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Old George Pickingill (1816-1909)

This photograph purporting to be Old George Pickingill is in fact a photo of Alf Cavill, a station porter at Ellstree, taken in the early 1960s.

Written and compiled by George Knowles.

George Pickingill was a legend in his own time, a feared “Cunning Man” by local residents, a sought after Witch and Magician by those in occult circles.  Born to Charles and Susannah Pickingill (nee Cudner) on the 26th May 1816, George was the eldest of nine children.  They lived in a small Essex village called Hockley in East Anglia, from where he later he moved to the nearby village of Canewdon, and there he remained until his death in 1909.

“Old George” as he became known, was a hereditary witch and claimed he could trace his ancestry back to the time of “Julia Pickingill – The Witch of Brandon”, who lived in a village north of Thetford in Norfolk.  Julia as legend would have it was hired in 1071 to make magical chants for the troops of “Lord Harewood the Wake” inspiring them into battle against the Normans.  During the battle, Julia was seen standing in a wooden tower overlooking the two opposing armies and where her chants could be heard across the battlefield.  Her chants seemed to be working, but then the Normans set fire to the dry reeds around the tower and Julia died in the flames.  Since that time each generation of the Pickingill family have served as Priests and Priestesses in the Old Religion. 

Old George like his father was a humble farm worker, yet all who knew him held him in awe.  Many of the local village folk were afraid of him and his mysterious abilities, it was said he could set magical imps to work bring in the harvest and that they could clear a field in half an hour while he sat under a tree and smoked a pipe.  He was not well liked in the village and even feared, it was said that he terrorized the villagers for money and beer, and threatening to blight their crops if they refuse him.  Despite this he would charm their warts and dispense cures, and was sometimes called in to settle their disputes.

 

Canewdon Church circa 1900

(Legend now has is that as long as the tower of Canewdon’s St Nicholas Church stands; there will always be six witches living in the village).

In occult circles he was highly regarded, and was widely acknowledged as the country’s foremost authority on Witchcraft, Satanism and Black Magick.  Overtime, many of the days leading Witches, Satanists, Rosicrucian’s, Freemasons, Magicians and other magically inclined people travelled from all over England, Europe and the United States to consult with him.  As his reputation grew, Old George became just as infamous as Aleister Crowley was in his time.  He was also known to have encouraged Satanism, which horrified other Craft Elders who considered him a renegade and a disgrace to the craft.

Over the course of his lifetime, Old George established a total of nine hereditary covens, situated in Norfolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Sussex and Hampshire.  In many ways he was a zealot, for when he started a new coven; he insisted its leaders produce evidence that they came from hereditary witch lineage.  Each coven he formed worshiped the “Horned God” and used a basic set of rites, though he was constantly changing, embellishing and introducing new concepts as they developed.  All rituals were conducted by women and involved ritual nudity and sexual inductions.

The Pickingill family, including Old George, were renowned for their allegiance to the Horned God and adopted many ancient Craft practices that were not observed in other parts of the country.  The rites developed by the Pickingill tradition were a unique blend of French and Scandinavian craft practices.  This was due in part by the influx of French and Flemish weavers into East Anglia, who introduced elements of the Cathar faith and the Old Religion as observed in France during the Middle Ages.  Old George used a basic format for each of his covens, but he was always re-writing, revising and introducing new rituals, therefore each of his nine covens although similar, were not exactly the same.

Up until Old George’s time, many existing covens were based on oral traditions, their knowledge and rituals having been passed down from generation to generation, and instilled upon their members by repetition, memory and practice.  This in part due to the secrecy imposed on witches during the “Burning Times”, which inevitably, and over time, led to fragments of their traditions being lost.  However, some hereditary covens kept a “Coven Rulebook”, now called a “Book of Shadows”, which contained a list of all the coven members and outlined the covens basic rites.  For safekeeping, the book was guarded by the coven’s secret “male” deputy, often referred to as “the Man in Black”, and only made available on special occasions at the Master’s bidding to add/delete names or transfer authority.  No members, particularly woman, were ever permitted to read it.  This may have been due to the opinion that a woman would reveal the location of the book if her children were tortured in front of her, whereas a man may not.

