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Dorothy Clutterbuck - Gardnerian Wicca Co-Founder or Quiet Christian?

Dorothy Clutterbuck was an Englishwoman who was born on 19th January 1880 in Bengal, India to a British Army Officer and his wife. She was raised in Hampshire, England and lived a comfortable upper class life.

In the mid-1930's at the Fellowship of Crotona's Rosicrucian Theatre, Clutterbuck met British occultist and "the father of modern witchcraft" Gerald Gardner. In 1939, Gardner was initiated into the New Forest Coven, and after her death named Old Dorothy (his term of endearment for her) as being his initiator. Gardner went on to form Gardnerian Wicca, which was an early form of Wicca. Due to her significance regarding Gardner, some say Old Dorothy can be named as a co-founder of Gardnerian Wicca, and therefore of the Wicca movement.

Gerald Gardner

Due to her obscurity, there is some debate as to whether the character of Old Dorothy was created by Gardner to support certain claims he made, the main one being that there are witches that still exist who practice the Old Religion. Some of these debates were put to rest by fellow Wiccan and 'Mother of Modern Witchcraft' Doreen Valiente, when she reported in Witchcraft for Tomorrow in 1982, that she had spent some time researching and had found Old Dorothy's birth certificate, marriage certificate, and death certificate. Valiente was a trusted source, she was responsible for writing much of the early religious liturgy within the tradition of Gardnerian Wicca. She was also an author and poet, publishing five books dealing with Wicca and related esoteric subjects. Until her death in 1999, Valiente lived in Tyson Place; a council block in Brighton, England. On Midsummer's Day 2013 Valiente made posthumous history by becoming the first Witch to be awarded a blue plaque for her life and achievements. Additionally, the block also made history by being the first building of its kind to have a blue plaque on its walls.

Doreen Valiente

If she did exist, was she actually involved in pagan witchcraft? After all, she was a practising Anglican Christian, even going so far as to leave a huge legacy to the local Anglican priest in her will. There were certain individuals who practised underground, in order for the secrets of the craft to be kept and of course, it would have been illegal to practice witchcraft around this time. The Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951 by the Fraudulent Mediums Act which in turn was repealed in 2008. Old Dorothy died in 1951, so during her lifetime, going public with such beliefs would have been dangerous, especially for a woman. For these reasons, it is believed this is why she remained so mysterious regarding her practice.

Old Dorothy died on 12th January 1951. She left large volumes of diaries and these suggest her involvement wasn't entirely fictional. The daily poems and illustrations that Old Dorothy left were littered with pagan references, and lacked Christian themes. It was noted that "her deepest spiritual experiences come from nature", and the diaries contain references to fairies, the full moon, herb-lore, and vivid descriptions of classical gods such as Aurora.

 

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