald Gardner never received any initiations beyond first degree from the New Forest Coven.
For those who have visted this site for the first time and may wonder about my own connection with Wicca – I am not a Witch, nor have I been initiated into the Craft. Yet, rather curiously, I have befriended many of the most prominent Witches in the UK quite by chance and Eleanor was one of those great Pagans who I have had the good fortune to come across. In fact I asked Eleanor if she would write the introduction to Doreen Valiente’s last book ‘Charge of the Goddess‘ – a collection of Doreen’s poems and personal recollections of the Craft.
Sadly, Eleanor is no longer on this plane. In her time here, this great lady was described within the Wican community by the rather grandiose title ‘The Matriarch of British Witchcraft’ and enjoyed some standing within the Craft. I never found out how this title came to be bestowed on Eleanor — or Rae as she preferred to be known among friends. It was all rather mysterious, but as time unfolded I found out that Rae had connections with all manner of secret societies and even Presidents and other international figures. Her sense of humour was legendary and bouyed her spirits through ailing health to the very end. In October 2006 I visited Alston in Cumbra and paid homage to this great Witch.
I hope to captured some of Eleanor in this snippet of an interview conducted by telephone in 2001.
1. Eleanor, you are the Matriarch of British Witchcraft and this country’s most senior Witch. When were you first initiated into the Craft?
I was initiated in August 1941 while I was working in Cumbria during the War. A couple talked to me about life and revealed they were Witches and said I was too. It was after a conversation we’d had together on reincarnation.
2. Witchcraft was illegal at this time wasn’t it? What would have happened if people had found out you were a Witch in those days?
I don’t think we ever worried about it.
3. Did your family know you were part of the Craft?
No, my mother died in 1942. I’ve held unorthodox views on religion since [I was] 8 when my cat died. I was very upset and cried. When I asked the Vicar whether the creature had gone to heaven, he replied that animals did not go there. This comment did not sit well with me and I began to read The Golden Bough and became interested in folklore.
4. The group of people who you operated with back in the 1940’s, did any of them encounter persecution as a result of their beliefs?
In the countryside it was just accepted.
5. What was your reaction when you heard that a lady had been jailed under the Witchcraft Act in 1944 only three years after your own initiation?
I personally never heard about this incident until some time later and I think there may have been a number of political reasons for the prosecution, because it interfered with the war effort.
6. Did you breathe a sigh of relief when the Witchcraft Acts were finally repealed in 1951? What was your reaction? Did you celebrate?
I was not in a coven at the time and missed the meetings. I was very pleased that the legislation was finally passed.
7. You are the only Witch alive who can remember the mysterious ‘Dafo’ who was in the New Forest coven. Why she did remain underground when the laws changed?
Dafo most certainly did exist and I had the pleasure of visiting her with Gerald Gardner and my husband on many occasions. We were good friends. Dafo talked about the New Forest traditions and seemed to think that the coven had originated from around the time of Rufus— the Norman King who died in the forest. She was a schoolteacher and was also known to my mother who knew her through the Hampshire education circuit. I never met any other members of the New Forest coven and did not practise Wicca with Dafo. She and I were good friends. She confided in me that both she and the New Forest coven gave a sigh of relief when Gerald Gardner moved away to the Isle of Man. They felt he was a publicity seeker and I know for a fact he had never been trusted with any teachings in writing. Dafo and I called Gerald ‘The Old Boy’— he was a lovely old man and generous to a fault, people often took advantage of him. I know he had never been initiated beyond the first degree in Wicca.
8. A lot of people claim that Gerald Gardner invented the New Forest coven and that it didn’t exist. But you know about their activities don’t you?
I know that this will upset people but Gerald, bless him, did add a lot of material in his Book of Shadows, from Crowley and Masonry and all over the place. It was because, as I’ve said, he was not privy to the teachings of the New Forest coven, he was forced to supplement his knowledge of Wicca from other sources. During WW2 spells were raised by the New Forest coven against Hitler to prevent him from invading England.
9. Why haven’t joined the Pagan Federation. Surely as Britain’s most senior witch the PF would be anxious to have you as a member?
I was approached quite recently and asked whether I would accept an honorary invitation into the Pagan Federation but I declined that offer. It was nice of them to think of me. It was because the Pagan Federation is not about the Craft and for that matter supports several traditions that are entirely fictitious inventions. I know because I watched as they sprang up. I belong to a genuine tradition – the Cumbrian tradition – and that is all I need.
10. What do you think of the new Human Rights Act?
I think it is right. Rama Chrisna.
When I first practised the Craft it was in fact illegal. Hopefully these times are past.
NB: The rest of the interview is now lost.