Doreen Valiente

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Doreen Edith Dominy Valiente
File:Doreen Valiente.JPG
Valiente at a Wiccan altar at Brighton in 1962
Born 4 January 1922
Mitcham, South London, England
Died 1 September 1999(1999-09-01) (aged 77)
Brighton, England
Occupation Wiccan priestess, writer

Doreen Edith Dominy Valiente (4 January 1922 – 1 September 1999) 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 contemporary Pagan religion of Wicca to wider public attention through the publication of a string of books on the subject.

Having been born in Surrey, 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.

Having had a significant influence in the history of Wicca, she has been referred to as "the mother of modern Witchcraft" and today is widely revered in the Wiccan and wider Neopagan community as having contributed to witchcraft's growth as a religion, to its poetry and to the beauty of its ceremonies and ritual.


Early life: 1922–52

Valiente was born Doreen Edith Dominy on 4 January 1922 in the Southern English town of Mitcham, Surrey.[1] Her father, Harry Dominy, was a civil engineer, and he lived with her mother Edith at 1 High Street, Colliers Wood, Wimbledon.[1] 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.[2] From there, her family moved to the West Country and then to the New Forest.[3] She first began practicing magic aged 13, performing a spell to prevent her mother being harassed by a co-worker; she came to believe that it had worked.[4] Her parents, who were devout Christians, were concerned by this behaviour and sent her to a convent school. She despised the school and left at the age of 15, refusing to return.[5]

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.[5] However, soon after he was declared missing in action and presumed deceased.[5] 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.[6] Having taken his surname, the couple moved to Bournemouth together, where Casimiro worked as a chef.[6] Valiente would later say that both she and her husband suffered racism after the war because of their foreign associations.[7]

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.[8] 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,[9] and following this she avidly read a copy of Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice which she found in a local library.[10] Alongside these, she also had some practical experience with the esoteric religions of Spiritualism and Theosophy,[11] 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.[7] 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.[12] In the article Williamson talked about witchcraft as 'the Old Religion' and discussed how the witches of the New Forest had raised a 'cone of power' to stop Hitler from invading Britain.

Gerald Gardner and the Bricket Wood Coven: 1952–57

"We seemed to take an immediate liking to each other. I realised that this man [Gardner] was no time-wasting pretender to occult knowledge. He was something different from the kind of people I had met in esoteric gatherings before. One felt that he had seen far horizons and encountered strange things; and yet there was a sense of humour about him and a youthfulness, in spite of his silver hair."

Valiente, 1989[13]

Intrigued by the article, in 1952 Valiente wrote a letter to Williamson, who in turn put her in contact with Gardner.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] Valiente said that her initiation was virtually identical to that described in High Magic's Aid except that it included something called "The Charge" (a ritual utterance from an invoked deity in which witches are summoned to adore the Great Mother, the priestess identifies herself as the soul of nature and the source of all knowledge is said to lie within). Valiente recognized "The Charge" as containing passages from Leland's Aradia and parts of Aleister Crowley's writings. It was here that she took on the craft name of Ameth.[18] 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.[19]

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.[20] Valiente joined the coven and was invited to write a Midwinter ritual.[21] She soon rose to become the coven's High Priestess.[citation needed] She noticed how much of the material in Gardner's 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.[22] Valiente dramatically rewrote sections such as the "Charge of the Goddess" (though not to the extent of eliminating all of the Crowley material) and also wrote several poems for the book, such as "The Witches Rune".[23] She also helped to create a poem to include the Wiccan Rede within it.[24] As the coven's High Priestess, Valiente initiated only Jack L. Bracelin in 1956.[citation needed]

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.[25] Two factions emerged within the coven; Valiente led a broadly anti-publicity group, while Gardner led a pro-publicity one.[26] 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.[27] 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"[28]

Robert Cochrane and Where Witchcraft Lives: 1957–66

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.[29] At this time, Valiente and her husband moved to a basement flat in Lewes Crescent, Kemptown, in the southern coastal town of Brighton.[29] 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.[30] She also got back in touch with Gardner, and mended their friendship, remaining on good terms until his death in 1964,[31] when he left her £200 in his will.[32]

Valiente's painting of the head of Atho, a form of the Horned God.

