Written and compiled by George Knowles
Eleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch
of British Witchcraft” was one of Gerald
Priestesses, and played an important part in the revival of contemporary
Wicca/Witchcraft. She claimed to have been initiated into a hereditary
coven in Cumbria, and later formed her own coven in South London.
During the early 1960’s and 70’s she was responsible for initiating
some of the early prominent leaders of the craft, including:
Prudence Jones, Vivianne and Chris
Crowley, Madge and Arthur Worthington
and authors John and Kathy (Caitlen) Matthews.
was the daughter of a Girls School Headmistress (name unknown, but died
in 1942), and was born in London in 1911.
From her mother she naturally received a good and varied education, but
an experience in early childhood caused her to question her faith, Eleanor
explained why in a later interview:
unorthodox views on religion since 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”.
Nothing more about her early life is known at this time, until
at the start of World War II in 1939, she went to work in Cumbria in the North
of England and came under the care of an elderly couple.
One evening after work, conversation fell to reincarnation and Eleanor
mentioned her belief in it, at which the couple revealed themselves to be
hereditary witches. Later in August
1941 the couple initiated Eleanor
into their coven of Traditional Witchcraft.
Over the next four years Eleanor practised and learned from them before
returning to London at the end of the war in 1945.
After the war Eleanor
married her husband Bill and settled into a house called the Towers in Streatham,
South London. During the day
Eleanor worked as a matron running a home for the elderly, while at night she
ran a witches coven, as she explained in a later interview:
flat is a four-penny bus ride from the old folk’s home in Streatham, in a
house called The Towers. The
cauldron inside my front door is no door-stop, it’s part of my other life.
I’m not only a witch, but one of Britain’s three High Priestesses.
By day I dress for my job as matron in a tweed suit, thick lisle
stockings and brogues. By night I
dance naked with only a garter on my left thigh.
I’ve often wondered what my neighbours at the Towers think of the bumps
in the night. I tell them it’s me
moving the furniture about.
coven meets in the living room. I
take everything out of the room, clear off the magic circle on the carpet, and
setting up an altar is no easy task. I
use a huge old chest on which I lay my ritual knives.
People confuse witches like me with Black Magic.
They say the red wine and small cakes I administer to my kneeling coven
are a travesty of the Holy Communion. Piffle!
They are symbolic of the harvest and we are simply giving thanks to the
gods for the grapes and the grain.
is true that we are always naked at our rituals, but the reason is our search
for purity. We don’t wear clothes
because they bring foreign particles into our magic circle.
Our magic circle is purified with salt water.
It is a big ring drawn at the beginning of each ceremony.
It is drawn symbolically with the witches’ sword – but I’ve painted
mine on the carpet to save time. Once
the circle is made, the High Priestess – that’s me – sprinkles salt water
all over it. You might call it our
equivalent of Holy Water. When the
circle has been purified in this way no member of the coven can enter it unless
they are naked, for a speck of dust from our everyday clothes might spoil our
don’t run away with the idea that we have a sexual orgy.
My coven is made up of middle-aged men and women – the kind of people
you see in any bus queue. There is
nothing sexy about us with our clothes off.
We take it all very seriously and a prospective member to the “craft”
is watched closely for three months before his or her nomination is put to the
vote. That’s how choosy we are.
high-priestess of the coven I’ve had my share of crank letters, but I’ve a
stock answer for those kind of crackpots – I write and tell them it’s a
psychiatrist they need, not a witch”.
Through the early to mid 1950’s when Gerald Gardner was becoming prominent in the press, and Gardnerian covens began forming around the country, Eleanor was introduced to him and the two became good friends. Later she was initiated into one of his London covens, and in 1960 raised and appointed High Priestess of her own Gardnerian coven in Tooting Bec, London. Eleanor’s craft name was Artemis, and among her early initiates were: Vivianne and Chris Crowley, John and Kathy (Caitlen) Matthews, Prudence Jones and Madge and Arthur Worthington. Madge and Arthur in decent from Eleanor founded the Whitecroft coven in south London, which ultimately was responsible for large numbers of initiations and ensuring the survival of the Gardnerian Tradition in the UK.
By day a matron of an old folks home
- By night a High Priestess
of a witches coven
Eleanor’s connections among other witches through the
1950’s included “Dafo” the mysterious witch of the New Forest coven in
Hampshire, about whom she talked about in an interview:
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”.
