Doreen Valiente Jan. 4, 1922 – Sept. 1, 1999
Doreen Valiente is considered by many to be the “mother” of the contemporary pagan movement. She was an early initiate of Gerald Gardner’s in the 1950’s, and made many significant contributions as a writer and ritualist. Her books include “Natural Magic”, “An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present”, “Witchcraft for Tomorrow”, and “The Rebirth of Witchcraft”. This Fireheart interview was conducted by Michael Thorn in 1991.
FireHeart Interviews Doreen Valiente Part Two ©1991
FH: Some people say that the New Age is the old stuff repackaged.
DV: Yes, it is. That’s exactly what it is. I don’t know whether New Age people would accept this, but I think a lot of the New Age is really the old Witchcraft. And, of course, that is why the Christian fundamentalists are so much against it because they think the same thing. I think we should try and work with the New Age and Women’s Spirituality movements and movements of that kind because all of these things really are converging into one goal. They’re helping the evolution of humanity into the Aquarian Age, and if we’re not interested in doing that, then we’re not doing anything very useful. I think people should not think of Witchcraft as just something which is there to do selfish little rituals to get you something to make your life easier. It is there perhaps to make people’s lives easier, and by all means there are times to use it in that way, but we should have a wider vision of it. We should be prepared to work with the New Age and Women’s Spirituality movement and the Green movement and regard them as important.
FH: But anything can be a little too orthodox after awhile – even a Goddess religion.
DV: I think it would be rather unbalanced if you had a religion that only worshipped the Goddess, because it’s ignoring half of humanity. It’s repeating the same mistake in a different way. I don’t want to see that happen. I would rather see people have a more balanced view to realize that you need the God and the Goddess, that. really, you can’t have one without the other. I don’t think so anyway, Personally, I’ve always been very fond of old Horny and want to see him still take a prominent part in the rituals.
FH: I think there’s been, since the `50s, an attempt to maintain a balance. But was there a predominance of the Goddess in the `50s because there was such a subjugation of women, or was there always an attempt to make a balance?
DV: I think there was always an attempt to make a balance. When I first came into the Craft in the 1950s, we had both the Goddess and the God. There was never any question about that. Dear old Aidan Kelly keeps on saying, “You must have introduced the Goddess worship,” even though I’ve told him a half a dozen times that I hadn’t. But when I came into the Craft in the 1950s, we had both deities, and there was never any question about this or any idea that this had been newly introduced.
FH: I think one of the reasons — and I can’t really speak for Aidan or the way he thinks — is that you wrote what’s really the major liturgy or the major piece of poetry for the Goddess in the Charge.
DV: Oh yes. I wrote that, Gerald had a version of the Charge which had a lot of Aleister Crowley’s writing in it. And mind you, Aleister Crowley, in my opinion, was a marvelous poet and he has always been undervalued in English literature simply because of the notoriety which he made for himself and reveled in. He loved being called the wickedest man in the world and all that sort of nonsense. The thing is — as his latest biographer, John Symonds, says — he couldn’t have it both ways. If he wanted to get himself that lurid reputation, which he worked very hard at for many years, then he wasn’t, at the same time, going to get a good reputation in English literature, in spite of the fact that a couple of his poems are in The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. I think it’s a pity that he’s not had the recognition that he deserves, really, and perhaps later years will remedy that.
But Gerald had a version of the Charge, which I think was quoted in Stewart Farrar’s book. And I told Gerald, “Look, so long as you’ve got all this stuff from Aleister Crowley in your liturgies, you’re not going to get accepted as being anything connected with white magic, because his reputation is such” — and unfortunately, most of it was quite well deserved — “that people are just not going to accept this and take it seriously so long as they think you’re an offshoot of Crowley’s OTO.” What he said, in effect, was, “If you think you can do any better, get on with it,” and that’s just what I tried to do. I did the best I could with what I had available, and no one has been more surprised than myself to see the influence that the Charge has had.
FH: It’s just like Gerald didn’t quite expect what would happen to the movement after writing a few books. And now we have people all over the world.
DV: The New Age, the Aquarian Age, is coming in and it will come in however much people try to prevent it. Of course, it may come in less easily and less peacefully because of people’s prejudices against it, but it will come in eventually. You can’t stop the tide.
FH: Do you think that Witchcraft and Paganism can and will grow to become a more mainstream religion in our western culture?