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 Charles Cardell.[33] 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.[34]

In 1962 Valiente publisher her first solo book, Where Witchcraft Lives.[35] Just as Gardner had done in his book Witchcraft Today, here Valiente did not identify as a practicing Wiccan, but as an interested scholar of witchcraft.[36] It contained her own research into the history and folklore of witchcraft in her county of Sussex, which she had collected both from archival research and from the published work of L'Estrange Ewen. It interpreted this evidence in light of the discredited theories of Margaret Murray, which claimed that a pre-Christian religious movement had survived to the present, when it had emerged as Wicca.[36] Historian Ronald Hutton later related 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 [2010], 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."[37] Eager to spread information about Wicca throughout Britain, she also began to interact with press, sending a 1962 letter to the Spiritualist newspaper Psychic News, and in 1964 being interviewed for her involvement with Wicca by Brighton's Evening Argus.[38]

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.[39] She was impressed by his charisma, his desire to avoid publicity, and his emphasis on working outdoors.[39] Valiente was invited to join Cochrane's coven, the Clan of Tubal Cain, becoming its sixth member.[40] 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".[41] 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.[42] However, she proceeded to work on occasion with The Regency, a group founded by former members of the Clan,[43] and remained a friend of the ceremonial magician William G. Gray, who had also worked with the group.[44]

From An ABC of Witchcraft to The Rebirth of Witchcraft: 1966–99

"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?"
"An Unsolved Problem of Psychic Research", an example of Valiente's poetry.[45]

Valiente came to see the public emergence of Wicca as a sign of the Age of Aquarius, arguing that the religion should ally with the feminist and environmentalist movements in order to establish a better future for the planet.[46] In 1971 she appeared on the BBC documentary, Power of the Witch, which was devoted to Wicca and also featured Alex Sanders.[47] That same year, she was involved in the founding of the Pagan Front, a British pressure group that campaigned for the religious rights of Wiccans and other Pagans.[48] In November 1970 she developed a full moon inauguration ritual for local branches of the Front to use and on May Day 1971 she chaired its first national meeting, held at Chiswick, West London.[49] However, in April 1972 her husband Casimiro died.[50] Newly widowed, she moved into a flat in the nearby tower block of Tyson Place in Grosvenor Square, Brighton.[50] It was there that she met Ronald Cooke, a member of the apartment block's committee; they entered into a relationship and he became her working partner in Wicca.[51]

She took up employment in a Brighton branch of the Boots pharmacist.[52] She also continued her writing, following Where Witchcraft Lives with An ABC of Witchcraft: Past and Present (1972). 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.[citation needed] As Valiente became better known, she came to correspond with a wide range of people within the Pagan and esoteric communities.[53] Through this, she met the American Wiccan Starhawk – whom she greatly admired – on one of the latter's visits to Britain.[54] She also communicated with the American Wiccan and scholar of Pagan studies Aidan A. Kelly during his investigations into the early Gardnerian liturgies. She disagreed with Kelly that there had been no New Forest coven and that Gardner had therefore invented Wicca, instead insisting that Gardner had stumbled on a coven of the Murrayite Witch-Cult.[55]

In 1980, she began investigating the existence of "Old Dorothy", the woman whom Gardner had claimed had been involved with the New Forest coven. The academic historian Jeffrey Burton Russell had recently suggested that Gardner invented "Old Dorothy" as an attempt to hide the fact that he had invented Wicca himself. Valiente sought to disprove this, discovering that "Old Dorothy" was a real person: Dorothy Clutterbuck. Her findings were published in Janet and Stewart Farrar's The Witches' Way in 1984.[56] Valiente biographer Jonathan Tapsell described it as "one of Doreen's greatest known moments".[57]

In 1995 she discovered the Centre for Pagan Studies, a Pagan organisation based in the Sussex hamlet of Maresfield. Befriending its founders, John Belham-Payne and his wife Julie, she became the Centre's patron.[58] In 1997 Cooke died, leaving Valiente grief stricken.[59] Her final public speech was at the Pagan Federation conference in November 1997; here she praised the work of early twentieth-century conference Dion Fortune and urged the Wiccan community to accept homosexuals.[60] Valiente's health was deteriorating as she was diagnosed first with diabetes and then terminal pancreatic cancer; increasingly debilitated, John Belham-Payne and two of her friends became her primary carers.[61] In her last few days she was moved to the Sackville Nursing Home; in her final days she requested that Belham-Payne publish her poems.[62] She died on 1 September 1999 at 6.55am, with Belham-Payne at her side.[63] Her body was kept at a barn in Maresfield, where an all-night vigil was held; those invited included Ralph Harvey, Janet Farrar, Gavin Bone, and the historian Ronald Hutton. After this Pagan rite was completed, her coffin was cremated at Brighton's Woodvale crematorium, in an intentionally low-key affair with no media publicity.[64] Her magical artifacts and manuscripts, including her Book of Shadows, were bequeathed to the Centre, although there was nevertheless public disagreement over her will.[65][66]


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.[67]

Dr Leo Ruickbie examines her life and contribution to Wicca in his Witchcraft Out of the Shadows.[68] According to Dr Ruickbie, Valiente was the 'Mother of Modern Witchcraft',[69] 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".[70]

On 21 June 2013 the Centre For Pagan Studies organised a blue plaque which was unveiled at the Tyson Place tower block, Valiente's final home. At the ceremony, a speech was given by Denise Cobb, the Mayor of Brighton. It had been preceded by an open solstice ritual in Brighton's Steine Gardens, led by Ralph Harvey.[71]


  • 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.



