Doreen Valiente’s collection includes Gerald Gardner’s original, handwritten Book of Shadows
Preston Manor, Brighton, UK: 1 April to autumn 2016
One of Britain’s spookiest historic houses, Preston Manor in Brighton, is to host a unique display of artefacts and documents from the personal collection of local witch Doreen Valiente.
Valiente (1922-1999) is internationally regarded as having been ‘the mother of modern witchcraft’, and played a key part in nurturing the modern Pagan revival. In 2013 she posthumously made history by being the first witch to be awarded a blue plaque commemorating her life and achievements, on her tower block home in Brighton’s Kemp Town.
Her collection of artefacts, manuscripts and documents relating to witchcraft, magic, folklore and Paganism is acknowledged by academics to be the most important of its kind in the world. On her death it was entrusted to her last High Priest John Belham-Payne, now chair of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, who has worked extensively on safeguarding it for the future.
The Foundation has worked with Preston Manor to facilitate Valiente’s wishes, and arrange the collection’s inaugural display in Valiente’s home town. Folklore, Magic and Mysteries: Modern Witchcraft and Folk Culture in Britain will include ceremonial items, statues and a witch's altar, which will change with the seasons and contain genuine witchcraft working tools and historical artefacts.
There will also be implements used in other pagan faiths such as druidry, and items of historical interest from British folklore practices. The exhibition will also contain important magical documents and photographs.
On display on special days (TBC) during the year will be Gerald Gardner's original handwritten book of witchcraft rituals, from the 1940s - one of the primary source documents for the worldwide religion now known as Wicca. Known as a ‘Book of Shadows’ it contains Gardner’s notes for rituals and magical work from the earliest days of this movement. Most modern witches now have their own ‘Book of Shadows’, with a great many based on this original work.
Valiente's own handwritten ritual books and documents will complete the display, highlighting the vital role she played in the faith’s evolution from an underground British cult to a global religious phenomenon in just a few decades.
Preston Manor can lay claim to being Brighton’s most-haunted house, a reputation which dates back to its days as a private home. Over the last decade it has hosted regular paranormal-themed tours, talks and events, continuing a trend started in the 1880s when séances were conducted in the house.
Venue Officer Paula Wrightson said: “Preston Manor has been chosen to display this collection because it’s so compatible with the interests of the last private owner, former MP and Brighton Mayor Sir Charles Thomas-Stanford (1858-1932). He was the long-serving chairman of the Brighton & Hove Archaeological Society, where his colleagues included Herbert Toms, the one-time curator of Brighton Museum.
“Both men were fascinated by Sussex history, archaeology and folklore, and Toms was a subscriber to Psychic News - I’m sure they talked long into the night about folklore and the supernatural at Preston Manor. And Doreen Valiente was well aware of Toms’ work, referring to it when researching her pioneering book Where Witchcraft Lives (1962).”
The display also ties in with Thomas-Stanford’s vision of his house becoming a ‘Volks Museum’, displaying material relating to Sussex life after his death (he gifted the house to Brighton in 1925). Sussex has long been associated with mythical forces, often inspired by landscape features like Devil’s Dyke and local hills and woods, which would have been familiar to Thomas-Stanford, Toms, and regular Preston Manor visitor Rudyard Kipling.
Published 5th May 2016
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