DV: I don’t know. I feel rather intimidated at the idea of a mainstream religion. I think I would be happier if we were more what old Gerald used to call “the cult of the twilight divinities.” I mean, on the edge of civilization, away from the mainstream religions. This is the idea that Colonel Seymour develops in his very fine article on the old Religion.
FH: In “The Forgotten Mage”?
DV: That’s it. He has the idea of the mystery religions as not being in the mainstream but being the byway, “the road that wanders over the ferny brae,” as the old ballad has it. I think that is where the magic of the old Religion comes into it — that it’s not a mainstream religion, it’s not an orthodox religion. And when you see the results of the orthodox religions, I’m very glad it isn’t. If you look at all the wars that are going on in the world today, it’s hard to point to one of them that’s not got orthodox religion and fundamentalism at its root somewhere. Heaven preserve us from religious fervor when it takes to blowing people to pieces.
But some people need organized religion. We tend to take from “The Key” and this sort of thing. Well I do, at any rate. Yet I have been one to say that I think organized religion is an unmitigated curse to the human race, and you’ve only got to pick up a newspaper today to see the evidence for that. At the same time, a lot people need an organized religion, and we mustn’t lose sight of that fact. That. of course, is where poor old Akhenaton went wrong, you know. He took away the common people’s simplistic beliefs and a lot of gods and goddesses, and what he gave them in return they couldn’t understand. They couldn’t understand his one god far away. They wanted their old gods who lived almost in their homes. And consequently, his great religious reform in ancient Egypt didn’t survive his own death very long.
FH: It’s interesting how people’s religious beliefs really do affect how they see life, and death as well. There was a joke once about the Summerland. Somebody died and was talking to a friend in the afterlife near a high, walled enclosure. He said, “What’s that in there?” and his friend replied, “Oh, those are all the Gardnerians in their Summerland. They think they’re all alone in the afterlife, like they’re the special ones.”
DV: I think, you know, there could be quite a lot of truth behind that sort of idea because you often hear about different religions having their different afterlife. The Muslims have got a rather good afterlife, I think. They’ve got lots of beautiful houris waiting on them. I think it’s very nice indeed and good luck to them. It beats playing harp hands down, I’d say. The Buddhists say, “Yes, we have all these beautiful things, but we realize it’s all illusion.” And the red Indians used to have their happy hunting ground. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if — at first — people do find themselves in something which they have built up in their minds as their idea of heaven. I dare say there are quite a few people sitting up in the Christian heaven merrily twanging away on harps and thinking that this is it — they’ve made it. And it’s only after a while, I should imagine, that perhaps they begin to look around them and think, “I wonder if this is real.” And perhaps they then realize that this isn’t real. Also, I’m quite sure that quite a few people in very stern and devout Christian circles have probably got quite a good mock-up of hell as well. Do you know about that wonderful book by James Branch Cabell where the hero went to hell and he met a very upset, discontented little devil who said he was worked to death because all these people complained that the fire wasn’t hot enough? He said,” I run around and do my best to make the fire hotter.” I think that people very possibly make for themselves, at first, the sort of afterlife which they’ve built up in their own minds. I’ll settle for a Pagan afterlife any day.
FH: Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki wrote in one of her books about developing a place ahead of time where you would go when you died that would be familiar, and then afterwards, you would go off from there into whatever it is that you go off into. That way, if you were killed suddenly, you would realize that you were dead because you would go to that place automatically, rather than wandering around not really figuring out that you had died.
DV: I think that, very possibly, there are quite a lot of people like that, you know, as they say wandering around not being able to figure out what’s happened to them. That might account for quite a lot of hauntings and poltergeist manifestations. I think there’s a lot of truth in what spiritualists teach. They’ve certainly made more progress in learning about the afterlife and trying to get people to think a bit intelligently about it than all the orthodox churches. Of course, the orthodox churches make it a mystery. You can’t know anything about it and you mustn’t ask, which is nonsense. They don’t want people to know anything about it because you can’t have people setting up to be their own priests and their own priestesses. Otherwise a fellow’s occupation is gone.
FH: You have to keep the priest class in there to gather the money. There’s actually been a lot of controversy about money in the Craft in the States, about people getting paid for things like teaching a class. Accepting money is a big taboo in certain areas because people feel you shouldn’t involve money in our religion.
