Doreen Valiente

Doreen Valiente
Doreen Edith Dominy Valiente

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), who also went under the craft name Ameth,[1] 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 Neopagan religion of Wicca to wider public attention through the publication of a string of books on the subject.

Having been born in south London, 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 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"[2] and is today is widely revered in the Wiccan and wider Neopagan community.



Early life, 1922-1940

Born Doreen Dominy in southern London, she was the daughter of Christian parents named Harry and Edith. However they soon moved near to Horley in Surrey. The young Doreen was convinced by the age of 13 that she possessed the power to use magic,[3] and used it to help protect her mother from a bullying co-worker. When she informed her parents of her actions, they objected to her use of sorcery and sent her to a convent school.[4] By the age of 15 she had left the school and refused to ever go back.

Marriages and occult interest, 1941-1945

In 1941, whilst working as a secretary in Barry, southern Wales, Doreen married Joanis Vlachopoulos a seaman in the British Navy; during World War II he was declared missing and presumed dead.

In 1944 she married Casimiro Valiente, a Spaniard living in exile 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.[5] Valiente would later say that both she and her husband suffered racism after the war because of their foreign associations.[6]

During this period, she became interested further in occultism, an interest that her second husband did not share. She was particularly interested by John Symond's biography of Aleister Crowley, which was entitled The Great Beast.[7]


Gardner and initiation, 1952-1953

The Valientes moved to Bournemouth after the war. Here, in 1952, Doreen read an article entitled "Witchcraft in Britain" in the newspaper Illustrated, which had been written by Allen Andrews.[8] The article mentioned both Cecil Williamson, who ran the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft, as well as the New Forest Coven, or "southern coven of British witches" as it called it. Valiente wrote to Williamson asking for more information, who passed her letter on to Gerald Gardner.

Doreen and Gardner corresponded for some time before she asked to join his coven. He initially denied the request, but agreed to meet her, in winter 1952, at the house of a woman known only as Dafo near the New Forest. When she entered, her initial reaction was that:

We seemed to take an immediate liking to each other. I realised that this man 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.[9]

Gardner gave her a copy of his novel High Magic's Aid, allegedly to gauge her opinion on ritual nudity and scourging,[10] something which he did with all prospective persons wishing to join his coven.

On Midsummer 1953 Gardner invited Doreen again to Dafo's house, and it was here that he initiated her into Wicca. The three of them then set off to Stonehenge (a place where Valiente had never before been), where they watched the Druids performing a ritual there. Gardner had lent a ritual sword he owned, and had collected from the museum on the Isle of Man, to the Druids, who placed it within the 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.[11]

Bricket Wood Coven, 1953-1957

Valiente joined Gardner's Bricket Wood coven, and soon rose to become its High Priestess. She noticed how much of the material in his 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 (whose negative reputation Valiente feared). Valiente dramatically rewrote sections such as the Charge of the Goddess and also wrote several poems for the book, such as The Witches Rune. She also helped to create a poem to include the Wiccan Rede within it.[12]

As the coven's High Priestess, Valiente initiated only Jack L. Bracelin in 1956.

However Gardner's increasing desire for publicity, much of it ending up negative, caused conflict with Valiente and other members of his coven. As she would later say:

that as the coven's High Priestess, I felt that by speaking to the press, Gardner was compromising the security of the group and the sincerity of his own teachings[13]

When she, and other coven members, in 1957, confronted him saying that some rules had to be developed, he claimed it was not needed as some already existed, at which point he produced the Wiccan Laws in 1957. These laws limited the control of the High Priestess, which angered Valiente, who, with several other members, left the coven. She later stated that:

We had had enough of the gospel according to Gerald, but we still believed that the ancient religion of Witchcraft had existed.[citation needed]

Valiente's Coven, 1957-1964

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.

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

Coven of Atho, early 1960s

In the early 1960s, Valiente begun a course on the Coven of Atho, which was run by Raymond Howard, and partially based upon the teachings of Charles Cardell. 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.[14]

Clan of Tubal Cain, 1964-1966

In 1964, both Doreen's mother and Gerald Gardner died. That same year, at a gathering at Glastonbury Tor held by the Brotherhood of the Essenes,[15] she met the witch Robert Cochrane, and the two became friends.

