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Posted by on in Culture Blogs



 Witches and Other Predators


Like other predators, witches are territorial animals.

You can be a witch and not know anything about Tarot.

You can be a witch and know nothing about astrology.

You can be a witch and know zip about crystals, the I Ching, or Egyptian mythology.

You cannot be a witch and not know your own territory.


The Sybil's Voice


Back when I was taking my first steps on the Crooked Path, I read everything I could get my hands on on the topic. In practice, this meant that I was reading mostly books by the Witchcraft Revival's remarkable First Generation of Priestesses: Doreen Valiente, Patricia Crowther, Sybil Leek.

Why, then—though arguably I got more information from the first two—was Sybil's influence on me so outsized?

Easily told.

Sybil was certainly the best writer of the three; unlike her colleagues, she told stories, rather than just imparting information. But there's more.

Aunts Doreen and Pat were what my friend and colleague Macha Nightmare refers to as “Witches at Large.” Wherever they were from, the Craft itself was their home.

But Sybil was the Witch of somewhere. Even after she had emigrated to the States and lived in Florida for years, she was still the Witch of the New Forest.

Of all those early witch books, only hers had a sense of place.

All witchery is local. You cannot be a witch without a territory.


The Witch of....

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

It's almost like asking: Who was your first sexual partner?

What was your first witch book?

I love to ask people this question. It's a good way to open the gates of memory, and the ensuing conversation is always both interesting and informative. Our firsts also neatly divide us into generations.

First Generation: Margaret Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe and God of the Witches.

Second Generation: Gerald Gardner, Witchcraft Today.

Third Generation: Sybil Leek, Diary of a Witch.

Fourth Generation: Starhawk, Spiral Dance.

Fifth Generation: MZB, The Mists of Avalon.

Etc. (There are, of course, other options.)

By this metric, I'm solidly Third Generation. My first witch book was Sybil Leek's Diary of a Witch. One read—the first of many—and I was hooked. I knew that that's what I wanted. I still have my (very battered) paperback 1968 Signet Mystic copy, with its startling red cover and a wild-haired Sybil on the cover, looking very witchy—in the Brothers Grimm sense of “hideous and scary”—indeed.

Good old Sybil. She doesn't give away a thing, but she sure does tell a good story. Probably that's what caught me in the first place. Early witch books tend to be short on story; at that point, as a people, we hadn't been around long enough to have accumulated very many. Witch books still tend to be long on practice, middling on theory, and short on story. Writers of future witch books, take heed: the story is what really gets 'em, every time.

The one thing that has always puzzled me about Diary is its talk of a Supreme Being. I'm not sure quite what Sybil was aiming at with this. In her first book, the 1964 A Fool and a Tree, she writes about the Goddess of Witches by Name (= Aradia), so what's with this “Supreme Being” shite four years later? (In her 1971 The Complete Art of Witchcraft, she's writing--quite creatively, actually--about the Goddess again.)  Is this just a polite euphemism for Herself? Is she afraid that talk of goddesses and horned gods will make the “Old Religion” too foreign in the eyes of the average non-witch reader? Is it some monotheizing phase that she was going through at the time? Your guess is as good as mine.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I think it was a Grosset & Dunlap book. I know it was mostly about witches but I do remember a page on werewolves as well. It ha
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Nema, nema, nema.
  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    Paul Huson's "Mastering Witchcraft." The "Our Father" backwards always did put the scares into me.
Does the Name Match the Claim? Using Historical Linguistics to Assess Claims of Pagan Continuity

Every word tells a story.

Unfortunately, it's not always the story that we want to tell.

Back at the end of the last century, it was not uncommon for pagan groups to claim unbroken continuity with the paganisms of the past. When someone makes such a claim, one way to test what they say is to look at the vocabulary that they're using to see if it matches their claims.

To take one preeminent example: in the 60s and 70s media witch Sybil Leek claimed to be high priestess of a Keltic tradition group in Hampshire's New Forest called Horsa Coven.

(Sorry, but after nearly 50 years in the Craft, I still cringe when I hear the term "high priestess." Talk about hokey.)

Now, “Horsa” has a pleasingly archaic sound to it: unsurprisingly, as it's an Anglo-Saxon/Old English name meaning “horse.” The fact that the name is Anglo-Saxon, however, sits uncomfortably with her claims of a “Keltic” tradition.

Horsa was the name of one of the two legendary Anglo-Saxon brothers who led their people to the Promised Land of England. (His brother was reputedly “Hengist,” which means “stallion”; the word survives into modern English as the first syllable of henchman.) The implication, I suppose, is that the tradition goes back to Anglo-Saxon times.

If so, the name itself disproves the claim. If the name had survived in continuous use since ancient days, it would automatically have modernized to "Horse." The fact that it didn't is proof that the name is a modern one, chosen for its archaic sound. Interestingly, one can say the same for the word “Wicca.”

Back in the early 90s, a group in the English Midlands calling itself Tuatha de Cornovii claimed to be a survival of the Iron Age Keltic tribe of the same name. Does the name match the claim?

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
500 Years of Theban

2018 marks the 500th anniversary of the first publication of the Theban script, now widely used by modern witches.

Theban first saw light in Johannes Trithemius' 1518 Polygraphia, in which he attributes the script to the legendary magus Honorius of Thebes: hence the name.

Trithemius' student Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1535) later included the alphabet in his De Occulta Philosophia (Book III, ch. 29) in 1531. From Agrippa, Theban made its way into several early 20th century popular books about the occult, and it is through these that it probably entered the the modern Craft.

Certainly it came in early on. Ronald Hutton tells me that he's seen references to Theban among Gardner's papers now in Toronto, and it was in current use in London during the early 60s. I myself first became aware of the script in Paul Huson's controversial 1970 Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks, and Covens. For my money, Huson's serifed Theban is still the most elegant version of all.

And Theban does have its own weird, witchy beauty. With all due deference to my colleagues who can read it as fluently as the ABCs, it's not a practical script. The letters are too complicated, too similar in shape for general daily use. But that's all part of its—ahem—charm. And as something that a certain group of people share, it's brilliant in-group strategy. If you can read this, you must be one too.

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Some years ago I was looking through an art book of ancient Greek sculpture. One statue of a horse caught my eye. It had Theban
  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer says #
    Fascinating. I hadn't heard of this script before. Just added Huson's book to my AMZN cart.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." That's from Herodotus isn't it?
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I figure that as a storyteller, it's my responsibility to tell the best stories that I can. As a historian, it's my responsibility

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Crowning the Harvest

 Now the falling of the leaves, now the shortening day:

for Summer is a-going out, and Winter's on the way.


You won't find our Autumn Evenday ritual in any Book of Shadows.

In some ways, it looks more like Thanksgiving at your mother's house.

Well, assuming your mother was Sybil Leek.

After all, this is Witches' Thanksgiving.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I've quoted from seven different songs here; there are lots of Harvest songs. Here's Albion Band's version of the last, The Reapho
  • Haley
    Haley says #
    How does the tune of this song play? I hear something akin to 'Oak, Ash and Thorne', perhaps.

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