Many have called Doreen Valiente the mother of modern witchcraft. In his latest book, appropriately titled Doreen Valiente Witch, Philip Heselton pays homage to this extraordinary woman.
Starting with a delightful mystical expereince at the precocious age ofnine, she found herself learning about witchcraft through books at the library when she was 15, and studying Crowley, Theosophy, and texts from the Golden Dawn. Much of her life is known (her own writings are vivid and self-explanatory) but Heselton reveals another side: that of a woman of tremendous patriotism. Raised in the hangover of Europe’s fin de siècle, when science and religion were at a loggerheads, and ideas of green politics, individualism and women’s rights which dominated sub-cultural movements in the 1960s and 1970s began to germinate, Valiente felt that Wicca was the right religion for people interested in feminism, environmentalism, and freedom of individual choice.
Heselton is the perfect person to write about Valiente, having already written several excellent books about Gerald Gardner. Drawing on public documents, interviews, and Doreen Valiente's own published books and personal journals, Heselton pieces together a compelling look at the life of a woman so formative to modern Wicca; covering her journey from a precocious child dissatisfied with the strictures of convent school to an influential figure known for rewriting the Charge of the Goddess and many important books including An ABC of Witchcraft, The Rebirth of Witchcraft, and Witchcraft for Tomorrow - which Heselton describes as her Magnum Opus. Much of her poetry was personal, often for her own rituals, and not published until after her death.
Valiente first became aware of Gardner by reading about him in a magazine article, and decided to contact him. By the mid-1950s, Gardner appointed her as the High Priestess of the coven he founded, one of the highest positions in Wicca. While Gardner interpreted ancient rites and rituals, Valiente documented them with poetic fervor. “She gave the modern Craft a robust religious litany and a logical framework. It was this that allowed it to be more easily passed on through initiation and is probably the reason it spread so firmly and rapidly and continues to expand across the world today,” believes Ashley Mortimer, director of the Centre For Pagan Studies. But Valiente did not simply help to refine Gardner’s ideas. She was a pivotal figure in Wicca and paganism in her own right.
Heselton's description of her workings with Gerald Gardner (and Ned Grove after the split in 1957), Charles Cardell and later Robert Cochrane/Roy Bowers, provides valuable insights for anyone who wants to understand the roots of Wicca in Europe. Valiente is no pedestal-perching figure, but a warm, intelligent, lively woman lacking all pretension and embodying the best of a practical, spiritual, nature.
~review by Lisa Mc Sherry
Author: Philip Heselton
Centre for Pagan Studies Ltd, 2016
pp. 357, $19.95