DV: That’s all very well if you can afford to do it. But people have got to pay their way, haven’t they? And if someone is teaching a class, for instance, and not engaging in other paid work, they’re giving their time. It’s all very well to say we must not ever take money for anything like that, but how are people going to live? They’ve got to pay their mortgage or their rent. They’ve got to pay their taxes and they’ve got to buy food and clothes. How are they going to live if they don’t have some means of income? If you’re not going to allow ordinary people who have ordinary financial concerns to take part, then you’re going to make it exclusively the playground of the rich who can afford to do this sort of thing. I think that people have got to be a bit practical about that. They’ve got to work out the practicalities of the thing.
FH: Some people feel that you shouldn’t make a career of Witchcraft, shouldn’t be doing it full-time in terms of priesthood and teaching, that it shouldn’t be your job.
DV: Of course, people in all other religions make it their job, don’t they? They get paid for it.
FH: I think that’s their objection. They don’t want it to be the same.
DV: It isn’t Witch high priestesses that live in palaces. It’s Christian bishops. That’s what they call it today — the Bishop’s Palace. People in the church, whether it’s the Anglican church or any other church, they have to have a salary or otherwise they can’t devote their services full-time to it. I think that people have to work out a reasonable, practical compromise about that. Dion Fortune used to say, and I’m very fond of quoting her, “It’s no good being so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly use.” I agree that it shouldn’t be done for money exclusively, not making money the object of it, but at the same time, you’ve got to have that practicality which gets things done. Otherwise, it’s just going to be a hobby for the rich, as occultism was before the present day revival.
FH: Certainly for people like Crowley. He had the money and the leisure time to indulge himself.
DV: He was actually the son of a wealthy brewer and was left a considerable legacy. He was sent by his father to Trinity College, Cambridge, and of course, he did all right until the legacy ran out. Then he had to subsist, as Gerald Hamilton, one of his friends, delicately put it, upon involuntary contributions from his friends, which made it rather a sordid story. The latest version of his biography is John Symonds’ “King of the Shadow Realm”.
FH: Many people who have been in the Craft for a long time feel that the tremendous growth in numbers has been bad for the Craft and the Craft has become more a fad than a religion, and that the magic is gone. Do you agree with this?
DV: No, I wouldn’t agree with that, I don’t think the Craft becomes a fad unless you let it become a fad. I don’t think the magic can ever entirely go, although it can be marred by considerations such as bringing in monetary profit for it, and so on. I think if you start making a business of it, then the magic very soon evaporates. It just depends what sort of a business they make of it. If the sole end is to make money out of it, then the magic’s gone already. The magic can never entirely go, because what the Craft is basically rooted in is nature, and nature is there — the elements of life, trees, the wind, the fire, are all around us. This is the basic magic of the Craft, and that is part of life itself. It isn’t that the magic is gone. It’s just that we’ve lost touch with it. As for the growth in numbers, well I don’t know. You can’t say to people, “We don’t you want you in here.” It’s rather like the old line: “We are the Lord’s anointed. All others will be damned. We’ve got no room up here for you. We can’t have heaven crammed.” What right have we got to deny people the right to worship the old gods and the right to feel kinship with nature? There are some who inevitably are going to be the wrong sort of people. They come to it for selfish motives, but they’ll very soon show themselves up. They, in the end, are the biggest losers because they’ve had their chance and blown it.
FH: There are people who think that some people have initiated masses of people into the Craft, and that’s a mistake. They should be more selective.
DV: I certainly agree with that. I think that a lot of trouble has arisen from initiating the wrong sort of people without stopping to think a bit. You’re not doing them any favor by initiating them into something that they’re not capable of grasping the real meaning of, and you’re certainly not doing yourself any favor by bringing in people who are unsuitable. I certainly think that people have initiated people for the wrong motives, sort of to make certain they’ve got a coven of a full thirteen. And really, you can do much better work with two or three people who really know what they’re doing.
FH: In the American Craft/Pagan community, we talk about building a foundation and support structures around which Witchcraft and Paganism can evolve to fit he needs of its members. As someone who has been foremost in helping to create the shape of contemporary Witchcraft, do you have any insights on how this might happen?
DV: Building a foundation and support structures? I don’t really understand what that is about.
FH: The idea is like building community. Just like Christians might have a senior citizens home.
DV: Oh, how marvelous! A senior citizens home for Witches. I can just picture it.