Valiente soon joined Cochrane's coven - the Clan of Tubal Cain,[16] becoming one of only very few members. She later remarked that there were certain things in this coven that were better than those in Gardner's, for instance she thought that "[Cochrane] believed in getting close to nature as few Gardnerian witches at that time seemed to do".[17] She also commented on how Cochrane did not seem to want lots of publicity, as Gardner had done, something which she admired.

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".[18]

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.

Writing, 1966-1999

In 1962, Valiente saw her first book published: entitled Where Witchcraft Lives, it dealt with her own research into folklore and the Early Modern witch trials that occurred in her county of Sussex, things which she incorrectly associated with the origins of Wicca. The historian Ronald Hutton would later relate 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." Nonetheless, he noted that Where Witchcraft Lives was also historically inaccurate, because "she diffidently interpreted the facts that she was revealing within the framework supplied by the foremost contemporary academic expert in the early modern trials, Margaret Murray", whose theories that Early Modern witchcraft was a surviving pre-Christian religion, have subsequently been disproved and dismissed by historians.[19]

In the 1970s and 1980s Valiente gradually became one of the most well respected and influential leaders of Wicca, meriting an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

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.

Meanwhile she continued to write poetry, much of which has been published in the book Charge of the Goddess: The Mother of Modern Witchcraft, an example of which is "An Unsolved Problem of Psychic Research", which goes thus:

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?[20]

She was active in her promotion of modern witchcraft and neo-paganism, being particularly keen to emphasise that the movement was not related to Satanism and did not seek publicity for its own sake. She was a notable figure in supporting the development of the Pagan Federation.

Faced with challenges from sceptics, Valiente attempted, with some success, to provide evidence for Gardner's claims concerning his initiation, notably by identifying the woman Gardner called 'Old Dorothy' as Dorothy Clutterbuck in 1980, the woman who was supposed to have performed Gardner's initiation, in an essay published in The Witches' Way by Janet and Stewart Farrar.

Death, 1999

Valiente suffered from pancreatic cancer towards the end of her life. In her last few days she was moved to a nursing home, and she died at 6.55am on 1 September 1999, with John Belham-Payne at her side. John Belham-Payne inherited all of Doreen's magical artefacts and manuscripts including her Book of Shadows.[21]


Dr Leo Ruickbie examines her life and contribution to Wicca in his Witchcraft Out of the Shadows.[22] According to Dr Ruickbie, Valiente was the 'Mother of Modern Witchcraft', 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.


  • 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. ^ Witchcraft & Witches Website
  2. ^ Charge of the Goddess: The Mother of Modern Witchcraft
  3. ^ Teen Witch John Belham Payne, (2006). Doreen Valiente website, accessed 11 January 2008
  4. ^
  5. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 36
  6. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 36
  7. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 17
  8. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Valiente, page 35
  9. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 37
  10. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 39
  11. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, pages 39-40
  12. ^ Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (1999) The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. p348.
  13. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente
  14. ^
  15. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 117
  16. ^ Valiente (1989) The Rebirth of Witchcraft
  17. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, page 118
  18. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, page 129
  19. ^ Hutton 2010. p. xv-xvi.
  20. ^ The Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente, Hexagon Hoopix, page 66
  21. ^ See Doreen Valiente's Last Will and Testament
  22. ^ Ruickbie, Leo, Witchcraft Out of the Shadows. Robert Hale, 2004. ISBN 0-7090-7567-7.
  • Heselton, Philip (2003). Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration: An Investigation into the Sources of Gardnerian Witchcraft. Milverton, Somerset: Capall Bann. ISBN 1861631642. 
  • Hutton, Ronald (1999). The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198207441. 
  • Hutton, Ronald (2010). Foreword to Where Witchcraft Lives (Second edition). Copenhagen: Whyte Tracks. ISBN 9788792632098. 
  • Valiente, Doreen (1989). The Rebirth of Witchcraft. London: Robert Hale. 

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