As the fear of the “Witch-hunts” began to decline in the later half of the 18th century, Old George always willing to change, adapt and evolve took the idea of the “Coven Rulebook” and developed it, starting the tradition of keeping a “Book of Shadows” for the exclusive use of all coven members.  The original Book of Shadows as compiled by Old George and modified over a period of his lifetime was then passed on to each of his nine covens, a legacy that lives on today.  Many think Aleister Crowley passed on the details of one of Old George’s Book of Shadows to Gerald Gardner who adopted the same into his own tradition.  The concept of keeping an individual “Book of Shadows” in your own handwriting, evidently originated from Alex Sanders who founded the Alexandrian Tradition witchcraft.

Aleister Crowley is reported to have been a member of one of Old George’s covens in or around 1899.  He is thought to have obtained his Second Degree before being dismissed due to his contemptuous attitude toward women and deplorable behaviour.  Other pupils of note were two Master Masons by the names of “Hargrave Jennings” and “W.J. Hughan”.  Both later become founder members of the “Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia”; from which the “Order of the Golden Dawn” would eventually emerge.  Doreen Valiente in her book “Witchcraft for Tomorrow” alleges that Jennings consulted with Old George and conspired with him to concoct a cipher manuscript (Cipher MS), which led to the founding of the Golden Dawn.  However such claims have since been discredited.

Aside from his famous “Nine Covens”, there was a more sinister side to “Old George” for which he became notorious.  Old George had an intense dislike for Christianity and local authority.  He openly campaigned for the overthrow of the Christian Religion and the establishment in generally.  Some claim he even collaborate with Satanists, because he believed that by promoting Satanism, he was helping to ensure the destruction of the Christian church.  This brought him into conflict with other Craft Elders who strongly objected to his activities.

Contrary to popular belief, for many misinformed articles are commonly sensationalized in the Press, witches do not believe in “devil-worship”, nor do they invoke Satan during ritual to carry out evil deeds.  Satan and the Devil are by-products of Christianity and have nothing to do with the Old Religion.  The Old Religion was being practiced well before Christianity came along.  This in mind, the other Craft Elders had good cause for objecting to what “Old George” was advocating, preferring secrecy and discretion to the unwanted attention he was arousing. 

After Old George’s death in 1909, and some 30 years later, Gerald B. Gardner was initiated into one of his descendent covens and began openly writing about Wicca and Witchcraft.  In 1946 when Gardner met with Aleister Crowley shortly before his death, it was alleged that Gardner paid him to write in his original “Book of Shadows”, but this has now been discounted.  While his BOS did contain some of Crowley’s writings, this is now believed to have been the result of Gardner and Crowley comparing notes on rituals used in Old George’s New Forrest coven.  Doreen Valiente in her book “Witchcraft for Tomorrow” does much to shed light on this controversy.

In 1951 when the old antiquated Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed causing a resurgence of interest in the Old Religion, many Craft Elders became concerned that exposure of Old George’s satanic activities would distort and damage the newly evolving image of Wicca and Witchcraft.  To protect against this, the Elders of the Hereditary Tradition in East Anglia conspired to discredit any claims made by Gardner and others concerning the survival of Hereditary Witches.  This in part involved the eradication of many traces of “Old George” and his “Nine Covens” as was possible.  Today as a result, the real importance of Old George’s contributions to the revival of present day witchcraft may never be determined. 

 

End.

Sources

The Encyclopedia of Witches &Witchcraft  - by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.

The New Encyclopedia of the Occult - by John Michael Greer.

Encyclopedia of Wicca &Witchcraft  - by Raven Grimassi.

Witchcraft for Tomorrow  - by Doreen Valiente.

