Whilst wandering about the New Forest we came across a lovely little village called Burley. Stopping for a bit to stretch our legs we walked through the Mall which had the usual shop with incense and wind chimes. Not thinking much about it we turned the corner and were faced with 6 or 7 shops all selling Pagan and in particular Witch items. Pleasant surprise as where I am you’d be lucky to get two in the whole town that will have a corner on the subject. Still looking in all the shops I had no idea why there were so many until I got to A Coven of Witches, where they took the time to explain to me about Sybil Leek.
Sybil Leek (1923?–1983)
Sybil Leek (1923?–1983)
Sybil Leek was a witch, an astrologer, and a psychic who was born in England into a highly unusual family. Her maternal grandmother was a psychic lady and a follower of the Old Religion. Her father was an intellectual and well versed in metaphysics, but more inclined to a scientific investigation of a field of inquiry. Sybil's mother was a theosophist with an inborn affinity toward all children. Added to these were an assortment of aunts, cousins, and other extended family members.
Under the combined tutorial care of her family, Leek managed to escape the British public school system for many years. Each member of the family taught the child his or her particular specialty, as well as a diversity of other things. Leek learned about herbs, witchcraft, astrology, the general field of the occult, and the mystical Kabbalah. This unorthodox rearing was far from one-sided, however. Before the age of nine, young Sybil had "read through" the major classics. She had read the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, and many other volumes of Eastern religious and non-Western philosophies. Most of all, though, Leek learned from her grandmother, who taught her the Craft of the Wise. Once her preliminary instruction was completed, the young initiate journeyed to France, to the Gorge du Loup where Leek was initiated into the world's oldest religion.
In her book Diary of a Witch (1969), Leek described briefly the oath of fidelity that she gave on the night of her initiation:
"It is accepted as being binding forever, and no initiate can take it lightly. She accepts wholeheartedly all the tenets of witchcraft— the acceptance of the Supreme Being, the knowledge that good and evil are equal parts of a human being, and that she must personally strive to outbalance evil with good. She must not debase the arts which she has been taught, and at all times she must be conscious of the need to be discreet, not only in her own life but with regard to any other members of the coven."
Shortly after Leek returned to England the family moved to the New Forest, a large area that roughly extends from Southampton northward to the borders of Salisbury and nearby Stonehenge, and westward to Dorset. It was in this area that Leek widened her lore of herbs, nature, and human psychology.
Since the age of 15, Sybil Leek had been in and out of various media jobs, and when she began moonlighting as a roving reporter for Southern Television it was her task to provide material for a series using the magazine format of small documentaries, interviews, and highlights of the day. The show's producers were particularly interested in Leek's contacts with the Gypsies of the New Forest, and she was able to present several interesting and informative vignettes about her nomadic friends.
It was in December of 1963 that Sybil Leek's media relationship caused her to be, probably, the first person to be filmed in mediumistic trance. The incident began when parapsychologist Bennison Herbert, who wished her to accompany him to a twelfth-century mansion that was allegedly haunted, contacted Leek. Almost immediately after the group entered the old house, Leek began to feel herself slipping away from the laughing joviality of the others. The group reached an upstairs room of the old stone building and settled around a large table. Within moments Leek was in a deep trance. Sights and sounds beyond the normal senses surrounded the entranced psychic. She felt someone come in through the door, then felt seized from behind. Leek, enraged, shouted at the image of the ghostly woman standing in the doorway. The struggle ceased as the heavy table at which the group was seated suddenly rose into the air and traversed the room. Then, with vented fury, the table repeatedly threw itself at the heavy stone wall, chipping the surface. A door slammed and something was heard running down the steps. Leek came out of her trance and was told what had happened by Herbert, who had taken notes on all the strange happenings.
At this point the BBC crew could no longer contain themselves. They hastily set up their lights and cameras, hoping to catch more of the same phenomena. The crew was not disappointed. The table began to move once more, traveling across the room to fling itself with renewed vigour at the ancient stonework. An incredulous solid man, weighing 220 pounds, tried to sit on the airborne table, only to be tossed off as if he were a featherweight. The table assaulted the wall with such force that it chipped a two-inch hole through the surface. The footage received wide distribution throughout the south of England and generated tremendous interest. The tables were shown in almost complete levitation and the mark on the wall was quite visible.
After achieving a great deal of fame as the Witch of New Forest, Sybil Leek came to the United States, where she teamed up with psychic investigator Hans Holzer on a series of ghost-hunting expeditions. The two were often followed by an entourage of local, and sometimes international, media, eager to sniff out a good story. Frequently, movie cameras would roll while Leek was in a heavy trance state, but this never deterred the medium from obtaining solid material, which Holzer would then try to substantiate.
Leek never knew where their next jaunt was going to take them. Holzer usually investigated the cases brought to his attention, first affirming that the material represented a solid psychic case, worthy of being investigated. He would give Leek none of this information, to ensure that her trance information could never be accused of being the result of suggestion.
In addition to Leek's many talents as a psychic and her deep immersion in the Old Religion, she had yet another major field of interest that was with her all of her life. As she states in the opening lines of My Life in Astrology (1972): "Astrology is my science; Witchcraft is my religion." For Sybil Leek, astrology lessons began when she was eight years old. From her grandmother, she learned the basics of astrology, with personality traits and psychology stressed; from her father, she learned the painstaking technical aspect of casting a chart.
In her younger days the world of astrology was a glamorous one. Every summer the family would vacation in the Riviera, and Leek's skills were in great demand among the celebrities and nobility that would gather on the beaches. Among her notable clients were the elder Aga Khan, Queen Marie of Rumania, and author Somerset Maugham. Although Leek had nostalgic feelings for that particular time, her later life was to show her an even more exciting use for her astrological skills.
Sybil Leek was determined to aid in the understanding of witchcraft. Unfortunately, she found some of the gravest misunderstandings in her adopted country of the United States. The press persistently confused witchcraft with black magick and Satanism, but Sybil Leek was instrumental in bringing a greater awareness of witchcraft to those persons who wished to form traditional covens, and she never ceased using her wit and celebrity to advance the truth about Wicca, the craft of the wise. She became a major force on the psychic scene, and her rich and varied life consistently led her to prove the deeper meanings and interrelationships between all areas of metaphysics, and her vast experience prepared her admirably for the research and study to which she devoted herself.
So if you are in the area and can spare the time, take a stroll and have a look. An interesting and rather pretty place...
Sybil information: unexplainedstuff.com