Saturday, May 12, 2007
The Witches Speak (1965)
Patricia and Arnold Crowther, The Witches Speak (Douglas, Isle of Man: Athol Publications, 1965).
The Witches Speak is probably the earliest book about Wicca, not by Gardner. In 1969 there is a flood of publications and in 1970 the central Wiccan rituals became widely available. But the only other publications between 1959 (Gardner’s The Meaning of Witchcraft) and 1969 were two books published in America: Ray Buckland’s, Witchcraft…The Religion (New York: Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, 1966) and Sybil Leek, Diary of a Witch (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968). The first of these is no more than a pamphlet and the second some might exclude simply because Leek’s witchcraft differs so markedly from Gardner’s. The Witches Speak was reprinted by Samuel Weiser in New York in 1976.
Concerning the Authors
Arnold Crowther (6 Oct. 1909–1 May 1974) met Gerald Gardner in 1939. (Arnold had also met Aleister Crowley, whom he introduced to Gardner in 1946.) Arnold met Patricia Dawson (born 27 October 1927) in 1956. Gardner initiated Patricia on 6 June 1960 in Castletown. After the rite, Patricia initiated Arnold. On 8 November 1960, Arnold and Patricia were handfasted by Gerald Gardner, and married the following day. Both took their second-degree initiation on 11 October 1961, and on the 14 October, Patricia became high priestess. By December 1961 the Crowthers started to build their own coven in Sheffield; they were a popular couple and media exposure generated interviews and speaking engagements. Together they authored two books, The Witches Speak (1965) and The Secrets of Ancient Witchcraft (1974).
Arnold seems to have been the author of this book; certainly it is written in his voice (30, 100, 103). It is not surprising, therefore, that Crowley is quoted (110, 131), along with Charles Leland (31), Sir George James Frazer (58) and Margaret Murray (54, 62). On the subject of reading Arnold says: “A great many of the witches spend their spare time reading and studying…and, to them, books are treasured possessions” (107). He dismisses ‘modern’ ways and gadget-filled houses bereft of books (107), but there are some stunning examples of his own ignorance here.
The book begins with a surprising (and not very convincing) explanation of the rise of the horned god: “Before the invention of the bow and arrow, the only way it was possible to hunt the beasts was for a man, dressed in skins and wearing a pair of antlers on his head, to run among the heard and stampede them, so that a certain number fell to death over the edge of the cliffs” (7). It is a short step from here to the deification of the heroic hunter. Similar, but slightly more plausible, accounts are also given of reincarnation, spiritualism, voodoo, etc.
Arnold often adopts the posture of the sceptic, warning his readers against believing the absurd accounts of witches in historical sources and in contemporary press reports. He explains that “the majority” of “so-called” witches “were not witches at all and had no connection with the old religion” (22). (And note, lexicographers, the idea that witches could “fly” arose because of a misunderstanding of the word ‘fly’, when used to mean going very fast, ‘I flew out of there as fast as I could”, 29–30).
Arnold is adamant that “Black Magic doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as Black Witches and never has been” (15), “it is quite impossible for them [witches] to work evil against anyone” (14). There are two reasons for this: firstly, it appears to be because witches need “their god’s help to direct” the energy they raise. For similar reasons selfish magic never works and “witches must not work magic for money or personal gain” (67). Secondly, because magic works as a kind-of “long distance hypnotism” (14), and a hypnotist cannot make a person do anything they would not do in a natural state, it follows that they can do themselves no harm. No curses, no wax dolls. Q.E.D. (Incidentally, Arnold is eloquent on the subject of greed. He condemns an unnamed pre-war guide on candle-magic that frequently calls for an large number of differently coloured candles available from the guide’s author, 132–34).
A very brief and circumspect account is given of a coven meetings (68–69) and a few other facts about Wicca emerge: the “Summerlands” are mentioned, but the name of the horned god is kept hidden (61), as are the names of the sabbats (93, only common names are used). We are told that witches are both male and female (27), that they do not evoke spirits or work with the elements (87), and that each coven is autonomous, so “there is no such thing as a King or Queen of the witches. There never has been and there never will be” (147). Ritual nudity is defended (88, 148). Arnold dismisses recent coverts who wear robes because they “are unable to throw off their puritanical upbringing”, saying that “this is completely out of keeping with the ancient craft” (148). The High Priestess must, however, be beautiful (92, “combine beauty with high ideals…only the really lovely, both in body and soul, are worthy”).
Gardner’s Witchcraft Museum at Castletown gets an incidental mention (20), and there is a photo of Patricia with Gardner (98), but he is not discussed. This is curious given his fame and importance and the fact that he had recently died but, perhaps, Arnold and Patricia were trying to establish there own credentials. Certainly, we are told of the Crowther’s many activities on radio, television and in print (100, 143–44) and the strongly-worded dismissal of a King or Queen of the witches may even have been directed at Elenor Bone (“I anticipate that I will take over Dr Gardner’s role”, ‘Britain’s Chief Witch Dies at Sea’, News of the World, 23 Feb., 1964) or Monique Wilson, who was later crowned as the “only Queen among Britains 2,500 witches” in the press (‘The Witches Ride Again’, The Observer, 1 December 1968).
I conclude with a lovely typo which appears in the midst of a discussion of ‘trial by water’: “If they sang [sic, for sank] they were innocent and if they floated they were guilty” (23).