|Doreen Edith Dominy Valiente|
Valiente at a Wiccan altar at Brighton in 1962
|Born||4 January 1922
Mitcham, South London, England
|Died||1 September 1999
|Occupation||Wiccan priestess, writer|
Doreen Edith Dominy Valiente (4 January 1922 – 1 September 1999), who also went under the craft name Ameth, was an influential English Wiccan who was involved in a number of different early traditions, including Gardnerianism, Cochrane's Craft and the Coven of Atho. Responsible for writing much of the early Gardnerian religious liturgy, in later years she also helped to play a big part in bringing the Neopagan religion of Wicca to wider public attention through the publication of a string of books on the subject.
Having been born in south London, she first became involved in the Craft after being initiated into the Gardnerian tradition in 1953 in a ceremony performed by Gerald Gardner, in which Edith Woodford-Grimes was also present. Subsequently becoming the High Priestess of his Bricket Wood coven, she helped him to produce or adapt many important scriptural texts for Wicca, such as The Witches Rune and the Charge of the Goddess, which were incorporated into the early Gardnerian Book of Shadows. Splitting off to form her own coven in 1957, she went on to work with Robert Cochrane in his coven, the Clan of Tubal Cain, till the mid 1960s when she began working as a solitary practitioner. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s she penned a number of books on the subject of Wicca - which she always called "witchcraft" - including An ABC of Witchcraft (1973) and Witchcraft for Tomorrow (1978), as well as being an early proponent of self-initiation into the Craft.
Early life: 1922–52
Valiente was born Doreen Edith Dominy on 4 January 1922 in the Southern English town of Mitcham, Surrey. Her father, Harry Dominy, was a civil engineer, and he lived with her mother Edith at 1 High Street, Colliers Wood, Wimbledon. During her childhood they moved to Horley in Surrey, and it was there – according to her later account – that she had an early spiritual experience while staring at the moon. From there, her family moved to the West Country and then to the New Forest. She first began practising magic aged 13, performing a spell to prevent her mother being harassed by a co-worker; she came to believe that it had worked. Her parents, who were devout Christians, were concerned by this behaviour, and so sent her to a convent school. She despised this, and left aged 15, refusing to return.
During the Second World War, she signed up to aid the war effort, taking on the position of secretary. In this capacity, she was assigned to Barry in Wales, and it was here that she met Joanis Vlachopolous, a seaman in the Merchant Navy. Entering a relationship, they were married on 31 January 1941. However, soon after he was declared missing in action and presumed deceased. She subsequently met and entered into a relationship with Casimiro Valiente, a Spaniard who had fled from the Spanish civil war, where he had fought on the side of the Free French Forces and been wounded at the Battle of Narvik. They were married on 29 May 1944 at St Pancras Registry Office. Having taken his surname, the couple moved to Bournemouth together, where Casimiro worked as a chef. Valiente would later say that both she and her husband suffered racism after the war because of their foreign associations.
During this period, she took a closer interest in ceremonial magic and occultism, reading up on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and trying to teach herself Hebrew, a language with uses in various forms of ceremonial magic. She was particularly interested by John Symonds' book The Great Beast, which was a biography of the occultist Aleister Crowley, who had founded the religion of Thelema in 1904, and following this she avidly read a copy of Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice which she found in a local library. Alongside these, she also had some practical experience with the esoteric religions of Spiritualism and Theosophy, and had read works on the pre-Christian Witch-Cult by Charles Godfrey Leland, Margaret Murray, and Robert Graves, although believed that the religion was extinct. It was in autumn 1952 that she read an article by the reporter Allen Andrews in Illustrated magazine titled "Witchcraft in Britain". Discussing the recent opening of the Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft in Castletown on the Isle of Man, it mentioned the museum's director, Cecil Williamson, and its "resident witch", Gerald Gardner.
