Doreen Valiente was born in 1922 and died in 1999. In 2013 she made history by being awarded a blue plaque on her tower block home in our wonderful Kemptown. Why did she make history? Because she is the first witch to ever receive the commemoration. Yes, Doreen Valiente is internationally regarded as being ‘the mother of modern witchcraft’. Her collection of artefacts, manuscripts and documents relating to witchcraft, Paganism, magic and folklore are considered to be the most important of its kind in the world, according to academics. In April this year, the collection’s inaugural display will be coming to Preston Manor.
Folklore, Magic and Mysteries: Modern Witchcraft and Folk Culture in Britain will display Valiente’s belongings for the first time, highlighting her influence on today’s Pagan practices. It is said that Valiente played a key part in the modern Pagan revival and the collection will give an insight into the once secretive belief. The collection will include ritual texts and objects such as an altar, cloven candlestick and divination tools.
On Valiente’s death, her collection of artefacts was entrusted into her last High Priest and co-founder of the Centre for Pagan Studies John Belham-Payne who, in order to safeguard this collection, created the Doreen Valiente Foundation. He told The Creators Project “we’re telling the history of traditions, from ancient times, going right through to modern traditions…witches and pagans will come and get one thing from the exhibition, they’ll get to see things they’ve never seen in books, as Doreen’s collection has been in lots of texts. But from the general public’s perspective, we want someone to walk in the front door thinking it could be a bit spooky but walk out with the idea that it wasn’t what they thought it would be. In some ways it might seem a little boring, but we’re not trying to shock people”. Valiente’s own handwritten ritual books and documents will also be on display, highlighting the role she played in turning Paganism from an underground cult to a global religious phenomenon in just a few decades.
The collection will also display implements used in other pagan faiths such as druidry and items of historical interest from British folklore practices. Gerald Gardner’s original handwritten book of witchcraft rituals will also be on display on special days during the exhibition, which runs until October. Known as a ‘Book of Shadows’, it is one of the primary source documents for the worldwide religion Wicca. It contains Gardner’s notes for rituals and magical work form the earliest days of the movement. Doreen also re-wrote a great deal of the Book of Shadows, Belham-Payne says; “The first book, while important, was fragmented and didn’t make any sense. Doreen re-wrote a great deal of it, giving it a sequence of events and adding poetry. She also made it into a more modern language”. He also gave an insight into what to expect from the exhibition; “Things that will excite most people in the collection are a couple of curses, which are still alive, they’re two small round glass jars that Doreen took from the floor of two separate buildings in Brighton, said to be haunted. They’re packed will all kinds of horrible things that are meant to tie people up in knots if the cork in the bottom is taken out. Doreen never felt the need to do this. She just blessed the houses and now they sit within the collection.”
Over 85,000 people in the UK identify with the various strands of Paganism, according to the 2011 national census. After the abolition of the Witchcraft Act in 1951, witchcraft began to redefine itself to fit into the modern world. Witchcraft has become a fairly common trope in popular culture, seen in the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Harry Potter of course, and even Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Preston Manor is claimed to be Brighton’s most-haunted house, and over the last decade it has hosted regular paranormal-themed tours, talks and events, continuing a trend that was started in the 1880s when séances were conducted in the house. Paula Wrightson, the Venue Officer has said “Preston Manor has been chosen to display this collection because it’s so compatible with the interests of the last private owner, former MP and Brighton Mayor Sir Charles Thomas-Stanford. He was the long-servicing chairman of the Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society, where his colleagues included Herbert Toms, the one-time curator of Brighton Museum. Both men were fascinated by Sussex history, archaeology and folklore, and Toms was a subscriber to Psychic News – I’m sure they talked long into the night about folklore and the supernatural at Preston Manor. And Doreen Valiente was well aware of Toms’ work, referring to it when researching her pioneering book Where Witchcraft Lives”
You can find out more about Doreen Valiente here.
images from the Doreen Valiente Foundation
Feature image from here.