Howard claimed that in 1930, he was living in Swaffham, Norfolk, when he met an old lady named Alicia Franch who instructed him in the teachings of her own witchcraft tradition. He added that on her death, she left him a number of witchcraft artefacts, including the head of Atho. He was later involved in the tradition of Pagan Witchcraft propagated by Charles Cardell in Surrey. The head was the subject of a report in the Eastern Daily Press in March 1967, but was stolen from Howard's antique store the following month and never recovered.
According to the account provided by Valiente, Howard was living with relations on a Norfolk farm in 1930 when he met an old lady named Alicia Franch who lived with the Roma Gypsies. Franch allegedly first came across Howard when he was playing by a roadside pond on the summer solstice, and she took an interest in him, instructing him in her witchcraft tradition and leaving him a number of artefacts in her will, including the head of Atho. In a newspaper interview with the Eastern Evening News he identified Swaffham as the location in which this had happened, adding that the old lady had left him a deed box containing "teeth, nail parings and old parchments.
The Head of Atho
By 1967 Howard was exhibiting a variety of witchcraft artefacts in a room above his antique shop in Field Dalling. Among these was the head of Atho, which was described in a newspaper article as a depiction of "the horned god of witchcraft [who] has been handed down through generations since pre-Christian times". In July 2008, Howard's son Peter confirmed to the researcher Melissa Seims that he had witnessed Howard constructing it, and that it was thus fake. Seims suggested that the design of the head had been inspired by an older folkloric artefact, the Dorset Ooser.
A journalist from the Eastern Daily Press reported on the head in March 1967, stating that it had undergone laboratory tests which had established it to be made out of 2200-year-old English oak. The reporter added that the head was hollow, and that when a lighted candle with a small crucible of water above it was placed inside the back of the head, steam was emitted from the horns while the red glass eyes glowed. According to Valiente, about the head were carvings of foliage, representing "the forces of life and fertility, which Atho personifies." She asserted that the signs of the zodiac were depicted on the horns, with "the five rings of witchcraft" on the forehead. The nose was ornamented with a pentagram, and acted as a cup to hold the Sabbat wine. She stated that the mouth was shaped like a bird, representing the messenger of air, and that the chin was shaped like a triangle, again conveying esoteric meanings. Below this were twin serpents, one representing positive forces and the other negative.
Valiente saw the head on her meeting with Howard, describing it as "a very impressive carving, having a crude strength and power which make it a remarkable work of primitive art." She expressed the opinion that it may have depicted the god Cernunnos and that it had been created as part of a witches' tradition inherited from "pagan Celtic Britain". She added her opinion that the name "Atho" was "evidently" a Saxon version of the Old Welsh word Arddhu ("The Dark One").
A month after the newspaper report, in April 1967, the head was stolen from Howard's shop; other valuables and a cash-box were left, making it appear that the thief specifically wanted the head. Police investigated, but the nature of the robbery remained unknown.
- Anon (1 November 1961). "'Clean Sweep' by Broomstick Brigade". Eastern Evening News.
- Anon (6 March 1967). "Room Where Witch Would Feel at Home". Eastern Daily Press.
- Howard, Michael (2009). Modern Wicca: A History from Gerald Gardner to the Present. Woodbury: Llewellyn. ISBN 978-0-7387-2288-7.
- Hutton, Ronald (1999). The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-1928-5449-0.
- Seims, Melissa (2008). "The Coven of Atho". The Wica.
- Valiente, Doreen (1984). An ABC of Witchcraft: Past and Present (corrected ed.). London: Robert Hale.
- WiLL (6 June 2010). "Atho: The Horned God of the Witches". The Witches' Voiee.