Original Artwork by a Noted Traditional Witch
Pre-Gardnerian witchcraft now attracts considerable interest. One of the most intriguing vectors centres around Monica English (1920 - 1979) and the Norfolk Coven.
Her illustration of Pan appeared in Cottie Burland, Magical Arts (1967). Ten years later Burland described the Norfolk Coven. He said they used little ritual but met in each others houses to dance and raise power. The male leader of the group stood in the centre to direct the energy. Afterwards they grounded themselves with "cakes and wine". Membership included poor farming folk. They used a grey goose feather as a symbol and for passing messages. The Order of the Grey Goose Feather was a secret society of mutual aid amongst the fenmen of East Anglia. Legend has it that Charles I was initiated whilst on the run from the roundheads and Cromwell, also a member, broke his fraternal oaths when he denied clemency on receiving a grey goose feather from the king on the eve of his execution.
Monica joined Gerald Gardner's coven and impressed others with her powers. After Gerald's death Lois Bourne accepted Monica's invitation to join the Norfolk coven which then had 36 members. The rituals were robed, not sky clad, and the coven was headed by the Lord and the Lady, who wore a shimmering silver robe and silver earrings. The Magister of the coven and Monica, the Magistra, were the main ritualists when Lois joined but it was the Lord and Lady who effected the act of initiation. She knelt between them and they laid their hands upon her head. Bourne writes in Dancing with Witches "…I felt a surge of power pour through me, starting at the base of my spine, soaring up through my spinal column and bursting into the top of my head like a blinding light, leaving me dazed but exhilarated". A classic kundalini experience, though Lois does not call it that. The rituals closely followed the agricultural year and incorporated meditation and silence. “Silence is the ultimate and final initiation. The Gods are silent; everything comes out of silence. The true experience of bliss is without words.” Lois was told. The rituals were held in the very grand "manor house" or or in its grounds and out buildings. These were owned by the Magister of the coven who also ran an expensive car. In 2002 Lois stated that she was still in contact with the Norfolk Coven saying "The people I knew have died and their offspring are now active, the power, according to them, passes through the family line". Mike Howard, in Children of Cain, adds further information from another, source who wished to remain anonymous. The coven worshipped the Celtic horse goddess Epona, coven members would often ride to meetings and if meeting outdoors the horses would be included in the rituals. Also, one of its prominent members had been a Catholic. The God and Goddess were worshipped but, in contrast to Gardner's wicca, the God was more central.
Monica English was a passionate fox hunter, mistress of the local hunt, and this may have been a context for the range of social classes involved in the coven. Whilst those who ride to hounds tend to be posh many of the hunt followers, its employees and the terrier men who flush the foxes out of sets are not.
In Dancing with Witches Bourne refers to Monica English as "Margo" and the Magister as "Bertram". His pseudonym masks a curious context that is seems misleading to leave unmentioned. In fact he was called Andrew Fountaine and is well known as a crucial figure in the history of British far right politics. He left the Conservative Party c.1949 and went on to join a series of far right, fascist groups before becoming the president of the British National Party and a founder member of the National Front. The Times described him as "the money bags of the movement to a large degree". The grounds of his family home, a stately home called Narford Hall, was not just used for meetings of the Norfolk coven, but a B.N.P. summer camp attended by prominent nazis like Savitri Devi and S.S. Lieutenant Friedrich Borth. The Narford Hall estate was also used for training sessions by Spearhead, the paramilitary wing of the British National Party which was more extreme then than now. However, though Tory grandees had worried about the sub-text of some of his early speeches it seems virulent anti-semitism was not really Fountaine's cup of tea and he quarrelled with the more overtly nazi factions before withdrawing from politics all together.
Fountaine's politics may indicate a cultural context for the coven. Before the war the British Union of Fascists had many members who were farmers in East Anglia. They were in conflict with the Church of England, the "Tithe Wars", resenting the taxes on their land traditionally levied by the church. Fascists organising physical resistance to court bailiffs sent to make seizures in lieu of payment. A reverence for nature that would now be called pagan could be an aspect of fascism generally and particularly these circles. An important East Anglian farming fascist, Ronald Creasy, is described as a "Pantheist and a Man of Spirit" on his gravestone. He told a researcher that his acceptance of natural religion had some bearing on his decision to follow Oswald Mosley's lead: "A pantheist is humbled by his littleness with Nature. Is more realistic, more sensitive to culture and the true order of being. Thus more concerned with the welfare of others, as was the B. U. F." He was interned during the war. So too was Henry Williamson, the author of Tarka the Otter (in which, many find a mystic appreciation of nature) when he was farming in Norfolk. One wonders, given Fountaine's politics, if the history of fascist nature worship amongst farmers in East Anglia may have been a factor in the milieu in which the coven operated.
The coven's use of the grey goose feather is an enigma. Perhaps, as well as being the password for a fenman's rural fraternity, it was, given the yarn about Charles I, a secret sign indicating support for the royal family. The royals spend a lot of time and at their private home, Sandringham, 20 minutes drive from Narford Hall and have been avid fox hunters so it is likely they moved in the same circles. One can only speculate if the goose feather went beyond enthusiastic royalism to a belief that there was some kind of secret pact of some shared sympathies with some royals.
I am struck by a personal coincidence in this matter. Over 40 years ago, myself and some friends took over a flat near York from other alternative, counter-cultural, lefty, hippy types. We were told that all we had to do was introduce ourselves as the new tenants to the landlord who lived downstairs and everything would be all right! We were enthusiastic as the flat comprised the servant's quarters of a large house called Brafferton Hall and with it came use of the walled garden with old statues, lawns, orchards and even a tumulus! It was very atmospheric, mysterious even. The landlord, an old guy who had flown bombers during the war, was happy to accept us as tenants. I saw a fair bit of him as he paid me to work on the garden and we would sort out firewood for the winter together. Despite social and political differences we got on all right. He had books of folklore and mysticism on his shelves and curious paintings on his walls. He explained these were his wife's who had passed away before we moved in. We called him Mr. English. Decades later I learnt of traditional witchcraft and then Monica English, and then that our landlord was Monica's husband and that he had been married to her throughout the period in question. We live in a small world!
In a 1960s catalogue of Norfolk artists, Monica is described as "a painter of two worlds. One of these was a world of myth and legend peopled with the gods, warriors and ghosts of the past, and springs from her study of anthropology, folklore and primitive religions. The other world is the rural reality of landscape and animals, particularly horses, whose beauty and pride of movement fascinates her." The catalogue entry goes on to say that English was self-trained and had mounted seventeen exhibitions, including three at London art galleries. Other exhibitions were planned for galleries in Norwich. She had also appeared on television discussing her artwork and it had been reviewed in provincial and national newspapers and magazines.
It can be reasonably be reasonably argued that horses can be considered the prime animal totem of the English people. As mentioned the coven worshipped the Celtic Horse Goddess Epona and would attend rituals on horseback and include the horses in their rituals. It is reasonable to speculate that Monica found in the movement of horses to be a vehicle for experiencing the Life Force, just as sexual polarity was in Gardner's coven. The manifestation of Life Force in the movement of horses appears to be the central theme of Monica's art.
Oil on board, 80cm x 110cm £950 postage extra at cost