FH: And raising people’s children, and support groups.
DV: This really. . . I mean, when I first started out as a Witch, you couldn’t go into a shop and buy a wand like you do today. I don’t know what would have happened. They couldn’t run a shop like that. They’d have been closed down by the police. They wouldn’t have been allowed. It would be quite amazing if any of us who came in the beginning of the 1950s are still around to see it. We just wouldn’t believe it. You couldn’t buy a pack of tarot cards in those days. Literally. I tried for ages before I was able to get a pack of tarot cards, and nowadays, you can buy any amount of packs of tarot cards.
FH: As with other religions, to have the social and Community support so that we can take care of our own and not have to depend on other people. Schools for children and affinity groups.
DV: I find it very. . . A senior citizens home! I can’t get over that. I think that’s super.
FH: We’ll have the wings named after various people. The Doreen Valiente Memorial Temple.
DV: I’m quite horrified by some of the stuff that is getting out: “Oh, you pretty well founded the Craft in those days,” and so on. I have awful visions of processions to the shrine of St. Doreen in the year 2070. The trouble is I can’t think of any way of cashing in on this until after I’m dead. It is a great pity. But I tell you what, I think I’ll do my dentist a favor because he’s a very good chap. I’ll put him wise to what’s going on and tell him to get out an old molar or something, and after I’m gone, they can cook up something like the Temple of the Tooth that they’ve got in Kandy in Ceylon. It’s supposed to be the tooth of Buddha and they parade it through the streets on the back of an elephant once a year. Everybody gets thoroughly into a state of religious ecstasy and a good time is had by all. So I think I’ll put my dentist wise to this. I wouldn’t mind seeing him profit out of it, and if he hasn’t got a tooth of mine, he can substitute the tooth of somebody else. Actually, some spoil sport examined the sacred tooth in Kandy some years ago and said it was the tooth of an animal, probably a dog. But it didn’t seem to put any damper on the proceedings.
FH: They did it to Elvis Presley. They have a piece of toast he took a bite out of, or a spoon he used once.
DV: They don’t really!
FH: They really do things like that.
DV: Would you like to buy some old spoons as an investment?
FH: You have to be very careful who you leave them to. They’ll have a big auction and they will be worth a fortune. But again, you won’t get to benefit from it.
DV: That’s the boring thing, isn’t it. I think it’s a rather horrifying thought. It’s like the rhyme about old Crowley. “There met one eve in a sylvan glade, a horrible man and a beautiful maid. Where are you going, so meek and holy? I’m going to temple to worship Crowley. So Crowley is God then? How did you know? Well it’s Captain Fuller that told us so. And how do you know that Fuller was right? I’m afraid you’re a wicked man, good night. While this sort of thing is styled success, I shall not count failure bitterness.” That was Crowley’s little poem about it. The joke is, you know, that they do sell Crowley relics. I’ve seen some of them being offered at the most frightful prices. There’s not a lot you could do about the relic industry. The trouble is I can’t think of any way to benefit from it while I’m alive.
We were talking foundation and support structures in the community. How it might happen, I don’t know. It will probably happen of itself. At the moment, we’re in the very difficult situation of not being able to educate our children. It rather galls me that every other religion in the world can educate their children in their ideas except us. At the moment, owing to all this satanic child abuse scare, it really would be very difficult for people to bring up their children in the ideas of the Craft, and I don’t see why we should suffer that discrimination. So the day will come, I think, when we will have to have something like the Witch equivalent of a Sunday school. I don’t know if we’ll have it. But why shouldn’t we tell our children about what we believe? The Christian fundamentalists will raise a great hoohah about it, of course. We’ve been talking quite happily about how the old coven structure has served its purpose and all that sort of thing, but then, you see, we may be wrong on that point. We have to think of that because when you see the fanaticism of some of these people, it’s quite frightening. But other religions can bring up their children in their ideas, and as you say, we could have support groups for people. There are many kinds of people who need support groups. Most of these support groups are now run by Christian religious communities, and some of them do some very good work. But we certainly ought to consider the possibility of doing that sort of thing ourselves.
FH: Some of it takes money. Building up that money from people who really don’t have a lot is difficult.
DV: I feel most of the people in the Craft are not wealthy people, and most of the things are more or less done on a shoe string. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. I think the day will come when we shall be doing that sort of thing — support groups of these kinds for older people, younger people and people with problems. Yes, the developments and the way that it is moving are really quite amazing. These structures will come. I think they’ll more or less form themselves.