Gerald Gardner and the Bricket Wood Coven: 1952–57
Intrigued by the article, in 1952 Valiente wrote a letter to Williamson, who in turn put her in contact with Gardner. Valiente and Gardner wrote several letters back-and-forth, with the latter eventually suggesting that she meet him at the home of his friend and fellow Wiccan Edith Woodford-Grimes ("Dafo"), who lived not far from Bournemouth, in the Christchurch area. Before she left the meeting, Gardner gave her a copy of his 1949 novel, High Magic's Aid, in which he describes a fictionalised account of Wiccan initiates in the Middle Ages; he allegedly did so in order to gauge her opinion on ritual nudity and scourging, both of which were present in Wicca.
On Midsummer 1953 Gardner invited Doreen again to Woodford-Grimes's house, and it was here that he initiated her into Wicca in a ritual during which they stood before an altar and he read from his Book of Shadows. It was here that she took on the craft name of Ameth. The three of them then set off to the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, where they witnessed the Druids performing a ritual there. Gardner had lent a ritual sword which he owned to the Druids, who placed it within the monument's heelstone during rituals. Valiente only told her husband and mother about the visit to Stonehenge, but not about her initiation, of which they would not have approved.
Later in the year, Gardner invited Valiente to visit him at his London flat, and it was there that she met the eight to ten members of his Bricket Wood coven, which met near St. Albans, north of London. Valiente joined the coven and soon rose to become its High Priestess. She noticed how much of the material in his Book of Shadows was taken not from ancient sources as Gardner had initially claimed, but from the works of the occultist Aleister Crowley. She confronted Gardner with this, who admitted that the text he had received from the New Forest coven had been fragmentary and he had had to fill much of it using various sources. She took the Book of Shadows, and with Gardner's permission, rewrote much of it, cutting out a lot of sections that had come from Crowley, fearing that his reputation would sully Wicca. Valiente dramatically rewrote sections such as the "Charge of the Goddess" and also wrote several poems for the book, such as "The Witches Rune". She also helped to create a poem to include the Wiccan Rede within it. As the coven's High Priestess, Valiente initiated only Jack L. Bracelin in 1956.
However Gardner's increasing desire for publicity, much of it ending up negative, caused conflict with Valiente and other members of his coven. She felt that in repeatedly communicating with the press, he was compromising the coven's security. Two factions emerged within the coven; Valiente led a broadly anti-publicity group, while Gardner led a pro-publicity one. In 1957, Valiente and her supporters drew up a "Proposed Rules of the Craft" which were partly designed to curtail Gardner's publicity seeking. From his home in the Isle of Man, he responded that this was not necessary as some already existed, at which point he produced the Wiccan Laws. These laws limited the control of the High Priestess, which angered Valiente, who later realised that Gardner had simply made them up. In summer 1957, the coven split; according to Valiente, she and her followers "had had enough of the Gospel according to St. Gerald; but we still believed that the real traditional witchcraft lived"
Brighton and Robert Cochrane: 1957–64
After breaking from Gardner's Bricket Wood coven, she formed her own coven with Ned Grove as High Priest, still following the tradition of Gardnerian Wicca, albeit without the Wiccan laws, which she believed to be entirely an invention of Gardner's. At this time, Valiente and her husband moved to a basement flat in Lewes Crescent, Kemptown, in the southern coastal town of Brighton. She befriended another Kemptown resident, the journalist Leslie Roberts, who shared her interest in the supernatural. He probably became a member of her coven but attracted much attention to himself in the local press through his claims that practitioners of black magic were also operating in the area. Valiente remained a good friend to Roberts until his death from heart disease in 1966. She also got back in touch with Gardner, and mended their friendship, remaining on good terms until his death in 1964.
In 1962, Valiente began a correspondence course run by the Wiccan Raymond Howard, which taught those taking part all about a tradition known as the Coven of Atho. The tradition itself was largely based on what Howard had learned from his involvement with Cardell. In 1963 she gained the lowest rank on the course, that of Sarsen. Valiente copied everything she was taught into notebooks, which have provided some of the most important information on the practices of the group.
