Friday, September 10, 2010

A day for Doreen

Merry Meet everyone! Todays post is very special to me. It is a guest post from my good friend Mo who lives in London. I was talking with him today and asked if he was planing on going to Day for Gerald this year, knowing he went to Day for Doreen last year. He told me absolutely they were and that it was coming up this Sunday. I then remembered that he had wrote a very nice post about Day for Doreen last year which I really enjoyed reading. I asked him if he would be gracious enough to allow it to be re-posted here on Mad Angry Pagan. I am so glad that he did and hope you all enjoy it as much as I did. If we are very lucky we will get a guest post out of Mo on Day for Gerald. Let us all keep our fingers crossed that he agrees to that as well. Please if you get a chance visit Mo's blog as well I am sure you will find it as good a read as I do.  I asked Mo to write a little introduction to his post as well for us here it is along with his post.

This is the blog post I wrote last year for "The Day for Doreen". It was written from memory, as an impression of a very special day, dedicated to Doreen Valiente. As we're now coming up to the "Day for Gerald", it's interesting looking back on a year ago, and it will be interesting to compare it to the coming day dedicated to Gerald Gardner. Afeenast thought it would be nice to repost it now, and I thank him for doing that.
In the blog post I reported the gist of what I remember Ronald Hutton saying about Doreen's input to the "Charge of the Goddess". It has been pointed out though that quite a lot of the charge can be traced to other sources, even if with some rewriting, so the sense of Doreen's "authorship" of the Charge should be a qualified one.
Hope you enjoy the post :0)

The Charge of the Goddess Conference - London UK 13th September 2009

This is a personal recollection of a very special day, a day dedicated to the memory of Doreen Valiente, the woman often referred to as “the mother of modern Witchcraft”. Doreen passed from us 10 years ago in 1999, and her last high priest, John Belham-Payne had been wanting this gathering to happen since then. Doreen had only wanted a small funeral with few people, and she got that. So Sunday was for everyone else. About last November things started to come together, and this wonderful day was the result.

Many well known figures of modern Witchcraft came and gave their time entirely free to commemorate this amazing woman, while people travelled from as far as Australia to attend. The atmosphere was so warm and friendly, and really did feel like one big family. For those many people that weren't able to get to the event, the Centre for Pagan Studies videod the whole thing, and will be producing a DVD of the talks.

I can’t recount everything said and seen, I just don’t have memory for it I’m afraid, but I hope I can pass on a few of the anecdotes and the impressions of the day.

Ronald Hutton gave an account of Doreen’s place in history. Doreen’s place in modern Paganism and Witchcraft is of course extraordinary, maybe more so for someone who avoided the limelight, yet that in itself is telling. Although Doreen with characteristic modesty said that she based the Charge of the Goddess on prior and ancient sources, Prof Hutton pointed out that these sources account for a few lines within the Charge, the rest being her work. The place of the Charge can’t be overestimated in modern Paganism, yet many of us for years did not even know that she was the effective author of this inspirational work, and apparently it was fine by her for all that time to let it serve its purpose without credit to her.

A harder indication of Doreen’s place in history was also given by Prof Hutton. Some time ago he applied to a national body in the UK to have some of the figures of modern Witchcraft recognised for the contribution they had made to national life in the UK. This was an official list, it’s not “our” list of people who we rate, and it doesn’t get added to on a whim. Prof Hutton actually put forward the names of the two best known “biggies”, Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders. His application was rejected. Meanwhile he went off and wrote “Triumph of the Moon”, which was the first extensive and serious academic study of the history of the modern Witchcraft movement in the UK. After it was published, the above mentioned national body came back to Ronald Hutton and said they would now accept Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders as having had significant influence, the case having been made. But furthermore they wanted to include Doreen Valiente, as she emerged in the story as such a crucial figure. They actually came back and suggested Doreen themselves. So in the UK at least, her significance is officially recognised.

As Ronald Hutton also pointed out, Doreen followed her own path and in the process added to, enriched and influenced the works of those she worked with, whether it was Gerald Gardner, Robert Cochrane or others. She did not have the kind of attributes of conventional “beauty” that women of her time often needed to be paid attention to by the men who often dominated our society. She worked, and she worked on her own terms. And she had an instinctive gravitation towards the unconventional. Her interests weren't especially supported by her husband, which isn't to say anything against him, but she followed her own lights without that support (something I know I'd find difficult). She sought out and studied magic and taught herself, before finding Gardner, this back in the days when there was nothing respectable about such pursuits. Similarly she was self taught as a researcher of Pagan history, and Prof Hutton considers her “ABC of Witchcraft” to be a classic which formed the starting point of much research into the history of Witchcraft for many years. And as he said, the majority of modern Pagans work in ways which have been significantly influenced by her.

Marion Green was another delight amongst the speakers. She gave a lot of personal recollections of her times with Doreen in Sussex, and wanted to emphasise that Doreen’s magic was really rooted in the natural world. A group of them would head out into the Sussex hills in the dark, making their way up the chalk paths that were easy to follow even at night. There they would set up and build a bonfire on which they would place their cauldron, in which they would put food to cook slowly, while they worked their magic. Because after you’d been up there in that cold for the duration, you were going to need real food. Characteristically practical.