  1. 1.0 1.1 Tapsell 2013, p. 12.
  2. Tapsell 2013, p. 13.
  3. Tapsell 2013, p. 14.
  4. Tapsell 2013, pp. 14–15.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Tapsell 2013, p. 15.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Valiente 1989, p. 36; Tapsell 2013, p. 16.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Valiente 1989, p. 36. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "FOOTNOTEValiente198936" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Tapsell 2013, pp. 17–18.
  9. Valiente 1989, pp. 15–17; Tapsell 2013, p. 17.
  10. Valiente 1989, pp. 35–36.
  11. Valiente 1989, p. 35; Howard 2009, pp. 110–111.
  12. Valiente 1989, pp. 14, 35; Tapsell 2013, p. 18.
  13. Valiente 1989, p. 37.
  14. Valiente 1989, pp. 14–15, 37; Tapsell 2013, pp. 18–19; Howard 2009, p. 113.
  15. Valiente 1989, pp. 37–38; Tapsell 2013, pp. 19–20.
  16. Valiente 1989, pp. 39–40; Tapsell 2013, p. 20.
  17. Valiente 1989, pp. 40, 47; Tapsell 2013, p. 20.
  18. Tapsell 2013, p. 21.
  19. Valiente 1989, pp. 40–41; Tapsell 2013, p. 20.
  20. Valiente 1989, p. 47.
  21. Howard 2009, p. 121.
  22. Valiente 1989, pp. 54, 57, 60–61; Howard 2009, p. 115.
  23. Valiente 1989, pp. 61–62.
  24. Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (1999) The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. p348.
  25. Valiente 1989, pp. 65–68.
  26. Valiente 1989, p. 69.
  27. Valiente 1989, pp. 69–71.
  28. Valiente 1989, p. 72.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Tapsell 2013, p. 48.
  30. Valiente 1989; Tapsell 2013, pp. 48–51.
  31. Valiente 1989, p. 80.
  32. Howard 2009, p. 186.
  33. Tapsell 2013, p. 52.
  35. Tapsell 2013, p. 60.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Hutton 1999, p. 309.
  37. Hutton 2010, pp. xv-xvi.
  38. Tapsell 2013, pp. 60–61.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Valiente 1989, p. 117.
  40. Valiente 1989, p. 122; Tapsell 2013, p. 56.
  41. Valiente 1989, p. 129.
  42. Valiente 1989, p. 133; Tapsell 2013, p. 59.
  43. Tapsell 2013, p. 68.
  44. Tapsell 2013, p. 83.
  45. The Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente, Hexagon Hoopix, page 66
  46. Tapsell 2013, p. 70.
  47. Tapsell 2013, p. 78.
  48. Hutton 1999, p. 371; Tapsell 2013, p. 65.
  49. Hutton 1999, p. 371.
  50. 50.0 50.1 Tapsell 2013, p. 65.
  51. Tapsell 2013, p. 76.
  52. Tapsell 2013, p. 72.
  53. Tapsell 2013, pp. 72–73.
  54. Tapsell 2013, p. 84.
  55. Tapsell 2013, pp. 96–97.
  56. Tapsell 2013, pp. 90–96.
  57. Tapsell 2013, p. 96.
  58. Tapsell 2013, p. 102.
  59. Tapsell 2013, p. 104.
  60. Tapsell 2013, pp. 104–105.
  61. Tapsell 2013, pp. 103, 105.
  62. Tapsell 2013, p. 108.
  63. Tapsell 2013, p. 109.
  64. Tapsell 2013, p. 110.
  65. Tapsell 2013, p. 111.
  66. See Doreen Valiente's Last Will and Testament
  67. Kelly 2007, pp. 86–87.
  68. Ruickbie, Leo, Witchcraft Out of the Shadows. Robert Hale, 2004. ISBN 0-7090-7567-7.
  69. Charge of the Goddess: The Mother of Modern Witchcraft
  70. Kelly 2007, p. 26.
  71. Tapsell 2013, p. 113.


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Kelly, Aidan A. (2007). Inventing Witchcraft: A Case Study in the Creation of a New Religion. Loughborough, Leicestershire: Thoth Publications. ISBN 978-1870450584.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Tapsell, Jonathan (2013). Ameth: The Life and Times of Doreen Valiente. London: Avalonia. ISBN 978-1905297702.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Valiente, Doreen (1989). The Rebirth of Witchcraft. London: Robert Hale. ISBN 978-0709037156.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links