In 1964, Valiente was introduced to the Wiccan Robert Cochrane by mutual friends who had met him at a gathering at Glastonbury Tor held by the Brotherhood of the Essenes. She was impressed by his charisma, his desire to avoid publicity, and his emphasis on working outdoors. Valiente was invited to join Cochrane's coven, the Clan of Tubal Cain, becoming its sixth member. However, she became dissatisfied with Cochrane, who was openly committing adultery and constantly insulting Gardnerians, even at one point calling for "a Night of the Long Knives of the Gardnerians", at which point Doreen, in her own words, "rose up and challenged him in the presence of the rest of the coven. I told him that I was fed up with listening to all this senseless malice, and that, if a 'Night of the Long Knives' was what his sick little soul craved, he could get on with it, but he could get on with it alone, because I had better things to do". Valiente also disapproved of the fact that Cochrane often took what he called "witches' potions", but which were, in reality, hallucinogenic drugs. She left his coven in 1966, shortly before he committed ritual suicide at Midsummer.
Later life: 1966-1999
In 1962, Valiente saw her first book published: entitled Where Witchcraft Lives, it dealt with her own research into folklore and the Early Modern witch trials that occurred in her county of Sussex, things which she incorrectly associated with the origins of Wicca. The historian Ronald Hutton would later relate that it was "one of the first three books to be published on the subject" of Wicca, and that the "remarkable feature of the book is that it remains, until this date , the only one produced by a prominent modern witch that embodies actual original research into the records of the trials of people accused of the crime of witchcraft during the early modern period." Nonetheless, he noted that Where Witchcraft Lives was also historically inaccurate, because "she diffidently interpreted the facts that she was revealing within the framework supplied by the foremost contemporary academic expert in the early modern trials, Margaret Murray", whose theories that Early Modern witchcraft was a surviving pre-Christian religion, have subsequently been disproved and dismissed by historians.
She wrote five books on the subject, three of which were 'how-to' books designed to teach solitary Wiccans - An ABC of Witchcraft (1972), Natural Magic (1975) and Witchcraft for Tomorrow (1978), and an autobiography entitled The Rebirth of Witchcraft in 1989.
Meanwhile she continued to write poetry, much of which has been published in the book Charge of the Goddess: The Mother of Modern Witchcraft, an example of which is "An Unsolved Problem of Psychic Research", which goes thus:
- There was a young lady called Freeman
- Who had an affair with a demon
- She said that his cock
- was as cold as a rock
- Now, what in the Hell could it be, man?
She was active in her promotion of modern witchcraft and neo-paganism, being particularly keen to emphasise that the movement was not related to Satanism and did not seek publicity for its own sake. She was a notable figure in supporting the development of the Pagan Federation.
Faced with challenges from skeptics, Valiente attempted, with some success, to provide evidence for Gardner's claims concerning his initiation, notably by identifying the woman Gardner called 'Old Dorothy' as Dorothy Clutterbuck in 1980, the woman who was supposed to have performed Gardner's initiation, in an essay published in The Witches' Way by Janet and Stewart Farrar.
Valiente suffered from pancreatic cancer towards the end of her life. In her last few days she was moved to a nursing home, and she died at 6.55am on 1 September 1999, with John Belham-Payne at her side. John Belham-Payne inherited all of Doreen's magical artifacts and manuscripts including her Book of Shadows.
Throughout her life, Valiente remained a believer in the Murrayite Witch-Cult theory despite the fact that it had been academically discredited by the 1970s.
Dr Leo Ruickbie examines her life and contribution to Wicca in his Witchcraft Out of the Shadows. According to Dr Ruickbie, Valiente was the 'Mother of Modern Witchcraft', playing a crucial role in re-writing much of Gardner's original ritual material, an assessment supported by Ronald Hutton.