The Dark World of Witches - by Eric Maple

 

First published on the 02nd February 2001, up-dated 08th June 2007 © George Knowles

 

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Correspondence Tables:

 

IncenseCandlesColoursMagickal DaysStones and GemsElements and Elementals

 

Traditions:

 

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 MoonsLinks to Personal Friends & ResourcesWicca/Witchcraft ResourcesWhat's a spell?Circle Casting and Sacred Space /  Pentagram - PentacleMarks of a WitchThe Witches PowerThe Witches HatAn esoteric guide to visiting LondonSatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  /  Part 2 Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection) /  The History of ThanksgivingI have a Dream, the 1963 speach by civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King /  Auras by Graham Furnell - Part 1 and Part 2 /

 

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)

 

Rituals contributed by Crone:  Samhain / YuleImbolcOstara /  BeltaneLithaLammasMabon

 

Tools:

 

Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron MagickMirror Gazing

 

Animals:

 

Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) /  AntelopeBatsCrowFoxFrog and ToadsGoat / HoneybeeKangarooLionOwlPhoenixRabbits and HaresRavenRobin RedbreastSheep SpiderSquirrelSwansWild Boar /  Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat

 

Trees:

 

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 /  ElderAlso see:  The Willow Tree (Folk Music)

 

Sacred Sites:

 

Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /

 

Rocks and Stones:

 

Stones - History, Myths and Lore

 

 Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:   / Apophyllite  / Amber AmethystAquamarineAragoniteAventurineBlack TourmalineBloodstoneCalciteCarnelianCelestiteCitrineChrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / FluoriteGarnet /  Hematite Herkimer DiamondLabradoriteLapis LazuliMalachiteMoonstoneObsidianOpalPyriteQuartz (Rock Crystal)Rose QuartzRubySeleniteSeraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodaliteSunstoneThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble

 

Wisdom:

 

Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakeningThe Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods

 

Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:

 

Murder by WitchcraftThe Fairy Witch of ClonmelA Battleship, U-boat, and a WitchThe Troll-Tear (A story for Children)Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-LanternThe Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark

 

Old Masters of Academia:

 

Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras

 

Biographies

 

Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)

 

Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)

 

Abramelin the MageAgrippaAidan A. KellyAlbertus Magnus “Albert the Great”Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” Alison HarlowAmber KAnna Franklin /  Anodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey  / Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite Austin Osman SpareBiddy EarlyBridget ClearyCarl Llewellyn WeschckeCecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey LelandCharles Walton /  Christina Oakley Harrington /  Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) /   Dion FortuneDolores Aschroft-NowickiDorothy MorrisonDoreen ValienteEdward FitchEleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” /  Dr. John Dee and Edward KellyDr. Leo Louis Martello /  Eliphas LeviErnest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry /  Fiona Horne /  Friedrich von SpeeFrancis Barrett /  Gerald B. GardnerGavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gwydion PendderwenHans Holzer /  Helen DuncanHerman Slater "Horrible Herman" /  Israel RegardieJames "Cunning" MurrellJanet Farrar & Gavin BoneJessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne John George Hohman /  John GerardJohn Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) /  John Michael Greer /  John ScoreJohannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von EckartshausenLaurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis Spence /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMarie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMatthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General”Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata /  Monique Wilson the “Queen of the WitchesMontague SummersNicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellersMrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-RavenheartOld Dorothy ClutterbuckOld George Pickingill /   Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsusPatricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPhilip Emmons Isaac Bonewits Philip HeseltonRaymond BucklandReginald ScotRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /  Rudolf Steiner /  Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & DruidsSabrina - The Ink WitchScott CunninghamSelena FoxSilver Ravenwolf /  Sir Francis DashwoodSir James George FrazerS.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  StarhawkStewart FarrarSybil LeekTed AndrewsThe Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather /  Thomas AdyVera Chapman /  Victor Henry AndersonVivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna 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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