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.
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, were 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 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 threatening to blight their crops should 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 worlds foremost authority on Witchcraft, Satanism and Black Magick. Overtime, many of the days leading Witches, Satanists, Rosicrucian’s, Ceremonial Magicians and other magically inclined people, came 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 that 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’s 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 concepts into their rituals, therefore each of his nine covens though similar, none were exactly the same.
Up until Old George’s time, many existing covens were based on oral tradition, 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”, inevitably led to some fragments of their traditions being lost over time. However, some hereditary covens kept a “coven rulebook” that contained a list of all the coven members and outlined the covens basic rites. For safekeeping, the book was always held 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 probably would 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 because of his contemptuous attitude toward women and his 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 were sensationalized in the Press during those times. 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 on, Gerald B. Gardner was initiated into one of his descendent covens in Hampshire. He and others began writing openly about Wicca and Witchcraft. Gardner met with Aleister Crowley shortly before his death and Crowley “allegedly” passed on what he could remember of the old Pickingill rituals, these Gardner “allegedly” incorporated into his own Book of Shadows. When in 1951 the old antiquated witchcraft laws were repealed, causing a resurgence of interest in the Old Religion. Many of the Craft Elders became concerned fearing 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.
The Encyclopedia of Witches &Witchcraft - by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.
Encyclopedia of Wicca &Witchcraft - by Raven Grimassi.
Witchcraft for Tomorrow - by Doreen Valiente.
First published on the 02nd February 2001, up-dated 08th June 2007 © George Knowles
Best wishes and Blessed Be
Site Contents - Links to all Pages
A Universal Message:
Let there be peace in the world - Where have all the flowers gone?
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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