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6 Famous Witches of the Twentieth Century: Valiente, Leek and More

Here you will read about six famous witches from the twentieth century who made a name for themselves and brought Wicca and witchcraft into the public eye. They also generated interest in witchcraft as a religious movement. Some of their motives and morals are questioned, but what will be presented here are simply the facts.

The Rise of Modern Witchcraft

If you haven’t heard, witchcraft is making a comeback in modern times. Some call the craft a magical practice, while others say it is their religion. Whatever the actual definition, there are modern-day witches who practice the craft in their daily lives. The present witchcraft movement can be attributed to certain courageous individuals in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Doreen Valiente: The Mother of Modern Witchcraft

Valiente is known worldwide as the mother of modern witchcraft, but her beginnings were as humble as any. Doreen Edith Dominy Valiente was born in 1922 to a middle-class family living in Surrey, Southeast England. Doreen’s father was a civil engineer who also happened to be Methodist. Her mother was a Congregationalist. Despite her Christian upbringing, Doreen became interested in magic in her adolescent years.

The Famous Witch’s Interests Grow

As a young adult, she practiced magic with a friend and came across literature from a deceased doctor who was part of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This book intrigued her, as well as Aleister Crowley’s books on ceremonial magic. In addition, Doreen studied esoteric religions including Spiritualism. Her passion for the mysteries only grew.

Valiente Joins A Coven

In the 1950s, Doreen Valiente reached out to Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern day Wicca. He invited her to join the Bricket Wood Coven, and she eventually became High Priestess. Following her time with Gardner, Valiente joined the Coven of Atho and the Clan of Tubal Cain.

Valiente’s Literary Success

But Valiente isn’t known for the covens she joined, she is most well-known for her writing. Valiente wrote The Charge of the Goddess and The Witch’s Rune, poetic pieces included in the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. Her research of the witch trials helped her write The ABCs of Witchcraft and Natural Magic. Valiente’s presence in the witchcraft community didn’t fizzle after her death, and many Wiccans and pagans honor her contribution to the movement.

Doreen Valiente, Famous Witch and Mother of Modern Witchcraft
Doreen Valiente Gazing into a Crystal Ball

Rosaleen Norton: The Witch of Kings Cross

Rosaleen Norton is one of the most controversial famous witches of the twentieth century. She was born in 1917 in New Zealand but lived most of her life in Kings Cross, Sydney, Australia. Rosaleen claimed she had a normal upbringing, but she hated being a child. She spent three years of her childhood living in a tent in her backyard, making friends with wildlife, having a pet spider. As she grew, her interest in the occult grew and she began painting demons and pagan gods. Her paintings were more than controversial – they sparked outright contempt.

Norton’s Controversial Pagan Paintings

Norton lost jobs with various newspapers and magazines because her artwork was too lewd or provocative. She also had the police crowding her at every art exhibition, sometimes confiscating her work. Norton claimed she was a pantheist pagan who worshiped Pan, although the papers spread rumors that she was a Satanist who engaged in animal sacrifice. Norton denied the malicious claims.

The Famous Witch Norton’s Form of the Craft

Rosaleen is known as the Witch of Kings Cross, and she started her own form of witchcraft “The Goat Fold”. Despite saying she wasn’t a Satanist, it was difficult for people to ignore Norton’s interest in demons. Her artwork has gone on display a few times in Sydney since her death in 1979, and a few biographies have been written on her life.

Rosaleen Norton, Famous Witch of the 20th Century and Occult Artist
Rosaleen Norton

Stewart and Janet Farrar: Famous Witch Couple

Stewart and Janet Farrar were an English married couple who led a Wiccan coven in the late twentieth century. They are well known for their literary contributions, including A Witches Bible, The Witches’ Way, and Eight Sabbats for Witches. In the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties, the Farrars appeared in a few interviews to answer questions about modern Wicca.

The Farrars were initiated into Alexander and Maxine Sanders’ Coven; however, in the early nineteen-seventies, the Farrars started their own coven. Stewart passed away in 2000, and Janet re-married in 2014. Janet continues to write books and lecture on Wicca in various countries along with her husband Gavin.

Sybil Leek: The Ordinary Famous Witch of New Forest

Perhaps one of the most interesting figures in modern witchcraft was the self-acclaimed “Ordinary Witch of New Forest” Sybil Leek. Sybil was born in nineteen-seventeen to a middle class family in Staffordshire, England. She claimed to the “most wicked man in the world” Aleister Crowley. Leek wrote Diary of a Witch, detailing her coming to the craft and how she was influenced by a band of gypsies in New Forest. She also claimed to have joined a French witch coven after her husband’s untimely death.

Sybil’s Claim to the Craft

Sybil was a witch, psychic, and astrologer and was well-known for being eccentric. Her eccentricity included having a pet jackdaw that perched on her shoulder during interviews. Her Russian grandmother was a huge inspiration for her interest in the Old Religion. Sybil claimed she was a descendant of Molly Leigh, an accused witch who died in England in seventeen-forty-six.

The Famous “Ordinary Witch’s” Death

Throughout her life she dealt with fame and scrutiny, and she wrote more than sixty books on witchcraft, astrology, and the occult. She eventually moved to the United States to a comfortable, warm home in Florida. Sybil died in nineteen-eighty-two at her home in Melbourne, Florida. She was sixty-five-years-old and died of cancer. Despite those who smeared her name, Sybil was humble and referred to herself as an “ordinary witch”.

Gerald Gardner, Famous Witch

Gerald Gardner: The Founder of Wicca

Gerald Gardner is known as the founder of Wicca. Yet his name is controversial in modern times. Gerald Gardner was born in eighteen-eighty-four in Lancashire, England to a middle class family. As a young man, Gardner traveled the world and was inspired by indigenous cultures and religions in the Far East.

Gardner’s Magical Beginnings

Gardner was an amateur anthropologist and archaeologist, and his interest in cultures fueled his desire to study esotericism. He claimed to have been a part of a Rosicrucian Order, and while in the order he met witches from the New Forest Coven. He was initiated into the coven in nineteen-thirty-nine. Gardner moved to London in the nineteen-forties and began discussing his unorthodox beliefs with the public. Moreover garnering much attention to the Old Religion that supposedly survived centuries of persecution.

Founder and Father of Wicca

Gardner is known as the Father of Wicca, because he was the first to talk about Wicca to the public. He founded the first tradition of Wicca known as Gardnerian Wicca. Gardner would write a few books on the topic and participate in interviews. Gardner met various individuals like Doreen Valiente, Aleister Crowley, and others.

Gardner’s Legacy (And Controversy)

Gerald Gardner died of a heart attack in nineteen-sixty-four while in transport on a ship to Lebanon. Gardner’s methods (including ritual nudity) have come into question by modern witches. But his tradition of Wicca remains strong to this day. Many Wiccans who are initiated into a true Gardnerian Wiccan coven can claim lineage back to Gerald Gardner.

6 Famous Witches of the Twentieth Century: Gardner, Leek and More

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