In March 2011 John Belham-Payne along with his wife, Julie and friends Brian and Patricia Botham and Ashley Mortimer formed The Doreen Valiente Foundation which they established as a charitable trust dedicated to protecting the artefacts, books and writings (published and unpublished) that Doreen had bequeathed to John. The ownership of the collection passed from John to the trust with the deed of trust that meant the collection could never be sold or split up and will be added to by donations from other members of the witchcraft and pagan community to be used for education, research and to be published and exhibited publicly as part of the wider heritage of paganism. In 2012 the trust saw 2 new trustees, Ronald Hutton Professor of history at Bristol University and Rufus Harrington who is also the founder of the Enochian Magical Order.
American Wiccan and Pagan studies scholar Aidan A. Kelly asserted that Valiente "deserves credit for having helped transform the Craft from being the hobby of a handful of eccentric Brits into being an international religious movement".
- 1962: Where Witchcraft Lives
- 1973: An ABC of Witchcraft
- 1975: Natural Magic
- 1978: Witchcraft for Tomorrow
- 1989: The Rebirth of Witchcraft
- 2000: Charge of the Goddess, a collection of poems, published posthumously
Valiente also edited and wrote the introduction to the 1990 book, Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed by Evan John Jones, which was about forms of Witchcraft other than the Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions, such as Cochrane's Craft.
- Witchcraft & Witches Website
- Charge of the Goddess: The Mother of Modern Witchcraft
- Tapsell 2013, p. 12.
- Tapsell 2013, p. 13.
- Tapsell 2013, p. 14.
- Tapsell 2013, pp. 14–15.
- Tapsell 2013, p. 15.
- Valiente 1989, p. 36; Tapsell 2013, p. 16.
- Valiente 1989, p. 36.
- Tapsell 2013, pp. 17–18.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 15–17; Tapsell 2013, p. 17.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 35–36.
- Valiente 1989, p. 35.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 14, 35; Tapsell 2013, p. 18.
- Valiente 1989, p. 37.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 14–15, 37; Tapsell 2013, pp. 18–19.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 37–38; Tapsell 2013, pp. 19–20.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 39–40; Tapsell 2013, p. 20.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 40, 47; Tapsell 2013, p. 20.
- Tapsell 2013, p. 21.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 40–41; Tapsell 2013, p. 20.
- Valiente 1989, p. 47.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 54, 57, 60–61.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 61–62.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (1999) The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. p348.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 65–68.
- Valiente 1989, p. 69.
- Valiente 1989, pp. 69–71.
- Valiente 1989, p. 72.
- Tapsell 2013, p. 48.
- Valiente 1989; Tapsell 2013, pp. 48–51.
- Valiente 1989, p. 80.
- Tapsell 2013, p. 52.
- Valiente 1989, p. 117.
- Valiente 1989, p. 122.
- Valiente 1989, p. 129.
- Valiente 1989, p. 133.
- Hutton 2010. p. xv-xvi.
- The Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente, Hexagon Hoopix, page 66
- See Doreen Valiente's Last Will and Testament
- Kelly 2007, pp. 86–87.
- Ruickbie, Leo, Witchcraft Out of the Shadows. Robert Hale, 2004. ISBN 0-7090-7567-7.
- Kelly 2007, p. 26.
- Heselton, Philip (2003). Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration: An Investigation into the Sources of Gardnerian Witchcraft. Milverton, Somerset: Capall Bann. ISBN 1-86163-164-2.
- Hutton, Ronald (1999). The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-820744-1.
- Hutton, Ronald (2010). Foreword to Where Witchcraft Lives (second ed.). Copenhagen: Whyte Tracks. ISBN 978-87-92632-09-8.
- Kelly, Aidan A. (2007). Inventing Witchcraft: A Case Study in the Creation of a New Religion. Loughborough, Leicestershire: Thoth Publications. ISBN 978-1870450584.
- Tapsell, Jonathan (2013). Ameth: The Life and Times of Doreen Valiente. London: Avalonia. ISBN 978-1905297702.
- Valiente, Doreen (1989). The Rebirth of Witchcraft. London: Robert Hale. ISBN 978-0709037156.
- Doreen Valiente website
- The Wica - Information on Doreen Valiente and other Craft Elders.
- Doreen Valiente biography