FH: What are you writing now? Are you writing another book?
DV: Well, yes. I’m trying to cook up the ideas for writing a book especially directed at the lone practitioner of Witchcraft, whether by choice or where circumstances compel them to be, where the person has to work on their own or perhaps with just a partner or a couple of people. I think that’s one of the chief ways in which the Craft is going to develop, that it’s going to be much more on an individual basis. I’m going to try to make a book of spells, rituals, and that kind of thing which will be of help to people like that. I also collaborated on a book with an old friend of mine, Evan John Jones.
FH: Is that “Witchcraft, A Tradition Renewed”?
DV: That’s right. He wrote what I thought was a very interesting book. and so I helped him get it published by editing it a bit. He wrote a lot of it from inspiration and he didn’t really know how it was going to come out until he’d written it down. It is based on the ideas that he and I developed when we worked with Robert Cochrane. Some of those he has modified a bit to make them more suitable for the present day, to be more forward-looking rather than backward-looking. But this is quite a different sort of ritual from what I think most people do, although he has got some friends in USA that are practicing these rituals now, and he keeps in touch with them. Apparently they find them successful. Anyway, I hope people will be interested in it and not think that I’m trying to knock other forms of Witchcraft because I’ve helped him to get this out, but I think that we need different viewpoints, different traditions.
FH: The Craft seems optimally poised in this situation to integrate a lot of these things together, like the Green movement which is concerned with the Earth, and the feminist movement which is concerned with the role of women, and the New Age movement which is concerned about the spirituality of the individual. It seems as though the Craft integrates all of these, so that it could take a leadership role because it’s a synthesis of these different movements.
DV: I think it’s going to be part of the Aquarian Age which is coming in. That is how I visualize it. Of course, it’s not easy for us to see just how that’s going to develop. Sometimes you think we’re all going to hell in a handcart and there’s nothing you can do about it when you see some of the things on television. And then you hear of some other developments which suddenly makes you feel more hopeful, as if things are going to work out in spite of all the forces of darkness, that things are going to work out to a better age. I think the world is gradually reshaping itself. There is some force there — call it Gaia or the force of evolution. Call it the inner planes. Call it what you will, but I think there is some force at work which has something to do with human evolution, and it is helping us on to the next step, whether we choose to try to go along with it or not. We can choose to try to go against it if we want to, but I don’t think it will get us anywhere if we do. I mean, who would have believed that the Berlin Wall would be practically blown away by the wind of change. But it has happened. And this is not happening by force of arms. It is not happening by politicians’ planning. It’s happening by a sort of movement of the human spirit, if you can call it that. These things are happening. The world does change. It’s like the famous Chinese curse. “May you live in interesting times.” We do.
FH: What is your vision of the future of the Craft?
DV: It may, I hope, take that kind of part. That’s what I would hope and like to see it do. I don’t know whether I’ll ever live that long, but I would love to see some of these big open-air meetings like you have in the States over here. I think they’re wonderful, and I would like to see a lot of other people attending them, not only Craft people, but New Age people, feminists, and people concerned with the Green movement. I would like to see us working together. I think that’s the future of the Craft. But we can’t be exclusive anymore. There was a time when we had to be because it was literally a matter of life and death. We were rather like the resistance movement during the war. If we spoke out of turn, we stood the chance not only of destroying ourselves but our associates as well. You jolly well learned discretion the hard way in those days. I think that era is gone. There are forces at work among the fundamentalists of various religions which would like to see those days brought back. I don’t think they’re going to succeed, I think human evolution has gone too far for that. They might have some temporary successes. They may win some battles. but they’re going to lose the war. I hope that we shall fulfill that role as a leader. I’m not saying the leader, because we don’t need one leader and all the rest followers. We’ve had enough of that. But I think we will take a leading part in bringing in the New Age, and I want to see that. I don’t know if I’ll live that long. I hope so.
I love that story about Susan Anthony that Zsuzsanna Budapest tells in her book. Some journalist asked Susan Anthony, because she didn’t believe in orthodox religion, I suppose, “Where do you think you’re to go when you die?” She said, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay around and help the women’s movement.” So even if I don’t live long enough to see these things, I’ll be around to make a nuisance of myself.