A Very Brief Biography Of Doreen Valiente
We're pleased to announce that respected author, Philip Hesleton, has agreed to take on the role of Doreen's official biographer and has been researching through the Foundation archives and many other sources to discover the fascinating history of this remarkable lady, including the mysteries of her activities during the war. The book will be published when it's done (!) but meanwhile here's a few snippets of a potted history of Doreen Valiente:
Doreen Edith Dominy was born in Mitcham, South London on January 4th 1922 to parents Harry and Edith.
Harry was a draughtsman described by Doreen in later life as a "failed architect" the family moved about the South of England somewhat during her childhood living at various times in Surrey, Exeter and Southampton which is how she was to acquire her characteristic soft west country accent. She had her first magical experiences at the age of 7 and she recalls playing at riding a broomstick up and down the street, behaviour that led to her parents fears that she would be attracted to the occult in later life, how little they could have known . . . .
Photos of the young Doreen
As a teenager Doreen had begun to practice simple magic, once making a poppet to prevent the harrasment of her mother by a local woman, an act of magic that worked very well as the woman was subsequently stalked and harrassed herself by a blackbird! Doreen's parents had sent her to a convent school and must have been dismayed when she walked out at the age of fifteen and refused to return. Doreen wanted to work in a factory (again to the consternation of her parents) but she eventually settled to office work, her typing and language skills being most useful.
Perhaps it was her ability with languages that found her working in various places during the war, the matter is rather mysterious as Doreen remained tight-lipped throughout her life about her work during this period of terrible turmoil for the world. We understand new and rather startling light will be shed on Doreen's wartime activities in the forthcoming biography by Philip Hesleton. By any means she was certainly in South Wales in 1941 when, at the age of nineteen Doreen married Joanis Vlachopoulos, a merchant seaman of Greek descent in his thirties. The marriage did not last long as Joanis was lost at sea, presumed drowned, within six months. By 1944 Doreen had met and married another foreigner, Casimiro Valiente, a Spaniard and this time her marriage was to be a longer one, lasting most of the rest of her life. Marrying a foreign national during wartime was a complicated business and there are documents in the collection show that Doreen was effectively treated by the British authorities as a Spanish national!
Doreen continued her interest in occult matters, describing herself as a "student of the Golden Dawn" but fate was to play an important hand when she read an article in Illustrated magazine from her local newsagent describing a museum of Magic on the Isle Of Man. She wrote to the proprietor, Cecil Williamson, who passed her letter to fellow director of the museum and "resident witch", Gerald Gardner. Gerald had worked for much of his life in the far east but he retired to his native Britain in 1936 and eventually settled in Hampshire near the New Forest where, in 1939, he discovered what he believed to be a surviving remnant of something he had read about in the books of Margaret Murray and others - The European "Witch Cult". Gerald was initiated into this New Forest group, probably by a woman called "Dafo" and had practiced Witchcraft for over a decade when, with the repeal of the last of the 1735 Witchcraft Act in 1951 meaning it was no longer illegal to practice the Craft, Gerald had begun to court publicity, probably as much for his museum as for the Craft generally. Doreen's letter elicited a reply from Gerald and the two met, at Dafo's house near Christchurch, in the autumn of 1952. It was to be a meeting of monumental importance for modern Paganism.
Gerald Gardner initiated Doreen into the Craft on Midsummer's Eve 1953 during a trip he was making to lend a ritual sword to the Druids for their Solstice ritual at Stonehenge. Doreen always felt her trip to Stonehenge at Summer Solstice on the day after her initiation was very fitting. Gerald's knowledge of folklore and magic was deep and wide but the specific details of the Craft rituals he had received from the New Forest coven were rather fragmentary in his memory and so he had been assembling written rituals from this and other material he found and researched. He was nonplussed when Doreen spotted the works of Aliester Crowley and Rudyard Kipling among Gerald's "Book Of Shadows" and, in a fit of frustration he apparently threw the book to her saying "Can YOU do any better?". She reconstructed the writings, embelished and added to them with poetry of her own and excised much of what she described as "Crowleyanity" and when she had finished it seems Gerald realised they now had what he had always wanted - a practical, logical, workable system of magic and religion rooted in the traditions of British spirituality. Neither of them could have known that their work would, in decades to come, form the core of what would be called (but not by Gerald or Doreen) "Wicca" and would spark a mass revival of interest in Paganism.
Gerald continued to court publicity and it was this behaviour that finally brought Doreen to withdraw from working in a coven with him. This was not before she had produced a document entitled "The Proposed Rules For The Craft", no doubt designed to curb his excesses of publicity-seeking, the revealing of Craft secrets and the initiations of unsuitable (or untried) individuals. Gerald claimed the Craft already had rules and duly produced them but Doreen was sceptical that these rules really were as ancient as Gerald claimed. They were never to work in a coven again though they did restore their friendship within a couple of years.