One thing that really made me laugh was the story about the plastic bags. Plastic bags had just been invented, and Doreen loved new things. When they went out to do ritual in the hills Doreen would take a whole load of stuff with them, implements and items of all kinds, and these she wrapped up individually in plastic bags this time. So they get up there, it’s dark, no candles because if you could even hold them in the wind they weren’t going to stay lit for more than a second, and out come all the bags, and they’re carefully untying the bags when the wind just picks everything up, and assorted witches and magicians are chasing their implements and artefacts around in the dark as they waft, fly and parachute everywhere! Yep, plastic bags were new ;0)

Another story involved a ritual magician (was it WG Gray? My memory fails me too much to be sure on that) who came to work with them. A side note here, Marion paints a picture of Doreen working with a very mixed group; witches, ritual magicians, Pagans, Christians, all together, all congregating at Doreen’s, and all heading off to the hills together. Well, Doreen and the magician independently decided they’d fix the weather beforehand, for this ritual on a hill top, and didn’t confer on it. The magician thought mist would be perfect, while Doreen wanted a clear starry sky. So they set off up the hill in thick mist, got to the top, and so many feet off the ground the mist just stops, and there’s a clear starry sky above. Sometimes you get what you ask for even when you ask for two different things at once lol.

And one other thing. Doreen loved anything with hooves and horns. On their many treks round junk shops, Marion knew that if it involved horns, antlers or hooves, Doreen was probably going to want it. That made me smile, and I could really see that, because her love of the Horned God always came through her writings.

From the Netherlands Morgana came and gave a presentation on the “multicultural Charge of the Goddess, an oral tradition”. Morgana spoke of the importance of oral tradition, and played us a DVD with Witches from many countries reciting parts of the Charge, one after the other, in their own tongue. It was beautiful, and it brought home how far and wide “the words of the Great Mother” have travelled, through our mother tongues to the heart of our broad wide world. The depth of feeling that Morgana put into this presentation had me on the verge of tears.

More stories later came from Ralph Harvey, including one of Doreen and her fellow witches being discovered by a truck driver as they were working in a disused air field that had been turned to growing crops. They all scattered as the truck drove on through, but he had caught them in his lights, so Doreen told everyone they’d better throw on their cloaks and hide in the fields. Sure enough back came the truck driver with police in tow.

“So you saw witches you say?”
“Yes, they were dancing right there!”
“And did they have pointy hats then sir?”
“Well, no”
“Yes, they definitely had some broomsticks”
“Any cauldrons by any chance sir?”
“Yes, yes, they had some cauldrons!”
“And where might they be now sir? Flying over the rooftops somewhere maybe?”

By all accounts it was a hard job to not laugh while hidden in the fields, while the truck driver got let off with a caution.

After this John Belham-Payne gave a story about what Doreen was capable of in a tight spot. On one occasion she had been working in the woods, dressed only for ritual. On emerging from the woods she was confronted with a group of bikers who spotted her, so she drew her robe around her and ran back into the woods, at which the bikers decided that she would be fun quarry to pursue. Once far enough into the woods Doreen dropped her cord to the ground as a circle and called the help she needed. The bikers didn’t stay, they headed straight back out of the woods as fast as they could, by all accounts thinking that the hordes of hell were after them!

Another story related to Doreen's belief that you have to get all the details right in magic. She loved crocodile skin, and one day out in Brighton she saw an expensive pair of crocodile skin shoes in a shop window. She said "those are mine!". Some time later she went past the same shop, and there was now a sale on, and the shoes were greatly reduced in price. In she went and got them. She took them and had them carefully heeled and prepared, took them home, and they didn't fit! Have to get the details right lol.

Maxine Sanders came to the stage to a quite thunderous reception of applause, calls and whistles. She read for quite some time, a lot I think from her book Fire Child, and a lot on the nature of the sacred responsibility of magic, and the responsibility entailed in initiating those called to the Craft. She also talked of Doreen’s support over the years, and how Doreen had phoned her from a call box regularly from her early days through to before Doreen died, and how much care and concern she had shown her.

And I’ll end on a question that was put to the panel by one member of the audience, as to whether there was, or would be such a thing, as “Valientist Witchcraft”. Both John Belham-Payne and Ronald Hutton said no, she'd hate that. Ronald Hutton made a lovely comment. He said whichever named tradition you looked at, Doreen was there in all of them, that she was the "free spirit" in the whole thing.

There was never a personality cult of Doreen, not even a nascent one. Her influence though, what she brought through, while she went her own way answering to the music that really called to her, was immense. She didn’t stop to make a name for herself. As Prof Hutton again pointed out, decade after decade she was quietly taking part in groundbreaking work. In the 50s working with Gardner’s Witchcraft, in the 60’s publishing her own researches and working with “Traditional” Witchcraft streams, in the 70s giving the blue print for DIY Witchcraft, in the 80s embracing the feminist Goddess movement, and on. She always had her finger on the pulse of a world in search of its ancient-new spiritual truth. She was the real deal.

Look below the surface, look to what we love - there’s where Doreen was. And I can't get away from this impression. This woman had a way of working that would allow her work to benefit so many and have such profound influence, and yet sidestep all the spectacle and "politics of the spectacle" that our culture attaches to personality. She understood something deeper, and it was what she loved that was important to her I believe, not what anything might look like on the surface. I think she didn't bother to take credit for things because it just wasn't important to her. She walked out unmarked by scandal, politics or sainthood, and I'm sure she had better things to think about.

We couldn’t stay till the very end, so we had to miss most of Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone’s presentation, and we couldn’t see the film footage of Doreen at the very end. That was how it had to be, so we said our goodbyes to dear friends and headed off. When we got back Phil was looking out the window. We live in an old Church with little leaded windows, and Phil pointed out the window to the darkened street: “can you see that face, it looks like a face, can you see it?”. I couldn’t see what he was seeing, somewhere down the road above a van, but he said he’d seen a horned head. When Phil sees things I just go “ok, that was what it was” because, well he sees things. It wouldn’t surprise me if Old Hornie followed us home, not after a day like that.

Blessed be Doreen.


For I have been beyond the town,
Where meadowsweet and roses grow,
And there such music did I hear
As worldly-righteous never know.

Doreen Valiente - The Witches Ballad.

No comments:

Post a Comment