In the early sixties a number of publicity scandals threatened
the progress of the newly evolving Wicca movement as others began to form their
own covens and traditions, the most famous of course was Alex
having taken the title “King of the Witches”, like Gerald Gardner actively
courted media sensationalism. After
the death of Gerald Gardner
on the 12th February 1964, it was then left to his three main High
Wilson, Patricia Crowther and Eleanor, to represent the public face of the
Gardnerian Tradition in England.
Wilson who had founded two covens in Scotland, had already become
one of his main spokespersons, and was dubbed by the press “the Queen
of the Witches”, a title that
brought on her the disdain of other craft leaders, and in particular Eleanor who
had no time for hypocrisy. Just before Gardner’s death however, Monique initiated Raymond
Buckland into the craft, and through direct descent went on to found the
first Gardnerian coven in the United States.
Crowther in the North of England had founded covens in Yorkshire and Lancashire.
As a minor show-biz celebrity connected with the entertainment
world, with her husband Arnold, she was a frequent guest on radio talk shows, appeared regularly on
television, and travelled up and down the country giving lectures at
universities and other institutions in her efforts to dispel the many myths and
misconceptions surrounding the Craft and the Old Religion.
Eleanor was accomplishing much the same in her own way, she was always willing
to pose for photographers or give interviews to authors, journalists and
researchers. She was motivated not
out of personal gain or recognition, but simply trying to represent Wicca in a
positive light. Her sincere hope
was that modern society would eventually accept Wicca as a legitimate religion,
equal alongside other religions like Christianity and Buddhism etc.
In June 1964 Eleanor invited a newspaper photographer to photograph parts of a secret initiation ceremony held in a remote cottage deep in Locket Wood, Hertfordshire. Initiations at the cottage were always conducted skyclad (naked)…
in Locket Wood, Hertfordshire
… and in May 1965 to witness and photograph a fire ritual held at the famous Rollright Stones circle in Wiltshire…
Stones circle in Wiltshire
In 1966 Eleanor
and Patricia Crowther came together to denounce Alex
Sanders as the “King of the
Witches”, a title they
thought he had no right to claim, they also refuted his claim to a hereditary
witch linage and the manner in which he claimed to have been initiated as a
witch. Their battle to discredit Sanders had little effect however,
except to empathize the Gardnerians mis-trust of others outside of their own
tradition, for he succeeded in forming an equally strong and influencial
tradition, the Alexandrian Tradition. Eleanor
however did gain some ground that year when she was choosen to replace Harold
Wilson, the Prime Minister, as an honorary member of the Oxford University
In 1968 Eleanor went on a pilgrimage to Tunis, there to visit
the grave of Gerald Gardner. While
there she learned from the Chaplin that the Tunisian Government would shortly be
turning the cemetery into a public park. He
explained that if she wished to disinter his remains and move them to another
location, that this could be arranged. Through
donations made by members of the Craft, Gardner’s remains were later laid to
rest in a more fitting place close to the ancient city of Carthage, once a
prominent religious centre where they worshiped the Moon goddess Tanit and the
Sun god Baal, the equivalent of the Phoenician goddess Astarte.
Cults associated with the Greek goddesses Demeter and Persephone and the
Roman goddess Juno were also worshiped there.
While Eleanor arranged all this in his honour, she never made mentioned
of it again publicly.
After years of living with the hustle and bustle of London, Eleanor retired in 1972 and moved back to the peace and quite of Cumbria. There she took up residence in the tiny village of Alston, located high up in the North Pennines. Alston at 1000 feet above sea level, is one of the highest market village settlements in England, and is 20 miles away from its nearest town of Hexham. It is also very remote, but situated in a landscape designated as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Not surprisingly in such a setting Eleanor returned to practicing the old country ways of magic she had learnt during the war.
village market square -
Arial view of Alston village
While Eleanor may have given up her position as a High
Priestess, she was far from inactive and took on the role of Elder spokeswoman.
After another interview she gave about Witchcraft published in a
Newcastle newspaper, she was inundated with correspondence from people wishing
to know more, and in this way she continued to teach and defend the craft.
Eleanor was also considered an authority on curses, and during a trip to
the United States she was asked to participate in a US television chat show with
another curse authority, the eccentric Sybil Leek. Both being strong willed and outspoken women, after an
exchange of dry witty insults, Eleanor was asked to turn her into a toad, at
which she replied: “Why should I
improve on nature”.