Doreen had not abandoned the Craft, however, she took another of Gerald's coven, Ned Grove, as her High Priest and estabished her own coven though she remained below the parapet of publicity, perhaps in deference to her elderly mother's distaste for her daughter's activities. Doreen's mother, Edith, died in 1964, the same year as Gerald Gardner, which also saw Doreen initiated by Roy Bowers (Robert Cochrane) into a different traditional branch of Witchcraft following a chance meeting in Glastonbury.
While a fresh wave of freedom and exploration of all things social, sexual and spiritual washed through the 1960's Witchcraft and Paganism saw itself attracting more attention from the outside than ever before. Those inside such as Sybil Leek and Alex Sanders found themselves becoming media personalities while the "old guard" cringed at the concept. Doreen, pragmatic as ever, probably recognised the growing polarities and maganged to find honourable middle ground, never denying her Paganism or fearing to speak out in defence of the Craft but she soon found a growing unease with Roy Bowers and his increasingly erratic behaviour which, tragically, culminated in his death under unfortunate circumstances in 1966.
Doreen continued to represent Paganism and Witchcraft, having by now become a published author with her book "Where Witchcraft Lives" ostensibly about Sussex folklore but packed with additional information about the subject of great interest to anyone from anywhere. The Craft survived the onslaught of adverse publicity and Doreen herself escaped a number adventures with both the media and the increasing circus of charlatans, attention seekers and, maybe, a few unfortunately misunderstood individuals - such names as Charles Cardell, Charles Pace and Raymond Howard cropped up. The Latter was part of a group called "The Coven Of Atho" into which Doreen was also initiated.
In 1972, Doreen's husband, Casimiro, passed away. Doreen eventually felt ready to step back into the limelight somewhat, she began writing in earnest and published "An ABC of Witchcraft" (1973), "Natural Magic" (1975) and "Witchcraft for Tomorrow" (1978) all of which are now considered authorititve standard works in the field. "Witchcraft for Tomorrow" (no doubt a light hearted reference to Gerald Gardner's "Witchcraft Today") is cited by many as their gateway to the subject and is as much loved as it is respected by many Pagans today. Doreen also found time to involve herself with establishing an organisation initially called "The Pagan Front" (which later transformed into The Pagan Federation) to fight prejudice against Pagans in both the media and society at large and this pioneering work is considered by many to be the basis of the modern acceptance of Paganism as having a dignified and valid place in society.
During the 1980s Doreen embarked on some remarkable research into the roots of the modern Craft. While she had herself doubted many of Gerald Gardner's claims she was a great supporter and admirer of him as a person and a leader and she uncovered the evidence that supported his claims to have been initiated into a tradition rather than the notion that had been going around for several years that he "made it all up". Doreen's discovery of the real identity of "Dorothy Clutterbuck" and her logically concluded reasons for Gerald maintaining the anonymity of his initiators silenced the critics.
Doreen had been living in Brighton with Casimiro until he died and it was through the residents association at her unassuming council block, Tyson Place, that she met Ron ("Cookie") Cooke who was to become her partner for the rest of his life which ended in 1997. She had now outlived three life partners and friends noticed a sadness, perhaps weariness, come over her. But she re-invigorated herself by getting involved with a local group called The Centre For Pagan Studies run by an ex-musician and initiated witch, John Belham-Payne and his wife Julie who had tired of the increase in charlatanry surrounding Paganism and decided to "do it properly" organising authoritive talks and lectures on the subject from their own premises. Doreen took a shine to them and became the patron of the CFPS as well as making John her final High Priest in the Craft. Indeed it was at the Centre For Pagan Studies that she gave her last ever talk. Her health began to deteriorate with the onset of pancreatic cancer (the same condition that had taken her mother). Close friends like John and Julie were with her to the end, caring for her in her own flat and later in a nearby nursing home. She retained her mental agility to the end, training John to help her spiritually with her passing and then revealing to him that she had left her magical legacy to him on the enigmatic promise that he was the person she most trusted to "do the right thing" with it.
Doreen passed from the mortal world at 6.55am on 1st Spetember 1999. John and colleagues from the Centre For Pagan Studies officiated at her funeral (you can read the order of service here) and went on to form a charitable trust in her name to which John donated the entire collection of artefacts, books, letters, photographs, documents and material which comprise Doreen's extensive legacy. The Doreen Valiente Foundation was instrumental in raising funds and approval for a blue plaque to commemorate Doreen's life and achievements which was unvelied at Tyson Place, Brighton on Midsummer's Day 2013, the 60th anniversary of her initiation into the Craft by Gerald Gardner, the plaque reads:
Doreen Valiente (1922-1999) - Poet, Author and Mother Of Modern Witchcraft.