In the summer of 2001 Eleanor gave a final interview for the
annual Occulture festival held in Brighton.
In a live telephone link-up from her home in Alston, Cumbria, she spoke
about the origins of modern Witchcraft and discussed some little known facts
about the New Forest coven (see Dafo quoted above). In her closing comments she reminded people that when she had
first practised the Craft, it had still been illegal, and since then we had come
along way in gaining acceptance, she was proud that Wicca was finally taking its
place beside other world religions. The interview finished with a standing ovation.
Throughout her many years as a spokesperson for the Gardnerian Tradition and Wicca in general, Eleanor was always unhesitating when answering bigots and outside critics of the craft, and was particularly disdainful of those in the craft who she felt degraded their positions by taking unjustified titles to boost their own self egos. Whither she approved or not is uncertain, but toward the end of her life she was given her own title as the “Matriarch of British Witchcraft”. The origin of the title is unknown, but there can be little doubt that she enjoyed a special regard within the community and her name commanded the respect of most all other witches.
Church in Cumbria
In 2001 Eleanor was approached by the UK’s Pagan Federation and asked to be listed as an honorary member, but she politely declined the offer stating as her reason that she did not recognise several of the traditions supported by the Federation. Later that year in August 2001, Eleanor stated that she would soon be “called back to the Old Gods”, and made arrangements to wrap up her affairs. Just a month later on the 21st September 2001, she passed on into the next world. Eleanor was buried alongside her husband Bill in un-consecrated ground at Garigill cemetery, located in a village just a few miles away from her home in Alston, Cumbria.
The Triumph of the Moon - Ronald Hutton
Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-paganism - By Shelley Rabinovitch
The Witch Book - The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism - By Raymond Buckland
“As a Matron and as a Witch”, an interview with Eleanor in a UK magazine called Tit-Bit’s, week ending 6th June 1964.
In Britain”, an article in the Weekend Telegraph – Number 35, 21st
An obituary by Jonathan Tapsell at: http://www.witchvox.com/passages/eleanorbone.html
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006 © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Written and compiled on the 10th October 2007 © George Knowles
Best wishes and Blessed Be
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Wicca & Witchcraft
Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
Traditions Part 1 - Alexandrian Wicca / Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) / Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) / Blue Star Wicca / British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) / Celtic Wicca / Ceremonial Magic / Chaos Magic / Church and School of Wicca / Circle Sanctuary / Covenant of the Goddess (COG) / Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) / Cyber Wicca / Dianic Wicca / Eclectic Wicca / Feri Wicca /
Traditions Part 2 - Gardnerian Wicca / Georgian Tradition / Henge of Keltria / Hereditary Witchcraft / Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) / Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) / Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition / Nordic Paganism / Pagan Federation / Pectic-Wita / Seax-Wica / Shamanism / Solitary / Strega / Sylvan Tradition / Vodoun or Voodoo / Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /
Other things of interest:
Gods and Goddesses (Greek
Mythology) / Esbats &
Full Moons / Links
to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft
Resources / What's a spell? /
Circle Casting and
Sacred Space / Pentagram
- Pentacle / Marks
of a Witch / The Witches
Power / The Witches Hat
esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism
Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1
/ Part 2 / Part
3 / A
history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope
Innocent VIII /
papal Bull /
Malleus Maleficarum /
An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum
/ The letter of approbation
Nider’s Formicarius /
Heinrich Kramer /
/ Montague Summers /
/ The Albigenses
The Hussites / The
/ Shielding (Occult
and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Rituals:
Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder. Also see: The Willow Tree (Folk Music)
Rocks and Stones:
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin: / Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murder by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders and Elders)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A. Kelly / Albertus Magnus “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary / Carl Llewellyn Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Dorothy Morrison / Doreen Valiente / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry / Fiona Horne / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gerald B. Gardner / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater "Horrible Herman" / Israel Regardie / James "Cunning" Murrell / Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) / John Michael Greer / John Score / Johannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg / Karl von Eckartshausen / Laurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata / Monique Wilson the “Queen of the Witches” / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellers / Mrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /Rudolf Steiner / Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids / Sabrina - The Ink Witch / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather / Thomas Ady / Vera Chapman / Victor Henry Anderson / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest
Many of the above biographies are brief and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with aditional information, please cantact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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